Saturday, April 29, 2006

'I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me...'

... probably because all I do is yap on about football the whole damn time.
Sorry, I've realised my recent entries have been a little one-dimensional.

I'll try to be more various from now on.
For example, I have a fair few showtunes-related thoughts fermenting, which I hope to share soon... when they achieve a little coherence. Just a little, mind...

Three lions on a flag...

Well, I've been discussing it for aeons (not always entirely soberly) with Little Daz, the most effervescent sports fan I've ever met (all sports it seems, from yer football World Cups to tiddlywinks inter-county grudge games...), so here's the story, England's glory...

HOWEVER they play on the pitch, England could at least be crowing about an off-field triumph this summer - the World Cup's biggest flag.
It weighs 100kg, covers 6,000 square feet and cost £3,750 - and will need its own special coach to transport it across Germany.
But while you may not want to get stuck underneath as it floats across the stands, a group of England fans is hoping to stun opposing fans into silence.
The massive banner was the idea of 30-year-old Darren Pullen, a Spurs season ticket-holder from Billericay, Essex.
He was inspired by the huge 'surfer' flags he had seen in foreign stadiums - and thought England should have its own.
He got the thumbs-up from the FA to take the flag, which bears the St George's cross, the 'Three Lions' crest and the 60ft-high, 100ft-wide message: 'We still believe'.
He said: 'As far as we know, this is the largest surfer flag ever produced in England for regular use.
'Some of the surfer flags you get in other countries are absolutely massive - but none of them will be a scratch on ours.'
After designing the flag last summer, he worried about raising enough money to get it made by Oldham-based Barmyflags - and fire-proofed.
But supporters, celebrities and newspapers all chipped in with contributions.
He said: '400 englandfans members have donated to it - including kids as young as nine giving up their pocket money, so the "Fans' Flag" really is what it says.'
The flag has impressed chart-topping band Embrace, who have asked to borrow it for their video accompanying England's official Germany 2006 anthem.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"But I never had the Latin..."

Apparently Her Maj has just turned 80, who'd have thought it...?
Good on 'ER.
But to pay adequate tribute to your 80 years of toil, I reckon it's best I hand over this woefully under-performing, under-entertaining blog to the perfect words of genius-of-genii Peter Cook, than whom no-one's contributions can be either finer nor funnier... (Taken from the posthumous anthology Tragically, I Was An Only Twin, into which I'm now deliriously dipping after finally ploughing through Roy Campbell-Greenslade's magnificent octopus on the post-war Press...)
Though the final paragraph does, several decades early, anticipate an odd old bugbear of mine own...
But in the meantime:
Over to you, the esteemed sage E L Wisty...:

I've always wanted to be a member of the royal family. I've always wanted to be part of the royal family because there are great advantages to being royal. If you're royal, whatever you do is very interesting. Whatever you do, people are very interested in it. Even if you do something very boring, people are still very interested in it. If a royal person does something extremely boring, people say, 'Oh, isn't that interesting that he's doing something extremely boring.'
If I do something extremely boring, people say, 'Oh, jow extremely boring', it's not so good.
You never get newspaper headlines saying, 'E L Wisty was looking radiant, as he got off the 17A bus, from Hounslow.' You don't see pictures saying, 'E L Wisty was looking tense but dignified as he entered the municipal baths.' You don't get that sort of treatment.
Another wonderful thing about being royal is that people get interested in what you're interested in. That's how the corgis have caught on, you see. Everybody loves a corgi because the royal people are connected with them.
I think newts have had a very hard time. If I was a royal person I think I would patronise the newts. They're lovely little creatures, newts, you know.
They are not as cuddly as corgis, of course. You don't nestle up to a newt as you would to a corgi, but they're lovely things. I'd have whole packs of royal newts wandering about the palace gardens and I'd be seen with them the whole time, and I'd create a special post called Royal Master of the Newts - The Lord High Newter, and he'd have to walk about with a golden stick, you see, tapping the ground continuously and saying, 'Newtarty, newtarty, let the world bring forth newts in abundance,' and then I think we'd see an end to the corgis and a beginning of the newts.
Of course, there are disadvantages to being royal. Everybody has to come in backwards, you see. That's a disadvantage. They have to come in and go out backwards if they're in the royal presence. That's why you only see royalty dancing with royalty. They can't dance with ordinary people unless they're back-to-back with them. And that's never really caught on, that sort of thing.
Of course, if you're royal, it's wonderful to be able to tell royal jokes, that's very wonderful. You always get a good laugh if you tell a royal joke. I'd tell lots of royal jokes if I was royal. For example, if someone gave me a wonderful silver newt container, a newt casket, I'd say, 'Thank you very much indeed for this wonderful gift of a newt casket. I hope it's not going to be a bloody newtsense.'
All of England would be chuckling if I said that. That's the point of royalty, to make people a tiny bit happier in their drab life.
We've all got royal blood in our veins, you know. It's the best place for it in my view. We've all got a little bit of royal blood in our veins, we're all in line for the succession, and if nineteen million, four hundred thousand, two hundred and eight people die, I'll be king tomorrow. It's not very likely but it's a nice thought and helps to keep you going.

Indeed. Now this is something I've often, indulgently pondered: where, exactly, in line to the British throne do I sit?
Okay, I acknowledge it no doubt changes specifically almost every second, but I'd appreciate an approximate placing.
Just for an idea of how regal and close to aristocratic eminence I am, as compared to my friends, that is.
And just to get an idea of what, and who, exactly I must do.
When the right time comes...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hands up who thinks Keano's been our player of the year...?

Entirely agree.
Superb skills, prolific finishing and, above all, an inspired and inspiring attitude - while Ledley's worn the armband, he's been the cajoling captainesque influence.
And a living lesson to Jermain on how to respond to squad striker rotation... Hope and trust Defoe'll do similar next season.
Oh, and somehow, the Robster's still only 25. Strange but true...

Monday, April 24, 2006

"I'm a picker, I'm a grinner, I'm a lover, and I'm a sinner..."

Some bridegrooms clearly don't have nearly enough to occupy or worry them in the final build-up to the big day.

Last Saturday I was an usher at the wedding of one of my oldest schoolmates, the main duties for which appeared to be propping him up both physically and emotionally from the evening before, when we hit St Alban's town centre for a classy "last meal for a condemned man" at, er, Pizza Hut, and several rounds of drinks which, thanks to an odd promotion at the Fleur de Lys pub, turned out to be many bottles of Panda-style fizzy drinks from which sugar poisoning was more of a threat than alcoholic intoxication...

So, what was worrying Matt most? (Apart from perhaps the most fiendishly, frustratingly difficult Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? machine...)

No, not the prospect of his marriage to the lovely Catherine, the responsibilities the pair would now share, the privileges and obligations of the vows he was about to make, the not even the speech he had to deliver... (Then again, he would be spared the thumped-tables, "Make me laugh! Make me laugh! Make me laugh!" rumblings which were to welcome the two best men to the floor the following day...)

What appeared to be knotting Matt's stomach more than anything else was whether us ushers would satisfactorily carry out his cunning plan to fool, ooh, half a dozen gullible-ish girl guests with six specially-printed orders of service.

You see, the copy we handed to most people as they strolled into the impressive St Nicolas' Church in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, (close to Profumo-scandalising Cliveden), ended with a final page looking like this:

The version carefully (well, almost so - I had to hare after and reclaim a rogue copy inadvertantly given away to some granny) doled out to a select few of our thick-as-thieves school'n'uni group - or, more accurately, partners - concluded thus:

Cue, much confusion - and hilarity - as the chords of the final hymn struck up, and a handful in our pews almost, almost, almost started crooning an odd, churchy version of a Duran Duran, er, "classic", only to realise all else were blithely hollering along to a school-hall-hymn favourite...

Laugh? Well, Matt certainly did, we could tell, as he sent a hesitant smirking glance over his shoulder even as his new wife hustled him into the vestry for the comparatively-insignificant task of signing the register...

Well, as long as he felt the day had achieved something...!

Actually, it was a gloriously enjoyable day, even if the most stressful fact of my, er, ush-ing was missing some football match which was going on at the same time...
Well, actually, it kicked off just around the time we left the church, meaning I was valiantly trying to help muster the troops for appropriate wedding photos, while devouring text messages keeping me up-to-date on almost every kick over at the Library.

Lucky I didn't miss anything too exciting or controversial, eh...?

I suppose, since there was a fairly even balance of Spurs and Vermin fans at the wedding, a draw was probably a helpful result, even though it wasn't until the following day and our free hotel papers that we would gain an inkling of just how much Arsene Whinger was cracking up while we indulged ourselves in cocktails, cigars and cravats. And Kinks-conversing with Matt's mum, whose taste in music seems to have entirely bypassed her misguided son, but still...

