Friday, October 27, 2006

"What became of the people...?"

It was a special moment, the first time we heard the banns of marriage announced in the local church for my brother Noel and his putative bride Vicky.
I was proud, oh so proud... of myself, for not bursting out laughing when the rector asked whether anyone knew any just cause or impediment, why these two may not be joined together in lawful matrimony...
But only because such a scenario can only but call to mind the scene from "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?", when Thelma and Bob's banns are greeted by, at the back of the church, Terry bursting out: "Scarborough???!!"
A lovely moment, and just shades the very-similar middle-name-revealing moment in "Only Fools And Horses", to the embarrassment of Rodney Charlton Trotter.
I love Seventies sitcoms - "Rising Damp", "Steptoe And Son", "Porridge", the underrated "The Lovers"... but "... Likely Lads" is specially charming, albeit dependent on coincidental meetings even more often than a Thomas Hardy novel.
Even if Bolam and Bewes were perhaps not quite the besta buddies their screen personalities may have suggested, I defy anyone not to sit in front of a Likely Lads repeat, even at 5.25pm on a bustlingly busy Saturday evening and not want the world to stop, in fact rewind a couple of decades, and just indulge even in the most faded-grey of North-East warehouse backdrops, for at least a greasy slurp of Newky Broon or several...
But it's too, too easy to assume the "Whatever Happened To..." Seventies incarnation is the only one worth treasuring. I dimly recall, about a decade or so ago, BBC2 replaying a few of the original black-and-white "Likely Lads" episodes, and they seemed rather tame curiosities, but I've recently been re-watching the first series, and those shows are much more treasurable and, indeed, incisive then expected.
Okay, the odd scraps of dialect and dialogue seem dated - yet worth resurrecting, especially the lovely replacement-oath, "by the cringe"...
But there's so much more subtlety, while yet camaraderie and nicely-timed crudity (no, not finely-cut salad) than in any of yer too-blunt "Men Behaving Badly"...
Okay, Rodney Bewes isn't a great actor at all, in fact splinteringly wooden for mant scenes. But James Bolam is a joy to watch throughout, as much for his simian reacting as his acting while delivering his indignant or impish lines.
And Sheila Fearn as his sister Audrey is one of the most underrated character roles of any British sitcom, alternately pert and prudish, and bringing the best out of her "brother".

"She's a nice girl, Pat."
- "'Course she is. Good legs, too."
"Can't you think about higher things for a change?"
- "... Yeah, they're not bad an' all..."

If nothing else, the series has encouraged me to use the word "kidder" more often.
Just because.

And the Terry'n'Bob approach to returning to grim Blighty from foreign holidays is probably the best approach towards dreary disappointment...

"Did you have any troubles with the language barrier?"
- "Language barrier? Had a bit of bother understanding them Brummies, didn't we, Bob?"

Or, indeed...

"By the time you've chatted up one foreign bird, you could have had three English ones..."

Well, er... maybe, maybe not...

But anyway:
"Seaside? What does she think we are - working class?"

But anyway.
I can forgive Ferris and Collier anything.

Well, almost anything.

Everything... except this:

"Hey, Terry - the Spurs lost!"
- "Champion!"

I preferred them when their only football result was England F-...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Sail away with me, to another world..."

"News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress - all the rest is advertising."

So, sagely, said Lord Northcliffe, and this is indeed the noblest of journalistic sentiments, a phrase that should ring in the ears, throb through the marrow and tingle through the fingers of any self-respecting journalist.

Sometimes, though, even the most high-minded will enjoy the benefit of an exaggerated expenses claim, a paid-for meal (or, better, bar tab), or the lucky dip of the freebie.

I remember well my first freebie: a box of Jane Asher cake mix, that sat at the back of my cupboard for months before I did the decent thing and handed it over to my mum.

