Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"I use the NME..."

It's Wednesday, so it must be NME Day.
Well, actually, the days have long gone when I would have pored fervently over every word in the NME and Melody Maker by Wednesday lunchtime, perhaps even re-reading the latest manifesto brought to you on behalf of the Louise Wener Party, a four-page epic on a day in the life of the Bluetones, or the green-crayon-scrawled screeds angrily dissecting the second verse of a new Manics B-side and whether Menswear really are the future of rock'n'roll or not... (You can answer that one yourself, though a recent revisit of mix-tapes from my stooodent days suggested they perhaps weren't quite as woeful as hazy memory had assured me...)

Sadly, the Maker has now gone to that great recycling bin in the sky, along with the excellent magazines Select and Vox - and the NME itself has dwindled into an over-priced, under-fed annoyance.

This little alternative seems good for a cheap snigger or two, at least...
The Morrissey spoof song titles especially:
1. Don't Make Fun Of Daddy's Girdle
2. Don't Put The Knife In The Butter Until You've Cut The Cheese
3. Elvis '68 Comeback Special
4. Messageboard Hatecrime Incident
5. There Is A Man That Never Goes Out
6. You Don't Have To Be Mad To Work Here (But It Helps)
7. Satan Has Forgiven Jesus
8. Frankly My Dear, That Dress Is A Little Unbecoming

We are the champions, my friend...

Today the Barclays Reserve League South, tomorrow (or eventually) the world...

Excellent work Clive Allen as coach - clearly more than just a 49-goals-in-one-stunning-season wonder... Hopefully he'll stay awhile back at Spurs, rather than take his chances with a lower-league management job.

And if the reserve team is keeping Goran Bunjevcevic occupied and off the streets, that can only be another good thing...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Here's one I bid on earlier..."

Why all the fuss about Blue Peter badges being up for sale on the interbobble?

Anyone who feels so inclined to rid themselves of / fritter hard-earned money on claiming such sad mementoes marking the dullest of all (anti-) children's TV should be left entirely alone, merely to think long and hard about just what they've done.
After all, the only worthwhile thing Blue Peter ever spawned was sweet Sophie Ellis-Bextor... (though she wasn't, in fact, the unborn baby which made Janet Ellis such a scandalous siren of her era...)

No, I'm more disturbed by the fact such tat is apparently available one a penny (or, indeed, one a hundred quid upwards), but can I get my grasping hands on an original Blankety Blank chequebook and pen? Or a Crackerjack pencil? Or a Bendy Bully? Or an authentic 3-2-1 Dusty Bin, instead of an opportunistic replica eggcup or moneybox produced to satisfy only the cheapest, most undiscerning of nostalgia-geeks...

I did once receive a Jim'll Fix It medallion for Christmas, though it was in fact merely a novelty slab of soap. Genuine articles are apparently still available, though I'd like to imagine the exorbitant £110 price-tag would have even Saville himself choking indignantly on his cigar...
I suppose this Blue Peter-style solution might have to do...

I knew I should have nabbed Mallett's Mallet when I had the chance - during my 15 minutes of fame on the Wide Awake Club many, many moons ago, as part of a small primary school troupe demonstrating the dubious sounds and virtues of recorders and ocarinas made out of cardboard...

Still, I did manage to get the man himself's autograph - including the 'T' in Timmy represented by a over-sized drawing of a cartoon mallet.
Really, it's obvious when you think about it...

At number one is Robbie Keane...

At number two is Robbie Keane,
At number three is Robbie Keane,
At number four is Robbie Keane,

At number five is Robbie Keane,
At number six is Robbie Keane,
At number seven is Robbie Keane,
At number eight is Robbie Keane,

At number nine is Robbie Keane,
At number ten is Robbie Keane,
At number eleven is Robbie Keane,
At number twelve is Robbie Keane...

All I want is a team of Robbie Keanes,
A team of Robbie Keanes, a team of Robbie Keanes.
All I want is a team of Robbie Keanes,
A team of Robbie Keanes, a team of Robbie Keanes...

(Repeat until fade / Keano somehow staggers us through into the Champions League / every Spurs supporter has been carted off to the North Middlesex Hospital with a coronary - whichever happens first...)

Mind you, Robbie not only saved Spurs tonight (just about).
He also redeemed a ref who was simply baffling throughout - had the goalkeeper, already leniently indulged for blatant time-wasting and somehow saved from the most obvious of red cards, saved that late penalty, there might just have been a riot...

Though it could have been even worse than that. The keeper might have been sent off, only to be replaced between the sticks by our own keeper's namesake - the Albion left-back Paul Robinson - who would then turn away the penalty and be celebrated in tomorrow's Super Soaraway Sun as "England's Number One?"

But still, all's well that end's well (for now), after a deliriously-dramatic night at the Lane...
Ouch, my heart hurts.

"And the Spurs go tottering on..."

Monday, March 27, 2006

Odette arrives...

