Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Final Countdown

The FA has announced that it will investigate
allegations of hairpulling during the recent
intercontinental five-a-side tournament

The inexorable count down continues, whilst the steely faced correspondent stares sternly back at me. The whirlwind of speculation and conflicting reports whips up frenzied doubt and wide eyed disbelief in the masses across the nation who sit, like me, transfixed by the history unfolding before their eyes. The conveyor belt, heavy and luminous with breaking news flickers across the bottom of the screen as my eyes wildly follow it back and forth, back and forth. It confirms, it denies. The suspense, the contemplation of how our very existences will be shaped by the next few decisive minutes, hangs over me like an anvil ready to fall and obliterate the hopes and dreams of all in its path. And then it happens; the countdown reaches zero. As I close my eyes and hold my breath, it… cuts to a commercial break….

Yes that’s right, the apocalypse. Otherwise known as the transfer deadline day; followed by the second in glorious HD Technicolor by Sky Sports News. In truth, it was one of the least busy or interesting deadline days in recent years, but let’s not allow that to ruin our fun, shall we?

Sky Sports must have a broom cupboard where they keep emergency reporters (who incidentally all look the same) to bring out on such occasions as yesterday. Once dusted off, they stand like idiots outside the gates of every stadium/training ground in the country. Unfortunately for them, Premier League transfers were a little thin on the ground on deadline day, and instead they had to resort to deducing like sleuths the covert signs and meanings in the cars and people that went through the gates. At one point, I’m sure, the entire cleaning workforce at White Hart Lane were minutes from being unveiled as the new all-Polish defensive line up for the 09/10 season.

There were a couple of interesting movements yesterday, however. Harry Redknapp snapped up Kranjcar from Portsmouth, reportedly at a bargain rate, and Everton brought in Heitinga from Atletico Madid for £6m to plug a hole in the rapidly diminishing morale tank at Goodison Park. There were a couple more hardly worth noting, but other than that, it really was down to the chaps at Sky to fabricate the rest.

The excitable man outside Spurs’ training ground revealed that a vehicle had just passed through the gates, which may or may not have borne the initials of Matthew Upson, and that this could well mean the West Ham player would sign for Spurs before the end of the day. No more was heard of this rumour, and for all we knew the vehicle in question turned out to be a UPS van.

David James’s actions were watched closely all day, with zoom lenses picking up his afro every now and then popping up above the walls of Fratton Park. Again, nothing.
There was even wild speculation at one point that David Bentley was about to sign for Man City. I really hoped that there was some truth in that one. Not because of what his signature would do to boost City’s title hopes, but because of the potential hilarity of watching as his Mum gave him a lift to Eastlands following his driving ban last week. Alas, no joy there either.

All this was presided over in a very professional manner by the studio team; the spotlight of speculation was cast effortlessly from one corner of the country to the next by the handsome, stoical bloke and the blonde woman who as much as she tried, could kid herself no longer that she was hired for her sporting knowledge or journalistic skills.

As the deadline loomed, it became far more interesting to watch the gathering crowds of chavs in the background of the reporters’ shots, and in the case of the some of the more far flung pundits, the growing fear in their eyes as they began to be hemmed in by bmx bikes cycling in ever decreasing circles.

And then it happened. The picture was switched to Big Ben for the massively over-egged finale as the countdown reached zero, using the annoying ‘atmospehric’ effect of gradually monochroming everything but the clock tower, one that Sky Sports must have patented, such is its overuse. And then, when it was all over, the transfer anorak, who had for most of the afternoon been waiting patiently in the corner of the shot, informed us that because of paperwork and work permits, most of the confirmed transfers wouldn’t be announced for probably another hour an a half, and the bubble, which BSkyB had been desperately been trying to construct all day, burst with a wet pop.. Roll on January for more drama…

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

To Win, or Toulouse???

Bob had visited Calais so often that the
transformation seemed to him very gradual

How does a Frenchman play poker? What exactly is a fox dog? Is my 5 iron cursed? Not fundamentally vital questions to most, but all highly relevant ones during what was a beautifully varied, and more than a little sweltering seven days holiday in Southern France.

Two families, united by marriage and the common goal to seek refuge from Britain’s barbecue summer, boarded the 12.30 flight from Gatwick to Toulouse; “Wait” said the wisest of us all, “maybe that’s the arrival time.” Oh God...

