Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Failure is the Spur...

I don't want this to turn into a football blog, but I just can't avoid commenting once more upon the shambles unfolding at Spurs. Jesus Christ! How difficult can it be to manage a football club successfully? Just pick the same eleven players (barring injuries) as your starting line-up each week, that would seem sensible. Oh, and try playing them in their normal positions. The rate Ramos is going on, we'll be seeing Gomes playing wide on the left of midfield by November. If nothing else, such measures might instill a degree of consistency. And another hing - try substituting the players who aren't having impact in a match, not the ones who actually seem to be playing. I could also mention such basics as not selling your best players to rivals, no matter how much money they offer, and actually buying replacements for the players you do sell. However, it is becoming painfully obvious that the present manager doesn't have a clue what he's doing. Nether, for that matter, do the board and chairman who appointed him, or the Sporting Director responsible for our transfer dealings over the past couple of years. Clearly something has to happen, and happen quickly if the club is going to salvage anything from this season.

We're back to my call of a couple of weeks ago - Ramos out! Let's face it - he should never have been appointed, we had a perfectly good manager in the shape of Martin Jol. Ok, I know he was going through a patch of bad results when he was sacked, but he'd delivered us two fifth place finishes, the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup and an FA Cup semi-final. I think he was entitled to be given a bit of slack. Which brings me, rather neatly, to the incompetence of the board. They sack the best manager we've had in years, someone who'd taken us to heights not seen since the days of the blessed El Tel, and instead saddle us with someone who clearly is completely out of his depth in the Premier League. I remember when he was appointed we heard all about how he had greater tactical acumen than Jol and would lead us to victory against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Man U. Well, apart from that Carling Cup semi, that just hasn't happened, has it? In fact, this tactical genius has failed to get the better of Middlesborough, Sunderland and the mighty Wigan. The underlying problem, of course, is the board's obsession with breaking the hold of the 'Big Four' in the Premiership and qualifying for the Champions' League. Now, if this ambition as based on the desire for footballing glory, I'd have no problem. But it doesn't. It is purely about money. The board is so desperate to wring ever greater profits from the club that they have become convinced that there is some shortcut to success. Consequently, any coach or player who isn't instantly successful is quickly discarded.

Indeed, I'd say that Jol's greatest crime wasn't a poor start to the season, but his insistence that lasting success could only be achieved in the long-term, that it would take Spurs years of developing players and tactics, before they could challenge the 'Big Four'. What he did believe was that the club could and should be the 'best of the rest', and could achieve success and prestige in the interim through cup competitions. But that isn't what the greedy bastards in the board room wanted to hear. So here we are, saddled with a supposedly 'superior' manager, whilst our erstwhile failure of a former coach, Jol, sits atop the Bundesliga with his new club Hamburg. So, is it fair to call for Ramos' head at this stage. Well, the board sure as hell isn't going to resign and the club badly needs someone at the helm who knows what they're doing and, ideally, speak English. They need to move fast, though, if they're to sign a decent replacement. I mean, we've already missed out on the footballing genius of Joe Kinnear. Still, Glenn Hoddle is available. Frankly, right now I'd settle for George Graham. Come to think of it - what's Christian Gross doing nowadays? Of course, two of the best candidates, Jol and El Tel probably wouldn't set foot back at White Hart Lane, having been previously shat upon by the board. Ah well, as I've mentioned before, Kevin Keegan is still available...


Monday, September 29, 2008

Nationalised Treasures

Following the nationalisation of the banks Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley, the government has announced plans to take another public institution into public ownership. "In view the crisis of confidence surrounding her, we have decided to nationalise Amy Winehouse," Chancellor Alistair Darling told the House of Commons. "We cannot afford to allow an established performer like Miss Winehouse to collapse and go under - the economic effects would be catastrophic." The move follows increasing speculation in the popular press as to the singer's ability to continue performing in the face of her continuing drink and drug problems. The government's hand was apparently forced after reports that she was about to go into rehab surfaced. "The threat to Britain's alcoholic beverages industries was colossal," says a top City analyst. "With the current economic crisis and rising prices, sales are already down, the Treasury just couldn't afford to have one the country's main consumers taken out of the game! Think of the tax revenues they'd have lost!" In addition to losing Winehouse's personal alcohol consumption, ministers feared that without such a powerful role model, Britain's youth might also be discouraged from binge drinking.

