Hurricane Higgins


Michael D Higgins  is the President of the Irish Republic. According to The Irish Independent today:  “A radio clip of President Michael D Higgins debating a US radio talk show host on the tea party movement has become a viral hit in the US. President Higgins, then a TD, was having the debate with conservative chat show host Michael Graham on Newstalk. Although the clip is over two years old, it has gone viral on social media in the United States – gaining almost 250,000 views on YouTube in the last 24 hours.”

I had never heard it before today. If you have, I apologise. If you haven’t, take 4 minutes, 21 seconds out of your life to listen this marvellously educated man, rise gradually to a beautiful crescendo, straight into the face of a supporter of the US Tea Party. He is my new hero – albeit 2 years after the event.

Advertisements

What Goes Around Comes Around. But Only Time Will Tell.


It’s been a roller coaster ride, an accident waiting to happen, in some cases it’s been every mother’s nightmare and lots of other clichés which journalists resort to when they can think of nothing original to write.

It seems as if the worm has turned (there’s another one) and this morning feels like the dawning of a new era (ahem). You know something of biblical proportions (ding!) has happened when The Sunday Times calls for a United States of Europe and a single currency as the only way of getting out of the mess we’re  in, thanks to Greekenomics (ping!). Honestly, yes they are. Don’t believe me ? I would say look it up online, but, of course, News International websites require a subscription. Of course they do. Do you really think you could get quality journalism like that for free? No, pop up to your local Tesco express (there’ll be one at the top of the road, I assure you) and pick yourself up a copy (for our younger readers, it looks like several dozen sheets of paper with words and photos printed on them, stacked together and folded in half, vaguely resembling one of those old book thingies. It’ll have the words The Sunday Times written on the front. And they’ll be a lot of unsold ones laying in a pile next to a similar but much smaller pile of something called The Mail on Sunday. Such is the country we live in).

When a Rupert Murdoch title starts eschewing the virtues of a single, fiscal, federal country called :”Europe” as the only way out of the mire you know two things: 1) Some big shit is about to go down and; 2) That is the view of the Sunday Times Editor and his alone and it in no way relates to any view the proprietor may or may not hold.

These ideas would, before now, be a red reg to a bull (beep!) to any right-wing eurosceptic worth his salt. The fact that The Sunday Times is the standard-bearer for your local right-wing eurosceptic makes this all the more worrying. Somehow, somewhere (probably in downtown Athens), something has hit the air-conditioning system and the resulting spray of faeces is landing in the eyes of anyone within a time zone or three.

This call for one, enormous, unified country suggests, of course that it will include every man woman, child and state in Europe, except, of course The UK and our old friends, the former owners of the Elgin Marbles. We surely will be outside the tent, pissing in (bong!), but the rest of continental Europe will be inside pissing out. And all over us. As befits our standing as the awkward bastards of the continent, we will be left with only the USA and Greece to trade with. I hope you like Retsina with your hamburger, cos that’s all there is.
( I was going to write that the Greeks do a nice line in eternal flames, but as the Olympic flame went out as soon as the British delegation arrived recently – no symbolism there – I shan’t)

But I didn’t pick up this change of tack (woop!) by reading the Sunday Times (the restraining order put in place by my doctor – banning me coming within a quarter-mile of a News International title – is still in force), no, no, no. This point of view was first put to me by Mr A Heckler (you will have read some of his nasty little comments on these very pages) while we were en route (ahooowhar) to a rugby match in Twickenham yesterday. While the rest of the passengers in our train carriage were discussing the probable outcome of the match between Ulster and Leinster (no, nor did I until recently), the big man and I were chatting about the state of the markets, economic policy and the collapse of the Euro. God! we’re a fascinating couple to be around, I can tell you.

And such was the vigour and enthusiasm with which we put across our views that we both found ourselves rather thirsty and, as soon as the train stopped at Twickers, we rushed to a nearby hostelry.

(Excuse me for diverting form the subject, but I have just had to pause to switch off the TV. Nicky Campbell‘s Sunday morning program has just started. I mis-heard his opening lines of the show when he said “Is there a difference between a cult and a religion?”. I immediately shouted to myself “Yes there is. One is worshiped in a church and the other is a failed DJ who has a sunday morning program.” It’s ok. TV’s off now. I am back).

…and relax…

Now, what I should have said to the barman was, clearly “Two pints of expensive watery Guinness please, and could you pour them into really flimsy plastic beakers for me, mate?” But not having been in this situation too often as of late, I merely said “Two pints of Guinness, mate,please”. At the drop of a hat (bingbong!), or at least far too quickly to have poured fresh, stout, our man returned with the legend “Ten Pounds, please, mate”. Almost immediately I calculated that him charging me £10 for two pints meant that they were charging £5-a-pint for one. My life passed before me, (whohoo!) I couldn’t believe my ears,(cha-ching) and the ground opened up before me (peep!).

I used what will doubtless becoming a cliché of my own: “£5 for a pint ? You robbing f*cker!”. A pal in the bar checked: A pint of Guinness (before half of Ireland arrived in town for the match) cost £3.80 in this pub. Now you might think that was a big enough markup for any pub. Clearly not. (For the record the pun was The Tup, Twickenham (pictured). Be my guest and boycott these robbing bastards. I’m sure the other boozers in town did/do the same, but this was the one I was in. W*nkers.)

