Friday, 5 December 2014

Sat Amongst The Pigeons

Sat Amongst The Pigeons

(inspired by Faber Academy QuickFic

It’s a Saturday. I have my daughter every other weekend. She’s three. I met her mum by the usual bench. I always bring a sliced loaf. Clued up pigeons heard the tiny crackle of bag and landed close to my girl.
One pigeon looked at me. I thought about shooing him.

And then it happens.

I knew it wasn’t just me because of the fear and chaos around me, the way that people clutched their heads to listen closer to the voice, to protect themselves from the sudden madness.

A voice, a voice like none heard yet in the sane world, spoke in all the heads on Earth.

I am the Creator.

I made you. I can unmake you. Abandon your churches. Destroy your banks. Your beliefs are confirmed, your rituals disappoint me. Put down your weapons. Feed each other. Abandon your wealth as you would your worries for the two are one. The next time I speak will be the last.

I heard the explosions, I saw the smoke rise from here and turned as one by one, churches and banks fell into dust. I felt coins burn through my pocket and melt into nothingness.

As I speak, I can hear sirens. The streets are filled with wondrous, upturned heads. Some are crying. 

I sit back down.

Pigeons peck at the crumbs by my daughter. She looks at me, smiling, holding a crumbless bag.

What do we do now she says?

Photo taken from

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Why Greg Dyke Can't Save English Football

Greg Dyke, FA Chairman, has set the target of winning the World Cup for the national side in 2022. It's an impressive target and an impossible one. Our players, tactics, coaching are light years behind the giants of the international game.

There are many disparate reasons England have continually failed at tournaments outside it's shores. I've long felt that the Premier League has corrupted the culture of the national game. Without wanting to make British football pre 1992 sound like some sort of Corinthian feast of virtue and diligence, the obsession with money in every aspect of the sport since the PL was founded has a lot to do with our more recent failings.

Whilst the Guardian's David Conn is to be applauded for his continuous highlighting of the stupidities and hypocrisies of the fiscal side of football, he is a one off. Headlines now aren't about promising new players, they're about the astonishing salaries they will earn. Chief executives are now celebrities. And fans of, by any other sport's standards, successful football teams, now spend their evenings deriding their team's supposed failings during the transfer window.

I've long suspected that the England manager, whoever holds that poisoned chalice at the time, is not the only person picking the squads and teams. The lucrative commercial interests must surely have a say. Shirt sponsor offers the FA, say £10 million. Would like to use Lampard and Gerrard on their promotional material. This material is produced months ahead of a World Cup. Now say England get to Brazil next year. Will Roy say "Well, here we are. I'm thinking of leaving Lampard and Gerrard at home. They've had piss poor seasons and will have low expectations of what we can achieve. Maybe it's time to pick some new blood, players who haven't got a history of failing at major tournaments."?

No, no, he wont.

And it won't just be because Sinister Sporting Goods Ltd have had a word in his shell. Roy, like the last few England managers, knows the cost of daring to venture outside the accepted version of events. The media will crucify him because they have helped create the beast. How many times have you seen a player described as "£75,000 a week ace" or "£40 million rated" in a match report? Players aren't described as promising or up and coming, it's all to do with their earning potential and it's poisoned the well of English talent.

Yes, there's coaching failings, there's a lack of sporting facilities at schools and grass roots level but there's still plenty of kids out there with raw talent. It's about nurturing that talent alongside nurturing the person with it.

The usual suspects will be there in Rio. And Russia. And Qatar. And they'll fail dismally each time. We've picked players on reputation and marketability rather than form and talent for years. The FA won't admit it, the Premier League won't admit it.

The England team is like the Rolling Stones. An embarassing relic trading on past glories, covering up its failing to catch up with the world around it, by celebrating and venerating it in a never ending world tour. The fans still come, they want to see Lampard, they want to see Rooney. They buy the T-shirt. They know all the songs and they don't mind paying over the odds for a ticket.