Since then, I must confess to reading books, listening to CDs and - during one strange phase of unsolicited baskets - munching on my favourite Pink Lady apples and, er, red grapes. Oh, and the free football tickets have been muchly appreciated too, though more so for the likes of the World Cup final than an epic Coca-Cola Championship clash between Leicester and Hull.

Travel journalists, though, surely have the most easeful of occupations - I think it's safe to Judith Chalmers is a stranger to the Samaritans. Exhibit A, I offer the excellent and enviable Shandypockets pages, put together by one of those globe-gallivanting hacks we all wish we could/should have been.

In fact, we met on my one previous, dim-distant-past holiday blag, one that I am actually happy to accept as my one and only, such was the pinch-myself pleasure of the whole experience.

Of course, the obligatory plugs may chip away at what little credibility I might have had, but I tried to keep the plugs down to an appropriate minimum - yet also there where deserved. But, well, that's the game, innit...

It was a while ago now, but I was reminded to dig it out after pondering what to read next, after finally finishing "Jane Eyre" and swiftly dashing through "Monsignor Quixote" by Grahame Greene. On a similar Spanish tip (the Greene, that is, not the Currer Bell), I should really now get round to reading "Death In The Afternoon". After all...

I’ve always liked Islands In The Stream.
No, not the Ernest Hemingway novel, but the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet.
Yet it was the book I tipped off the shelves in preparation for a week in the Florida Keys, the sinuous strip of more than 800 islands separating mainland US from Cuba.
This tropical ribbon running through the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico promotes itself as Paradise, but is also classic Hemingway territory, a land of adventure and daring.
Think of Harry Morgan, the Key West maverick of Hemingway’s To Have And Have Not, sacrificing his morals, his arms and finally his life to run guns, liquor and wantaway Cubans across the waters.
Or Santiago, the decrepit hero of The Old Man And The Sea, battling the raging waters in his epic – and ultimately, excruciatingly vain – efforts to land the perfect marlin.
Or grizzled old “Papa” Hemingway himself, a-huntin’ and a-fishin’ and a-boozin’ and a-brawlin’ across the Keys and his favourite Key West haunts such as Sloppy Joe’s sloppy bar.
Or, of course, a dilettante English journalist like myself, visiting to enjoy a few massages, down a few cocktails and generally soak up the sun.
The macho Hemingway would no doubt disapprove of the luxurious spa resorts springing up across the Keys, nevertheless entirely suited to the location’s sun-drenched, laidback ambience.
Fror a start, a facial would surely do little for his ruddy, hardened complexion beneath those brutish bristles.
Yet after pitching up at the palatial Hawks Cay resort, with its immaculate villas, rich buffets and live dolphin show, it would have been rude not to sample the new spa centre of which they seem so proud.
Expecting myself to immediately switch off and shut down completely, hypnotically chanting “Om”, I assumed I was doing something wrong during the first facial.
Random, petty concerns kept popping into my still-buzzing brain: how will Spurs do this season, should I buy the latest White Stripes album, if we’re evolved from monkeys then why are there still monkeys...?
But soon I was sinking, pleasantly savouring the mysterious-yet-soothing oils, the warm blasts of air brushing my skin, the taped piano trilling gently in the background.
Yes, I could certainly get used to this type of treatment.
I finally floated out of the treatment room feeling like a new woman – I mean, man. I even tried to convince myself I was making a defiant statement of macho resistance by, er, not shaving.
But resistance was inevitably futile when a little bit of pampering could feel this great – Hemingway can just go fish.
A 50-minute Swedish massage the following day was even sweeter, leaving me a blissed-out hollow of a functioning man for the remains of the day.
The people of the Keys are clearly thrilled with their flourishing spa centres.
We were treated to a tour of the recently-built facility at Cheeca, the longer-established rival to Hawks Cay and favoured retreat of both George Bushes and family.
Sadly we were not there to samples the massage facilities, but made up for it by scoffing the cuisine – menu headed by the top local delicacy, Key Lime Pie, a sweet, light cheesecake.
The Florida Keys are not merely rich in terms of the landowners and well-heeled visitors (ourselves, of course, excepted).
The area’s wildlife is a source of consistent wonder. During a powerboat tour, we spied a lone dolphin frolicking in the shallows, while flutters of exotic birds circled above busy schools of tarpon and marlin below.
For the time being, at least, the many whales, sharks, manatees and turtles to be found in the depths were keeping their heads down.
Our guide explained the importance of the mangrove islands and the sea grass sustaining so much of the surrounding wildlife.
Damaging these plants can incur hefty fines for careless sailors, rising into millions of dollars. We kept a cautious, respectful distance.
An alternative insight into the Key creatures was found at Richie Moretti’s Turtle Hospital in Marathon.
If that name conjures up images of cartoon ninja critters sporting slings, bandages and plasters to accessorise their multi-coloured bandanas (well, it did for me), then the reality is a little more harrowing.
Here, 25-stone turtles, covered in vast tumours or showing off mutilated limbs, waded painfully in their shallow basins.
