Monday, September 25, 2006

Brits abroad

We're off to Crete to AbZorba the Greek sunshine (sorry) for a week, brilliantly timing it just as Skipper touches down on the Mud Peanut.

So long, suckers.


Yes, I'm back. Sigh.

Easy Ryder

Now that the Americans return home following what we can now confidently describe as their traditional biennial Ryder Cup thrashing, it is interesting to consider one of the great sporting puzzles.

The immediate reasons why the millionaire Major-winning Americans keep getting pounded by their relatively poor European counterparts are not mysterious: despite having better individual players, they simply cannot adjust to playing a team game.

Golf is a game of very fine margins at the top level and is therefore played mostly in the mind. Thus, you could have staked your house on the Europeans after the first round of fourballs, just from watching the body language. The Europeans made it look like golf was actually a fun game, the Americans, especially Woods, made it look like the whole thing was a chore somewhat less pleasant than cleaning out sewers.

The deeper puzzle is why this should happen, when the USA is, after all, a proper and ferociously patriotic country, and the ‘Europe’ is an entirely artificial team of convenience, which participates under said banner in no other major sport. Surely it should be the other way about, with the US uniting under the flag, and the Euros but a Babel Tower of disconnected individuals?

But perhaps therein lies the answer. When the British Isles team was expanded to include continental Europe in the late 70s to make it a proper contest, the idea was presumably so that the Brits could be augmented by some extra decent players. But the Europe banner provides much more than just a couple of ice-cool Swedes and suave Spaniards – in a way it takes all the pressure off. The US team has to cope with the burden of representing a nation, and put up with all those oh-so-endearing and not at all infuriatingly repetitive chants of “Yoo Ess Ay”. There are no chants about ‘Europe’ because nobody supports ‘Europe’. They’re just a bunch of otherwise-underachieving men aiming to knock the private jet-flying yanks off their perch every couple of years, and we love them for it.

Much is made of the fact that the players don’t socialise on the US Tour – they play their round then go back to the hotel and order room service, whereas the European tour players all drink pints of the Black Stuff in the bar together. And that is what it comes down to: the American team consists of a set of men who don’t like each other, burdened down by the expectations of a nation. The European team is a group of mates playing just for each other.

The whole thing is thus completely unfair.

Other than reverting back to a British-only team, the only way to even it up for next time will be to change the US team to “The Americas.” You wouldn’t even need to actually have any token Mexicans or Canadians playing, just so long as nobody watching can jinx the home golfers by shouting “Yoo Ess Ay, You Ess Ay….”

(ps. The US team would also immediately benefit by dropping that waste of space Mickelson)

Friday, September 22, 2006

There’s always an Olympic swimming pool involved somewhere, experts warn

From the BBC

Half of UK children "drink" almost five litres of cooking oil every year as a result of their pack-a-day crisp habit, experts warn.

Figures from Mintel reveal that we eat a tonne of crisps every three minutes in the UK.

This would be enough to fill a telephone box every 43 seconds and an Olympic size swimming pool every 14 hours.

Researcher 1: How about this, Steve? I’ve worked out that every Thursday all the left-handed people in Britain eat enough sugar to fill 52 Fiat Pandas per hour, which is the equivalent of filling eight Olympic swimming pools with hamsters every forty minutes, and if converted into energy would equal the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes!

Researcher 2: Oh nice stat, Jim.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Whither Canada?

How’s this for a piece of writing?

Rupert Brooke’s thoughts on the New World, from his Letters from America:

A godless place. And the dead do not return. That is why there is nothing lurking in the heart of the shadows, and no human mystery in the colours, and neither the same joy nor the kind of peace in dawn and sunset that older lands know. It is, indeed, a new world. How far away seem those grassy, moonlit places in England that have been Roman camps or roads, where there is always serenity, and the spirit of a purpose at rest, and the sunlight flashes upon more than flint! Here one is perpetually a first- comer. The land is virginal, the wind cleaner than elsewhere, and every lake new-born, and each day is the first day. The flowers are less conscious than English flowers, the breezes have nothing to remember, and everything to promise.

There walk, as yet, no ghosts of lovers in Canadian lanes. This is the essence of the grey freshness and brisk melancholy of this land. And for all the charm of those qualities, it is also the secret of a European's discontent. For it is possible, at a pinch, to do without gods. But one misses the dead.


