‘Tis the season to be wallies

It happens every year, usually at some time between Cheltenham and Aintree or, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, between mid-March and the early part of April. It’s an annual occurrence and, unlike the local elections or Halloween, doesn’t involve complete strangers knocking on your door and asking for favours. Which is always a plus point, in my book.

What am I droning on about? It’s the end of winter of course, a season that will be banned when I rule the world, along with really small frying-pans and the word “legend”.

There cannot be many people who welcome this time of year more than yours truly. I despise British winters; gloomy and dank at their best, bone-chilling and deeply depressing at their worst. Perhaps four months of  each year infected by a kind of permanent twilight which gives way to darkness as early as 3.00 pm on some December days. Horrendous, miserable, cold, dark. You get the picture, I hope. March to October good, November to February bad (to misquote Orwell). Except…

Warm weather in this country, especially if we get it when we don’t really expect it, does seem to prompt some kind of mass delusion that we have been transported to sub-Saharan Africa during a heatwave. Out come the shorts and t-shirts, barbeques are dragged from their winter resting-places, and ice-cream vans venture out for the first time since late September. All well and good, though personally I need the temperature to be in the high 20s (low 80s in old money) before I even consider sun cream and shades. Yet the madness doesn’t stop there.

We inhabit a small island off the north-western edge of Europe. It rains frequently (despite what the water companies will tell you), it’s cold and bleak for a ridiculously long period of time and it’s not difficult to understand the feelings of joy when the gloom gives way to sunshine and blue skies. But let’s get a grip here.

People strut around the streets in milky March sunshine looking like refugees from Bondi Beach. In more extreme cases, men strip themselves to the waist for the long, hot journey down to Tesco’s for some pasta sauce, seemingly unaware of their revolting wobbliness. Dimwits loll about outside town-centre pubs, soaking-up a bit of “cafe culture” before their fifth pint of Stella, once empty, gets launched at the first innocent cranium they see. A bit like the huge overreaction we see when the England football team scrapes a 1-0 win over Belize or Papua New Guinea, so the cork of sanity explodes out of the bottle of over-excited fervour when we get a bit of sunshine around the Ides of March.

But there’s another, darker side to this celebration of the start of what, hopefully, will be a sustained period of good weather. I say that because if you, like me, need the temperature to climb well into the twenties before you even consider dispensing with your coat or jumper, you’ll find yourself being viewed with a degree of suspicion. By whom? Well, by those who think that the sun weakly breaking through the clouds towards the end of March means that they should dispense with 95% of their clothing.

Failure to comply, to strip off in your attempt to convince everyone that it’s the Summer of ’76 all over again, marks you out as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, a bit “off-message”, someone refusing to join the fun party. Doors and windows are flung open, fans whirr into action, large women the colour of snowdrifts become convinced that a day spent on the beach will have them returning home looking like Jennifer Lopez. Yet I sit there in my jumper and coat, bemused. The wind still has that cold edge to it (don’t laugh), it still gets bloody chilly at night and (most importantly) the British asparagus season hasn’t started yet. All of these things tell me that it really isn’t summer yet. I don’t care about hosepipe bans, or tales of highest temperatures “since records began”. Spare me the breathless reports on local TV (always from Bournemouth for some reason). Not even Fat Tony from next-door-but-one waddling past in his shorts (and little else) will convince me. Only when that meteorological masterpiece known as “The Sun” faithfully records “PHEW, WHAT A SCORCHER”! will I know that summer has arrived.

Until then, keep your clothes on. And stop scaring the horses. Please.

 It’s March in Macclesfield…put your shirt back on you imbecile 

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Manchester United – The Full Glossary

Anfield

Home of the traditional rivals. And five European Cups.

AON

Shirt-sponsors. And management consultants, almost inevitably. One page on their website is titled “Kidnap & Ransom” which looked exciting. Unfortunately, the link didn’t work. It’s all about seamless and innovative “risk solutions”. They have a “client-focused approach” (who doesn’t?) and will “understand your business”. That’s enough Blairite management-speak for one day. At least Vodafone produced something tangible.

“Come on you Reds”

The abhorrent result of a 1994 liaison with Status Quo. “Come on you Reds, come on you Reds, just keep your bottle and use your heads, for ninety minutes we’ll let them know, it’s Man United – here we go”!

If that doesn’t make you want to kill and maim, then you need to check your pulse.

Conspiracy

The fact that a midweek Champions League game in Belgium or Portugal is not preceded by a home league game against Accrington Stanley and followed by a home league game against The Thirsty Ferret’s Second XI.