We were all grateful then, that EasyJet ensured the flight was delayed for over two hours. Once En France we headed to our remote cottage in the heart of the Gers region. By remote, I mean that the few houses that huddled together between the Triffid-like armies of sunflower fields, constituted the second largest settlement on our local map.

No shops for miles then, and so immediately my vision of the bicycled, bereted Frenchman lost his baguette and garlic string. Nevertheless, we hastened to the nearest store, and performed a large shop with the mindset that only ever possesses the holidaymaker. Out went the staple goods and fresh veg, and in went the wine, cheese and cooked meats. Our good health ensured then, we proceeded in a purely British fashion to ‘planning’ our relaxing holiday. Slots were allocated, schemes hatched and requests placed for numerous activities that, considering the soaring temperatures, were questionable in their sagacity, as the conspicuously absent locals during mid-day hours proved.

By far the most audacious of these was the golf trip. The men’s day out was planned for an early morning departure to avoid us being labelled mad dogs, or worse, Englishmen, later in the day. This early start was made absolutely impossible however, as the breakfast croissants didn’t arrive until after 10am.

It was almost certainly the hot weather that led to my defeat in the inaugural ‘Chambord Open’. I have tried but failed to fathom any other reason why my swing would desert me on the 4th, and come crawling back, panting, as a mirage on the shimmering horizon of the final hole, by which time my score card read like a cricket innings. Plaudits go to my brother James, who (somehow) kept his game and romped to victory, really pulling it out of the cool bag.

The ladies’ day sounded much less exerting, with a tour of the shady local châteaux wine cellars followed by extended tasting. Why didn’t we think of that?

A large part of the holiday was spent preparing food, and much of the remaining time spent eating it. If barbecuing is an art, then we were treated to the Sistine chapel by what can only be described as brother-in-law Nick’s ‘creative vision’. My donation to the culinary gallery was the ‘Rustic Risotto’, although even the alliteration couldn’t sway the critics from the barbecued masterpiece.

It was a week of intense competition, and the crushing disappointment of losing out in the Chambord Open spurred me on to narrowly take the Poker title. Five year old nephew Sebbie swam a personal best to usurp the swimming crown, which although thoroughly deserved, speaks volumes about exertion levels the rest of us were able to produce in the sweltering conditions.

Genetically incapable of failing to seek out a bargain, Lily and Lara managed to find a car boot sale/market in the midst of the arable surroundings, and it must be said that even a Frenchman’s cast offs can seem more stylish than the British High Street at times. This rural rummaging was juxtaposed with myself and Nick roaming the streets of the largest town in the area feverishly searching for a Wi-fi connection. We found one, amazingly, but not without some very confused looks from the locals. What exactly is the French for Wi-Fi?

My thanks and regards go out to each and every member of the vacationing clan. Here’s to next year!!! (Although maybe somewhere with air-con, hey Mum?)

I have hitherto neglected to mention that we were staying near a town called Condom. The very place that modern day contraception was born (or rather, wasn’t). It has been hard to sidestep the gags, and accept the applause that my restraint deserves. Merci, et bon soir…..

Monday, 27 July 2009

5 Things I Hate about London..

The Met has rejected plans to introduce a new fleet
of response cars, dismissing the proposed vehicles
as 'too slow' for the demanding needs of the force

Firstly, despite the negative tone of the title, it must be noted that I love London. There is far more to love than to hate in this beautiful city. The day this balance is swung is the day I move away (or when I purchase my rock star estate in Surrey, whichever comes first). Despite this, there are a few people, places and inanimate objects that annoy me to the very core of my being in this our nation’s capital. Here are 5 of my most (or least?) favourite things to hate, in no particular order.

1. Americans

A bit obvious perhaps, and one that could be perfectly justified amongst anyone’s top 5 most annoying things in any context. This particular gripe however, is aimed at the American tourist. Cliché I know, but find me a stereotype that is more true to its name (besides a drunk Irishman) and I will give you ten bucks. I’ll even get it out of my bum bag whilst making sure that my socks are pulled up to my knees, and negotiating my way round a huge stomach. All the while, my baseball cap and t-shirt sporting the name of an obscure national park in Colorado will beautifully accompany my immaculately trimmed moustache. ‘Well Gee Whiz Kathleen, they’re changing that darn guard again’.