And the happy couple did indeed make a lovely pair, dodgy love of 1980s music notwithstanding.

Matt certainly bore up better than at his stag weekend - and the day after, of which this is the literally stomach-churning evidence.

Frankly, for those with sound, I would recommend this entirely unrelated strangeness as a preferable multimedia experience.

That cat's not right...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

One from the archives...

LONDON (Reuters) -- Arsenal will face Southampton in the FA Cup final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium after the two premier league sides overcame first division opposition in Sunday's semi-finals.

Arsenal's dream of an unprecedented second consecutive English double remained alive as a first-half goal from midfielder Freddie Ljungberg earned them a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Old Trafford.

That was followed by a 2-1 victory for Southampton over Watford at Villa Park, Brett Ormerod and a Paul Robinson own goal giving the south coast team victory over their London opponents, who grabbed a late consolation through Marcus Gayle.

Arsenal, who face Southampton in a premier league match at Highbury 10 days before the final, must now concentrate on their potential title decider against Manchester United on Wednesday with doubts over the fitness of captain Patrick Vieira.

The French midfielder was substituted just before the hour mark after being clattered by Sheffield United midfielder Michael Brown, who was booked for the challenge.

By then Arsenal were ahead, Ljungberg firing into the roof of the net from six metres on 34 minutes after Sylvain Wiltord hit the post and had a shot blocked following good work by Francis Jeffers.

United were unfortunate in the build-up as Arsenal defender Sol Campbell fouled forward Wayne Allison, but referee Graham Poll allowed play to continue and then collided with United's Michael Tonge, allowing the Londoners to break forward.

"If the referee doesn't give a free kick it's normal to carry on." Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "With regard to the collision with Tonge, what can you reproach there? Do people think the referee did it on purpose?"

Hurry, hurry, hurry while stocks last...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

They just don't make football matchday programmes like they used to...

... for which we should all be truly thankful.

Bigmouth strikes again...

"I can confidently predict, Wembley will be ready in time for the Olympics."

No, no, no, Ken - nice line, but since it's Multiplex, maybe it's best not to tempt fate by even joking about it...

In other stadium-related news, it was interesting to see Seb Coe seemingly backtrack on previous insistences, and suggest today a football club could take over the Olympic Stadium after all, after 2012 - even allowing it was "certainly possible" for Stratford to end up with a combined football/athletics stadium. Not that running tracks around football fields are ever very appealing, but still...

It may have been Newham's elected mayor Sir Robin Wales who kicked off this intriguing little debate by favouring West Ham moving in.
But I'm sure a certain North London club will be taking an interest in Coe's comments, at least for negotiating purposes the next time they manage to get Haringey Council and Transport for London around the table...

"I broke into the Palace, with a sponge and a rusty spanner..."

Has anyone seen anything of this rather obscure woman this week?
Or indeed, does anyone have any information about her recent activities, any upcoming milestones, or indeed simply her age?
I'm desperate to know, but somehow I can't seem to find nearly enough references to this urgent, earth-shattering information at all...
You'd think there'd have been some media mention or two, wouldn't you...?

"Are you here for my pleasure, or are you going for gold...?"

Nine months on from that glorious July 6 decision, and London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics has now given birth to... the first official International Olympic Committee visit to make a check-up on our preparations.
The most fun I've had in my current, limited job was steering all our 2012 bid coverage, and especially trailing round behind IOC Evaluation Commission members on their tour of the Stratford scrublands and just-about-beyond in February last year.
I didn't bother to follow them up to the top floor of a Newham sheltered housing block today, having already enjoyed the view last time.
That was indeed an entertaining day.
The delegates had started that drizzy February Thursday driven by coach through the unprepossessing streets of Tower Hamlets and Newham.
Dingy brown-brick houses, sorry shops and rusty industrial outposts outnumbered the occasional flashes of colour, including an unlikely Porsche dealership.
But once they reached the top floor of the 20-storey sheltered accommodation block, Holden Point, the delegates could goggle over what would become London's 500-acre Olympic Park.
Coloured blimps perched above where the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Village for 17,000 athletes, and hockey, swimming and cycling arenas would grow.
The existing 'wastelandscape' of goods yards, unsightly university halls of residence and East End Blitz debris would be cleared for a thriving Olympic park, restocked River Lea and figure-of-eight railroad.
Okay, you needed a Jonathan Edwards-style leap of imagination to picture what it could - would - become by 2012, but it was - and will be - well worthwhile.
The finest piece of writing since joining my current paper was the lengthy, impassioned document I put together for my editor, desperately striving to convince him why I should be sent to Singapore for the July decision, but sadly our company finances didn't stretch quite deep enough.
Instead, I spent the day in Trafalgar Square, enjoying the tension while remaining convinced throughout we would get the nod.
Actually, amend that. I had bullishly believed all through the bid process that London could and would triumph, despite the all-surrounding scepticism. It was only on the Wednesday morning itself, as I awoke, that I suddenly thought: "Wait a minute - maybe we're not going to do this after all!"
Thankfully Jacques Rogge came out with what the following day's Guardian front-page wrongly described as: "One sweet word: London".
Not quite. It was, in fact: One sweet syllable - "Lon-", all that was needed to send the sardine-packed Trafalgar Square crowds somehow manouevring enough room to joyously punch the air.
Sadly, we weren't to know the following day's tragedy so sharply to taint the triumph. At the time, the only downside seemed to be the inevitable, incessant repeats of Heather Small's awful anthem, "Proud".
I still can't quite believe how five of the world's major, most glamorous and significant cities were all vying for the prize at the same time, anyway.
Surely there would have been a good case for all of London, Paris, Moscow, New York and Madrid being given the Games, sealing up five consecutive host cities in a row.
But then again, it was very odd seeing so much effort and expense being spent on sucking up to the creepy IOC itself, the closed-shop club which just can't lose - the host city does all the work, picks up all the tab, yet everyone fawns over the 117 magic members of this overarching elite.
As I wrote at the time, albeit-inevitably just failing to find space among the pieces I did get printed...
ONE has been jailed for plotting to kill his country's leader, another narrowly escaped jail for bribing his government with £600million.
One is on trial for allegedly taking thousands of pounds in political kickbacks - another led Idi Amin's murderous army in Uganda.
Several have survived being found guilty of corruption in one of sport's greatest scandals.
A few are international nobility, including a Crown Prince, a Grand Duke and our own Princess Royal.
And others are undisputed kings and queens of track and field, boasting a glittering haul of Olympic gold medals.
Yet all 117 members of this very motley crew will have all the importance of aristocracy to London's Olympic hopefuls.
For they make up the International Olympic Committee, who decide on July 6 which city will host the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The IOC nowadays is keen to be seen as cleaner than clean and expelled ten members who took bribes to back Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
New IOC president Jacques Rogge has since barred members from visiting candidate cities and was quick recently to stamp on London's offer of free flights for athletes.
But as London, Moscow, Madrid, Paris and New York spend millions fighting for the IOC's favour, it is worth considering how tainted the organisation remains.
Six members implicated in the Salt Lake affair are still on board, while another four have survived a similar investigation surrounding the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Even post-Salt Lake, the IOC very nearly elected not Rogge, but a man now languishing in jail for embezzling £1.85million.
Helpful Salt Lake contacts put Un Yong Kim's son John Kim on the payroll of an American firm to get a green card, while the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra organised rehearsals for his pianist daughter.
But ex-secret service head Kim was given 'the most severe of warnings' but stayed on the IOC until his forced resignation last month.
This came almost a year after he was given a two-and-a-half year sentence in South Korea for embezzling corporation donations to the World Taekwondo Federation.
Another South Korean, Samsung boss Kun Hee Lee, is still on the IOC despite a suspended sentence in 1996 as part of a group bribing the country's government with £600million.
The IOC similarly retained Lassana Palenfo, jailed for a year in July 2001 for plotting to kill Ivory Coast leader, General Robert Guei.
Another jailbird, Ivan Slavkov, at least is expected to be sacked next week for telling undercover Panorama reporters he could help 'buy' IOC members' votes.
The Bulgarian member was unable to make the 1993 vote on the 2000 Games because he was under house arrest on fraud and firearms charges.
He had also spent 44 days in prison on 1990 for illegal ownership of firearms and foreign currency, and missed the 1992 Barcelona Olympics after Bulgarian police seized his passport.
Sydney organiser John Coates admitted offering fellow IOC members Charles Mukora and Frances Nyangweso £19,000 each and free stays at London's Dorchester Hotel if they backed his city's bid.
Mukora was sacked from the IOC, Nyangweso reprieved - despite being the barbaric Idi Amin's defence chief throughout the 1970s.
Finnish member Peter Tallberg refused to quit despite all three of his sons receiving jobs in countries seeking to host the Games between 1996 and 2004.
Sydney also arranged a job interview for the son of Tunisia's Mohamed Mzali,
And Sydney was also forced to drop Australian member Phil Coles, who received holidays, ski lessons, equipment and Superbowl tickets from the Salt Lake organisers.
One letter from Salt Lake president Tom Welch even promised Coles: 'Fresh snow will be ordered for your forthcoming visit.'
The IOC ordered him off the Sydney organising committee and the Australian Olympic Committee - but kept him for themselves.
Other surviving members mired by Salt Lake include Holland's Anton Geesink, severely reprimanded after an academy bearing his name was paid £3,500.
Panama's Meliton Sanchez Rivas was caught red-handed when arrested for touting 300 tickets outside the main stadium of the Barcelona Olympics.
The IOC has also been shaky on drugs - independent inquiries have criticised Holland's Hein Verbruggen and Italy's Mario Pescante for covering up doping scandals in cycling and football, respectively.
And while France's IOC members will not vote unless or until Paris is eliminated, the country has been embarrassed by Guy Drut's trial for alleged fraud.
The former sports minister is one of 47 defendants accused of receiving kickbacks from contractors renovating schools in Paris.
And then there is Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his predecessor Joao Havelange, both immensely controversial football figures who have faced - and denied - widespread allegations of sleaze.
Yet for the next week or so, they are the 'special ones' who the candidate cities dare not criticise - explaining why Sebastian Coe was so quick to withdraw London's mild funding incentives.
Michael Liebreich, who represented Britain at the 1992 Winter Olympics, warned: 'There is nothing wrong with the idea of offering financial support to athletes from poorer countries. The problem is with the wider Olympic family, which contains some very unsavoury people indeed.
'The IOC are not people who look good under scrutiny. The Olympic movement will lurch from scandal to scandal until there is root-and-branch reform.'