All day I never worked out which fans were supporting Leinster, and who were cheering for Ulster (though the replica strips the all wore could have given me a visual clue, I guess). In the stadium, one half shouted “Leinster, Leinster, Leinster,” while the rest simultaneously wailed “Ulster, Ulster,Ulster”. The result was a constant “Leulster, Leulster, Leulster” bellowed by 85,000 passionate Irishmen. Leulster may or may not be another in a long line of Irish counties I’ve never heard of, but boy, the mob we watched yesterday can sure play rugby. And they sure can drink.

I don’t know what they would have shouted when a barman charged them £5 for a pint of Guinness, and I don’t know how many Euros that converts to, but I suspect the language was blue, either in English or Gaelic. In a final act of stupidity/arrogance/sebcoeism (and you’ll read that word again here until I make it my own cliché), these 80-odd-thousand thirsty Irishmen couldn’t get a pint of Guinness in the stadium because the competition was sponsored by and named after a rival beer. Pathetic, ain’t it ?

Business is business, but if that isn’t a missed opportunity in-the-name-of competition, I don’t know what is. In the end, the bar I was queuing at even run out of the eponymous lager. In the world’s most expensive capital, we hike up our beer to glean 100s of percents in markup, then we deprive 85,000 thirsty Irish rugby fans, not only the opportunity to spend a week’s wages on one of our pints, but we also run out of the alternative too. Well done. Very well, done. Brought to you my the country that organised the ticketing for the Olympics.

It’s no wonder no-one in Europe cares if we’re inside or outside their tent.

These are my pearls of wisdom for today. The writing is on the wall. (Babumtischhh!)


Magherafelt’s Got Talent


Of course, Simon Cowell didn’t invent it ….

This is one of those videos you’re sent and think “ooh! 9 mins 10. That’s gonna be far too long to bother with.” Fear not , my friends, time will just fly as you watch this one.

It leaves you with so many questions, and here are just a few which occurred to me:

Was this filmed by the world’s shortest cameraman ? Why didn’t Emperor Roscoe (and his performing genitalia) appear on TV more often ? What, apart from a huge wig and some superglue,  did contestant #1, John Henry, ask for on his 27th birthday (and if he’s 26 I’m a bad disco dancer) ? Where can I buy an Atmosphere Extractor for my house like the one used by this Discotheque ? And why don’t more people dance like Cossacks , as demonstrated by number 10 (H.Moore) and his enormous performing trousers ? And why is he “dancing” to the theme from Crimewatch ?

I’m sure you’ll have your own questions. Meanwhile :

Download Part II yourself to see who won, if indeed anybody actually did.

SHARPSINGLEPIEAD

And Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now


I think it was Nana Mouskouri who said something like “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean the fuckers aren’t out to get you”. It’s a mantra I pretty much live my life by. Yes, I’m fully aware I am paranoid (it comes with the communist dad and the Che Guevara posters) but I also know in my heart of hearts that they are out to get me. And they’re winning.

I  woke up this morning to the news that The Halifax Building Society is to announce a rise in interest rates, pushing up the cost of mortgages for those with variable mortgages. Have a guess who I have a mortgage with ? Yes, that’s right – The Woolwich. No, not really – The Halifax Building Society. And, in the words of Jimmy Cricket, “C’mere, there’s more”:

I’ve been on a fixed-rate deal with The Halifax for several years now, getting stuffed by playing it safe with a 5% deal when the interest rates plunged. But I always kidded myself, using that phrase all us fixed-rate bods use “I always know what’s coming out of my account every month” (e.g. just about everything). My deal finished in February. I “clinched” a new, variable rate deal last week. The letter of confirmation came through yesterday.

And tomorrow they’re putting the rate up.

If you don’t think that’s bad luck, bad timing or even sinister you might like to bear in mind I have to pay something like 3 points above the normal cos I rent my house (you’ll remember Railway Cuttings) while I skulk in the potting shed, down here in the countryside. I do this, not because I’m a property developer, but because I haven’t had a job in close to 2 years. and the rent from my house is my salary. The Halifax won’t let you just rent out your house. You have to declare it and take our a landlord’s mortgage, a “Consent to Lease Agreement”. When I came to move out and rent out, I decided to play it fair and above-board and tell the Halifax. It is much more expensive than a regular mortgage they told me. Much more. I wasn’t happy.

“You do know, don’t you” I inquired of them “that I’m the only bloke I know who actually declares that they’re renting out their house? That I’m being punished for being honest ?” This fell on deaf eyes. Even as I was telling them, I imagined limos full of Halifax Henchmen descending on me to force me to spit out the names of these others who were not declaring their lease.

When my 4 year old fixed-rate ended (you can imagine what I paid on a deal taken out in pre-crash 2007), because of the higher payments demanded of an obvious property magnate like me, my monthly payment actually went up. (There’s a longer version to this story where I was informed by Dartford Branch that my payments would go down but apparentlywhoevertoldmethatwasmisinformedandyourpaymentswillactuallybegoingupMrBealingandwe’resorry-youweregiventhewronginformationandhere’s70quidtosaysorryeventhoughwedontadmittoanywrongdoingonourpart)

But we won’t go there. Cos I get angry about it.

SEVENTY QUID !!!

cvnts

So the small salary I get from my house lets me stretch to about a couple of packets of biscuits and a pint of milk each month. From tomorrow I’ll be deficient in the Bourbon department to the tune of one.

The author and one of his his little "runarounds".

Petrol has hit a new high too. Unleaded (I’m told, cos I never bother looking at the pumps any more) is now 137p or more per litre. It now costs nearly £80 to fill up The Incumbent’s motor. So we don’t bother any more. The 17yr old of the house has just passed his driving test too, so from 3 weeks ago were filling 2 motors. (and before you start, tree-huggers: Fuck Off.)

