Sunday, June 27, 2010

Surrender

Not a lot to say, really (although I'm sure I'll manage). England may have been beaten by a team that, on paper, were worse than us; but on the day, the Germans showed us why they achieve and we don't.
During the game, Guy Mowbry (no Motty) asked how many of the Germans would get into the England team. Well, Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose, would be shoo-ins, four or five others would make some of our under-performers squirm and fret about their international futures. Which, I believe is exactly what our so-called Golden Generation needs to do now.
England are clearly not going forward and rather than suffer any more ignominy, surely its time to bring a new generation of players into the squad; leaving just a handful of those who went to South Africa.
When England turn out for the friendly in August; regardless of whether Capello is still in charge; there should only be a select few who remain. Joe Hart should be promoted to England #1, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson should remain, as should Michael Dawson, the future of England's central defence. James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe should all be there - the rest will be too old to play in the next World Cup. Some of them - Gerard, Terry, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick might feel they have Euro 2012 in them, but, seriously only one of these should be considered and he'd retire if he had any shred of conscience.
Players such as Theo Walcott deserve to be considered, but not until they start to achieve something again for their clubs; but that might be my belief that there are two or three better players than him in his position.
This means the following list of players should be considered for the new season:
Ashley Young, Keiron Gibbs, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Nathan Delfounso, Fabien Delph, Liam Ridgewell, Gary Cahill, Jack Wilshire, Jack Rodwell, Daniel Sturridge, Phil Jagielka, Dan Gosling, Micah Richards, Michael Johnson, Adam Johnson, Lee Catermole, Tom Huddlestone, Kyle Walker and any Englishman that shows talent between now and the start of the Euro 2012 qualifiers. It's time to build a new team; one that works together, rather than in their own interests.
I'd rather see a team that wants to win for their country than just have the supposed 11 most talented footballer in the country put on a pitch with the hope that they'll play well in unfamiliar positions or in a formation that doesn't suit the way they play their football week in week out.
Today's humiliation needs to be treated like a major lesson, one we have to learn from or we're likely to become even more of a joke. We really are the only people on the planet who think our football team deserves to be in the elite.
For the sake of 5 minutes; this is the team I'd like to see face whoever the lucky team is for the friendly at the start of next season:
Hart, A.Cole, G.Johnson, Dawson, Jagielka, Lennon, A. Johnson, Milner, Huddlestone, Rooney and Defoe. On the bench: Green, Cahill, Richards, Rodwell, Gosling, Sturridge, Wilshire and young Connor Wickham, who I expect will be playing in the top flight sooner rather than later.
I also want to see players like Joshua McEachran, Benik Afobe, Robert Hall and John Bostick all be brought into England training camps, along with other young players with future potential. They need to experience the future first hand.
It's time to build a team for the future, not build a team round consistent failure.
That is all.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

the blind house

Flogging a dead horse #47:
Facebook - I've occasionally wibbled on about this bane of existence; so much so that it's like listening to Agadoo by Black Lace. But there are a few things about Facebook that I'm still trying to get my head around, even if I'm as guilty as the next man.
Why, for instance, is there a Top News and a Most Recent tab on the news feed? Surely most people would want to know what is happening rather than what did happen? In fact, why does it always default to the Top News, despite it being as useful as a chocolate teapot? Most people I know have anything 'important' go straight to their email inboxes; yet Facebook has a 'Notifications' tab, which only ever tells you stuff that you've already been informed of by email. The Notifications tab stopped notifying you of anything unrelated to Facebook about 3 months ago; thus rendering it more than moot. There are a couple of other functions that I fail to see the significance of, but it's when we start to look at it from an existential point of view that it starts to get really confusing.
Despite the conviction that I wouldn't get drawn into one of those games on Facebook that requires you to have friends also playing the game to ensure you get further into it, I did. I also did this with the knowledge that most of my friends on Facebook would not be the slightest bit interested in joining this game; which lead me to the situation where I had to go fishing for friends.
The game I have been playing is called Social City (I've mentioned it before) and it takes up about 20 minutes of about 3 evenings a week. To be able to expand you Sim City like grid, you need either to have more 'friends' or you have to pay actual money. The idea of paying money to these people for the ability to play their game doesn't sit well with me - after all, this was hardly the world's greatest game and is never likely to become it either. So this left me with the distinctly unsettling prospect of asking people on the Social City Facebook page if they wanted to be my 'friend'.
Now, despite doing this, I had a really uneasy feeling. Facebook is a social networking facility and its main aim, on an altruistic level, is to bring people together and make the whole world friendly with everyone else. Unfortunately, as well as uniting people all over the world, it becomes a very useful place for predators to lurk and its also a place where information is exchanged whether you want it or not. Forget the bollocks about Facebook's privacy policy shenanigans; the fact is once you accept someone you don't know as a friend, you're allowing them to information about you (unless you hide all your information, then you could ask why you needed to put it there in the first place!). If, like me and many others, you're happy for 'friends of friends' to see your information, you are unwittingly allowing someone you don't know to have access to your life and they'll share it, without knowing, to any of their friends, some of which they probably don't know. More like 6 degrees of potential terror rather than of separation.
Also, and I'm really not trying to be a scaremonger, but... Why do people insist of putting pictures of their young children on Facebook? Why do people announce they are going on holiday or popping out for the day? You might as well have status updates that say things like - Free Children for Paedos or Burgle My House, I'm in Spain! We were always told never to put on an answer machine that we weren't in, always say, 'I can't come to the phone right now'. Yes, it probably meant you were out, but a burglar couldn't take the chance - too much risk.
About 2 years ago I invented Bill Wall's Facebook. Initially I intended for Bill to do all the things I wanted to do - the games and applications that looked interesting and meant that no one I didn't know would come into contact with me. But, like the best laid plans, Bill became obsessed with donkeys and I ended up accessing applications via my Phil Hall account. So I invented another persona to make sure that I didn't get embroiled in things and people I didn't know or want to know. That persona has formed a lesbian relationship with a friend's own alternate persona and they've moved to the south of France. You see, Facebook has become this spawning monster that is populating the world with non-people. If you consider the number of people using alternate identities on Facebook, you'll realise that there's only 6000 people using it and 90% of them are sitting behind their computers at this moment, rubbing their expansive bellies and dreaming about Karen Gillan and what Peter Parker eats for breakfast...
Anyhow, I digress, Facebook is, IMHO, a bit dangerous and people should be a little less trusting about who and what they allow into their lives. If you think I'm just being paranoid, look at your friends list and add up the number of people on their you don't actually know and have never actually met; then consider how many friends they have, and the friends that their friends have and so on and so forth. How long before one of them is as dodgy as fuck?

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My Spam folder has been inundated in recent months with stream after stream of advertisements for Viagra. I've never really bothered about spam - I'm not an idiot - but sometimes I wish there was this great big Spam God in the sky who I could write to an say, "Do me a favour chap; stop sending me adverts for Viagra, I don't have any problem whatsoever in getting it up. If you need to send me any spam, focus it on something your spyware has identified as something I give a shit about", unfortunately no such beast exists...

