Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Beasley Street

Hi tech football training by the Blues and the Albion circa 1957.

The other day I was in Sainsburys and there were some celeriacs there that had a sticker on saying reduced to 10p, well it would be rude not to, wouldn't it? I had a bit of a to do at the check out as the lady insisted 10p was too cheap and it should be 10p a kilo. I persisted, and I won, then out of interest weighed it and it was just under a kilo, so I reckon Sainsburys owes me half a p. It then sat in the fridge for a few days, unloved and just generally getting in the way, until I chopped it up small, sweated it in a pan with a couple of chopped carrots and an onion before adding a couple of pints of stock, whizzing it up and adding a bit of creme freche. Possibly the best soup I have ever made and it cost somewhere around 20p.

I have just read Swansea Terminal, by Robert Lewis. I hadn't got on with his previous book, but this one and me are now very firm friends, even though the bugger kept me up much too late at night. If you want comparisons, Ray Banks and Ken Bruen spring to mind dealing as it does with the lower end of humanity and starring as it does a self loathing, but stoic alcoholic.

It is set in Swansea, a town I am not unfamiliar with and detours off to some places I am very familiar with, which all adds to the fun. As with all the best crime novels, the crime is pretty much superfluous to the actual storytelling. This novel has lots to say about the economics of South Wales, about the state of mind of large sections of Welsh malehood, about class and about justice. It is desperately sad, funny in all the right places and amazingly well written. It is so good, in fact, that I am going to try The Last Llanelli Train again. Between Niall Griffiths in the north and this fellow in the South West, literary Wales seems to be enjoying a golden period.
An extract

Get yourself to a record shop and buy the Fleet Foxes, as quick as you can, because if you haven't got it, you are missing out. If you don't trust me, you can hear the whole damn thing at their myspace site. They are touring the UK soon, but nearest they get to my neck of the wood is Bristol, which is sold out. Later in the year they will be supporting Wilco, who have posted 3 concerts from St Louis which they played earlier in the year on their website; each and every one of them being brilliant and absolutely free. Man, I love the internet.

Friday, May 23, 2008

In The Key Of C

I went to my youngests class assembly today, and very good it was too. I hadn't been to such a thing for ages and I had forgotten all about the school hymn, which, as usual, was given a lusty chorus, and it very nearly spoiled my mood. It is the most achingly obvious ode to God that there could be, it's all shine jesus shine and glory to our father and all that tripe. It's actually quite uplifting, but why can't they have an uplifting song about all the beauty and good in the world that is a bit more secular?

They certainly take no account of other belief systems and it is not a church school; the irony being that we have such a thing at the end of our road but chose not to send our nippers there because it would be hypocritical and we didn't want them indoctrinated into Christianity. It's a much better school, but at least our kids don't have to mix with kids whose parents are utter charlatans. The good news is that when I just asked two of the little buggers to sing the hymn to me so I could quote it, neither of them could remember a single word!

Despite myself, I enjoyed the Champions league final; it was a pity about the ridiculous build up though, of which Martin Kelner has written in typically amusing fashion. I loathe the way most commentators build up certain players to be god like............John Terry makes a routine clearance and the commentator tells us in awed tones, that typically, Terry gets there first. Typically, most centre halves get there first when the ball is crossed into the centre spot from nowhere near the byline, but most of them aren't heroic yeoman. Actually, most of them are, but there you go.

Which brings me, unsurprisingly to Terrys tears, which made me laugh, and I am not a man who lacks compassion, but Christ, lets have a bit of perspective. Old JT has been reading his own press and clearly believes he is the man for any occasion, when, clearly, he isn't. The way he strode purposely forward, tugging at his sleeve, making sure his armband was just so, spoke of a man who was absolutely sure of his own destiny, his own heroic role in the glorious unfolding of events. But the champ chump missed. Ho Fucking Ho. Chuckle Fucking Chuckle. Man, I pissed myself.