This isn't breakfast telly, Greg, You can't save it with a rat. The ship sunk years ago.

Saturday, 31 August 2013


For every £1000 lost in tax evasion, the government spends less than a penny on advertising campaigns to ask people nicely if they would refrain from cheating on the system.

For every £1000 lost to fraudulent benefit claims, the government spends £5 on advertising campaigns to get people to inform on those who cheat the system. And for every one of those £1000s lost, the government saves £12000 in unclaimed benefits. So, benefit fraud, whilst entirely wrong, could be seen to have a mainly negative effect on the economy compared to, say, not paying taxes.

For every £1000 lost to procurement fraud in central and local government, the government, for obvious reasons, spends nothing on advertising.

The country loses, by even the lowest plausible reckonings, some £1.5 billion a week in tax evasion. That's higher than the ANNUAL figure lost in benefit fraud and the same amount as the ANNUAL figure lost to procurement fraud.

My house is on fire. It's been set alight by arsonists, people known to me.

Do I a) Go after the arsonists or b) Throw petrol on it, c) attack the firemen and accuse them of setting alight to get more work or d) spend every spare penny I have asking the arsonists to think of people who we mutually loathe so we can blame them. Or e) a mixture of b,c and d.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Who To Support In The Premiership?

Sport and politics make uneasy bedfellows, as the recently deceased chap who caught William Hague sniffing Seb Coe's judo pants once said. For a hardline lefty wanker like myself, my love of the beautiful game (football) has in recent years come at the cost of doubting my socialist credentials. How can anyone in love with the idea of a world where Thatcherism and all the other neo-con schools are finally defeated bring himself to cheer a bunch of millionaire arseholes playing another bunch of millionaire arseholes?

Truth is, he can't, not really.

I console myself with the knowledge that the team I support are going to be underdogs in a large number of their matches and try to ignore the fact their star striker is earning north of £50,000 a week. But this is the Premiership, a league that has long contrived to reward mediocrity with wages even a Barclays chief exec might blush at.

So, with a week until the new Premiership begins, and a sudden desire to join the other countless fools who think they can write a pre-season guide, here's my left-wingers ideological guide as to who they should be supporting. Although, after a while, I forget the politics and make jokes about Martin Jol's face.

Teams owned by the singularly unappealing.

Seeing as the Premiership is basically a race for cash, it's impossible to discount the owners from our thinking. And Premiership owners are, like F1 fans and members of historical re-enactment societies, pretty awful human beings. Manchester City are owned by the Mansour family, a happy go lucky despotic version of the Manson family, who like nothing more than putting their feet up to watch Sergio Aguero after a hard day's turning a blind eye to torture, human trafficking and other wacky shit. Chelsea are, of course, owned by Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch. I've never looked up "oligarch" but it's one of those words that get linked with "disappeared business rivals", "bribery", "corruption" and "despotic autocrat" quite a lot. Close personal chum of that perennial charmer Vladimir Putin, Abramovich has transformed Chelsea from occasional Cup winners into the obscenely funded employers of the likes of Brave John Terry - a player who does his best to embody much of what is wrong with our national game, and by extension, our nation as a whole. Newcastle United are the only sitcom that runs on Sky Sports. A regional obsession owned by a Londoner who is to footballing business decisions what Ant and Dec are to heart surgery techniques. Mike Ashley, owner of zero-hour contract shitfists Sports Direct, gave charmless, trophy free Alan Pardew an eight hour contract on the grounds of knowing the words to The Lambeth Walk. And then appointed an even bigger Cockernee geezer, Joe Kinnear, above him. The club wear shirts sponsored by financial misery peddlers Wonga, a phrase so utterly London that one can only presume business meetings at St James Park resemble auditions for Oliver.

Teams managed by racist bastards.

