Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The REAL Football Factory

Oi! Time for the off!

After I had infiltrated Belper's top boys (average age 73) with a plastic spoon (milky) I lifted from the condiments table, I spent the remaining 86 minutes behind the goal that Leek were attacking. In the lashing wind and driving rain, Groundhog and I were among the *six.*


1-1, ill-deserved equaliser in the dying minutes. Squalid as sport goes. Posh clubhouse though. "We only do Guinness Extra Cold." Ha facking ha.

Photo is licensed under Creative Commons by Jonathan Gill.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Carsten Ist kunst?

Crowded Penalty Area. Pork and Unripe Tomato, 2009.

And so it was, my three brawny bratwursts bore uncanny resemblances to Carstens Jancker and Ramelow (not the most demonstrative link in the latter case, but too good to miss). Shamefully, I couldn't think of a name for number three. A little more Bohemian and it could have been Jan Koller, perhaps.

Ah... food, football and national stereotypes. The gifts that just keep on giving...

Friday, 27 November 2009

I stayed on my feet, dear reader

Name drop:

So, like many footballers of less-than-international standing, I contrived to happen upon Rio Ferdinand's trailing leg in the Pumpkin at Stockport station today. He was arranged around a tea-puddled table with some guy I took to be his agent, waiting for a London-bound train that had been cancelled. And I must say, the guy is incredibly tall and skinny, built like a human dragonfly.

All I can say is it's a shame he can't tackle Johnny Foreigner nearly as effectively as he can polish off three packets of Starburst. Obviously, my attempts to persuade him that his future lies in Unibond One (South) will provide the latest tapping-up scandal in tomorrow's tabloids. Sadly he didn't seem tempted by the offer of a fully-chauffered 1995 Ibiza and all the cheese oatcakes he can eat.

No matter. You heard it here first. And then he was gone - through the gaggle of tracksuited PE students with camera phones - to First Class, and that London.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Much water has lapsed under the bridge since last I typed. Most of it rather too introspective, concentric or just plain rantrospective (boilers, plumbing, cars, careers on which one doesn't break even) to 'do' here (leave that to the poets, eh?)

Still, what can now be made official is that - all being well - we'll be doing this again next year. And yet the birthplace of #1 has been razed. Hopefully also gone are the Entinox pipes that have to be both snorted from and held into the wall at the same time. And with them, say cheerio to the gaffer-taped linoleum and floral seventies wallpaper... the list could go on.

And the parking's more chronic than ever, but I will not, shall not - I refuse to - turn this blog into a place to talk roads and parking spaces (leave that to the Sentinel, eh?)

To be honest, I nearly shed a tear as we shuffled by the taxis, ambulances and smiling families. Sam's was a difficult birth, though not life-threateningly so. None the less, it was his place of birth. And there is (was) something about the old-style maternity unit that's very democratic by 21st century standards, perhaps enforcedly so: everybody in it together, for better or worse.

In that space everybody could hear you scream.

With the private rooms, the all-day visiting, and the LCDs blinking out car-seat adverts disguised as public information films, I dare say some of that will be lost. By and large, mothers will agree, it's A Good Thing. But I bet there won't be the [compulsory] state-sponsored camaraderie that was such a striking feature of that ward.

Or maybe there will - but that's a post for another time.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I am sometimes accused of negativity

but the best place in the world is anywhere on a bright autumn morning.

In this case, Stoke-on-Trent.

*whistles, hops, doffs cap*

Sunday, 20 September 2009

What would Cedric do?

...with Stoke?

Every now and again, with a peckish tap of the ENTER key, the Web brings you something fragrant yet tantalising from the back of the fridge.

The Potteries Thinkbelt, a kind of radical/situationist university dreamt up in the 1960s by Stone-born architect Cedric Price, seems visionary even today, and appears still to be tickling today's architects to some degree.

The idea, so it goes, was to mobilise learning by using north Staffordshire's recently-closed railway lines. Educational facilities would be shunted about, combined and recombined in Hanley, Tunstall or Pitshill like Duplo with a doctorate - a kind of anti-university.

The dream was to create something that would never date, since it would be extensible, reconfigurable and generally open to erudite tinkering.

Given the age of the proposals, it's a shame there don't appear to be more remnants out in cyberspace. A search of Stoke libraries' catalogue promises to be a foregone conclusion, but we'll see... oh - WAIT!

(EDIT: hats off to Culturing Stuff. I'd missed this.)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Chopped liver

Or, the feeling that is dicing your innards as your own flesh and blood leaves the club and goes out on loan.

It'll toughen him up, say the pundits, in a hackneyed and weary attempt to kill it off. Mothers (and they are, mostly) can sound a lot like Lawro sometimes, whether feminists, post-feminists, or - usually - self appointed mouthpieces of the free world.

In the morning, there are a few dull prods of the knife-point: begging - pleading not to be left there - and a sudden wrenching, panicking conviction that none of these people will look after him.

Then Kidsgrove station, and the slow prising of sinew becomes deeper and more intense as the fast trains whisk by rather unlike magic bullets. Suppositories, sir? That's the 09.05 Northern Rail service to Manchester Piccadilly.

At lunchtime a phone call; calculated, professional reassurance is anticipated, but instead there's a pregnant pause. They were about to phone, actually. They wouldn't normally.

Word is there was spontaneous panic at school, so it might be worth picking him up earlier than planned. There's something about him, she says - he's bright - but he's up and down. He's so serious and gets so anxious about what might happen, and she's never seen that in such a young child.

The premature train home breaks down. In my lap, Iain Sinclair is wandering by the A1 in Northants. My head and stomach, meanwhile, are wondering in Macclesfield.

Later, I retrieve the lad from his in-between place. I listen hard for sounds from within, then breathe and knock. Smiles, for now. He's proud of himself having drawn a boat with wheels. And he played oustide today. What a transformation from before, they remark. Those anaesthetic analyses wear off, and there is cautious, limp relief where sharp discomfort used to be.

Still early doors, Saint. And it's still a game of two halves. Tomorrow, he and I have the morning to enjoy ourselves, and we are glad of it.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Bread. Sliced, white. Margarine.

I wonder what Captain Picard's enviable Earl Grey dispenser would make of that? I'd imagine he might well reply that such a treat is no way to explore the Delta Quadrant, or indeed The Nether Potteries.

What of recent times and climes?

There have been no colourful trips on the 21 - it's been too long old friend. No major angst (well there was, but it was just the the product of an over-anxious mind and has been noted as such), just a fair bit of work stuff (upbeat but busy), and only the odd straggle of mildly interesting annotation in my diary. And therefore, no Sketches From Boz.