Richie bought the next-door motel in 1981, when this turtle hospital building was then a lap-dancing club called Fanny’s.
He funds the hospital entirely through the motel’s $200,000-a-year proceeds – a good example of Keysian economics, you might say. Or, indeed, might not.
As a committed veggie, I was not in a position to judge the overflowing, fresh fish platters thrust our way at every restaurant, including the lively Island Tiki Bar in Marathon or the Islamorada Fish Company in, well, Islamorada.
I was assured, though, of their excellence – and the portions would challenge even the hungriest Hemingway.
Probably the best meal we enjoyed, though, for both supplies and setting, was on the charmingly-named Pretty Joe Rock Island, a tiny seabound enclave owned by the Banana Bay Resort.
This hideaway is popular with honeymooning couples, and little wonder, with its luxury en-suite bathrooms, healthily-stocked kitchen and picturesque gardens.
After a tranquil two hours, within sight of the shore yet feeling care-lessly adrift from the world, we had to be dragged away.
Key West called – the southern tip of the US but where the Keys start to come to noisier life.
If I was feeling especially, generously patriotic, I’d describe it as like Brighton, only sunnier and hotter.
This is a bustling resort that prides itself on being a trendy, liberal party town – oh, and it rivals San Francisco for campness.
Certainly the delightful old colonial homes are more densely packed than in the Upper Keys, and the strong Cuban townships dating from the cigar factories’ 19th century heyday are full of character.
Visit El Masa de Pepe for sumptuous Cuban cuisine and an enthralling exhibition, sure to leave you whistling Guantanamera for days to come.
Our accommodation, the heritage-listed, late 19th-century Cypress House hotel, was an oasis of bohemian, classy calm.
The legendary main drag, seven-mile-long Duval Street, summons any self-respecting barcrawler – and again, for research purposes, I felt compelled to do my duty.
Anyone failing to realise Sloppy Joe’s was Hemingway’s favourite hang-out either has their eyes closed to the all-surrounding merchandise – or has knocked back one too many Mojitos.
Unsurprisingly, though, Key West’s finest attraction is nature itself.
Every evening at 6.30pm – yes, every evening – the sunset is celebrated with an exuberant festival on the shore.
Musicians, jugglers, trapeze artists, wizened old men pushing cats and dogs through bizarre hoops – all come out to play and greet the setting sun as it dips graciously, captivatingly into the sea behind Sunset Island.
This patch of land was originally known as Tank Island, but as the swanky condiminiums (condiminia?) multiplied, investors understandably opted for a more romantic-sounding name.
I watched the sun go down to the soundtrack of Mustapha, an ancient Jamaican busker plucking out simple, affecting versions of What A Wonderful World and Island In The Sun on his acoustic guitar.
The next evening we took an even better look, boarding Sebago’s Sunset Cruise, a two-hour voyage of simply sitting back, sipping champagne and watching the sunset at closer quarters.
A little sore-headed after such heady sights (and a few heady drinks), another massage – this time at the Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa – couldn’t do any harm.
Nor could a leisurely tour of Key West’s quirkier tourist attractions, including the new-ish Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.
Careful where you tread, though, when exploring a tropical greenhouse habitat home to 1,200 vivid little winged wonders.
Of course, there is also Hemingway House, complete with smug ancestors of his beloved cats – and, not much farther on, a marker of the United States’ southernmost point.
In fact, you can also spot the southernmost house, the southernmost barber’s, the southernmost grocery store, the southernmost gallery, the southernmost horse being flogged...
I also enjoyed the Key West Shipwreck Museum, not just for the hammy antics of the historically-dressed tour guides, but also for the best aerial view of Key West – for those prepared to clamber the rigging, anyway.
The Old Town Trolley Tour is also essential, even if only to get your bearings and cherry-pick where to explore further.
Just be warned, though – our banter-loving guide’s best joke was: “Sorry about the bumps ahead in the next road. Though it’s not my fault, just as it’s not your fault. It’s the asphalt.”
(I laughed.)
Our final full day was taken up by something a little different, a trip to the newly-opened Walkabout Retreats venture, back towards Marathon.
The retreat is devoted to helping guests manage stress better, with “treatments” ranging from yoga, bike rides and kayaking to thick fruit smoothies.
Perhaps equally beneficial would be a meal at the ultra-stylish Hot Tin Roof restaurant – inspired by another noted Key West resident, Tennessee Williams, who perhaps could have been happier with his lot, all things considered.
Tucking into rich food and wine while overlooking the peaceful harbour was the perfect way to see out the Key West experience – though the following day’s 45-minute flight from Key West to Miami in a low-flying mini-jet had its photo-op merits, too.
A busy week, then – and yet a ridiculously-relaxed and relaxing one, at the same time.
It was no surprise to hear almost every Key West resident explain how they had moved there for good after visiting once on holiday.
That sounded perfectly reasonable to me – if not quite personally realistic.
Alternatively, of course, there are other Hemingway-inspired adventures to try.
Bull-fighting in Spain, after Death In The Afternoon?
Braving The Snows Of Kilimanjiro?
Hmm, maybe not for me just now, thanks.
After this, they sound a little too stressful.

