Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"No one puts Rooney in the corner..."

And so it begins. No sooner had the Football Supporters Federation launched its comprehensive, informative and yet drolly-penned 150-page World Cup travel guide for England fans heading to Germany this summer, than the first paper on the scene, the never knowingly underwhelmed Evening Standard was hyping up the horror of Government and FA-backed body thrusting upon potential hooligans a FREE guide to the best BARS, where they could, y'know, get DRUNK and all kinds of mean, nasty stuff...

Not that any hacks would ever venture into a licensed premises with the intention of supping beyond the legal drink-drive limit, oh now.
Sorry, let me try that again: Not that any hacks would need any pointers on where to become blotto, whether this side of the Maginot Line or the next...

But the FSF's lovingly-researched Lonely Planet alternative - available free on request but also sampled online, happily - does deserve a deeper reading, not just for all the boring-yet-essential stuff about accommodation, public transport, passport requirements, health and safety advice, and the like...
Nor even for the anorak-style approach to deconstructing each host city's stadia, local supporters' clubs and English teams' historical records abroad...

No - quite frankly, you might think it was beyond the call of duty for a solidly football-themed institution, yet they've endeavoured to research and recommend such unlikely attractions for the 100,000 English fans expected in Germany as (ahem):
* The birthplace of garden gnomes in Erfurt.
* Not only the Giraffe Museum in Dortmund, but the same lucky city's Cookery Book Museum.
* The Potato Dumplings Museum in Thuringia.
* The Lederhosen Museum in Munich.
* A Berlin bar called Klo - German for 'Loo' - where the Bratwurst comes served in large chamberpots.
* A chance for female fans to 'get their own back on their partners' at Hamburg's Condomerie, where they can 'try on the giant condom for size. Needless to say, it fits few and embarrasses many.'
* Or in the same city, and perhaps most bizarrely baffling, the first European performances of
Dirty Dancing: The Stage Show. Yes, the England supporters' club sees fit to provide the travelling 'barmy army' with an internet link for the performance's box office.

Just in case the Germany 2006 ticket-meisters don't manage to get their act together after all, I suppose.
Or to provide some strange consolation after England's customary penalty shoot-out misery...

Though, to be honest, bearing in mind the 'passion' and tactical approach shown by Sven's side in qualifying, even the Cookery Book Museum could start to sound exciting by the time June arrives...

"Ah but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now..."

A cutting cutting from "my back pages"...:

