Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top 30 Albums, 2012

At last, it's the end-of-year musical list that all stay-at-home dads long for and live for. I won't bore you with too much prose this time, having long since run out of new adjectives to describe sounds that deserve more than mere phrases. As always, this is in no way a professionally assessed list, it's a rundown of the recordings I enjoyed listening to most, in approximate order. My apologies to the thousands of artistes I never heard, or have never heard of. It was already a good enough year without me needing to hear any more.

30. Tift Merritt - Traveling Alone (Yep Roc)
Track: Traveling Alone
Listen to: ooh, I don't know. When traveling alone?

29. Cat Power - Sun (Matador Records)
Listen to: still traveling alone, dreamily driving across vast, unpopulated midwest landscapes (never done this, but it's a plan).

28. Air - Le Voyage dans la Lune (EMI)
TrackSonic Armada
Listen to: while watching the disconcerting 1902 sci-fi film of the same name that Air belatedly put a soundtrack to.

27. Mark Lanegan Band - Blues Funeral (4AD)
Listen to: while celebrating decay.

26. Amadou and Mariam - Folilo (Nonesuch)
TrackOh Amadou
Listen to: when reading reports from northern Mali about how brutal Islamic fundamentalists are suppressing all forms of music beside religious incantations.

25. Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls (Ato Records)
TrackHold On
Listen to: for old-fashioned musical virtues - raw, head-ripping, down-to-the-bone brilliance.

24. Cate le Bon - Cyrk (TCG)
Listen to: when you're wishing the Velvet Underground and Nico had made a few more albums.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012: Six Countries, Six Stadiums

This year I managed to get out the house a bit more than usual, taking me to some new places, and also back to some more familiar ones. It's sad but true - the easiest way for me to remember where I was, and when, is to mentally archive the football games I went to.

Nakivubo Stadium, Kampala - the
 crowded section (pic: SAHIP)
1. Saturday May 5. Nakivubo Stadium, Kampala, Uganda. Competition: Bell's Ugandan Super League. SC Villa v KCC. Entrance: 5000 Ugandan schillings ($2).
I enter the former national stadium at 2.45pm for a 3pm kick-off, because I'm always prompt, and you never know if there will be a rush on tickets. No worries, I'm the first person there in the 15,000 capacity ground, and the only way I know there's a game on is because there are two teams warming up. The match kicks off at 3.15, and a few hundred profoundly unenthusiastic fans drift in, reacting only to goals with begrudging applause, but never cheering good play. By half-time, a few lads have finally affixed the sponsors' boards to the perimeter fence. At the final whistle no one moves, maybe because there's lots of space in here compared with the cramped, chaotic city beyond, or maybe because someone's setting up a sound system next to a barrel of cold beers. Final score: SC Villa 2 KCC 0.

Hand-crafted seating at the national
 stadium in Bujumbura (pic: SAHIP)
2. Wednesday May 9. National Stadium, Bujumbura, Burundi. Competition: A cup game between two unidentified teams. Entrance: free.
After a meeting in one of the government buildings close by, I walk across the road late in the afternoon to take a look at the ground. The gate's half open, so I peer in, expecting to be shouted away by a groundsman, as would happen in England. Except there's a game on, with about 150 people watching. It's a neat ground, surrounded on three sides by mosaic stone seating, with a less alluring covered main stand. I see the last 20 minutes of the match, then it goes to penalty kicks, at which point, strangely, half the spectators leave. One goalkeeper aggressively taunts an opponent who's missed his kick. Bad karma, dude - the goalkeeper's team goes on to lose, prompting wild celebrations among the victors, while the remaining spectators shuffle out wordlessly. One man hits the fence in frustration, the only visible display of fan emotion. Final score: someone won on PKs.