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Tell me, will this deja vu never end...?"

Leicester Square was a swarming, squalling sea of people, police behind their barricades, fans waving precariously from balconies, crowds half-come to salute the stars, half-come to join the crowds.
And they were there for... tonight's stellar setlist at Storm? As advertised on the smudgy black-and-white photocopied flyers, a few oh-so-optimistic volunteers were handing out in the sprawl, my name optimistically Letraset-ted most heavily among the headliners?
Well, no, no, of course not. Apparently tonight was all about The Last King Of Scotland, and once I'd managed to skirt my and my guitar's way round, and round, and round the stern diversions downstairs to Storm's sanctuary, that was the last thought the Last King Of Scotland had from me. If no one else...
Well, dear reader, your correspondent got through another night on-stage, off-stage again without being bottled. Or bottling. The three hours between checking in and taking to the stage conjured up mixed emotions, appreciating the Dutch courage-drinking time while apprehensively noting the, er, drinking time.
But by the time it was my turn - as the unexpected climax, about 10.15pm after a rejigged preliminary schedule - I was only just about tipsy enough, let alone as wiped out as perhaps feared. And also thankful to be following on-stage, not the impressively-twiddly-fingered guitarists of earlier in the evening, their sweeter-toned crooning or more coherently-catchy-yet-intelligent contributions rining intimidatingly in the ears...
No, my immediate forebears included a sniggering someone calling himself Bryceman, perhaps the most repulsively uncouth and, yes, I'm afraid, untalented act it's been my displeasure to see, ooh, this week anyway... And then an earnest and enjoyable act called, er, Rock And Roll Andy, he of the astonishing retro-metal hair, and quite ear-bleeding yet senses-tingling assault on "With A Little Help From My Friends"...
And then it was, finally, sadly, downbeat me, opening up yet again with "Autopilot", hurrying into "Auf Deutsch" (with an awkward attempt at pre-song "banter" - huh; something along the lines of "Okay, you've had your two hours of fun..." and some inaudible mutteringly anti-climactic "punchline"...), then slowing things down a tad with "Never Been Kissed" (will maybe transcribe this 'un's lyrics up sometime... but maybe, mercifully not...), then, er, "The North Circular Song", the equivalent of my "hit" "The Morning After", before ending rather dashingly with a medley of songs featuring important North London influences: namely, "Say You'll Be There" by the Woodside-Park-raised-Emma-B-including Spice Girls, and the epically beautiful "Ain't No Pleasin' You" by Dave and Chas, I mean, sorry, well you know who I mean...