FC United

Local team that “loyalists” said they would support after the Glazers bought the club. As usual for Man Utd fans, talk was cheap. The lure of the reflected glory proved too much.

Fergie-time

The amount of time that the watch-tapper tells the referee he needs to add to the end of the match, if his team are losing. Except when they’re losing to Barcelona, in which case he just wants the torture to be over.

Fred the Red

Club mascot in the form of a devil. May he burn in eternal hellfire.

Funereal

The Old Trafford atmosphere. That’s not my opinion, it’s the opinion of “Surralicks” after the January 2008 win over Bayern Munich. Only joking, it was Birmingham actually. “The crowd were dead” he whinged. Maybe they were just contemplating the long drive back to Devon?

Glazers

Family of American hillbillies who own the club. Yes, seriously! Members include Billy-Bob, Zeke, Uncle Jessie and Waynelle. Rarely attend matches as they’re usually too busy making moonshine and fixing their trailers.

Global brand

The sad truth that glory-hunters exist in Bangkok as well as Basingstoke, and in Tokyo as well as Taunton.

Glory, glory, Man United

Formerly sung by football fans at Hibernian, then Tottenham, then Leeds, before being adopted by the Mancs in 1983, with their usual stunning originality, prior to the Cup Final.

Govan shipyards

Where Bacon Face learnt his trade…whinging, whining, moaning, being offended by innocuous questions and gum-chewing.

Guildford

The supporters’ heartland.

Kung-fu

The approved method of retaliation if a Crystal Palace fan is being beastly to you.

Media toadies

You know them, always asking soft, unimaginative questions in Whisky Nose’s press conferences. “How pleased are you with the 5-0 victory”? “Ryan Giggs was magnificent today, wasn’t he”? blah, blah, blah. They even tried to persuade us not to support Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League Final. Yeah, that was going to happen!

Megastore

Place where Sebastian from can buy his share of the dream. The dream comes in polyester, and in red, blue, white, green & yellow, black and a special low-visibility shade of grey. The dream never sells-out, unlike Sebastian who sold-out in about 1993.

Mind games

Any comment by “Surralicks” which alludes to another football club or its players. A favourite of toady, lickspittle, cliche-reliant journalists and pundits who think they might not get “access” if they don’t crawl up his backside at every opportunity.

Neville

Gary & Phil Neville’s dad’s name. No, not his surname, his first name! Yep, these are the kind of people we are dealing with here.

Prawn sandwich brigade

Corporate guests who watch the game from hospitality suites after travelling-up from Guildford. Not to be confused with the “real” fans, who watch the game from plastic seats after travelling-up from Guildford.

Redondo, Fernando

Architect of Real Madrid’s 3rd goal in their 3-2 victory at the “Theatre” in 2000, which brought joy to billions around the world.

Ronaldo

Once the world’s greatest player. Scored a great hat-trick at the “Theatre” in 2003. Played in Madrid and Milan, Europe’s two biggest footballing cities that start with the letter “M”.

Ronaldo, Cristiano

The world’s second-best player who swapped Manchester for Madrid. Wasn’t exactly rocket science, was it?

Right foot

What any average right-back shows Ryan Giggs onto.

Self-awareness

A commodity in short-supply at the “Theatre”. Take Rio Ferdinand’s “success brings people out of the woodwork” comment in relation to Manchester City. That’s right, a Man Utd player complaining about people coming out of the woodwork. Akin to rats complaining about bubonic plague.

Sheffield Wednesday

The team whose implosion at Old Trafford in April 1993 started the “dream”. Will take their place in history alongside Mr & Mrs Stalin.

Shin

The part of his body that Wayne Rooney used to score his famous overhead kick against Man City in 2011 at the “Theatre”.

Squeaky-bum time

A vulgar phrase coined by a vulgar old Scotsman to describe the last few games of a season.

Sunderland, Alan

Moustachioed Arsenal striker who, after the rats had clawed themselves back into the 1979 FA Cup Final, scored the winner and broke murine hearts. Shame.

Tackling

Something Paul Scholes has never learnt to do, despite allegedly being a “great” player. Scholes’ mistimed tackles are met with chortles from commentators who are outraged by similar tackles by Blackburn or Wolves players. “Oh, he’s never been the best at that aspect of the game” they simper, as if being able to tackle is an optional extra for the modern midfielder. Why has twenty years under the tutelage of such a managerial “legend” not seen any improvement in Scholes’ tackling? The media sycophants will never dare to ask.

