Monday, February 25, 2008

Lift me up out of this illusion

Life occasionally throws up sets of circumstances of such alienating capabilities that you wonder how it was ever possible that you were placed on the same planet as the rest of the general public. One such set of circumstances arose on Saturday night when I found myself drinking in The Printworks: a horrific, garish mecca of braindead consumerism. I'm simply not designed for such places. I knew it had nothing for me before I went in - it boasts a succession of awful themed bars and charmless international food chains like Hard Rock Cafe, Nando's, Henry J Bean's and Tiger Tiger, all of which burst to life at night by attracting hordes of vain, conceited lemmings to 'Manchester's premier entertainment venue'.

'The entertainment venue from hell' (copyright Richard Lewis)

My peers seem to derive unwavering pleasure from descending upon these kinds of places like flies to massive neon turds. Manchester has many fantastic taverns and ale houses, but instead they choose to go here. My excuse for being there was that Kieran - visitor for the weekend - had arranged to meet an old friend for a quick drink, and an awful 'Irish' bar called Waxy O'Connor's was their location of choice. I stood outside in the 'shopping mall bit' with Matt, 25, and sipped an agonising pint of Guinness from a plastic glass while looking on as gangs of inane, permatanned simpletons with no notion of taste or decency swarmed in, often shrieking. It was intensely sad; more depressing than genocide. The revolution is a million miles away. Human evolution seems even further. There is no hope.

Morrissey once sang: "It's not low-life, it's just people having a good time."

He was joking though.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lacking in Klass

I hate many things, but one thing I do like is a good hate figure (as in I like having them, rather than I actually like them as people, which would just completely defeat their purpose). There's Hitler... Peter Sutcliffe... John Redwood... 'Wolf' from Gladiators... The Demon Headmaster. I could go on. One of my present hate figurines, however, is talentless ex-Hear'Say mime-tart and magazine-show television presenter Myleene Klass.

While sensually devouring my generously proportioned bowl of Frosties before leaving for work this morning I saw a TV advert for a new album she's releasing for Mothers' Day. 'Myleene's Music For Mothers' is an assortment of well-known classical piano pieces, kindly repackaged by Myleene for mothers everywhere. The sole reason she qualifies as some kind of maternal spokeswoman and is blessed with the honour of exploiting the guilt-trip-fed Mothers' Day market appears to be that she's recently become a mother herself. She's even released a book about it: 'My Bump & Me'. Jesus Christ. Does she want a medal? Isn't becoming a mother just what egotistical women do? I'm pretty sure everything that needs to be said about it has already been written. It would be like me spending a Sunday morning mowing the lawn and washing the car by hand - activities performed exclusively by egotistical men - and then releasing a book about it. Wholly unnecessary.

With her relentless efforts to reinforce female sterotypes and exploit her femininity for her own benefit (when it comes to fluttering eyelids, she's the expert), I feel Klass has single-handedly set feminism and gender relations back at least thirty years. However I must confess my hatred of the woman first surfaced when I saw her appear on The Daily Politics with conservatism's Andrew Neil to talk about why she thought it was wrong for public authorities to offer translation services to immigrants: "They should be learning English! If we translate everything for them then soon we'll be the ones needing translation" etc. And of course, 'we' wouldn't like that - it's ridiculous to try and make life easier for people. As if her logic wasn't flawed enough already, she then revealed her parents came to Britain as immigrants decades ago and had found it difficult to settle here because of the langauge barrier (BUT THEY MANAGED, so everybody else should do too). Maybe they might have managed it even easier if they'd had the benefit of translation services... just a thought. Daft tart.

And one other thing: would you ever trust these eyes? It's impossible. I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Five (barely) alive

I’m afraid this post will be one of those where I recount a recent activity in laborious detail, rather than one of the ones where I concisely articulate the human condition. It has to happen every now and again.

This weekend saw the second annual football grudge match-based university reunion, sponsored by Unibond, take place in England’s East Midlands. While proceedings were mainly centred on Nottingham, the fixture itself was staged in Derby on the advice of the police (Sting hates 5-a-side and happened to be in Nottingham that weekend). Sadly this so-called advice neglected to offer any meaningful tactical instruction to the Johnson Road side, of which I am part but certainly not whole, as it crashed to a second successive heavy defeat to the Rest of Lenton.

I write this 48-hours after the game – an ill-advised marathon 80 minutes of 5-a-side – and I feel overwhelmingly crippled. Despite doing a bit of unprecedented public jogging in the last couple of weeks, in the hope that it would return me to peak fitness for this showdown, it didn’t help a great deal. I’ve been experiencing spontaneous attacks of cramp in my left calf ever since, both of my feet are black and blue, and when I sneeze it causes severe pains in my pancreas. And all for nothing.

Football aside, the weekend was a fine collusion of humanfolk. We sampled a delightful post-match meal at a Thai/Malaysian restaurant in Nottingham which, despite failing to provide an option of steak and ale pie with puff pastry lid and chips the size of bricks, surpassed all expectations. Well done to Mark for putting his cuisine neck on the line with that choice. An evening of drink wound up in Chambers, a terrible Irish-themed karaoke bar and an old university haunt of ours. It seems that despite the introduction of the blanket smoking ban, some places are getting around any potential clean air problems by pumping vast amounts of dry ice into the room, just to make sure nobody can see, breathe, or taste how bad the beer is.