And that was that. Good night London, you've been ... an audience, KEEP ON ROCKIN'.

Well, I didn't quite say that last bit. And "Keep on folk-rockin'" just wouldn't have seemed quite right either...

Kudos, thanks and mild disbelief is due towards Amanda and Mike, who both made their way to the gig merely due to, or more accurately despite, only reading my ramblings here. Was lovely to meet you both In The Real World, and it really was appreciated. The (blogosphere) system works...

I'm only sorry about the shoddy performance.
Oh, and the Chelsea score, that too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"You say yes, I say no..."

Bravo, Geoff Baker:
"Heather Mills is a complete fucking fantasist and I would not believe her if she told me the sun set in the West and I really mean that. I would not believe this fabricating twat. She wants her name in the paper and is only saying it for attention."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Have guitar, will unravel...

... and here we go again. Forget the X-Factor and those who have it... well, you certainly will should you venture downstairs and into the Storm bar in Leicester Square on Wednesday evening, perhaps in unfortunate time for my 10pm set, hopefully to a slightly-larger audience than the depleted excuse for a crowd last time out (maybe thanks to an inconvenient clash with the little matter of the Champions League final that night, maybe not...)
For a whole English pound off the entry price, print off and bring along this handy little, er, poster.
Or for true value for money... stay home and instead watch what hopefully will be yet another Barca triumph.
Or else... cadge a trip with Chelsea, pack your gloves and the way things are going, you might just get a game in goal...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dzienkuje, divot...

At least someone seemed pleased.
Oh dear, oh dear indeed. Poor old Robbo. Shoddy reward for the top-class saves that were about all there was to "cheer" from England's point of view tonight. He put on a brave face afterwards, but his bottom lip seemed to tremble and his voice to waver a little too much for viewing comfort...
Quite why we were panicked into a formation alien to all our players, and most successful teams throughout (especially recent) football history, only McClaren knows... well, actually I'm not even too sure about that.
Equally baffling is how we struggled to muster up anything to test a Croat goalkeeper who made Robbo seem svelte. As for yet more evidence of Terry and Cole being more often liability than the luxury their wages and reputations might suggest.
What happened to the pride and passion that was meant to conquer all tonight, or the captain's all-important, much-vaunted pre-match battle-call...?
Ah right, the ability to complete simple yet progressive passes to one another might just have come in handy too, after all...
The distracting comic relief of Kazhakstan's finest has never seemed a more appealing prospect.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"God bless this cheap hotel..."?

I dread to imagine what state I might be in this time next week, the morning after the main night of a friend's stag weekend in Bratislava. Especially since the best man, and master of revelries, is to temperance what Croydon is to glamour.

But perhaps it would be best to stay out on the town for as long as possible, judging by these online reviews that suggest our accommodation would make Fawlty Towers seem like the New York Plaza by comparison.