Still, it's not nice to kick a man when he is down; nor is it nice to see ungracious losers. I thought Chelseas behaviour at the end was despicable. They all wallowed in the most disgraceful and selfish self pity, apart from Avram Grant, who was wearing his despair the way a widow wears her weeds. He was playing to the gallery, the bad, bad man. Terry's tears were not for the fans or his team mates, they were for himself, for his newly battered ego, for his new found vulnerability, and they were not a pretty site, as his spoilt brat nature was on display for all the world to see.

It is too much to hope for nothing more than a manly handshake all round, but what the hell ever happened to dignity, manliness? Remember the pic of Pele and Moore after an epic battle. It spoke of nothing but mutual admiration and respect, whatever happened to that? Whatever happened to appreciating and saluting your opponents achievement? I have played some games of football, tennis, snooker and god knows what else when there have been epic battles and sometimes I have won and sometimes I have lost. When victorious, I genuinely applauded the loser, when vanquished, visa versa. I have been delighted to have had enjoyed a great, close game. Even at my humble level they don't come around that often (not all actually, said the couch potato). Of course, that probably makes me a loser, but then so is John Terry, which is why I will be supporting Sweden at the Euro championships, not England.

Labour is fucked, better start preparing ourselves for the new era of all the toffs. IE, get some good home security in because the Tories are going to send the underclass into an even greater pit of despair than it already inhabits, in which it will grow exponentially and they will quite rightly take it out on all the rest of us. Not that I'm defeatist or anything.

Can anyone spare me a cup of petrol?

As behind the zeitgeist as ever, I have just discovered Jim Noirs 2005 album, the name of which escapes me for a minute. It's a bit of alright. The reviews will tell you all about the influence of The Beach Boys but it puts me in mind of the Swingle Singers. Don't let that put you off though.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Flower of Scotland

Not been a good week for Scotland has it? A load of Rangers fans behaved in a way which would have surprised not one rational person, Tommy Burns kicked the bucket and a bone fide working class hero has joined him in being carried up to heaven by the worms. Jeff Torrington is no more. He was no spring chicken and he had suffered from Parkinsons for years and I bet most of my loyal readership of 12, erudite as you all, will not have heard of him.

He was part of a group of Scottish writers who emerged in the seventies, which included Agnes Owens, the incomparable James Kelman and William McIllvanney and who wrote unashamedly, without sentimentality, and with an unwavering eye, about the working class. Forget the 1950's English grammar school boys, these lads and lasses were the real deal. The authentic voice of the working class and if they had all gone to Eton or bloody Westminster their work would have been set reading on the national curriculum for years.

He didn't get his first novel published until he was well into his fifties and already ailing, and to tell the truth, it is a difficult read. But it is inspiring, all those Scottish dudes are inspiring and they embarrass the shit out of the rest of the working class in this country. Read them, they are all touched by genius, well, Kelman is, anyway, but they do not shy away from their humble roots, and more importantly, they do not shy away from their own intellects, which was their problem. Most of the working class could not understand them and the hegemonic middle class intelligentsia were shit scared to be confronted by something so terrifyingly raw, intellectual and authentic.

The death of Jeff Torrington, who wrote about his early days in Glasgow's Gorbals, reminds us of when he won the Whitbread Prize for Swing Hammer Swing!. Asked why it took him 30 years to write it, he replied: "I couldn't find my pencil."

Kelman: "the intellectual life of working-class people is colonised. In a colonised country intellectual occupation takes place throughout society."

"These bastards think they own the language. They already own the courts. They own everything. They want to block your stories, and they will, if you let them."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

There has been quite a bit across the media in the last couple of days about the essential toffness, or otherwise of the Tories. Some have pointed out that the Liberals aren't exactly short of a toff or three either. Johan Hari had a blog post in the Independent about it and has also written a decent article wondering how Cameron gets away with it.
The Cameron-Brown student dichotomy probably should not be presented as a class collision. But it does undoubtedly reflect two contrasting versions of life, two utterly different and irreconcilable social narratives.