Sink a few too many pints and the world sings and swigs with you.
Puff your way through a pack of Marlboro Lights and a gang of fellow smokers will not be far away.
But stub one of those cigarettes out on your arm, or slice a razorblade across your flesh, and you do it alone. The world turns away very quickly.
Four types of self-harm, four ways of coping with pressure - but while half might invite mild disapproval, the other two inspire a blend of revulsion, anger, shock and frustration.
Perhaps these seem natural enough responses. After all, what could compel someone to deliberately mutilate their own body?
It remains the great taboo of mental health, while other forms of self-abuse such as drinking, smoking, driving too fast or over-working seem more acceptable. Perhaps because they are cleaner, more sociable.
So those who deliberately hurt themselves, an estimated one in 200 - and already torturing themselves with self-loathing and obsessive secrecy - feel even more freakish and isolated.
Especially when they try to get support from health services which often leave them feeling worse, not better.
Croydon MIND is one group leading the battle to break down stigmas which separate self-harmers from the support they need.
Far from averting their eyes, Croydon MIND counsellors are keen to identify self-harm not as a recklessly self-destructive act, but a helpful aid to survival.
The charity has produced a widely-acclaimed film which attempts to confront popular misconceptions about deliberate self-injury.
The video, "Visible Memories", features self-harmers, support workers and hospital staff talking honestly about their experiences.
Too often, self-harmers looking for help from A&E nurses, doctors or counsellors come up against hostility, according to Croydon MIND deputy director Richard Pacitti.
He hopes the 25-minute film, which has sold about 500 copies to individuals and organisations such as Broadmoor hospital, has helped make progress locally.
The Royal Bethlem Hospital, on the Shirley/Beckenham border, is the only hospital in the UK to have a specialist inpatient unit for self-harmers.
And A&E staff at Mayday University Hospital in Croydon have been urged to take a more sympathetic approach to patients attending with self-inflicted injuries.
But Mr Pacitti believes the impetus for more sensitive treatment still comes more from voluntary organisations than from statutory health authorities.
Perhaps the reason for this can be found in the different reactions many people have to deliberate self-harm.
Too often seen as a precursor to suicide, self-injury is in fact more often a safer alternative.
Mr Pacitti said: "Many people don't realise self-harm is a coping mechanism. Hurting yourself is a way of either distracting yourself enough or releasing the feelings that have built up inside.
"Self-harm isn't about trying to kill yourself at all, in fact it's the exact opposite. It's about wanting to stay alive, but developing a technique for doing so."
Staff at the Bethlem adopt a policy aimed at minimising risk, rather than stamping down on self-harm all together.
While other hospitals confiscate all blades and monitor patients sternly, the Bethlem discourages any idea of stifling control.
This stance provokes criticism, claims that staff encourage self-abuse, just as drug therapies which provide sterilised needles are said to condone heroin abuse.
But Mr Pacitti believes such an approach is better than punitive treatment, such as detaining self-harmers under the Mental Health Act or placing them under close observation.
Dr Michael Crowe, consultant psychiatrist with the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust which runs the Bethlem, said: "There's a conflict between ensuring safety and treating people in the way they want to be treated.
"We take a calculated risk of allowing people on the ward with the means of harming themselves. The majority of our patients do reduce the frequency of self-harm while they're here and after they leave.
"But we always tell them this is just one step forward, it's not the end of the road."
Patients spend a maximum of six months on the 40-bed ward, taking part in counselling and activities including art and drama, before receiving aftercare from community support teams.
Clara Manzi, a former patient on Bethlem's crisis recovery unit, said: "If you actually had someone say, 'Take this blade to your own skin and cut it'", I think they'd get the message it's not something you do easily.
"Most psychiatrists would like self-harmers to stop self-harming, but it's not as simple as that. It’s a way of coping. It's been like that for many years."
Angela Smith, whose involvement in a self-help group led to her role in the film, said: "If someone's labelled a self-harmer, they're treated differently. Society sees them as weird, maybe dangerous.
"On one occasion, a member of A&E grabbed hold of me and asked why I was doing this to him - like I was somehow attacking him and doing it to get at him."
Mayday's A&E department sees a daily average of 12 people needing treatment for self-injury or overdoses.
Dr Kambiz Hashemi, who runs the department, admits patience can sometimes wear thin with persistent self-harmers but believes attitudes are improving.
He said: "There may be a doctor or nurse who's had three deaths that day, or has been dealing with heart attacks, and they may not be able to display the sympathy needed.
"I'd be lying if I said that didn't sometimes happen, but we try very hard to maintain a good standard of care, because these patients are vulnerable enough already.
"Unfortunately, what's happening now is we're getting more and more congested and it can be difficult finding a quiet and calm environment to talk with these patients. That's very important."
The immediate priority is to treat the patient's injuries, before carrying out an assessment and pointing the way towards further help in liaison with psychiatric services.
A popular belief is that self-harmers are only trying to draw attention to themselves, but as Mr Pacitti points out, there are many less painful ways of doing so.
And Dr Crowe added: "Self-harm is not attention-seeking or manipulative. In a great majority of cases, it's simply someone feeling bad, with tension rising, and feeling they have to do something to reduce that tension.
"These are people just like anyone else, with the same hopes and dreams. But they have exceptional sensitivity to adverse events which means they take things out on themselves."
Mr Pacitti first became interested in the subject when doing advocacy work for someone who self-harmed.
He said: "It soon became apparent to me that what psychiatric services were doing for this person seemed only to make things worse.
"So many mental health services are centred on eliminating risk. If anyone's indulging in risky behaviour it makes them very problematic. But there are so many risks in life, you shouldn't attempt to get rid of them, but minimise them.
"Many services say, 'We'll give you therapy when you've stopped cutting yourself'. That's like saying, 'We'll help you as soon as you don't need help anymore.'"
Noreen Griffiths, a counsellor for Croydon MIND, has found many patients treated for depression are wary of mentioning they self-harm.
She said: "We're usually well into the counselling programme, often near the end, before they do. It takes a lot of courage. They want to make sure the counsellor won't panic."
Croydon MIND has wanted to set up its own support group for self-harmers and produce new training policies alongside Mayday staff.
But these aims have been stymied by a lack of resources.
The rise of the internet has provided many sufferers with a new outlet for self-expression.
The web offers a variety of sites offering information, advice and forums where self-harmers can share their thoughts.
These heartfelt cries for help can make for disturbing reading - webmasters often use the cautionary caption "TRIGGER" to warn vulnerable readers of more graphic material.
Meanwhile, the few celebrities who have spoken of their own self-harm include Johnny Depp, Drew Barrymore, Christina Ricci and Richey James of the Manic Street Preachers who famously carved "4 REAL" into his arm during a 1991 interview.
Emerging from self-harm can often seem as difficult as being in the full throes of depression.
Scarred arms and legs leave a legacy of shame and concealment, preventing people from enjoying everyday activities such as swimming, sunbathing or wearing T-shirts.
Some sufferers opt for plastic surgery, while the Red Cross offers a scar camouflage service, with firms developing make-up treatments to cover wounds.
But the scarring inside can take a lot longer to heal.

(Originally published in the Croydon Advertiser, January 19, 2001, self-indulgently resurrected as a follow-up, ooh, to this and that

Sunday, February 26, 2006

"They've made it at Wembley, they've climbed to the heights..."

How to keep the brain ticking over energetically enough to keep from falling asleep, while shuffling along the numbing North Circular:

* Keep count of the bizarrely-high volume of discarded clothing strewn across the carriageways.
* Wonder whether the full cosmos of leather-related warehouse names has been exhausted on the Companies House register (Leather Land, World Of Leather, Planet Of Leather, Universe Of Leather – what next, Leather Stratosphere? To (Leather) Infinity And Beyond?, Leather Heaven?)
* Ponder just how rueful those whose homes face onto the road must feel about their surroundings – and how long it takes them to squeeze their cars into the traffic each rush-hour morning.