"wierd smell and terribly dirty. Nothing more to say. Don't go. Even for 10 euros a night. I warned you!"

"Apart from the location this place has nothing going for it. I stayed in this socialist monstrosity before the Iron Curtain was lifted and it was amusing then so i thought why not do it in 2005. Unfortunately the place has not been cleaned since 1989 or repaired. The beds are so uncomfortable that sleeping on the floor is better (unfortunately the floor was filthy though)."

"This hotel should be avoided at all costs, even sleeping in a doorway would be better. The whole room was a joke really, I was waiting for Jeremy Beadle to jump out of the closet and do a "you've been framed" on me."

"we decided to stay here even after they required us to pay upfront. Big mistake. My wife awoke at 2:00 complaining about a bug on her pillow. I flipped on the light to reveal that we and our sheets and mattress were COVERED in very large black bed bugs! We counted a couple dozen. They apparently had come out of the mattress and been biting us all night because there were blood spots all over the sheets. I did not know bed bugs got that big but when I squashed one, my blood smeared all over the mattress. ... Tip: there is a reason why they ask you to pay upfront; this place is infested--no kidding."

Ah, but perhaps it's not all bad...

"If it's luxury you are after then Hotel Kyev is the place for you. Starting with the spacious lobby and extending all the way to the penthouse suite this place reaked of class. The lift delivers you on to one of the 15 floors at breakneck speed, where you will find your suite, sympathetically prepared and ready for a great stay. I was in a suite with two friends and the fold down bed was unbelievably comfortable and the linen appeared brand new. The view from the hotel was unobscured and there was definitely no massive advertising poster pasted against the South side of the building. The staff were all fluent in English and German, one even spoke Russian, my native tongue. Very useful. I'm going back to Braislave with my gran and there is only one place I'd dream of taking her....that's right. Hotel K. Danke Hotel K. Danke!"

... right?
Maybe I'll give this DVD a miss for the time being...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"All the odds are in my favour, something's bound to begin..."

Two rules, not the only rules, but two rules nevertheless for any production of Cabaret to follow:

Make sure "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" gives everyone the chills.
And that no-one could ever accuse this Sally Bowles of leaving them cold.

Well, the much-hyped new West End production of a musical for which the word “classic” seems somehow insubstantial - well, it gets it half-right.
I’ve bored on at length already about the novel-cum-stageplay-cum-musical-cum-movie-cum-musicalagain, but will try to restrain this to the latest production (in previews, at the Lyric Theatre in the always-exciting, glistening end of Shaftesbury Avenue).

Well... I cannot tell a lie. I can’t listen to that music and not love it, even if the impeccably-remembered every-syllable of how Joel Grey or Liza Minelli pronounced a note tempers the appreciation of each new variation.

But the band here were, er, “perfectly marvellous”, as one of the stageshow-but-not-movie songs have it, and the set bleakly black and commanding, and the choreography presumably as dazzling and daze-making higher-up into the gods as it was on the very-lucky third-row. And the pre-reviews suggesting an over-phallic indulgence weren’t quite right, although the skimpy, barely-there underdresses of the earlier scenes were soon outdone by the pure nudity of a couple of others, including an apparently-gratuitous nearly-all-naked scene at the close of Act One, only for a devastatingly-depressing-but-justifying nude tableau in the very closing seconds of Act Two (ahoyhoy, spoilers ahead...)

I often find myself justifying to my Liza-loving, diva-deifying mother the rather under-played part of Renee Zellweger in Chicago, on the grounds that Roxie Hart isn’t necessarily a knock-’em-dead star, but a bit of a hoofing wannabe. And the same should go for Sally Bowles, especially as the rather trying-too-hard-to-shock, weak English ingenue of Christopher Isherwood’s original Berlin stories.
That is, Liza Minelli is awesome in the film. But she’s just too, too good. For Sally Bowles. Then again, if you’ve paid to see an all-singing, all-dancing, all-drama spectacular on-stage, then you’re entitled to expect a little more than mere oh-so-knowing amateurism.