So the season is over and we are down. The telly cameras panned around St Andrews trying to find grown men in tears, but we had all come to expect this weeks ago, so all they found was one crying child and a lot of Brummie stoicism, which is absolutely as it should be. Minus the distraught child. Probably. The comic opera that is Blues continues though, with our owners railing against the fans and threatening to quit and Sullivan even naming and shaming Frank Quedrue as being useless, which prompted a hearty riposte from Frank. It is never dull with this lot. Christ knows what the next three months are going bring; a dignified period of silence is unlikely.

Life is better in the Championship anyway, I have always said it, it brings out a better class of fan. The premiership is absolutely joyless and so are most of the fans that see it as the be all and end all, so the lower division is like a bit of respite. Mind you I will make no predictions regarding our chances of a quick return to the "promised land" ...............anything is possible down at our pig circus, including not having a bloody team to support.

Richard Williams in the Guardian today suggested (rather tortuously) that the Premier league is the equivalent of the bloated prog rock of the seventies, while the championship represents sweaty pub rock. Pub rock wasn't everyones cup of tea at the time, though I was bit partial to it, and there is no doubt that it represented a more authentic rock and roll experience. I suppose if we were to be a pub rock band it would be someone like Ace, been around the block, solid enough, but, ultimately, losers. As far as the prog rock prem goes, Villa would be King Crimson.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Come Pick Me Up

I was having a moan in the car park at work the other day about the election results, and commented that as much as I despise New Labour, I cannot stand the bloody tories and hoped that these results give people a warning shot.....piss about too much and we will end up with another government of all the toffs. And then we will come to understand the meaning of the word misery. We ended up talking about the superficiality of it all and wondering why such a fuss is made about Cameron tending to get the best of Brown at question time. Well, it's bloody obvious innit? Cameron has enjoyed a lifetime of being trained for petty point scoring in debates. He has been trained since childhood to emit an air of utter certainty, utter confidence in himself, no matter what kind of tripe he happens to be spouting, and we car park philosphers wondered why more isn't made of this.

Not that we felt particularly well disposed toward Gordon or his colleagues. The chap I was talking to is nearly as old as me and can remember a bit about old labour. We may have been misremembering but I felt, and feel, that once upon a time, most Labour politicians had actually experienced a days work. Again, looking through my rose tinted specs, I have the notion that most Labour politicians will have sharpened their wit and debating skills on the factory floor, as union conveners and in feisty branch meetings. They will have worked their way up, and they will have experienced some hard knocks and humiliations on the way. I don't get the sense of that anymore. New Labour seems to be populated by a political class; by people who go from school to university to research for an MP to becoming an MP, and they are, largely, indistinguishable, one from the other. They look the same and they sound the same. Where are the next Dennis Skinners and Tom Littericks and Audrey Wises going to come from?

They won't come from anywhere, probably, we will continue to be governed by a privately educated elite, who's networking skills are honed not at Oxbridge, but at school, fee paying school, obviously. We will be told that people of talent will succeed whatever their background, but people from poorer backgrounds, as well as talent, need uncommon amounts of courage, determination and luck as well, which really doesn't seem fair does it? When I look around the weekend papers I see article after article written by young people with names familiar from reading the same papers in the seventies, but these are the children of those writers. I'm sure the various Corens, Rayners, Therouxs, et al are outrageously talented, but, old class warrior that I cannot help but be, I look at them all and I smell privilege. A small example............a lot is made of the fact that old Etonian Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall screwed up at the river cafe and was sacked. Most people who get sacked will then struggle to get back on track; but old Etonian Hugh becomes a media darling, employed, no doubt by people he has networked with from the age of 5.

I can't normally take John Harris in the Guardian very seriously, on account of his girly hair cut; it's not just him, it's any male who is similarly coiffed, I can't see past the silly haircut. Blind prejudice on my part, but there you go. Harris, however, has written a brilliant article today, which is as fascinating as it is depressing. He claims that the reason not much is made of the essential toffness of the Tories is that the upper echelons of labour will not allow it, for fear of being regarded as petty class warriors. Well, I will set myself up as a consultant for the day and offer labour some advice, absolutely free of charge. If you want to win some ground back off the buggers, it is time to fucking well get stuck into them. Rough the bastards up a bit. Try and fight them on their own ground and you will lose, but even more depressing than that, few will actually care.