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About 8 years ago, when I was working at the YMCA, and fully three years after leaving Wellingborough, I was informed about this new Indian restaurant that had opened not far from where I used to live. At the time, we were searching for a really interesting Indian restaurant, as we had become a wee bit bored with the increasingly bland offerings served up by Indian restaurants run by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. [Did you know that in 2002, 91% of Indian restaurants in this country were run by non-Indians?]. The thing that peaked my interest about this new eatery was that it was apparently run by Indians. So without further ado, me and the wife ventured over there with Roger, his missus and another friend of ours.
The restaurant is actually a box room with no windows, tacked on to the side of a catering firm and an Indian sweet shop. It was called Pooja (which brings all kinds of bizarre thoughts into this addled brain) and the menu totally confused the life out of us. There were only about 10 things on the menu that seemed recognisable and just because we knew the name didn't mean we'd know what eventually arrived.
The first visit was a bit of a disaster. I had something I recognised and didn't enjoy it; Roger had something he'd never heard of and ended up with a dry looking pancake made from rice flour; the wife was very impressed with her Special Vegetable medley and Roger's other half and our friend seemed to wait for ever for their food and when it arrived, at least two of us had finished our main course.
Pooja suffered from a number of things: none of the staff could barely speak a word of English; they had just gone into the restaurant business with no real idea of what they were doing and there was a lack of professionalism about everything the staff did. In fact, over the last 8 years I could pick holes in many things about the place. Sometimes its too hot, sometimes too cold; the food still has a tendency of being erratic, especially if more than 4 of you go at once; the staff still sound as though English is a disease rather than a language. The waiter staff are willing and eager but not very good and to top it all off in recent months they have had an illegal immigrant scandal and were ranked as one of the worst restaurants in the county by a survey held by a local newspaper. The thing is, Pooja always scores incredibly highly on one thing - the food.
Despite an inauspicious start to our relationship with Pooja, we stuck with it. The main reason being that it was 100% vegetarian; there was no meat anywhere in sight or even on site and that meant that everything on the menu was up for grabs - that's something I could never say even when I ate meat. We decided that first impressions aren't always correct and we ventured back again and again, mainly because the food was out of this world. Plus, you could eat there for less than a tenner and leave totally stuffed. The service took nearly four years to improve; but by the middle of the last decade they had Lallis running the front of house and he was a star. He was probably responsible for the restaurant regaining a reputation for better service and the restaurant room always looked spotless. By this time we had become permanent fixtures at the place and were even on first name terms with most of the senior (regular) staff. In fact I think of Mayood, Lallis, Kishan, et al as more like friends than a third of the people on my Facebook page. We've been invited over at Diwali, invited to meet newest additions to the growing family; they've even done special catering for us for barbecues (making stuff they don't have on the menu, because we are valued customers and good friends).
The thing about Pooja is that next year they'll have been open 10 years and they still look like they opened yesterday. There is a frenetic, almost crazy atmosphere outside of the dining room and if you were a discerning diner you'd be appalled by some of the things they have failed to pick up on that even the dodgiest chip bar does. But once you've tried the Chilli Paneer, the Kadai Aloo Bengun, the Malai Koftas, the mogo chips, the dosas, the utterly mind-blowing samosas, the Chinese Bel, the baturas, the pettice, even their chana masalla makes the equivalent in a Bengali restaurant seem like beans - Heinz beans. The list is endless and exceedingly tasty. 8 years down the line and there are still about a dozen things I've yet to try and when I do I'm always blown away by them. Over 100 things on the menu and I've found 3 things that I wouldn't have again, in a hurry.
It's situated behind a car wash and next to a furniture warehouse on Alma Street in Wellingborough. It looks like a compound with a shop in it and you'll wonder until you're seated if you've come to the right place. You have to book now, because for all the amateurishness about them, the food is the best I've ever had - vegetarian or not - and I reckon others think the same thing. If you like 'Indian' food, you might not like Pooja food - the simple reason is its spicy, hot, tasty and electrifies your taste buds. It isn't the same old sauce with a different amount of chilli powder in it, with tinned or frozen vegetables. It bares no comparison whatsoever to the food you get in a high street Indian, so let that be a warning for all of you Korma, Rogan Josh and Vindaloo fans.

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Just why does it cost more to cut a woman's hair than it does a man's?

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For years people have been lambasting the homogenised surroundings of supermarket fruit and veg areas; saying stuff like 'they're destroying the good old fashioned market stall holder' etc. But in reality it's just as well.
Yesterday, the wife bought 5lbs of new potatoes from Northampton market. Of these spuds, 6 were damaged and unusable, three were 10x the size of the rest and looked to be a completely different variety, and of the rest, half were not fresh, in some cases they were soft. Less than half the spuds in the bag were decent, whereas if I was in a supermarket, I could pick 5lbs of perfect potatoes to my heart's content.

The same applies to fruit; buy a bag of anything from a market stall and you can bet your life they slip a dodgy one in; mainly because unlike the supermarkets they can't afford to lose a penny - but that doesn't mean the punter has to suffer.

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Dr Who finishes its current run tonight. I've thoroughly enjoyed it; Matt Smith is a star; I think Karen Gillan is a goddess, but I couldn't help think there was something not quite right, or something missing about it. Plus, I'm getting a little weary of mass guest stars from previous episodes popping up - it makes it almost forced rather than a smooth transition. Maybe it was just first season nerves? Or maybe I'm missing RTD? Nah.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Battle of Evermore

Slovenia 0 England 1

Here are my ratings:

David James - solid, assured, in charge. 8
Glen Johnson - best game so far, did little wrong, worked well with Milner. 8
John Terry - solid, great block early on, hassled, harried and led by example. 8
Matthew Upson - ditto Terry in all departments, plus a good forward run almost paid off. 8
Ashley Cole - arguably the best left back in the world, showed why. 8
Gareth Barry - least assured looking player, but still had a great game, despite some lapses of concentration. 7
Steven Gerard - great match, linked well with others; fought for everything. 8
Frank Lampard - relatively quiet but assured, made an error or two but fought hard and looked up for it. 7
James Milner - appalling first 15 minutes, followed by inspired next 75. Arguably England's man of the match. 9
Wayne Rooney - looked inspired by his opponents fight, looked to be carrying a knock, which was founded. Still to find his best and should have scored. 6
Jermaine Defoe - great goal, worked hard, but doesn't look like a world class striker on the world stage, yet; but that's what England is missing, a top drawer goalscorer. 7
Subs:
Joe Cole - looked off the pace in a difficult game to get into. 6
Emile Heskey - did what was expected of him. 6

Better performance, played with heart and passion against an obdurate defence that would have buckled had a second goal been scored.

The knockout competition has arrived, roll on Sunday!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Win

I managed to get through the worst winter in my 40 odd year memory with barely a whimper from my arthritis. It might have had to do with my state of mind; but for 5 months I barely had a twinge. I finished my physio just after Christmas and was equipped with a series of exercises and stretches to keep it from seizing up if it so deemed. I thought I was getting a handle on this back problem.

Then at the beginning of May, I had a day that sort of changed everything. It wasn't a day of physical exertion, but it was a day of potentially massive change. The affect it had on me was similar to being dropped off a tall building - amazingly. Over the last 6 weeks, I've been plagued by an almost constant backache, which, of course, leads to other muscular problems and guess what? The stretches and exercises are not even touching it.