In an effort to boost (Ha!, boost) the sales of T-shirts from our fledgling Generic Logo Company, I have spent 3 weeks (yes honestly) on the phone and email trying to set up credit card payments. I’ve been regularly on to the host website called, I kid you not Mr Site, who are in Delhi or Mumbai or similar. I have also been on to some mob called Cardinal Commerce who are part of the Mastercard verification process and are in Ohio, USA. And I have been talking at length to Paypal, who are in Dublin. Whatever is supposed to be happening isn’t. Paypal blame Cardinal, blame Mr Site. I DON’T CARE. It’s probably me who has input something wrong. I JUST WANT IT WORKING. I have asked them all to pretend this is the first time I’ve ever set up a credit card verification arrangement across 3 continents and 13 time zones, and to pretend that this is what they do every day. No-one seemed to get my inference.

So we’re back to where we started and until these three titans of the business world get their collective arse in gear, T-shirts can only be bought if you have a Paypal account. I know this will come as a blow to most of you who had just fished-out your VISA or Mastercard from your handbags and were about to buy a rude tee from us, but you’ll need a Palpal account now. I know, it’s gutting.

But I’m not holding my breath. The contract on that pad in Cap Ferrat remains unsigned until the “business” actually sells anything.

So, in short, I’m skint (all of my spare cash having been invested in unsold t-shirts); petrol is at a record high and I need twice as much of it as I did before; and my mortgage costs 100 quid-a-month more than it did before Christmas.

But through all this I am considering voting Tory. Or LibDem. Or both, if I can.

I know.

Why? Well, it’s simple. Someone called Johnny Marr says he and the Smiths (and one can only presume this includes the Morrissey) will reform if the coalition steps down. According to the Guardian:

Johnny Marr has offered to reform the Smiths, on just one tiny condition: David Cameron‘s coalition government steps down. “How’s that?” he quipped at the NME awards. “I think the country’d be better off, don’t you?”

Now if that isn’t a good enough reason to support David Cameron, Gideon Osborn, Toady Clegg and this wonderful government’s fiscal policies, I don’t know what is.

The Battle Cruiser


I do love a pub.

And when I say that, I don’t mean a bar, or a cafe bar. Or a restaurant with a bar where you wait while your table is prepared. I mean a pub.

While we’re at it I also don’t mean a converted high street bank. A place which used to be a very good community bank, and is now a very shite community service pub. A place where you can buy “A chicken curry and a pint for £4.99 every Tuesday”. I don’t mean a place adorned with signs announcing “Girls get Purple drinks Half price every Monday, Wednesday and third Sunday”. I mean a pub.

Sometimes a pub's so nice it merits stopping drinking and taking a picture. This is me in the perfect Hoppe in Amsterdam. And not a hot meal in sight.

A pub should generally follow several broad guidelines. A pub should be a place where one goes to meet old friends and make new ones. And drink with them. To that end, the music out of any speakers therein should be soft enough to hear yourself think and talk, loud enough to induce an argument over the singer or the song’s identity. What decent night down the boozer worth remembering didn’t have a row in it ? And an argument over music is as good a place to start as any.

Any live singer or band playing in the pub should adhere to the above decibel guidelines. If such proves impossible, the act should always remember they are playing in a public house and therefore popular, anthem-type songs, mostly over ten years old is a must. I don’t want to sit examining my pint to the strains of the garbage you composed in your garage last night. Save that for the students. Landlords should reserve just one night per week for live music. There are only so many times I want to hear/sing Sweet Caroline down the local: Once at about ten o’clock and one encore. That’s plenty. Unless I’m drunk.

Food is an important thing to consider when running a pub, and I always think a good landlord should follow this rule of thumb: There should be no food in a pub. Packets of nibbles behind the jump are permitted. But, customers, if you want to eat a meal, then make yourself a sandwich before you go out, or go to a restaurant, eat a meal, then go to the pub. Or go down the pub, have a goodly drink, then stagger into a curry house/chinese takeaway after the landlord of the pub has refused you further refreshment.

One of the more annoying sensations is trying to enjoy the happy, hoppy whiff of a well-poured pint only to have your nasal enjoyment interrupted by the odour of fish, chips, gravy and the like. This is a pub, not an eatery. If you get peckish help yourself to peanuts, pork scratchings, pickled eggs or crisps which are available, at a very competitive rate behind the bar. You’ve already rid us of the smell of a smouldering ashtray in the corner (oh, sorry mate, is that your girlfriend ?), don’t start rubbing Ralgex into the groin by putting sachets of ketchup on the table or waving a plateful of sausage ‘n’ mash at me, when I’m only interested in a pint of Light ‘n’ Bitter.

Outdoors Bad

You would think that it would be a prerequisite of owning a pub that you serve beer (or gin, if you really must) in a glass receptacle, wouldn’t you ? No such luck any more, I’m afraid. How many times have you walked up to a bar, ordered a drink only to be greeted by the dreaded phrase “you drinking that inside or out, luv?”  Who hasn’t lied at this juncture, only to be caught out by the potman when he sees you craftily swigging from your glass while standing in the garden cos your girlfriend thought “it’d be nice to drink outside”? You reluctantly hand your drinking vessel back to the glass collector who then transfers its contents into a plastic beaker. Oh, the shame of it. A 2009 United Nations report found that one of the most (some say only) catastrophic results of global warming will be a huge increase of people being forced by women to drink outside and thus being forced to slurp from plastic “glasses”.