My advice; to avoid the disdainful treatment you will inevitably receive, do what any sensible American should when abroad – sew a red Maple leaf to your cap or bag.

2. The London lite

Or the London Paper, or any other of the free rush hour rags, filled exclusively with puerile nonsense. I originally thought that competition between these gutter press rivals would drive them both into the ground, but that seems not to be the case, with some 1.5 Million Londoners' each day feverishly swiping a copy from the first garishly overcoated man to thrust one in their face. Yes, I have read them both on many occasions; often unavoidably, as ‘Swine flu to kill everyone tomorrow’ stares me in the face from every angle on the train. To think that these publications constitute many Londoners sole news intake during an evening, or even all day, is unnerving. If an alien craft took a copy of the ‘Lite’ away as a sample of life in London at the beginning of the 21st century, one of two things would happen. Either they would be appalled at the degeneration of a once proud and literate nation into celebrity spotting, sensation lapping halfwits and obliterate us all, or in many years time we would discover distant planet inhabited by Wags, with Cheryl Cole as its Messiah.

3. Zone 3 and beyond

We've all been there. 'We're having a party, come along, should be great fun!'. And it no doubt will be, except it's in Finchley. Or Earlsfield. Or somewhere else you’ve only ever heard of when staring at the tube map on the train and trying to construct obscene anagrams from station names (maybe just me). In fact, Morden and Cockfosters can officially boast more visitors per year than the London Eye, due to drunken revellers waking with a start at the end of the line, dribbling onto their London Lite.

There's perhaps a touch of snobbery in the roll of the eyes and tutting that follows an arrangement to visit 'the outer limits', but it's not just a matter of reputation. There's the travel to take in to account. For some reason, after a drunken evening, it becomes entirely impossible for a group of friends to agree on the time that the last tube runs. Not wanting to cut the evening short, everyone settles on the most liberal estimate, and then the inevtiable moment comes. Underground closed then, and time to consider the night bus.

It is perfectly possible to spend up to 3 hours on the 'N's and feel just as far from home as when you began. And you might be. There’s a good chance you’ll have to change at Trafalgar square, and as anyone who has suffered the interminable wait on a Saturday night knows, every bus running through there is either at capacity or close to it, with the convergence of hundreds of confused and drunken Londoners continuing their odyssey from the wilderness of zone 3 and beyond. Either that, or you'll fall asleep and find yourself being woken by a youth in Lewisham who will ask you less than politely for your wallet and phone.

'Hey, great party last night, thanks! Next time though, let's meet at London Bridge.'

4. ‘Extreme’ Sports

Now, this is a complicated gripe and will not be popular with the hordes of 'out there' Londoners that love nothing more than either flying, strapping themselves to or otherwise interacting with some contraption, with or without wheels, and who as a result look totally stupid.

The first is rollerblading, the Mecca for which seems to be the stretch of path opposite the Albert Hall on the south side of Hyde Park. Why, I've no idea, perhaps a homage to Victoria’s husband, who famously espoused the adoption of foreign customs into England. Not everything ports as well as Christmas trees though. Not even Prince Albert would countenance the ridiculous behaviour of these Lycra-clad skaters, whirling themselves around in what they see as streamlined, graceful and cutting edge manner, but to everyone else looks like they are suffering an uncontrollable and rather camp fit. It is Torvill and Dean, without the pretty costumes (though often with the 80’s hairstyles). I’m sorry, but this is not LA, and neither are we extras from the OC. Oh, and to the lunatics that choose this method of transport to get to the office; yes, your workmates mock you, and whether you know it or not your boss has put you top of the pile for potential redundancy.

The second instance of ‘extreme behaviour’ I have an aversion to is Kites. Or Kite Boarding, or Extreme Kites. Call it whatever you like if it makes you feel anything other than a little foolish for indulging regularly in a pastime designed for small children. Some men get away with it; their passion for flying kites can be successfully masked by taking their own kids out whenever there is a blustery day. As the epicentre for kite flying tomfoolery seems to be Blackheath, then that is nearly every day. So, what about the men (for it seems to be exclusively men) that do not have little ones to vicariously re-live their dreams? Well, they strap themselves to a big skateboard and go mobile, no doubt up-ending joggers and small fluffy dogs in the process. I have already heard the counter arguments. ‘It’s no child’s play, you should try it, you have to be tough to control these things, they’re pretty hardcore.’ Yes, yes, but still a kite.

