Monday, January 28, 2008

Home from home

Having last week endured a three day trip to our capital city, which is called London, it was with some considerable glee and a spring in my step (not literally, although just imagine that: steps made entirely from springs, and thus whole staircases of bounciness. Great fun for those of a certain disposition) that I returned to Manchester. The relief was tangible. No really, I could actually touch it (it felt moist and quite heavy, like a damp dog with a brick encased in its chest).

Much like a dilapidated crack house or a sadistic S&M parlour, visits to London invariably prompt a quotation of the famous old line: it's a good place to visit but I wouldn't like to live there. Its vast and inhospitable sprawl, its overcrowded streets, its depressing public transport experience, its excessive prices, not to mention its BASIC ATTITUDE PROBLEM, all make it a quite impossible place of residence for a gent like me. I can't quite fathom why people are drawn to it so much, almost like moths to a packet of bourbon cream biscuits. I did say almost. I don't get it, it makes no sense. The logic of agreeing to meet inflated property values and rents, to pay excessive amounts for basic convenience items such as bread, milk and pints of ale, and to travel for over an hour to reach work because the buses and tubes are so snarled up, is completely lost on me. Why pay more for a lower quality of life? Why shell out for such misery?

When I arrived back on friendly soil and emerged from Manchester Piccadilly station into a delightfully brisk and crisp late-winter's afternoon, I was filled with a warming sense of familiarity. It was the first time I'd arrived back in Manchester since moving here and sensed real homeliness. It was quite an epiphany for me. When I refer to all of my city experience, I'm convinced it is the city most snugly fitted to my needs. It is large, vibrant and varied enough to offer everything I'll ever require to maintain a decent level of sanity, and yet is also compact enough to feel accessible and conquerable. You can walk from one end of the city centre to the other in little over ten minutes, and I like that. Furthermore, like all northern towns and cities, the good, honest folk found in its streets are disarmingly friendly and approachable. Unlike London, if you approach somebody in a Manchester street and ask where one might find the nearest skinny jeans retailer they wouldn't just look at you disdainfully and then walk off without reply. Unless you happen to ask me, which would just be plain unlucky (I would never do anything to advance the popularity of such a ghastly garment - I have certain standards). When all is said (but not done), Manchester is a far more humane settlement than London can ever hope to be.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Inside the shop. Is nowhere safe?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Right up my street, it takes the biscuit etc.

Given that two of my chief passions in life are bourbon cream biscuits and the Manic Street Preachers, it's tantalising to think that this band play down the road from Flat C every Thursday night.

It's just a shame they're "Live Rockin' Blues & New Orleans" really (complete with Needless Capitalisations and all). What the hell do they mean by 'New Orleans' anyway? You can't just put the name of a city in the hope it aptly describes a band's sound. I could understand with certain place names - like Manchester (the pitter-patter of rain on glass), the Pennines (swirling and echoing gusts of wind) and London (annoying people cackling into mobile phones) - but New Orleans means nothing to me.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Literal graffiti labelling

Literal graffiti labelling is the latest craze set to sweep the nation. It appears to involve people marauding about in search of works of graffiti in public places and then adding to them with very factual and nonfigurative summaries of their meaning. As all the greatest social phenomena tend to emerge from Middlesbrough, it's of no surprise to me that the first example I've come across was in the men's toilets of Middlesbrough railway station at 12.30pm yesterday, having travelled back and 'detrained' for Boro's match with Liverpool at the Riverside. I noticed this message written in black biro on the wall:
I'm here every Monday 1630 - 1700 to suck cock. Very genuine.
Immediately beneath this somebody else had scrawled, in blue biro:
This man's observational accuracy can not fail to impress. He has - quite correctly you would think - identified that the original author is of a homosexual persuasion and fond of fornication, and has subsequently documented this fact in a very simple and literal manner. It's almost a public service, when you think about it.

I eagerly await further examples of literal graffiti labelling in public places. Messages such as "fresh pancakes served here every Tuesday after 3.30pm" could be replied to with "BATTER TOSSER".

"I will administer tetanus jabs here on Thursday mornings" could realistically be suffixed with "YOU PRICK".

I could go on, but won't.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In search of The North

There are any number of terrifying things to potentially encounter in life: notorious mass murderers strolling in the the streets; a pigeon scrambling about on the other side of a single-glazed skylight; groups of small children given permission to sing aloud in public. I could go on, but won't. And yet none of these is remotely as terrifying as something I've been forced to encounter on numerous occasions in my short, illustrious existence: people from the south who don't know where Middlesbrough is. Most upsetting.