The Pittshill of Despair? Far from it. Today I abandoned our only child to Serco ... sorry... Stoke-on-Trent LEA, for the first time. He didn't love it but he didn't hate it either. And for a little while at least, there's the promise of some lonesome time on two weekdays, for the first time in what seems like forever.

I spy some room for a little dérive. Maybe riding the 6A from end to end and back again (and again), or something equally daunting / thrilling. I should probably do a course, but the chances of me abandoning learning in favour of cash or much heavier learning during the next year are too high, whatever the alleged flexibility of the colleges.

I started at Longton Library, where the extremely nice librarian helped me to find a choice volume. "Thing is," she said, "these things get sent to us, and then just disappear when they haven't been borrowed in three years or more."

But there it was, virtually unthumbed: happy days in the town where nearly-new books go to die.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Noose Lane

A few weeks back, Groundhog and I ventured west to Oswestry, where TNS were sadly defeated by Fram Reykjavik. It was entertaining but felt a little artificial, with its sunshine and its Europa League flags, its regulation all-seatedness, and its Hugh Dallas.

So this evening we began our season proper with a jaunt down the M6 to Willenhall, which is anything but artificial. Somehow I knew we weren't quite pioneers, but this was to be our first away game with Leek Town, this season's adopted team, who had rebounded from 3-1 down to draw with Loughborough Dynamo at the weekend.

The match was played out beneath darkening skies thick like monochrome toothpaste. Thumping studs roused swirling dust storms like stetsons in the Nevada Desert. The smell of Deep Heat emanated spontaneously from the thighs of plucky midfielders. In the bar behind the Willenhall goal a fruit machine shuffled out a stream of cash-prize consciousness to distant spectators. Every now and again, a foghorn would sound across the Black Country night: "ANOTHER DISGRACE, REF!" Plus ça change.

2-1. Glorious. Life begins at (seven) forty-five. And thanks to work stuff, I won't even be at Vale Park this Saturday.

Friday, 10 July 2009


Yesterday I went with Sam to the induction afternoon at his school nursery, about which he had been very excited for days.

He's had good experience of schools during his short life, having even been unfazed six months ago by the process of a grilling from thirty seven-year olds on the subject of how toddlers are different from babies, and at the end of which he sat down contentedly for a story with them all.

In short, I was kind of expecting it to be plain sailing, which it was, right up until we had to go into the nursery classroom. Sam had been bantering - or at least happily making daft noises - with all the reception kids who had come over to the fence to investigate the gaggle of pre-schoolers and awkward-looking grown-ups; they seemed a thoroughly genial bunch of children.

Sam was reluctant on entering the room, but began to play with a 3D magnetic jigsaw, occasionally sharing remarks with another boy and his mum. But then, there was a moment where it seemed he looked up, his surroundings closed in, and his whole self melted spontaneously. It seemed to dawn on him that the fairly small classroom was thick with people - children and adults - milling around, with most of the latter simply ignored by the former.

Springing to his feet, he clamped himself to my neck and began to cry "I want to go home now, I want to go home now, I WANT TO GO HOME NOW," with an increasing anxiety shortness of breath. I could feel his heart belting like a drum machine as the tears flooded his cheeks, leaving little wet patches on the carpet, and his whole body became a white knuckle.

Probably for the first time since I was ten - deaths, illnesses notwithstanding - I sobbed publicly, visibly and nearly (very nearly) uncontrollably. A man not given to that kind of self-expression, surrounded by level-headed young children happily patting at playdough or charging around in their own little worlds with plastic dinosaurs in hand, and by adults that didn't know where to look.

We asked to go outside for a walk, and returned to the classroom ten minutes later, where it was all I could do to sit boy on lap beneath the coat pegs in the corner, as the pleas restarted. Pressed emotionally and physically into a corner, one of the other parents kindly took some sympathy and relayed a request for some train track to coax some sense of comfort and familiarity. Despite a couple of these half-effective distractions, the indoor parts of the afternoon nonetheless continued in similar recoiling vein.

The one thing that leaves me glad we stayed is that Sam loved playing in the outdoor classroom, forgetting his anxiety instantly and role-playing delightedly in the hidey house / pretend cafe with other nursery and reception kids and charging around on the various bits and pieces.

We chatted on the way home, and he told me that he liked the teacher and the children and the playground and the sing-song but not the banging [of drums and tambourines during the sing-song] or "all the grown ups... they were scary."

Really, there was enough to suggest that he'll be fine once he finds his feet, and the reception children especially were all thrilling to play with. But, as I write this post and say to myself. "he'll be three tomorrow," it's all I can do to choke the tears once again.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


After yet another Tuesday night of teenage rampage - though quite positive and enjoyable in the end - I came in late and popped upstairs to see Sam.

The boy snored quietly in his pit with hair scruffened and body slackened, right up against the wall and with one leg rooting indolently down the side of the bed.

Ample opportunity, then, for me to recline beside him and stop for a little oneversation (hmm, I'm acutely aware but ... does this sound like a sign of madness?)


"[...] missed you, would have really enjoyed a little play this afternoon [...] teenagers blinkin' obsessed with roflcopters [...] hope you had a nice day too, Mummy was really proud of your burnet moth drawing so we've put it on the wall [...] what do you fancy doing on Thursday, I though we could go on another little adventure up at Berryhill fields, and take some crayons and a picnic this time, eh? [...] so anyway, I'm really chuffed 'cos Ian Miller and Stephen Foster are staying - I guess Colin Todd is a safe choice in the circumstances - and did I agree to take you and Aidan to Vale Park...? Err, maybe that's not such a good idea at your young age, um...."

During this ramble, Sam would loll gently away from the wall now and again. Each time, he'd dribble a bit and then his head would incline itself back to the wall again with a gentle, repeating thud (great for fatherly self-esteem, that).

Manoeuvring him back towards his rocket pillow, this all rendered me speechlessly glad that it's not me banging my head on brick.

Get by. If you can, strive to get paid doing just enough of something you enjoy. Then; work less, play more - ideally caught up in a whirlwind of playful young child[ren] doing his [their] stuff, with crayons.

Like the man says.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Brand values

As you ascend from Lime Kiln traffic lights towards Hanley, you pass a hand car wash facility on the right, which merrily proclaims itself to be "the best hand job in town." In fact it's pretty much adjacent to the venerable horse-trough from which this blog takes its name.

Today, while queueing interminably to turn right, I noticed that Soap Suds also carries signage for a well-known local taxi firm. Also printed on the sign were the logo of Staffordshire's only Premier League football club, and the initials of the club's well-known firm, the N40.

I find this discouraging. In passing, I was mildly shocked by it. I can't think of any other business that would identify itself so obviously and officially with that sort of stuff.