On my way back to Manchester on Sunday I stopped off in Sheffield to witness Boro’s drab goalless draw with Sheffield United in the FA Cup. Given that we had a record away following of almost 6,000 supporters, it was a bit of an anti-climax: you'd have thought the players were the hungover ones. Thankfully this was compensated for in some ways by a monstrously good sunset drive over the Peak District to get home. I took the A57 ‘Snake Pass’ route, which winds up and around the peaks, and it proved insanely beautiful – so much so that the Peak District has risen in my official National Park-credentials estimations. The southern bits I’d visited before pale in comparison to the delights at the top end, which just adds further weight to the mantra 'north is best'. To think that only 32 miles separates these two famous old industrial powerhouses, and yet they are separated by such sparse and intoxicating countryside. What beauty: what downright variety. You wouldn't get that down south with your piddling picture postcard villages, and broads and whatnot.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bang bang you're dead - hole in your head

I'm not entirely sure why, but it seems that wherever I go rampant levels of gun crime follow. During my three years at university in Nottingham, great concern surrounded the city's escalating levels of shootings and the city was portrayed in the media as the 'gun crime capital of the UK'. Now I'm in Manchester and the situation seems to be mirrored.

Reports of gang-based shootings surface several times every week, and just last weekend a 16-year old boy died in hospital a couple of weeks after being shot in a William Hill bookies a short walk from where I'm living. On Saturday, while taking what seemed to me an innocuous enough shortcut through the park after dark, we were stopped by a policeman and warned never to do it again: "These gangs will shoot each other for your stuff", he said. I think I'm quite unlike the 95% of the population who are guilty of spreading panic and hysteria about the lack of safety on the streets. If anything, I'm probably guilty of being a bit too blase when it comes to things like that. I always assume any potential ruffians and ne'erdowells will see my imposing figure and elegant yet assertive gait and just scarper from the scene, saturated with fear. I'm probably wrong though.

Gangs aren't anything new in Britain, but their distressing youthfulness and the number of guns in there hands is. I don't want to come over 'all Ross Kemp', but it really makes you wonder what is driving startling numbers of young men and boys to chase around killing each other within their own communities. Is it that gangs offer the chance to be 'part of the pack', and a rare opportunity to enjoy some form of shared identity? When the individualist mindset rules to such an extent that any notion of society is widely regarded with suspicion, it should be of little surprise when the apples at the bottom of the pile turn rotten. If you grow up shackled in chains of poverty and, as a result, are excluded from the privileges many take for granted, it's a recipe for disaster to be told to just look after yourself regardless of the consequences of your actions on others (the dominant British ideology of the last thirty years). Thatcherism has a lot to answer for: 'Thatcher Fucked The Kids'.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who shall we choose for our morality?

I'm thinking right now of Hollywood tragedy.

In order to keep my finger on the frankly annoying pulse of British youth, I always try to make sure I see children's television news programme Newsround on BBC1 every weekday at 5.25pm. When I'm not agitated by the programme's fundamental error of giving a voice to pre-teens, I thoroughly enjoy how they try to make current affairs accessible and fun for youngsters. It's been particularly good viewing in the last couple of days as they've desperately tried to describe the ongoing US presidential nomination races, and particularly the events of 'Super Tuesday' (also known as Pancake Day).

They've been describing the polls as "a big competition to decide which person can become President" and "who gets to live in this massive house" [while pointing at the White House]. For those still unable to grasp the concept of an election, they've gone on to say "imagine The X-Factor times a hundred". They saved their most apt analogy, though, for earlier today, when they summarised proceedings in terms of a prolonged wrestling match with Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama in the blue Democrat ring and John McCain (the man we have to thank for microwavable chips), Mitt Romney (who sounds like a substitute CD-ROM designed for people wearing mittens) and Mike Huckabee (a blatant religious fascist) in the red Republican ring. Strangely enough, the accompanying cartoon graphic on the screen had each prospective nominee wearing boxing gloves and throwing punches, which means either the Newsround VT team don't know what wrestling involves, or I don't. I THINK IT'S THE FORMER.

Despite this clear error, I still doff my flat cap to Newsround for coming up with one of the most appropriate metaphors for American politics ever known. Professional wrestling is a false, stage-managed charade performed by actors with no real purpose in life other than to create wealth for those with a financial stake in the wrestling process. I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at here. Don't get me wrong: I'm as delighted by the prospect of seeing the back of George W. Bush and potentially the rampaging elephant beast (the Republican Party) itself as the next person is. But any hope that any one of the contenders for either party will offer some form of 'change' if elected President is, of course, massively misplaced. Experience should have taught us that by now. Regardless of who becomes the next President, the United States will continue as the globe's leading bastion of dysfunctional democracy and its political process will continue to operate in a body scissors lock of private, corporate gain which dictates the political agenda and ensures wealth remains in the hands of the few. As usual, Bill Hicks summed this all up best.

Example #1:
I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here.
'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.'
'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.'
'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!'

Example #2:
It's just a handful of people that run everything, and that's provable.... I have this feeling that whoever's elected president, like Clinton was, no matter what promises you make on the campaign trail - blah, blah, blah - when you win, you go into this smoky room with the twelve industrialist, capitalist scumfucks that got you in there, and this little screen comes down... and it's a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you've never seen before, which looks suspiciously off the grassy knoll.... And then the screen comes up, the lights come on, and they say to the new president, 'Any questions?'

'Just what my agenda is?'