There’s nothing like finding a lovely cold, dark pub when the sun’s blazing outside. Or a nice, cozy, warm pub when it’s freezing outside. In short, there’s nothing like finding a nice pub. We don’t go in there to get drunk, you understand? No, we go in there for the craic. Occasional drunkeness is an unfortunate by-product of enjoying the craic, but not a compulsory nor inevitable outcome. His eminence William (Bill) Greaves (see Now Then… elswhere in these pages) has informed us how to behave in such places and situations, and it is clear from his teachings that we should endeavour to conduct ourselves in a dignified way befitting a serious (and let us not forget expensive) pastime such as drinking. Right up to the time we are plastered, that is.

Indoors Good

Is it therefore too much to ask that the landlord should present to us an establishment fit and befitting of this aforementioned due respect to our favourite pasttime? These meeting holes should be places of wonderment and worship. What they shouldn’t be is reminiscent of airport departure lounges with the addition of a John Smith’s pump. We neither want nor need plastic leprechauns on the walls, rows of vodka-shots lined up on the bar or 24/7 football on the enormous tv screens in each and every corner. Take a butchers at The Salisbury, St Martin’s Lane, London (or The Harp just around the corner in Chandos Place) and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t have to be in England to find wonderful watering holes. You may struggle to find a pint of mild, but there are always corners of a foreign field which are perfect spots to while away the hours. Try The Hoppe in Amsterdam which is as close to heaven as you could possibly be without throwing a seven. It has been a bar since 1670 and they’re still wondering how or if to redecorate it! There’s Robert’s Western World in Nashville where, if you can excuse the lack of a decent beer, you can sit and listen to fantastic music while manfully trying to avoid a bourbon overdose. You will fail. It’s sensational because of and in spite of that.

Nearer to home there’s The Fleece in Halifax, if you catch it on the right night. You could do worse than visit my own Shovel in Dartford. A wonderful example of a tiny, well-kept drinking den. Food?  Next door, mate. There’s Henchy’s in Cork, but we don’t have enough time to discuss Irish pubs. Just pick one, you’ll like it.

And why do I go on so ? Haven’t we heard all this before ? Well that’s as maybe. But I have a particular reason for sharing my thoughts with you. After a slight hiccup in the brain department last week, it seems that I’m hurtling towards my first dry Christmas since 1979. No Shovel for me this year. No hangover on Boxing Day, trying to remember what I drunk and when. No, I’m down for lashings of tea and biscuits, with the temptation of a chocolate liqueur ever-present. It may not be as bad as it sounds. You really don’t want a hangover with a malfunctioning brain like mine. And that’s before having a stroke. The spector of repeat performance last week scared the willies out of me so for my own good I’m off the stuff for the foreseeable future.

So you’ll have to have mine for me. Take it sensibly and behave yourself. Enjoy it and enjoy whichever boozer you chose to make your own. You never know, you may end up in The Rose and Crown, swinging on the barmaid’s…er…earrings. I doubt if you’ll find George there though :

Oh, and by the way: This is a pub. Want a coffee? Fuck off to Starbucks.

Fair Play and Fablass


For those unlucky enough to be watching NZTV coverage of the rugby let me tell you what happened. The welsh flanker and captain Sam Warburton picked up an opponent in a tackle, turned him over in the air and spear-tackled him, head-first, into the ground. A sending-off offence. So Irish referee Alain Rolland sent him off. The tv coverage missed half of this. TV in 1957land isn’t interested in anything that doesn’t involve some part of Dan Carter’s body, but you’d have thought at least ITV, who took the tv feed here in Blighty might have spotted a) the serious foul and b) the red card. They didn’t.

The first the pundits and commentators knew of it all was when they saw pictures of Warburton on the bench. They assumed he had been given a yellow card. This was Warbuton’s Rooney moment. A week after Wayne had been hounded out of town for kicking a player in the leg, Sam was given legal aid for trying to break a bloke’s neck. “Our little Sammy didn’t mean that”. “He’s not like that.” Well, Mr and Mrs Warburton, he did and he is. Sorry.

For the next 80-odd minutes (it’s still going on as I speak) the bleating from various welsh former players and their collaborators whinged and whined about the decision: Referee Rolland had administered a “huge injustice”. No he didn’t. Steve Ryder – the ITV anchorman – even said the welsh were “cheated” by the referee. No they weren’t. I happen to know that Mr Ryder is a Charlton Athletic supporter, so he can be forgiven for not having seen a lot of real sport. Fit professional men running around at pace must be very confusing to old Steve. Luckily he had former Rugby stars to help him out.

Francois Pienaar, the Matt Damon impersonator,  said the tackle was excusable in the cauldron that is a world cup semi-final. No, Matt.  Semi-final or no semi-final, you can’t pick a bloke up and spike him into the ground. When the kiwis do it to Brian O’Driscoll during a British Lions tour there’s a national outcry. If it were a Frenchman doing it to Lee Sixpence Ha’panney, Gareth Thomas would have been screaming blue murder. Not just screaming.

Next to Francois was Larry Dallaglio, looking lost without big Johnno to stick the boot into. Larry manfully joined in with Steve, Frank and welshman Martyn Williams in vilifying the ref. Oddly none of them lambasted the welsh for not taking advantage of drop-goal situations. Nor was the boot of Stephen Jones (surely now, the winner of Club Foot of the Year Award) blamed for the fact that they lost by one point. I lost count of how many kicks he missed.

The refs have been woeful this tournament and here at The Sharp Single we may have pointed out a few of the culprits. Rolland was never on our hit-list and certainly won’t be because of this performance. Though he nearly snuck in there when, with five minutes to go, he awarded a penalty to the Welsh in front of the posts. A shocking decision. Even Gareth in the comm box admitted it. Fortunately, Lee TwoBob missed the kick for the three points. If he’d have kicked that one the Taffs would have won the game due to a rank decision.