Occasionally, just occasionally, amidst all the everyday trivialities, my job allows me to feel some (very) small involvement in something worthwhile. Last Friday I travelled to the Holocaust Centre, in the middle of Nottinghamshire-nowhere, to speak to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who, following a story I wrote last December, has finally been brought to Britain for - hopefully - life-saving, transforming surgery.
Odette Mupenzi - half her face blasted away by gunmen and now shrouded under a thick black scarf, her spindle-thin body shivering and tottering in the British chill - has suffered 12 years of agony, which can hopefully now be redeemed thanks to the efforts of determined charity workers, generous public donors - and her own astonishing fortitude...
A bit of a humbling experience, really...

A YOUNG woman whose face was shot away in the Rwandan genocide has arrived in Britain hoping her nightmare will soon be over.
Odette Mupenzi will this week start the surgery which could free her from pain and give her a new face - thanks to Metro readers.
Their donations could now pave the way for many more casualties of the genocide to receive life-changing help and treatment.
The 30-year-old Rwandan, wracked by starvation and infection, was brought to Britain after a Metro appeal helped raise more than £50,000.
As she prepares for a long-awaited lifeline, Odette said: 'I'm so grateful to everyone who's helped. I want to thank every one.
'I didn't think I would ever get well again - then I saw all these efforts people are putting in, which have made a big big difference. Now I have hope.'
Odette was horrifically disfigured when Hutu militiamen burst into a school where she and her family were hiding in 1994.
She saw her father hacked to death by two soldiers and old friends who betrayed the family, while her mother was beaten and had an ear sliced off.
One of the troops found Odette and fired a barrage of bullets into her jaw, arms and chest, before the whole gang hacked at her with machetes.
Somehow she survived, and was found among the corpses by one of the religious brothers running the school.
A courageous Hutu doctor helped her escape to a hospital where her infected wounds were dressed and she was fed a paste of milk and biscuits through a syringe.
But attempts to restore her face, with trips to Switzerland, Germany and South Africa, all foundered for lack of funds.
Charity workers fear she could soon die due her to plummeting weight and frequent infections in her wounds.
She cannot eat properly through his misshapen mouth, and suffers constant headaches and spinal pain.
When the Aegis Trust and Metro appealed for help last December, it had been hoped that £10,000 might be raised.
British charity the Pears Foundation had promised to double funds to £20,000.
But within days, Metro readers had rushed to pledge more than £25,000 - ultimately pushing the Odette fund beyond the £50,000 barrier.
A special fund has been set up in Odette's name, and the Aegis Trust hopes the money will pay for both her treatment and many more projects.
Ian Hutcheson, one of the UK's most respected facial surgeons, is heading a team of London-based specialists who have been studying Odette's plight and planning the best response.
After struggles to win a visa, Odette has now been given permission to stay in Britain for up to six months - and is being looked after by Aegis in the Nottinghamshire countryside.
She is being kept on a careful diet of nutritional supplements to build up her strength - but her only concern at the moment is the cold British weather.
'I'm having to wear two thick jumpers at the moment, but I hope I'll get used to it,' she said.
Odette insists she would rather die than suffer again at the hands of her attackers, who are now back on the streets of still-divided Rwanda.
Twelve years after the 100-day slaughter which claimed 1million lives, tensions between Tutsis and their Hutu slaughterers remain tense.
Odette is forced to relive her harrowing ordeal every day, thanks to the taunts of neighbours - and the fact she lives just across the road from the scene of the brutality.
Above all, she fears a reunion with her attackers - knowing many have been given early releases from prison as part of troubled Rwanda's attempts at reconciliation.
Odette bravely gave evidence against one of the former friends who mutilated her then left her for dead, helping convict and imprison him.
But she knows he and others are now out of jail - and could run into her at any moment.
She said: 'The greatest fear is that he could come and hurt me again.
'If I died, it would be okay, because I wouldn't be in pain anymore.
'But if he came to hurt me again, and I got more injuries, I wouldn't be able to bear it.'
Odette and her mother live just 100 metres from the school where their family was brutalised, and just across the road from the former home they tried to flee.
She regularly bumps into the estranged wives of some of her assailants.
'They point at me over fences, and sometimes they shout and insult me,' she said.
'There's not a day goes by when I don't think about what happened. I can't escape.
'People want to forget what happened - they don't talk about it, they try to deny the genocide. But it still hurts.
'If I could, I would gladly leave the place behind and never go back - but there's just no way for that to happen right now.'
Odette, her mother and a younger sister live in a three-roomed shack, with a roof barely worthy of the name.
Odette's dreams of a nursing career were shattered by the attack, and she spends her healthier days only able to do the odd bit of housework.
Danielle Mbesherubusa, who accompanied Odette to Britain, said: 'I really don't know how that family survives. They have barely any income at all.'
The Rwandan government has set up a fund for genocide survivors, knowing many young people were orphaned and traumatised.
But their focus remains more on the country's slowly-burgeoning economy, according to Odette's friend Danielle Mbesherubusa.
Danielle runs the Aegis Trust's social welfare programme in Rwanda, helping families with transport, food.
She said: 'Sometimes we're able to give a family £10 or £20 a month - and to them, that's huge. It means so much to them.
'It's easy to think the genocide happened 12 years ago and is over now, but the consequences won't go away that easily.
'So many people lost their childhoods and any opportunities to go to university and make something of themselves.
'The trauma they've gone through is bad enough, without all the financial difficulties so many are now suffering.'