These dim southern tosspots can be found with alarming regularity in our towns and cities - often propping up the bars in trendy, refurbished public houses with laminate flooring - cradling copies of the Daily Express and sporting smug, inane grins. It seems there is some form of bliss to be garnered from geographical ineptitude. Well, as Rage Against The Machine once said: "If ignorance is bliss, then knock the smile off my face."

When you tell someone from the south that you're originally from "near Middlesbrough", the initial reaction is usually for their retinas to cloud over and their attention to shift elsewhere in the room. In recent months, however, there has been a slight increase in vague recognition thanks to the so-called findings of the bourgeois television programme Location, Location, Location: "Oh, the worst place to live in Britain!" I suppose this can be considered some form of progress. It is at least slightly better than "is that Scotland?" (no, that's Midlothian) and "is it just outside London?" (no, that's Middlesex, MIDDLESEX!), both of which I've encountered. The worst one ever was: "Do you really consider yourself a northerner, then? It's somewhere in the middle isn't it? You know... Middle-sbrough" (no, no, no, nuggetfucking NO).

I'd suggest that the southern geographical awareness of those of us from the north is infinitely superior, mainly because that half of the country is forced down our throats by the London-based media, but also because we're generally less self-obsessed. I know where lots of inconsequential places in the south are: Weston-Super-Mare; Basingstoke; Tring; Diss. Again, I could go on, but won't as I consider this short list to be proof enough.

At the moment I'm reading Stuart Maconie's excellent 'Pies and Prejudice', which is all about the north and northern identity (see, I told you we're less self-obsessed). In it, he describes this same, peculiar southern mentality:

To many a south-based viewer... 'Up North' is a long way away. You wouldn't want to go there. It's a long trip, as in 'West Ham face a long trip to Hartlepool for the third-round tie'. Note it's never the other way round. It's OK too to be blithely approximate about northern geography. Some years ago, we northerners chortled when Des Lynam suavely announced on Final Score: 'Chesterfield 0, Chester 0. So no goals there in the local derby.'

Good work, Des. Good work.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Please don't put the radio one

On those terrible occasions when the front falls off the radio while I'm at the wheel of the knackered old Padmobile and I find myself trapped listening to BBC Radio One, I'm provided with a glimpse into the unsavoury psyche of the general public. This can be a most disheartening experience, and not one I'd wish on anybody. It's not just the insufferably cretinous Radio One disc jockeys and their propensity to be utter, utter gobshites that makes these episodes so grim, but also the music. If popular alternative music is best represented by the likes of The Fratellis, The View, The Pigeon Detectives and The Wombats, then these are very dark days indeed. There seems to be some kind of consensus that we're witnessing a Renaissance-like purple patch of great guitar bands at the moment, and I find this very confusing: mainly because there are just as many diabolical so-called 'indie' bands around as there always have been.

When I was a teenager in the late 1990s, lying alone in my darkened bedroom drinking Dandelion and Burdock and scrawling notes on my Manics album sleeves (imagine that: a shirt with The Holy Bible album artwork on its sleeves. I was the envy of town), I was being at once educated and inspired to change the world. Or at least think about changing it. I can't imagine what any of the aforementioned present-day bands could inspire anyone to do, or think about doing, other than to repeatedly pump a fist in the air and dive headfirst into a rosebush. Their assortment of terminally laddish ditties are designed for beer-hoying monkeys and truly represent the arse-end of British guitar music.

I'm even more perplexed by this obsession with the 'talented, creative and innovative New York-based DJ and producer' Mark Ronson, who I happen to think should be assassinated. It is neither creative nor innovative to take established songs and simply add different beats and an excess of brass instruments, making them slightly different from the originals. Who buys this stuff? Derivation is not creation, it's an abomination. See, this torturous Radio One experience has affected me so much I'm rhyming in triplets now. The likes of incestuous London types Lilly Allen, Kate Nash and Jack blooming Penate top off this deadly musical cake with a particularly awful and poisonous layer of mockney icing. The increasing trend of these failed stage-school students switching to music for the easy bucks is possibly the most depressing phenomenon of all. These people do not love music - not even their own (so at least they've got something right). Furthermore, the overwhelmingly irritating Nash sees her main selling point as being that she 'keeps it real'. Quite why anyone would be interested in her stage-school-didn't-quite-work-out-for-me reality is beyond me. I want my pop stars putting on a show, hamming it up and being so overtly pretentious and spectacular that they remove me as far from reality as is humanely possible.