Didn’t hear Ryder and friends moan about that one.

The French were a poor rugby side all match. The Welsh looked up for it and none could have begrudged them the win. But they didn’t. Until the Australians change the rules, the side with more points wins the match. That’s how it works. Sorry. The English were shite all competition and are already back home paying their fines (those of them who aren’t still in Kiwi gaols). Good riddance to them. The Scotch never even bothered to send a team. So please, Wales, take it in good grace, shut up and fuck off home. Oh, and pick up those chips from your shoulders before you leave. Thanks.

Tomorrow Rugby Union meets Rugby League in the second semi-final. A game one side wants to play without forwards. After all, they beat the SAffers without any so why not the ABs ? If they win this cup it will be the death of Rugby Union. The Death of Rugby Union.

I pause here to allow my Aussie mates to pick up the keyboard and tap away furiously (cue the phrases “whingeing poms”; “spectator sport”;”jonny fucking wilkinson” etc etc  ad nauseum).

It won’t of course come down to the forwards. It’ll all be decided by a moment of genius or stupidity by Quade Cooper. By not changing his name from Quade, you’d have thought he’d been stupid enough for several lifetimes. Sadly not. This bloke makes Campo look like a solid and safe pair of hands. He was born a Kiwi but plays for Aussie. How to make friends and influence people. Quade (my spellchecker still doesn’t like that)  has the chance tomorrow to make a lot of friends, on one side of the Tasman or other.

So I shall remove my beret and don the Silver Fern in the hope that a team still using the scrum and lineout to secure good ball can prevail over the 13-man, tap-thru-the-legs tactics of the Wallabies. I wonder if, as the teams come out, they’ll be a bloke pretending to make noise by blowing into a conch shell, jumping up and down and sticking his tongue out ? I do hope so, it’s so frightfully exciting. Not at all boring.

I worry that referee Craig Joubert is officiating this one. Clearly the better of the refs on show, he should be doing the final not the semi. One can only surmise what that means. Bryce Laurence or Wayne Barnes anyone ? Now THAT would be a final worth watching.

Coming for to Carry Me Home. Please.


A mere 17 months after the Rugby World Cup commenced and we have already arrived at the Quarter Final Stage. Well we will do soon anyway. I’ve had marriages which didn’t last as long as this tournament.  The competition, like World War I and my nuptials, will all be over by Christmas.

So the minnows of Namibia, America and Scotland have returned home, leaving the heavyweights of world rugby to slug it out over the next 76 weeks (plus extra time) to see who are the kings of the joint 14th most popular sport in the world. The usual suspects are still in the mix, the usual favourites are ready and waiting, just a flankers jockstrap away from choking again and going home themselves. Whatever happens the final will be contested by one team from the northern hemisphere and one from the south. That’s just how the draw worked out. Honest.

Next Saturday, sometime around when the sparrows are emitting gas over your lawn, England will play France in a match-up that has all the appeal of a maggot-infested sore on your nan’s back. France, the headless cockerels of world rugby, have exceeded themselves in their ineptitude this year. Just when you think they have hit rock-bottom, Les Bleus produce a performance of such sparkling awfulness that only one team left in the competition could hope to match it. Step forward the English.

England are playing as if they’ve all been out on the piss the night before, kissing dwarfs and abusing young women as they go about their nocturnal beano. But, of course, no professional outfit would behave like that, especially when the team are playing like Avon Rugby Club 5th team, not the only team from the north to win the bloody trophy. This match promises very little indeed. Never will the phrase “like two bald drunk men fighting over a comb” be more aptly applied.

To complete the Keystone Cops feel of this particular England squad, we have the all-singing and all-dancing Matt Stevens, star of the X-Factor, but fuck all else, and Matt Banahan – a huge Sunday-morning-lummox-of-a-man who apparently plays on the wing. Retired props from all over the kingdom are lining up to pit their arthritic knees and prolapsed backs against Stevens, a prop picked for his speed and work ethic around the park. Pity the selectors didn’t choose a prop who could actually…er…prop. As for Banahan, this tattooed titan who stands solid like a particularly immobile wind-break, I have no idea why he was picked. Perhaps he hold Stevens’ mic during gigs. Maybe Matt S. and Matt B. could swap positions ? It couldn’t get any worse.

If both teams could lose and both go home it would do the tournament and the fans a big, big favour. Although, of course if England were to make the final it would mean legendary Wayne Barnes (being English too) would not be permitted to referee the game. Most rugby fans would be happy with that. Barnes, the North’s answer to the shocking Steve Walsh (or Bryce Lawrence, depending where in the world you’re reading this) is the only bloke in the competition who thinks Matt Stevens is playing well. He has missed forward passes, punches and offsides galore. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s missed a few scrums too – he looks in the wrong direction so often. If only he’d miss a half-dozen games of so over the next month-or-so.

So if England go home, Barnes stays. Which would you prefer ?

Barnes awards 3 leg byes to Canada

A couple of hours before the Franglais débâcle (see what I did there?) the Irish meet Wales in the battle of the only two European sides who have demonstrated an understanding of both the rules and purpose of the sport of Rugby Union. The lads in green run around frenetically, in the way that all Irish sides play rugby, football, chess and guerilla actions against an occupying force. There always seem to be more of them than you and, after they’ve practised a bit of fenian footwork all the way up the back of your head, there usually are.