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Now I've got heartaches by the number, troubles by the score..."

Many artists have covered that song by Harlan Howard, but my favourite version is one of the earliest - the 1961 recording by Buck Owens, who died yesterday aged 76.
Perhaps he will be best-remembered for Act Naturally, re-recordered by The Beatles with Ringo on typically-ramshackle lead vocals in 1965, but other 'Buckaroo' tracks worth revisiting include Together Again (beautifully performed later by Emmylou Harris), Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass?, and renditions of Memphis and Johnny B Goode which had Buck's more strait-laced country aficionados unhappy but which he defended thus:

"I see ‘Memphis’ as bein’ rockabilly. I didn’t say I wasn’t gonna do rockabilly. I just said I ain’t gonna sing no song that ain’t a country song. I won’t be know as anything but a country singer. I meant that, I still mean that. Listen to the lyrics. If they’re not country lyrics...the melody...if that ain’t a country melody...The only thing was, a black man was singin’ it, a black man who I was a big fan of. So, my famous saying for my little pledge - I didn’t date it. I really meant it at the time. I don’t mean for it to be taken lightly."

His so-called 'freight train' songs may not be the most sophisticated - their repetitive, comfortable country licks make Johnny Cash's 'boom-chicka-boom' formula sound like free-form jazz by comparison - but they're great fun to listen to.

The Beatles appear to have agreed, and not just rockabilly Ringo.
According to Buck's website:

Unlike many country stars, Buck and Don Rick were enthusiastic fans of The Beatles’ early music, even before the group covered "Act Naturally." The pair had every Beatles album, and onstage did a good-natured imitation of the Liverpool quartet. Buck’s professed Beatlemania bothered some fans: "People would say ‘You shouldn’t be sayin’ that. You should be talkin’ about country music.’ And I said, ‘Why not? It’s the truth! Why can’t I say I’m a Beatles fan?’ I used to get criticized for that." Ken Nelson recalls that The Beatles admired Buck as well: "We used to have to send Buck’s albums to The Beatles when they came out."

Apparently, his pioneering "Hee Haw" country TV shows proved pretty influential too, though English viewers such as myself are probably only familiar with the Simpsons parody in the episode when 'Colonel Homer' helps the lovely Lurleen to become a country music superstar ("like ... uh ... that jerk in the cowboy hat ... and that dead lady!")

Rumours the show may now be resurrected, newly hosted by Tony Adams, will not be confirmed for as long as the self-acclaimed 'football intellectual' remains gainfully, bafflingly employed elsewhere as "World's Worst Pundit"...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Spanish football disgraced again...

Yes, yes, it's shocking that Atletico Madrid fans could hurl such a dangerous object at the poor Sevilla 'keeper.
But more worryingly, couldn't the ref at least have taken a hefty swig before handing the bottle back over the touchline...?
You wouldn't get that sort of thing in the Premiership.
Whether a footballer like Rooney, or a ref like Poll, some thirsty contender would surely have been right in there faster than an Edgar Davids yellow card...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Tonight on 'It's The Mind' we examine the phenomenon of deja vu..."

"Tonight on 'It's The Mind' we examine the phenomenon of deja vu..."

Er, I may have been a little premature in celebrating England's win over India, at least if this evening's BBC Six O'Clock News is to be believed.
Their report on the Test was devoted entirely to the fourth day's action, ending with India on 18 for one and with the reporter anxiously wondering whether England had left themselves too much to do on the final day.

Superb sports coverage there. Coming up on the Ten O'Clock bulletin: can Ramsey's men overcome West Germany to lift the 1966 World Cup...?

Honestly. It's enough to make even the most ardent licence-fee-defenders despair.
First that horrific BBC website blunder I previously exposed. Now this.

"Hello, Lord Hutton...?"

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

IT advice required...

Should I be worried about my internet connection?
It's just I've been following tonight's FA Cup tie with the BBC website's live minute-by-minute updates, and it seems every single time I've been pressing F5 'Refresh', Liverpool's score goes up by one...?
Shurely shome mishtake?

Monday, March 20, 2006

"He who dares, Ledders..."

After Tottenham's 2-0 win at Brum on Saturday, and Chelsea's typically-tantrum-ridden 1-0 defeat at Fulham yesterday, the position is this: if we win all eight of our remaining games, and Chelsea lose all theirs, the Premiership title could be ours by one point.
"Dream on?"
Oh, ye of little faith...
Game on.

"What a plonker..."

Okay, own up - who called in Del Boy and Rodders to help work on the new Wembley...?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"It's a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer..."

I've been promising it for years, but I think it finally is time to start work on my novel. Everyone has a book in them, apparently, though what Dr Gillian McKeith might have to say about this really doesn't bear thinking about...
But my muse has spoken - I have a storyline.
My much-mooted meisterwork will be all about the trials and tribulations of a perfume-obsessed amphibian.
Coming soon to a bookseller's shop near you...
The Givenchy Toad.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"You fill me with inertia..."