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"'Cos he flicked to kick, and I didn't know..."

Amid all the inappropriate over-indulgence, the cash register-ringing, and the stomach-turning-and-a-churning, this was the Easter egg which caught my eye the most enthrallingly:

Yes, that's right.
It's sad but true.
I am almost 29 years old...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Less than a point from Europe..."

Can six words more suitably, stressfully sum up just how close Spurs are to guaranteeing a place in next season's Uefa Cup at least, thanks to the need for four-out-of-four Bolton wins, three-out-of-three Tottenham defeats and the kind of goal-difference upheaval not seen since Perry Suckling was "guarding" between the sticks for Crystal Palace...?


... and yet, and yet, those selfsame six words can somehow still contain within them all the power and potential for the most Tottenhamesque acts of oh-so-destined hari-kiri...?

I feel sick.
No, wait - I can all-too-readily envisage an even more galling outcome. But we won't go there just yet. It is only still-four-days-til-the-derby Tuesday, after all.

Come on you Villa...(real), of course....
I've decided to watch the semi-final first leg in the Porterhouse, more for the chilled beers than the previous experience of a shoddy covers band sprawling their insipidness across the TV football action...
Yet if musicians do turn up, and start hollering out themed renditions of tracks by the Scum-supporting likes of Dido, Spandau Ballet and Rachel Stevens, I shall be collecting my coat and leaving for home swifter than a Sol Campbell...

"Me, I want what's coming to me...

... The world, chico - and everything in it..."

No, I'm not at all convinced either.
Great artwork, shame about the act...

Monday, April 17, 2006

May 17th?

Nah, nothing else to trouble me that night, I'm sure, missus...

European Cup Final?

Nope, can't see any reason why that outcome should interest me at all, carry on...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

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

"... now it's someone else's turn... etcetcetcetcetcetcetc..."
Gotta sing, sing....
Well... exactly...
I had one instinctive response lined up, for my first "gig" under the auspices of the music enterprise dubbing itself "Open Mouth"...
Which was along the lines of...
"Open Mouth"...?
"Insert feet..."
(Clever, eh...? Nah, not at all. But, er, anyway...)
So, I was first on the bill last Thursday, at the G-Lounge in Camden, suitably nervous and suitably having spent the previous hour-and-a-bit-and-a-bit-and-a-bit-ter in the nearby World's End, dodging out of reach beyond the swarms of gap-toothed drunken sots, scary Goths and battered-Trilby-toting Pete-Doherty-wannabes...
By the third-and-a-halfth pint I was ready to roll on to the venue itself, steer my proud new guitar past the check-in girl ("Who are you here to see?" "Er, I'm... er, Aidan..." "Okay, is he here yet and can you see him?" "Er, no, I mean - he's me... I'm afraid..."), and before I could follow my pre-planned strategy of a quick toilet flit and nine quickfire pints, I was hustled on-stage to perform my eight-minute routine, two songs, "Autopilot" and "The Morning After" - both of which I'd unfortunately written about ten years ago, albeit "The Morning After" suffered some fairly hefty modern-world re-writing, er, last week...
And then... it was over. The G-Lounge isn't exactly the most cavernous venue, so I could actually peer into the whites of the eyes of some of my audience, as they peered unconvincedly up at me, but I found myself feeling more comfortablt up there than expected, and finally stepped down to convincingly rapturous receptions from the friends I'd forced along... congratulating me on the sour second song I'd had more doubts about than the comforting first, and generally being more enthusiastic than frankly I'd find reassuring...
But still, er, that encouraged me to, full of relief, down more'n'more'n'more celebratory bevies... Meanwhile being offered a longer, 20-minute stint at the Storm venue, near Oxford Circus, on May 17 - meanwhile sipping, supping, sinking more... meawhile, I dunno, someone asking whether I could go back on stage and play another three, count'em, THREE, songs because someone's not turned up - so I really start to panic, then enjoy the band that brings a pineapple on stage - and places it carefully beside them, performs their set, then takes it off with them: arty, and baffling, yet more stage-presence than I could muster - then I return, struggling drunklenly with capo, to bash out "Love Minus Zero" by Bob Dylan, then a half-written ballad of old age, "Calling For You", then an encore of "The Morning After", rousingly encouraged by my "posse" for all I fear losing respect by repeating a song from earlier on (though the crowd seems to have swelled since then...)
But anyway... I somehow feel I wish I hadn't frittered away all the feelgood, er, feel of earlier by returning, but my friends' ecstatic reaction seems significant, and a few other, er, "artists" seem to be coming over to chat and cheer.
Maybe I really can get away with this, after all.
Four days on, I'm still buzzing, in fact.
No, wait - that's just my head.
That's just the beer...

"Autopilot" is on this site elsewhere.
Here's "The Morning After" - er, just because...

When I take one last drink again
While heading for the sink again
I tell myself: "I earn what I spend"
And so I'll play this fool again
Then roll my eyes on you again
You tell me: "I'm as sloshed as you, again"
My random thoughts throughout the day
I tell myself to never say
Until I'm hammered and I'll tell you them anyway

But why do we wait,
'Til the morning after
To say
What would it take
To really move on?
Why does it take
The morning after
To remind us
Of those things that we forgot
The night before...

This sticky floor beneath my feet
We're somehow shuffling cheek to cheek,
The jukebox keeps playing Tears Of A Clown;
I should just catch this nightbus back,
Brave the smell of sick
And knife attacks
But still it's too tempting,
Trying to keep up this act -
Yet your online dating
Seems such a waste
I'd rather do things face to face
And it isn't the same:
"Do you wanna come back - to MySpace?"

But why do we wait,
'Til the morning after
To say
What would it take
To really move on?
Why does it take
The morning after
To remind us
Of those things that we forgot
The night before...

I guess I should just walk away
And encourage you to do the same -
A peck on the cheek
And I'll see you around -
We'll both find someone else instead,
Chivalry? Yes, I'm afraid it's dead -
It's bruised and battered -
It's poisoned and drowned.
To stay footloose and fiancee-free
It seems the safest bet for me -
And I certainly shan't change my mind
Any more...
Well... we'll see...

But why do we wait,
'Til the morning after
To say
What would it take
To really move on?
Why does it take
The morning after
To remind us
Of those things that we forgot
The night before...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Two years after belting the Windies' bowling "attack" all over Lord's...

... it's good to see Strauss and Key reunited.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannolis..."

Quite a shocker of a news sensation in Italy - at long, long last, the arrest of a criminal who... looks at least a little like his police photofit.

Bernardo Provenzano, capo di tutti capo, fugitive from justice for almost 43 years, has finally been caught and allowing many to proclaim the downfall of "the last Godfather" ("... since the last 'Last Godfather', that is', is how that term should accurately end...)

Of course, despite all the stunning movies and TV series, there is very little glamourous about the world of organised crime, only ruthlessly cruel and vicious.