5. The Metropolitan Police

Not the whole force, but certainly elements of it. Their cars, for starters. I understand that there are probably more criminals per square mile in London than in Strangeways, but does that necessitate a (huge) fleet of gargantuan BMWs to chase them with? Surely, with the traffic congestion London enjoys, a Smart Car would be a more sensible choice for weaving in and out of the rush hour traffic? Not to mention the £30k price tag. Also, if someone can offer me a reason as to why many of the cars are silver, other than an elitist display, I’d like to hear it. That sums up the Met; bigger and better than any other force in Britain. Or so they would have you think. The flaws begin at the top and seep downwards, with Sir Ian Blair having been embroiled in more dodgy dealing and malpractice than Peter Mandleson, and special ops squads that get everything right apart from shooting the right bloke.

And then there's the PCs. Picture an English Bobby: Helpful, jolly, approachable and almost certainly sporting a moustache. The Met officer is none of these, and instead employs a steely faced, supercilious glare, brandished liberally at anyone who cares to arrest his line of sight. All the while, Metcop has his hands tucked into his Teflon vest in a universally recognised pose of authoritative toughness. How he expects to reach his belt and access the plethora of torture instruments required to violently apprehend a random black youth with his hands in his vest is anyone's guess. It has become less ‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello, and more ‘Armed Police, on your knees’.

I realise that policing in the capital is a far more gritty and dangerous than, say, Norwich, but has the age of the British copper, polite and courteous, really been sentenced to the past? There has certainly been a visible difference in police attitudes since the 7/7 bombings, and perhaps it's necessary for our officers to adopt a tougher stance, but somehow it just doesn't feel very British. Can't we all just be polite and get along in the orderly fashion we are famed for? Ask the G20 protestors and see what they say.

So, I feel liberated having got a few things off my chest. What annoys you about London, or any other town for that matter? Answers on a postcard to 10 Downing Street to provide David Cameron with at least a vague idea of what he's doing when he moves in.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Exclsuive - "Election fever not contagious"

Many voters are accusing UKIP of
misleading them, after it emerged that the party's
primary mandate is not, as many expected, an
invitation for the electorate to have a little

In case you’ve been living in a cave, (or in Switzerland) there has recently been another revolution of the European parliamentary merry go round. Considering the turnout of the electorate, the coverage given by television and the press to last weekend’s elections has been somewhat disproportionate. More people watch Eastenders each week than bothered to get to a polling station on Thursday, but we don’t see David Dimbleby anchoring a fully interactive-digital-via-satellite extravaganza charting the rise and fall of Dot Cotton’s popularity levels, do we? More’s the pity.

Needless to say I watched the coverage on BBC1, and quite a spectacle it was too. No wonder the journalists from television centre have been haranguing the Labour ministers about when a General Election will be called; they just cannot wait to bust out their newest CGI vote analysis experience. Forget John Snow and his ‘Swingometer’ – here we have Jeremy Vine pirouetting around a three-dimensional and interactive computer generated white room with more statistics at his disposal with a waft of his digitised hand than most Government departments could leave on a train in months. If you didn’t catch it, I’m sure the BBC hasn’t made it awfully difficult for you to find it online. In fact, it is so futuristic in a James Bond kind of way, that it might even find you.

And so, the computery bells and whistles confirmed to us what we already knew would happen to the Labour vote. To be fair to Brown and co, despite the drubbing, they kept their end up in London reasonably well, although I am convinced that the omnipresence of Boris Johnson will boost Labour’s vote in anything political (if even subconsciously) as long as the walking blonde disaster exists in city hall. BNP supporters will no doubt tear themselves away from beating immigrants long enough to celebrate Fat Hitler (look at his picture again, and draw a moustache) Nick Griffin’s victory in the North West. He will join party colleague Andrew Brons, who will both presumably sit huddled next to each other in fright inside the European parliament building, suddenly aware that they are surrounded by their worst nightmare; a bunch of angry foreigners. Good luck chaps.