Thankfully, nowadays there is a gleaming new light on the horizon – both figuratively and physically-speaking: the Wembley Arch, 1,929 tons of illuminated steel and 133metres tall, high enough to roll the London Eye underneath (what an intriguing sight that would be…) Until the arch was agonisingly-slowly tilted into 112-degree place, the most engaging view from this Park Royal warehouse-dominated stretch of the A406 was the jarringly joyous Neasden Mosque, appearing for all the world like a bauble-topped, gilt-edged spaceship for another planet entirely.
But now we have the arch bestriding North London, visible from as far afield as the Epsom Downs down in Surrey and such a spectacular, and yet spectacularly simply, symbol as to make you wonder what was all the fuss about those cheaply-hammered, hollow old Twin Towers.
Okay, so the much-heralded new Wembley will not, after all, be ready for this season’s FA Cup Final. And a good thing, too, after the Tottenham fans chorusing ‘Spurs are on their way to Wembley…’ as we took a Third Round 2-0 lead at Leicester proved premature twice over…
Yet for all the mockery, “I told you so…’ crowing and shrugged-shoulder ‘Innit typical…’ bleating in so much of the media after this week’s inevitable announcement, perhaps a little more perspective is needed.
Of course, Wembley architect Sir Norman Foster would be bound to stick up for his scheme, as he does in today’s Observer.
But he’s right:

"I believe that in a matter of months, when Wembley re-opens, the doubters and the cynics will be proved wrong. It will speak for itself and show that those who stuck the knife in were wrong. We have been witnessing the rebirth of an extraordinary venue, a place which will be a symbol of excellence in football, of London, of regeneration, and of British design and creativity. It should be a source of national pride, not criticism.
While everyone working on Wembley is disappointed that its opening has been delayed, there is a bigger picture here. The stadium is going to be around for 70-100 years so it's more important now to get it right for its lifetime than open it for the 2006 FA Cup final."

Just one glance at this dramatic addition to our London skyline can be enough to inspire.
Up close, the spectacle becomes even more momentous – and this on just a workaday wander around Brent, without the chanting, cheering, banner-billowing, siren-tooting, face-painted hordes bearing down Bobby Moore Way in friendly tribal rivalry, a simmering atmosphere of excited glory-dreaming…
Of course, it should have been finished sooner, and less expensively. Thank you Ken Bates, for your exaggerated visions of needless hotel complexes, too-belatedly abandoned after helping the cost soar to three times that of the Stade de France in Paris. Thank you ditherers at the FA, Sport England the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, for the to-ing and fro-ing over the inclusion of an athletics track, inimical to atmosphere at the football games which would earn Wembley’s keep, and ultimately excised in favour of location at the new home of the London 2012 Olympics at Stratford.
And thank you, Multiplex, the Australian contractors who made a killing from the Sydney Olympics, plunged themselves into the red hurling money at their London loss-leader and still managed to embarrassingly fall behind such a high-profile deadline.
Incidentally, while much of the carping this week has complained about the British taxpayer footing an ever-increasing bill, every delayed day will in fact only cost Multiplex and its shareholders, since they were obliged to foot all cost over-runs once construction began. If only the Aussies hadn’t taken back Troy Cooley as bowling coach ahead of next winter’s Ashes, but that’s another story…
Yet Wembley will be worth it, many many times over. I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the site last April, and was able to marvel at the sheer scale, scope and beauty of the prospect, even as bulldozers, cranes and weird jagged shards of metal vied for viewing space with the smart, sharp lines and cavernous curves… the vast open terraces stretching up to the skyline… the first few banks of bright-crimson seats settling in, each one offering more legroom than the old Royal Box and promising an end to the steep old Wembley’s ‘Jack-In-A-Box’ dynamics, when one person craning their neck in a row in front would force everyone up and down, up and down too…
This is what I wrote last April, necessarily tweaking my piece to the photos we had and the new (sadly celebrity-skewed) angle requested – but in the first flush of breathless excitement at the sight, and naively parrot-ing the deadline-busting bluster, I still hope and trust most of the predictions will prove happily true…

THIS is the Wembley Stadium VIP suite which has cost David Beckham £2million.
Well, okay, so it still needs a lick of paint or two.
In fact, work has only just begun on what will be the new Wembley's best seats in the house.
But Metro was given a sneak viewing - before even Beckham or Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has paid £4million for two of the same.
Spurs and England goalkeeper Paul Robinson is the only player to don hard hat and explore the half-built stadium so far.
The 160 executive boxes will ultimately boast giant TV screens, air conditioning, drinks cabinets and fridges - with willing waiters and waitresses on hand to top up drinks.
Each suite costs between £60,000 and £210,000 a year and can hold between eight and 20 people.
Most sold out within days of going on sale two years ago - but Beckham was recently allowed to sign up a spare for a ten-year stay.
The fact the boxes are now being built suggests Project Wembley is entering its final phase.
As long as there are bulldozers on the pitch, it remains far from over - but with a record 2,000 workers now on-site, they are getting there.
Wembley's owners insist they are on track to finish the stadium by late next January.
The 133-metre-high arch has been adorning London's skyline for the past six months.
Now contractors have begun constructing the movable roof which will be supported by the arch.
The first 4,000 seats have also been fitted, offering as much legroom as the Royal Box - only another 86,000 to go, at a rate of 3,600 per week.
The turf is being grown at a secret location in the north of England and will only be laid as the final icing on the cake.
But architect Huw Thomas, who has been working on Wembley for ten years, said: 'Now we're getting walls and corridors put up, it's really starting to feel more like a stadium.'
Next season's FA Cup Final will be the new stadium's official opening.
But the owners must hold a series of smaller warm-ups first - including an unusual open day for 2,000 North Londoners living nearby.
They will be invited to spend the day testing the seats, tasting the catering and flushing the toilets.
And the new Wembley's 2,500 toilets will set a world record for a stadium - a very English boast for the newly-restored home of English football.
But the entire edifice relies on input from across the globe - including German and French construction teams.
'Even in the most far-flung island, you could well find someone who's photocopied a plan for us,' said Mr Thomas.
Scottish and Welsh flags flutter from the gantries alongside English and Union flags.
And a piece of Irish history is embedded in the foundations.
U2's sound engineer Jim Griffiths visited to advise on acoustics - and sneakily buried one of The Edge's plectrums and Bono's pair of sunglasses.
Slanted surfaces will keep the crowd's noise spreading through the stadium, rather than bouncing out into the atmosphere - making the 'Wembley Roar' louder than ever before.

