Saturday, August 29, 2009

Flags And Blood

I am not "West 'am". No matter how much I love the team I have never and would never fight for its name. Whatever that means. My relationship is with the team and the team alone. I am not a supporter. I am a fan.

When I've been to matches I've felt conscious of people around me. But I get so lost in the game that what they're saying or doing doesn't interest me in the slightest. Chants are background noise. I'm there but it's as if I'm watching it on tv. I feel tuned in to what's going on on the pitch and I block out everything else. Even the annoying bloke with the loud voice in the row behind me.

I am a fan. A supporter is a different animal. He or she feels at one with their fellow supporters. At its extreme, this feeling translates into a violent pride in their own people and an antipathy towards others. All the more so if the others are as close as family. Family who choose to wrap themselves in a different flag.

All this bollocks about going back to the dark days of the 70s and 80s! Proud allegiance has always been and always will be dark.

Wave a flag and you've got blood on your hands.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Conkers and Clackers

Primary school was kind of OK. I wasn't bullied by any of the boys and even made friends with a few of them. The one Asian kid's school life was probably hell as I don't remember anybody making friends with him.

I was, however, once bullied by one of the girls. Lesley gave me a Chinese burn. So I told my mum and one afternoon by the school gates my mum got hold of her by the arms and shook her. She wouldn't touch me again.

Apart from that one incident I didn't have any dealings with the girls. I didn't play kiss chase.

In the year of the clackers we crowded into the shelter out of the rain at playtime and made a cacophonous noise. Knuckles were hurt and eyes were dislodged. I was very nervous of clackers but didn't want to show it. I closed my eyes and clacked for England.

More hand pain came with the conker season. Clackers were banned by the government but conkers remained as part of the playtime syllabus. I went to the park with the twins and we'd throw branches up at the massive horse chestnut trees, bringing fresh conkers down in their dozens. We got pretty accurate at throwing. Conkers were either put in the freezer section of the fridge along with the ice pops or pickled in large jars, along with the onions. You had to do something to your conker to prepare it for battle.

My literary life was gathering pace, too. I soon grew out of Peter and Jane and moved onto comics. None of those namby pamby children's books for me. I read Whizzer & Chips from cover to cover but never considered myself a Whizz-Kid or a Chip-ite. I was my own man.

I read other comics, too. But never the super-hero type or that prat Roy of the Rovers. Mine were more down-to-earth, prototype Viz comics. My favourite character was a boy who could only play football in his unwashed bare feet. You'd see him in the bath, his feet on the rim, nice and dirty.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Education, Education...Oh, please yerselves

Good luck to all the students who've just received their A-Level results (even the twats amongst them). I remember the complete and utter sense of joy when I opened my envelope. I leapt in the air with the other girls in my school as we all got straight As and all looked forward to a life of privilege.

I was thinking there must be some people who, even in their 20s, 30s, 40s and higher, are interested in how their old school does each year. They have a sense of pride or disappointment or pride mixed with disappointment or maybe anger that in their day their school's results weren't as good because teachers back then were so fucking hopeless they couldn't even sew their own leather patches on their jacket elbows let alone get the brightest young people of a generation into the best universities.

I was most impressed this year by the poor East London boy who got into Cambridge.

Surprise, surprise, throwing the equivalent of £24,000 a year's worth of education at a poor kid, you end up with a similar result as you do if mummy and daddy pay for their little cherub's future. It seems the experiment worked and we now know we're all the same under the skin.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Books For Blokes

What about those Bloomsbury Good Reading Guides. Useful, aren't they?

The one I find most useful is 100 Must-Read Books For Men.

Cos I'm a man, you see. You can tell just by looking at me.

The book's recommended authors include Lance Armstrong, Len Deighton, Tony Parsons, Jeremy Clarkson. Yes, it's really arty, as you'd expect a book with the name "Bloomsbury" on the cover.

And just imagine my testosterone going into overdrive as I ambled through the library at the weekend. After flicking through Wife In The North in the Quick Choice section, my eyes alighted on a sign.

"Books For Blokes".

I was like a pig in shit. James May, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, Peter Crouch, Lee Sharpe, Jonny Wilkinson, Chris Moyles, George Lamb, Graham Norton. The literary taste of every man in Britain was represented. I took an armful to the self-service machine and withdrew those books in such a manly way the young female library assistant literally fainted at my feet.

I think she'd been reading too many Mills & Boons.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Don't You Find The Weeks Are Getting Shorter?

Hi there. It's good to be back and it's good to have the football back. Good luck to all your teams and look out for Carlton Cole this season. The big man is either going to be immense or he's going to snap his cruciate ligament today against The Wolves and leave us with no centre forward.

This week I have been reading Rog's recommendation, Billy Liar. I like the book a lot but once again it's let down by the blurb on the cover. "Dictator, soldier, cripple, successful novelist, convict; this is Billy, a hero for our times." Um, no, not really. Just a selfish young man trapped in a shitty life.

Last week Tim tweeted about how good The Korgis were. So, with just their most famous song on Spotify, I took a chance and bought their Very Best. And very good it is, too.

Here's a truncated version of their first hit which you won't find on Spotify. Apparently it's "un tema que popularizo Rod Stewart". So it wasn't a hit in Spain, then?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly Away Home

We found our dream house, a three bedroom semi. Large garden for me to run around in. This was 1966, a year of affordable housing for an ordinary single income working family. You would need three incomes nowadays to get anything similar.