The proposed nationalisation has come under fire from the opposition benches, with shadow chancellor George Osborne questioning why taxpayers should have to foot the bill for Winehouse's future inebriation. "Surely the drinks industry which, after all, must bear part of the blame for this situation, should be the ones to come up with a financial rescue package?" he asked Darling at Question Time. "This sets a dangerous precedent - every alcoholic and down and out will now be expecting to be nationalised and have their drinking subsidised by the State." However, the Treasury is adamant that a private rescue bid would only further weaken the already precarious finances of the alcohol industry. "We are confident that this will only be a temporary measure," replied Darling. "Once confidence in Miss Winehouse's drinking abilities has been restored, we are hoping to invite private bids for her." He also denied that there were any plans to nationalise Pete Docherty, although he wouldn't rule out the possibility of taking other entertainers into public ownership. "Our failure to nationalise Oliver Reed in the 1970s caused grievous harm to this country," he reminded MPs. "His premature death deprived us of a fine role model for young hell raisers and binge drinkers."

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mistaken Identity

Those teletext headlines have been confusing me again. Most recently, 'Kinnear Appointed Newcastle Manager', conjured up visions of overweight comic actor Roy Kinnear huffing and puffing his way through training sessions. Until I remembered that he'd died at least ten years ago (probably more), and realised that they meant former Spurs defender Joe Kinnear - who isn't dead,but did once manage Nottingham Forest, which, these days, is pretty much the same thing. In a perverse sort of way the appointment makes sense - having been turned down by Terry Venables, it must have seemed logical to the Newcastle board to instead turn to his team mate from the 1967 FA Cup winning Tottenham squad.

The week before I'd been equally surprised to find that Radio One rap DJ Westwood was playing in the Ryder Cup. Still, I thought, I suppose golf is a suitably middle-class game for the son of a clergyman to be playing. Although I wasn't sure they'd appreciate all that 'running with the big dog' and 'strap it up before you slap it up' stuff 'in da club house'. Obviously, when I actually read the item, I realised they were referring to Lee Westwood, rather than Tim Westwood. Perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing the headline 'Allen takes over at Cheltenham FC.' As far as I knew, Lily Allen was a Fulham supporter. At least they'll look more fashionable with her in charge, (although I'm not sure the football-boots-with ball-gowns look would be entirely practical on the football pitch), I mused, before realising my mistake - they obviously meant her father Keith. Now, he'd be the kind of football manager to motivate under-performing players - they'd be scared to go back to the dressing room if they were trailing at half-time, for fear of being horribly abused and possibly murdered. Imagine my disappointment when I found out it was former Leicester and MK Dons boss Martin Allen who'd been appointed. I liked my idea better.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Batman's War on Terror

Unable to bear the tension of following Spurs' Carling Cup match against Newcastle on teletext last night, I finally got round to going and seeing The Dark Knight. Now, I was vaguely aware that there had been at least one newspaper article (followed by lots of chatter on the net), that the film could be taken as a commentary on the 'War on Terror', as being supportive of Bush and Blair and effectively endorsing the use of illegal measures in extraordinary circumstances. Having seen the film, I find such arguments pretty much untenable. Sure, you can read Batman's battle against the Joker as an analogy for the 'War on Terror', and any film about superheroes implicitly endorses the use of illegal means to serve the 'greater good'. Where I have a problem is in seeing the film as an endorsement of Bush. Such conclusions can only be derived from a very superficial reading of the movie. As far as I could see, everything which happens - the Joker's reign of terror, the murders of judges and police offers, the destruction of property - is a direct result of Batman's disregard for the law in his vigilante campaign against crime, and the authorities '(most specifically Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent), complicity with him. The Joker is clearly Batman's polar opposite - mad and chaotic where Batman is rational and organised - a 'superhero' vigilante for the criminals of Gotham City. The criminals turn to him in the same way that the police and citizens of Gotham turned to the Batman when they felt powerless.