He's so passionate! He's so chic! He ruins his suits! When Sunderland appointed self-proclaimed fascist sympathiser Paolo Di Canio, the last tiny cell of whatever passed for top flight English football's soul died. At a club whose connections to the local community, an area long blighted by poverty, were best embodied by their commitment to affordable ticket prices - such an appointment was even sadder. And when it made even non-executive board member David Miliband, a fucking New Labour cabinet member for Christ's sake, walk off into the sunset claiming a duty of conscience, well you had to smile.

Teams supported by that smug sachet of shit sauce Piers Morgan.

For all Arsene Wenger's devotion to an aesthetically pleasing Anglo-French take on the tiki-taka style of Barcelona, Arsenal are supported by Piers Morgan. Every time Theo Walcott scores, the self-satisfied wank-rictus of Piers Morgan contorts in delight. Perhaps he even masturbates. Add to that the fact that sniffing cocaine on one of Richard Branson's soon come space planes is probably marginally cheaper than an Arsenal ticket and there you go, fuck Arsenal. Fuck them.


Is it just me or is anyone else looking forward to the inevitable moment when a Virgin space plane, packed with Piers Sugars and Roman Mumfords, blows up in the stratosphere, the only recognisable piece of debris being a falling slice of Virgin-emblazoned fuselage crashing faster than the Virgin share price.

Teams owned by chairmen who dare to pay for their new club's success and then reward the fans by adding an animal to the name.

Cardiff City and Hull City, having both been promoted in May, are both owned by Asian businessman very keen on rebranding their teams to capture part of the emerging "people who like their things named after animals or mythical creatures market". For many Cardiff fans, Vincent Tan's dream of naming their club Cardiff City Dragons is the last straw. Having made their Bluebirds wear red shirts was bad enough. Now he wants to add Dragons to their name. You might think a slice of gratitude might be owned Mr Tan, after all his time in charge has been their most successful since before the war. For now Tan has held off the Dragon rebranding but a sizeable contingent of their supporters are worried that they'll become the laughing stock of football should their club's identity and traditions be compromised any further. Hull City, however, have gone and added Tigers to their name, making themselves the most famous three word five syllable unit since the Bay City Rollers. Some fans are so up in arms about it they've written strongly worded letters to the local press. As far as I know, no one has ever taunted another club's fans about whatever creature is on the club's badge. It's not as if Hull have changed their name to Godforsaken East Coast Shithole Tigers or that Cardiff City have decided to rename their stadium Cavernous Monument To Out of Town Shopping Nausea. Still, tradition and all that. These huge pocketed millionaire bastards, eh?

Team supported by David Cameron, Mervyn King and Prince William.

It hurts, it really does. I've seen a Villa forward line of John Fashanu and Guy Whittingam. I've watched them lose to fourth-tier teams over two legged semi-finals. I remember Eric Djemba-Djemba, Simon Stainrod and Gabor Kiraly. But what hurts this Tory hating, banker loathing avid republican most is our association with the biggest shitbag in Britain. Not to mention Mervyn "oops" King and the Man Who Will One Day Be Heir To The Throne For Fucking Years. As if watching a team that still pays Stephen Ireland money isn't bad enough. And Randy Lerner was the single largest contributor to Bush's 2000 election fund. So, in a way, a very fucked up way admittedly, Martin O'Neill caused 9/11.

Who's left?

Liverpool and Manchester United are both way too large and unscrupulous to truly love. Both are owned by bespectacled American tycoon types who probably go to Bible groups and listen to the Gin Blossoms or some other shit. Liverpool's star player is the ever-charming Freddie Mercury lookalike Luis Suarez, a prodigious talent with a penchant for racist outbursts and biting opponents. Their manager is a fucking colossal David Brent-speak twat. Much of the traditional hatred for Man Utd will have dissipated following the retirement of Ribena-faced watchtapper Sir Alex of the Shipyards. But seeing as they were the first to really chase the title of COLOSSAL WORLDWIDE FRANCHISE WITH SHIRTS MADE IN ASIAN SWEATSHOPS, we can't cheer them on either. And they pay Rio "Whoops, Drug Test" Ferdinand and Wayne "Spellcheck" Rooney too.