My back had been grumbling at me since Thursday - another indication that stress plays a large part in it, because I had an important meeting. By Friday it was telling me to take it easy and yesterday I thought I'd well and truly fucked it up. Ha! Yesterday was nothing. This morning I got out of bed and crumpled like a 110 year old cripple. The problem I have, which is a stenosis of the spine, is compounded by the fact that I also suffer from sciatica; so when the two scheme together, I become a battlefield for wave after wave of spasms. It's great being me on mornings like this...

The missus has this theory, which I'm sure is held by many others. This is that when you get to the weekend, your body relaxes and allows it to become the target of all manner of things - bugs, aches and pains, etc. I have to admit that while I've had a lot of time off work with my back and my shoulder injury; I also seem to spend an inordinate amount of time having crap weekends, only to wake up on a Monday morning feeling ready for action again - there's something unfair about that; yet also karmic.

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The temperature on my patio was 10 degrees centigrade yesterday at 2pm. It was June 19. I'm sure that we've all suffered cold days in June over the years (hell, Roger and I suffered a January day in July last year at 2000 Trees), but after the utterly crappy year we've had so far, it just felt like a knife being twisted.

Now we have Glastonbury, Wimbledon and test match cricket on the horizon and we all remember that the average for these events is usually rain, wind, mud and exasperating defeat, without the sun to make us feel better. Plus we have that budget next week; the one where we're all going to have to pay for the failure of our elected public officials to balance the books. If austerity is the key word for the coming decade, then 60 days of glorious summer weather would at least reduce peoples needs to have to spend money all the time to amuse themselves while it snows outside...

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Funniest Facebook status update I've seen for ages, courtesy of my mate Paul:
I've been chatting to a 15 year old on the internet. She's funny, sexy & flirty.
Now she tells me that she is an undercover cop - how fucking cool is that at her age?


I know it borders on the incredibly bad taste, but it's also damned funny!

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This week's exercise in futility is currently weighing in at 5,000 words plus and I'm barely halfway through it.
After reading The Stand for the first time in 20 years (it surprised me), it reawakened all of the bile I'd been suppressing about Stephen King's Dark Tower epic. I have, at several times in the last five years attempted to put into words the horror and disgust I felt towards Stephen King after he recovered from his near fatal hit and run; because it obviously had some negative effect on his writing. The impact of the camper van seemed to knock all of his talent out of him and replace it with some kind of evangelically metaphysical nonsense, illustrated perfectly by the way he decided to completely re-write the existing chapters of The Dark Tower, because he thought of a 'better' story.
I won't go into it here because I expect the 'essay' will end up on these pages, as I can't for the life of me see them appearing anywhere else.

*******

To answer one question I forgot about a few weeks ago: cornflakes.

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I'm sure there's more, but I need to go and lay on a floor that isn't covered in dogs...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

(We're on a) Road to Nowhere

Like most everyone else (who follows football), I'm still reeling from last night. Part of me almost thinks that a defeat would have been both justifiable and a blessed release. We wouldn't have been on the plane home, but we would have by next Wednesday night.

I can't help but feel sorry for the thousands of England fans who saved up thousands of quids to travel 6,000 miles, to a southern-hemisphere winter, to watch a bunch of over-paid prima donnas fail to even look like they wanted to be there.

I don't care if he is the future of English football, Wayne Rooney should be dropped from the next game - not because he was noticeably pissed off with England's fans for booing the team off the pitch, but for looking the least equipped person at the tournament. His contributions to England's opening two matches has been non-existent and last night he couldn't even master a first touch.

And the fan who found his way into England's dressing room to vent at his team? Well done to him, I hope he was articulate and put his point across before he was bundled out. These footballers earn more in a week than most of us earn in year; after an abysmal performance like that, every paying fan should be allowed to line up and verbally berate their team - it might make some of these twats wearing an England shirt realise that there is more to the English than just supporting their club team. We had national pride once; it's going to be a long time before we regain it at football.

Slovenia on Wednesday suddenly looks as dodgy as fuck. They beat the team we failed so spectacularly against last night and for most of the game against the USA looked like winning. They showed invention, neat passing skills and I hardly saw one long ball played in the entire match. This is a country with 2million people in its population - what the TV commentator didn't mention was that 53% of Slovenians are women, which means that the football team is selected from under 1 million men. As the Americans are keen to say - you do the maths.

There are now calls for Capello's head; while others are saying we can't just discard our managers' every time they have a bad result. But isn't the World Cup the event that every team in the world builds up for? It's the pinnacle of footballing achievement and surely one would expect a manager to get his team ready to peak just as the thing kicks off? England have looked a shadow of the team that almost steamrollered qualification; the manager has become increasingly flaky in the last two months. First he handed his squad a real vote of confidence by trying and succeeding to lure Jamie Carragher out of international retirement, then compounded it more by asking Paul Scholes and being turned down. What message did this send to England players whose names were not Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard, Gerrard and Barry?

The decision to take Ledley King was a sound one, he is a star footballer who just happens to have a dodgy knee. The thing is King hasn't actually been sidelined with his knee for over 18 months - it's all the other niggling injuries he picks up because he can't train like other professionals. It was destined that King would miss the world cup because of a groin strain and perhaps Capello should have noted that King only misses games now at Spurs because of his propensity to injure the less fucked up parts of his body. Feel a little sorry for Matthew Upson; he was Ferdinand's able understudy for 5 of the qualifiers; he has more pace than all the other central defenders (apart from maybe Dawson) and his confidence has all but been destroyed. Why are he, Dawson, Joe Cole, Stephen Warnock, Joe Hart and a few others even there?

I can't help thinking that certain players possibly shouldn't have missed out. I wouldn't have taken Heskey, I would have left SWP at Heathrow, plus Carragher, and controversially Frank Lampard, who continuously fails to perform for England at major tournaments. In their place I would taken Adam Johnson, Ashley Young, Tom Huddlestone and maybe even Gabby Agbonlahor, who after a rest would have scared opponents with his pace and ability to steal behind players. I would also have taken Micah Richards as a cover for Glen Johnson, despite him not being that regular for Man City - after all, he gets more games than SWP.

I would also be looking at inventing a time machine to rush back 22 years and make sure Gareth Bale's mother gives birth to him in England, rather than Wales (that said I'd also go back 37 years and make sure Mrs Giggs has her Ryan in London and not Wrexham). But that is clutching at surreal and impossible straws. England's problem is quite simple - they struggle to play as a team and that is because the manager picks only his best players! This might seem an odd thing to say, but look at the number of teams who have left players considered as shoo-ins for a national team at home? There's at least 6 Argentinians who would walk into an England team were they English, who have been left at home - among these Esteban Cambiasso and Juan Riqueleme, who four years ago were being talked of as two of the best players in the world.

Just look at Greece's win at Euro 2004. No stars, but a team that played together like a unit; players who supported the other players for 90+ minutes a game. Listening to Terry Butcher's experiences of Spain in 1982, when England went out of the competition without losing a game and only conceding one goal (because of the bizarre way that FIFA opted to conduct the competition that year). He said there seemed to be more camaraderie and bonding between the squad, something that seems to be lacking from this current regime. He thinks there are two many club divisions and players who are happy to dislike other team mates. The current team play for themselves, they don't play for each other.