And yet - nah, wait - it is utterly compelling to gawk at.
A few months back I read John Dickie's Cosa Nostra: A History Of The Sicilian Mafia, an appropriately-pacy and powerful mix of social history, cracking reportage and vivid story-telling - explaining the movement from 19th century power struggles over the control of western Sicialian olive groves to the painstaking, courageous investigations which cost magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino their lives in the horrific mafia wars of the 1990s.

Plus, plenty of intriguing little gems, too, such as the observation that Provenzano's cover businesses include not only health and construction but - ciao, Tony Soprano - waste managament.
Then there are the times Dickie confirms overlaps between American mafia movies and Italian mafia realities - such as the burning cards, crunched in your hands, ceremony for new made men.
Or the occasions he trashes the silver-screen travesties of the Cosa Nostra truth - for example, the Sicilian-set scenes of Michael's exile in The Godfather are written off as "undeniably crass".

Today I've been re-reading the sections devoted to Provenzano - his ability to evade arrest since shooting the soldier of a rival capo in 1963, his involvement with murders such as the Falcone and Borsellino slaughters since then, his takeover as 'boss of bosses' since the arrest of Toto "Shorty" Riina in January 1993, his decision to surround himself with older-generation capos less likely to turn pentiti, his approach aimed at dipping the mafia's profile back below the public radar...

Yet one matter troubles me. The man has three nicknames:
"The Tractor", a long-established moniker apparently awarded for his brute and murderous strength.
Then there's "The Accountant", pointing up his astute business brain in defiance of those dismissing him as merely a thuggish killer.
And finally, the jarringly-cosy "Uncle Bernie". There's one for the Christmas card lists.

Which, if any, does he prefer? Which did he choose? Which does he decry, after the manner of Ben Siegel, who flew into rages when people called him "Bugsy" (suggesting "crazy" - appropriately enough, you might think…)?
(For some reason a football analogy springs to mind - while Paul "Guv'nor" Ince clearly revelled in his nickname and actually encouraged people to use it when reluctant, Chris Waddle was so embarrassed by his, he denied having an nickname when first called up to the England squad. Luckily for his team-mates, fellow Spur Glenn Hoddle gleefully pointed out Waddle was known to all and sundry at Tottenham as "Widdly". I imagine his response was less violent that Bugsy's, mind...)

The fact there are three Provenzano nicknames in circulation does suggest he favoured at least one as an alternative to another, relying on an effective intra-mob PR campaign to get the message across...

Nicknames are as much a part of mafia folklore, authentic or apocryphal, as citrus fruits, corrupt mayors, senators and presidents, and horses’ heads in beds. But where did they come from?

Was Tony Salerno really happy to be known for posterity as "Fat Tony"? Joseph "Joe Pig" Pignatelli? Frankie "The Wop" Manzo? Louis "Cop Out" Delenhauser? Ronnie "Balloon Head" DeAngelis?

Just leafing swiftly through the Dickie book offers up a superb array of sometimes self-explanatory, sometimes plain bizarre terms of references for Sicily’s Cosa Nostra cats past and present:
Gaetano "Sitting Bully" Badalamenti - Guise "Joe Bananas" Bonanno - Michele "The Cobra" Cavataio - Giovanni "The Viceroy" Gioia - Antonioni "Little Hand" Giuffre - Michele "The Pope" Greco - Piddu "The Lieutenant" Greco - Pino "The Shoe" Greco (hmm, this Greco seems to have seized the shortest straw) - Charles "Lucky" Luciano - Joe "Joe The Boss" Masseria - Michele "Mad Mike" Zaza...

All things considered, Giovanni Bonventre’s nickname was rather disappointing - "John".
At least make an effort, man...

And, of course, our man Bernardo “Three Nicknames” Provenzano.

(John Dickie’s Cosa Nostra study also makes a fair few references to some infamous wrongful known as Silvio "The Knight" Berlusconi, but perhaps that’s a whole other story for whole another day...)

It all calls to mind the wonderfully-filmed rolling shot in Goodfellas, when a supremely confident Henry Hill wheels dumbstruck Karen through Paulie’s swanky hang-out, nodding clubbily to every mafiosi as he passes, such fine upstanding men as Freddy No Nose, Pete The Killer, Bobby The Dentist and Jimmy Two Times ("I’m gonna get the papers, get the papers...")

I’ve had a few nicknames in life, but none which has stuck enough to become a real part of my persona.
A couple of teachers at secondary school used to call me "Smiler" because they thought I, er, didn’t.
In the late-1980s, especially, there were a few schoolyard sniggers when some wit would realise “Aidan” didn’t take much tweaking to make "Aids".
Occasionally in the office I’m referred to as "the Dark Stag" on account of an entirely misleading work night out last year when I proved surprisingly, bafflingly popular with a bevy of beauties (or so it/they seemed at the time…) I’m still at a loss to explain, and the nickname’s a little embarrassing rather than pleasing.
And for the past 18 months or so, a group of friends have been calling me Dom instead of Aidan, after some supposed resemblance to he of da Bungalow. Can’t see it myself…

Looking to generate something a little more imposing, I tried out a couple of ‘mafia name generators’ on this here interbobble - and, quite frankly, I was sorely disappointed.
One re-christens me Alley Trash Salvatore. Hardly fearsome or indeed intriguing.
The other opts for the risible "The Xenophobe".

"Don’t go bustin’ Aidan The Xenophobe’s balls, wise guy."
"Hey, whadda you want from me, what’s that cafone do about it, huh?"
"Look, paisan, he might just… loudly insist if it wasn‘t for the Brits you‘d all be Krauts, smash up your bars while hollering World War Two songs, before hurling a few coins at you and demanding 'dos cervezas now, you filthy foreign tart'..."

Or, alternatively...

"Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes - or, at least, he would if those jumped-up Euro bureaucrats hadn’t denied us access to certain territorial waters all due to their cosy Fishing Policy carve-up favouring those greasy, conniving Spaniards..."

No, none of that would do at all (though there is Hyman Roth's line, "I don't trust a doctor who can hardly speak English...")

Perhaps I should just face up to the fact that, in the Corleone Family of life, I shall remain never a Vito, a Sonny or a Michael - instead, always a Fredo.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"Just this old guitar, and an empty bottle of booze..."

Yesterday, frustratingly shortly before I had to set off for work, I took delivery of my new electro-acoustic guitar - a sturdy and sound bargain-buy Brunswick BTK60 looking like this:

... but it was no good so I've today arranged for a return and refund, and instead splashed out a little more (with thanks to Alan Mahon) on a lovely Ovation Applause looking like this:

... which, for future plugged-in performances will now have to replace my electronically-irreparable yet still supremely-lovely Tanglewood Odyssey looking like this:

... with which I get on better than my ambitious, hopeless attempts - as a bassist in a teenage band called Plectrum Heaven - to play a Rickenbacker copy looking like this:

... though when I win the Lottery, my first purchase shall be a real thing, Rickenbacker 12-string looking like this:

... since when I play guitar, I like to imagine I'm sounding like this:

or even this:

... though in actual fact not fantasy, I'm sadly sounding much more like this:

Monday, April 10, 2006

"This old town's filled with sin - it'll swallow you in, if you've got some money to burn..."

There was a moment late on hazy Saturday night, when I suddenly doubted whether I was, after all, in a central London pub rather than in the comfort of my own home with a few of my favourite CDs on rotation.
But no, I certainly was in The Phoenix just around the corner from Oxford Circus - here were the bar staff, there were other groups of Saturday stragglers lounging across the comfy cushions and sofas, right in front of me was just the latest in a series of hefty Hoegaarden glasses-cum-barrels - just about visible in the dimming darkness.
Hmm, so perhaps I'd merely poured every coin I could into the jukebox.
How else to explain the backdrop of The Byrds' "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" had been followed by Gram Parsons's "Still Feeling Blue", Emmylou's "Two More Bottles Of Wine", Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and many more country-rock classics you might not expect to hear muscling out the usual more modern city-bar fare...
Gradually it all became clear(ish). The superb "Sin City", a monthly nightclub night devoted to purest Americana, has now moved from the Great Portland Street venue The Albany (with which I was familiar, though without paying a visit for a too-long 12 months or so), to this handier central London location.
The early drinking start yesterday's 12.45pm kick-off at the Lane had encouraged, meant a lengthy late-night-early-morning stint on the dancefloor downstairs wasn't really advisable, but it was a joy to have such a soundtrack played up on our level for most of the evening.
In fact, if only I'd known in advance, I might have brought along the proud black Stetson I bought a few years back in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Actually, that might not have been for the best at Tottenham, judging by how eagerly the blokes sitting in the row behind me latch on anything to whinge about.
No, a cowboy hat is probably best left at home, not taken to the Lane.
Spurs, on the other hand...
(Sorry about that. Awful pun it may be, yet it seemed the kind of obvious open goal only Ronny Rosenthal could have avoided...)