Bizarre, at best, no?

Friday, 19 June 2009

If you try sometimes

These past few days I've had too much time to reconsider all the ruminating and reflection I've done these past few weeks.

Needs, wants, shoulds, could haves, what ifs and other general angsts that loiter all about me much of the time, especially when thinking of The Future (his, hers, ours and mine).

Solely from a personal perspective, it turns out that my conclusion is the same as my starting point, and the journey only ever took me round the houses. I think this is good, though I don't think the loiterers will take that as their cue to leave.

Suffice to say that when you stick your neck out, it's nice if there's at least someone else that can be persuaded to agree that it's a good idea - even if it is a far-from-sage miserabilist or a guy with an unfeasibly rubberised face.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Fickle webhead ration book

For thick-rimmed bespectacled hipsters everywhere, the sweetest app on the web, period.

App! Period! Check me!

And for the young pretenders, your own virtual allotment to visit. Now that's hip.

¡Maravilloso! (via Red Pelirrojo)

And in these times of B.N.P. and B.B. maybe you were thinking of moving somewhere more F.A.B.? Before you go, consider that Burslem now has fruit and veg and (most spiffingly) pies, and be sure to check Quin's cautionary pointers first, eh!

Monday, 15 June 2009

As daylight wanes

My cycle route from Stoke station to home is indirect but almost entirely off-road - a pleasant diversion at this time of year, certainly. On reaching Westport Lake I bear south east along the sheltered railway cuttings, a stretch that features three short tunnels. It's been getting on for ten by the time I make the journey, just as daylight wanes in earnest.

Infrequently, an unspectacular ritual - like my laboured homeward trundle - throws up an entirely surprising and beautiful sensation. The tunnels to which I refer have been reinforced with corrugated steel in recent years, and so are much reduced versions of the prolonged brick arches that once contained and channelled the billowing steam of blackened locomotives.

By day, they're a wholly predictable tale of lightly scorched tarmac, intervals of broken glass and hastily-sprayed appendages (though the greenways are fine on the whole). But in the half-light between day and night, you can't see the tunnel walls or the black surface beneath you; there's no time for your eyes to adjust (and I have tended to forego the lights since I don't use the road and the light lingers longer on the towpaths). You just pedal towards the horseshoe of light, visually dispossessed of all but the shining front edges of handlebars and spokes, until you emerge once more into the muted light and sleepy vegetation of the greenway cutting.

What makes this really compelling is that at least one of the tunnels absolutely teems with bats. Amid the gloomy chill they're all about you, coming straight at you - dancing, so it seems - but of course they'll never collide. And as you approach the shining tunnel-end, their intense flickering and dotting lends a vivid filmic quality to your own feeling of movement, especially when allied to the steady cranking of pedals.

It's a fleeting experience lasting mere seconds, defying easy description, but beautiful.

Things to do in bed when you're not really dead

I write this from a horizontal position following yet another effing back spasm at the weekend, yet again suffered whilst doing nothing in particular. I've barely even touched the allotment in a week, so more likely it's a delayed consequence of hoisting Sam around on my shoulders for mile after mile.

It's easy enough to Google the causes, effects and cures. Suffice to say that anyone able to maintain an upright position through the knife-twisting agony clearly must be the proud owner of a utterly freak physique. "Lying down is a real no-no," insists the nurse practitioner, before proferring diazepam and cocodamol. I wince back at her for effect: "um, ok..."

So, after a cover-to-cover Affluenza marathon, five RSA lectures on the iPod, and some vague surfing this is getting a bit much. Personally, I think that back spasm is evolution's own special way of saying, "stop being a twat," when we get 'too puffed up' (as Pepys would have it) and convinced of our own indispensability to this, that or the other.

Moi? Guilty, probably.

It would be nice to say that I wouldn't wish this stuff on anyone, but that's not quite true. It would be nice to see it happen live and exclusive to the self-proclaimed project managers that you get on Sarah Beeny shows. Ideally just as they stride over to curtail the brickies' hard-won tea break. Happy days.

Well. If anyone has any innovative suggestions for things to do when prostrate, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pomp and Celerymony

Well, we had a fabulous day at the races - the unexpected result is that I feel like I've discharged my best man duties amply enough.

In appropriately manly fashion, we gloried in just enough pomp to make it an occasion. Just enough pennies were won [none by me] to prompt a few short-lived chest beatings. And just enough pints [Guinness] were partaken of to make it merry, merry, merry.

None the less - grrr! Silver Adonis (13-2) and James Pine (100-1), you should be ashamed of yourselves. But at least neither of you ran the wrong way [chortle].

Now it's back to homelier pastures and earthier pleasures.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Madness to the Method

(Photo - P.E.S.H.)

This weekend I make my second ever trip to the races, with access to the enclosures and all that general hanging about. It's a stag do - to boot, one of my instigation - though probably not an excessive example of that heady genre.

I hope they have real ale, while recognising that constant Creamflow would help to prolong the relative sobriety. I've also done my pissing best with half-hearted rumours of bandstands, gaffer tape and nudity - but it turns out I needn't have bothered since some low-rent local wit has already done the hard work for me...

Here are my tips - an update regarding this folly will almost certainly follow in time. I include the names of the races because they warm my cockles as do the names of GM Vauxhall Conference official matchball sponsors. Glamour ensues:

No. 8 Fairyland in the 5:40 selectracingclub.co.uk - Experience Ownership For £59 Handicap Hurdle (Clairefontaine Trophy) Cl3 2m110y
No. 11 Dynamic Rhythm in the 6:10 Happy 80th Birthday Joe Furlong Amateur Riders´ Handicap Hurdle Cl4 2m3f
No. 4 Dishdasha in the 6:40 Jon Pinfold Industrial Cleaners Handicap Chase Cl3 2m1f110y
No. 12 James Pine in the 7:15 W + S Recycling Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunters´ Chase (51st Running) Cl2 3m4f
No. 1 Mr Boo in the 7:45 Llewellyn Humphreys Handicap Chase (In Memory of George Jones, for the Gambling Prince Trophy) Cl2 2m5f110y
No. 13 Nobody Tells Me in the 8:20 Interbrands (Europe) Ladies´ Hunters´ Chase (for the Stratford Millennium Rose Bowl) Cl5 2m7f
No. 30 Aintnonancy in the 8:50 Di Runs The Stable Lads Canteen Novices´ Handicap Hurdle Cl4 2m110y

Still, I have no idea what any of this shit means.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Night rider

Last Tuesday night, I trudged through the drizzle from the station to Hanley following another giddy evening of teenage rampage.