You could argue that the Premiership now has too many foreigners and there is only a small chance for good English players to make the breakthrough, but this is a weak excuse; because there is no evidence to suggest that if there were more English players in teams, it would improve the standard of the England team. There are teams such as my own Spurs, who have squads full of British players and they can finish 4th in an increasingly difficult Premier League. The problem at the moment is all the real rising stars in the Prem at the moment seem to be from anywhere but England. look at Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, both Welsh and both destined for big things; Graham Dorrens of Scotland and WBA is a player who seems to have been crafted out of another former WBA man - Bryan Robson, an overrated player who gave 200% for England and was a worthy captain of the team, despite his own injury problems. Dorrens can also take a free kick like Beckham.

It's been a bleak day to be an England supporter and many now believe that our Golden Generation is more of a joke than a serious accusation. It's time for some changes; it's time to get rid of anyone from the side that is over 32 years of age, or will be by the time Euro 2012 starts. Joe Hart needs to be told he is the new England #1 and he should start and be built up to hold the job for the next 10 years at least. He's 23, he could be England keeper until he's 39. It might be time to say goodbye to the old guard as well, with only really Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole staying. Terry and Ferdinand should retire, as should King and Carragher. Michael Dawson, Gary Cahill, Matthew Upson and Phil Jagielka should be the next group of centre backs to lead England.
Out also should go Frank Lampard, Shaun Wright-Phillips and possibly one or two others. Players such as Milner (although I fail to see just where he would play for England), Young, Huddlestone, Everton's Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell should also be blooded - there isn't much more to choose from after these. Plus up front, we need to stop relying on Rooney. Crouch does a job in qualification, but fails to get support at major competitions; the same can be said for all the strikers really and it might be time to get rid of some of them and replace them with the likes of Dean Sturridge and Gabriel Agbonlahor. The England team needs a massive overhaul, because the current shower of shit couldn't get a hard on in a bucket of clunge!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Back Home

Is where we'll be going if

Algeria 0 England 0

is anything to go by. This year I will have been watching England for 40 years. The first ever live game I saw them in was against Czechoslovakia in Mexico in 1970. This 2010 World Cup match I have just witnessed, was one of the most abject I have ever seen. Here's my ratings:

David James: arguably our best player on the pitch and he barely did anything. Puts your heart in your mouth whenever he gets near a high ball. 5
Ashley Cole: looked like one of the few players who wanted to win and his frustration at his team mates was more than obvious as the 2nd half dragged on. 6
John Terry: largely anonymous; made one possible howler, had Carragher to thank for saving his bacon. 5
Jamie Carragher: the fact that he was considerably better than Terry is a huge worry. Got booked, misses the next game. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. 6
Glen Johnson: didn't have the game he had against the USA, didn't link up well with either Lennon or SWP. 5
Gareth Barry: when someone peripheral to the England set up before Capello becomes talismanic for a team bereft of ideas or penetration is a concern. However, Barry was our best player for at least an hour. 7
Steven Gerrard: laboured, toiled, looked lost and offered little. 5
Frank Lampard: duplicated his stray passing ability yet again. Did nothing but play backwards, looks past his best. 4
Aaron Lennon: should go outside his opponents the way he did in qualifying or for Spurs. Still the player who seemed to worry the Algerians the most and when he was substituted we lost that edge. 6
Emile Heskey: not as effective as he was against the USA. Is not an international class footballer, but then again neither are 7 of the other team members. 4
Wayne Rooney: possibly the worst performance ever in a football shirt. Had no first touch, couldn't string anything together, fell too deep too often and squandered a number of chances. A very poor game. 2
Subs
SWP: why? 3
Jermaine Defoe: looked bright and full of ideas, failed to inspire his team mates. 6
Peter Crouch: played the last 10 minutes as a right winger, but at least managed to retain possession more often than not. 5
The coach
Fabio Capello: the knives are bound to come out now. Rigid tactics that aren't working; no movement or shape; a team devoid of passion and who look frightened and pressurised. The coach had a bad night; he followed questionable tactics on Saturday, but preferring SWP to Joe Cole; the only English footballer with the flair and ball skills to get into a good side. Capello must bite the bullet and play a team to win on Wednesday. I would like to see: James, Cole, Terry, Dawson, Johnson, Barry, Cole, Lennon, Gerrard, Rooney & Crouch (and if Rooney doesn't perform in the first 45 minutes, get him off and put Defoe on). Slovenia have been beaten by us this year, but there was no pressure and we now have to win and they need just a point to qualify - a point would see us go out.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Melodies Haunt You

The problem with being legitimate is that is there are things you like to talk about, but are just too risky to do so. I especially find this the case when I think about the years between 1979 and 2000. There are large tracts of my life that could be transplanted wholesale onto this page with no fear or paranoia; but there are also patches that will remain 'unwritten'. There aren't that many, and a large portion of them are probably just too embarrassing or cringeworthy to repeat; but there are a few things that, by virtue of what they were and who I am, just can't really be repeated in a public forum. Sounds enigmatic; probably more enigmatic than it probably is.

But as a result; things like Roz's party; the Mereway Post Office sex scandal; the Bibury year; the uncovered Zep connection; The Shenley-Radlett-Borehamwood triangle; The blank 1983-1986; the pink toilet from hell; my sometimes farcical evenings of pursuit; the cellar bar plan; the Heathrow to Wellingborough fiasco; the vomit revelation; the Memorabilia mystery; the Millwall trip and the agoraphobic years, to name but a few, won't probably ever get written down, unless it's in some fictional form. [Which makes me wonder why I've never used some of my real experiences in what I write...]

I'm such a tease. If I didn't know the stories above, there would be at least 3 that I'd want to know.

A lot of stuff from my past is either related to my ability to always get myself into more shit than I expected, my ability to make myself look like a plonker, or my ability to fail to make the right kind of impact on certain things; and a lot of it was about the amount of drugs I used to take and the (funny, to me) scrapes or situations I got myself into.

However, one of my most embarrassing moments has happened in the last 7 years and involved the hangover from the mother of all hells, the longest pointless walk I have ever taken, sweating like a pig in -4 degrees and feeling so bad, I couldn't bring myself to feel worse after fucking up something very important. Let me explain...

In October 2003, my good friend, Martin Shipp and I were invited to Łódź in Poland, as guests of the British Council, as two of the guests of honour at Poland's largest comicbook convention. Now, the reason for this was because despite Borderline having stopped publishing, the magazine was hugely popular in Eastern Europe, because we acknowledged their existence. We did a massive feature on Polish comics during the run and become something of cult celebrities over there in their equivalent of Polish comics fandom. I was chuffed to bits; Martin felt suitably humbled.

One of the weirdest things that can happen to you is to arrive somewhere and see you name in HUGE letters. This is what happened to us when we arrived in Łódź. We were flown over to Warsaw, with 2000AD alumni Pat Mills and Clint Langley; met there by a score of ravishingly beautiful Polish women, who were to act as our PAs for the 3 days we were there. We piled into a luxury minibus and headed the 100 miles or so to Łódź (pronounced Wuj). We settled into our hotel rooms and agreed to meet the PAs in the reception at 10pm, where we'd go for some food and a drink or two. This is perfectly normal in Poland, but to this sometimes naive Brit this seemed a bit late, but I was their guest and I followed along like a good boy.