Moreover, if Batman had taken the threat posed by the Joker earlier, most of the later problems could have been avoided. Early in the film he is dismissive of the Joker (like Bush and al Qaieda, perhaps), preferring to see the Gotham mob - already weakened by his crackdown - as the main threat (Bush and Iraq, perhaps). By the time he realises his mistake, it's too late and things have escalated out of control. Consequently, he is forced into ever more extreme actions himself - including extraordinary rendition - which just serve to make things worse. Now, I don't know about you, but to me this seems like a critique of the US and UK response to 9/11, not an endorsement of it. The key to the film's attitude to the 'War on Terror', it seems to me, comes toward the end when a group of ordinary citizens choose to set aside their knee-jerk reactions to the Joker's latest threat and not blow up a ship full of convicts in order to save themselves. Unknown to them, the reviled convicts have simultaneously made the same decision. The message here seems clear, that the correct response to terrorists is not to descend to their level and play their game. That's what they want, for us to abandon our values and instead fight them on their level. It is also making the point that we shouldn't be so quick to judge and condemn others because they are different - like the convicts, people with beards and turbans might actually have some decency and not be evil terrorists.

What the film also seems to be saying is that when we do descend to the same level of the terrorists, we become conflicted against our own natures - an idea embodied by Harvey 'Two-Face' Dent. An essentially good man who resorts to consorting with a vigilante in order to maintain law and order, ends up unable to distinguish a desire for for personal revenge from a quest for justice. His reward is death. If only Bruce Wayne had heeded Alfred's wise advice, that sometimes we simply have to endure this terrible atrocities, then, as Batman, he wouldn't have engaged in a course of action that results in death, disfigurement, mass destruction and his own vilification. Where the film is weakest in its critique is on the subject of surveillance, where it is OK, just so long as it carried out by someone trustworthy - and who's more trustworthy than Morgan Freeman? A cop out, I know, but the plot required it, and it is at least recognising that such extreme measures can only ever be temporary and must be carefully regulated. So, there you have it - my liberal take on The Dark Knight. But hell, maybe we're all wrong, and it's just a movie about a guy who dresses up as a bat and fights crime.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On The Double

Last weekend I noticed a commotion of some sort going on in my local shopping centre - loud taped music blaring out, a display involving some sort of sports car and fenced off areas. I naturally assumed that it was yet another promotion by one of the local car dealerships. I don't know why they bother, nobody ever buys a car as a result of seeing one parked in a shopping centre. Anyway, I just assumed that this unshaven bloke in a bad suit loitering around the display was a very bad car salesman, (nobody seemed remotely interested in speaking to him). However, I was wrong. upon reading one of the local free papers (incredibly, we have three here, despite the fact that nothing of note ever seems to happen), I learned that this individual was apparently a David Beckham look-a-like. It seems that you could have your photo taken with him. It was all in aid of something-or-other, I'm still not clear exactly what.

Now, as I've already noted, nobody seemed to be interested in the guy. They certainly didn't appear to want to be photographed with him. which is hardly surprising as he was probably the worst David Beckham look-a-like ever. I would have thought that a prerequisite of being a celebrity look-a-like is that they actually resemble the celeb in question. I would venture to say that I look more like David Beckham than this guy I saw. But the question is, of course, what is the point of celebrity look-a-likes? why on earth would someone want to have their photo taken with a fake celebrity? Has our obsession with celebrity become so great that even association with fame by proxy, via a double, is seen s some kind of status symbol? The world truly has gone mad.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Bottom Gear

I had the misfortune to see part of a repeat of Top Gear yesterday. It was even worse than I remember it, as it seems to have turned into to some kind of party political broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party. First of all Gordon Brown gets compared to Stalin, then we have the three witless presenters extolling the virtues of the then newly elected Tory council leader in Swindon for his irresponsible plans to remove speed cameras from the town. Once again the tired old bollocks about fines raised from speed cameras being a 'tax' on motorists was trotted out. I really am sick of hearing that shite. If you don't want speed cameras to make money, then don't break the fucking law. It really is that simple. Speed limits are mandatory. They are there for a good reason - public safety. Whether the likes of Clarkson and his moronic cronies like it or not; speed kills. The facts speak for themselves - in those areas monitored by speed cameras road fatalities and accidents have declined significantly.