Thankfully, my impeccably cultured taste in music means I never listen to any of these people anyway - so I never get worked up about it, as you can tell. Mind you, all this is nearly enough to make me feel 'leftfield'. And I don't want to be leftfield. I want to be... the field.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


A good day for sport in Middlesbrough today. Not just because of Boro's professional navigation of a troublesome FA Cup 3rd Round tie away at Bristol City, but also because of the emergence of the town's darts sensation Glenn Moody, 43, pictured below, live on television.

It was all part of the BDO World Championship, which started today. As an aspiring professional darts player myself - I like to think my eventual arrival on the darts scene will transform the game's image - I'm always intrigued by the manner in which new players make their initial impact. Today's evening session saw this bizarre, unknown character grinning and nervous-ticcing his way through a match against his highly-fancied Dutch opponent, and ending up beating him impressively. When it was revealed he is from Middlesbrough, my heart skipped a beat.

Following the game, Glenn took part in a bizarre interview with the BBC's Ray 'Stubbsy' Stubbs:

Stubbs: What was it your fans were shouting during the game?
Moody: 'Wazaaa!'
Stubbs: What's that? Is it someone's name specifically?
Moody: It's just something the lads all shout down the pub. Wazaaa!

A new idol is born. For me, anyway.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Train In Vain

Following a New Year's resolution to heighten the sex appeal of Never In All My Life's content, I thought I'd open 2008 with a post bemoaning Britain's privatised railway network. Do stop me if it all gets a bit too steamy.

What a shambles it is. When British Rail was broken up and sold off by the Tories in 1993, it was on the premise that the private sector would provide the necessary finances and a market-driven approach to produce an efficient service for passengers. Balderdash. With 25 different franchises making for a confusing network, ridiculously expensive ticket prices that can vary wildly if you have to use two different train operators for one journey, unreliable and severely overcrowded services, and profit being put before rail safety, the whole thing is a joke. Naturally, nationalisation is the most sensible and rational solution. Although the much maligned British Rail was in decline before it was broken up, this was hardly surprising given that the whole state-owned rail system had been deliberately and systematically undermined by a Conservative government preoccupied with advancing the automobile industry and that saw the railways as an expensive hinderance.

It's difficult to turn rail services into a profit while also providing an adequate public service - and that's why you shouldn't try to do both. By their nature, the main purpose of public services such as public transport should be to provide efficient, reliable and affordable services, regardless of profit. Recently, the 'unprofitable services' of the festive period have meant private operators not running any trains atall: not really a public service then, and quite embarrassing when compared to the still-excellent festive rail services enjoyed across Europe, even on Christmas Day. Perhaps most laughably of all, despite escalating ticket prices and shoddy services our 'privatised' rail industry still requires government subsidies to the tune of £4.5billion a year in order to prevent the franchises from collapsing. See, despite only having to operate when they think there's a profit to be had, they're still incapable of running the whole thing. They couldn't organise a... cat.

I've had a fresh bee in my bonnet about all this since last Friday when I had to endure a torturous six-and-a-half-hour train journey to Birmingham for a meetup with university friends (aka Unibond '07) and some of their spice (if the plural of 'mouse' is 'mice', surely 'spouse' must become 'spice'?). After forking out for an extortionately-priced ticket that anyone on the continent would baulk at, my first scheduled train was suddenly cancelled, and the following one was delayed by 98 minutes, which is long enough to soft-boil 32.666 eggs consecutively. Already aghast that private companies could possibly have failed to deliver anything resembling an affordable, reliable and efficient service, I was further incensed when the 98-minute-delayed train finally rolled in with just three carriages. With two trains' worth of passengers piling into this measly accommodation, it made for a most uncomfortable journey for all concerned. It all meant I was so late for Unibond '07 that the university lot - including the high-profile presence of Jess' American boyfriend Alex - only got to enjoy my company for just over three hours. So it's not me you should feel sorry for, it's them. In total, that trip involved 9.5 hours of travelling and 3.5 hours of socialising, which isn't what I consider to be a favourable ratio. Certainly not as favourable as my mechanical torch (as mentioned in my post on Boxing Day), which offers 30 minutes of light from just one minute of frantic manual handle-winding - that's what I call a favourable ratio.