We started by going to a bar that served some food; I ate an interesting vegetarian option and we started to drink the local beer, which was 6% proof, but didn't taste like it. We moved onto a club, where LCD Soundsystem were playing (it wasn't until I looked back at the program tonight that I realised this) before it got too intense and loud, so we moved onto another bar.

By 4am, I was completely and utterly pissed out of my face and we needed to be at the Convention Centre for 10am to be there for the grand opening at midday. Martin, who is either a) a lightweight or b) far more sensible than I, drank less and went back to the hotel about 2.30. Clint and I got back about 5am, with snow falling.

The next thing I remember was Martin calling me at 9am; I felt like I'd been killed several times during my unconscious period and reanimated in unpleasant ways. I crawled out of bed, made myself coffee and threw myself into the shower, where I sat and soaked for about 20 minutes until Martin called again to tell me he was finishing his breakfast and would I hurry the fuck up. I got dry, necked some painkillers, got dressed and figured I'd get to the centre by 10.10; a little late, but not too late.

I had been so drunk the night before I'd not paid an awful lot of attention to where the convention centre was; so what followed was unbelievably stupid, but not as stupid as what I continued to do...

I stood outside the aptly named Grand Hotel on Ulica Piotrkowska, the main artery of Łódź and one of the longest commercial thoroughfares in Europe, with a length of nearly 5km. Do I turn left or right? I couldn't remember. I looked down both ways of the street and figured the right didn't look familiar, so I went left and started walking. Now, I knew that it wasn't very far. Now, Piotrkowska runs longitudinally in a straight line between the Liberty Square (about 200 metres from the Grand Hotel to the right as you look out the front door) and the Independence Square, over 2½ miles away. Nursing my aching head and the waves of nausea I was getting, I put my hands in my pockets, marvelled at how bloody cold it was and walked and walked and walked. Then I walked some more and then my mobile phone rang. It was 11.20am.

"Where are you?"
Looking around, "I have no idea."
"What do you mean you have no idea?"
"I left the hotel at 10.15 and I can't find the place."
"What do you mean, 'you can't find the place?', it's 50 yards from the hotel!"
"50 yards?"
"Well maybe a 100, but no more."
"Where?"
"You walk out of the hotel, turn right, then right again, straight away and it's down the side, about 100 yards away, it has this big sign which says Convention centre on it and this billboard with our names on it; you really can't miss it."
"Oh fuck."
"What?"
"I turned left and walked for an hour, I couldn't understand why I didn't recognise anywhere. Shit."
"Get a taxi."
"I don't know how to ask to get there." Martin told me to hang on while he consulted the PAs, but we got cut off. I tried to phone him back several times, but my network wasn't doing it for one reason or another. Anyhow, the point of giving you the technical info about Piotrkowska is key. It is a perfectly flat, straight road and on a clear day you can see the other end. Łódź is like a Soviet version of Milton Keynes or Los Angeles; it's built on a grid system - there are no bends in Łódź.

For some reason, I could say unknown, but the wife and several friends would disagree, I thought that maybe I could get back to the Convention centre by going diagonally; cutting across the grid system and walking down and jumping across a block every 10 blocks. Had I not been told less than 5 minutes before hand that the convention centre was 100 yards behind the hotel? Yep, I sure had, but by 11.50, I was completely and utterly lost and to add insult to injury, I had sweat so much that my undergarments, shirt and jumper were wringing wet.

I decided the only thing I could do was find my way back to Piotrkowska, even if I had to retrace my steps. I did and walked back up to the Grand; it was 12.15 and I was completely oblivious to the discord and annoyance I had caused, or the pressure I had put on Martin. When I got back to the hotel, I had to stop and get changed; put my clothes to air and probably have another shower; which I promptly did.

Now, I should point out that I had been incredibly nervous about the event and Martin was by this time thinking that I'd got cold feet and had panicked and run away; this wasn't the case, but I could certainly see why he thought so.

Feeling actually surprisingly better than I had, I found my way to the convention centre at 1.30. I was ushered in by the PAs and whisked away to the cafeteria for more coffee and something to eat; we were on at 2.30, suddenly I was all sweaty again.

The rest of the weekend went without a hitch, but my 9½ kilometre walk, dressed like Scott of the Antarctic with a mind-numbingly dreadful hangover will haunt me forever. How could someone, even probably still pissed from the night before, make so many simple errors and make things far worse by compounding those errors for 9km? Suffice it to say, I've avoided Polish beer ever since. Crazy stuff, makes you do all kinds of stupid things; no wonder all the Poles came here to drink our weak, industrially produced beer. It would be like us going to America and drinking them all under the table.

The rest of my embarrassing or best forgotten past can stay that way until I remember something else that proves what a schmuck I can be at times!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Atomic Heels

You will have to excuse me; I'm on a bit of a roll. I figured as I'd done bugger all for most of the week and felt pretty uninspired, that even if my last couple of days before a return to work were spent in front of the PC, I'd at least feel as though I'd done something.

Sometimes it takes the smallest, subtlest thing to set me off; it's like a little connecting light goes off and suddenly, I see something spreading out in front of me.
It's just gone 11am on Sunday morning; I've avoided the sport papers - I'm a bloody football fan and I'm already getting hacked off with the World Cup and it's not even fully 3 days old. What with England proving yet again that we are stupid to raise our hopes; those god-awful vuvuzelas, which sound like nothing more than a swarm of angry bees, ITV HD's failure to televise the only exciting thing about yesterday's England v USA match and the fact that there's over two more weeks of it...

But that isn't what's set me off.

I read the Guardian and recently there has been a new journalist on the paper, a woman called Afua Hirsch. Now, I'd never seen or heard of her before and she has become almost as ubiquitous as Tim Dowling and Lucy Mangan in the paper's pages. Now, despite my supposed trained eyes of observation, I got this bee in my bonnet because Ms Hirsch appeared at roughly the same time as another Guardian Journalist, Hannah Pool, seemed to stop writing for the paper and I suddenly became convinced they were the same person. It had nothing to do with race or ignorance, just a simple case of me not reading something and extrapolating - wrongly.

So, I went on line this morning and put both journalists names into Google and realised that I was totally mislead by my own confusion. About the only other similarities these two had - both black, both women and both journalists, was that they both worked for the Guardian. However, it was during this bit of light investigation that I stumbled across something else; something I'd experienced several times in the last 10 years, but never realised...

Blog Snobbery is the neologism I shall adopt for this thing.

Afua Hirsch is a legal affairs correspondent, and I'm sure she knows her business; she might keep a blog of her own, but her columns are transplanted on the Guardian Website and unlike a newspaper, with its limited letters and comments section, the Internet allows reams and reams of reactions. In fact, the reason why suddenly news media is using reactions and comments from these largely anonymous web posters is because it is cheap and free copy. The reason the magazine I worked for introduced a column called Networks (back in the youth of the Internet) wasn't because we thought we were being cutting edge, it was because the two pages could be filled for virtually no cost.

BBC and Sky news both run tweets, texts, Facebook and comments from their own pages, just to fill the void. Virtually all of the daily nationals will feature comments, letters or bon mots from the net. It is now an acceptable way of padding out your features. And, I'm actually moving away from the main point because I'm giving you the reasons. It's all well and good having this constant flow of usable quotes, it also encourages vast tracts of invective. There is a certain percentage of Internet users who, for the want of a better description, just act like twats when they have the opportunity to comment. It has long been a recognised trait of the Internet that it allows mild mannered and passive human beings to become raging monsters, because no one knows who you really are.