Bukavu's Stade de la Concorde: Built in Mobutu's
 name, on this day host to honky house-dads (pic: SAHIP)
3. Saturday May 19. Stade de la Concorde, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Competition: Great Lakes Peace Cup, DRC quarter-final, second leg. Espoir du Grand Lac v Umoja. Entrance: free.
In the sparse but spacious former President Mobutu Stadium, two teams of former combatants and community members battle it out on a testing surface. As by far the whitest person there, I am invited to take the ceremonial kick-off, for the first and possibly the last time in my life, praying that the anti-diarrhea tablets I had to take earlier that morning will remain effective. A clutch of small boys spend the entire game staring at me while I make small talk in broken French with the South Kivu Minister for Sport and Leisure in the VIP section (six plastic chairs on the concrete terrace cordoned off from the masses). "Tricky surface," I venture. "They're used to it," he replies tersely. Final score: Espoir du Grand Lac 1 Umoja 0 (3-1 on aggregate). More pictures here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Correct Methods of Jazz Education

At least half our house likes Ike
I gave up trying to influence my daughters’ musical tastes several years ago. When they were tiny, they had no choice other than to dance to the vinyl tracks I played them every night after bath-time. I compiled for my older daughter, who was four at the time, a cassette of her favoured singalongs. It included The Pogues and Ian Dury, and one day, without my knowledge, she put it in her lunch box and took it to play to her little friends at kindergarten.

That same afternoon a thunder-faced teacher met me at the door to ‘Children In The Shoe’, demanding to know why I was allowing my child to listen to “filthy, obscene” music. “I had to literally run across the room and turn it off!” she scolded. I mumbled that I’d no idea how she had such an item in her possession. This craven lie foundered on the cassette’s label, in adult handwriting, which read ‘Xxxxx’s Favourites’. I suspect it was only my daughter’s generally carefree demeanour that prevented the kindergarten from making a call to social services.

In a few years, both daughters realised their contemporaries were all listening to Shite FM, and for a long time resented me for having shielded them from the common

Monday, November 05, 2012

Copulating Carrots Tell Us All We Need To Know About Obama's America

Pure evil, in carrot form (pic: SAHIP)
For anyone still doubting the depths of moral decadence that America has sunk to under the Obama administration over the past four years, I present the following hard, raw evidence that this country has descended to new levels of sexual depravity encouraged by the permissive liberal climate – same-genre vegetables openly copulating in my fridge (see above). The disgusting and graphic picture I am duty-bound to reproduce here reflects the same kind of licentious, intra-grocery fornication that could well be happening in refrigerators across the United States right now.

Imagine my shock when I opened the fridge door with the wholesome goal of making a nourishing, vitamin-rich, family values-inspired soup, only to be confronted with this naked display of hardcore penetration by two rutting root vegetables of the same colour and the same grotesque phallic shape. And once caught, did they stop, cry out in shame and then scuttle for separate vegetable drawers? No, they unblushingly continued to interlock right in front of my eyes, as though the watching gaze of a third party was mere fuel to their unspeakable lust.

I could have shut the door, sealed off the fridge with duct tape, dragged it outside, doused it with diesel, and then set the whole loathsome device aflame. After all, the fridge is culpable too in this seething tale of seedling seediness, having provided the sluttish food items with the cold den of iniquity for their vile, whorish behaviour.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Chairman's Daughter: reviews and interviews

The alternative cover (design by Tim Bradford)
There has been a slow trickle of nice reviews for my e-novel 'The Chairman's Daughter', including two thoughtful ruminations on the book, and football fiction as a whole, at The Two Unfortunates and Twohundredpercent. One of the web's most wonderful football websites, In Bed With Maradona, gives the book a short but positive review here, writing that "this take on the game sits alongside the very best football fiction out there. A difficult genre to crack, this is a nicely paced and often hilarious read and it's fair to say, we thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish."

The football memorabilia and nostalgia website Got, Not Got went to the trouble of interviewing me after describing The Chairman's Daughter as "smart, arsey, relevant football fiction". Not quite sure what 'arsey fiction' means, but it sounds about right.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

If The Republican Party Doesn’t Believe In Government, Why Does It Exist?

There’s a simple solution to the contradiction eating away at the heart of the GOP. Disband and secede to enclaves reserved exclusively for the extremely rich.