Everton have lost their manager to the Dr Who job. When you lose your biggest asset to a fictional journey through time and space you are no longer a football club. Fulham are supported by both Hugh Grant and Keith Allen. And their manager Martin Jol resembles a blind toddler's attempts to recreate God with cheap plasticine. Tottenham recently turned down £83 million pounds for their best player. That's enough money to buy Cardiff Airport and both the planes that landed there last year.

Which leaves Stoke City, West Ham, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Swansea.

Stoke City are owned by Peter Coates, the man who also owns betting site Bet365. To compound the misery caused by the rigged illusion of gambling with the less than aesthetically pleasing sight of hoofing the ball through the sky to the head of Peter Crouch is vile and inhumane. West Ham are owned by the nation's fifteenth-favourite pornographer David Sullivan. The Olympic legacy is letting a man who makes his crust selling Widow's Friend dildos and Topless Nuns Monthly half fill the stadium of Ennis and Farah with the footballing vision of Sam Allardyce.

Imagine being single and hearing these two girls whom a friend knows are apparently both keen on seeing you. That'd cheer you up, wouldnt it? You might get some action. So you go to the club and both girls look like the Moog from Willo the Wisp. And while beauty is only skin deep and all that, it still doesnt count as much of a result. But you end up sleeping with them anyway. That's what signing for West Brom is like. A club supported by both flag-waving convert Frank Skinner and the only man to resemble the back of Martin Jol's spoon, Adrian Chiles.

Norwich are managed by former trade union shop steward Chris Hughton, a man whom it seems to me is pretty difficult to dislike. But Delia Smith. Delia fucking Smith. Not to mention Stephen Fry. I love the bloke as much as the next chap. He's our Renaissance man. But he's too pally with the Royals. So that's Norwich out of the equation.

Swansea? I love their football, it's pleasing to the eye. But I live in Cardiff. People will see this and find my family and kill them. And Michael Laudrup reminds me of Laugesen in Borgen. So they're out.

Which leaves a choice between Southampton and Crystal Palace. Southampton are owned by an Italian banker. An Italian banker. Hardly two words that combine to think "Yep, I'd love to go on the piss with them." You got to love an underdog and so I'll plump for the Sarf Lahndn newboys Palace. They've sold their best player to Man Utd and bought in Maurane Chamakh from Arsenal reserves. Like trading in your Mercedes for a lift with Peter Sutcliffe.

And on that less than enamouring simile, I'll fuck off.