It's a forty-five minute wait for the Glorious XXI at that time of night and it makes as much sense to walk up to the bus station via the Coachmakers: "we've got a visitor," riffed the couple at the bar as I necked a swift half.

In damply pixelated daydreams the waiting area at Hanley Bus Station is easily transformed into a 1980s platform game - one has to vault the onrushing "spare a smoke" folk and splat several randomised drunks, all whilst dodging some half-programmed fist-shakers from the Street Fighter auditions.

While I counted my golden pennies, a senior gent breezed out of nowhere, enquired keenly about which bus I was awaiting, and seemed delighted to inform me that, "you'll have no trouble with that one, duck - Pawel's on tonight." Producing a dazzling golden pocket watch from within, he was able to add that I'd only be waiting three and a half minutes (precisely).

He was absolutely correct. Acknowledgments duly exchanged, we both took separate seats on the bus, me surrendering £1.70, he twitching his cap and bus-pass.

On passing Cheque & Pawn (auspicious), an appreciative rumble broke out amongst the kindly old fella and three of his peers - a spontaneous outbreak of positivity that I guessed could add years to their lives, though I've no idea what prompted it.

I inferred that all were ex-PMT workers who had never stopped riding the buses, keeping time, or doing that thing that bus drivers do when they pass one another - even when sat in the very same saloon and deprived of their drives.

I'm not sure why, but I love those moments.

Meanwhile, the boy awakens...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Dub steps

We have new neighbours, an older woman and a thirty-something man.

The latter loves to languish with his mates on the front step. Feet up, smoking, swearing and drinking, mostly. Basing my general foreboding on the family a few doors up (high incidence of Team England official sportswear) I was bracing myself for wall-to-wall Ayia Napa compilations cranked up on repeat.

And I would ask him to turn it down (especially at 3am - Victorian bricks weren't designed for bass) except that, instead, he appears to have a penchant for Johnny Osbourne and King Tubby.

We were so not going to get on - but this, this might be the saving grace...

Flanning and flailing

Today is a day off, from both of my employers. For some unexplored reason, I have a head full of Morrissey. Some dizzy whore, eighteen hundred and four in particular.

I had intended to spend it flanning about productively - or at least in a meaningfully non-productive way. I guess the latter is what the twenty-first century flaneur should be all about, isn't it?

But here I am, not really having got started. And so, I'm off to buy a nematode colony. Really they're for the brassicas. But this month I could really do with some newfangled intracranial ones, ideally swimmable in something tasty like chinotto.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Never written down

An oddball weekend; if not a rollercoaster, then certainly a cash railway. A weekend full of lots-of-things-long-ago-arranged-but-never-written-down. Like one of those meteorite near-misses, we got away with it without the need for excuses. Cash duly stashed by railway clerk, and never seen again. AMEX reported delighted.

And so, to recount Friday and Saturday:

The lurgy - duly despatched /a visit from a real-life blogger, pleasantly fragranced / a visit from a real-life morrisman with a chainsaw who believes blogs are for weirdos / quickfire doses of rocksteady, a washboard, and a monster set of dreads / The Coachmakers and the omnipresence of asparagus in Worcestershire discourse / a quick play, a morning flyer to London and a thwarted attempt to visit a mermaid / sister suggests Wagawotsit instead - meanwhile I, Wag-A-Finga, wouldn't be seen DEAD in there / echoes of a Pulp song *yum* but feel a bit like a dirty celeb-stalker / on the tube, I daydream of surfacing in Trafalgar Square, but can only muster air turbulence in South Kensington / attempting to experience museums the way others do is another post for another day, but enjoyable (I learned something today!) / we hang around a lake full of flapping youths named Clara and Ptolemy - it's pleasant / as are drinks with Milos and Q / then it's the last train home for me and the boys from Bury, Burnley and the Brit, plus a long sojourn in Milton Keynes awaiting the rozzers / back home, and the fans file silently past the train crew before breaking into "if you've all shagged a virgin..." - but only once safely below tracks in the subway.

Sunday, simpler. Japanese knotweed, pirate ships in Longton Park, and wondering how to get your two-year old to share the bridge of the latter. "Ask nicely when you want a go and take it in turns with the other children," we urge.

He shows faith, and asks the vacant looking kid - nicely. Oops - that'll be a big fat "NO!" right in the face, then. So Sam reflects briefly and lamps kid, a child twice his size and age. The child's vacant-looking twin dad can barely be bothered to notice as he sups from his can of Stella. Vacant twin child remains - well - vacant.

I apologise anyway and we drag our normally-shy toddler away for a time-out by the ducks. It must be hard to understand when others don't play by the same rules, or indeed any rules. I angst about this for some time, until we return. Sam promptly offers the bridge to another boy. We all feel better and take our turns on the rope slide. Then, ice cream.

And the lady working in Middleport Co-Op thinks the 1/3 off pasta offer would be really good were it not for the fact that "these new trendy foods just taste like slime to me, duck." In her honour, we conclude with the awesomeness of pasta e fagioli.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Goodbye to all that

Saltergate's final Saturdays slip by, certainly my last. A place absolutely shot through - too often soaked through - with a sense of collective memory. Pissy, piecemeal, impossible to replace with shit-for-purpose uniformity.

Gratuitous plumbing shot fitted as standard.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Tuesday Night Music Club

This week... *reflects*... objectively a good one. Nonetheless, I now commit its muted highlights to pixels, prematurely. Sorry, it's all dragging of boots and backward glances tonight.

And so, the cutaway shot. Tuesday evening:

A Stopfordian slosh of Extra Stout, while stalling for the 21.23 home. Your faux-humble narrator holed up in the snug, arousing the curiosity of the more philosophical regulars while poring over something wordy-looking.

It could all have gone so wrong, but - having politely declined the pick of a dozen large shoulders-of-lamb (out of a suitcase, "half price, son - Asda's best!") - I was spontaneously treated (emphasise passive form of the verb) to a one-man skiffle revival.

There then followed a procession of pasted-smile anecdotes about Lonnie Donegan's top Fleetwood nightspots. Oh, it were grand.

Places to go, suddenly so many people to see! I just had to hit the rails.

Then, the home straight, a sighting of Elvis Himself - perhaps - arranged convincingly on my rear windscreen courtesy of some deft avian artist. A genius: the indisputable craft of a sparrow, the prolific arse of a Crow.

Meanwhile never stops - we fly over Chesterfield the day after tomorrow. The Dreaming Spire, no less (singular - this noted church a childhood shorthand for We Are Really Not Nearly There Yet, and in 2009 we're still not There yet).

Nil-one certainty, and a drive home predictably laden with the usual heavy sighs.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Oddball queries

Sheepishness, possibly rank hypocrisy follows:

Oooh, isn't it so passé to list allegedly hilarious search queries on one's blog-site?