"First time I lose I drink whisky, second time I lose I drink gin - third time I lose I drink anything, 'cos I think I'm gonna win..."

"The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him GAMBLOR, and it's time to snatch your mother from his neon claws..."

Wayne Rooney may not agree as he counts his alleged £700,000 losses, but it seems in gambling, stupidity sometimes succeeds.
This may have been the media-approved 'biggest betting weekend of the year', when every self-respecting Briton and his/her granny punts on the Grand National.
Yet for the occasion of my very first ever £100 bet, I avoided the Aintree free-for-all, instead staking my hard-earned ton on... Burnley to beat QPR in an otherwise-meaningless Championship match.
There was good-ish reason - honest - behind this choice of gamble.
In recent years I've tended to be the one in the office organising a National/Wimbledon/World Cup/Eurovision/etc sweepstake, but for some reason this year's race passed by with me too dozy to sweep into sweepstaking action.
So I had nothing riding on the race even as I watched it alongside a racing expert mate, one of these punters who insists beforehand he only has eyes - and money - for one horse, only to reveal afterwards just how many complicated, yet profitable, alternative bets with which he's covered himself.
But my Burnley bet was prompted by advice on a scheme which promised 'guaranteed free money'. Even to my instinctively-anxious ears, this seemed to tempting to ignore.
It was meant to work something like this: Betfred is currently offering to double your winnings from your first successful bet after signing up with them - up to a bonus £100.
Thus, if you were to bet £100 on any evens offer, a win would pocket you not an extra £100, but £200.
So far, so good - if naturally risky... To guarantee yourself about £30 to £40, you then 'lay' the same bet with Betfair, so whatever the outcome of the fixture, you end up up on the deal.
So: I took Betfred's evens on Burnley to win, then effectively bet with Betfair that Burnley wouldn't win.
For reasons I still can't quite understand nor explain, I followed the apparent expert's advice to stake a total liability of £143.64 with Betfair - this apparently taking into account the tip to 'lay' at 2.0.
This was indeed where I started to feel a foggy sensation drifting across my brain. Then there was talk of Betfair charging a commission on winnings, possibly taking away about £20 - but still, I was looking at being, say, £37 better-off whatever happened.
Well, thanks to a 79th minute Alan Mahon goal, Burnley did indeed win - as I had pretty much expected them to do anyway, since Rangers have been playing like drains recently as well as seeming mired in financial and boardroom chaos off the pitch.
So my Betfred bet won, my Betfair one lost. Or so I thought.
In fact, checking up online today I discovered £144 still sitting in my Betfair account - it seems no-one had accepted my attempt to 'lay' the bet, after all.
So I could in fact claim my full £200 from Betfred, just as if I'd been brave enough to go 'all or nothing' all along.
Except it seems I only pocketed £100 - there was no sign of my first-bet bonus, which I've now emailed them to query.
Still, £100 up is nothing to be sniffed at, especially as I really didn't/don't understand what went on - and how, if the Betfair bid had been accepted, I would actually have been stupidly down on the whole deal in stark contrast to easily up...
Hmm. I don't think I'll be meddling, trying to be clever again, having just about dodged a bullet this time...
Anyone with more expertise and confidence than myself should perhaps give this 'free money' ploy a go.
Me, I'll just gratefully greet this strange little windfall, and leave it there.
Much as I'd enjoy Wayne and his United boys overhauling Chelsea at the top of the table against all odds - especially after his stunning display in the victory over the Vermin - I don't think it would really be wise doing a 'Roon' and staking all on red...

SUBSEQUENT UPDATE: Those lovely folks at BetFred immediately doubled my winnings to £200 on receipt of my politely perplexed email. How kind. I'm still not betting anymore, mind...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"Hey Mickey, you're so fine..."

A lovely goal by the delightful player who may have a dodgy mullet, but who is vying with Keano and King for the title of Tottenham player of the season.
His set-pieces may be disappointing, but otherwise Michael Carrick is a joy to watch and should have been given many more England caps than those with which Sven has so far graced him (especially as Eriksson seems to spend most weekends at White Hart Lane - it was a mild surprise to learn he wasn't among the 30-strong Swedish Spurs Supporters' Group contingent over here for the weekend and taking tea with the Tottenham supporters' trust last night...)
Today was about as much of a trouncing as 2-1 could ever be (well, at least since the Vermin's same-score victory over us in the 2001 FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, misery of all miserable days out that that was...)
Shame we got a little panicky towards the end, but a win's a win and one less game until the end of the season. And I don't think I've ever seen a Citeh visit quite so quiet and subdued, all the way through...
At least the players didn't respond quite as dynamically to Psycho Pearce's tirades as I'd expected, though Kiki Musampa is as much of a handful as any mid-table Premiership side can offer these days... Thankfully Carrick's impeccable passing, JJ's late-game bursts of sudden energy, and Keano's all-round intelligence saw us through that midfield minefield... (Less said about Mido - hairstyle of a ballerina, body of a wrestler - the better...)
Time for United to pay back the favours we've obligingly offered them in seasons past, when our mediocre meaningless position made a Man Utd win almost as cherishable for the damage it did the Filth's Title challenge...
No longer, now our respective results mean something to us too...
We love United, we do...
And maybe Pompey - them too...

Friday, April 07, 2006

"Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look...?

Ever since the nine-year-old me sat through a long-ish drive to Woburn Safari Park, with my parents pushing Rock'n'Roll Music - Volume One into the cassette player, there have been four people who have meant more to me than anyone beyond family.
Their names are John, Paul, George and Ringo.
And, yes, there was a "One-two-three-FOUR!" introduction involved.
I'm always instinctively suspicious of people who claim they don't like The Beatles.
Like grown men who insist they're not football fans, can't and won't understand the game indeed...
But since I started straggling together every stray copper, until I had enough to pay £5.99 for Rock'n'Roll - Volume Two or Beatles Ballads or - soon enough - proper, original albums-as-first-released, the Fab Four and pretty much all they spawned has been my happiest obsession.
I will even hurl myself into fevered defences of "Frog Song" Macca on occasion, though I shall restrain myself now.
But I did wonder, about a year-and-a-half ago, when ponderously moving home from Worthing to Barnet, whether my too-hefty book collection was perhaps a little too Beatle-heavy.
I could, in fact, fill a whole bookshelf with Beatles tomes, distinct entirely from the CD cabinet stuffed with Please Please Me to Abbey Road, Live At The Star Club to Anthology 3, All Things Must Pass to Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, Bossa Nova Beatles to The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, bootlegs taking in Wings, the Travelling Wilburys, the All-Starr Band and etcetcetcetcetera...
And yet, and yet... I can't let any of them go.
And indeed, I can't keep adding to them.
My brother Noel, as part of his valedictory bridgegroomly speeches, handed each of his siblings a book token (nicely-judged - I'd have been desperately disappointed with flowers), and I set off for Waterstone's a few days later with full intentions to finally buy the Peter Cook anthology, Tragically I Was An Only Twin.
And yet, and yet... what catches my eye but a glistening silver Beatles book which has somehow evaded my attention for - the inside page incredibly tells me - almost two whole years...?
The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook The World - a collection made by Mojo magazine, trawling together features, reviews and interviews by some of the most venerable music hacks around. Oh, and plenty of gorgeous glossy photos, too...
It's not really a handy book to browse on the daily commute, but since buying it - within about seconds of spotting - I've had it propped up on my dinner table for every evening's entertainment...
And still been surprised by some of the insights, despite an adolescence often spent poring over that monthly pedants' special, The Beatle Book magazine (having convinced the local newsagent to order in copies, with a stern astonishment he didn't stock them already...)
For no reason other than, well, I dunno, here are a few of my favourite Beatle books...

* The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology: Well, of course... 367 pages of riches which, were they not of such shiny silver, you'd swear were solid gold in all essences...
The TV series itself was a revelation, even for the most knowledgeable Beatles obsessive, purely for the special aura each interview carried, the rarest of rare tapes and footage somehow unearthed beyond the call of duty - and the lavish loving care and attention given to each second. Though I did feel slightly sorry for the sole stooodent who was turfed out of our hall's TV room for the first episode, having happily booked the video to watch a tape of some old "Hitchhiker's Guide" episode only for a band of us Beatle-niks to march in and brook no argument...
But the CDs. And the DVDs. And, oh yes, the book too...
Random highlight: (When the Hell's Angels invaded an Apple Christmas party in 1968)
NEIL ASPINALL: "They did get asked to leave Apple. I asked them, but they got into that hippy language: 'Well, you didn't invite us, so YOU can't ask us to leave...' In other words, as George had invited them, so George was going to have to ask them to go. I think George did it very well - I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was like: 'Yes/no - Yin/Yang - in/out - stay/go. You know - BUGGER OFF!' And they said: 'Well, if you put it that way, George, of course...' and left."