I wanted to like and admire Anna Maxwell Martin’s performance as Sally, I really, really did. And could appreciate how she could play her as a silly, little, lisping, petty, somehow-almost-prissy teenager. But at least try to belt out some of the songs. And when an over-worked, over-perspiring chorus line is whizzing its way acrobatically around you, it might be an idea to do a little more than simply stand stock-still and hope the occasional arm-flutter might suffice.

Her stage experience seems to have been well-overwhelmed by her film and TV credits, as suggested by her recent Bafta award for Bleak House. In fact, a Barnet Press interview last week told how this was her first stage musical and how she hoped it would go well regardless - or even, as a result.
Sorry, from this seat, this Sally Bowles was a bit of a dud. Notably a promising actress, yet with very fine facial expressionism that suggests a set of close-up cameras rather than a vast stage would be the best environment.

James Dreyfus, perhaps because the camp shadows of The Thin Blue Line and Gimme Gimme Gimme mince too obviously by, seemed to be trying a little too harshly to spit out his delicious words as Emcee, forbidding black paint smeared across his eyes and what looked an ill-rehearsed, balloon-fumbling rendition of Money aside. He led the whole proceedings domineeringly, if lacking the edge of malevolent mischief given by the inimitably joyous Joel Grey.

But Sheila Hancock, national treasure and surefire Dame any day now, surely?, was poignant and perfect as the sad, relenting Frau Schneider, and Michael Hayden as confused writer Clifford Bradshaw and Geoffrey Hutchings as harassed Herr Schultz were both sturdy and solid-silver-voiced.

“Tomorrow Belongs To Me”, though - gets me every time, even without the devishly-clever cutaways of the movie, with the golden-voiced, brown-shirted Aryan boy leading a communal-hymnal-turned-Nazi-barnstormer…

Here, almost out of nowhere and seemingly unconnected to the previous scene, the trumpeter from the fluid backing band steps up, sporting yellow-and-brown Liederhosen and a cheeky, almost-innocent smile, to trill the purest of melodies and maladies.

Behind him, bohemian naked bodies caper and drape.
An hour, ten years later.. they huddle and droop.

Friday, October 06, 2006

"Howl, howl, howl, howl..."

It sounds like a recipe for certain success.
Two of my all-time heroes in the world of entertainment.
One of my most deeply-worshipped fictional characters, in a much-cherished novel.

Oh, and even better: a seeming, smug media consensus of ridicule and nay-saying.
Exhibit A, from Time Out:
"... truly one of the crummiest movies ever made. In case the idea of a Conan Doyle send-up doesn't itself have you in stitches, Paul Morrissey and his stars/co-scripters Cook and Moore try to slay you with every other kind of joke their clapped-out minds can remember. There's even a pathetic lampoon of The Exorcist, a mere four years too late. Every single gag and every single comedy role is mistimed, misplayed or simply misconceived. It also looks worse than any film from a 'name' director in years: a first-year film student would be ashamed of the flat, stilted compositions and the dingy little sets."

But still, even more defiantly so...

How could I fail to enjoyably immerse and indulge myself in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes (and Dr Watson) in their 1977 The Hound Of The Baskervilles?


So our idols can have feet of clay, after all.
This was awful. From Cook’s often-wooden acting, and inexplicable decision to play Holmes annoyingly throughout as the most caricatured, cantankerous Jewish North Londoner (Shylock Holmes I assume, arf...) To poor Dud’s energetic but one-note shrill-Welsh-accented irritation. (Though his Mumsy act, salvaged from Derek and Clive, is about the warmest aspect of the cold whole). To terribly-negligent cameos by Kenneth Williams, Irene Handl, Penelope Keith (as a very-very-misleading bordello hostess, of all things), and many embarrassed more…

It’s enough to make you wish Moriarty won...