At last summer’s Confederations Cup in Germany, intended as pre-World Cup showcase for that country’s impressive new stadiums, Greece’s German coach Otto Rehhagel misread the script somewhat when asked for his opinion on the new venues. Rather than gushing glib PR-speak about them all, he shrugged and muttered a complaint about new stadiums which all seem to have “come off the same architect’s computer programme�. Similar could be said about the impressive yet somehow antiseptic likes of Reading’s Madejski, Sunderland’s Stadium Of Light, Stoke’s Britannia, Southampton’s St Mary’s, and their English clones.
Yet Wembley should – must - will have that special… I dunno... Wembley-ness.

As Sir Norman says, after an inevitable attempt to crowbar in namechecks for his other London commissions:

"In an age where too many football grounds have become anonymous, it's great that you won't confuse being at Wembley with being anywhere else."

Bring it on – whenever ‘it’ may be…

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Pity the boy who's just been fined £80 for sweet FA. That is, for simply swearing within earshot of a particularly prudish police officer, who promptly issued him with a fixed penalty notice for offending her ears. Which puts the crime on a par with hurling stones at a train, throwing fireworks or being drunk and disorderly.
As even the Reverend Ian Gregory, founder of the Campaign For Courtesy, told me this afternoon: "If everyone using the F-word was fined £80, we could wipe out our national debt. Gordon Brown would be laughing..."
Barry Fry would go bankrupt, Derek and Clive albums would cost thousands of pounds apiece, and - one mild silver lining - Chris Moyles would be a little lighter of wallet if nothing else...

Should anyone now be struggling for alternative abusive epithets, though, may I recommend a little investigation of the obscure Zambian footballer and Portsmouth squad striker Collins Mbesuma, whose references suggest he is more than just a set of alarmingly impressive gnashers...

Enjoyable enough is the gushing paean of praise to a player not even "'Onest 'Arry" Redknapp has been desperate enough to throw into Pompey's Premiership struggle for survival. Though I must admit being a little baffled by the drift into a straining political rant you thankfully don't tend to find in, say, David Pleat's Chalkboard...

But the really, superbly sweet'n'sour stuff is to be found in the Collins Mbesuma guestbook, as all valiant attempts to rationally discuss Collins and other Zambian news and sports issues are brutally buried under the barrage of choice seemingly-stream-of-consciousness insults...

Just a few of my favourites:
* upon the belly of Buddha I swear, falagotta, I will have you removed from society if you continue to sound so stupid.
* you are just another brain washed villager. you son of a hippo.
* People will be able to tell who is a homosexual between you and me. The fact that you mentioned it, you are such a one.
* People sending messages to this site are definitely straight from hell. Lucifer does not come close to your abuse!
* this is exactly why I described you as the biggest dummy who ever banged on a keyboard with your fat fingers to post your nonsense on this web page. You first came out with a high and mighty attitude and then you proceed to display behavior like that of a confused warthog. If you got nothing better to say, just shut your trap, porky boy.

So think on. And remember, don't let your imagination and expressiveness be bound by the admittedly-tempting limits of our tired old Anglo-Saxon cursing.

For myself, if I can't crowbar into conversation the phrase 'You son of a hippo' by the end of this week, I shall be quite frankly disgusted with myself...

If the strap fits...

Rumour reaches The Rainbow Connection (to adopt a stylistic tic apparently beloved of bloggers) that Danny Murphy's recent exit from Charlton Athletic to Tottenham may have been hastened by a training ground bust-up he had with one of the female staff there, who had the audacity to disobey one of his orders and was thus splenetically informed by the binman-lookalike that: "My watch is worth more than your house...!"

Which understandably irked a few of his Charlton colleagues, and so one brief roughing-up later he was on his way north of the river to join the ever-increasing army of Spurs central midfielders (last update: 143 and counting...)

Excellent. If (if, if, IF) this is true, it seems we've finally signed an adequate replacement for Darren Anderton, whose charming chat-up line of choice was reputed to be: "I bet you can't guess how much this watch cost..."

Monday, February 20, 2006

"What's that, Mr Tony Blair...?"

Hmm, what's more disturbing: the fact it's approaching a whole decade since Brass Eye was first broadcast, or that it's been almost as long since Chris Morris did anything even approaching those standards on television?

In the recent light of the depressing Nathan Barley and his patchy cameo in the (more miss than h)IT Crowd, perhaps those old claims anointing Morris as the true heir to Peter Cook were just that little premature and wide of the mark - or, at least, if such a label really, really must exist, might have been better diverted to his old On The Hour collaborator Armando Iannucci, whose The Thick Of It has been a politically-pungent yet also expertly funny delight...

Okay, maybe Morris has just got a little rusty, and he has after all has set fearsomely high standards already.

But still, for the moment it's more enlightening to see Armando now appearing to find a regular berth in The Observer, replacing the monotonous old grizzlings of (Cook's former Private Eye mucker) Richard Ingrams, with his same-old-same-old obsessions with gay people, the BBC and the Archbishop of Canterbury (sometimes at the same time, other times separately...)

On a feeling-very-jaded and lethargic day (partly stupid Spurs-related, it's true, along with other dullnesses...), Armando in today's Observer was at least briefly perk-uppering.

Especially the idea of classing smokers as terrorists, because they're 'very slow suicide bombers'...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I just haven't earned it yet, baby...