* Geoffrey Stokes, The Beatles - 25th Anniversary Special: The first glossy silver Beatles hardback I owned, and proudly autographed and addressed by myself, I now discover... Large print and double spaced, but tells a very straight, comprehensive story with plenty of appropriately-sepia prints and a 1979 introduction by Leonard Bernstein.
Random highlight: Bernstein eulogising "the frabjous falsetto shriek-cum-croon, the ineluctable beat, the flawless intonation, the utterly fresh lyrics, the Schubert-like flow of musical invention and the Fuck-You coolness of these Four Horsemen of Our Apocalypse".

* Ian MacDonald, Revolution In The Head: The Beatles' Records And The Sixties: Perhaps the most readable and reasonable of the many pseudish, detailed analyses of each and every Beatles song, bar-by-bar, by the late great NME historian. The closing chapter writing off the sheer evilness of ALL modern pop music is perhaps a little unnecessary and heavy-handed, but even at its most technical, the insights into each song - and, indeed, recording - manages to throw fresh light on even the most familiar pleasures.
Random highlight: "Conceded by Lennon to be the best song on Abbey Road, SOMETHING is the acme of Harrison's achievement as a writer. Lacking his usual bitter harmonies, it deploys a key-structure of classical grace and panoramic effect, supported by George Martin's sympathetic viola/cello countermelody and delicate pizzicato violins through the middle eight. If McCartney wasn't jealous, he should have been."

* Michael Braun, Love Me Do! The Beatles' Progress: Perhaps the most cherishable, underrated Beatle book, this was published in 1964, the full flush of Beatlemania and yet full of both transient, off-the-cuff commentary and lasting insights into the madness which would actually endure... Jelly babies, Elvis, hysterical to-ing-and-feverish-fro-ing of the world's Press, and that famous Fab Four hack-charming wit - as actually experienced, not told from afar with nostalgianecdote-ishness at its most avariciously "whimsical"... Braun should have been what Hunter Davies became.
Random highlight: "Before the reception the Beatles met the Ambassador and Lady Ormsby Gore at the Embassy residence. When John is introduced to him Sir David says: 'Hello, John.'
'I'm not John,' says John. 'I'm Charlie. That's John,' and he points to George.
'Hello, John,' says the Ambassador, turning to George.
'I'm not John,' says George, 'I'm Frank. That's John,' and he points to Paul.
'Oh, dear!' says the Ambassador. 'I'll never get these names right. My wife is much better at remembering names.'
Several hours later, Sir Alec Douglas-Home met President Johnson. The President remarked, 'I liked your advance party, but don't you feel they need haircuts?'"

* William J Dowling, Beatlesongs: A curio, both slapdash and comprehensive in its own strange way, running down every song officially issued by The Beatles and running extracts from many other books and magazines under the various categories "AUTHORSHIP", "RECORDED", "INSTRUMENTATION", "CHART ACTION", "MISCELLANEOUS" and "COMMENTS BY BEATLES". Hardly definitive, but a fun, browse-able beginning.
Random highlight: The way it splits each song's authorship into constituents of "1.00" (eg. "Birthday" is 0.7 McCartney and 0.3 Lennon), so credits are calculated for George's sister Louise Harrison (0.05 of "Piggies"), Yoko Ono (0.25 of "Revolution #9") and Thomas Dekker (0.3 of "Golden Slumbers"), for example...
If you don't want to know the overall result, look away now...
Lennon wins, with 84.55 to McCartney's 73.65... So now you know.

* James Henke, Lennon Legend: An Illustrated Life Of John Lennon: The book's basic text adds little new to the familiar story, but the additions are stunning - removable replicas of Lennon's old school reports, his Lewis Carroll-esque self-produced school magazines, A Hard Day's Night and How I Won The War posters, handwritten lyrics sheets, Ed Sullivan Show tickets, avant-garde artwork, scrawled-across Press releases... For the inner light, the inner child in every Beatles fan!
Random highlight: (From his school report) "French: A disappointing result. He is so fond of obtaining a cheap laugh in class that he has little time left for serious concentration.
Mathematics: He is certainly on the road to failure."
(From his school-scribbled publication, "The Daily Howl") "News about Firework Night (Fred's birthday) - The sad news has just come through that only 80 people above the age of 76 were killed. Most of the spoilsports just lost their sight, and maimed for life. And it wasn't for want of trying."

* Tony Barrow and Robin Bextor, Paul McCartney: Now And Then: Seemingly inessential yet glossy 2004 hardback, split into two sections for former Beatles Press officer, the garrulous Tony Barrow, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor's documentary-making dad to record their various impressions of the man Macca, but manages to be throw in plenty of little gems of fresh observation - especially the homely descriptions of Robin'n'Paul sharing pints of home-brew (made by Macca, and bottled with his own home-printed label) as they look out over the Sussex Downs from Paul's Peasmarsh pad, before the old man moves to the piano to bash out a tipsy Long And Winding Road...
Robin - lovely chap, one lucky sod nevertheless...
Random highlight: (Robin Bextor) "George Martin once said to me in an unguarded moment that I should imagine for a moment getting up in the morning determined to spend as much money as I could. Buy a car in the morning, walk down Bond Street and stop in every shop and buy more clothes, records, watches, anything, dine in the best restaurants and go to the best clubs and then get home laden down with wordly goods late in the evening to realise that you had earned far more than you spent that day - that is what it is like being McCartney. Finance simply isn't an issue with Paul now."

* Andrew Solt and Sam Egan, Imagine: John Lennon: A hefty paperback released to accompany the skilful 1988 film, this deftly collates a load of Lennon quotes alongside plenty of photos from Yoko's private collection - especially homely and emotional as the 1970s move on and especially in the final, poignant 1980 chapter.
Random highlight: 1980 - "We're not selling ourselves as the perfect couple. We have our problems, we've had our problems, but when I was singing and writing this and working with her, I was visualising all the people of my age group and singing to them. I hope the young kids like it as well, but I'm really talking to the people that grew up with me. I'm saying, 'Here I am now, how are you, how's your relationship going, did you get through it all, weren't the seventies a drag, here we are, well, let's try and make the eighties good, you know.' It's not out of our control, I still believe in love. I still believe in peace... Where there's life, there's hope."

Of course, there are many many more - for example, Hunter Davies's workmanlike authorised biography from 1968, updated in 1985. Philip Norman's fizzier account, Shout! Albert Goldman's compelling, yet over-reachingly scandalous The Lives Of John Lennon. Blackbird, Geoffrey Giuliano's pale photocopy of a Goldman-job on McCartney. John's joyous "Daily Howl" updates In His Own Write and Spaniard In The Works. George's own intriguing indulgence, I Me Mine, Ringo's homely Postcards From The Boys. Mark Lewisohn's chronicles of every "day in the life" of every Beatle or Beatle-associate you could ever imagine...
And new, newer releases a-plenty...

I might just get through a few more book tokens yet...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Salt 'n' (fake) Sheikh, Sweden sour...

Yet more evidence emerges of Sven-Goran Eriksson's dubious tastes and selection policies.
Tucked away in the Evening Standard's sports diary today is a summary of his recent interview for a children's radio show on BBC7.
One of the questions emailed in was from a youngster wondering about the England coach's favourite flavour of crisps.
Sven's baffling reply? "Mint - I like the taste of it."

Presumably the perfect complement for a slap-up meal of liquorice and lentil soup, steak and kidney gateau with Jelly Baby gravy, chocolate burgers and beef cheesecake...

"Trying to write a classic, trying to find the magic - wastebin full of paper, clever rhymes: see you later..."

Just seven days now until my eight-minute 'comeback gig' (the least-called-for since Donny and Marie Osmond got caterwaulingly back together...) at Camden's G-Lounge, and yet only now have I bothered to look up the necessary "original material" songs I last worked on at least six years ago... only to find them embarrassingly ponderous and po-faced... Pah.
I've spent various flashes of downtime at work the past few days jotting down hopefully-wittier, lighter-touched lyrics, to go with what seem okayish-for-now melodies.
And I have Friday off, to devote to more intensive efforts.
But it won't be pleasant.
I wonder if I dare try to pass off an obscure B-side by, say, XTC, The Auteurs or even Arlo Guthrie as all my own work, and hope and trust I don't get busted...
Well, it's a potential Plan B anyway...

