Tuesday, 14 June 2016

British Passports for Beautiful British Hands

Well done Britain. Looks like you’re gonna do it again.

You’re going to do what you always do and take as your source of information the same elite bunch of very rich, ambitious, powerful liars you always do.

And now you’re going to get what you always get in return from that lot.  Nothing, zilch, nada. Probably even less than that.

We’re about to tell the second largest economy in the world to go fuck themselves.  And why? It can’t really be because of 1,000,000 immigrants waiting to scale the White Cliffs of Dover, or the apparent myriad forms of red tape that prevent us Great Britons from living a life free of political interference. It can’t be because of that, because they’re both inventions of the media, and you’re intelligent people trusted with the vote.  So why?

Leaving the EU won’t solve your concerns about immigration. Incidentally the phrase “concerns about immigration” – that’s the new “Some of my best friends are black” and saying it sets off alarm bells. Leaving the EU will absolve a few British politicians of any desire to show distress the next time (and there’ll be plenty more next times now) a few kids drown on a Mediterranean beach.  “Not our problem” Nige will say, now that his dog whistle racist bullshit has been validated.

Leaving the EU won’t make us any better equipped to deal with terrorists. You know, the terrorists we helped create with our attempts to destabilise the most volatile region on Earth. Those guys, the ones the “immigrant problem” are running for their lives from. But we’ll be able to extradite people on the flimsiest of pretexts now. No more pesky European Human Rights to hold us back now. And now there’s a CCTV in every home (although you call it your internet) we will all be safe. Safe from the ideological madmen hell bent on ruining our way of life. Or at least the Muslim terrorist flavoured ones, right?

Leaving the EU won’t protect our borders.  5000 miles of beach. That’s quite a lot of water to patrol. Where’s the profit going to come from? Because that’s the only thing that really motivates your Borises, your Nigels. Where’s the moolah?

Leaving the EU won’t solve our housing crisis. Building homes will do that. Affordable homes. Leaving the EU won’t solve the strain on the NHS. Properly funding the NHS will do that. That money we’re apparently going to save on EU membership isn’t going to the NHS. That’s going to fund further tax breaks for the richest in society – the only people Boris and Nigel ever care about.  And if you believe otherwise, well more fool you. Best of luck with avoiding illness, unemployment and other woes that can befall pretty much anyone.

Oh, do you think they really give a shit about you? Do you think the UK is now going to suddenly fly all the foreigns back to where you think they came from? Oh, bless.  It isn’t going to happen. And now the funny man with the silly hair is going to be Prime Minister soon. He is funny, isn’t he?! So funny. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about the funny man and all the hilarious things he’s going to do when he’s in charge.  And soon lots of other people will have those tears too.


Monday, 13 June 2016


(OFFSTAGE - an insistent bass drum bangs, a sole trumpet plays the refrain from the Dambusters March, the sound of smashing glass, of screaming. An idiot choir bellows the strange and primitive chant of ING-UH-LUND)

There is a violence and a racism ingrained at the heart of much of what might be called English culture. That's what's shaping this referendum, that's what's fuelling these idiots in France.

It starts with the royals, works down through the politicians, cops and media and ends up with pricks in Union Jack t-shirts singing Ten German Bombers and No Surrender to the IRA. We commandeer the local pubs, chuck a few chairs about, and it's all OK because its banter and lads and all that fucking tired shit.

Our royal family hunt defenceless animals and get celebrated as "characters" when they make racist gaffes. Our captains of industry fleece pension funds and dodge taxes, our media hack dead kids phones and ruin countless lives. We celebrate wealth and privilege without challenging it. We have Children in Need as an annual event, a fucking televised celebration of our continuing to elect governments in thrall to the idea of a Great Britian with a seat at the Security Council and a fuck off warship ready to send innocent kids to their maker at a moment's notice. Paedophilia isnt a barrier to office, it's one of the perks. We call our soldiers our brave lads and then fail to look after them when they return home. The two best selling papers in the UK are obsessed with demonising foreigners as terrorists, thieves and cowards.
Our nation's greatness, politically speaking, came from building an empire based on exploitation, enslavement and murder. We didnt fight the Germans in two World Wars for any other reason than that they threatened our cash flow. We didn't defeat them for any other reason than the intervention on our side of bigger military forces. And yet, our obsession with the myth that we showed Europe who the top boy was, that we were the sole saviours of the day persists.