Theatre of Dreams

A dreadful piece of Bobby Charlton marketing-speak, designed with the modern football fan in mind. You are attending a performance, a show, a piece of theatre. You have paid your money and are  to sit as a passive observer, mute and unthinking. Especially if you’re losing.

“Where were you when you were shit”?

Song that fans of almost every other league club sing at Man Utd fans. Has maximum impact when translated into Japanese, Thai, Mandarin and Cornish.

 

 “Ho,ho,ho…dear old Scholesy” 

The Fall of the Roman Empire?

“Obrigado” is it then, to AVB,

Sacked, and confirmed on the BBC,

No longer the coach at CFC,

I heard the news first on my DAB,

He was born in Portugal, pre-EEC,

But no trophies for him, no FAC,

Despite all that Russian GDP,

He couldn’t steer Roman’s HGV,

So on Wednesday night, via ITV,

Watch their waddling fans, straight from JJB,

Wipe, from replica shirts, their KFC,

And log-in to “Team News” on LCD,

“We’re here to see Frank” (their MVP),

“Tomorrow we head back to NYC”

They sing “Blue is the Colour”, how OTT,

These plastic soldiers, made of PVC,

With their loyalty purchased, a la QVC,

Chelsea til they die, til they RIP,

So, as Terry leaves The Bridge in his SUV,

The “sacrificial lamb” job is still TBC,

Stability? That’s not the USP,

Thanks to the Russki, the real VIP,

So with Torres still hiding, like WMD,

Bravo! “Mayor of Simpleton” (that was XTC),

Oh dear, what an awful YTD,

Sleep well Chelsea fans, Zzz…

  A nice family day out at The Bridge

Arise, Sir Gareth of Southgate!

We knew he was going to miss. Yes, we all did. Admit it.

It wasn’t actually his fault, of course.”Glorious” failure is hard-coded into the DNA of the England national football team. Just once, on that July day in 1966, did the chemistry go haywire for 120 minutes, leading to England actually winning something. But even then it was the red shirts, the “Russian” linesman (he was actually from Azerbaijan) and, naturally, West Ham United (who supplied the lethal goalscorers and the inspirational captain) that the nation had to thank for overcoming the pirennial foe, or at least the “West” version of Germany. Anyway, I digress.

Yes, Gareth Southgate, we knew you were going to miss. But we forgave you. We didn’t know you were going to “capitalise” shortly afterwards by way of a pizza advert, a public-relations decision that, shall we say, left something to be desired. But again we forgave you. Anyway, both errors were quite easily forgiveable, at least in comparison to being the man responsible for Andreas Moller swanning around Wembley as if he owned the gaff, preening and posing like a narcissistic peacock, on that fateful summer evening in 1996. If only Paul Ince, the self-styled “Guv’nor”, had found the gumption to take that penalty, rather than sitting in the centre-circle like a big girl’s blouse. What might have been? Sorry, I’m digressing again.

What I mean to say is that Southgate should be knighted. Not for his 57 England caps, not for his goal against Luxembourg in 1998, not even for his historic management reign at Middlesbrough (yes, I’ve been drinking). No, I salute him for this:

Wednesday 7th March 2012. ITV has just broadcast Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. Barcelona just edge it, 7-1. Lionel Messi has scored five of their goals, which is why his transfer value is higher than the annual budget of many African countries. (Oh, and Greece too). In the studio, morose, crumpled, and looking a bit like a recently bereaved turbot, the former Head of Shite Entertainment at the BBC, Mr Adrian Chiles, wonders aloud whether Messi could “do it” for Stoke.

And Southgate, without actually saying it in so many words, tells him to stop being so idiotic, so one-eyed, so drunk on the endless and unrelenting Sky Sports hype, the nonsense, the cliches, the witless tub-thumping and the overblown myths of the “best league in the world”. To forget New Order and “World in Motion” in 1990.To remember that yes, for a couple of weeks in 1996 football did “come home”, but that the trophy left home shortly afterwards, caught a flight from Heathrow, and took-up a four-year residency in Berlin. To forget the 5-1 win in Munich in the qualifying campaign for World Cup 2002, which ended with England’s captain jumping over the ball (to avoid being tackled!) and the Germans in yet another final.

OK, maybe he didn’t actually say all of that, but in my head he most definitely did. And for that I salute him.

“Ah, Muhammad Ali…wonderful boxer, but could he have handled himself against my mate Dave after six pints of Stella down the local”?