Sad news about Gene Pitney, by the by... Always preferred Dusty's version of 24 Hours From Tulsa, and to be honest felt his singing voice sounded more like someone slowly squeezing the air out of Shirley Bassey, but he certainly seemed a trouper.
And no one deserves to die in a Cardiff hotel room. At least, without going out the Ox way, anyway...
I trust The Sun will be more tactful tomorrow than with their "You've Lost That Living Feeling"-headlined "tribute" to ex-Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield.
Any hint of "Something's Gotten Hold Of His Heart" or "24 Hours From Pulse... argh!", and it's cancelled subscriptions all round...
RIP anyway, Gene - and special thanks for writing the stellar "Hello, Mary Lou" for Ricky Nelson too.

So that's Gene Pitney gone to join the choir invisible, Gene Vincent too, and of course, best of 'em all, Gene Clark.
Gene Gallagher, Liam's boy, will have to start redressing the imbalance some time soon.
Well, his songwriting can't be much worse than his dad's, surely...?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"Do you like what you're doing - or is it, you can do nothing else...?"

Jawbox reckons this may be the greatest headline ever: "Al Jazeera to air TV series about multiracial Welsh sheep family".

Eye-catchingly Ronseal-esque.
Though perhaps this one, from the News Of The Screws circa-early-Seventies, is even finer, in several senses: "Nudist welfare man's model wife fell for the Chinese hypnotist from the Co-op bacon factory".

It both makes you intrigued to read the story... and yet sensing that may be, after all, unnecessary...

This was one of the things I've learnt, by the by, from my current reading matter - still Roy Greenslade's history of the British Press post-WWII, somewhat narrowly, misleadingly-titled Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda.

His prose style may not be the raciest, but there are plenty of fascinating tales therein - and revealing (to me, anyway) insights into how Northern Irish affairs were completely ignored by the mainland Press until the mid-to-late 1960s; how Rupert Murdoch stole cannily in to turn the Sun from unloved, newly-born-soon-to-die embarrassment to all-trouncing, Mirror-trumping, multi-million-seller within just nine years; how all papers, including the Mail, Express et al, led the media-skewed charge into the EEC in defiance of sceptical divided public and politicians; and how The Sun labelled Margaret Thatcher "the most unpopular woman in Britain" in the 1970s before later slightly, subtly shifting their stance; or how major national newspapers were regularly, and lengthily, kept from publishing at all by the all-powerful print unions - including almost a whole year out of action for The Times and Sunday Times in 1979-80...

But there are plenty of frivolous passing gems to be enjoyed, too, amid the heavier-than-I've-suggested discussions...
For example, I'd love to have worked under the 1978-launched Daily Star's first editor, Peter Grimsditch, of whom it's said: "In the small hours of Friday nights he encouraged alcohol-fuelled subs to indulge in a variety of childish pranks, such as bizarre races through the office and indoor cricket using a ball composed of rubber bands."
Or how about the major Fleet Street editor who tended to hire reporters on their cricketing skills, above their journalistic talents?
Even more admiration is due, of course, to the venerable second Lord Rothermere (grand-daddy of my current Associated overlord, of course), who indulgently extended much keeping-it-real sympathy when his Daily Mail editor Arthur Brittenden complained of a headache: "Go home, and sit by the pool."
"Thank you, Lord Rothermere. But I don't have a pool."
"No pool? No pool! You don't have a pool?!"

I did also enjoy Roy's considered analysis of the Star's debut front-page:
"The first splash, headlined 'Model's Mystery Plunge', was one of those stories that didn't bear too much inquiry since the girl was not a model, the plunge had been no more than three feet and there was precious little mystery."

Pah! Mere quibbles...

Still, after several weeks' ploughing through, I'm still only as far in as p375 of 674, and only just been introduced to a rather flimsy character called Diana, and the newly-bought anthology of Peter Cook's writings, Tragically I Was An Only Twin, is lookingly balefully tempting at me from the shelf...

But still... It's all good, educative stuff.
You know what they say - if you can't join 'em, read about 'em...
Or something like that.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"You dirrty old man..."

In all the time I've enjoyed the uneasy blend of farce and enmity of Steptoe And Son, the idea of Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell duetting beyond the grave with Christina Aguilera never occurred even in the most vivid of dreams/nightmares...
Until now, thanks to Bugmix and the best of his collection of frankly-rather-odd mash-ups. (I'm afraid you have to do a little searching on the site, clicking for his mash-ups and mixes and looking out for the odd-looking threesome...)
But it's worthwhile. Ish.
Even if not quite as delightful as the "Desperate Hours" episode guest-starring Leonard Rossiter as an escaped con from nearby Wormwood Scrubs...
(Also featuring "gravel-voiced DJ" Tommy Vance, though he would find finer comedy for himself in Brass Eye many years later...: "Well, they gotcha then. They gone and banged you up good and proper. So what now? What I'd like to do right now is to take your bad half outside, and do it an extremely physical discourtesy; and then buy your good half a pint of foaming, nut-brown ale. Cheers.")

Get your kicks on Route 66... or else rock with me on the A23?