A bit of a deflating day, Wednesday. I spent the morning fixing to finalise the details of a forthcoming four-day trip to Lesotho, to investigate the country's appalling Aids suffering (more than one-third of the country's population is HIV-positive, including 49 per cent of the women), speak to Government officials, aid workers, Aids-ravaged families and eight-year-old heads of households - and also explore the intriguing-sounding phenomenon of 'herd boys', kids sent into the mountains from the age of five upwards to live, fend for themselves and herd cattle well into their teens...
Only to arrive back in the office and find my boss, having enthusiastically approved the project not long back, now abruptly veto-ing it. Pah... And, furthermore, bah...
Meaning the only mild pleasure of my day was spotting Morrissey strolling down Bond Street this afternoon, tucked under a grey flat cap, looking even greyer in the face himself, and thoroughly weary with this world of woes...

As Jasper Carrott once so aptly put it: you lose some, you draw some...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"On a return to Waterloo..."

Is there a finer vantage point in, and over, London than the dead-centre of Waterloo Bridge, as the sun slowly sets and the sky seeps through various shades of blue, grey, bluer then finally black, the only illumination from sparkling dots of tacky lights along the Charing Cross Pier or the twinkling crown of Canary Wharf, as stern black taxis rumble along behind - occasionally pausing a moment for a gleeful camera-toting to hop out, flash a few snaps, then bound back in and back home again, while more leisurely strollers lean over the edge into the middle distance and just absorb it all in, stretching east and west along the river, along both banks, amid wintry drizzle or summer's evening breezes, eyes peering over those scurring minutely over Hungerford Bridge, then eyes wide-opening over the awesome architecture dipping all the way from Westminster to Wapping, then eyes shuttering softly in calm contemplation...?

Well, I don't think there can be, anyway...

As a teenager, I used to spend an unusual number of school-break days simply arming myself with a good book, a camera and a one-day travelcard, and simply wandering around London for the duration... Catching the train from Finchley Central to Camden Town, as a rule, then pounding the pavements from there and then onwards.

Regents Park, St James's Park and Hyde Park would be the most regular haunts, allocating a certain amount of time - and number of almost-random photos - to each one, before bustling along the likes of Whitehall, Fleet Street, the London Wall, Cheapside (fairly mainstream and obvious locations all, I now realise, as I try to head a little more intriguingly off the beaten track), all the while dipping into oddball reference books such as Benedict le Vay's Eccentric London or another called London's Ghosts, all the better to try to summon up mysterious memories I can never really have known, spirits of shared city-zen-ship...

And while I would occasionally venture as far afield as, ooh, Richmond Hill, I always, but always homed back in on Cleopatra's Needle as dusk began to fell, trying to memories the inscriptions on all four sides, and taking turns with the canoodling couples to nab the best shore's-edge vantage point and simply ponder...

Then, a few steps around the twisting staircase up onto the bridge, and I would spend at least an hour, often much longer, simply pacing from one end to the other, from one side to the next, guilelessly marvelling at this London, this sophistication and this simplicity, and somehow, just now, just here, no other care mattered...

Of course, it could never last. Neither the night nor the feeling. The too-chill wind of approaching midnight, approaching maturity, tends to start sweeping such blithely-for-the-moment moments away pretty sharpish...

But, but, but... Like Proust chomping on his tea-dipped cake (Pseuds Corner here I come...), I was there again suddenly, briefly, last night - both on the bridge, and back in time - while harrying, hurrying across on the way to wine and cheese off the Embankment, hastily-bought bunch of tulips in hand, and tightened tie, collar and suit where baggy jeans and Modern Life Is Rubbish sweatshirt used to be - and, despite running behind time, had to stop and simply stare.

And, gently, joyously, lose all thoughts all together - for just a few easy minutes, anyway, before snapping back into action and life and the crowd once more...

Oh, as long as I gaze on...

An odd moment of wry humour...

... in the tragic Damilola Taylor trial today:

"It isn't every day that someone confesses to a murder on a park bench, is it?"
- "It is in Peckham."

Put me in mind of Boycie's line in an old Only Fools And Horses episode:
"I'd like to get away as quick as possible. I've left my Mercedes parked downstairs and you know what they're like on this estate. They'd have the wheels off a Jumbo if it flew too low."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

As a so-called rock rebel once famously asked...
Well, the other night I went to watch Walk The Line, the new film biopic of a much grittier, grizzlier, more inspired and inspiring musician than Johnny Rotten: Johnny Cash.
And a lovely piece of work it was too, enough to send me scurrying back home to very deeply croon along to the full Folsom Prison concert, and five discs of late-life Unearthed gems the rest of the weekend through...
Joaquin Phoenix looked very little like the Man In Black himself - too good-looking, really - but seemed to inhabit him with the right amount of intensity. Yet Reese Witherspoon was the real revelation, a delight as the equally-delightful June Carter, both in song and in sunny comedy.
The between-concert, cramped tourbus tetchiness was well-played too, especially the simmering 'Killer' Jerry Lee Lewis - even if the gauche young Elvis cameo seemed a cute and unnecessary nod and wink too far... Did Cash never tour with anyone who didn't go on to become a rock'n'roll legend in their own right?
All in all, the performances and the music helped transform a fairly straight, unspectacular, uncannily-Ray-like biopic into top-class entertainment (speaking of Ray, while Jamie Foxx was superb and certainly Oscar-worthy as the elder Ray Charles, I'm amazed more attention hasn't been given to the spellbindingly poignant portrayal of the young Ray by C J Sanders)
Into the same class must go Coal Miner's Daughter, from 25 years ago, featuring Sissy Spacek in an Acadamy Award-winning portrayal of the goddess-like Loretta Lynn (who wittily remarks in her stunning - sorry for all the superlatives, I'll get back to whingeing soon - 2004 album Van Lear Rose: "Some big folk in Hollywood thought a movie about my life'd be good - It was a big deal, made a big splash - what I want to know's what happened to the cash...?")
But, but, BUT: ay, here's the rub.
137 whole minutes devoted to supposedly the most intriguing, important moments in the legendary life of Johnny Cash.
And yet nowhere to be seen is the scene of his crazed farmyard fight with an ostrich called Waldo, which left the outlaw who supposedly "killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die" less heroically nursing five broken ribs and a torn-open abdomen...
History fails to record the precise damage inflicted upon the ostrich.
But still: surely this is the kind of thing any right-thinking movie-goer would love to see recreated on the silver screen...?
For shame, film-makers, for shame.