Hardly hatemail, sure, but a recent arrival in the work post was a little bemusing.
It was just a cut-put of a fairly innocuous piece I'd recently written about proposed police reforms, pasted onto a blank A4 sheet only decorated with the angry comment, "Typical Tory liar!" and a "cc" for the editor of the Daily Mail - who, incidentally, is not at all my boss and would probably be more impressed than distressed by the nature of the allegation, but still...
All things considered, it seemed entirely worth the cost of the second-class stamp, and I hope it brought the sender certain satisfaction...
But as complaint missives go, it impressed me less than the email I once received out of the blue from a cult group calling themselves the "Friends Of Hecate", responding to a light-hearted, yes indeed, foolishly frivolous feature I wrote after a venture into Clapham Woods (no, not London, but West Sussex), supposedly the scene of various UFO-sightings, dog-nappings, animal sacrifices and worships on behalf of the afore-said Friends...
The moaning missive, sent a baffling nine months after publication, ticked me thoroughly off for being so dismissive of the Wiccan belief system, before signing off with the treasurable two-step:
"Get your facts right, you Christian bastard!
Best wishes,
Friends Of Hecate".

Sadly, my winsome reply, pledging genuine interest in an interview to put their side of the story, went unanswered...
But back to the "Typical Tory liar" jibe - well, I'd certainly take umbrage at part of that, as a lifelong wishy-washy Labourite - despite, or perhaps due to, growing up in the then-Thatcher-owned fiefdom of Finchley, and watching as the family homestead hosted local party HQ wakes as successive general election results rolled in (people would drift from one room to the other, one TV to the next, hoping against hope ITV would tell better tidings than the BBC...)
But as for the "liar" allegation, well, that might take a little trickier refuting...
And even then, you may not believe me...
After all, who could argue against the imperious scene from Pete'n'Dud's original Bedazzled, all the so-so-better for its total Hurleylessness...

George Spiggott (Peter Cook as the Devil): "Oh, by the way - I forgot to tell you something about Margaret Spencer."
Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore as a very short-order cook): "What's that?"
Pete: "She's dead."
Dud: "... Oh, she's not?"
Pete: "No, she's not. No, she's alive."
Dud: "Then why did you say that?"
Pete: "Malice. I'm a liar. I do it the whole time, I can't help it."
Dud: "Are you telling me that everything you've ever said is a lie?"
Pete: "Everything I've ever told you's been a lie. Including that."
Dud: "Including what?"
Pete: "That everything I've ever told you's been a lie. That's not true."
Dud: "I don't know what to believe."
Pete: "Not me, Stanley. Believe me..."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

'Ark at Archimedes...

Until it featured as a theme in last night's Elephant Inn pub quiz, the alleged significance of today had entirely passed me by (perhaps partly explaining our abysmal slump to sixth out of six - stern words have been spoken, extra training sessions threatened...)
Still, I'm wiser now, so for all those eager number-crunchers who will be celebrating today like it's one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine, and for all those non-mathemeticians like myself whose most feverish calculations are restricted to forecasting how the Premiership table will end up - I wish you all a very happy World Pi Day - may all the best things in your life continue to come in threes - sorry, in 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510... (etcetera, etcetera, you know the rest...)

It's a shame about Ray...

Oh dear. It seems that quintessential English hero Ray Davies is now getting the snake-eyes for agreeing a £6million deal for many of his finest Kinks songs to be used as advertising jingles in the US.
How thoroughly depressing, and entirely at odds with the admirable sentiments expressed in the title track of the exquisite 1968 album, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society: "We are the village green preservation society,/God bless Mrs Mop, vaudeville and variety ... We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliate,/God bless Tudor houses, antique tables and billiards..." - as indeed has been pointed out in Monday's Guardian by John Harris, author of the exemplary The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock...

Well - up to a point, Lord Copper.
Okay, so everyone knows the edict that selling out to the advertising masses is tantamount to lopping off your last remaining pound of flesh of artistic integrity and flogging it to the highest bidder, or at least so the famously-fierce (and, here's a shocking admission, to my mind overrated and me-cold-leaving) Bill Hicks ranted: "Here's the deal, folks. You do a commercial - you're off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay? You're another whore at the captialist gang bang and if you do a commercial, there's a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink."

I dunno. Seemingly the rates of pay for fairly minimal amounts of effort are rather ridiculously extravagant, and it can dent your appreciation of an artist to see him/her whoring their talent for excessively-appalling "work" - Paul Merton's adverts for Phones 4 U/Imperial Leather, anyone? Dudley Moore for Tesco? John Cleese for Sainsbury's? Shudder-inducing, every time...

But it will be interesting to see just how the Kinks kome, sorry, come out of this particular arrangement, public-image-wise (to slip into C C Baxter-style speak...) After all, Picture Book (again, from the Village Green album) has recently been used extensively for a certain camera firm (although the same album's closer, People Take Pictures Of Each Other was rather more caustic about the superficiality of folks taking incessant photos, and clearly wouldn't have been such a suitable soundtrack...)