I managed to break my beak in a bizarre martial arts accident last night. It’s only a small, insignificant fracture, but what is surprising is the extent to which the whole of my bonce, not just the old conk, hurt, as if in my confusion after the initial blow I wandered off and placed my noggin in a vice for a bit, and this action has been wiped from my memory. It also appears to have sent the archaic body-part slang area of my brain into overdrive.

This inspires me to consider the most painful sports injuries I’ve sustained, and the snozz-snapping doesn’t come close.

In reverse order, my top three are:

3) fractured ribs – from somebody’s elbow a couple of years ago. Didn’t even notice this at the time, but was subsequently unable to sneeze, cough or laugh for weeks, which was inconvenient as I indulge in all three frequently.

2) torn ligaments in the foot – when I was 11, requiring me to be on crutches over an entire Christmas holiday (I secretly enjoyed this until the novelty wore off)

1) an ingrown toenail, following a broken toe – about 4 years ago. Man, that really hurt, and for ages and ages.

Since all of the above were sustained in competitive football matches, I’m starting to think that maybe there is something in the claim that soccer is the root of all evil, after all.

Please feel free to share your most painful and/or funniest injuries here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Nice try, Herr Wendel, but you're no Banksy

A German art student briefly fooled police by posing as one of China's terracotta warriors at the heritage site in the ancient capital, Xian.

Pablo Wendel, made up like an ancient warrior, jumped into a pit showcasing the 2,200-year-old pottery soldiers and stood motionless for several minutes.

The 26-year-old was eventually spotted by police and removed from the scene.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Regular's Sonnet

A Regular’s Sonnet
(He’s on it again)

by Brit

I go up the Co-Op and on my way down,
If there’s not much special on the telly,
I might just pop into the Rose and Crown
And get a coupla jars in my belly.
It’s not for the ale (though they got some nice brews)
That the Crown gets all the time on my hands.
The corner shop next door’s called the News n Booze
But all they got is newspapers and cans.
If I wanted to get soused I could do it in the house
But that don’t give the same satisfaction,
Cos here you can sit just as quiet as a mouse,
And still be at the heart of the action.
So the liver and the missus can both kiss it,
Cos if it happens here I int goin' to miss it!

For gluttons who want more punishment along these lines, I have added a Poet’s Corner, which includes some even sillier things, like my ode to cold sales calling, and some wilfully excruciating limericks.

Banksy goes to America

Hype and secrecy surrounds graffiti artist Banksy's Barely Legal exhibition in California, which opens later this week.

In typical Banksy fashion, it was not until two hours before the media preview, that I was given the address of the venue for his exhibition.

A 37-year old Indian elephant has been painted, from head to tail, in a floral pattern reminiscent of an old fashioned living room or a British pub.

The animal is made to stand in a makeshift living room, complete with sofa, chandelier and decorated with wallpaper in the same pattern.

"I've still got to get my head around that one," said Jason Bentley, a commentator on US public radio.

About eight years ago or so I was walking to work down Cheltenham Road in Bristol, when I was stopped in my tracks by this enormous and technically astonishing piece of graffiti, plastered, presumably overnight, on the side of the council housing offices.

It depicts a bright yellow teddy bear tossing a Molotov cocktail at some riot police, beneath the slogan “The Mild, Mild West”.

I was so impressed, both with the skill and weirdness of the work, and with the fact that somebody had managed to do it at all, that the next day I took a photo of it, expecting it to be removed sharpish.

But it’s still there now, a well-known feature of the city, and the mysterious Banksy has become Bristol's most famous ‘artist’.

At least, some people call him an artist (mainly because when there is an obvious message, it’s predictably trendy-left). I’d call him a prankster.

His targets have evolved from the streets of Bristol to the British Museum, New York, Disneyland, Paris Hilton and even the West Bank barricade.

And now that he’s gone global, his works in his home town have become as protected as Grade II listed buildings.

I’m not sure what that says about anything.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rhymes for misanthropes

I wrote this while feeling unusually cranky:

The Chav
by Brit

Holding fast my grande coffee,
Past the Bookie, past the Offie,
Down the alley by the Tesco
(a most convenient al fresco
toilet for homecoming drunks,
A quiet place for blowing chunks
when caught short of a water closet,
And just the right spot to deposit,
Atop the teens’ cigarette stubs,
Pint glasses borrowed from the pubs),

'Twas here that I was forced to have
a tango with a Bristol chav:
Our paths were heading for collision,
We both were wracked by indecision,
We shuffled this way, feinted that,
But underneath his Burberry hat
no smile met mine to make it jokey,
This impromptu hokey-cokey,
No human touch, no recognition,
Just a joyless tunnel vision.