Let's just hope it's being saved for the special Director's Cut DVD...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sometimes only one word will do...

All apologies, and thanks - accompanied by my own self-slapping yelps of "D'oh!" - to all those who have commented on my various indulgent ramblings below, and yet whose contributions have failed until now to appear.
Perhaps due to some inexplicable computer breakdown for which no-one can be blamed.
But, er, actually probably because I somehow altered my Blogger settings, meaning comments must be moderated before appearing - and then, very inconveniently, utterly neglecting to realise or indeed know how to fulfil my meagre moderating duties.
So, belatedly but enjoyably, here - or, rather, below - they all are, rescued from the Twilight Zone of my incompetence...
I'm off to learn some Beatles ukulele chords and shall try to look after this blog more responsibly upon my return...

Friday, February 10, 2006

I've suffered for my music.....

... now it's your turn.

What a lovely line. Think I'll steal it, to introduce any stint with a guitar any future family occasion/open-mic night/drunken party singalong/wedding, funeral or barmitzvah Fate might fling my always-willing way...

Though it comes courtesy of the frustratingly phenomenally-gifted Neil Innes, on the criminally-underexposed Rutland Weekend Television, which I've been belatedly enjoying recently, both screen and sound...
And which spawned the Rutles, the 'Pre-Fab Four', and their Spinal Tap-rivalling movie, All You Need Is Cash. And Innes' 1996 update, the Anthology-competing Archaeology, whose final song features the near-perfect lyric:

"Back in '64 before you were born,
People had no time for pouring scorn (or scoring porn),
On dreams of love and peace,
No one was obese,
Only tight trousers were worn..."

Of course, Eric Idle and his structured surrealism were the perfect verbal fit for Neil Innes at the time. I'll be intrigued to see how Spamelot fares and compares when it opens over here soonish. Hopefully, a damn sight funnier than Splitting Heirs, anyway...

Incidentally (very, very incidentally), I met Eric Idle, about 12 years ago. We were both browsing in the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street, and after a hesitant double-take, I realised it was him - clad in a rather shoddy green Parka - and said 'Hello'. And how much I admired his work.
He smiled back, thanked me, said that made him glad, and signed an autograph, on a scrap of paper I fished out of my inside pocket.

True story.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

David Cameron is a Muppet...

Yes, yes, hardly the most sophisticated of political analysis, I realise. About as in-depth and adult as probably my last party leader-related 'Eureka' moment - that is, realising Charles Kennedy was none other than poor young Bobby from King Of The Hill.
Nick Robinson and Tom Bradby must be feeling uneasy already...

Yet what struck me most from this week's entertaining-as-ever Prime Minister's Questions were not Tony Blair's dismissive, dead-eyed responses. Nor even the hefty bags under those eyes, which would surely attract a swingeing surcharge were he to attempt to take them along on a transatlantic flight.

No, the most intriguing elements of the encounter were Dave Cameron's full-throated, and repeated, barks of 'I love it!' and, simply, 'Yeeaaarhh!', as he tried to rise the rapidly-rising tumult of just another Wednesday lunchtime in the Commons.

Which made him resemble nothing so much as a Muppet. Honestly. Well, my instincts, at the very least, could not help but imagine him as standing alongside Kermit, Rowlf and Fozzie, with a host of less-important Muppets congregating behind, as they drop their jaws agape, nod their heads and rock their bodies up and down and back and forth, flutter the upturned palms of their hands to suggest optimistic inclusiveness, and just generally holler their enthusiasm to the world in an attempt to lead, or at least ride, the all-surrounding mayhem.

Had he managed to get a more cutting dig in at the Prime Minister, I swear he may just have thrown his flailing arms up and around his upturned head while shrilly shrieking: 'Yaaaaaay!'

As it is, it seems this little match-up has been scored pretty decisively in Mr Blair's favour by the Waldorf and Stadtlers in the gallery, sorry, lobby. The Standard this afternoon even marked it 5-0 in the Prime Minister's favour, which seemed a little generous, but it was rather amusing to see tonight's Sky News coverage desperately hyping up this first 'serious setback' for the boy wonder, after an admittedly-grudgingly-impressive first few months of agenda-setting, momentum-surging success for him.

Even more amusing to see a sort-of-dapperly-dressed Soames Monster of old Mid Sussex being dragged away from a buffet somewhere this evening for just long enough to insist his leader had achieved 'absolute domination of the Prime Minister', before decisively darting away, gimlet-eyed, to wreak revenge for those precious wasted seconds on some poor platter or several somewhere...

Anyway, back to that rather dubious Muppet analogy.
Well, my techy and Photoshoppery skills clearly don't exist, and rather hopeful searches on Google failed to bring up any appropriate Cameron/Muppet images so far. Only a rather fun little Times piece applying the Jim Henson treatment to the Lib Dem leadership contenders instead.