They won’t be alone however. There has been a big swing towards the right this time around, with almost all of the socialist parties in continental Europe losing ground to centre right and beyond. Hungary has even elected a few strange looking military fascists in bodywarmers and Boy Scout neck scarves. How menacing. Aside from Germany, France and Italy, this swing to the right has been against the ruling party. Whether this is a just a ‘vote for somebody else as we’re all broke’ reaction remains to be seen, but a huge recession is never going to favour the party in power at the time (isn’t that right Gordon?).

For all its hot air, the Conservative party achieved a smaller gain than expected. It was Ukip that really stole the show, with a Kilroy Silk-free sheen that attracted much of the protest vote from the expenses scandal to land it second place overall of total votes cast. But the plaudits must surely go to Sweden’s Pirate party, who amazingly won a parliamentary seat lobbying for nothing but the freedom to share music over the Internet. This was in response to the closure of file sharing site and the imprisonment of its creators, and it does beg the question; what exactly does a Swedish computer geek with no real agenda do day in day out at the European Parliament? Will he even turn up? Or will he use his 70,000 Euro salary to actually buy his music and render himself obsolete?

Now all is said and done, it is back to work for the MEP’s. If the wage doesn’t prove enough for them, there is always the 200 Euro daily rate for actually turning up. That should pay for lunch. Back home in Blighty, we will all seek a vaccine to help treat our election fever, and hope that we can become immune for the next strain come the general election. Things might not look so good for him, but Gordon Brown should count himself lucky. At least he’s not stuck in a virtual statistic room until it happens like poor old Jeremy Vine.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Where's there's Blame, there's a Claim....

The Cabinet Member in question was baffled
as to why his modest second home featured
in his morning Telegraph

I walked through Westminster last week, and the atmosphere felt tense. Even Big Ben seemed to cast a wary eye each way before he moved his hand, as if he would be accused of claiming for the time that elapsed since the whole sorry saga of MP's expenses exploded. On the streets, eyes were cast probingly from suit to suit, before being turned to the pavement, as if hoping for it to obligingly open up. It must have been quite entertaining to observe MPs over the last week or so inside the bowels of the Houses of Parliament, each unsettled by what may transpire in the Daily Telegraph concerning their financial exploits of the last couple of years. No doubt they were aware of each other’s too. Picture the scene in a leafy garden on a summer’s afternoon in Pimlico, with a colleague's hearty backslap greeting a cabinet member’s gloat that the barbecue they are gorging on is courtesy of HM government. That same barbecue now sits conspicuously on the lawn, hanging its coals in shame.

This whole business reminds me of a time during my schooldays when the entire year group were called together to investigate a spate of thefts from the school canteen and tuck shop. The thing is, everyone was at it. The dinnerladies in charge were woefully inattentive, and the smuggling out of a curly wurly here, and an apple there (for the more health conscious thief) had become commonplace. That was the problem; because the abuse of the sweet shop was so widespread, it became acceptable within whole groups of students, and consciences were collectively cleared as a result. It was only when it became clear that so many individuals had been spotted, following a sting operation between a squealing student and a despotic biology teacher that everyone began to get nervous. Guilty glances, not dissimilar to the ones being cast around Westminster, replaced the collective sanctuary of the shared secret.

It is surely this mindset that has set the bar for the expenses that have been claimed in recent years, and with each stage of acceptability, the bar has been raised. It has long been known that Parliament exists in a totally different world to that of you and I; or as the newspapers are so fond of calling it, a gentleman’s club that exists within an insular bubble of security and affluence. That bubble was burst when news of the leak was reported; the fact that there was immediate talk of calling in the police to root out the whistleblower now seems unbelievable, and gives weight to the accusation that the lascivious W1 club was attempting to cover its back. Perhaps it was in an effort to exclude herself from this Westminster trap that Margaret Moran claimed for a second home in Southampton. How very noble. Admittedly there are MPs that exist outside of this circle, politicians such as Norman Baker who have long campaigned to make public the expenses claims, but they seem to be few and far between as the Telegraph continues its relentless charge against Westminster. In fact, so much coverage has been given to this story that regular readers have been outraged; you now need to delve inside the paper as far as page 12 before there is even a mention of cricket!