No surprise then that when our football fans go abroad, they feel entitled to wreck the place and get caught up in all manner of idiocy. The Russian hooligans came with an agenda, getting a reputation as the "top boys" of Europe. Had our own "top boys" not behaved with such vicious recklessness the last 40 odd years, the events of the last few days may never have happened. The parallels between hooliganism and our colonial past are clear - we cover up the crimes of Empire with "Boy's Own" adventures, we let our hooligans off the hook with adjectives like "laddish", "high spirits" and "boisterous".
Quick aside - hey Wales fans - when you stop needing police shipped in from other parts of the UK whenever Cardiff play Swansea, when there isnt a single sad little SOUL CREW book for sale in every bookshop in Cardiff, when you've sorted your own little hooligan problems out, feel free to tell us how great your fans are. You've behaved impeccably so far this tournament, and credit to you for that, but let's not pretend that this somehow makes you the better nation. Because once you start to believe that kind of stuff, you're on the road to being just like the hooligan neighbours you affect to despise. It's not such a great leap from Facebook groups like "Welsh not English" to ones like "Britain First."
Our arrogance, our much trumpted superiority to "Johnny Foreigner" couldn't be better summed up than by us having a referendum about being part of Europe - shouldnt it be them having one about wanting us there at all?

Come June 23rd, there's a reasonable chance that all 3 British teams will be out of the European Championships one way or another. I suspect that the relief felt by terrified locals, sick of cleaning up after us will be echoed all across Europe if we kick ourselves out of the EU too.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Alan Shearer's Euro 96

Being the kind of wallow-eyed sentimentalist that gets all emotional over hearing the theme tune to Animal Magic or stubbing my toe on a discarded DAT player, Alan Shearer’s Euro 96 on BBC last week was the kind of television designed to fill my Proustian jug with alcopops and tears.
20 years on from the last time that England reached the last four of a football tournament, big Al took a road trip to meet various survivors of that glorious summer that made Gina G a household name.

Alan met Terry Venables at his worryingly remote hotel in Spain, Paul Gascoigne on a symbolically empty stage in Newcastle, David Seaman in a haunted dogging spot.  Only the perennially 30 year old Teddy Sheringham, swinging his way round a golf course, seemed relatively untroubled by the events of 20 years ago.
Venables, who now resembles a kind of semi-retired owl, claimed that it was the best time of his life but his eyes spoke of sleepless nights filled with what-might-have-beens. Gascoigne’s demons go much deeper than footballing regrets but the agonies felt by us all as his outstretched toe failed to connect with that Shearer cross seemed to still be terribly close to the surface 20 years later.
Contributions from Baddiel and Skinner, whose “Three Lions” became the anthem of the tournament, and commentators John Motson and Barry Davies added some nice perspective but it was interesting to note those absent from proceedings. England’s captain Tony Adams, whose own troubles with alcohol peaked soon after the tournament wasn’t included. Stuart Pearce, whose penalty against Spain was perhaps the most gutsy kick any footballer has ever made, and Gareth Southgate whose penalty miss proved fatal to England’s hopes – these would have been the ones to catch up with, to see how it feels to carry those burdensome memories alone for so long.
And without these perspectives, what could have been a genuinely interesting programme, proved to be a little bit of historical revisionism. Feel good stuff admittedly, for which fan cannot resist watching Gascoigne’s impudent brilliance against Scotland again and again, but detrimental to the programme overall.
There can be no denying that Euro 96 was a wonderful tournament to be an England fan. It was mainly because of the dross served up since Italia 90 up to and including half time against Scotland that made what happened in the following 10 days or so feel so special. This was a country celebrating not being world beaters but not being entirely shit either. Those ten minutes against Holland remain burnt onto the retina as being a moment when pre match optimism seemed delightfully negative. Sport is full of who knows and what ifs. It's what makes remembering events from 20 years ago such a bittersweet experience. But to gloss over the past is damaging and makes our memories less valid.