While to me the Raymond Douglas Davies of the 1960s and 1970s is one of the most worship-worthy figures of modern popular culture, a few of the scales have since slipped from my eyes as to his older-age fallibility.
Perhaps the tipping-point was seeing The Kinks play a quarter-filled Wembley Arena in the early 1990s. Ray was radiant throughout his initial, solo acoustic spot run-through of favourites such as Days, Sunny Afternoon and Autumn Almanac. But a rather odd taste was left in the mouth when the full band arrived, he dropped his guitar and spent much of the gig hurtling his way across and back, and up and down, the stage, in a garish Union flag suit, barking out lyrics in what seemed a misguided attempt to be Freddie Mercury rather than the downbeat, pinpoint lyrical observer we came to know and love in opposition to the more outlandish Darkness-esque stadium hoofers...
Add to that some woefully embarrassing 1990s compositions such as the tuneless My Diary, The Shirt and London Song (sample lyrics: "There's a room in a house in a street in a manor in a borough/That's part of a city that is generally referred to as Lahn-don,/It's a dark place, a mysterious place/And it is said that if you're born within the sound of Bow-Bells/You have the necessary qualifications to be christened a Londoner ... But when you think back to all the great Londoners: William Blake, Charles Dickens, Dick Whittington,/Pearly kings, barrow boys, Arthur Daley, Max Wall/And don't forget the Kraaaay twins...")
And yet, and yet... Waterloo Sunset and Moments are two of the most beautiful songs ever recorded, Holiday Romance and Alcohol two of the wittiest, and the Clissold Arms in East Finchley - site of some of the Davies brothers' earliest performances, both with guitar in hand and foaming pints in the other - is one of my favourite locals... Even X-Ray, that odd half-autobiography, half-ambitious-1984-pastiche is well worth a read...
So here's hoping his new deal does him less artistic damage than the kind of sales-(and-streetcred)-spurt other bands can strangely receive from being linked with Levi's...
After all, the US may owe the Kinks a little favour, having apparently made their early US tours a little trickier than they should have been, thanks to confusion over the A Well Respected Man lyric "and he likes his fags the best...", and the commercial sector even more beholden, the early-70s, brand-name-fearful BBC having forced the re-recording of Lola as a single, replacing "you drink Champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola" with ".. tastes just like cherry cola".
I just hope the advertising execs who now get their grubby mitts on the Davies meisterworks show a little more sensitivity and tact than those who, thanks to Wacky Jacko, got to plunder some of the Beatles' holy grails in the 1980s...
Here's Jim Bredouw, one of the men involved when Capitol allowed Nike the master mixes of Revolution to advertise trainers in 1987: "There were a couple of terrible drum mistakes that sounded like Ringo dropped a drumstick..."
You can start to understand George Harrison's frustration: "If it's allowed to happen, every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women's underwear and sausages."
Too true, George.
Though, then again, it seems advertising women's underwear wasn't beneath Bob Dylan, nor did selling sausages do too much to taint the image of George Best, compared to some of his other escapades...
So you go for it, Ray...
Just please, please, please don't let the godawful Gap get hold of Dedicated Follower Of Fashion...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind..."

... I'm so-o-o tired, after a truly frenetic and frazzling weekend, mainly centred on the wedding of my brother Noel yesterday, and the packed-to-bursting reception at my parents' home - which entailed working harder and more intensively than my day job ever requires, both on Friday for the planning, and today for the post-party clean-up. Fortunately, I grabbed some solace from my wedding-day duties as usher and (awkward, oh-so-awkward) emcee to eat and drink probably what amounted to me entire body-weight several times over, so it wasn't all too draining...
In fact, it was a delightful day, with everyone enjoying a happy, hearty old time of things - and the doomiest weather forecasts proved marvellously misleading, as the sun stayed out and the rain away. Even minor could-be hiccups such as the bride's father forgetting to bring the rings failed to put a dampener on events - a quick-thinking rector handed over his ring as a temporary substitute, while the female priest conducting the service had slender enough fingers for her band to fit Vicky.
But anyway, while I've been a right old mess of emotions in the past few weeks - and especially the past week - and have behaved as a sprawling loser as a result, the fightback towards some sort of normalcy starts right here, right now.
Well, maybe not right here nor indeed right now, but this week, anyway... Honest...
In the meantime, I shall try to get hold of some wedding day photos for a more detailed, considered report, but after an evening bingeing lazily on detective dramas and sarky in-jokes from my best friend's sofa, it's time now to head to bed ahead of a return to work, pondering idly on a puzzling dream the other night about going to interview Tessa Jowell for the Mirror, only to find her ensconced in a bath - fully-clothed, mind - for the entire discussion, which ended with her attempting to throttle and drown me, before being asked by the Mirror editor to write up the experience not as an article but as a poem...
Yes, it really must be time to start sorting myself out.
(The bizarre photo comes, by the by, from this spoof report on the London 2012 Olympics bid. It's not my doing, honest. Though the image may now be a little tricky to shift from the mind...)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"I hear the train a-coming, it's rolling round the bend..."