I hate to say it, but if Clarkson's Mini Me, sorry, Richard Hammond, had died in that rocket car accident, then it might have helped ram this message home. Surely then even the likes of Clarkson couldn't possibly deny the dangers of excessive speed. Sadly, though, his survival seems to have reinforced the moronic view that there's nothing really dangerous about reckless driving. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not sanctimonious enough to say that I never exceed the speed limit myself. However, I do try and observe it and, if I break it, I fully accept the consequences - a fine and points on my licence. I certainly don't go whingeing on about 'police states' and the like. The fact is that if you break the speed limit, you are breaking the law. I just don't understand why people like Top Gear's presenters have such a problem with this. Getting back to the original point - as a TV license fee-payer, I really don't see why I should be subsidising right-wing propaganda like Top Gear. I thought the BBC was a public service broadcaster and therefore politically neutral? I also thought that Top Gear was meant to be a motoring programme. In the interests of balance, can we have a motoring programme presented by socialists who actually know something about cars?

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Reading From the Same Page

A brief excursion into literature for today's post. It makes a change from me ranting about Spurs (OK, I was wrong, they won last night, but there's still the second leg of this tie to come in Poland - a disaster waiting to happen), or my demented ramblings about politics, the Paralympics or bus driving apes. Getting to the point, the other day I picked up a copy of The Sweet Forever by George P Pelecanos from a charity shop for thirty pence. A bargain, I'm sure you'll agree. Anyway, I've been a fan of Pelecanos' fiction for quite a while now, but I'd never visited his website until now. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the site included some of Mr Pelecanos' musings on the subject of films. I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that he rates many of the same fairly offbeat movies that I do. I can't remember the last time I heard anyone discuss Monte Walsh, let alone admit to liking the film. At last - I'm not alone!

But it got better, not only does he list Magnificent Seven as one of his favourite westerns, (and truly, this a film which contains a lesson for just about any situation life can throw at you), but he waxes lyrical on the subject of Sam Peckinpah's Killer Elite (a truly weird, yet quite brilliant action film), and even manages to explain the plot of The Seven Ups, a 1970s cop film I've always admired, but never quite understood). Jesus, I thought, no wonder I like this guy's books so much - we're clearly reading from the same page! Mind you, it also helps that his books tend to be set in Washington DC, just about the only part of the US I'm personally familiar with. (I used to have to go there for work on a regular basis). Anyway, the upshot of all this was that I ended up ordering the DVD of Killer Elite from Amazon, along with a whole stack of classic Universal horror films I was buying as a form of retail therapy after Spurs' shocking start to the season. See, we're back to bloody Tottenham Hotspur already! There's just no escape!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ramos Out, Keegan In

I thought I'd get in early with the recriminations, before Spurs' inevitable dire display and humiliating defeat in tonight's UEFA Cup match (which I can't watch, even if I wanted to, as it is the only of tonight's UEFA Cup matches involving Premiership clubs on pay-per-view rather than a terrestial broadcaster). This is the worst start to a season since, well, last season. That start cost the then manager his job. His replacement, Senor Ramos, was supposed to be the great saviour of Spurs, (according to the board, anyway). He certainly wasn't meant to put us back where we were last year. The sad thing is, that until last season's bad start, Martin Jol had done a blinding job for the club, with back-to-back fifth place finishes. We're going to be lucky to finish fifth from bottom at this rate. But there you are, we have a decent manager for the first time in years, so we sack him. Typical bloody Spurs.