If Italia 90 was the start of football's image rehabilitation then Euro 96 and Three Lions was the last piece of the jigsaw. Within a year of Southgate's penalty miss we had New Labour in power. A repackaged working class product sold to the middle classes in an acceptable form. Just like the Premiership. After Venables, England went for their own Tony Blair figure in the form of Glenn Hoddle, a young, confident purveyor of vaguely Christian-bollock-speak. When Diana died, Michael Owen filled the void. When England shellacked Germany in 2001, the possibilities for the national side seemed limitless. 10 days later was 9/11 and England sneaked almost apologetically into the World Cup thanks to a 93rd minute free kick from David Beckham against those titans of European football, Greece.
And just as we flexed our shoulders on the world stage and pretended to be a minor superpower, so our footballers went to tournaments and did likewise. We have only won one football tournament and that was down to a home draw and a beneficial linesman decision. 1966 was the start of something awful in this country’s psyche, the beginning of a national obsession, the idea that our optimism could somehow manifest itself in the England team not being rubbish at football, that Johnny Foreigner could be subdued with rolled up sleeves and robust tackles, that the only thing that stopped us winning trophies was corrupt officialdom, foreign underhandedness and just darned poor luck.

It wasn’t just a patriotic short sighted devotion to our national team that was born in 1966, David Cameron was too. And if you can draw a comparison between an overpaid, undertalented, PR obsessed loser like him and Roy’s lads then you’re a better man than I.

We’ll come second in the group and lose to Portugal on penalties. But I'm more worried about Brexit in the group stage.



Saturday, 28 May 2016

With Apologies to Bob Dylan

Seeing as it was Dylan's 75th birthday this week (and anyone who doesnt like at least one Dylan song is lying btw) and the Chilcot report is imminent, I tried to combine the two with a rewrite of one of my own favourite Dylan songs.

It's all over now, Tony Blair

You must sssh now, save your words, the time’s arrived.
But whatever you wish to say, it’s not a time for lies
Yonder lie the orphans in the sun
Stolen from their parents by your gun
Look out Chilcot’s bout to lay it bare
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

The dossiers were dodgy, still you spread alarm
So take what you have gathered from Kazakhstan
The suicidal expert neath the tree
Is waiting for your date with history.
Those WMD’s were simply never there
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

All your wounded sailors, some without a home
Sit unloved and unwanted like a millennial dome.
The bodyguards that stand outside your door
Will not take bullets for you anymore.
You went to war before the enemy was there,
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

Leave London behind, the Hague it calls for you
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you
The hate cleric who’s preaching holy war
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
A million dead but you simply didn’t care
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


There’s a guy I pass every morning on my way to work. I don’t know his name, age wise I’m guessing somewhere in his thirties. Possibly younger. Sleeping rough will age you pretty quick I’d imagine. Most people pass him, don’t stop, too busy, morning commute, worries of their own. I get that. Occasionally I do the same.

About a fortnight ago, I saw a couple of guys shout a ton of abuse at him. I didn’t challenge them. I wish I was brave enough but I’m not. But I gave the homeless guy a couple of quid and muttered some kind of platitudinous nonsense about hanging in there. Before I could get up, the guy shook me by the hand and thanked me and told me to have a good day.

Anyway, I make a point now of checking in on him each morning. He doesn’t beg. He doesn’t shout abuse or stink of drink. He just sits quietly, staring at the reconstruction of our city’s transport hub. I stop by, wish him well, and give him a couple of quid or a coffee from the Starbucks next door.

Over the weekend I mentioned this guy to my wife. We know full well how easy it is to find yourself in that situation. A couple of years back, through no fault of our own, we were evicted because our landlord had been caught cheating on his partner and was forced to move out of the family home.  He’d grown up in the house we rented and was able to evict us (and our 9 year old daughter) on grounds of his own impending destitution.

Nowhere comes up for rent at Christmas. The local authority said they could put us up in a hostel thirty miles away. Our bond turned out to be next to useless as the landlord hadn’t registered it with the deposit scheme as he hadn’t informed his mortgage company of his renting out to us.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, a kindly friend of a friend put us up in her granny flat for 6 months. She didn’t know us, met us the once when she heard of our impending destitution and put us up. Charged us a pathetic fee for the electric and water and said we could stay as long as we wanted. An act of kindness that I cannot possibly ever come close to repaying and one I will never forget.

It’s all too easy to slip through the safety net now that the government has cut the webbing. Claimants are scroungers, benefits are a burden to the taxpayer and the system is now so wedded to a labyrinthine set of rules and regulations that it’s easier to be sanctioned for being over paid than it is to make a successful claim in the first place.

Anyway, I digress. I mentioned the homeless guy to my wife and last night, she made up a small hamper to take to him. Nothing fancy, just some fruit, a couple of sandwiches and some bottles of water. So I give this to him this morning but I don’t want to just hand him a bag of food and fuck off. Least I can do is find out a little about him, shoot the shit for a second.