These may look deathly dull to you (and indeed, to me).
But Frank Sinatra would have appreciated them. So would Johnny Cash. And Joe DiMaggio, Yul Brynner, Walt Disney and, er, Hermann Goering...
And hopefully my dad will too, since Hornby "track packs" A, B and C were his birthday presents from his sons last week, after I struggled manfully to somehow understand the basics of railway modelling...
My dad received for Christmas a basic "Orient Express" trainset for his study, after my mum asked him what he really wanted as a present. Assuming he was joking the first time, it was only when he repeated the request a week later that she, baffled, bought the set which has provided childlike pleasure since being tentatively assembled on his study table...
This new hobby does make buying future birthday/Christmas presents reassuringly straightforward, though track packs A and B did look disappointingly dreary for a gift. Apparently, though, they are the essential facilities needed before venturing into the loop-providing excitement of track pack C and beyond... Well, take it on trust, anyway...
Next stop, a second train (which would have been fairly pointless without a second track): but the supposedly-most popular new engines on sale, the Hogwarts Express replica and the Thomas The Tank Engine just seem too desperately naff...
This country music-blaring, Wild-West-raring train sounds much more like the ticket, both in fantasy and in real life, and I'd love one day to ride it.
In the meantime, I'll suggest to my dad motoring his Orient Express around the slowly-slowly-developing tracks, and playing Gram Parsons CDs.
The ever-cool curator of 'cosmic American music' was featured in a nifty little Radio 2 documentary the other day, now available online, which told the familiar old tale of his short life - and crazy aftermath of his death - with some occasionally-illuminating interviews with cacklin' Keef Richards, the always-entrancing Emmylou Harris, madman manager and Gram's-body-burner Phil Kaufman, and the "Grievous Angel" Gram himself.
Yet it was frustrating to hear brief snippets of his dolorous, delightful music - the heartslicing Love Hurts, the epic Return Of The Grievous Angel, the rollicking live version of Merle Haggard's California Cottonfields, a few samples from the Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, one of the most importantly-influential American records of all time - only for them to be cut off quickly too soon...
Yet country music and trainsets do seem to go together.
As well as the Man In Black, other enthusiasts appear to have included Haggard himself and Roger "King Of The Road" Miller, according to this handy - if surprising - round-up.
Alongside The Who's Roger Daltrey and John Entwhistle (I assume, while they were intrepidly debating second radius double curves and class J83 early BR locomotives, Townshend and Moon were off somewhere else playing bridge...), Neil Young, Gary Coleman, Lionel Ritchie, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, David Hasselhoff, Kevin Costner and Elton John.
Not to mention legendary hellraiser Rod Stewart, who once proclaimed: "I'd love to be on the cover of Railway Modeller. That would mean more to me than the cover of Rolling Stone."
Perhaps "Downtown Train" was an even more heartfelt, emotional song than anyone might have imagined...
That Ronaldinho certainly is some special player, isn't he just...? It would be a travesty were this beautiful Barcelona side not to win this year's Champions League, after fairly comfortably wreaking revenge on the Special One's expensive plodders tonight (though I do fear Chelsea taking out their frustration on Spurs this Saturday...)
But then, for all their fame, fortune and heroic image, it's astonishing Barca have only won one solitary European Cup, back in 1992 at Wembley, while their hated rivals Real have snaffled nine, leaving the Catalunyans counting as many European Cuo trophies as such leading lights Aston Villa, Celtic, Hamburg, Red Star Belgrade and Steaua Bucharest.
Ah, Steaua, the team which actually defeated El Tel's Barca in the 1986 final, after perhaps the shoddiest penalty shoot-out I can recall - the Spaniards fluffed all four of theirs, while the Romanians managed to score two and thus take the trophy...
While I watched that game from the comfort of my bunk bed, I was lucky enough to be at the 1992 final against Sampdoria, a truly awesome experience, not just for the occasion, the match itself and Ronald Koeman's wonder winning goal struck from about 30 yards out with Hot Shot Hamish-style power - this was prior to his co-starring role in Graham Turnip Taylor's "Do I not like that" melodrama, too...
No, it was the atmosphere generated by both sets of fans, who turned Wembley from the imperious relic it was for England games and domestic Cup finals, into a (to me eyes, anyway) unprecedentedly scorching cauldron of noise, tempo and colour.
The best moment came before the kick-off, actually, when fans at each end of the stadium simultaneously held aloft coloured cards strategically placed on their seats, all at once unruffling each club's badge across the whole of the behind-goal stands.
Of course, I don't have the glorious photos to hand, but will try to track some down...
In the meantime, this huge fluttering venture of a madly-fanatical England-following mate of mine from Spurs could well catch the eye - or many - this summer in Germany. Rather him than me dealing with the practical arrangements, mind - of both transporting a 6,000sqm flag across Europe, but also merely rolling it up again after a game...

"Your grandfather pointed out that Shake was always being taller than me just to spite me..."

Sad news for fans of Beatle-film bit-part players, with the death of John Junkin - deadpan comic writer and performer, and put-upon roadie Shake in A Hard Day's Night (far left in this photo) - coming not long after the demise of plain-bloody-weird poet Ivor Cutler, who was invited along on the inferior-yet-fun Magical Mystery Tour (the spaghetti dream scene especially...)
RIP them both...
And I do desperately hope Victor Spinetti, Eleanor Bron and Warren Mitchell are all taking good care of themselves this week.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Be oblong and have your knees removed..."