A Republican Enclave, recently
The Republican Party convention in Tampa this week has mined comical new depths of inane, conceptually bankrupt rhetoric, even by the already desperate standards set during George Bush’s government, which managed the impressive task of staying in power for eight years without passing a single act that genuinely improved life for the majority of people living in the United States. The folksy Florida theme of the week has been as simple as saying “Pray to God and all good things shall come to thee”. Speaker after speaker has claimed to come from ornery, humble roots, but thanks to hard work they ended up successful and, by proxy, stinking rich. And if everyone else just works as hard as these leading model Republicans, they’ll end up exactly the same, and America will be saved from the hardline socialists apparently rife throughout the Democratic Party (nope, I can’t name a single one either).

The contradiction at the core of what can barely be called a Republican ‘philosophy’ is that all this apparent success was achieved without help or handouts from the state (this in itself is a lie comprehensively nailed here by Charles Pierce). And yet, while denouncing big government, it wants to be the Party that governs all 50 states. How can that be done on a small scale? The answer, as all latter-day GOP administrations have discovered, is that it cannot. But there’s no need to let reality stop you posturing in the name of a phony but populist grassroots core belief.

In order to bring some genuine principle back to a Party so heartbreakingly starved of integrity, the Republicans should renounce its goal of being elected to political power and liquidate itself with immediate effect. In return for this magnanimous gesture, the

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Best Junk Shop In The World

 Junk rocks (pic: SAHIP)
I spotted this second hand shop in Zürich on Thursday night, in a back street behind the train station while on my way to meet my old football team for reunion drinks (Wacker Selnau FC - Swiss Progressive League champions, 1998 and 1999, as I'm sure you remember). It was closed, and judging by its opening times of three afternoons a week, you'll be hard pressed to find it ready for business. Even if it's open you'll find it even harder to get in, because the junk fills the entire shop, almost up to the ceiling. There's just enough room to open the door. There's no sign of a counter, let alone a till. 

I imagine the proprietor standing at the door, a weathered man in his 50s smoking a roll-up, and when someone expresses an interest in, say, the pile of LPs sticking out of the top of the heap, he dons a laconic smile and invites them to clamber inside and take a look. And then, once they've disappeared in the treasure, he calmly locks the door and doesn't return for several days. It's an ongoing artistic installation that uses slow death to mock our yearning for material steals, reflected in the turnover of surplus bric-a-brac perpetually handed down by mortals who could not take it with them to the narrow urn, or Mitteleuropa's cold, dark earth.

Junken treasures (pic: SAHIP)
I'm a hoarder myself, though my crap is much better organised, and conceals few, if any, corpses. It's mainly piles and piles of old football and music magazines, plus a few drawers of memorabilia that's meaningless to anyone besides myself. Should I depart, I imagine most of the magazines will be pulped, and the memorabilia evaluated (just in case I accidentally accrued something of worth), and then likewise pressed into trash. So I hereby state that all my band badges and postcards and football stickers and football medals and press accreditation badges, and numerous other plastic objects and figurines, be donated to the world's most genuine junk shop, somewhere in a back street of Zürich. If the owner mildly invites you in for a closer look, just throw it all on top of the pile, then run for the station. Thanks.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Chairman's Daughter

After years of hearing publishers tell me that football and fiction don't mix, I've released my debut football novel The Chairman's Daughter in digital form, available in the US here for a snip over $5, and in the UK here for £3.06. Unfortunately, you'll have to own a Kindle or download a Kindle app if you want to read it. You can also sample the first chapter and a half to see if you like it. Sensitive readers should beware of abrasive language.

If you take the plunge, feel free to leave constructive reviews. It's not a difficult read - this is fiction as entertainment, with adequate amounts of football, sex, politics and drinking thrown in. If you enjoyed my short story collection For Whom the Ball Rolls, this is more or less a novel written in the same spirit.   

Friday, June 15, 2012

Feeling A Clot in the ER

I hadn’t been to the Emergency Room for six years, and only then because it was a weekend and I’d been kicked in the head while heading a football towards the bottom corner of a goal in a grassy recreational corner of Montgomery County. Although the insurance company largely paid up, I saw later from the bill that the two stitches they put in just above my left eye on a Sunday afternoon cost the best part of $1000. It was by a fair distance the most valuable goal I’ve ever scored.