Thursday, 25 July 2013



A clapped out fifties coach, no doubt designed with daytrips to Denbigh in mind, coughed and spluttered through the rain to the village to pick us up. We were stood outside the shop, me and my sister, detached from the other kids.  Mutes in any language; refusing to betray our strangeness by speaking.
We got on after everyone else and sat quietly at the front, heads bowed in submission. There were whispers amongst the catch up conversation from the weekend.  I could make out the occasional English word in the vaguely threatening broadcast taking place behind us. One word kept falling from the crowded noise like a reluctant volunteer pushed forward by an angry mob. “Size” “Size”.
The journey to Tregaron only took fifteen minutes or so, the mechanical asthmatic dipping with the road in and out of the tired looking valley, all bleak fields and dying fences. Occasionally a leafless branch would reach out from the roadside and crack its dead knuckles against my window and wake me from my dream. The bus struggled with the last steep hill and sighed as it came to a halt outside the uninviting concrete school. “Size” “Size”. Maybe it was “Sighs.”
We followed the other children through a little door into a corridor typical of any school on a Monday morning, jostling shoulders and bobbing heads, locker doors being banged shut, the hormonal drone of teenage chatter relating weekend gossip. I located a teacher who pointed us to the secretary’s office up a little staircase. The secretary, a thin but kind-faced woman who looked a little bit like Gladys Pugh in Hi-De-Hi, led us back downstairs which had suddenly and magically cleared in the interim. We were led down a corridor so thin it may have been designed with the secretary in mind. Stopping outside a classroom, the secretary led my sister in, a brief moment of noise and then silence as the door closed again behind her.
Then it was my turn. The secretary explained to me that there were lots of English children at the school now, and that each year in the school had a form for these children, one for Welsh speakers and one for children who needed extra help with their lessons. Rhyd, Bont and Llan.
We were making our way into Rhyd 3. The third year for English kids. It was chaos. The room was packed and the teacher was struggling to make himself heard as he opened his register book.
The secretary told him my name. The teacher looked at me and said “We’ve got 42 in here now. You’ll have to go to a different class. Take him to Bont.”
Any relief felt at not immediately being categorised as someone with learning difficulties evaporated in the instance I entered another class on the far side of the school.  The secretary was clearly explaining the situation to the new teacher, a Miss Jenkins.
Miss Jenkins seemed nice enough, told me to grab a seat and smiled. It was the last smile I’d see for a while. The room was suddenly filled with hateful grimaces from the other children.  The teacher took the register; I noticed they didn’t do it by surname like in London but by first name.
“Llyr. Rhydian. Bedwyr. Angharad. Sioned.”
These names sounded like some mad spell designed to raise the dead.  Soon everyone was on their feet and I followed blindly, guided by magic to a school hall for morning assembly.  Ours was the last form in, no doubt my fault. A hymn sheet was stuffed in my hand as I entered. The headmaster took to the stage, dressed in his graduation gown.  At the moment he reached the lectern, he nodded to the pianist to cease her playing.  There was silence save for the frantic panic of my heart trying to jump free from my chest and return to England. 
This was Dr. Rees, the headmaster. He spoke almost entirely in Welsh; no doubt he was instructing the Welsh speaking children that both I and my sister would be stoned to death in the quadrangle this afternoon and that this feature would replace the swimming gala.
Another nod from the head and the pianist resumed her work, accompanied on percussion by the flapping of a hundred hymn sheets being unfurled. I glanced at the sheet. Laminated anagrams. My eyes traced the letters across the page but I couldn’t work out what was going on. 
“Efengyl tangnefedd. O rhed dros y byd.” The chorus of an old song was being worried in a couple of hundred ways.
I felt as though a thousand burning eyes were melting holes in the back of my head. Even the teachers who flanked the hall seemed to be shooting me glances of contempt. No point in me trying to sing along, not even worth lip synching. My eyes carefully navigated the hall until I saw my sister, suddenly looking much smaller, staring at her own hymn sheet; listening to her own homesick heart.

An old Mr T thing

Because I need to link to someone else...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Toy Story Trilogy - the meaning

The final segment of Pixar’s generation-spanning Toy Story trilogy has rightly attracted a great deal of praise for pulling off the rare feat of making a heart warming film that stays just the right side of sentimental without ever veering into histrionics or cliché. A number of theories have sprung up on what the stories themselves actually symbolise. In The Guardian, respected film critic Peter Bradshaw suggests that the discarding of one’s childhood toys represents our mordant fear of being rejected by our own children in our twilight years.

Elsewhere, some people seem to think it’s an endorsement of the pro-life, Papal approved side of 21st centuryliving.

With the kind of what the heck enthusiasm I used to reserve for swallowing shit E’s in the 1990’s, I’ve decided to throw my own two pennorth into the ring. Never mind the fact that with my paltry A-level in Film Studies (grade A, suck on that Kermode) and a knowledge of cinema summed up by only six visits to the pictures (the pictures!!) this century, I’m as well-qualified to comment on film theory as Martine McCutcheon is on the Korea crisis. That doesn’t matter. For, as Simon Cowell surely said of Amanda Holden, “qualified, schmalified”

My theory is basically that Toy Story is essentially a film about the mortality of masculinity. It’s a theory that evolved over a number of half-drunken minutes contemplating the marketing possibilities of my almost-written film Titantric, in which Leonardo Di Caprio fucks a boat for hours without coming. Don’t tell me that won’t work, he’s in a film where he walks around in people’s heads right now. Ludicrous. And don’t tell me you’ve never found yourself looking longingly at a catamaran and found yourself in a need for a cold compress.