Indulge me just this once:

have stoke city fans ever thrown their scarves in the trent?

The Horror! Well, I'd like to think that any offenders might be just a few of the many Mentadent squirms that wear their colours around Burslem. May they discover the error of their ways.

And just to clarify, I don't mind Stoke City one bit - just not if you're growing up in the north of Stoke-on-Trent.

On which note, I'm off to Cefn Druids with Groundhog this evening - wOOt, &c. I am also seriously toying with the idea of emigrating to Oz next year, Friday night footie appearing to offer more family friendliness despite the country ramble to get there.

Hmmm. And of course, no compromised loyalties.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Social Shrapnel

And so we have our modest furrow near the bottom of the Scotia Valley, complete with soon-to-be murky pond, bodged-up greenhouse and weather-beaten shed-thing.

Currently it's throwing up rather more pottery than produce (see the makings of a fab mosaic once Sam's a little more careful with his hands) but let's give it time - every window sill in the house has been colonised determinedly by gutsy seedlings. There may even be enough celery to prompt a whimsical jaunt to Stamford Bridge later on in the year.

The best thing is the number and variety of connections that are quickly cemented via the twin media of seed and frogspawn. There's even a nice fella with a Harris Hawk and a fire engine (Sam impressed).

With its recycled aesthetic and general cobbled-togetherness, the sum of the whole doesn't seem to pair gracefully with the quasi-marketese guff du jour that is 'social capital' - rather it's earthier (clearly, inherently) and more instantly uplifting. Plus of course, no hint of a large bank loan.

And now, this looks interesting (via White Llama)

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Curva Vox

It's been a while, with much water beneath the bridge. Sadly, poohsticks remains a sore point (metaphorical poohsticks, that is, mm.).

On the morning of the Vale match - last weekend - at which I was due to host various part-time 'loids and hangers-on, I woke up unable to get out of bed thanks to a particularly agonising back spasm. My inner Danny Dire felt like the facking mankey, fer sher.

I'd been waiting five years for Darlo to visit the Potteries. Rather, I would have been had it not been for this worth-rehashing quirk of fortune.... heh - I love the way the Stoke defender just looks embarassed after Carlos Logan's goal- childish giggle, bit of wee .

Premiership, you're having a laugh dum-dee-dum, etc.

In any case, I wasn't going to be perching contentedly on any desolate yellow plastic for 90 minutes anytime soon. Therefore I had to make do with the sounds of Darlo's failings drifting in on the breeze through the open window - an experience brought to you by some left-over Cocodamol, a drug whose opiate qualities might have been handy.

Failing to attend a Darlo game taking place less than a quarter of a mile from my home was a crap experience at the time, but in hindsight I Am Not That Gutted To Have Missed This. Now we can concentrate on survival etc, with a possible trip to Rochdale into the bargain - ooh, now then.

As pain avoidance I considered the great issue of our time whilst listing to the left with the support of some pillows, a true clash of ideologies... That is:

A) Should one watch a match panopticon-fashion? i.e. in a diagnostic stylee and from a detached and elevated standpoint (such as the comparatively enormous Air Products Stand at Gresty Road), or;

B) Should one actively and deliberately seek a position close enough to lose the objectivity? i.e. placing oneself to glare straight into the whites of a centre half's eyes, attaining involuntary synching of heartbeat with the nervy symphony of studs in the 'greasy' floodlit turf.

Hmm - I should point out that most of my football is taken at a modest lower-division dose, and I would assert that there's a strong dichotomy of experience - the atmosphere of an 'end,' home or away, rarely carries to the grandstanders in the way it might do here (actually, Spangly Princess' post did a grand job as a surrogate football-going experience, though the Curva is a long way removed from the Hamil).

Actually, at the football as in any theatre in fact, I tend strongly towards the latter. Admittedly, the lack of anaytical perspective does render me as foul-mouthedly bemused as anyone when some battered old cushion (typically Julian Alsop or Leo Fortune-West, Aldo Serena if you like old-school Serie A) ghosts in at the back stick to shin a last-minute winner.

On which note I'll alt-tab to the epic 'white corridor with office plants and awkward officials' shots that are such an endearing feature of Bet365's half-time Serie A coverage - a refreshing if irrelevant counterpoise to the usual half-time hyperbole.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Without a paddle

An excellent article by David Conn in today's Guardian.

"Reynolds refused to be sunk, bouncing back with a business selling "adult bedroom furniture" and S&M equipment, under the unbeatable slogan: "Your home may well be your castle, but where do you put the dungeon?" But in October 2005 he was back in prison himself, convicted of defrauding the Inland Revenue of more than £400,000 tax.

"Now, when the fans sit watching their team in that cantilevered bowl of grand pretension, it is as if they are paying, every week, to spend time in Reynolds' head."

I couldn't have put or pictured it better.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Oh Crap

I'm off work with tonsillitis.

It's poo, it goes on for days, and I could have sworn only small children were supposed to get it. Anyway it's left me a little paranoid as I ended up in hospital last time I had it, on a drip that single-handedly destroyed The Illness in just a few hours.

So I mumble as I type, sounding a little like a mousier Shane McGowan would, if he were sucking on Strepsils, which isn't much good when your job entails a certain soupcon of semi-assertive can-I-have-everybody's-attention-please.

I move away from the keyboard, to spit.

Actually I sound so slurredly drunk (and clearly appear slovenly ragged) that the nice ladies at the Co-Op Pharmacy took one look and simply assumed that my mega-consignment of penicillin would be a nothing-to-pay jobby.

So, I tell myself, I'm lucky to have very supportive colleagues and yes, I'm glad this didn't happen when I was doing freelance work. And then while I was counting my blessings and thinking of something cheerful to do (see, I'm determined to find the positives), this.

At least the spittal glass is more than half full. Anyone got any old wives' remedies to share?

Friday, 20 February 2009


Once in a while, I venture round the corner from my home to watch the Vale.

This evening, I hadn't even realised there was a match on. But when the sky bleaches with floodlit aquamarine out the back of our house, then inner child makes for the door.

Thus I took my place beside some Norwegian groundhoppers. They were taking great pride in doing as the Romans do. Given the sedateness of the lawn bowls, this consisted mainly of lively appreciation of Boomer. Especially the bit where he rubs their various Eliteserien scarves around his family-friendly anatomy.

Ten minutes before the final whistle, the groundhoppers departed in (mock?) disgust, one of their number (dressed by Norwich City) turning briefly to scream, "SHATE, VILE!"