(from The Argus, Brighton - Saturday, September 6, 2003)
Lou Reed has done it for New York, Bruce Springsteen has done it for New Jersey and Ray Davies has done it for London.
All have immortalised their home territories in pop music, from Reed’s Greenwich Village bohemia to Springsteen’s desolate factories and docklands to the Kinks’s Carnaby Street dedicated followers of fashion.
Sussex has its share of rock’n’roll connections and not just as a comfy country retreat for wealthy megastars such as Sir Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Brian Ferry.
Brighton has long been a hotbed of up-and-coming talent, as well as a favourite haunt for rockers - and, of course, mods, most famously portrayed in The Who’s film Quadrophenia.
But Worthing, Eastbourne and Shoreham will never evoke the same aura of rock history, glamour and edge as the likes of Detroit, Harlem and Seattle - or even Liverpool, London and “Madchester”.
So surely anyone hoping to compile an album of pop songs inspired by Sussex might struggle to fill even an EP?
Actually, no.
Even without radio DJ Terry Garoghan’s Brighton-championing songs which, while popular with fans, fail to meet my criteria of troubling the Top 75.
Anyone who is not a pop music anorak may care to turn the page now.
But in the spirit of the king of home-taping obsessive featured in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, a track listing for a notional Now That’s What I Call Sussex!-style album could look a little like this.
Every DIY rock compiler knows two of the most important elements to a proper mix tape is the title and the opening track.
Brighton Rock is an obvious name - and a predictable one.
Perhaps, with hat tipped to Ian Dury, Sussex And Drugs And Rock’N’Roll would suit instead.
And who better to usher the listener into this sonic tour of the South Coast than the unofficial king of Brighton and Hove, Fatboy Slim?
The Hove-living-and-loving DJ, real name Norman Cook, included the celebratory track YOU’RE NOT FROM BRIGHTON on his 1998 album, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.
The lyrics may not give Bob Dylan any sleepless nights, consisting merely of four phrases repeated: “Funk as we used to play”, “Said check baby, check baby, check one-two”, “Here we go, now here we go” and “You’re not from Brighton”.
But the sound, and the spirit suggested by that taunt to those unfortunate to be from elsewhere, would get things off to a flier.
Following one of Brighton’s trendiest stars would be a famous son of Sussex who hit the big time long before Norm was even crooning with The Housemartins.
Seventies star Leo Sayer was born in Shoreham and, according to his song writing partner David Courtney, the town was a key influence on his early material.
THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S, from his 1974 album Just A Boy, was inspired by the church in Shoreham and his experiences playing at a nearby folk club.
It includes the lyrics:
“He used to play mouth organ in a folk club they called the Lady Jane,
All the sounds as his friends and he would holler:
Songs of love and songs of pain…
And so he listens to the bells of St Mary’s and so their echo haunts him every day.”
Courtney said: “All Leo’s early stuff was written around here - Leo was a Shoreham boy and that really comes across, especially on Just A Boy.”
Before Leo launched his own singing career, he and Courtney wrote songs for Roger Daltrey’s solo LPs.
And no Brighton album would be complete without a contribution from the band he fronted, The Who, a key part of Brighton’s reputation as a Mecca for mods.
PINBALL WIZARD, from 1976, is a rare example, though, of a Who track that actually mentions Brighton:
“Ever since I was a young boy
I played the silver ball,
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played them all.”
The kids pulling levers, pressing buttons and emptying their wallets in Brighton’s amusement arcades of today would probably better recognise the opening riff from ‘Let Me Entertain You’ by Robbie Williams.
But in the battle to get on this play list, Robbie loses out on two counts.
One, he has no Brighton connection.
And two, his riff-ripping-off song is quite frankly nowhere near as good. But you all knew that anyway...
Paul Weller, however, has plenty of connections to Brighton.
He has paid frequent visits, including his last gig with The Jam at the Brighton Centre in 1982.
However, it is to two more unlikely Sussex locations that he refers in SATURDAY’S KIDS, from the 1979 Jam album Setting Sons.
The song paints a picture of late-Seventies working-class youth culture.
The tone may seem sympathetic but their apparent lack of ambition is nailed in the lyric:
“Save up their money for a holiday
To Selsey Bill or Bracklesham Bay…”
Now Selsey Bill certainly isn’t very rock’n’roll.
But somehow it has managed to find its way into two notable pop songs.
Madness, contemporaries of The Jam, had a more familiar - and cheerier - hit with 1982’s DRIVING IN MY CAR, in which Suggs sings:
“I drove up to Muswell Hill,
I’ve even been to Selsey Bill.”
Well, good for him.
David Bowie may be one of the world’s biggest, most acclaimed stars but he is not universally popular down this way.
Worthing poet Shuna Shelley believes his 1977 single ‘Heroes’ plagiarises a poem called ‘The Heroes’ Epistle To Bowie’ she sent him in 1974.
Her poem included the lines:
“Well, we can be heroes
Just for our day
I, I will be king,
And you,
You will be my queen
And I wish,
I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim”.
Bowie’s song includes the words:
“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen.
We can beat them, just for one day.
I, I wish you could swim like the dolphins,
Like dolphins can swim.”
But Bowie, who denied the plagiarism claims, is included here for a different crime against Sussex - and against music itself.
His 1973 children’s song THE LAUGHING GNOME contains the lyrics:
“Well I gave him roasted toadstools and a glass of dandelion wine,
Then I put him on a train to Eastbourne.”
This namecheck, and the fact the town gave the world Toploader, are Eastbourne’s two claims to rock’n’roll fame - or, perhaps more accurately, infamy.
Suede front man Brett Anderson, an ardent Bowie acolyte, grew up in Lindfield, near Haywards Heath, but his band seemed to have a rather stronger fixation with Worthing.
Anderson once nominated the place as one of his favourite two in the world - along with London.
The seaside resort gets mentioned in THE NEXT LIFE, from Suede’s eponymous debut album in 1993:
“Stars in our car we can drive away from here,
Far away, so far away,
Down to Worthing and work there.”
The more geographically-ambitious track, Europe Is Our Playground, features the reference: “From Spain to Camber Sands”.
Like Selsey Bill, Camber Sands has two bites at the pop cherry, cropping up at the very start of PULLING MUSSELS FROM A SHELL by Squeeze in 1980:
“They do it down in Camber Sands,
They do it in Waikiki.”
You don’t often hear those two places mentioned in the same sentence.
Queen included a song called BRIGHTON ROCK on their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack, telling of two lovers called Jimmy and Jenny who presumably meet in Brighton though it is not mentioned by name.
Another track called BRIGHTON ROCK featured as a B-side for Nineties Britpoppers Elastica, whose bassist Annie Holland came from Brighton.
It begins:
“We were sauced right there on Brighton beach,
You a Goth and I was such a peach,
I sought to be the best at it,
PC Plod he still arrested it…
Your name is carved on my Brighton rock,
My name can be your mental block.”
It may be significant that singer Justine Frischmann - Anderson’s ex - reportedly began her romance with Damon Albarn when Blur performed at Brighton’s Zap Club.
Though it is admittedly difficult to imagine even the changeling Damon as a Goth, it must be granted.
The spirit of Brighton Rock - Graham Greene’s version - is summoned by Morrissey’s lovely NOW MY HEART IS FULL, from 1994’s Vauxhall And I LP.
In a lyric which appears a trawl of Moz obsessions and impressions, he name checks “Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt” - the hoodlums from Greene’s 1938 novel.
Indie pop intellectuals Black Box Recorder closed their 2000 album The Facts Of Life with with the elegiac GOODNIGHT KISS, which swoons:
“From Blackpool tower, to Brighton Pier,
Turn the lights off, we know there’s no one here -
Goodbye, goodnight.”
Contuing the link between the two far-apart beach resorts beginning with B, The Beautiful South’s 1989 track ON BLACKPOOL claims:
“I wasn’t sure if it was Marx or Hitler that was in this year,
I hadn’t been to Brighton for a while so it wasn’t clear.
So imagine my surprise when I opened my eyes to find
It was the liberals who were hip to sloganeer.”
No prizes for guessing who turns up in SHERIFF FATMAN, Carter USM’s 1989 rant against ruthless slum landlords:
“Now he’s moving up on to second base
Between Nicholas Van Wotsisface.”
Equally splenetic is SO WHAT, recorded first by late-Seventies punks The Anti-Nowhere League and covered more recently - and improbably - by American heavy-rockers Metallica.
The song begins:
“Well, I’ve been to Hastings, and I’ve been to Brighton,
I’ve been to Eastbourne too.
So what? So what?
Who cares? Who cares what you do?
Yeah, who cares? Who cares?
About you, you, you, you, you?”
It then descends into a feast of filth hardly suitable for a family newspaper such as this - even if the album could claim perhaps some much-needed streetcred with one of Tipper Gore’s stickers warning of bad language herein….
For achieving the unlikely union of Metallica and Sussex, the cover version deserves its places and the album’s final say.
Now all we need is a record company willing to take Sussex And Drugs And Rock’n’Roll from the bedroom to the boardroom to a music store near you.
So, who wants it?
Don’t all rush at once…

Quite astonishingly - and depressingly - we somehow managed to put together a 'follow-up' album for an even more desperate follow-up feature a few months later: crowbarring in alternate versions of PINBALL WIZARD and SO WHAT by Elton John and The Anti-Nowhere League respectively; ONE WAY by The Levellers (it seems fairly clearly to be about their hometown of Brighton, without actually namechecking the place - good enough for me); MARIO'S CAFE by St Etienne (it may be about a diner in Camden but it does mention, er, Chris Eubank...); RUMBLE IN BRIGHTON by The Stray Cats; ROBOT HOLIDAY by The Spizzles ("No more work for one whole week, oil my joints so they don't squeak, I'm going to Brighton in the sun, I sit in deckchairs, have some fun" - amazing these boys aren't megastars by now, isn't it...?); Al Stewart's NOT THE ONE set in The Lanes, and also his MANUSCRIPT tripping to Worthing, where "it rained and rained" - yep, from my 18 months living there, that seems accurate...; the poignant WWI ballad MAGINOT WALTZ by the underrated Ralph McTell...
Oh, and one track I'm half-glad, half-somehow-sad never to have actually heard, only read of: the seminal I'M GOING TO BRIGHTON by those early-Eighties legends Renee and Renato.

If anyone does indeed have a copy... I'd advise you to keep it very, very and, indeed, very quiet...

His'n'her handsets, hopefully...

"I've hired a wedding planner but all he ever does is call me and ask me to make more decisions. I feel like I'm living with a phone glued to my ear."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"It's grim darn sarf..."

How places change.
En route to a reunion of old university friends and double birthday celebration in Bromley last night, I had the misfortune to drive through the Catford Gyratory, a town planner's fiendish folly I had hoped to have left behind for good since leaving Lewisham borough in autumn 2002 after 15 months (including what felt like 14 simply stuck in that one-way system...)
Despite giving my address as the more pleasant-sounding Forest Hill, I actually lived almost-exactly equidistant between than train station and Catford in the other direction, so several good-clean-fun-filled Saturday nights were spent losing and winning the odd 50p here and there at Catford dogtrack.
Sorry, that should be Catford Stadium, though the faulty illuminations presented this instead as CATFO DIUM - Latin, presumably, for "Seize the dog"...
Well, this has now unfortunately gone to the, er, dogs, leaving in triumph the 7ft black cat still crawling over the tawdry shopping centre.
I was a little surprised, though, to see a mainstay of Catford's shopping scene was also no more.
Plonked in the middle of that unloved gyratory, the blunt challenged of the Catford Gun Shop was always an arresting sight, especially alongside a more unprepossessing High Street fare of newsagents, fishmongers and Lewisham Council placards promising the dubious attractions of Joe Pasquale and the Nolan Sisters in this year's panto...
But after several decades of doing exactly what is says on the tin - or so I assume, having never set foot inside the shop, despite a certain appalled curiosity - the Catford Gun Shop has given way to an Italian pizza restaurant.
Far be it for me to peddle ethnic stereotypes, but I couldn't help calling to mind the strategic double-use of the pizzeria in Goodfellas, and especially the owner's irritation as rookie Henry Hill treats a gunshot victim bleeding to death on the doorstep...
"You wasted eight fuckin' aprons on this guy. I don’t know what the hell's wrong with you. I got to toughen this kid up..."