The Welsh haven’t had a team like this one since we went decimal. Not since JJ, JPR or Mervyn has the Principality produced a XV which didn’t make you wanna curl up and giggle your sphincter off. For years my mate in Paris (forget his name) has been losing his shirt on every game these European Shoulder Chip-Wearing Champions have played. Now this year we may finally see a side from the west Offa’s Dyke get close to winning the Cup, and my mate (…nope, still can’t remember it) will be able to, not only recoup his Francs but also to wear that red Welsh replica shirt in the cafes and bars of some arrondissement or other without looking a complete berk. He’ll be safe in the knowledge that for the first time in living memory Frenchmen will walk past him without pointing and giggling. Well, not about him being Welsh anyway.

But my money’s on the Irish to see them off. It has to be. I am not well enough for Wales to win anything, and one funny turn-per-year is enough for me.  I’m nearly out of blood-pressure pills as it is, and fearing the Taffs will prevail may well send me reaching for the super-strength Ramipril.

In the other (Southern) half of the draw, I can’t see past the Boks to make the final. The Kiwis, as we know, are prone to choking on their own smugness-cake if they get within a maori vuvuzela of a final appearance. Their talisman, the perennial show-pony Dan Carter has exited, stage left, and the AB’s are already drawing up a list of excuses to call upon when they succumb to the inevitable. (the English have knicked our shirts being the more laughable) and, just in case that doesn’t work this year, they have started thinking about the 2015 competition.  They should be good enough to trounce the Argies (if they don’t it’ll really kickoff down there in 1957land) but I suspect the SAffers will be too strong for them, having dealt with the non-tackling, non-scrummaging, smarm-fest that is the Wallaby XV. The loss of the siege-gun kicker Frans Steyn to injury will not stop the Bokke Juggernaut rolling on (funny how there are not endless stories and whines on how boring the Steyn sisters’ kicks are? They are clearly much more exciting than Johnny Wilkinson’s boring kicking tactics.)

So I look forward to an Ireland vrs S.Africa final, with NZ running circles around a hapless and helpless English team in the 3rd place play-off.  I won’t predict the score of the Final ’til I see who’s refereeing. It’ll apparently be either Bryce Lawrence or a traffic cone, depending on who is judged to know more of the rules. The Jury’s still out.

Roll Over Beethoven


So the match is over, the race is run. Nothing else left to do than take to the podium and soak up up the applause, pick up your medal, then face the flag, put your hand over your heart and sing your guts out to the national anthem. Simples, as they say.

If you happen to be British you don’t get to hear your national anthem much – certainly not after sporting events. The soundtrack of my youth would more likely include the East German, USSR and USA anthems than the British one. Throughout the 70s and the 80s being crap at sport was something that not only defined us as a nation but thankfully spared us and the rest of the world the torture of listening to God Save the Queen. My god it’s dull. It’s a dirge and it’s terribly, terribly, boring and tedious and dull, never mind the sentiment in the lyric: asking one bloke I don’t believe in to save a woman I don’t believe in.

The only national anthem slower, duller and less inspiring than ours is possibly “Oh (fuck it’s) Canada”. Were both tunes penned by the same guy? Fortunately the Canadians tend to be as feckless at sport as we are so the chances of listening to their anthem are equally slim. There are some terrific tunes out there, to be sung in the name of sporting excellence and patriotic pride, just GB and our colonial Canucks don’t possess one.

The Italians have a great one – “Il Canto degli Italiani“(The Song of the Italians) – even though it seems to be three songs stuck together. Watching the Italian Rugby team belt it out before an international match, tears rolling down their eyes is truly a marvellous spectacle. The French song is great too – I always well up when that woman sings “La Marseillaise”- halfway through Casablanca. Few would deny “The Star Spangled Banner” is a cracking tune, even if it’s a bit overplayed, and hearing the old Soviet song – the nattily entitled “Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii” was always a thrilling experience, right up until The Pet Shop Boys butchered it.

“Advaaaaaaance Australia Fair” always reminds me of “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”, but at least it’s a happy little ditty. Brash, short and childlike – sort of sums up the whole nation really. The Germans still insist of using the same tune as was rather popular over there in the 1930s and 40s, they’ve just changed the words a bit. Uber alles, they seem happy with it, so who are we to cringe ?

So it was with some trepidation and reluctance last night that 12 half-pissed and totally knackered European golfers took to the stage to collect the Ryder Cup. The speeches over, they stood as one, faced the row of flags representing their respective countries and drew breath. The PA system burst into life with a lovely rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, from his 9th Symphony.

“What the fuck’s this?” squawked one critic with whom I was watching the coverage.
“Mozart” says I, erroneously.
“Why the fuck are they playing Mozart?” asked another couch-bound pal.
“It’s the European Anthem. This is your anthem” I informed him, correctly this time.
“Is it bollocks. Who voted for that then?”
In truth, I’m unused to arguing over either 18th century music or the voting systems of the EU, but I gave it a go.
“The European government did. Ages ago” (apparently it’s been our anthem since 1985, it’s just few realise it) “It’s a good tune, isn’t it? Better than ours”
“But it’s German !” someone pointed out in horror. Admittedly they had me there.
“Could be worse” I offered “Could be Mahler”
I was greeted with blank Homer-esque looks. I tried again. “Well there are so many different nations, they just chose one which encapsulated the continent as a whole”
“Bollocks !” came a cry from the armchair. Strange, I didn’t remember inviting Melvyn Bragg round to watch the golf.

Back on stage, our golfers were clearly having similar doubts about the music. There they stood, motionless, looking both a little bewildered at what they were listening to and what they were supposed to do. Just one – the great Miguel Angel Jimenez – seemed to be singing along. But what was he singing ? Did he know the words ? And in which language was he singing them ? Or was he just making them up, mouthing nonsense like an English Politician at a Welsh political conference ?