So what is the next logical step for a horde of marauding money grabbers without so much as a phoney mortgage receipt to hide behind? Why, what any self respecting guilty party (or parties) should do; find a scapegoat. Luckily for them they don’t have to look very far, as the Speaker Michael Martin is asking for it. Not that he doesn’t deserve to go, of course; his reluctance for this whole debacle to see the light of day is well known. His own expenses have come into dispute long before this particular episode, although that is not the main reason for his culpability. If he had his way, the whole scandal would have remained under wraps, and the corrupt ship Westminster would have sailed on undeterred, and as the representative for MPs as a group, that is unforgivable (but somewhat typical).

Whilst I don’t sympathise heavily with MPs over these revelations, I do take issue with all this talk of ‘pigs in troughs’ and ‘we pay for your luxurious lifestyles’. Yes, ‘we’ as taxpayers do ultimately foot the bill, but it is by no means an exclusive invoice that starts and ends in Westminster. The same collective ‘we’ pays for the exorbitant wages and needless management consultants at the BBC, not to mention some of its journalists, whose expenses claims probably remain their most creative work to date. ‘We’ pay for the extortionate pensions claimed by disgraced heads of city Police Forces. ‘We’ pay for the shambolic social services that operate children’s services in London, and for the council tax that haemorrhages from every orifice of inept local councils. The counter argument to this is that MP’s are responsible for making their own rules, but let us not forget that the corrupt expenses system has existed for a long while. Just as I have claimed for spurious mileage on my company car in the past, so hundreds of thousands of workers up and down the country exploit their systems in a time honoured fashion. I’m not saying its right, that’s just life. What’s that you say, as a society we’re not greedy? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the banking system.

It is time now to draw a line through the current system and create a fairer and more level expenses playing field. Increase MP wages if necessary but cut funding for anything other than travel, food and essential basic accommodation costs. Even that is generous; most of us pay for our own food do we not? I expect the Speaker will stand down, and examples will be made of the most erroneous claimants, but eventually the public needs to put its high horse back in the stable and allow the government to tend to the lame donkey of an economy that it shares a stall with.

Lastly, is there a demonstrative collective noun for a group of expense claiming politicians? Any ideas? Might I suggest ‘a Moat of MPs’?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Lost Highway

The lost streakers on the Lost Highway
were, unfortunately for them, completely
unaware of the lost Juggernaut.

I'm fairly sure that most people have recently had an irrepressible urge to read about a slightly obscure alternative bluegrass and country rock event on the South Coast. Fortuitous then, that I just happened to have written about one. Quite a coincedence I'm sure you'll agree..

The Lost Highway

When first invited to 'The Lost Highway', I pictured a lone figure sitting under a tree by the side of a deserted road, poignantly plucking his steel guitar, the metallic twang sailing gently across the plains of the Mid West whilst the wind whipped up the melancholy melody like sand over the Dustbowl. To a mildly cold Hove then, for the latest showing of the regular country, folk and roots event at the Brunswick, and not even a Stetson in sight. I opted for a large Bourbon though, just to be sure. The venue’s small but prominent stage and candle lit tables ensured an intimate atmosphere for the busy crowd as the first act stepped up.

At odds with the event’s billing, Chris Simmons seems to have no doubt as to his own destination. His stop on the MySpace highway is certainly a busy one, and his CV reads as a breathless list of achievements (and a fair amount of name dropping). His first line, 'Mine is a written request, a pending SMS' by no means set as awful a tone as the lyric suggests. He has, along with his bandmate and backing vocalist Adam Mellor, an impeccable ear for melody. No wonder Jackson Browne lists himself as a fan. His songs are well crafted, and probably good enough, when he gives 100% (for here I fear he was not) to take him a very long way. The faultless close vocal harmonies lifted the tunes immeasurably, and the upbeat number 'Saturn Returns' sounded like Sting on anti depressants.