I've done it myself. I'd be lying if I tried to cast the first stone. but, I have, at least, never been bothered about anonymity - if I feel something is worth saying, then I have no problem putting my name on it. Which is why I used to get so wound up in the past when people would accuse me of being someone else to get a point across - never been my style.

Anyhow, Blog Snobbery. There is probably a very good definition of Blogging somewhere on the net, but for me a blog is something personal, even if it is for more people than just yourself. The blog has become a 21st century partial phenomena, despite there being a waning in people actually writing them now. The vagaries of the boundaries between personal opinion and journalism have blurred, especially amongst more high profiled journalists; who have always been able to put their opinions in articles without too much criticism. If you read some of the BBC journalists blogs, it is interesting to note that despite these entries still being 'personalised', they still retain journalistic instincts and disciplines. They are, after all, written by professionals.

While following a link in my quest to separate ms Hirsch from ms Pool, I stumbled upon a column by Afua Hirsch. It was about a Beyonce concert at the O2 and her struggles with a slightly roguish ticket selling company. If it had been a letter from the general public sent to the Guardian's Consumer Affairs editor - Ann Robinson (not the same one, but does the same job!), then this would have been summarily dismissed by any reader not interested in it. However, Ms Hirsch was writing a column based on her own experiences; something that would have been classed as biographical once upon a time; but now isn't. It seems that Blog Snobs are oblivious to the facts that journalists or just keen and eager writers have themselves experienced life.

"What is this a blog entry or a serious piece of journalism?", some faceless wonder asks on the first comment. Later comments such as "abusing her privilege", "using her employer to solve her own problems", "I expected a serious column not a blog entry", in fact, of the hundred or so responses, nearly 20% of them were nothing to do with the actual article, but direct attacks on Hirsch for using her column like it was some knock off blog. Huh? I know I spent a lot of time being a pretend journalist, but I learnt enough to know that experience is a far better point of reference than research. Why do you think the media sends journalists to wars? It's not just about being there, its about being able to transmit the general feeling of being there. Football commentators tend to commentate from the ground rather than from a small box miles away with a mic and a screen - it adds to the general excitement and ambience.

But I've seen this a lot, especially in the comics industry, where opinions are pretty worthless unless you are someone, and then you can just about say anything you like and get away with it. Now, the beauty of blogs, especially ones that are read by a lot of people is that they will generate reaction and comment and this is good; however, it also brings the imbeciles and morons out of the woodwork; and I'm not just talking about the people who think they're funny.

Blog Snobbery is effectively the dismissal of a blog as nothing more than a... well... blog. The fact that someone has gone out of their way to produce something, whether its for their own consumption or anyone else's is immaterial, a blog is now an almost derogatory term, especially amongst those that regard themselves as the net's glitterati. Of course, you're only as big as the enclave you belong to and my experiences of this area of the internet have largely been based on my comic book involvement, but not exclusively - the snobbery is rife wherever you look.

The positive element is that this should mean little to those who are serious about either their journalism or their blogging - the two are inexorably linked now, whether the writer has never written a news story in his or her life. Blogging is immediate news, whether its personal and relates only to you or is worldwide and resonates amongst everyone. Blogs have revealed some big stories in the last couple of years!

Blog Snobs are on the rise, but fortunately so are the people who dismiss them with the disdain they deserve. Invariably, the target of a Blog Snob will be defended by other readers and instead of a healthy debate or discussion about issues raised, there will be entry after entry dealing with an unrelated quip or comment made by a fellow reader.

The snobs have multiplied purely and simply because the socially interactive side of the Internet has become so large and such a useful tool for the media. The best we can do is ignore them.

I have touched on the subject before: here http://www.comicsvillage.com/column.aspx?ArticleID=331, I got a bit silly about it here http://www.comicsvillage.com/column.aspx?ArticleID=131 and I'm sure if you trawled through the many columns I wrote there, you can find something else that is related to this.

Blog Snobs don't just target blogs and the like. I've seen reviews of books that have been described as 'no better than a blog' or 'reads like one long blog entry' like blogs were the original and everything else is a pale imitation. My opinion is that anything you write is an expression and people should be encouraged to express themselves, regardless of what others might think. Above all else writing is a pleasure and those that spend their time looking at all the negatives are entertaining, in the same way as watching a dog drag its arse along the floor is. Like twats for next door neighbours, black sheep members of the family and workplace wankers; it's something we can't escape but grow to ignore.

The Only Living boy in New York

England 1 USA 1

Despite what ITV analyst Andy Townsend says, this was not a good performance and only a few of England's 'stars' shone. Here is my view:

Robert Green: you have to blame him for the goal. He did nothing else wrong, but gave away the kind of howler that finished Paul Robinson's career. England have a goalkeeper problem. 4
Ashley Cole: only really looked at ease going forward, but a solid enough display from the best left back in the world. 6
Glen Johnson: put aside his indifferent recent performances with a solid game; looked more with it than Lennon, who was supposed to overlap. 6
John Terry: did little wrong. 6
Ledley King: was in the right place, looked confident, suffered a groin tear. 6
Steven Gerard: arguably England's best player, fought for a lot, looked up for it, wasn't supported and dropped too deep. 7
Frank Lampard: pretty much did nothing to prove he works with Gerard; looked slightly off the pace. 5
Aaron Lennon: a poor game; should have scored early on; looked frightened to attack players. 5
James Milner: rightly substituted early on because he was going to get sent off - looked like Rooney on a bad day. 4
Wayne Rooney: ran around a lot, would have made Kevin Keegan proud. Looked jaded and out of form. 5
Emile Heskey: until he ran out of steam he was pretty much our most effective player; should have scored, could have put it anywhere and scored, kicked it straight at Tim Howard. 7
Shaun Wright-Phillips: was better than Milner; is possibly a little bit out of his class mentally; ran into a lot of dead ends and the ball doesn't stick to his feet. 6
Jamie Carragher: rightly booked, shouldn't be there, apparently retired. Mercenary freeloader. 5
Peter Crouch: would have troubled them more if he'd come on earlier. 6

All in all, England, despite good conditions, no heat and having pound for pound the better team, looked content for a draw with 20 minutes to go. Winners have had poor starts before, but this was not that impressive and while the USA are not a bad side, they are a side we really should beat and quite comfortably.

Oh and ITV's HD coverage: they managed to switch to an advert as the throw in that led to England scoring was being taken; they lost the HD feed about 30 minutes into the match for about 10 minutes. If they are not supplying their own pictures they need to ask the director to focus more on the actual game rather than 15 replays of a poor effort that went wide or some fans looking bored. 3

This could be a long two weeks...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I Know a Place

My mate Roger is doing something today that I have never done! Despite me once being far more interested in what he is about to experience. Roger is going to the races! He's off to Sandown Park for a day out with his in-laws.

During the 1980s, I was fanatical about horse racing, specifically flat racing. I followed it like the handicapper follows an improving horse and there were a few people who trusted my instincts and tips. I even won over £1,000 on a Classics Super Yankee in the mid 1980s - all for a £2 stake. But, lack of time and money meant that I rarely bet and I eventually lost interest in racing. I had my last ever bet on the 1992 Grand National - picking the winner at 8-1; I have never been in a bookmakers since. I never got to go to Newmarket or York or Ascot; I didn't even get to Towcester...