I was back on familiar ground. Back to the three of us. So much more civilised.

I started school again. Even though it was a small school, I hated being with all those children. And the teachers were so old, older than my parents.

The alphabet was drilled into us. The times table was, too. We started to read about those lovely children, Peter and Jane. Peter and Jane loved each other like most brothers and sisters in fiction. I wonder where they are now? Do they still keep in touch?

The Peter and Jane books were published by Ladybird. A different Ladybird made children's clothes. And then, of course, there were the real ladybirds in the garden in summer. Of the three, I preferred the insects. Ladybird books and Ladybird clothes weren't particularly exciting. They weren't alive.

I "played" with the girl next door. Meaning we were put together so one of the mothers could be free for a bit. I was still in my own little world and wanted nothing but my own company.

Eventually I made some friends. Or rather they made friends with me. The twins were nine months younger than me and in the class below. They were cousins of my second cousins so I guess that's how we ended up together. I was a spoilt only-child and had toys and they liked to play with my toys. One of them was more boisterous than the other and broke a lot of my toys.

I started supporting West Ham as West Ham had won the World Cup for England. Bobby Moore was my favourite player as he was the world's best player. My choice of football team wasn't based on geography or tradition. My dad had been a Charlton supporter because they were the nearest team to Bexley. I was a glory hunter, just like those Cockney Reds. All I could see in front of my eyes was a future of trophies and winning heroes, crying with joy. A lifetime of success.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Grim Reaper

The phone rings. I pick it up.

"Hello, this is Terry from Uncut Magazine. You were previously a subscriber."


"We don't like to lose our readers. We're offering you the next three months of Uncut for only £5."

"No, thank you."

"Oh. Can you tell me why you stopped subscribing to Uncut?"

"I was just bored with it, basically."

"Oh. Thank you for your time."

I am amazed this magazine is still going. Those of its readers who aren't stopping their subscriptions must be dying off. Yes, Allan Jones has 8 million stories to tell, but they're all exactly the same. Allan gets pissed with Nick Lowe or Elvis Costello or Ian Gomm or Wreckless Eric or Billy Bremner or the bloke who played the drums for Ducks Deluxe. Big deal, Allan.

The magazine's obsession with so-called "Americana" was bordering on the insane. Bands who get audiences of three perennially single middle aged men wearing Bob Dylan 2005 Tour t-shirts and reeking of onions were getting double page spreads! The reviews always included "stunning" returns to form by artists who peaked in the 1960s and whose new albums were recorded on life support machines. The covers featured close ups of male artists so old that we were actually on a government register as corpse fetishists.

So, no, I didn't take up Terry's offer. For music was my first love. And it will be my last.

But it's gotta have some life in it for gawd's sake.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

OU Pretty Things**

"In the darkly-comic Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton brilliantly evoked a seedy, fog-bound world of saloon bars, lodging houses and boozing philosophers, immortalizing the slang and conversational tone of a whole generation and capturing the premonitions of doom that pervaded London life in the months before the War."

Christ, it's no wonder I only got an 'E' for my English Literature 'A' level.

1. I didn't get the humour.

2. I didn't recognise the seediness.

3. I don't remember any fog.

4. I think saloon bars are sophisticated, especially in comparison with public bars.

5. I don't remember the characters philosophising.

6. Was there any slang? I can't recall any.

7. How did these few selfish people represent a whole generation?

8. Were they that bothered about the forthcoming war?

Still, that is the blurb on the back of the book. I was inside the main character's head, saying "Kill them, kill them, kill them." and "Run away, run away, run away." I got completely immersed. I didn't see all the things you're supposed to see as a student of literature.

And that's where my problem lies, where I don't fit into the world of literary education. I am either swept along by a book or I couldn't give a shit. Usually it's the latter.

And speaking of education, did you see the documentary about the Open University? Lenny Henry said that without his extremely hard-earned OU degree he would never have played Othello. Why? Because doing a degree made him into a natural actor, I presume.

Not only is he a new Gielgud, but Lenny now understands every nuance of every Shakespeare play, as mere mortals who haven't done a degree could never do.

Myleene Klass is also doing an OU degree. I just don't know where she gets the time as she is such a busy lady. If I were even half as busy as Lenny Henry or Myleene Klass there is no way I'd find the time to study for a degree.

Kudos to the pair of them.

** Title copyright Betty

Saturday, August 01, 2009

I'm An Edinburgh Man, Myself

What a load of bollocks in today's Guardian about increased ticket sales this year for the Edinburgh Fringe.

"This increase in popularity is also put down to greater numbers of "staycationers" - people having their annual holidays at home, as well as the need to find an escape from the recession through comedy, theatre and the arts."

I think what we have here with these fucking staycationers and the fashionably frugal Cath Kidston frock-botherers is the pampered rich middle class playing at being affected by the recession.

You're spending your "annual holiday" (as if you only have two weeks off a year) "escaping the recession" (as if you don't do that every day you're in paid employment) "through comedy, theatre and the arts" (as if anybody on jobseeker's allowance could afford any of these poncey evenings out).

Why not spend your time off turning off your computer and your Sky tv, shopping for tins at Lidl and getting a book out of the library? Pretend you really are unemployed.