6 months ago, Lee had a job. And a flat.  And one day he got ill. Phoned in sick. Presumed it a stomach bug. It didn’t get any better. Collapses at home, gets rushed to hospital. After a few days it’s revealed to be Crohn’s disease. There are some long term implications for him and some immediate complications to try to remedy. He spends 10 weeks in hospital. During which time he loses his job and his landlord evicts him for non-payment of rent. Eventually well enough to leave hospital, he discovers that his life has turned to shit.

The local authority decides he has made himself “intentionally homeless” meaning they don’t have to look after him. The DWP decide likewise. So Lee’s life is entirely dependent on people handing him food and money. He isn’t so much caught in the cycle as kicked out of it completely.

We used to give a fuck about people in this country. And now we don’t. We buy the occasional Big Issue, text a fiver to Comic Relief and tell ourselves we’ve done our bit. The fifth richest country in the world lets people die on the streets because it’s easier for a junior civil servant to hide behind a piece of procedure than do something human.

I’m a prick, trust me. I wanted to walk away from my chat feeling like I’d done something to help this guy out for a few hours. I walked away in tears, disgusted at my own inadequacy, shocked by his tacit acceptance of this unnecessary cruelty. What do we do?

This isn’t Tory bashing. This is the system. And it’s in this context that a Ken Loach film about victims of that system can win the Palme D’Or. The safety net is non-existent. People hide behind their mortgages, their holiday brochures and they kid themselves that they’re immune. Nothing can touch them. And it’s bullshit. With the rolling back of the social security program there has in turn come a reduction in people’s sympathy for those less fortunate than themselves. When we reduce acts of kindness to the pressing of a red button on your TV remote then it’s fucked. Empathy is just weakness leaving the bank account.

And then, I swear to God, this happened in front of me. I’m crossing the High Street down by the Philharmonic. A squirrel runs into the road in rush hour. It darts in between all the vehicles like it’s a cartoon. Before finally coming to rest before the front wheel of a Cardiff Bus at a red light. It sits there shuddering, exhausted. Soon the lights will change and it will surely be crushed. I’m screaming at the squirrel like a lunatic from the roadside. And it just won’t move. So I run away. I can’t bear to be around. I literally sprint 100 yards over into Custom House Street and I’m welling up.

Maybe the squirrel will have come to its senses. Maybe it made its way safely to the pavement once I’d stopped screaming. Or maybe, like Lee, like thousands of Lees across this rich and pleasant land, it sits there and waits for the inevitable.




Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Return of the Roses

I don't listen to the radio much these days. I wait till Mother's out. She only leaves on pension days or if there's a funeral .

Anyway, here's what happened. I remember it like it was yesterday. Which it was. So, it's pension day and it's the usual rigmarole. Mother's found two reasons to leave the house at once. She's just heard Elsie Blenkinsop is being cremated at St Anne's Friday week. The hallway smells of Mr Sheen and the disability scooter is gleaming.

"Who's Elsie Blenkinsop?" I asked.

"You know Elsie. She lives with her daughter Karen in Rossiter Street. She wears a cagoul all weathers and plays the triangle in the Salvation Army outside Cancer Research."

Still none the wiser. I'm more of a YMCA man myself.

"They're cremating her at St Anne's. I need a new hat. If there's not one in town, I might get the train to Leeds."

I said, 'Leeds. Mother, you've not set foot in Leeds since Dad bought that Millenium Bug book in Waterstones there’

£14.99 it was. My father thought his toaster and microwave would both retire at the century's end. Mother made him take it back. She made quite the scene. I hadn't heard language like that in a shop in all my life. Well, not since Betty Wombwell's colostomy bag had exploded all over the pic and mix in Woolworths.

She said, 'It’s fine. I'll be alright. Maureen Hepplewhite from the Bingo. You know her. I'm meeting her outside TK Maxx. I won't venture into Leeds alone.’

I said, 'Well if Maureen Hepplewhite's going you better zip up your pockets." Maureen had taken to shoplifting like a duck to water since her husband had died plane spotting in Filey.

I kissed Mother on the cheek, as she settled herself down into what I secretly referred to as The Chariot.

A day to myself, how should I spend it? I switched on the radio, the digital one by the condiment rack. I selected 6Music, a little blast of excitement might inspire me. They'd just played a record by the Kaiser Chiefs, whose singer I'd once swam against in a schools gala near Hunslet, when it was announced that this evening there would be an exclusive play of the first Stone Roses single in 22 years.