Only (sort-of, just-about, perhaps-possibly-maybe) salvaged by the exchange:
"Did you manage to drag yourself up on deck?"
- "Oh no... I just dressed casual."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Hit me with your rhythm stick-er..."

No, I certainly don't remember this faintly-frightening bearded bloke from the days of my great Panini football sticker obsession, 1984-85.

That was the year I proudly managed to fill (eventually) the whole book, after weeks and weeks of tearing open 12p packets-of-six and doing the daily rigmarole of got-got-got-need-got-need and swap-swap-swap.

Okay, okay, so the final three only arrived in the post, after I'd succumbed to temptation and irritably posted off for the elusive trio. But by that stage, I'd spent so much pocket money, time, effort and enthusiasm with only ever-growing piles of useless swaps to show, that I felt I'd earned the easy way out.

Aside from a hefty ring-bound folder of Orbis World Cup '90 squads, stickers and supplements (including a feature on Steve Nicol written, albeit alas not by-lined, by 12-year-old me), the sticker obsession never really, er, stuck for much longer than that '85 job lot. But this website brought back a few happy memories, like Proust's nibble and scent of tea-soaked madeleine perhaps, only with a slightly bitter tip-of-the-tongue taste of half-dried glue instead...

I was desperate for Tottenham to be the first team I completed, but unfortunately Glenn - who else? - Hoddle remained elusive enough that Reuben Agboola finally finished off Southampton first instead. (Taunting urban legend in the playground suggested that a boy in the year above opened one packet to find five Hoddles out of six...)

Until browsing this site, I'd completely forgotten such odd-looking, pre-Premiership names and faces as...

Though I do dimly recall being surprised at the time, by the occasional, otherwise-unassuming face - even sturdy old Stevie P - sporting a little glint of ear-ring. Oh, such pre-bling innocence...

And ah, what a Tottenham team that could have been. Indeed, occasionally was. Soon to add Newcastle United's Chris Waddle to the likes of Hoddle, Ardiles, Allen, Clemence and, er, Chiedozie.

Of course, 1985 was when Liverpool's hooligan fans managed to get English teams thrown out of European competition for five years. Quite why anyone would want to extol those days of terrace 'bovver', I haven't the faintest, but Danny Dyer's excruciating efforts on film and TV screen, for a start, suggest there is a market for that kind of thing.

Myself, I'd have preferred to see that Hoddle, Waddle et al team take on Europe's finest, but it wasn't to be...

Still, at least Spurs are now back where they sort-of-hopefully belong, in Europe - and a pleasure it was on Thursday night, to see the Lilywhites all-in-white taking on and (just about) beating Slavia Prague.

Yes, it's been a very stuttering start to the season, with the players apparently still hungover (or still stomach-churned) from that sickening failure to clinch Champions League qualification on the last day of last season.

But even with Carrick gone, and the old injury jinx clicking and cracking painfully back into place, this hasn't suddenly become a bad side overnight, and such four top-quality strikers will surely soon start scoring.. And scoring. And scoring even more. Honest.

Well, what little's left of it, anyway...
I’m hoping to go to Istanbul and/or Leverkusen, although I’m not quite sure quite how many airline seats are still left, and how much affordability actually as well…
But while I look back at those Eighties sticker collections and long for the seeming innocence of those days, the simplicities and the sturdiness and the...

Ah, actually - I ponder what more might have been added to my life had I never become a football fan. Had I been one of those (frankly-untrustworthy-to-these-contaminated-eyes, but still) football-neglecting folks, never once caught up in a precis of top-division tactics, or giving over vast transfer-deadline-days to every glimmer of a rumour, the whole soap-operatic silliness of the game… What burly banks of knowledge could I now count upon, in the arts, history, politics, even (gulp) sciences?
What parts of my brain have been cloistered out of contention?
And... actually...
Would I really want it any (other) way?

Don't answer that.