OK, I know that Ramos can claim that losing our two top goal scorers during the Summer didn't help, along with the failure to either replace them both or secure the services of a defensive midfielder. But the reality is that there are a lot of teams above us in the Premiership with far less talented squads than ours, who are doing a bloody sight better. Even if we don't have prolific forwards any more, we still shouldn't be conceding so many goals. No, Ive lost faith in him already (actually, to be fair, I doubted he was the right man in the first place). We need to get someone else in before it's too late (after all, that's what everyone was saying this time last year). Bring in Kevin Keegan, I say. Why not? We've exhausted every other managerial possibility and King Kev is at least used to being feted as the Messiah then achieving nothing. Plus, he always has the good sense to jump ship before it actually sinks. Which is what I feel like doing these days...


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Disable Bodied

Well, the Paralympics are over for another four years, with the UK finishing second in the medals table, with a three figure tally. Now, the cynic in me can't help but feel that getting so many medals isn't that difficult when there are so many events - a version of every sport for every disability, or so it seemed. If we didn't win a medal in the 800m for people with cerebral palsy, then don't worry, they're about to run the version for the one-legged. Having said that, it is the only way to make it a fair competition and allow all competitors an equal opportunity of winning, regardless of disability. But getting - finally - to the point, this whole festival of diversity was marred by the Iranian wheelchair basketball team, who threw a hissy fit over the ties they were handed and refused to play. Apparently they didn't like the fact that they were scheduled to play the US, followed by Israel. One is the great Satan, whilst they don't recognise the existence of the other. Frankly, I don't see what the problem was - if they're convinced that Israel doesn't exist, then that should have been a pretty easy game, shouldn't it? Surely they would have run rings around a non-existent opposition. Of course, the only people hurt by this display of 'principle' were the Iranian players. They'd spent years preparing for these Paralympics - the hours of beatings they'd had to endure in stinking Tehran jail cells to reach that state of disability, and all for nothing, as it turns out.

And there lies what might have been the real reason for the Iranians pulling out - they were afraid that the US and Israel, with all the wars they'd recently been involved in, had produced better disabled athletes than them. It stands to reason, when you think about it - all those physically fit young soldiers being maimed in battle, they make the perfect Paralympians. All of which brings us full circle, back to the number of medals the UK won. Quite obviously this was all down to years of conflict in Northern Ireland - the number of British soldiers who lost limbs, sight, hearing, or were put in wheelchairs by bombs and snipers during the Troubles clearly laid the foundations for our Paralympic success. Frankly, we should be thanking the IRA for their help. All those years of senseless violence weren't wasted. With peace apparently having broken out in the province, we've had to find new wars to keep up our pre-eminence in the Paralympics. Hence our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the lack of threat presented by either country. With the spectacular results in Beijing, I'm sure we'll see a few more regional conflicts created before 2012, in order to ensure similar results at the London Paralympics.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Piss and Vinegar

Political blogs - I know I've gone on about them before, but I feel compelled to once again state what a heap of shite they are. No, really. Political blogs are just about the biggest waste of space on the web. For some unfathomable reason, I decided to give the political bloggers another chance. Perhaps I'd misjudged them, or the ones that I'd looked at before were atypically crap. But no, I'd been right the first time. They were still, to a blog, utterly vacuous, offering no real insight or original perspectives on the current political situation, and all seem to be written by pretentious wannabes, who are more interested in slanging matches and point-scoring than genuine analysis. Sure, there are some where the author marshals all sorts of 'facts' and 'figures', at inordinate length, complete with graphs and pie charts, to 'prove' some point or other. And thereby lies another of their crimes - they're so utterly tedious! There's just no spark there! They are as dry as dust. Politics should be exciting, full of informed debate and intelligent discussion. Trust me, I know, I teach it.

Regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, the level of political discourse seen in the comments of these blogs is equally dismal. Again, there just isn't anything original there - simply the same old ideas reheated and rehashed. All too often it just comes down to name calling. The trouble is that they all seem to be written by, and for, a relatively small group of middle class smart arses who undoubtedly set the world to rights at their dinner parties every weekend and seem to think that their 'wisdom' is worthy of sharing with the world. Bad news, guys, the rest of us aren't interested in your middle-of-the-road faux radicalism. Not that there's any chance of them ever doing anything other than talking (or, in this case, writing) about politics. That's undoubtedly the worst thing about them, they're all piss and vinegar. Let's face it, if they were serious about political change, they'd be out there doing something about it, rather than just droning on about it and boring the rest of us.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

On The Buses

'Bus drivers to get DNA test kits', or so a local newspaper headline told me last week. The question is, why? Frankly, I'd have thought that giving them driving tests might be of more use. There's no way that anyone is going to convince me that the majority of the clowns behind the wheels of my local buses have ever opened a copy of the Highway Code, let alone read it. They certainly don't seem to know anything about priorities and lane discipline. But getting back to the DNA testing - it did occur to me that it was all part of a scheme to check that all of the drivers around here are actually human, and that passengers aren't being entrusted to the care of shaved apes. Or unshaved apes in most cases.

Getting back to the original point, the DNA kits are apparently to do with testing saliva samples when the drivers are spat at. Not travelling regularly on buses, I wasn't aware that this was such a problem. Mind you, if those simians they've got driving the things didn't keep throwing their own crap at passengers who don't have the exact fare, then maybe they wouldn't get spat at so much. What with that and the fact that they don't actually know any of the routes, they just turn the steering wheel at random and hope for the best, I'm amazed that there isn't more violence against them.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

From Big Bang to Little Whimper

You could almost hear the disappointment in the voices of the TV reporters covering the large hadron collider story yesterday. Nothing went wrong. No black holes were created. Geneva wasn't destroyed. The lab wasn't attacked and burned to the ground by a mob of angry villagers waving flaming torches and shouting "Kill the monster". Consequently, the visual aspect of their story simply consisted of them standing outside a building in Switzerland. You could see that even as they gave their reports, they were secretly hoping that sirens would start wailing and people would start running out of the building behind them - on fire. Consequently, the whole thing seemed something of a anticlimax, especially after the huge build-up the media had given it. But that's the problem with science - it is rarely spectacular, let alone mildly visually interesting. Whilst colliding particles at the speed of light sounds exciting, it doesn't look interesting. In fact, there's nothing at all to see.

Which, of course, is why the media loves to concentrate on the downside of scientific endeavour - the disasters, the nuclear bombs, radioactive leaks, horrible mutations and unspeakable human experiments. Nuclear explosions and two-headed homicidal maniacs look far more exciting than a building in Switzerland. Likewise, mad scientists make for better copy than hose nice rational characters dedicated to the expansion of human knowledge. It doesn't help that the average 'science correspondent' seems to have gained their entire knowledge of the subject from watching old black and white science fiction films on late night television. That's why they're so disappointed when they find that the average scientist doesn't have a private lab like Dr Frankenstein's - full of sparking electrical gear and brains in jars - in their basement, and instead work in some huge, clean research institute. If only more scientists were like Vincent Price or Peter Cushing, we might well be overrun by giant insects and surgically created monsters, but at least news reporting of science would be more interesting.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Art of Being Rude

I remember a time when being rude to people, especially complete strangers, was a luxury, something to be used as an absolute last resort. Consequently, when finally employed, rudeness was an art - devastatingly witty put-downs which would completely humiliate their target. Occasionally, in extreme circumstances, down right offensiveness might be deemed permissible - but the number and severity of expletives employed in any such outburst would be kept to a minimum, so as to maximise their impact. Nowadays, of course, everything has changed, and extreme rudeness seems to be the default setting for social interactions in this country. Even doing something as simple as saying 'Excuse me' to someone standing in your way in the aisle as you try to get off a train is greeted by a stream of four-letter abuse. On the roads it is even worse - I once had a complete stranger pull alongside me and call me a 'cunt' because he thought I'd called him a wanker when his car had been coming towards mine in a supermarket car park. The reality was that I'd been talking to a colleague on a hands free kit whilst watching this moron nearly hit another vehicle as he misjudged a corner. Obviously, he wasn't open to reason and continued to threaten me when I attempted to explain this. Consequently, I decided that extreme rudeness was in order, so I again pointed out that whilst I hadn't called him a wanker, I did think that he was an ignorant slap-headed bastard who couldn't drive. With which I sped off.