So I looked the lyrics up:

Joy, beautiful sparkle of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium!
We enter, fire-drunk,
Heavenly one, your shrine.
Your magic again binds
What custom has firmly parted.
All men become brothers
Where your tender wing lingers.

Personally speaking I have never entered Elysium’s daughter, fire-drunk or otherwise, but apart from that it seems pretty placid and neutral, doesn’t it ? It’s not a rabble-rouser, it’s not particularly jingoistic and unlike the original words of “God Save the Queen” it doesn’t point out that there are “Rebellious Scots to crush”, even if there are. And it’s a nice tune, so why not adopt it as our own ? Teach it in schools, rugby and football clubs the continent over. Job done.

Or rather it isn’t.

With no Ryder cup to watch any longer, I switched channels this morning to take my first glimpse at The Commonwealth Games. This has always been a bit of an oddity in the sporting calender because, as there are no Russians, Germans or Americans to lose to, we have to make do with losing to Kenyans, Australians and South Africans. It’s also one of those rare sporting competitions when Great Britain splits into its component parts of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the other lot, who compete against each other. Here again “God Save The Queen” is not appropriate as HRH is Queen (apparently) of all the competing nations, and it would be a bit boring (as if it wasn’t anyway) to have to listen to the same turgid song at each medal ceremony. So, the Jocks have chosen “Flower of Scotland”, the Northern Irish “Danny Boy” and the Welsh, well probably “Delilah” or something, but they’re not expecting to get the record out of its sleeve for a while.

England have traditionally gone for “Land of Hope and Glory“, a full-thrusting, ball-breaking sing-yer-heart out sort of number, a million miles away from “God Save…”. And so, having watched the English swimmer Fran Halsall romp home in the 50m butterfly I sat back to enjoy her picking up her medal, stood as she was between the two Strines who were both predicted to beat her. There she was, gold round her neck, as proud as punch and the band struck up. But we were not to be treated by “Land of…” but instead we got “Jerusalem”.

Now Jerusalem is a lovely old song, sung at school assemblies and on rugby terraces throughout the land. But it does have a tendency to go on a bit (remind you of anyone?). But nevertheless, we’re told that there was a national poll in which “Jerusalem”, as recorded by the The Grimethorpe Colliery Band (I’m not making any of this up) won the day by beating “Land of Hope etc” by some votes to some fewer. National poll my arse. Anyone out there asked to vote for this?

So off they went, knocking out a decent rendition of William Blake’s poem. One verse takes a good while to complete. We got both verses of it. And poor old Fran had to grin and bear it. It went on forever. At the start she look excited and a little bit teary. By the end she looked embarrassed, cramped up, bewildered and in danger of nodding off. To win her gold medal she swam one length of the pool in 26.24 seconds. The anthem took 2 minutes 25 (yes I timed it). I emailed the fragrant Clare Balding at the BBC if this was a Commonwealth Games record.

She hasn’t replied, but I suspect it is a record. For now. I’m starting a new “national” competition to vote for England’s anthem for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (which’ll doubtless make Delhi look like Las Vegas). Suggestions so far include “Bohemian Rhapsody” “Bat out of Hell” (extended version) and “Eskimo Nell”. My plan is to find to an anthem longer and more tedious than the 50k Walk. Morrissey albums are exempt on humanitarian grounds.

Elsewhere: The Philippines crack down on anthem abuse

Preferred Lies


About this time a two years ago I was in Kentucky trying to find a decent pint. A bunch of selected chums and I had gone over there to lay to rest the myth that the colony had thrown away the recipe for beer when they threw all that tea into the water in Boston a few years ago.

We were also there, of course, to witness one of the world’s great sporting events: The Ryder Cup. A couple of us had been to one before, in Spain 1997, and it was an experience we wanted to repeat. The build-up the matches was electric. Louisville had been invaded by thousands of European fans, including seemingly half of Ireland, and the locals couldn’t have been nicer about it (especially after they realised how much Guinness they were gonna sell that week).

The US fans were passionate about a victory which had eluded them for several years and they did their very best to cheer their team on as American captain Paul Azinger‘s 12 men visited the bars and restaurants down the main drag the night before the match. Every steakhouse and every bourbon house rang to the sound of the American chant:

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

It was impressive stuff. American fists were pumping, the US flags were waving and, having failed to find a decent local brew, we sank endless pints of Irish stout, soaking up both the alcohol and the atmosphere. One woman tapped me on my shoulder.
“Please tell your friends that we’re not all like that” she said, motioning towards a crowd of jumping, star spangled piss-heads in full rabble-rousing flow.
“Don’t be daft” says I “there’s nothing wrong in cheering for your team. We’re loving it”. It was true, too. I’d never seen this sort of patriotic fervour up close and whatever side you were rooting for, it was pretty impressive.
“We just wish you’d get yourself a better song” I added.”

Our team warm up. That shirt still doesn't fit me.

The whole week’s experience was truly sensational. The golf was mesmerising, especially by US team, and the fans were nothing if not generous, friendly and fair. We’d arrived with the slight worry that they wouldn’t respect either spirit of the competition or the etiquette of a golf crowd. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes they were loud, yes they where one-eyed, but they were shouting for the home team, and no-one could have denied them that.

“USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

We tried to join in, but couldn’t remember the words.

One damper on the whole proceedings was when the bars were shut on the Sunday morning (they play God Squad rules over there), but we managed to survive on coke and muffins until the allotted opening time. As we sat there on that final day, perched above the 9th green and witnessed the gradual collapse of the Europeans, our new american friends were truly kind and sympathetic to our plight. They neither gushed nor gloated. I like to think we were magnanimous in defeat.