So, perhaps all that remains is to no-doubt-futilely hope the brave new Tory leadership ultimately follows a similar trajectory to a classic little Waldorf and Stadtler about-turn.
Although I believe the technical term of choice for it these days is 'flip-flop'...

That was wonderful!
- Bravo!
I loved that!
- It was great!
Well, it was pretty good...
- Well, it wasn't bad...
There were parts of it that weren't very good, though...
- It could've been a lot better...
I didn't really like it...
- It was pretty terrible...
It was bad!
- It was awful!
It was terrible!
- Get it away!

Gwarn the Mido...

The man, just banished from Egypt in disgrace, is truly a loon.
A hugely entertaining loon, nonetheless.
In fact, every live TV game featuring Spurs should have a PlayerCam trained entirely on Mido, the whole game through, such is the enjoyment to be gained from his madcap histrionics, no matter how well or badly he actually performs with the ball at his feet.
He makes Guy Poyet - another frenetic footballer, once of this parish - look about as excitable as Ray Wilkins by comparison.
Sad to see him missing out, by dint of pure, predictably-unpredictable temperament and temper, on his country's big moment in the African Cup of Nations final.
But then, perhaps it was only to be somehow, strangely expected of a young man who once threw a pair of scissors across the dressing room at his striking partner - and, apparently, still a close friend to this day - Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Mido has actually seemed to be on his best behaviour for Spurs, most of the time.
And it's astonishing to realise he's still only 22.
If he keeps up his top-scoring form on his return (unlike Fredi Kanoute, who seemed cursed after returning from his turn-out for Mali two years ago), he should win that full contract this summer. And deserve it, too, after shedding a lot of weight last summer and making himself the linchpin of our attack (last Sunday's win against Charlton was our first one in all the games he's missed this season...)
Though I do still uneasily suspect that, within mere days of us awarding him a full-time contract, he'll have ballooned to at least 16 stone.
After all, he did seem to be about the only Muslim to have actually gained weight during the last Ramadan...
But I'm being too unduly harsh now.
Especially of a man who, upon demanding why he should be taken off, and being told 'Because I'm the coach!', instantly hollers back: 'Yoh are nothing but a donkey!'
A pain in the ass, indeed...
But always entertaining, nevertheless.
I'm only disappointed Mido no longer dates the wonderfully-named former Miss Belgium, Joke Van Der Velde.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lord Reith takes another turn or two...

Two years on from Lord Hutton's devastating criticisms, and it seems the BBC is still feeling jittery.
Still, it is heartening to see that when they make serious errors of journalism nowadays, they are big enough to admit and quickly correct them.

From the minute-by-minute online commentary on last night's Birmingham-Reading FA Cup tie:

Correction - 49:58
Defending throw-in by Ibrahima Sonko (Reading).

Attacking throw-in by Ibrahima Sonko (Reading).

Correction - 49:10
Defending throw-in by Ibrahima Sonko (Reading).

Attacking throw-in by Ibrahima Sonko (Reading).

Phew. You had me going there for a minute, fellas.
Well, 48 seconds.

Jack Taylor RIP...

Not Jack Taylor, the English referee who holds the record for the fastest penalty awarded in a World Cup final (inside two minutes, for the Netherlands against the ultimately-triumphant West Germany in 1974, of course.)
But Jack Taylor, the 50-stone 'gentle giant' (of course), from Bradford, who died at the weekend having reached the fairly impressive age, all things considered, of 60.
I must confess not having given him much thought these past few years until reading of his sad demise this week, but I was suddenly reminded not only of one of the best one-off TV documentaries I can recall, but certainly the most delightful TV review I can remember (and there aren't many of those, really...)
Forget Celebrity Fit Club and the supposed controversy this week about poor Anne Diamond's 'confession' of stomach surgery (according to some hysterical newspaper reports, 'her reputation now lies in ruins'. Too many years occupying the same gaudy sofa as Nick Owen, and a series of Polly Filla features for the Mail, may have already helped wreak such damage, I dunno...) But other documentaries about obese people - children and teenagers especially - always leave me intrigued, but also desperately sad and pitying. As does the sight of fat children, full stop. This may seem a very condescending view, and no doubt there is something to be said for personal responsibility and self-control, but the suggestion of any possible abuse and mockery - from others and from one's own self - must be pretty hard to take. Especially for sufferers of Prader-Willi Syndrome - and their anguished families. And those children who greedily, guiltily feel compelled by who knows what to feast on frozen food, stolen sweets, just whatever they can lay their fat fingers on, really, and sadly...
Alternatively, there are those like the aforesaid Jack, who - for all his quirkiness, his straight-talking yet slightly-puffed-up (figuratively-speaking) geniality, his frankly-bemusing hairstyle and fondness of the phrase 'At the end of the day' - take a kind of pride in their size.
But don't let me try - and struggle, and fail - to capture him, for those who missed the delicately-wry ITV documentary on him five years ago. (And how about a judiciously-timed repeat, TV head honchos...?)
Oh lucky you, I've managed to track down Nancy Banks-Smith's wondrously-composed little review of the show in The Guardian. Take it away, Nance...