Not a particularly glorious moment from myself, but illustrative of the problem. With tossers like the guy in the car hurling abuse simply because of something that only happened in their own minds, the temptation is to reply in kind, upping the ante with an even bigger display of rudeness. Satisfying though this might be, it simply perpetuates the problem, as rudeness becomes the norm. In time, this simply results in rudeness losing its impact, thereby requiring even greater escalation of abuse and, ultimately, violence. Personally, I miss the days when rudeness was an art form. When you were finally rude to someone, you could walk away with a certain sense of satisfaction at your wit and boldness. You could also be sure that the other party knew that they'd pushed you beyond all reasonable limits. In those far off days, reserving rudeness for exceptional circumstances meant that we all treated each other with a kind of formal politeness. OK, at times it was obviously forced and completely insincere, but there's no doubt that it did make the everyday process of dealing with the rest of the human race that much more bearable. At least we did communicate at some level. Unlike today, when you live in fear of a tirade of abuse, or worse, in response to even the most innocuous remark, or even look. Sadly, rudeness has gone the same way as swearing - a proud tradition brought low by indiscriminate abuse. Yet more evidence of the rise of the idiots, I fear.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Don't Panic, Mr Cameron!

Already they're making excuses - and they aren't even in power yet. I'm talking, of course, about the Tories. In today's papers the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, was warning that the current Labour government's fiscal policies would 'straightjacket' any incoming Tory government, severely restricting their policy options. Jesus, what a cop out! Most politicians at least have the decency to be in power for a few months before they start blaming their policy failures on their predecessors. This lot are already admitting that they're going to be shit - "but don't worry, it won't be our fault!" According to Osborne, the current 'economic mess' meant that the Tories would be forced to review their policies. Mind you, that shouldn't take long, as they don't actually have any policies as it is. Sure, they make all sorts of vague promises which they think will be popular, but they never seem to come up with anything concrete.

Mind you, all this talk of policy reviews is a little presumptuous, as they aren't actually in office yet. There's a minor matter of a general election, and it could be a couple of years before that happens. However, with the polls in their favour, I can't help but think that the Tories are beginning to panic. They've suddenly realised that they might actually have to back all their rhetoric up with action. Being in opposition is a great hoot for this bunch of public schoolboys - you can promise whatever you like and call the Prime Minister all sorts of names, all with no comebacks. But now it is dawning on the Hooray Henrys that they might have to actually take responsibility for running the country - and they're getting cold feet. Making excuses in advance, as Osborne is doing, is a sure sign of panic. Worst of all, from Cameron's point of view, is that not only might he be the next Prime Minister - which must be a pretty daunting prospect for someone who clearly doesn't have the foggiest notion of what constitutes real life - but he might have to deal with an American President who is - God forbid - a black man. They don't prepare you for that sort of thing at Eton.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Trash Fiction

I've undoubtedly mentioned my love of pulp magazines and sleazy paperback novels before. Whilst many of the stories themselves are now pretty much unreadable, (although, to be fair, much excellent fiction, by great authors, first saw the light of day between the covers of pulp magazines or cheap mass-market paperbacks), the cover art remains fascinating. There's just something about its crude vigour which, at its best, tells you so much more about the contents than any synopsis ever can. Rather than mere plot details, the art gives you a taste, an impression of its pure essence. If that makes any sense, that is.

Take this cover by Earle Bergey (who also did some pulp magazine covers); with deceptively simplicity and garish colours, it suggests perfectly the sleaziness, the sheer squalor, in fact, of the situation. You just know that bar, which is barely sketched in behind the figures is a real dive, with sawdust on the floor, and frequented by low lifes and alcoholics. Even without the strap line "She was the scandal of New Orleans", you know this is the tale of a loose woman wallowing in the gutters 0f depravity (maybe I should be writing those strap lines). Now, the reality is that the novel itself is unlikely to live up o such expectations. But that's the point, it's the cover that's selling it.