"Make way, calf strain victim!"
Otherwise, I tend to avoid the Emergency Room unless I’m in a lot of pain and it’s outside of a doctor’s normal hours. You hear of stats reporting that the vast majority of all emergency room visits are not, in fact, emergencies. You don’t want to be the one sitting there with a vague ache in the head while accident victims with seconds to live are rushed past you and through several sets of double doors, as they always seem to be on television ERs. Which always makes me wonder why they have so many sets of double doors in Emergency Room buildings. Don’t you want to get people through to the operating theatre quickly? Then build corridors with fewer sets of heavy metal doors, for Christ’s sake.

Anyway, last Saturday morning I had a pain in the left leg, which had been getting worse for four days. I thought it was a football injury, but they usually get better when you apply muscle rub and scoff ibuprofen. But this was keeping me awake all night, when I was horizontal and restful, and it wasn’t just pain, it was ***ING PAIN. So bad that I got out of bed and went straight to the ER.

But pain is like love, it’s not always constant. By the time I got there, it had subsided.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Kampala to Gulu: A Journey In Signs

Through a screen of splattered insects (pic: SAHIP)
The narrative of the road between the Ugandan capital Kampala and the city of Gulu, four hours to the north, is best told in the words you can read on the way, be they on fly posters, sign posts, banners, or adverts painted on to shops and houses. Though of course that's only a partial reflection of a world merely glimpsed from a passing car:
Hips and Bums (plus tel. no.)
MANHOOD - Enlargement and power (plus tel. no.)
Voice of Restoration and Revival Church
Cadbury Eclairs - Discover My Heart
NICE INN For Accommodation Away From Home
Quicky Picky Supermarket
JoyJoint Pub and Restaurant
SOS Sufficiency of Scriptures Ministries
Mosh Restaurant and Takeaway 24/7
Accident Ahead (sign periodically stuck in tyre in the middle of the road - there is no accident, it just means 'Please Drive Safely Through Our Village', and is ignored by all drivers) 
Roadside baboon, just north of
the Nile (pic: SAHIP)
Meditex Medicated Soap
True Light Primary School (can you graduate to the Artificial Light Secondary School?)
Uganda United Against Measles and Polio (ahead of a nationwide drive this weekend to vaccinate all under-5s against these two diseases)
God Alone Bookshop and Technical Services
Barclays Premier League LIVE
Bwyele Town Council Wishes You A Safe Journey
Exodus House of Cement
Do Not Step On Or Touch Any Unknown Objects

My main regret is that we didn't have time to stop and get utterly hammered in the Trust Jesus Saloon. It's just one of those life experiences I'll have to imagine instead.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Travelling in East Africa

It's not been a stay-at-home year so far. This month I've been in various East African countries coordinating a series of football tournaments aimed at helping former combatants (in particular ex-child soldiers) reintegrate with their communities through football. Here are some of my pictures from the early rounds of the Great Lakes Peace Cup in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ducking Off To California

"Got any spare change, duck?"
I went to Santa Barbara last week, and the sexual highlight of my trip was to see two mallards humping in a public park one morning as I was peacefully trying to read a book. To describe bird sex as wham, bam and thank you mam is inaccurate - it’s much, much faster than that. This duck spread its wings, mounted its chosen partner, and clocked its climax amid a flurry of ripples in less than three seconds before swimming back to its male entourage to quack about the conquest.

This virile pond dweller was positively strutting on water, floating swiftly among its male mates with a certain air of, “Did you lads see what I just did?” When it happens that fast, you have to broadcast the event just in case your contemporaries were momentarily pulling a strand of duckweed from the bottom of the pond and missed it. 

After briefly circling its buddies and vigorously shaking its body a couple of times in a manner suggesting that, if it could speak, it would have been growling the word, “Whoooooooarghhhhhh!” the duck was still bursting with testosterone. How best to work it off? A young turtle was relaxing at the pond’s edge, oblivious to all the lightning

Monday, January 16, 2012

Momentarily Amazed

Baby, I'm a little bit amazed
Last night I was in the kitchen making dinner and listening to music on my iPod, on shuffle as usual. While the stew was simmering, I read the latest film reviews in the Washington Post. In the review of the new Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton feel-God vehicle Joyful Noise, I read the following sentence: “And to ease in non-believers (or those apathetic toward religious ditties), many of the early ballads – Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror and Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney – are crowd-pleasers.”