Anyway, read that article, it's fantastic and should be compulsory reading at every assembly in every school in the land.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Song From Under The Floorboards

Well that was a thoroughly dispiriting and disheartening display by the Blues today. I have been Ecks biggest supporter and remain a fan, but over recent weeks it has been a bit like watching Blues under Bruce. When he arrived, Eck said he wanted the players to have the confidence to use the ball wisely, be patient with it and pass it around, calmly, rather than just keep hoofing the thing up the park, only for it to come straight back again, and for panic to ensue. After his first game, he said that it was nice to see them trying to pass it around, but there had been a bit too much of it.

A wiser man than me might then have wondered if Eck had the courage of his convictions, although it seemed obvious to me that he had identified that our players were not actually good enough to play that kind of game. One wonders, however, how much work has been done with them to improve things. Not much, by the look of it, either that, or Eck just has no faith at all in their abilities. Over recent weeks, we have panicked and it has been like watching the old Blues, the Steve Bruce Blues.

As soon as the opposition attack us, or pressure us, or put us under sustained questioning, we revert to type and we abandon all thoughts of the passing game. It isn't even hoofball, the players just get rid of the ball as soon as they can, they shift it on, inevitably straight back to an opponent. Ridiculously, our panic sets in most obviously when we have taken the lead. When I was a nipper and got in scraps, I was always a bit reluctant to hurt the other bugger in case I made him really mad. I think Blues are like that: they score, then think to themselves, oh shit, we are in for it now.

The biggest disappointment for me has been the dislocation of the various elements of the team. Just as with Bruce, there is little cohesion. The mid fielders play too far away from the forwards, so whenever the ball is pinged up, the forward is isolated, battling with hairy arsed defenders and desperately waiting for the cavalry to arrive, by which time all impetus and momentum has been lost. Not that it happens often, as our forward passes pings hoofs usually go straight to an opponent.

It isn't quite as bad as under Bruce though. For all his faults, Muamba does quite often try to carry the ball out. Even though he will as often as not lose it, this is preferable to just passing it straight back to them. At least Muamba makes them work to get the ball back and allows time for the rest of our midfield and the full backs to get up the field to support the strikers. Then we have Mcfadden, who has a good touch and a subtle way with the ball, although he was poor today, and Eck is unafraid to play two such players by including Kapo in his team, or, on occasion, Zarate.

Blues fans have been pretty irate regarding our failure to sign a decent centre half in the window, and quite right too, it was a fatal error of judgement, but in the players he did sign in the window, it seems evident that he wants players, rather than battlers. It is a pity, mind you, that Murphy seems to be a bit out of his depth. I remain optimistic about Eck, I like the cut of his jib. I like his footballing philosophy and I like the way he talks up our potential, as opposed to saying that we should be grateful for the smallest crumbs off the rich mans table.

But today was gut wrenching. Fulham may have been on a bit of a run, but they started the day second from bottom. At this late stage of the season there is only one reason for that, they are crap. But we managed only two efforts against them all game, neither of which troubled the Fulham keeper, who may well have enjoyed the most relaxing afternoon of his career. To not even trouble the bugger, in a game of this importance, was heartbreaking.

Again, I blame the dislocation and lack of coherence from front to back. We had a poor start to the game, but settled after about ten minutes and I thought we seemed to be playing reasonably well and getting players into the box quicker than usual, but still there was no coherence, and the longer the game went on, the less likely it seemed were our chances of scoring. Eck really has to sort this out. I will give him the benefit of the doubt as this is still, largely, Bruces team, but we have to be better, much better, and more intelligent than we have been of late, whatever division we find ourselves in.