I'm not sure who the artist on this one was, but whoever it was certainly knew how to convey an atmosphere of oppressive sleaziness. There's more detail than in the earlier cover illustration, which is used to good effect. The bare floorboards, sagging sofa, unpainted and worn-looking door and faded paintwork on the walls all give a powerful impression of inner-city squalor. Moreover, the glimpse of the bedroom leaves us in doubt as to where this liaison is heading. This novel is one of many lesbian-themed novels of the period, this 'forbidden love' being portrayed as a terrible yet - or male readers, at least - titillating perversion.

Pick Up, featuring a Robert Stanley cover, treads similar ground to our first entry. If anything, Stanley succeeds in making his bar seem even more seedy than Bergey's. You can just feel the grime and sweat in that bar. The dimly lit background action underlining just what kind of joint this is. The sleeveless top and casually held cigarette speak volumes about the character of the guy being picked up in the foreground - crude, yet vigourous. A bit of rough. I especially like the detail of the table having tubular steel legs - it just screams cheapness and lack of sophistication. Clearly, cheap bars and even cheaper women were a popular theme in this kind of fiction back in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Finally, back to Earle Bergey for a cover which isn't so much sleazy as evocative, for me at least, of the hopelessness of unrequited love. I can identify with the protagonist here. Not because I'm some kind of American football hero, obviously, but because I've been there myself - "He loved another man's woman" - all too often. The illustration just sums up the sheer despair and futility of the whole business. It doesn't matter how successful you are in other fields of endeavour, it all seems so meaningless when you know that the object of your affections is never going to be truly yours.

(All the images in this post come from the excellent Vintage Paperbacks site).


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ken Campbell - R.I.P.

I can't let the passing of another of my heroes go unremarked. I was truly shocked to read of the death of Ken Campbell the other day at the age of only 66. Probably best known to the general public for TV roles in the likes of Brookside, In Sickness and in Health and Law and Order (the BBC series of the late 1970s, rather than the long-running US series), Campbell was a wild talent, writing, producing and appearing in weird and wonderful theatrical events such as The Warp. It's difficult to sum up Campbell, other than to say that he looked and behaved like a lunatic - in a good way. He nurtured the diverse talents of Bob Hoskins and Sylvester McCoy, amongst others, as well as inspiring may, many others. Perhaps the fact that his audition for the title role of Doctor Who was described by a producer as possibly the most disturbing thing he'd ever seen, stands as a perfect tribute to Ken Campbell's talents. (Needless to say, he didn't get the part, the producers eventually preferring Paul McGann). His inspired lunacy will be sorely missed in a world which increasingly seems to favour conformity of thought and behaviour. Innovative and intelligent, I ear that we shall not see his like again.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Deadline Day

It's that day of the year again - transfer deadline day, when the summer transfer window closes and football clubs indulge in lots of frantic activity. Even better, it is the day when all that football transfer speculation in the press and on the web comes to a head. The wild stories of the past few months are replaced by tales which transcend sanity in their ludicrousness. Players defy the laws of physics by being simultaneously spotted at a dozen different football grounds to undergo medicals for transfers which are 'definitely on'. Brilliant stuff! The flights of imagination displayed by some of those making up these rumours are truly magnificent! We're now entering the final hours which, for cynical observers like me, are often the most entertaining, as fans desperate or their clubs to sign anyone start clutching at straws - you can convince them of just about anything with next to no effort.

Mind you, I'm just as sad as all those fans - I've spent a day of my summer break from work glued to the TV and internet looking for news of Spurs transfers. I've just spent the last half hour alternating between watching Sky Sports News go into overdrive as its presenters pretend to get excited and convince viewers that the fact nothing at all has just happened is earth-shattering news, and scouring the web for reassurances that Spurs are going to sign someone more exciting than Emile Heskey to replace Berbatov. Mind you, in the process of doing this, I've unearthed the fascinating fact that Heskey's middle name is Ivanhoe. Unless that's bollocks, like the rest of the stuff I read, of course. Anyway, the fact that I'm wasting so much time on the transfer deadline is probably a searing indictment of the lack of excitement in my life generally. Still, Ivanoe - that's pretty exciting though, isn't it?

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