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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Blog 81. What happened to mud, fun & anticipation?

Clare Balding showed me why football is a rip off!

Explain modern football. Not the rules. Everyone knows the rules. The RULES are easy. Blokes kick balls into nets. If team a puts in three balls and team b puts in only one or two – then team a wins - duuuh.
This week I am writing on a subject about which I confess complete ignorance (as opposed to the partial ignorance I usually employ). I really need someone to explain the expensive end of football. What I desperately need to know – having spent two weeks trying to avoid hysterical news reporters going on and on about someone called Moyes, is what is it all about? I mean just WOT?
From a socio-political perspective I can about see a glimmer of light of an interesting idea. The modern game of football seems – from a distance – to perfectly reflect the rampant capitalism that is currently devastating this country and many others. I.e. a few people at the very top get disgustingly rich for doing not much at the expense of a whole load of other people who are exploited financially and who are too stupid to realise. So ‘fans’ (!) fork out ridiculous amounts of money for nylon T-shirts etc every time the season or the sponsor change or if the game is played at their home ground or not. Others pay to watch matches on the telly. The ‘fans’ may also pay to buy stuff that is promoted by the people who play the game – sometimes things that have nothing whatsoever to do with football from crisps to mobile phones.
The ‘fan’ is supposedly a tribal animal, fiercely loyal to a ‘team’ which takes the name of a town or city but usually doesn’t include anyone who actually comes from or lives in that town or city.
The ‘teams’ that get to the top are the ones with the biggest bank balances or richest owners. Owners also often have nothing to do with the locality of the ‘team’ or the ‘fans’.
I caught a news item a few months ago that confused me hugely. An interviewer was talking to someone regarding a ‘premier league’ club and its position of strength in relation to another club. It was a little while before I realised that the person being interviewed was not even talking about football prowess but the share values of the two clubs in question.
As a very young child I attended football matches with my dad. Leamington FC. My memories are vague as I had little interest in the game even then. I recall being cold, I recall drinking tea out of a white polystyrene cup that tasted of – well – polystyrene. I remember standing unless we were lucky enough to get a perch on a rickety wooden bench and I remember a certain atmosphere of fun and something I would possibly refer to now as camaraderie. I initially went because my brother and sister wouldn’t so it was a perfect opportunity to have my dad to myself. Ditto Cricket in the summer. At least at the cricket you could get nice tea and cake at the pavilion. But it was fun though hard to put your finger on why. Was it something to do with the smell of mud and expectation? Was it the sense of invisibility surrounded by grown-ups, mainly men, who were so completely absorbed on a single event? There was a peak of excitement and something to do with belonging even though I could almost never see what was going on because everyone else was man height and width.
Many years later I attended a match at Newcastle with a friend who insisted I needed to see at least one live match there. I could neither smell mud nor feel excitement. It was a sanitised and disconnected experience.
Thanks to Clare Balding and some history-of-sport thing I accidentally tuned into once – I know that the reason the rules of football were standardised was so that rich gentlemen could bet on the game played by the working class oiks – just like they bet on the gee gees. And though it’s too obvious to say it – I will anyway – that presumably is where the rot set in. Light years away from kicking a pig’s bladder round a field for fun we now have a game that is not just about money it is primarily about money – it is almost exclusively about money. It is about money to the point of seeming pointless to me.
Why not save everyone a lot of effort and just look at the bank balance of each club every month – or maybe which WAG has the most expensive handbag - and that club wins.

This week’s recommended blog from the archives is;
Blog 17 – How to make Monopoly more interesting

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Blog 80. ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ – so why is it so depressing?

There is a potential Super Size Me situation here.