As much as I grew weary of Bruce, and leaving aside the fact that I have lost all respect for him since he left us, it is obvious that we are in our current predicament because of the board. The useless, useless, venal, hypocritical and despicable board. They have no affinity with the fans, no sense of the clubs history and no intention of giving us a team we can be proud of. They truly believe that we have no right to expect to be able to challenge such giants of the game as Wigan, Reading, Bolton or Portsmouth.

Some fans (a diminishing band) will forgive them anything, because they saved our skins all those years ago. I won't. I hate the bastards. They may have saved us, but I believe if it wasn't them it would have been someone else. They have always viewed the club and the fans as nothing more than a cash cow. They are supposed to have given us a magnificent stadium, but it is a shit stadium, and still isn't finished. When they see a fan, they do not see an individual. They do not see a working bloke who loves his club, who has suffered and made sacrifices for his club and whose whole family history is intimately entwined with that of the Blues. They see a money making opportunity. Fuck them.

They won't be around much longer, I am convinced of that. When they arrived we were getting gates of about 12000, I think. I remember the first game of their regime, a 1-0 loss against Bristol City attended by 18000. When they go, we will probably be getting about 18000 again, in a miserable, half finished stadium. What a fucking legacy. Still at least Sully's nippers will be able to afford a decent fish supper.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Wrap your ears around some Bon Iver. You can thank me later.

Two of my late seventies heroes and inspirations are featured in todays Guardian, Jonathan Richman and John Cooper Clarke, though I can't find the Clarke piece.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Stay With Me

Have a listen to the new Eliza Carty, only until May 5th though. I am not overly enamoured of Ms Carty as a rule, but this one surprised me; it is a bit of alright.

I'm listening to the radio 6 Guy Garvey show again, chuffin good stuff.

I heard some Labour berk trying to insult the nations intelligence on radio 4 this morning, by claiming that the local election results were not a disaster, and I was almost driven to anger; the fools are so complacent it is impossible to have any sympathy with them, and Boris winning the London election is just plain hilarious: the pillocks who have voted for him deserve everything they have got coming.

Here in South East Wales, Labour has lost control in Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr. This is astonishing, and, I have to admit, welcome. I am pretty intimately acquainted with two of those constituencies, and I cannot begin to tell you how badly Labour must have screwed up to lose them. I have long despaired of the poor excuse for democracy we have in Britain and more particularly, in this corner of it. I had believed that there was absolutely no chance of Labour ever losing. Labour believed that too, and to reuse my word of the day, they became filled with a despicable complacency.

These valleys towns are characterised by poverty. Poverty seems to be etched into the very landscape, and penetrates deep into the soul in some towns, and, along with poverty and deprivation come all the side effects: poor health, blighted lives, zero self esteem. Large parts of the population live their lives in a state of quiet desperation and exhibit a sullen belief that their particular hand has been played, and it is a poor one. They become resentful and they become wretched. Labour, locally, has had years to address these problems, Labour, nationally, has had years to help the locals address them, but travel around these towns and tell me if you see any hope.

I travel across three South Wales valleys every day, not just along the main arterial routes, but in all the little veins that criss cross the place, and, mostly, I see despair. Labour, nationally and locally should be ashamed of itself and I truly rejoice that it has had a severe kick in the arse. It won't change anything though.

Not that I want the bastard Tories in, oh no, I'm not an idiot. I hope the fact that so many Tories have got in across the nation wakes a few people up, and makes them realise that they cannot mess about, or they will suffer. Not that I have any faith in the great voting public to actually understand what they are doing when they lick their pencil and carefully place their cross against the name of their chosen candidate.

Anyway, their are more serious matters to concern us. The Blues. If we lose tomorrow we are fucked, and I almost hope we do lose, so that the misery will be over, but I cannot help but cling to the barmy and irrational hope that we can actually win our last two games and stay up. A true triumph of hope over experience. Mind you if we win our last two, and Wigan lose theirs, which is feasible, they will go down and I will piss myself. Whatever happens, I am beside myself with joy that Bruce went and Eck came in. In terms of complacency, Bruce makes one of those delightful individuals off the apprentice or a Blair Babe look as if they spend their days wracked with self doubt.