A modest Proustian rush. 19. Just sacked from the local tailors for poor tie keeping. On my way home I bumped into Michael Simmonite and his sister Paula. Twins. They'd both gone to university that summer. He was doing Geography in Lancaster and she was doing everyone in the UEA.  They were wearing tie dye tshirts and flared jeans. They looked ridiculous.

Anyway, they were keen to tell me all about "uni" and we went to the nearest pub for a pint and a ham roll. It was only half one. I felt decadent. It didnt suit me. Anyway, Paula goes over to the jukebox and puts some money on. First song crackles through The Dusty Farmboy's rickety speakers.

The song was "One Love" by the Stone Roses. I didn't care much for music, I'd been exposed to Showaddywaddy as a young boy and presumed it to be punk rock. Which, to all extents and purposes, I suppose it was. Anyway, what with an undigested ham roll in my system and the best part of a half of mild in me, I got quite carried away and started tapping my foot. One thing led to another and five pints later, I was, well I won't say violated. But there was a distinct lack of consent on my part and Paula was a big girl. She threw shot for West Riding and there had been talk of an appearance on Look North.

Anyway, the years pass and all I have to show for a record collection is a car boot purchase of the best of the Stone Roses. Mother never liked music and she took Dad's Mantovanis to the Harelip Relief shop.

The day passes without incident, Mother was out looking for a hat, and I spent several hours failing to add an extra hole to my brown belt. Suddenly there's a commotion. The doorbell rings and it's Mother, she can't find her key and her face could pass for a strawberry compote.

"What's happened?"

"I tell you what's happened, I have just spent three hours and forty minutes in the police station in Leeds."

"What? Were you mugged?"

"No, but that Maureen Hepplewhite should be strung up. She's only stolen the charity dog off the PDSA counter. Stuffed it in my rear basket."

I felt a shiver.

"I'll put the kettle on, Mother."

As I retreated to the safety of the kitchen I could hear my mother shouting out down the centuries - "Your father's working late", "Your nan's died", "Your tea's gone cold", "The police let her off with a caution." I reached for the tea caddy and spooned three large heaps into the pot. My mother doesn't like tea bags, says they remind her of nappies. The tea caddy's got a picture of Napoli on it for reasons I've never fathomed. Nearest my mother's got to the Bay of Naples was when she won a year's supply of Dolmio in Take A Break.

I switch the radio on and, as luck would have it, the DJ announces the Stone Roses new record is coming on. I fetch Mother's cup from the draining board and a packet of Rich Tea from the cupboard. The music starts and I'm about to lose myself in another slice of what could have been when the moment is broken by Mother's arrival at the serving hatch.

"Turn this shit off Alan."

"Yes, mother."


Monday, 9 May 2016

A Moon-Shaped Pool.

Radiohead, those purveyors of sticking it to the man stadium paranoia,are back! And this time they brought some tunes! Well, kind of. Opener Burn the Witch is typical 21st century Radiohead fare - corporate menace in search of a tune, Thom crying out "This is a round up" in a manner similar to Kenneth Williams proclaiming "Infamy! They've all got it in for me." only with less convincing paranoia.

Daydreaming offers more of the same, except that with a melody half inched from Cats the Musical "Memories" it's hard to take seriously.  Even the sample at the end, which I presume is of the cop being reversed over in Happy Valley, seems unnecessary. This venture into what might be called Aphex Lloyd Webber characterises the album, a polite abrasiveness seeps through everything and it's both unsettling and unconvincing.
Like a lot of people, my introduction to this album came courtesy of BBC 6Music broadcasting it in it's entirety minutes after it's release. One track seemed like Radiohead had ventured into self parody - some posh bloke talking about politicians and terrorism over vague electro mumbles. It turned out to be the 730 news. (WINKS TO CAMERA).
Here and there, A Moon Shaped Pool hints at the influence of their rejected Bond theme in it's creation - Identikit especially, with its Duane Eddy riff and Spectoresque drums.
Tracks like Decks Dark and Desert Island Disk don't really do anything, except poke their head round the door and mumble Hi. Ful Stop is better, employing the same muscular skronk jazz of Kid A's The National Anthem, Present Tense introduces tropical Radiohead, far better and lovelier than that sounds, though admittedly more Man from Uncle than Girl from Ipanema.

Highlight though is Glass Eyes, part panic attack, part lullaby and all tune. Unsettling without being unlistenable, and proof that brevity is beautiful, it's something Radiohead might have considered for the rest of this infuriatingly inconsistent work.