When I read that sentence, the song playing on my iPod was Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney. As there are over 21,000 songs on my iPod, that was quite a ‘Ha!’ moment.

I know a few people who would immediately read more into it than just pure coincidence. A sign of something. Unlike the thousands of other times when I’ve heard a song on my iPod and haven’t come across a mention of that song in whatever I was reading at the same time. Or the several dozen times I’ve heard Maybe I’m Amazed in my life, but wasn’t reading a newspaper article that mentioned the song at the exact same moment.

At the same time, you can’t just ignore such moments because you abhor superstition. “It is wrong… to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences,” Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, “but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.” Maybe you’re momentarily amazed, or maybe you’re not. Just for a second or two, I was, and that’s better than another evening when I wasn’t amazed at all. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

Farewell To Another Great Record Shop

Soon-to-be-missed Melody. Pic: one photographaday.com
Not that anyone seems to have very high expectations any more when they verbally churn out the statutory New Year’s wishes, but this one’s already off to a bad start with the news that 34-year-old Melody Records in DC’s Dupont Circle will close before the end of the month. Since Tower and Olsson’s closed down, Melody – one of the few remaining independent record shops in the area - has been my sole browsing bolt hole on slow or melancholic days when I’ve needed a fix of new music to culturally invigorate my aging soul. Now I’m left with either waiting for the Amazon package, or taking a trip to the strip malls for the hit-and-miss experience of the second hand graveyard warehouse.

Well, that’s where CDs belong, isn’t it? One contributor to a DC chat forum told users to get over it, because going to a record shop was like hanging out under the trees on the village green with the smithy. Never mind that some of us would quite like to hang out under the trees on the village green, or under a tree anywhere. The presence of the smithy wouldn’t matter to me either way, but I’d not be against lutists, harpists and accordion players venturing out and sitting beneath the leaves to air their compositions.

In the same ole-fashioned way, I love to flick through rows of discs and find the one I’ve just read garnering a Grade A review in The Onion or on The Quietus. Or find that release by a band I’ve always loved but didn’t realise had brought out a new record. Or (and this, tellingly, has become my biggest thrill) discovering that my favourite LP from 30 years ago has been re-mastered, re-packaged, and re-released with two bonus discs of live versions, outtakes and acoustic re-imaginings. See, there are still some suckers out here prepared to support the music industry.

I was last in Melody just before Christmas, spending a $50 gift card that was burning a hole in my pocket. At that time I was receiving daily e-mails from the totally legal, Russia-based downloading site Legal Sounds, offering me $50 worth of free music if I put another $50 on my account. For that money, I could have downloaded around 120 new albums, most of which I’d never get around to hearing. In Melody I bought four CDs for that money. Of course it doesn’t make financial sense, and it illustrates exactly why such shops are closing their doors. But the 90 minutes I spent in there looking and listening, and ogling the boxed sets in their locked cases, and watching what other customers were buying, and fondling the new wave of vinyl, and getting out of the fucking house, were all part of what I paid for.

Market Rasen's top record shop with
 model customer, circa 1982
If you sink the price of something to the point where you’re almost giving it away, it has no value. If I download the entire back catalogue of Neil Young, it’s never going to mean anything to me except if I make getting to know his music into a controlled, academic exercise. It won’t be the same as catching one of his songs on the radio or in a bar and noticing that it’s something special, then hunting down the record and playing it several times. Music is losing its signifiers. From the vinyl LPs I bought in The Electrical Shop in Market Rasen as a teenager to the handful of superb CDs on the Six Degrees of Separation label I bought unheard at Rockville Tower’s closing down sale, the personal experience of the music I own is closely related to the time and place I bought it. When you only need to press a button to own a song, it’s just a song you got by pressing a button.

I’m sure that at least ten per cent of over-40s agree with me. In the meantime, a huge thanks to Melody Records for staying around so long, and the very best of luck to owners Suzy and Jack in whatever they do next. One of my fondest memories of your shop is being interviewed there one afternoon by a local cable TV company a few years back. The question they asked me was something along the lines of, What’s a middle-aged man doing in a record shop on a week day afternoon? My answer: Where else could I possibly want to be?