Basically, how it works is this. Andy is the modern American male in crisis, we barely hear him talk but we do hear the voice of that most recognisably Everyman of contemporary American culture, Tom Hanks. Tom is the voice of a cowboy, Woody. Now we can all go on about Woody representing some kind of homespun version of traditional Americana but he’s not. Woody is a penis. He’s Andy’s favourite toy in the first film, always playing with him. But what comes along to threaten his love of playing with his old chap. Buzz Lightyear. Buzz is drink, Buzz is drugs. Buzz is the distraction, the shiny new plaything. Andy  goes from thinking about his old chap all day to reaching for the stars. There’s probably something important here about all of this being meta-textual and what have you but I’m on a roll now, this bong is starting to kick in and you’ll just have to bear with me.

Woody’s not physically attached to Andy but he might as well by, his dilemmas all spring from separation from his owner. Fear of castration and all that, a fear better symbolised by Woody’s continual losing of the hat. Yeah, yeah it’s Indiana Jones again I know but Indy’s hat symbolised a longing for being buttfucked. I read it in Take A Break. When Woody loses his hat, it’s a metaphor for being castrated.

Buzz is so clearly a cipher for hedonism. Like the erectile pun of Woody, Buzz’s name springs from the spine-tingling adrenalin rush one can only get from sitting around in the same clothes for five days straight smoking something you think might have been called “Summer Storm” but are now beginning to wonder if he didn’t actually say “Domestos”. Who in all three adventures goes mad, Buzz does. Buzz is the one who most clearly wrestles with his ego, his id. Buzz is the one who gets to go all Mexican, express his feminine side, and of course, convince himself of his ability to fly. He’s a space cadet.

Back in a sec, I just kicked over some Lilt. Fuck it, I’ll do it tomorrow.

The trilogy is basically still a story about growing up but it’s not so much the transition from childhood to maturity, as the rite of passage we must all make in between impregnating our first wanksock and gassing ourselves in a garage before the grandchildren come round for tea. It’s the hell of domesticity that Woody and the gang find themselves in constant battle with, despite the fact that that gang contains Mr and Mrs Potato Head whose love for each other is depicted in an endless display of self-harm, accidental disfigurement and transubstantive tortilla-based shape shifting. Suck on that, Mike Leigh, suck on that.

Anyway, that’s it. Andy’s toys represent all the conflicting fun urges he could be acting upon. Apart from Woody and Buzz, there’s cars (Bullseye), girls (Jessie), munchies (Ham), erm green dinosaurs. Look, I know I’m right. Science is just what they think they know and all that. And the journeys the toys make in each film represent the various forces stopping Andy from getting as much drunken action as he can be. In the first film they have to escape from the neighbours (SOCIETY) the second they have to escape from a wicked businessman (WORK) and the last, they have to escape other toys (PEER PRESSURE). When Andy says goodbye to the toys, it is a genuinely sad moment, because Andy is basically finished as a human being. He’s off to college. He’s off to get a mortgage, a middle management job with Pepsi Burger. His life is over. Cry much? I know I did.

And where's Andy's dad in all this? That's right, he's absent. Missing, presumed extinct, like those other great American male icons - the cowboy and the astronaut.

Next week, I’ll be discussing The Cannonball Run with a view to expounding on my theory that Burt Reynolds moustache grew thicker and more lustrous after Deliverance and that’s because he basically liked the squeal piggy bum rape stuff.