“Jack Nicklaus…very good player, but what would he have made of my local municipal”?

“Jonah Lomu…he wouldn’t have got past me, I played 2nd row once (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) “.

All of the above are more sensible questions/statements than Chiles’ rubbish, for which he gets paid incredible amounts. I was waiting for “Messi…he’d struggle at Blackburn on a wet Wednesday in January” (as if it never rains in Buenos Aires or Barcelona), but unfortunately it never came.

He may well say it was all tongue-in-cheek. People often do when they realise they’ve let themselves down and said something daft. Maybe it was. Sadly, there are people out there who no doubt thought it a valid question. These are the people who said that Gianfranco Zola was a bit of an Italian “Fancy Dan” before he came to England. That’s the same Zola who is now officially Chelsea’s greatest-ever player. These are the people who bellowed “Hit him Ricky” as Manchester’s “Hit Man” entered the ring against Floyd Mayweather, a man who was surely about to have some good old-fashioned English manners beaten into him. That same Mayweather  reduced Hatton to a bloodied pulp in less than ten rounds of his Saturday night masterclass. Had they bothered to watch some Mayweather videos on YouTube, they might have realised that the admirable Hatton was in way,way over his head.

But they live on the hype and the “build-up” to events, spoon-fed straight to them by those with vested interests in “the product”. Nothing and no-one is valid, worthy of any regard, or considered as possibly being quite good at something until they “prove” themselves on these shores or, at least, against an Englishman. So Chiles just had to mention Stoke, the apparent standard-bearer for the in-yer-face, they-don’t-like-it-up-em, bulldog spirit. Forget that they can’t trap a bag of sand. Forget that they kick it further than most people go on holiday. The stout English yeoman is to be admired for his enthusiasm and for his “passion”, the regular currency of the phone-in “fan” who went to Stamford Bridge once in 1973 and is now a world authority on all things Chelsea.

So I salute you, Mr Southgate, for your erudite dismissal of the dismal witterings of the even more dismal anchor-man (the “w” is silent), a man who should surely be known as “Piles Chiles” (because suffering from that affliction is as painful as watching the gormless goon stutter his way through another link). And I forgive you, Gareth, for that dreadful miss, for Moller’s dreadful prancing, for the dreadful advert and for dreadful Middlesbrough. But, the next time you find yourself in the same TV studio as that tedious Brummie bore, I really must insist that you take a more direct approach. Perhaps you could imagine that he’s Andreas Moller and, as they say, “stick the nut on him”?

I, for one, would forgive you.

“Smack him Roy. Do it now”.

Six little numbers

Modern life. An unrelenting, unforgiving and downright brutal grind. At the best of times.

I hope that’s put a smile on your face.

Years ago, TV programmes such as “Tomorrow’s World” promised us that we were within reach of a new golden age, where work would be done more quickly and, as a result, leisure time would expand. Well, they got that spectacularly wrong. In fact, what could be further from the truth?

The digital, internet, always-on-the-go age now makes demands on us that our quite recent ancestors never had to suffer. And yes, I do mean suffer. It’s 24/7 and go,go,go these days. Aren’t you sick of it? Permanently contactable by phone (“I called you but you didn’t answer” people bristle, as if picking-up your own phone is an obligation rather than a choice), on Facebook, on Twitter, instantly e-mailable on BlackBerry and locatable (by the right people) via the signal emitted by your mobile phone. Great! “It’s a global world” the men in suits sagely advise, though I’m yet to hear them mention what other sort of world could possibly be on offer. An un-global one, perhaps?

Many of us, and I include myself in this, do sometimes seem petrified that the world (the global one) will cease to revolve on its axis if we don’t immediately notify our Facebook friends that we “had fish & chips for dinner…yummy” before we even wash the plates or throw the wrappers in the bin. We are busy, busy people.

We should therefore thank the Lord, Allah, Jehovah, Buddha and the dear old Flying Spaghetti Monster that “Lucky Dip” remains an option that’s open to us when we are selecting our lottery numbers. Having the opportunity to save perhaps ten seconds of our busy lives and devote them to other pursuits (such as standing in the queue) is a truly wonderful thing. One day, I suspect, historians and social anthropologists will debate exactly how it came to be that an advanced civilisation reached the point where selecting six numbers from a choice of forty-nine became a task so onerous, so daunting, that a short-cut just had to be devised. If you know why, then answers on a postcard please. Or an e-postcard if you’re too busy to do a bit of handwriting.