To anyone driving along the A1 either in the mid-afternoon yesterday or the early hours this morning, vaguely alarmed by the sight of a fellow motorist at the wheel of a rather scruffy Ford Ka, chuckling inanely to himself as he negotiated the manic drudgery of London traffic: please accept my apologies, but I would like taken into consideration the old Steve Martin albums on my iPod I was joyously revisiting: Let's Get Small and Comedy Isn't Pretty!...

Okay, okay, so the trailers for the forthcoming Pink Panther remake suggest he has learnt no lessons at all from that Bilko embarrassment, and is either thicker than thought or just cravenly corporate.
And surely the world was crying out for a Cheaper By The Dozen sequel about as fervently as for, I dunno, Japan trying to stage some kind of Pearl Harbour reprise. Or indeed, a Big Momma's House follow-up film.

But for all his mailed-in performances in dross such as The Out-Of-Towners, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Father Of The Bride II (I didn't mind the first one, so EXCUUUUUUSE MEEEE!), he can surely be forgiven thanks to such critically-acclaimed lunacy as The Jerk, the luvverly Roxanne and the ingenious-yet-tortuous-to-watch All Of Me, as well as the less-lauded but gleeful Three Amigos! (guiltily gigglesome as a kid, better and better with age), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Ruprecht alone is worth any cinema price hike) and Little Shop Of Horrors, in which his evil, Elvis-alike, sadistic dentist cameo steals the show ("I thrill when I drill a bicuspid - it's swell though they tell me I'm mal-a-a-djusted...")

But his pre-film star fame tapes are a wonder to behold - or, at least, er, be-hear. He was selling out stadia and crashing the pop album charts in the late Seventies, with routines equally absurd, self-satirising and crashing stand-up comedy cliches...

A few of my favourite moments, albeit obviously sure to fail when simply transcribed rather than heard...
* "To open a show, I always like to do one thing that is impossible. So right now, I'm going to suck this piano into my lungs..."
* "I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. I got a fur sink. Oh, let's see.... Electric dog polisher, that was a good one. Gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater. And of course I've bought some dumb stuff too..."
* "I feel good tonight, I really do. I finally got something I really wanted, and that's important - it really is. I finally got some, er, hostages..."
* "I wanted to expand my life in the way Leonardo did... And that's why I took up juggling. I know what you're saying, you're saying: 'Steve, where do you find time to juggle?' Well, I juggle in my mind... Whoops."
* "People look at guys like the Mona Lisa - Leonardo's Mona Lisa, they think: oh, that's not so great. Not a lot of people know this - the Mona Lisa was painted in one stroke..."
And, best of all...
* "Let me give you a warning, okay - I was in Paris, about two months ago [...] Let me give you a warning, if you're going over there - here's an example: 'chapeau' means 'hat. 'Oeuf' means 'egg'. It's like those French have a different word for everything..."

He's also pretty mean on the banjo, the happiest instrument around...
His written essays are highly recommendable too, especially the compilation book Pure Drivel (among his tips for aspiring writers are the oh-so-so-sensible: "Naked Belligerent Panties: This is a good sexy title with a lot of promise.", "'Dagnabbit' will never get you anywhere with the Booker Prize people. Lose it.", and "Writer's block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol."

On the debit side, Stevey - this game is just rubbish...

"Is it safe...?"

Speaking of dodgy dentists, with the less-than-enticing prospect of some minor dental surgery looming tomorrow, it was a little alarming to read this not-so-charming tale, on my brother's blog...:

"One time my father was at the dentist. He gets on well with him (can't imagine how...) and the dentist was chatting away whilst leaning over dad's mouth, prodding and scraping away with his mirror and, well, scraper-thingy. 'Oh, one of your fillings has come out', says the dentist. He looks around my dad's mouth to see which one it might be... pauses again... rolls his tongue around his own mouth and says 'Oh, no, it's one of mine!'"

Let's get all the worried gulps out of the way now, rather than find myself swallowing, unwittingly, unhealthy shards of debris come Wednesday afternoon...
Maybe, just maybe, an afternoon of discomfort in the dentist's chair (sadly not Gazza's) is merely a small price to pay to avoid ending up like this.

"There's only one Keano..."

The exquisite highlight of an all-round soo-poib Sunday at the Lane: a roaring atmosphere, a crucial win to (hopefully) get our stuttering Champions League-challenging form back in the right mood, and a simply cracking Cup tie-like match with both Spurs and Blackburn playing open, attacking, attractive football... Even Robbie Savage seemed on good(ish) behaviour and looked Rovers' most impressive, effective player, I must reluctantly admit...
Sadly, we now head to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Fingers crossed moaning Mourinho and his men are still feeling totally shell-shocked by a midweek Champions League elimination at the hands - and twinkle-toed feet - of Barcelona and lose a League game to us for the first time since 1989.
And maybe I'll win the Lottery, and be offered the editorship of the New York Times, and Kirsten Dunst will return my calls, and I'll discover the secret formula for eternal life, for travelling through time, and for picking up a sleeping cat...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"You say it best, when you say nothing at all..."