As we shook hands and said our goodbyes one elderly woman said to us “See you in Wales in two years”
“Sod that!” said our Gary “We’ll see you in Chicago in four”
“You guys not going to Newport?” asked her husband incredulously
“Nah” squarked our Gavin, “It’s a khazi and it’ll be underwater in October”.

I don’t think she knew what “khazi” meant. She gave signs of understanding “underwater”.

I didn’t sleep much last night. So excited about this weekend. Genuinely nervous. I’m spending the whole three days lying on the couch, not intending to miss a shot. Went downstairs at 6 am to make a cup of tea and prepare. Put the fire on warm and curl up on the couch. I can get a decent pint from my fridge when I need one (it won’t be long).

It’s been pissing down on the course all night. The course is sodden. Underwater. They’re playing preferred lies. The rain in Wales in October is torrential. Now who could have predicted that?

Gord Luv A Duck, The Noo !


In another of an occasional series of time-saving tips, I’d like to let you in on a little secret : 44″ Chest is a dreadful movie. Shocking. Awful. Nasty. Possibly the most disappointing film I’ve seen for some time.

Being a huge Ray Winston and John Hurt fan I was really looking forward to it, only to be left open-mouthed at the pointlessness, nastiness and worthlessness of it all. What a real shame. Sexy Beast II it ain’t. I can’t remember what I paid for it, but if you hang on for a little while you’ll be able to buy a ‘nearly new’ version on Amazon for next to nothing. (I’ve already posted my customer review). It’s a shocker.

Sexy Beast gave us the great Don Logan, possibly the best British gangster ever portrayed on film, played by Sir Ben Kingsley. His performance never ceases to amaze and enthrall me, especially the perfection and precision with which Kinglsey manages to pull off a cockney accent, right from his opening, immortal line “I’ve gotta change my shirt, I’m sweating like a cahnt”. Bloody well done for a Yorkshireman. I’m afraid the great John Hurt, (again from Yorkshire), fails to hit the mockney-mark in this lame follow-up, and he’s not alone. The ususally brilliant Tom Wilkinson from, er, Yorkshire borders on a Meery Puppins cockney performance all the way through. Stephen Dillane sounds ok as a Londoner, but then again he was born there. No, don’t waste your money on this movie, it’s horrid through and through, and the accents don’t help either.

But why should we expect Yorkshiremen to be able mimic the accent of The Old Kent Road, or Whitechapel? Accents are bloody hard to pull off. Just ask Russell Crowe. Well actually don’t, cos the big Aussie doesn’t like talking about it. DON’T LIKE IT AT ALL, MATE. He got very pissy with a radio interviewer who thought he sounded Irish when playing Robin Hood, the eponymous hero in Ridley Scott’s new blockbuster. What a load of old tosh ! He sounds Scottish. Or Lancastrian. Or Yorkish (perhaps Tom Wilkinson was his speech coach?).

Now given that we have no idea which accent or dialect Robin of Loxley actually had, we cannot say for sure that he didn’t sound like Groundskeeper Willie or Geoffrey Boycott or Roy Walker, but it’s safe to say he probably didn’t change his accent four times-a-day, depending on who he was talking to (as cunning as he was). What does a Lincolnshire accent sound like anyway? Buggered if I know.

Dodgy dialects have long been a source of amusement. Dick Van Dyke, of course, is the main culprit to whom everyone refers, but he is by no means alone when it comes to comedy accents. For starters, Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula takes some beating for a crap Englishmen, James Coburn’s Australian in The Great Escape is one of my favourites (“what ye doin wiv me coat, mate?”), while Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of the Japanese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s borders on the downright racist. The least said about Tom Cruise’s Oirishman in Far and Away, the better.

Why do they bother? Take a leaf out of Sean Connery’s book and just be yourself. Who can ever forget the Scottish/Russian submarine commander in The Hunt for Red October ? “Forty yearsh I’ve been at shea. A war at shea. A war with no battlesh, no monumensh… only casualtiesh.” Spoken like a native.
And how about his brilliant Portuguese-Jocko Warrior in Highlander ? (acting opposite a Frenchman playing a Scotsman) “With heart, faith and shteel. In the end there can be only one, Msh Moneypenny”. His Irish accent in “The Untouchables” is a thing of wonder and mystery. I defy any budding Henry Higgins to put a location to it, but I suspect it was born somewhere just outside Edinburgh.

I always thought Cary Elwes in the brilliant Princess Bride never got the credit he deserved, and as I’ve never seen (or unlikely ever to see) Bridget Jone’s Diary I can’t pass comment on Renee Zellweger’s version of the Queen’s Own. Is Hugh Laurie any good as an American in House? or did Domonic West sound authentic in The Wire? I can’t tell. Gotta be better than Bob Hoskins was in either Who Framed Roger Rabbit ? or The Cotton Club.

So in this world when there are rows about white men playing Othello, when the chinese community in Australia are up in arms over who’s portraying their War Hero, or uproar when Nick Cage is cast in a role which could have quite easily been given to a proper actor, why don’t we all agree to let anyone play anyone on stage or screen? Let’s just forget the blacking-up, or the crap makeup just as long as the role is a convincing one and acted well (and that’s Jude Law fucked on all counts.) And let’s rid ourselves of this obsession with the right accent for the right part. For example, I would like to play Rick Blaine in Casablanca with a South London lilt.

“Louis, I fink this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Nah, put the kettle on, you cahnt”

.