There are many methods for selecting those six magic numbers. However, if you really must rely on “Lucky Dip” please may I politely ask you NOT to provoke internet chatroom/forum discussions on the “unrandom” nature of your numbers over the past two weeks. Some people do, I assure you. I’ve seen the debates they have with each other (all in the course of my research). They think that having the number twenty-seven last week means they shouldn’t have it this week. Incredible. And they put these witless observations on the internet, in the same way that I put my witless observations on the internet. Fortunately, I am right and they are wrong. How do they find the time anyway, given that manually selecting six numbers is apparently too time-consuming for them?

The conclusion is, naturally, that we will always find stuff to do in one area of our lives if technology has allegedly saved us some time in another. This may not be an original thought. In fact, I’m certain it is not. But next time someone attempts to sell you a wonderful product or service that will allegedly transform your life, please bear this in mind. Then headbutt them and walk slowly away.

Or run if your next “Tweet” is overdue.

Inevitably, there’s an app for this

The art of noise?

Quite recently an acquaintance was invited to a birthday celebration at a local pub. There were rumours that a few of the “old gang” were going to be there, so the night promised much: a few drinks, some old “war stories”, and lots of even older jokes. A good night, hopefully.

Around half-an-hour after he had left home he was back again. Illness? No. Over-indulgence? No, not even he could manage that in under thirty minutes. The reason for his swift return was the mind-numbing, tooth-filling shaking, ear-drum crushing and merciless din that was coming from the “live band” (is there any other type?) that had been booked for the evening. A brief nod and wink to an old friend became the only even semi-effective method of communication. Conversation? Forget it.

There does appear to be a trend, in pubs/restaurants/shops, towards employing noise for noise’s sake. Recently, a friend was sitting in a pub on a weekday lunchtime (he works shifts and yes, he is a borderline alcoholic) and had to ask the lone member of staff if she could perhaps turn the music down, seeing as 100% of the customers (him) weren’t particularly enjoying either the genre of music being played or the volume level that had been selected.

There is a message being transmitted to us all, not that subtly, that goes along the lines of “Yes, it’s noisy in here, and noise means fun. You are having a great time, even if you’re sitting there with your meal or drink and wondering why you can’t even hear the pneumatic drill in the street outside. Noise is good”. I like to transmit my own message to such establishments. It goes along the lines of “Well, thank you. And goodbye”.

People are being duped into this mass delusion. One online review of Quaglino’s in London (I think they call it an “eaterie”) actually states “despite the average food the atmosphere was buzzing”. Oh, that’s alright then. It’s a statement so witless as to be laughable. Perhaps the reviewer later moved on to a cinema that showed awful films, or a bar that served dreadful drinks, or went home in a taxi that reeked of vomit and swerved all over the road. All forgiven, of course, if the “atmosphere” was “buzzing”. What nonsense.

We are social animals, which does not mean we do not occasionally prefer our own company. I know I do. But, when we attend a social event we should surely be expecting a degree of sociability? This might include an exchange of ideas with our fellow primates through the medium of conversation, which experience tells us can be a pleasant and rewarding experience. We crave verbal contact with other homo-sapiens, though the degree of such contact will inevitably differ from person to person. If it is lacking in our daily lives we seek replacements, and if you doubt that then what is your explanation for modern phenomena like Twitter and Facebook?

I’m not saying that any of history’s greatest verbal exchanges have begun with “having sausages for tea”. But you never know, maybe such a cyber-revelation will one day spark a great piece of literature or poetry. Maybe. But what I do know is that people communicating with each other is, broadly, a “good thing”. The compulsory and utterly mediocre music that accompanies every restaurant meal can, quite frankly, get lost. The band in the pub can sod off too, perhaps to “Britain…What Talent”? or whatever Mr Cowell’s latest dry-ice extravaganza is called. The Debenhams lift can do without cover versions of Celine Dion’s biggest hits, though many might say it should be the only public place where that particular brand of garbage can be heard.

I don’t need or want a soundtrack to everything I do, thanks all the same. I will leave that to the idiots who can’t walk 50 yards to the corner-shop for a pint of milk without the aural crutch of their i-Pod (to cope with the boredom). I repeat, I don’t want a soundtrack to my life, especially one provided by someone from Marketing who thinks I’ll drink more, eat more or buy more. I promise you Mr Marketing Man, I won’t.

Now pour me a decent pint, cook me a decent meal, and just provide me with an average experience. It’s all I ask. Oh, and turn that f*cking music down.

 “You what”?