That rather sums it up - except that when you support a different team, as I do, it's better than counselling.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Rage Against the Mewchine

Ventilation of spleen.

I'm generally happy to let live when it comes to cats. Sam likes to coo at them, and I have little beef with them - except when I amble out into the back yard following the wet weather and count no less than twenty-nine little heaps in a space little bigger than a small garage.

Within seconds, I've exceeded my yearly quota of expletives and I'm suddenly overcome by loathing for the little... fuckers! A couple of months ago, the council put a card through our door about 'dog fouling' - did we know whose canine was responsible etc.

I'm not sure there's much they can do about our feline friends.

When you present this image of cats to cat owners, they tend to shrug their shoulders and smile in a smug sort of fashion. "You should just get a cat," they say, in a tone of voice that would accommodate "a job," "some qualifications", or "a life" with equal condescension.

It's a curious twist on a world of haves and have-nots - like a cuter, paw-printed version backyard Thatcherism. Grrr.

Saturday, 14 February 2009


Message received from Meanwhile's economic advisor...

Hey Meanwhile,

Did you watch Newsnight on Friday? I highly recommend Paul Mason's 'Road to Wigan Pier' piece. He spends most of it in Stoke listening to locals. The basic message seems to be:
  • Stoke is screwed - but actually they're used to that so relatively it's not so bad.
  • The rest of the country might look like Stoke soon and is in for a big shock
  • Stoke-on-Trent is the future. Whooda thought it?

This is a judiciously-edited and sober piece of the provinces. Mason's Road to Wigan Pier - via Hanley - begins fourteen minutes in. The taxi driver's contribution is excellent.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


Once in a while, I feel compelled to spend money on an item whose only recommendation is its dire packaging: Lucky Beer.

Monday, 9 February 2009



I could have been gadding importantly around very inspiring youth participation projects in Manchester's most enviable museums and galleries. Sam was exceptionally chirpy too, despite the soufflé and custard around the eyes.

It's one of the those pesky ailments. Even toddlers aren't bothered - this one doesn't mind gunk, just bits and bumps - but there's still a 10-mile biohazard exclusion zone around any form of childcare.

Crap weather.

And so too much time, frankly, has been spent contriving little inukshuks from the piles of damp cotton wool that rise inexorably from the arms of the sofa. We went planned to see the nurse (but she despatched us, fully prescribed, with a telephonic turn-of-phrase), we popped to Morrisons, we played trains, we read, we drew, we bartered and bantered.

We wiped again and again, outwards and gently.

About halfway through the afternoon I was prodding a lapsang souchong in the kitchen, and thinking too little of it (maybe). Sam, cheek to the floor, chuffed and clattered a chain of tiny cabooses to their familiar, fluffy fates beneath the armchair.

Semi-rhythmically, I was mumbling and remumbling some of my favourite lines as I do, rarely. The gooey-eyed guv'nor leapt to his feet and proclaimed joyfully at the top of his voice:

"You were being a train or a river!"

Thus compelled, we immediately stomped about to a tinny version of The Night Mail and then progressed - with ritual success - to Where the Wild Things Are.

A marvellous afternoon. A total balalaika show, in fact!

Thursday, 5 February 2009


While perusing Shane's musings upon life's essentials, I recalled that I had idly snapped this bedside scene a couple of days back.

I was thinking that it represented (very allusively and essentially, probably ambiguously) most, or even all of the things that, for me, coincide with happiness.

Answers on a postcard, please - preferably one of a windswept coastal resort...

And with that I'll be off to the very scene. In the dark I'll listen to some premium World Service stuff while my toes freeze.

Meanwhile, the other half will nod off.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Go analogue

I guess I won't be going to Valley Parade tonight, then - though I'd already returned from work early, what with those pesky Londoners and their "adverse weather conditions" screwing up the West Coast.

The journey is great - if late - in such climes. The Cloud hangs vague and distant in the snow, and ice formations cling to the morning trains like tatters. I've spent a lot of time on the permanent way in the past few days, which is agreeable; it's given me an opportunity to re-read JK Galbraith's The Great Crash, 1929, and to regret (slightly) not bothering more with economic history, now that my studious phase belongs to days gone by.

Or so it feels. Dangers of anachronism and all that, but there are some scary parallels to be had in that book. Anyway, as I was saying... oh, Milos is particularly good on that sort of stuff. Now where was I?


This week we finally get the keys to a new allotment garden, which will no doubt feature here on occasion. If anyone has any insights, comment away - I'm especially interested in social gardening anecdotes from far-off lands like Canada and even Longton.

The great thing is that the plot has only recently been vacated, so is workable. Here is the initial to-do list:

1. Cover most of plot to make things easier and enable gradual approach with occasional, unscheduled half-heartedness, and anticipate 'losing battles' with weeds.
2. Repair greenhouse roof and paint shed.
3. Weed strawberry patch.
4. Create dedicated toddler area, easily accessible with miniature wheelbarrow.
5. Plant some potatoes when the time comes.

Then scratch head &c, &c. All of which may be handy when we have to get frugal again later this year, children being as good an incentive as any...

Are you sitting comfortably?

At the weekend I gave a group a short chataround of the place I work. They come from all over the world, largely having been displaced from distant news-ticker territories of the world: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Angola, Senegal, Sudan, Senegal.

Their previous experiences of 'my industry' seemed to suggest that their expectations had been shaped by one or more threads of colonial claptrap or by the witterings of sycophantic parrots back home (we have them too).

Thoughtless cliches abound about diversity and multiculturalism, and some of them ring hollower than others when you hear them every day. However, it's genuinely touching when an unlikely stateless someone grasps a point of connection in an unlikely, homely something.

Traditional building methods, pots, herbs, the hanging and drying of meat, the place of fire as a focus for the household and family, textile production techniques - one woman sat back and told me, smiling and shaking her head, "you know, I just can't believe how much is the same in my country."

Which seems like a good place to begin, if you ask me.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Desire Paths

What was I saying about being the happiest I've ever been?

This week, I've been reading The Selfish Capitalist, a readable work of popular psychology in which ranting psychologist Oliver James has some agreeable things to say about the link between excessive materialism and mental illness.

At the moment the only paid-for product I'm coveting is an internet radio, so that I can listen to wonderful programmes like this sans laptop in the kitchen, before realising - inevitably - that good radiophonics only happen at stupid o'clock.


Today delivered the mighty Quakers to the Midlands, through the medium of Shrewsbury Town. I felt moved to go. I'd never visited Salop's new stadium, though I knew that it couldn't match the cobbled-togetherness of Gay Meadow.

So, I abandoned my car on a link road between the Park and Ride and Sainsbury's. The Meole Brace area of Shrewbury harbours an enormous retail drag-net that conceals the adjacent football ground. In these places, all roads really do lead to nowhere, unless you're looking for a parking space.