But it was even worse than that,
For as he muscled by, he spat,
And even muttered ‘fkng twt’.

A beady eye, a reptile’s glare,
A beastly eye, a thrush’s stare,
More coiled steel than life in there,
A raptor’s, rodent’s, robot’s face.
So tell me, is it commonplace,
In his anti-world, this anti-grace?
We share a common space, a town,
But seem to have no common ground,
Except the brutal geographic.
I turned to watch him dodge the traffic,
Weaving in and out the queue,
Hunched body language, ‘yeah f'kyou’.

So what unholy matrimony of nature/nuture spawned this boney
Monster with his gangling gait, his cultivated primate’s hate?
His greasy crew-cut, mockney drawl,
Is this man’s future:
Nasty, brutish, and tall?

Or should we blame his father?
But if his father, why not his father?
Or a thousand fathers farther
back? The chain must start somewhere.
It starts there.

After all,
Nobody took this thing
and forced him to wear all the bling,
Or made him start taxi rank fights,
Or made him smoke the Marlborough Lights,
Or made him scrawl ‘Go home Paki’,
Or made him wear the Kappa trackie
at all hours (not just in the gym).
So I don’t blame his father,
I blame him.

More poems here

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cashley versus reality

This one is just for ToE’s lurking Spurs-supporter:

Somewhere along the A406 North Circular Road, one telephone call changed everything about how I viewed and felt about Arsenal.

“Ash! Are you listening?” said a virtually hyperventilating Jonathan. “I’m here in the office and David Dein is saying they aren’t going to give you £60k a week. They’ve agreed £55k and this is their best and final offer. Are you happy with that?”

When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55k, I nearly swerved off the road. “He is taking the piss, Jonathan!” I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I suppose it all started to fall apart for me from then on.

From Ashley Cole’s autobiography, published this week in The Times, and surely the most whingeing, snivelling, greedy, unpleasant piece of self-pitying but unself-aware garbage ever to disgrace humanity.

I could barely read it, and nor could James Lawton in The Independent , nor anyone at Football365.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Age of Weariness

Any cousins across the Pond pondering possible reasons for their beloved Blair’s oh so Long Goodbye shouldn’t expend too many little grey cells on the matter, other than as an academic exercise. The details are debatable, the root cause is not: Tony is simply coming to the end of his term, and his government to the end of its tether.

Lord Acton’s observation about Absolute Power seems to have been absorbed into the Anglo psyche, and the Anglos won’t let anyone wield it for too long, however competent or revered or messianic or just deep-down decent he or she happens to be.

The President of the USA has an official shelf-life. The Prime Minister of the UK, who has far more or far less personal power than his American counterpart depending on how you look at it, does not. But the shelf-life is real nonetheless. Everyone knows it, including Blair. A drawback of the unwritten nature of the PM’s time limit is that the incumbent leader, addicted to absolute power, is tempted by the delusion that it is not there at all, and his or her exit will be accompanied by undignified kicking and screaming, mass reshuffles, resignations, sour grapes, backstabbing and disastrous Party civil wars. Great fun for the sharks of the press, who never waste a moment in publishing the inevitable Et Tu Brute? cartoons, but a dreadful bore for the general public.

And boredom is the heart of the matter. We’re tired of Tony. It’s nothing personal – for the most part, it’s not even his fault. As an international representative he’s been an eloquent, intelligent, reassuringly tall, and totally non-embarrassing figure. His domestic legacy is enormous: New Labour and the possibly irreversible monopoly of centre-ground tinkering over ideological politics.

But a decade is over-tiring. What’s more, the five years since those planes flew into the World Trade Center have been especially exhausting. If anything, given our ever-decreasing attention span cycles, it is to his credit (and the pre-Cameron Conservatives’ debit) that he’s held on so long.

On 12 September 2001, an age ago, we were all Americans – hard as that is to imagine now. It must have seemed impossible for any President to fritter away that heap of international sympathy and goodwill. It must have seemed impossible for the West’s left and right not to be fused in one united front. They were for a while, but that wave of unity, which just about carried over Afganistan (even the Left could see the logic in wiping out Osama’s protectors), took no time in breaking on the rock of Iraq.