It goes to show you never can tell.
Salacious-sounding and shoved to the back of the schedules, The Fattest Men in Britain (ITV) proved curiously charming and touchingly funny.
This was down to the fat men, who were darlings, and Nick O'Dwyer, the director, who combined serpentine seduction with the innocent air of someone who has just wandered in off the street.
For this I can forgive him a tendency to burst into verse and a weakness for puns like "Fat has been kind to Jack Taylor."
If Jack Taylor had asked the mirror on the wall "Who is the fattest one of all?" the mirror would not have dithered.
Jack estimated his weight as 54, perhaps 56, stone.
He has a look of Queen Victoria caught in her long johns.
This is something to do with his bizarre hairstyle, dyed and lacquered into a crown, and the enthroned air of friendly dignity with which he greets all callers.
German TV in particular is drawn to him like moons to Jupiter.
After the death of his mother, his grandma and his sweetheart, Brenda, who once cooked him 40 dumplings at one go, he did not leave his flat in Bradford for
25 years.
"I ses to misself, it'd never bother me if I never went out no more, never again." Heartbroken with a hearty appetite is an irresistible combination.
Brenda has a successor, Joan.
It is a treat to watch Jack work through a plateful of cakes with ladylike fingers and lipsmacking appreciation.
A cream horn, then a cherry slice, the cherries winking like brake lights, and then Jack's favourite, a vanilla slice, which is like two clouds stuck together with custard.
You were poignantly reminded of Ena Sharples's first words in Coronation Street: "I'll have six fancies and no eclairs."
I didn't know they still baked cakes like that.
Barry Austin of Birmingham is 21 years younger and, as a friend described him, just like a big ray of sunshine.
Fond of clubbing, full of smiles, relishing his celebrity.
"One day I was just a normal person and the next I was everywhere. It's the only thing I know I've been good at, eating and drinking. At the time I thought I was
enjoying it but I suppose I was putting on a show for people around me, something like a freakshow."
Barry is positively intelligent and, he confided to Jack, cries himself to sleep most nights.
Nick O'Dwyer, now on the warmest of terms with Jack, planned a little surprise for him.
Champagne and oysters were on ice to celebrate his confirmation as the heaviest man in Britain.
Jack heaved himself on the scales, and Nick said rather quietly, "According to this, Jack, you're only 31 stone."
Jack mutated into Fred Elliott.
"Eh! Wha..a..t! No, never in this world! I won't buy that. No, no, I won't buy that. It's out of order. Well out of order. You're insulting me now. Don't you insult me. Look at me, man, look at me. Do I look 31 stone? Tek it out of my 'ouse! Just go!"
A genuinely remorseful O'Dwyer could not resist a stage whisper: "Collapse of stout party."
Jack was not amused. His mouth was circumflex.
"Thirty one stone! I might as well tell people I'm a fucking ballet dancer. Would they believe that?"
Barry, who weighs 40 stone, was tickled pink.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A bad workman blames his tools...

So a bad musician blames his instruments.
And I am indeed a bad musician, so will readily blame my instruments - namely, the two ukuleles I bought through eBay just over a year ago, unwittingly securing double the nymber I needed thanks to a miscalculation over the timing of bids.

I was excited when both arrived, though a little unnerved by the bright crimson red of the one Mahalo uke. And after what seemed an eternity trying to get them in tune, it was a rare delight to be able to pluck out a few easy chords, the four strings corresponding rather straightforwardly to the top four on a guitar.

Still, they felt a little more like children's toys than semi-serious instruments, and the plink-plink sounds were not quite what I had in mind when enjoying such recordings as 'I'll See You In My Dreams' by Joe Brown at the George Harrison tribute concert, and even a few of the guiltily-enjoyable George Formby classics.

In fact, any novelty quickly wore off - especially as they seemed nigh-on impossible to keep in tune for more than 15 seconds or so. Just breathing slightly heavily would send the tuning pegs spinning. And my ambition of carrying around a handy little uke and delighting friends and family - occasionally - with cute little singalongs, soon turned slightly sour. I leant the one to my mum for a touring show she put on, set in the Second World War and featuring a few Formby numbers among the music hall renditions. She took the brown one (the red one was indeed a little too garish), and once it was returned to me I resolved to try one more time, a little more concentratedly, to master the instrument.

After all - Vogue magazine hailed the ukulele as one of their style icons of 2005; the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have been a cult favourite with their impeccable, good-humoured versions of Ms Dynamite, Kate Bush and AC/DC on ukes alone; and for all the naffness of Formby with his little ukulele in his hand, there is the coolly contrasting vision of Marilyn Monroe clutching a uke and making it look somehow sexy in Some Like It Hot... (Not forgetting the excellently-conceived and executed Day Today sketch, which purports to expose Bob Dylan as a plagiarist, by revealing his songs such as Subterranean Homesick Blues were actually written and performed by the Blackpool bard himself, two decades earlier...)

But later today I must parcel up and post on my first two ukuleles, having sold them on again through eBay - the circle of life continues, and my hunt for an interesting-sounding, restless-curiosity-sating alternative to my acoustic guitars enters its next phase.

A banjolele - that's what I should have gone for in the first place...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Chairman, manager, players...

Now it seems even Chelsea's little kid mascots are cocky sods these days.
Sorry, Steven Gerrard. But you've been owned.


I like to take an interest in genuinely insightful investigative journalism. For the merest examples, off the top of my head and of recent vintage: All manner of war correspondents. Jason Burke's always-informed despatches on terrorism for the Observer. David Cohen's behind-the-story inner-city London featurettes for the Standard. Er, Laura Topham's insanely, inanely-addictive 'Single Life' columns for the same paper... (I wish I could find some examples on line, she really is so, so bad it's so, so good - annoyingly pretty, too, it's true - but I'll stop here, before I get too disturbing...)
But I take my hat off, hurl it 20ft in the air, catch it on my bonce, take it off again, repeat the trick, and finally hand it over as a mere token of my affections in tribute to the author of the following scandalous expose about one of the most-beloved icons of our, or any recent time... Life shall never look quite the same again.
Woodward and Bernstein - grab some cutlery and ketchup and prepare to gorge heartily on those, er, hearts of yours...
Read it and weep...