Five days exposure to television left me feeling like Morgan Spurlock after a few days with his food nemesis Macdonalds.
As regular BGOTR bleaders know, this sometimes ranty blogger has been sans T.V. since last century. Unlike ex-smokers or drinkers I don’t preach ‘no-telly’ I’m just content without it.
Also unlike those groups, I never crave T.V.
I admit to a little frustration with the standard question that has ambushed me on numerous occasions over the last decade and a half when people discover my television-less-ness,
“What do you DO (without a TV)?”
Sometimes I ‘DO’ nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sometimes I sit in my living room on my own and stare into space. It’s rare but wonderful. For the rest I would have to answer with a question - how do they find time to watch T.V.? But that makes people instantly defensive so I stopped. Another knee-jerk reaction when others find out I’m one of those weirdoes, is to say they hardly ever watch T.V. But these reactions tend to fall into the contingent who sees any divergence from how they live as an implied criticism.
But like a lot of other people, if I am in a room with a telly which is on, I find it almost impossible to look away for any length of time no matter what is on.
In the presence of the modern mega screen I am positively intimidated and sense overwhelming relieve if I escape its vortex pull or someone is brave / motivated enough to press the off button.
Last week I spent five days at my mum’s very much in the presence of T.V. By day three I was under the spell; flicking between channels and watching people cook, buy shit, garden and execute throw-away lines with straight or quirky faces in a myriad of sitcoms. And I watched bits of films that I couldn’t get into because of all the ad breaks.
I mean how can you maintain your fantasy involvement or sense of tension or suspend your disbelief if thrills are punctuated with cleaning products; epics are interrupted by women smiling at their gravy? Rom-coms (which are not a fave with me anyway) are side-swiped by people grinning into their mobiles because they just borrowed £1000 they’ll never be able to pay back.
Who would ever guess that mothers in Syria are boiling grass to feed their children?
The people eating crap, processed food are slim, blemish free and full of energy. The people buying rubbish they don’t appear not to be brow beaten by debt; they look ecstatically, manically happy. Shop workers interact and grin and wear remarkably bright smart clothes. The people in cars aren’t in traffic and don’t have slack arses. The people on TV watching TV all look bright eyed and perky not the way I felt – dull, sluggish, sofa-boated and a bit miserable.
Everything is sunny and sparkly and everyone, EVERYONE is smiling.
If you’re not careful a mild paranoia can creep in from the sides as the telly images prod you with your own inadequacy and less than sparkly attention to perfection in all things domestic.
Should my carpet be THAT clean, I mean do I need space age technology just to mop the floor? I feel ashamed of my old mop and bucket.
Something else I haven’t had in over 10 years is contents insurance – mainly because I just don’t have STUFF that breaks and gets nicked – like a ridiculously large expensive, living room obliterating T.V.!!! But apparently if you don’t have contents insurance all kinds of disasters can befall you not least the ceiling may fall in and smash your wide screen telly leaving the entire family staring at the floor unable to view any more insurance ads... YIKES!
I had no idea that you need specific machines to cook different foods. Old-fashioned nutter that I am I just use a hob oven and various pans. Where do people keep all this shit? Don’t get me started on cleaning equipment and unguents – do folk have vast underground bunkers just to store all the T.V. crap?
But I return to the bizzarrity (!) that amongst all this buying and cleaning and borrowing and consulting about sofas and cooking showcase food, everyone, just everyone is happy.
Surely there aint that much Prozac to go round?
One thing was for sure I needed something to pick me up after 5 days exposure.
But when I got home I knew what it was. Just as Mr. Spurlock returned to his Macdonalds-free home and vegan girlfriend, I returned to my clean but not surgically spotless, telly free house.
Recommended blog from the archive for this week

Blog 6. Please get a bigger T.V.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Blog 79. Piketty’s Stylish Statement of the Bleedin Obvious.


Cynics might be tempted to put Thomas Piketty’s celebrated tome Capital – ‘Capitalism doesn’t work’, on the shelf next to Obesity – ‘Over-eating makes you fat’.

It’s important to remember that accepting what is obvious isn’t necessarily easy. In particular, those with vested interests often need their blind incredulity smashed by a sledgehammer. For some it’s not enough to look around them at levels of personal and public debt, rising inequality, youth unemployment, social unrest, depression, addiction, friends applying for their own jobs repeatedly, zero hours contracts, reduced wages, creeping corruption, the rise of food banks, the increased numbers in work claiming benefits, ‘resource’ wars, starvation in a world of plenty, a rise in self-destruct illnesses and so on and so on – to conclude that Capitalism aint working.

C’est √©videmment vrai.

Some people – politicians (?) – and maybe anyone else who has been living in a glass bubble for the last thirty years – may require 700 pages of facts and graphs, examples and statistics from a huge brain like French economist and big thinker  - Thomas Piketty.

Some folk need it written in blood – or French!