Iraq knackered us. Cracked us down the middle. Blair got stretched thin between the UN and the US, attempting to appease the Euro appeasers while buddying up to Dubya. We got tired of Blair being Shoulder to Shoulder with Bush but the Voice of Reason in Europe. Blair got very, very tired of debating every step of the issue with BBC interviewers and studio audiences consisting, almost exclusively it seemed, of Guardian-reading politics undergraduates – an irritating circus made unavoidable by the trumpeting of democracy as a chief justification for the invasion (‘I think you’re wrong, but remember that if you were Iraqi you would not be allowed to disagree with your Government’). This was the Dawning of the Age of Weariness.

Then came the Confederacy of Dunces and the million marching in London, led by Red Ken, Gorgeous George, the Nobel-winning (!) Harold Pinter, Michael Moore and the usual semi-literate, wholly-hubristic pop musicians.

So varied and illogical and self-contradictory were the complaints, so moronic the oil conspiracies and the Saddam-apologising and the BusHitler rhetoric, the irrelevant stacked endlessly on top of the nonsensical like Pelion on Ossa, that the great Leftist coalition could only appal the rational.

But here was a big problem: how can you agree with some of the scattergun complaints (that the Allies were courting disaster by failing to create any kind of clear plan for post-war Iraq, or that Bush’s crass cowboy utterances could only alienate natural allies), without appearing to be on the same side as the Dunces? Iraq split us into two, sometimes unnaturally, meaning that old British lefties ended up on the right (Hitchens; McEwan; Amis) and old British righties on the left (Matthew Parris; Simon Hughes of the Times, who defected to the Guardian). The brick wall was hit, and afterwards it was just two grimacing faces grinding against its opposite sides, with no hopes of comfortably sitting astride it.

Abu Graib, Guantanamo, faked photos of British squaddies ‘abusing’ prisoners, Madrid, London July 7, ‘quagmires’, airport security, Prophet cartoons – they’ve all worn us to the bone.

Above all, Blair has become too synonymous with Bush, and the world is weary of them both. Surely even the patriotic, anti-Dunce American right will heave a secret sigh of relief when Bush is replaced and skirmishes can begin anew, just as even the staunchest New Labour supporters will when the Blair finally goes. The hatred of half the world has become so crushingly focused on the person of George W Bush. Remove the focus and you shift the battle lines. It will be a soft, superficial, temporary relief, like finding the cool part of the pillow in a bed-ridden fever. But a relief nonetheless. Fighting the same battles over and over every day since 2001 has set us firmly in the Age of Weariness.

The British political system means that we elect a benign dictatorship every ten years or so. We let them have a glorious honeymoon period of reform for a few years, then we gradually reduce their power over a few elections. Finally, we punish them for their longevity by utterly routing them at the ballot box and putting a new benign dictatorship in place.

Few parties have been so defined by their leader as New Labour has been by Blair. But we are tired of Blair, and of arguing about Blair. We've said everything we wanted to say, and quite a bit that we didn't. Now we want new battles, new battle-lines, new angles, new dinner-table topics and a new honeymoon to wake us up. Cameron will only have himself to blame if he blows it now.

Friday, September 08, 2006

No goats

A Swiss man caught speeding on a Canadian highway has blamed his actions on the absence of goats on the roads.

The man was caught driving at 161 km/h (100mph) in a 100 km/h (60mph) zone.

A traffic officer's notes said the Swiss driver had said he was taking advantage "of the ability to go faster without risking hitting a goat".

Canadian police spokesman Joel Doiron said he had never found a goat on the highways of eastern Ontario in his 20 years of service.

"Nobody's ever used the lack of goats here as an excuse for speeding," Mr Doiron told the AFP news agency.

Brilliant! From now on, whenever I am rumbled in some act of mischief or negligence, I shall simply blame it on the ‘lack of goats’.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Raight hyped Monkeys

They always say policemen are getting younger, but not as quickly as rock bands. Those wee scamps the Arctic Monkeys, who picked up the Mercury Music Prize last night, looked about 12.

New British guitar bands are notoriously over-hyped, but since indie rock is perhaps the only art form in which Britain still leads the world (apart from costume dramas, stand-up comedy and TV shows about people redecorating their homes) this is sort of understandable.

And for a change the Arctic Monkeys do go some way towards justifying the hype. Mainly because the words are very funny, nailing the Saturday night townie culture of Britain’s city centres perfectly.