So, I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't a tinge of jealousy with Roger today - even if he's going to see a sizeable chunk of his wallet disappear even before he thinks about having a punt.

Because he knows nothing about racing and I did. He figured he'd ask me for some tips. Really the only tip I should give him was - don't bet; but after a long and careful study of the racing form this morning, I ended up giving him 3 tips for Sandown and 1 for York - which will be televised at Sandown.

The horses were - Jeninsky (an each way bet) in the 2.55; Burning Thread (another each way bet) in the 3.30 and Channel Squadron to win in the 4.40. I also tipped Mingun Bell in the big race from York.

You can see how crap I am now as a tipster!

************

Ploughing through my compilation discs, I reached '1966', which despite it having Frank Sinatra's classic It Was A Very Good Year, wasn't. I'm sure there were lots of great songs in '66, but they weren't included on this disc. I suppose I sort of expected proto-psychedelia, but got Herman's Hermits instead...

************

Big night tonight and I find myself in an unusual position... The World Cup and Euro Championships have traditionally been a time for congregating at a mate's house, huddled round the TV, biting our nails to the wicks. But because of the way things have turned out, I will be watching the USA game on my own.

Omen time... The last time I watched a match as important as this on my own was the England v Holland game at Euro '96. England thumped the Orange men 4-1 in what was, until the 5-1 thumping of Germany, the best performance I'd seen from an England team since 1966... Read into that what you will.

*************

The holiday was okay. Not rubbish, but not brilliant. I have had far worse weeks and gone away and spent shitloads of money. It helped that the cruddy week was book-ended with nice weekends.

I rounded the week off having a drink with a good friend who I hadn't seen for 6 months and was aghast that so little had actually happened in the last 6 months. I made the comment that when we were younger lots of stuff happened in 6 months and it just made me realise that we all become unadventurous and some other things that I've got too old to remember...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Rolling on the River

I found this various artists disc with the biggest hits from 1969 on it and after a shaky start (The Archies and Zager & Evans), it pretty much swung into groove-tastic action. I'd forgotten all about this disc; I must have done it ages ago (as the disc is a *cough* unbranded one). On this compilation was the second record I ever bought with my own money - Dizzy by Tommy Roe; the best Elvis record ever recorded - Suspicious Minds; Spinnin' Wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears - a crazy song if ever there was.

1969 could have been a massive turning point in my life, but a slightly fucking mad brother, a needy grandmother and two parents who were suckers for giving in changed everything. If there is such a thing as a multiverse, I'd love to see my reality had I never left Canada...

Witchita Lineman - what a great song and one of my mum's favourites...

********

The week stretches ahead of me and I'm trying desperately not to be too optimistic. After all, the weather forecast is grim (taking a week in June used to be a guarantee, didn't it?) and we're not exactly as rich as Croesus at the moment - which would be the fault of my lovely shiny Fiat Sedici, which despite being a pleasure to drive and a car I'd be happy to have for the next 10 years (which the wife believes is a conservative estimate), it does cost me about half again as much to run than the 'Noddy Car' or Seat. Noddy Car? I love this, coming from a woman who drives a Fiat Doblo...

The plan is to follow a similar theme to what I'm listening to and be a bit nostalgic. Speaking of the Doblo car mentioned earlier. Days out with the dogs are always going to be fun; all I need is a loudspeaker on the top of the car playing the theme from The Muppets and I'm halfway to madness.

Anyhow, the week ahead. Well, the reason I'm trying not to be positive is because it's been pretty good so far. Friday night we spent a very pleasant evening in completing the first season of The Sopranos on DVD. Saturday I sizzled on the patio before venturing to a good friend's evening do; which, despite hardly knowing anyone, we had a very pleasant evening, which made a great change from our usual Saturday night nothing. Sunday started gloomily and our original plans were put on hold because of a rain-fearing procrastinator, but we made the most of our revised plans and had a really enjoyable day. That is until the evening...

Bloody hell! Bob Dylan!

**********

No, Bob had nothing to do at all with the reason why Sunday night made a damp squib seem like a cool alternative. Valhalla Rising was the reason. 90 minutes of my life that I will never ever get back and worse still the memory of that film will be burned on it. Bad films tend to get obliterated from ones memory, to the point where you can watch it TV years later and wonder if you actually did see it as you can't remember anything about it. I won't have that problem with Valhalla Rising.

I remember spending something like 5 years one afternoon watching Paris, Texas with a couple of stoner buddies in the 1990s. The most extraordinary thing about that film was the fact that nothing actually happens. If I watched it today, I'd be asleep inside 10 minutes. However, despite finding that film similar in stature to having teeth removed by trained stoats with Black & Deckers, Valhalla Rising could well replace that film in my mental hall of fame.

Did anyone ever see that Bergman film about Max Von Sydow playing death at chess? Jesus, that film is Die Hard compared to this. Yes, it starts promisingly; grim landscapes, violent cage fighting style gladiatorial games; deformities and enigmatic sparsely spoken lines. But that soon dries up and we're left with allegory; at least that's what I figured it was about. Nothing happens. Nothing happens at all. They sit on a boat in the fog for a third of the film contemplating God and curses, possibly end up in North America and all die. The lead character doesn't speak - ever and... and... and nothing.

I know people who will proclaim this a classic. These people should be shot.

********

I'm into the 1970s with Blockbuster by the Sweet! So you better watch out if you have long black hair...

Actually, 1970 was my first World Cup. Admittedly I was alive during the 1962 and 1966 tournaments, but I was either too young or living in Canada and therefore it had little impact on my life. I remember watching the final between Brazil and Italy and being mesmerised by the way the Brazilians played the game - they seemed unstoppable and proved that by disposing of a pretty impressive Italian side.

Now 40 years later, I shall watch my first World Cup in HD.

I am now going to forecast who I believe will win the cup...

England will draw with the USA on June 12. I expect it to be 1-1 with the USA equalising in the last ten minutes, probably from a Landon Donovan cross that the normally excellent Ashley Cole will fail to stop. They will then beat Algeria 2-0, but make hard work of it. Another 2-0 victory over Slovenia will see them top the group after the USA's dropped point against Slovenia.

In the first knockout stage they will face Serbia, who they will beat 2-1 in extra time by a headed goal by Peter Crouch. If things go according to form, they could be playing anybody in the QFs. The two likeliest are France and Argentina, but neither side are playing remotely convincing football, but we could end up playing Nigeria or possibly Greece and I think that will also see us win. Which would put us in a semi-final against Holland, Italy, Brazil or Spain, depending on how the draw goes.

I expect to lose on penalties in the semis to the eventual winner.

So, I'm saying the final is between 2 of the five teams stated above. That's what form says; that's how the draw works out and that's what every punter in the country seems to think will happen. I do expect England to get through to the semis. I think Capello can do that with his resources and I'd be happy, if obviously gutted to get into the last 4. But I've got this feeling that the World Cup is going to throw up a few surprises this time around. While common sense dictates that it really has to be one of the teams I mentioned, a part of me thinks this tournament could throw up something totally unexpected; like Greece in Euro 2004. I keep thinking that if England draw Serbia and don't beat them, then they could be a really worthy each way bet!