But some of us don’t.

You may recall that large swathes of the general public instinctively knew that invading Iraq was a shit idea. Others needed to wait for the body count and global terror inflation and the books that are coming out now from ex-serving soldiers to tell them in writing that it was a bloody, very bloody stupid idea.

So Piketty’s book is, by all accounts, being celebrated as both genius and earth shattering in the international corridors of power. If it takes a book for some rather than a little peer out of the window – I’m all for it – as long as the penny (or the dollar) finally drops – good.

Many ordinary men and women worked out that we are decimating the planet, long before the recent UN report (see blog77.) Others will only believe it when Birmingham is a bleached beach resort and cockroaches are running Wall Street - oh sorry – they already are – but you know what I mean.

So well done Mr Piketty. However, if I make it all the way through your book rather than just reading the copious articles and snippets and quotes and summaries, I’m still pretty sure I will still end up filing it next to those other ground-breaking, eye-opening volumes,

Fags – ‘Smoking Causes Cancer’

&

Planet – ‘The Earth is Round’

 

This week’s recommended blog from the archive is;

Blog 18. Elitism for All

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Blog 78 Free Schools? Come to my FREE HOSPITAL!

What - I repeat - WHAT is all the fuss about?

Some folk just cannot be positive about anything. Snipe snipe snipe about how Free Schools and academies are just Westminster’s way of by-passing problems of neglect and underfunding in the state education system. Moan moan moan about the money being leeched from local authorities to fund the amateur education have-a-goes. People have even complained about corruption where school inspectors with links to Free Schools or academies have (apparently) connived to downgrade local state schools in order to discredit them and get a foothold.
I, on the other hand, think Free Schools are such a monumentally fantastically marvellous concept, I have decided to open a Free Hospital.
My Free Hospital will specialise in Maternity (on the basis that I have had three children) and gynaecology (on the basis that I have a fanny). What other qualifications does a person need? I’ll apply to the government for some of the funding they currently give to my local health authority and convert my leaky garden shed in to a birthing pool for those who think delivering a baby into a vat of floating body effluent is a great idea. I will have a couple of mattresses in my living room for women who want soap opera type births (you know the ones where the women sweat a little, groan quietly while the attractive hubby mops their brow and looks attractively anxious). There will be no mention of episiotomies or haemorrhages or retained placentas.
The idea that people have to be properly trained to do a job and maybe work with other people who are not only trained but experienced is the last word in archaic thinking. And they are only children for heaven’s sake. Pissing around with their future every time a new education minister wants to make his mark is bound to work. It’s particularly gratifying to know that children at many state schools are in overcrowded classrooms while funding is lavished on Free Schools and while the people making the policies either have their children at state schools in areas that aren’t struggling or at private schools.
A young friend of mine is doing her teacher training in a school where all the teachers wander round with little toolkits of equipment from scissors to colouring pens because the school can’t afford to provide them.  The teachers – who can’t deliver the curriculum without the basic equipment – have to provide their own. I worked in a school last year where there was a near Spanish Inquisition because I asked for the children I was working with to be provided with WRITING PAPER. A child was dispatched and the exact number of sheets I had requested was counted out of a cupboard while the secretary looked at me as if I had asked for the blood of a unicorn. In both cases I suspect the school budget had been squandered on non-essentials such as crumbling buildings and wages.
My new Free Hospital will be entrepreneurial, probably offering cards and flowers for sale in the hallway as a sideline and there will be a few benches by the clematis in the front for a waiting area.
OBVIOUYSLY I won’t undertake this venture on my own. I’ll employ a woman down the road on minimum wage. She’s had four kids so she’ll know a thing or two.
Once things are up and running I will branch out and maybe do something with bones because my middle daughter has broken a few.
I won’t bother with dentistry because I don’t like drills.
So – if you are not happy with your local hospital – don’t bother lobbying your local MP to bloody well do something about it – come to my house and be the first to experience my Free Hospital.
Or
I may set up a Free Air Travel company on the basis that I caught a plane to Bristol about ten years ago...
                                                             ***
By popular demand (about 6 people asked) I will back-reference archived blogs from now on. I haven’t room to lay out an index as requested, but each week I will recommend an older blog either as a contrast to the current posting or because there is an interesting link.
This week – I’ve chosen a blog with a link so why not check out,
Blog 10.My One Night Stand with the Ghost of Bill Farrell

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Blog 77. James Lovelock & the UN saw my nightmare!