As exemplified by the drunken, strongly Sheffield-accented, post-club taxi-home chatter of their best song Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured:

Ask if we can have six in, if not we'll have to have two
You're coming up our end aren't you? So I'll get one with you
Oh won't he let us have six in? Especially not with the food
He coulda just told us no though, he dint have to be rude

See her in the green dress? She talked to me at the bar

How come its already two pound fifty? We've only gone about a yard
Dint ya see she were gorgeous, she was beyond belief
But this lad at the side drinking a Smirnoff Ice came and paid for her Tropical Reef

And I'm sitting going backwards, and I didn't want to leave

Its High Green, mate, via Hillsborough please

How funny was that sketch earlier, up near that taxi rank

Oh no you will have missed it, think it was when you went to the bank
These two lads squaring up proper shouting, bout who was next in the queue
The kind of thing that would seem so silly but not when they've both had a few

Calm down, temper temper, you shouldn’t get so annoyed

You’re acting like a silly little boy
They wanted to be men and do some fighting in the street
No surrender, no chance of retreat!

Drunken plots hatched to jump it, ask around are ya sure?

Went for it but the red light was showing
And the red light indicates doors are secured.

As a public service, and given the quantity of slang in the song, I have provided a translation:

(To friend, who is engaged in hailing taxi cab):
Pray ask the good driver if his taxi cab will accommodate six passengers, for if not we will be obliged to commandeer an additional transport,
Now I understand that your destination is in the proximity of my residence, in which case you and I can share this additional taxi, thus halving the cost.
Oh, he refuses to accommodate six passengers, being especially fearful that our takeaway meals will spoil his upholstery?
A simple ‘no’ would have sufficed: the abruptness of his reply was uncalled-for.

(To friend, now ensconced in taxi cab):
Observe the lady attired in green: we engaged in conversation at the bar of the night-club we have recently exited….
(To taxi driver, interrupting self): Excuse me sir, I am concerned by the rapidity with which your meter is advancing – we have not travelled far, yet already it reads £2.50.
(To friend): …The aforementioned lady was, I’m sure you’ll agree, highly attractive, but sadly my plan to entice her into a more intimate conversation was thwarted by the arrival of a rival for her affections, who paid the bill for her sugary alcoholic beverage.

(Interior monologue): Now, as I contemplate the rear window of this taxi, it occurs to me that I would prefer to have remained in that nightclub.

(To taxi driver): Our final destination is High Green, but please proceed via the district of Hillsborough.

(To friend): Did you observe the highly amusing incident that occurred in the queue for the taxi-cabs
Or perhaps it took place when you left to withdraw money from an ATM machine?
Anyway, the crux of it was that two fellows became embroiled in a dispute about who had the prior claim to the first taxi to arrive at the rank,
A dispute unfortunately fuelled by the effects of intoxicating liquor.

They were behaving in an unwise and immature manner, and would have been well-advised to becalm themselves,
But sadly a misguided bravado and machismo overruled reasonableness,
And they vowed, in the oft-used words of the British response to threats from the Irish Republican Army, that neither retreat nor surrender were ‘on the cards’, so to speak.

(Interior monologue): In situations of this kind, groups of intoxicated young men often in their impatience hatch ill-thought out and unlikely plots to ‘hijack’ taxis occupied by other passengers,
Fortunately, the internal locking mechanisms on taxi doors, commonly indicated as being operational by the illumination of a red light, are sufficiently sophisticated to minimise the risk of such an attempt being successful.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin: RIP, mate

From the BBC

Australian environmentalist and television personality Steve Irwin has died during a diving accident.

Mr Irwin, 44, was killed by a stingray barb to the chest while he was filming an underwater documentary in Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.

I find this news depresses me more than I might have expected, and I have no appetite for the obvious snide one-liners.

Irwin was a wonderful character: the personification of everything I love about Australia – our tearaway younger brothers.

More than that: he had an air of indestructibility about him, which, like far too many things for my liking, turned out to be an illusion.

Friday, September 01, 2006

My new hero

From Ananova:

A cricketer carried on batting after suffering a heart attack at the crease.

Jim Young, 57, scored another 12 for his village team despite crushing chest pains, reports the Mirror.

He collapsed to his knees and was taken off but went back after a glass of water and scored another four to end up on 48 not out. After the match a team-mate took him to the ambulance station and he was sent straight to hospital.

Jim was playing for Westmill, near Buntingford, Herts, against a Bishop's Stortford side.

Captain Martin Jones said: "Jim is passionate about cricket and Westmill. It was an important match and he played so well. It was a shame we lost."

You can virtually hear Elgar’s Nimrod swelling in the background