Headlining the event was the foot-stomping country rock of The Cedars. A set that started out a little tame soon became, in their words, 'low down and dirty'. The authentic up-tempo bluegrass numbers wouldn’t sound of out of place in a Whiskey-fuelled hoe down along the banks of the Mississippi; it took the sea gulls on lead singer Chantal Hill’s dress to remind me we were still in Brighton. The musicianship was first rate; the vocals shone throughout, especially when sung a cappella. The banjo and bass lines fizzed along nicely and the drummer rattled a surprisingly large sound from the world’s smallest drum kit. One drawback however, was the lack of charisma from the band members, which beyond the red lips of Hill, was notably absent. The audience too, could have reacted more fervently at times; where I half expected to turn and see impromptu do-see-do-ing to the driving rhythms, I was greeted with only mild toe tapping. I suppose this is, after all, the Mild South and not the Wild West!

Part of the reason for The Lost Highway's success is that it enables bands of many styles and disciplines to come together in a single event. Claire Lloyd, promoter with Kong Promotions, says 'The Lost Highway is an important part of the Brighton music scene. What started as an Americana event has branched out to give exposure to great artists from a wide range of genres, most that you would not normally expect to see on mainstream billings, whilst ensuring they don’t become pigeonholed.’

The next junction along The Lost Highway is The Fortune of War, Hove, on 14th May for what promises to be the best event yet. Hey Negrita,
Two Fingers of Firewater and the excellent Sweet Sweet Lies will be performing as part of ‘The Alternative Escape’, continuing the Lost Highway’s tireless journey towards unearthing some of the best, diverse and most entertaining acts in the area.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Forgettable Fire...

'You know most guys would
kill to be in you two', Bono
smiles as he contemplates his
own genius.

I hold a certain amount of antipathy for U2. Actually that is unfair, it’s the singer I hate really. When not indulging in self-righteous platitudes from his multi million pound soapbox, Bono (real name Paul Hewson, one regretful plus on his wikipedia page there) is unbelievably still ‘making music’. Everyone knows that the small amount of talent he once possessed (or possessed him?) deserted him in the early nineties, presumably jumping ship and diving desperately into the Irish channel to escape him. More unbelievable is that U2 are still so popular in a supposed age of reason. Would any self-respecting music fan, in 2009, actually stand up and claim to be a fan? Surely not. Anyone outside Ireland that is. Over there, disparaging the great name of U2 is akin to pissing on a priest or setting fire to a nun. I have even heard that in certain parts of County Cork all of the crucifixes wear sunglasses.

It’s not just for his progressively diminishing musicianship that Bono is known. He is of course a celebrated exponent of charity work, promoting awareness of the plight of the third world throughout the first world. Everyone has heard the old adage ‘Give a man a fish and he can feed his family for a day. Teach him how to fish and his family can each afford a copy of the new U2 album’. That was one of his. This sort of charitable behaviour is all very well and good once you are retired and have been put out to graze on the time-rich expanses of the retired rock star farm (See Geldof), but to juggle it with an alter ego of globe trotting contemporary rock star is frankly ridiculous and hypocritical.

I’m sure his PR agency will tell me that he is offsetting the carbon footprint for his tour and air-dropping crates of rice from his jet as he flies over Africa, but that’s not the point. He and the rest of his band still prance around they own the place with their rock and roll facade, and dress it like it too. It’s hard to take seriously a man in a tatty leather jacket and shades when lobbying for aid in the third world. Especially when juxtaposed with Gordon Brown. Perhaps they should swap outfits?

Quite right then, that Bono and co should prove me wrong with a cracking new record. I have heard it, and it is total drivel. When I saw the video for their come back single ‘Get on your boots’, I really did think they were having a laugh; sort of, ‘It’s like comic relief, but just give us your money instead please’. Its main failing is the absence of melody, which is unfortunate. Their newest single, ‘Magnificent’ is also, sadly, not. The U2 publicity engine however, does not seem as rusty as its creators. There have been various stunts in the media to rev up a little interest in the stalling foursome, the most notable of which has been to address the problem behind their 1987 hit Where the Streets Have No Name, by (temporarily) naming an avenue in New York after the band. Last I heard it was closed for roadworks.

I will mention at this point that U2 used to be rather good, until they started running out of ideas and began to look increasingly self-conscious about appearing current and cool. The Joshua Tree remains a brilliant album; the dark brooding guitars and anthemic melodies still sound great today. That they were once capable of such work makes their current efforts all the more embarrassing. They are also responsible for some of the worst album titles of all time. If you are aware of their work, you will be nodding and rolling your eyes with me here. If not, I'll wait while you google them.