*************

Earlier last week. I thought it might be a good idea (and a little self-indulgent) to stick lots of my unfinished stuff up on a separate blog. For about 5 minutes it seemed like a great idea. Then I had a look at a lot of my archived stuff and decided that it was actually a really bag idea.

However, it has given me an idea; or rather rekindled an old idea. To write a story using a blog. My actual body of fiction is inconsequential to the amount of stuff I've actually had published and I struggle to finish so many things or never return to them once I've got them out of my system. However, writing a story for a blog is a commitment and also a prerequisite to edit myself before pressing the 'publish' button.

So... I have this idea. It's a new story utilising old ideas. Which adds a ton of weight to my long standing argument that everything you write down has a value or purpose at some point in your career.

I lay in bed last night planning this massive magnum opus of interconnected stories; but settled on just getting the first one down, done and dusted. I love breaking with convention, so the hero of this story is likely to be a bricklayer... Or maybe a bin man.

The week lays ahead of me. Enough of this foolhardiness and on with the show!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Don't Fear the Reaper

In early 1977, probably about the time of my 15th birthday, my brother Steve took me to see Brian DePalma's Carrie. It was an X certificate (shows you how long ago that was) and I was as nervous as a baby bunny being eyed up by a hungry wolf. My big brother was taking me to the cinema and to see a film I really shouldn't be able to see for at least 3 more years.

I was more nervous about showing my brother up than I was about this horror movie that seemed to be generating a hell of a buzz. The film started and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. This was supposed to be a horror movie? Why then was the screen - all 30 foot of it - full of naked young women with their bits all on show? I was 15, I wriggled uncomfortably in my chair.

The film, on the whole, was pretty good and, of course, the reason why there was this buzz was because of something that happens late on in the film - if you haven't seen it and don't know what happens, it's worth checking it out. I guarantee you'll jump out of your skin.

Anyhow, this was my first exposure to Stephen King. I wasn't even aware that he'd written the book this film was adapted from.

Fast forward 4 years. It's 1980 and I'm, unknown to me, drawing to a close my relationship with Northampton for a couple of years. I was living in a bungalow with the same brother who took me to see Carrie and his then girlfriend and now wife. I got pneumonia - the reasons for which would fill an entire chapter of a long book, but that isn't why I'm here today. I ended up being looked after by my mum at their place down in Hertfordshire. I convalesced for 6 weeks, but because I had been ill for a big chunk of it, it seemed considerably longer. By week 4, I was still poorly, but bored out of my skull. I took a trip in the nearby town of Radlett with my dad and popped into a bookshop. I figured I might as well do some reading as I had little else to do. This was 1980, there wasn't an Internet or video games and there was only 3 channels and a video cost a week's wages. I know this because Steve bought Carrie when he was in London in 1978; it cost him £60.

I was browsing the book section and saw a selection of Stephen King books, one of which was Carrie. Knowing this story, I opted not to buy it and instead picked up copies of Salem's Lot, The Shining and The Stand - his latest best seller, the cover screamed at me. Incredibly, I still had enough money left from my tenner to buy another book, so I picked up a book called Ghost Story by Peter Straub.

Now, for the sake of brevity, I read Salem's Lot first, was totally drawn into it until the point in the book where I realised that it was about vampires. This fact tried desperately to ruin my enjoyment of the story, but failed. I then read The Shining and was underwhelmed beyond belief. The critics suggested this was King's creepiest book. I disliked it immensely. Deciding to take a break from King, I read the Straub book next and it blew me into next week. I was sat there wondering why Stephen King was being heralded as the saviour of horror stories, when this Straub guy was streets better?

But, this isn't about that either. The sad fact is Straub wrote one other great book (in my humble opinion) and that was Floating Dragon. This is about the last of the quartet of books...

I went back to Northampton and I neglected to take the books with me. I returned to work, the summer came and things started to get a bit flaky. It looked like I couldn't renew the lease on my bungalow, which I now lived in with some friends. I returned to my folks' and started to look for work down there.

The first thing I did was read the other Stephen King book I'd bought earlier in the year - The Stand. And this book is what all the previous preamble was about...

I read The Stand three times between 1980 and 1990, when only the original version was available and that weighed in at about 700 odd pages. When, in 1989, King announced a limited edition extended version with illustrations by my favourite artist Bernie Wrightson, I was ecstatic.

My copy arrived in the autumn of 1990 and I hurriedly devoured it, now at nearly 1200 pages, it added weight and depth to some of the characters I'd fallen in love with over the previous 10 years.

King freely admits that The Stand isn't even one of his favourite books, but realises that for many of his devoted readers, it is the one thing that sets him above every other genre writer. The Stand really is an epic.

One wonders whether The Stand really didn't mean that much to King; after all, it appeared to be a far flung future version of The Stand's world that had Roland the Gunslinger and pals descend on their own dark journey. In fact, the more you dug into the Dark Tower series, the more it looked and felt like a follow up to The Stand. And this made the Stand even better and made The Dark Tower something to really look forward to.

However, King nearly died and as a result discovered ego and the Dark Tower was retroactively rewritten to erase any of The Stand's connection - therefore making The Dark Tower the biggest piece of shit ever written and substituting a great idea with metaphysical bollocks that had me wanting to claw my eyes out by the time I finished reading it.

But that is a digression that one day I will fully explore, but not now. The Stand, I realised, picking it up last Wednesday, hasn't been read in this house for nearly 20 years. That frightened me, how could I read the same book three times and the extended version once in a little over 10 years and then never return to it?

I think a lot of it has to do with peoples perceptions of 'new and improved'. A film I totally love to bits it Close Encounters of the Third Kind; when Spielberg released the extended, re-edited version, I was a bit ner about it. Yeah, it was my film and it had new bits, but it was, you know, a bit ner...

That, I think, might be the main reason I haven't even considered reading The Stand again; but 20 years is a long time and I finally decided that I should treat myself again. Unlike King's revised The Gunslinger, which made me want to send runny shit in a box to the author, this extended version does a very good job of fleshing out characters who were already pretty well rounded and because of the way the story unfolds, it is important that you discover everything important about the characters that are going to inhabit your imagination for a while.

I'm not even a third of the way through it again and I'm loving it. I figured I wouldn't be so eager to read it, knowing what happens and all; but it has this ability to draw you into this frightening world, because it is the most plausible way for mankind to die off; but then it throws in lots of mystic bullshit about good and evil, but in such a convincing way that even when it gets slightly supernatural, it fits with the over all feeling of the book.

It still amazes me that a book written in the 1970s, updated for the early 90s and being read in 2010 can be so accurate in its apocalyptic vision - maybe we haven't changed that much in the last 40 years?

I hear that there will be a Dark Tower series of films; that there might be a sequel to it and I think about the crap version of The Stand they made for television and wonder what would be made of King's epic had it been given the Lord of the Rings treatment. It might not be visually spectacular, but it was the TV show Lost 35 years before that appeared.

If you don't know what the book is about it's simple - the end of the world and the final battle between those who perceive themselves as good against those that are evil. It is the kind of thing you could take on holiday with you and it will help wile the hours away while sitting on the beach or staring at the rain. It's a great introduction to King, but be warned, very little else he's done can even hold a candle to this.