It seems that with no obvious pedestrian access to the rest of the world, the disenfranchised fan must find his own path. The New Meadow was clearly built for the car but features pre-bought permit-only parking. The developers were also keen to force pedestrians to circle the stadium at a distance before the pavement descends and sweeps towards gates at the far end.

None the less, just as at the 'pioneering' Sixfields, real people have forged 'desire paths' between foliage and on either side of crash barriers, and by eking out treachorous footholds on deadly-looking slopes.

I like this - the map would probably suggest that a giant octopus had fallen roadkill to a large alien spacecraft. The [relative] directness and occasional daring append some downtrodden humanity to an otherwise aseptic scene snapped together in fresh concrete and perspex.

Believe it or not, I do acknowledge - whilst casting around nervously - the superior and onobstructed views in these new stadia, with their echo-free PA. Guilt. Must spend evening flogging self in penance.

So what did we learn from this game? Rob Purdie, he's important. Franz Burgmeier can play. As can Pawel Abbott - so skilful, so slow, so good to see him back. And Ricky Ravenhill, there's a ball-winner who at best plays like the pimped-up progeny of a mini motorcycle and a combine harvester.

And that, moreover, I don't believe in fate - but fate trumps form, every time. The latter-named fellow was shown the red card amid a 20-man brawl, a good 77 minutes after the Shrewsbury winner that all seasoned Darlo fans know we never come back from. We're always crap at Salop - but at least we played football this time.

Later, as I stared hard and close at newly-pointed breeze blocks following the final whistle, I could only wonder why the urinals are always seeping over, even in grounds with such recent plumbing. I don't know the answer, but I'm sure as dammit that it's a significant motif.

Homeward bound. The skies darkened around Market Drayton, and a Spanish radio broadcast bled into Five Live - it was a phone-in on the subject of La Primera Liga, of which I am ignorant. There were grumbled cliches worthy of Lawro himself: witness, "futbolistas que jugan por la camiseta" (or better-rendered, better-remembered Spanish to that effect).

In Sainsbury's, I had bought hot-cross buns. In the one-basket queue I overheard a shopper confide to his companion that, "they don't know what eventually killed her." But me, I'd hazard a guess - and venture a few quid on a season ticket at Leek Town or Kidsgrove into the bargain.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Note to my autumnal self

Enough introspection.

You have no money to throw at the problem. You still haven't a clue how you're both going to keep on top of things after September, be it this or the next.

There are simply too many ifs, ors and buts. You'd (still) rather just ignore the small-if-significant iceberg that's looming ever larger on the horizon.

But you know what? That's fine.

At home you've been the happiest you've ever been in your adult life. You should require no reminding of the reasons for this. You've never loved your work so much. Your long-term friendships remain mostly intact.

Life is very, very good. Step back and look at the big picture. You'll muddle through, and you should be thanking your winter self for this helpful missive.

The devils lurk in too much detail. So shut up, look up, and you might just perk up.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

I ain't lost, just wandering...

Winter weekending in Warwickshire

And so, another trip to the place of my birth, where the air is neither thick nor opaque. Mainly to catch up with family, friends and the like. But in between meals and ales, a chance for a moment's nosey around the neighbourhood where She and I shared our first flat together.

There's a real north-south divide here, with the south - reached by dodging the pigeon poo beneath a steel railway bridge - often regarded by 'northerners' as the wrong side of the tracks.

It's a peculiarly affluent prejudice - the south, playing the student neighbourhood to a well-heeled university, has gone upmarket in recent years as a visibly (and probably healthily) mixed-up place.

None the less it retains its posh cooker factory, the old rec, the scruffy canal, the dated flats and maisonettes, the cheap shops, and the drunks shuffling up and down to no purpose.

Since I moved away, it has also acquired bustling Portuguese and Polish grocery stores to go with the nearby Thai supermarket, and communities to frequent them.

It's much the most compelling part of town, and the only one I'd really consider moving back to.

While mooching about after popping into the shop formerly known as Kwik Save, I noticed these unregenerated bits and pieces (as here pictured) that I loved when I used to pass them every day.

In other news, this is one of my favourite forum posts of recent times. I've no idea why. Come to think of it, I've no idea generally.

Monday, 12 January 2009

We were not moved by them

By means mysterious and enforced, I've been meditating a lot on the many station platforms and points failures of Greater Manchester in recent days.

A few years back, at Sandwell and Dudley, I recall watching as one businessman's good humour evaporated following a diversion away from New Street - he hurled his expensive briefcase onto the tracks in a torrent of anger. Helpfully, a man from Central Trains offered up insight aplenty: "your papers are all over the shop there, sir."

At best, the huffs and sighs are understandable. Situations of this sort can be stressful, but I'm fortunate that it doesn't happen to me often. Still, there's something I enjoy about the enforced slowness of it all - it's a bit like an involuntary version of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.

So. I stared out at Manchester through the January gloom. The city seemed to lose its visual unity - or at least its long-standing mishmash of built coincidences - in the mist. The tall buildings were divorced from their skyline and stood about awkwardly as if blindfolded in an empty room.

Momentarily, I abandoned myself to the hypnotic reveries of urban winter fog, to mills named Daisy, and to oily canal bends. Nothing at all happened until the train began to whisper its way into the terminus.

An hour later, I hung around for another half an hour at Gatley station having run an errand at the end of my half day. Every few minutes, an airport express busied by, whipping up the drizzle and stirring a tumult of wrappers and polystyrene kebab trays.

I sniffed deeply, and resolved to polish my shoes. Enormous barques of cloud shifted silently over the M60. I listened to the gentle hum of the live wires, and thought about Kate and Sam. Good, glad thoughts - nothing deep, that's all.

Every waking second brings something to be neurotic about - one reason why I don't equip myself with ubiquitous computing capability. I think it's good to have time imposed on you, to allow yourself to daydream, and not to be bored by sweet nothings.

On that vaguest tangent, I've always loved these simple lines, which I'm quoting completely out of context here. They entered my head as I boarded my train home:

And the times that we all hoped would last
Like a train they have gone by so fast
And though we stood together
At the edge of the platform
We were not moved by them

Thanks, Billy. Meanwhile, here's a link to a long-forgotten version.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Zombie Movie

Having secured Saturday afternoon off without delaying to dither over the weather forecast, I embarked for deepest Lancashire harbouring some noble intentions - principally to travel north via Rawtenstall, there to imbibe invigorating herbal nicenesses in its Temperance Bar before taking to the windswept terrace in the cold fourth division weather.