Glory be (and yet, apologies for that nauseating lyric-checking there... but anyway). So there are others who feel Garfield is neither entirely the goofy, unfunny schlock suggested by the recent movie and merchandise, nor any longer quite the gleeful yuckfest it used to be, back throughout the 1980s and 1990s when no, but no self-respecting bathroom was complete without at least one 'Fat-Pack' collection on the, er, shelves...
And yet while his big-money recent transfer from the ailing Express to the rapacious Mail was heartening (even at his lazy worst, Garfield doesn't really deserve to share newspring with that deathly-stultifying Rupert The Bear...), there are only so many ham-fisted lazy lasagna/spider/Odie-kicking single-sceners to be tolerated these days...
So hurrah for the ingenious fellow who seems to have devised a way to make Garfield funny again. Entirely unexpectedly, and oddly - and merely by removing every speech bubble issuing from Garfield himself.
And suddenly, the strip isn't about a sarcastic cat, but a poignantly-yet-pathetically deluded cat-owner.
The stomach-winding punchline comes from Garfield's silent reaction. Suddenly the ladling-on of emphasis, in the form of a caustic pay-off, would simply seem gratuitous.
Genius, strangely, somehow...
And I haven't even mentioned the Garfield Randomizer either...

On an entirely different literary note, I've just begun reading Roy Greenslade's modern media history tome, Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda.
It's not quite a side-splitting, rip-roarer of an entertainment, but seems full of intriguing nuggets about the larger-than-life 20th century Press barons.
This paragraph, about the late-1940s fallout over newsprint rationing, did seem rather unfortunately amusing, however:

Despite some relaxation, newsprint was to be the last commodity subjected to rationing. A frustrated 'Times', couching its arguments in the familiar guise of it being a threat to press freedom, argued: 'The Press should have been at the head of the list for freedom, not at the tail... It is time for the Government to show that they no longer rate the service of public opinion so far behind the enjoyment of tobacco, sweets and Hollywood films.'
So upset was its owner, Lord Astor, that he circumvented the rationing edict by agreeing to buy paper from a British mill which, due to its better quality, was not classified as newsprint. It cost almost a fifth more than newsprint but the paper took the risk and dropped out of the industry's newsprint pool.
It was a disastrous ploy. Soon after terms were agreed, rationing ended and 'The Times' was obliged to pay 20 per cent more than the rest of Fleet Street for its paper for the next twenty years."

Oops... He really, really should have said nothing at all...

Professional fowl...

Some politicians will say anything to grab a headline, won't they? German Green Party member Barbel Hohn has suggested this summer's World Cup may well be cancelled, all because a cat over there has done what Sylvester never managed to do, and gobbled down some slow-moving bird - and swiftly died of avian flu.
Well, I suppose it makes a change from the age-old English excuse of the stadium not being finished in time, can't get the parts guv, couldn't make us another cup of tea could you, luv...?
This bird flu panic does seem to be sending some people a little too much of a flutter, though, surely...
A friend who serves on the board of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust this evening insists one of the worried queries they've been asked to take up with the club as urgently as possible, runs along the lines of: If bird flu does indeed reach Britain, what contingency plans do Spurs have in place as regards Chirpy?
Yes, that's Chirpy, our cartoon cockerel mascot...
Never mind extending the vote to 16-year-olds. Surely the best democratic reform the Government might consider is actively removing removing the vote from certain sections of the electorate...
Honestly. This country...

North London pride...

How lovely to see England end tonight's Uruguay friendly (Homer, perusing a globe: "Heh, heh - look at this country: U R Gay..."), with no fewer than five Spurs players on the pitch. Robinson, King, Carrick, Jenas, Defoe - emulating those Eighties days when the international collection of Hoddle, Waddle, Hodge, Mabbutt, Allen and Stevens ("Two Gary Stevens, there's only two Gary Stevens...") inspired plenty of approving "England Hotspur"-style headlines...
Yet while Carrick looked as impeccable for England tonight as he has for Spurs all season, man of the match for me was Joe Cole, always buzzing and imaginative and fully-deserving of his last-gasp goal (something the Spurs players may have been surprised by, it going in their favour and not against...)
Cole and second-half sub Shaun Wright-Phillips showed so much enthusiasm and usefulness going forward, especially in comparison to the lethargic David Beckham, whose only burst of energy hurled him into an ugly foul which may well have got him deservedly sent off, had this been a meaningful World Cup match...
Two lessons are to be learnt above all from tonight's exercise, though, I reckon:
One: Please, please, please, Mr BBC, turf John Motson into retirement, or at least A Sunday morning Sky Sports show alongside Jimmy Hill, because he's just become excruciatingly embarrassing these days, endlessly wittering on with not just anorak stats, but really mundane interventions, all delivered with that question-mark-inflected phrasing that suggests he's just stumbled across some staggering new insight - and punctuated by that infuriating little chuckle.
The longest ever haircut I had to endure was at a place by Finchley Central station, where I quickly realised the chunterer in the next seat was ver man 'Motty' himself, sounding and spouting forth as needlessly narking as on the telly...
Oh, and get rid of Graeme "Certainly Is" Le Saux, please, as well...
But, perhaps more importantly for our World Cup hopes, the second lesson - following first Michael Owen, now Wayne Bridge - is: keep our stars well away from any collisions, accidental or otherwise, with the mighty Robbo...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006