The time must surely approaching for U2 to put their guitars down (carefully, mind the back lads) and walk away content at having been amongst the top selling acts in history. Also, the cynic in me is interested to see how fervently Bono pursues the charity stuff when there are no more records to plug. Except a greatest hits of course, and a DVD collection, and maybe a Bono Live 8 doll which talks, revealing how many children in Africa have died of aids since you last punched it in the face. This wish seems hopeful at best, as the last time I saw them on TV (five times this week and counting) they looked like they weren’t going anywhere, except down in everyone’s estimation.

In the meantime then, we can all cross our fingers and hope that our bespectacled friend doesn’t seriously injure himself falling over The Edge, and into a pit of hungry orphans.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


Pray For Them...

I heard yesterday that Findus have begun administration proceedings. I was mortified. Will I never again experience the gastronomic fascination provided by the Crispy Pancake? The breaded mystery, the crumbed enigma that has baffled since its illustrious birth all that have gazed upon its proud golden form. The mystical question. What actually is that creamy substance, that gelatinous interior essence that has the power to indiscriminately scald all in its path, and melt the digestive systems of entire populations of students? Perhaps we will never know, and more is the pity..

And this, after I am only just recovering my composure at the loss of everyone’s favourite high street train wreck, Woolworths. The sad demise of the store was only transcended by the tear-jerking moment when their woefully misplaced and ineffectual TV advertising characters, the sheep and dog combination of Wooly and Worth, were soothingly led to the loading bay, where in a scene reminiscent to the climax of ‘Of Mice and Men’, they were told to look unto the horizon. ‘Can you see it, Worth?’ asked the administrator. ‘Just over there, can you see it? A lush green field beyond yonder rainbow, where bunnies hop, where the grass grows greener than any sheep could ever dream of and where the horrible PR men can never touch you? Look, do you see it?’ And, as they innocently craned their necks to glimpse this divine oasis, their brains were blown out mercifully from behind by his shotgun…

Aah yes, Woolworths. Oh to recount the days when one could peruse the aisles of a single store and approach the checkout, in one visit, clutching a bounty of bargains including an ironing board, a newspaper, several of last century’s chart CDs, a pair of children’s shoes and a selection of over priced chewy sweets. What will we do without it? Whilst it is no laughing matter to the good people who once worked at their stores up and down the country, it is the nature of the Pick’n’Mix beast. The sad fact is that Woolworths were and are irrelevant in today’s Internet led retail climate. Had it embraced the phenomenon and looked to flog cheap CD players and pillowcase sets online, it might, maybe, have escaped its inevitable doom; one that has caused more than a fair share of its high street competitors to slash prices on their on-sale items, which as a result of the ravenous credit crunching monster, were already on sale anyway.

Tough times indeed for the high street. Which begs the question, what next? Will the onset of a recession and the onslaught of online shopping activity render that once lucrative stretch of buildings between the KFC and Mcdonalds (for they will surely survive) completely barren? Will there come a time when the only jobs that exist in the retail market be computer operatives, processing orders in a dingy office block in Slough, and Royal Mail delivery drivers? Not even Orwell predicted that. A few may survive this holocaust, as cockroaches to a Nuclear winter, but I fear not the majority. Our world is changing so rapidly and dramatically towards an Internet revolution that it is a serious possibility only a selection of the most tangible services such as food and drink, will escape being rendered obsolete by the information deluge. You can bet your ever-diminishing Pound that these will be administered by Tesco and its major competitors that currently ride the corporate ocean; an oligarchy that for a long time has been buoying itself with the drowning of others.

Perhaps not. Maybe everything will recover and we will venture once more on to the streets of our cities and towns once this cloud of recession has rained its worst. I am dubious however whether this confluence, once rescinded, will leave with us anything remotely resembling the high street we knew growing up. The world is changing, and just as Facebook is the primary point of contact for most youngsters, so will the Internet be the first port of call when ordering a product or service.

You may laugh, but there may be a time when we speak of Woolworths to our grandchildren. We will reminisce about how in our day we actually used to have to leave our homes to buy our Christmas decorations and lets be honest, just how shit it really was…