Alas, 'twas not to be. So after a short Sandbach sojourn to assess my options - very few - I chose to screech left at Thelwall and set a course for Goodison Park.

This, as it happens, was the first football ground I ever visited - back on 5 May 1990 with my Swedish pal Jaws - and I last visited in 1994, a rare punctuation mark in my mostly televisual relationship with the Blues.

Family never bequeathed me a football team. Instead my parents sent me to a different school at which all 'the glories' (except Jaws) supported Liverpool. I dutifully chose Southall, Nevin, and Stuart McCall. Everton remains my second eleven - but I grew up, started to go to football, and - critically - never got Sky.

One fact remains: I still need some motivation to watch Match of the Day infrequently.

That summer day, I can still recall, we followed a group of Aston Villa fans with an airhorn past freshly-planted beds in Stanley Park. The roaring nineties were barely underway, and teams could get away with fielding moustachioed centre halves like Derek Mountfield.

We blinked in the glare as we ascended to our seats from the dank intestines of the Bullens Road stand, with its vast and gloomy shadows. I remember the visceral impact of seeing more people than I'd ever seen in one place before, and that huge Main Stand opposite. I can still hear and feel the thudding of feet on the balcony at moments of excitement.

The place felt epic, as things do when you're a child. That was my first experience of a football stadium, and it still shapes my expectation. While I've downsized since then (a lot), I still like a football ground to have a relationship and a sense of interaction with its surroundings.

Goodison epitomises this, and feels both lived in and lived around. This part of Liverpool is among the purest of tarditional football landscapes in England. Grandstands from the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s (boooo - the old Park End looked great) tower above tightly-packed terraces and narrow streets, a picture offset by a majestic Victorian park (currently under restoration, looks good) and the occasional glimpse of a distant dockyard crane.

Today, Hull City were the visitors. I haven't been to a top-flight game since Highfield Road (RIP) some thirteen years ago.

I felt a guilty sense of anticipation, and, on approaching the ticket office, not a little paranoia. Like a tourist I clutched my wallet anxiously, especially since a real-lifeLiverpudlian had in real life offered to look after my car in exchange for a real-life tenner.

Ten notes, they tell me, is normal. Fourth division it ain't. Which is genuinely grim.

Very nearly deterred I demanded the cheapest ticket in the house. A large sum of money secured me a berth in what felt like steerage, an enclosed position way back beneath the upper tier of the Gwladys Street end, a steel-and-plank structure dating back to 1938.

It was close enough to the ceiling that I could inspect the botchy repointing of the balcony floor, and well behind two enormous steel girders with mighty rivets, big ones like they don't make anymore.

If you like traditional football grounds, Goodison is a thrilling survivor. There's only one Premiership-era stand at the Park End. The rest is true vintage. Even the titanic Main Stand, erected in the seventies, could never have been built to a standard pattern - it's wedge-shaped design created to accommodate the surrounding streets. In aerial photos, it doesn't look all that different to its predecessor - it's still a snug fit with its community.

Despite being built years apart, Gwladys Street (1938) and Bullens Road (1926) retain the unity of a pre-war Leitch design, although their upturned roofs are later additions. There's also an antique combination of wooden panelling and cross-hatched balcony trusses that inspires a real sense of timelessness if you've ever seen it in footage of Pele, Eusebio or North Korea in the 1966 World Cup finals.

To our right, the old church, St. Lukes. Offering refreshments before the match, it still occupies a corner of the ground, despite long-forgotten attempts to demolish it in the thirties.

So, what is Premiership football like in 2008?

Eek. It's different. It has those animated advertising hoardings that made Serie A look exotic in the last century. Gone are the ticket stubs (I rifled through my coat, convinced I'd lost mine) replaced by a swipey barcode system awkwardly appended to the old turnstiles (this had to be explained to me, step-by-step). Fancy.

Newly arrived are far-eastern tourists doing John Lennon peace signs next to a superhuman-looking bronze of Dixie Dean. Oh, and you're supposed to turn on your Bluetooth so that a low-resolution version of Mikel Arteta can invade your handset with various offers. Anthropologically, it's interesting, as academics like to say indifferently.

But - I also noticed how well-kept the ground is. Not in a flower beds kind-of-way, but just in the sense that it seems painted and looked after, rather than peeling and rusty. The scrawled "NF" and "Keep Everton White" graffiti seems to have been consigned to a bygone era, which can't be a bad thing either, with all of today's bile reserved for Nick Barmby, who moved across the park to Anfield back in 2000.

And - there's a strangely intensifying effect to be had when watching from a darkened vantage point that's way back beneath. The game - a 2-0 win for a striker-less Everton against a team that barely made its presence felt - wasn't that inspiring. But Goodison Park is like being in a rowdy zombie movie. The noise is amplified, hoardes rise and groan as one, and you can't see the sky - only the crowd and the pitch.

Since I normally spend long periods looking at other fans or at the surrounding landscape beyond low-rise terraces, it's a novel - or at least, half-forgotten - experience. It's a long time since I've been stuck in traffic after a game or swept along with the crowd through a narrow street, but it's one worth repeating once in a while.

Oh, yes - and this was very exciting indeed. For just a moment, I recalled vaguely the allure of following a team that can play a bit. But only a bit ;-)

Monday, 5 January 2009


Squinting and squirming my way through the .xml files from my old Wordpress blog, I'm thinking of restoring one or two of the posts that I still like or which diarise some of the personal things that I'd rather store as something other than a torrent of metadata. So, here goes - 2006 and 2007, reprised.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Textbook Toddleager

Happy 2009? Like, whatever. Dad.

We recently adopted a zero-tolerance approach to Sam's habit of mithering, whining and occasionally flapping at us when he doesn't get what he wants, and with some success.

I say "some" success - it's a pyrrhic victory, big time.

Gone overnight are the hallmarks of the so-called "terrible two"; now witness the studied savvy of the urbane toddle-ager:

Me: OK, matey, we're going somewhere nice...

Sam, hopefully: Are there steam trains / fire engines / cakes / angel babies [don't ask] there?

Me, wearily:
No Sam, I really doubt that.

Sam, pauses, considers screaming "but I waaaaant one!" Instead, deploys the verbal musicality that unlocks old ladies' sweetie jars: Hmmm. We'll see shall we - when we get there? I suppose you never know. Maybe later, eh? And mummy says yes too. And then at bed time we can have FIVE stories!

Me, speechless: O: Um...

Cue panic. How the devil am I going to outmaneouvre this slick operator when he's a sagely six?

Lesson learned, too late: Deploy only the simplest language when dealing with the Pampered proletariat - do NOT give them the tools to outfox you comprehensively before they are out of nappies!