‘Life imitates Art’- like a lot of truisms has become a clich√©.
How often has it been remarked that writers of Science Fiction envisage the science future without the science facts at their fingertips.
But should we marvel? For a thing to become real, surely we must first be able to imagine it even if that thing is destruction. Who can imagine things outside the now better than writers and artists.
It was with an uncomfortable sensation that I read about the UNs latest report on climate damage and what that may hold for the human race. James Lovelock, who rocked our world with his Gaia principle (earth as self regulating organism) has been a climate change guru for five decades (though showing his age in supporting fracking - see my cartoon 28th January by clicking on the orange Amanda Baker in the right hand column).
The UN’s depressing conclusions are stark. However, Lovelock’s notion of humans huddling together, ‘termite-like’ in scientifically modified cities, as real earth world becomes uninhabitable, so closely resembles the end-of-days vision in my short story The Remainder as to give the sensation of personal nightmare brought to life.
The Remainder was first penned in 2000. Shelved and then redrafted ahead of publication last year, the story focuses on the character of Laura. She is an emotional ‘throw back’ living in a technologically controlled, multi-occupation, environmentally ‘safe’ building who regrets her inability to remember a real garden. Laura also has an irrational fear of living in an outlying single unit and is guiltily glad that,
 “There is only reliable energy for the large multi-occ units now.”
The human population has fallen to unsustainable levels so that while lives are artificially extended by scientific advance, Nature won’t play ball; there are almost no births of viable infants and every death is globally significant.
As Laura awaits the same critical news as everyone else, she tunes in to reports of the death of Kay Adams. She considers how her world has been reduced to the walls of a safe cell by global environmental devastation.
Here is a short excerpt....

(entry - 223)
I hoped the false lavender would trigger a sensory memory of the real thing but it’s too long ago. The small pouch containing the precious flower-remains had been made of cotton, like Kay Adams’ dress. The material disintegrated even though I tried not to handle it. During the great plagues of 2103 when a cloying, fetid stench fouled the air for months, I forced my precious lavender pouch to my nose even though there was only the faintest trace of its aroma. I tried breathing through it, ignoring the muggy brown air which was like my own fear. In those days the air was always adulterated with some chemical or other. Every year the food developers created new seeds to keep ahead of the mutated crop diseases. I vaguely remember a seven-year cycle. But eventually the developers found they were only two seasons away from earth zero. That was when the super-plagues arrived. Also the nightmares that I still have. Millions were already weakened from unwholesome synthetic nutrition. It was in 2103 that we took our biggest hit. Food supplements could not prevent starvation, even in the Priority Nations. The Sub Nations ceased. I can hardly visualise a Sub Nation now. They are a shameful footnote; areas bombed for their oils and natural resources by coalitions controlling the peace weapons. Even in grandmother’s time it was accepted that there was little practical purpose in shoring up the fragile populations of countries that, in the pre-plague years, failed to hand over resources to the Democratic Council of Nations. We were taught at school that areas of the globe historically suffered from famine and various economic and geographical crises. There was an unspoken understanding that it was the natural order of things that these branches of the human tree be allowed to whither for the benefit of The Remainder. Lots of things are unspoken now. These are the things that hurt my head. The ‘natural order of things’ isn’t much used as an argument the rest of the time.

(note)
Un-tagged genetic engineering led to plant and human infertility. Allied with the fashion prevalent in the late 2000s of delaying parenthood until fifty plus, The Remainder plummeted to unsustainable levels.

(entry 225)
For no reason, I’ve been thinking of Rory. Do I miss him or am I bored? How can you know? We met through cycling. Having a common interest is important but when we were alone, things became odd. I wanted him here but his presence irritated me. Maybe there was just no point to it. We had sex, obviously, but it became an absurd activity to me. Neither of us had the means to reproduce and if one wants body-pleasure, there are so many other less messy ways... In the end it was sensible Rory who pointed out that we’d only achieved seventy percent match test. It was a kind tactful way of ending things. I don’t know why I thought of him.

The Remainder is published in

ROOT
(New Stories from North East Writers)
Iron Press 2013