Friday, January 31, 2020

A short rant about England on Brexit Day

On Wednesday I flew home from England. On Thursday I wrote this, in a mood. I'm still in that mood today, so here it is.

Clowns for Crowns turning their backs on progress
Brexit is a manifestation of England's desire to return to a past that never was. It's a consequence of Britain's slanted and archaic electoral system, due for reform hundreds of years ago, paralysed by self-protective cronyism, and obsessed with its masturbatory rituals that are as laughable and anachronistic as the idea of Greatness Through Empire. The rush to leave the European Union contrasts with the lack of a concerted initiative to demand a written constitution. Why bother, when you already have the Magna Carta?

England nurtures delusions of superiority fed by wars fought long ago, and only won thanks to the kind of international unity and co-operation it now abjures. There's a casual acceptance that the English can still entrust the government of its country to old and wealthy white men. Men who'd rather be out of the city shooting beasts that someone else will pluck, roast and serve to them on a silver tray. Someone whose name they do not know, but who will vote for them anyway.

The English continually kowtow to an accent that exerts an inexplicable, deadening power over the non-ruling class. The Queen's intonation is Brexit's vocal architect. The English will mock and parody this accent in fake acts of on-stage rebellion, but in reality always defer to its tea-room, note-perfect, condescending cadence. Its evocation of pomp on high ushers the people towards a life of law and order, commanding that they honour and obey and bow down before wretched, useless parasites who in other European countries were long since hung from the gibbets or confined to lunatic asylums.

Something in the way they talk...
The English desire that their dirty, exploitative history - that fattened the practitioners of those haughty accents through slaughter and slavery - carries them forward on the momentum of myth. The myth that it will always somehow jolly well pull through. The myth that, although they were thankfully conservative enough to fight the Nazi ideology, is itself founded on generalised fabrications about national character steeped in an island mentality and the need for apparent freedom from a perceived tyranny. They'll stick with their own oppression, thanks - the homegrown version that fosters a laziness in intellect, a chronic lack of political imagination, and an eager willingness to be the master's favourite dogsbody.

England loves to lie down and celebrate its subordination to a class of mediocre, plum-mouthed charlatans who can not believe their luck. Of all the subjects they got to rule over, they couldn't have asked for more willing executors of their own degradation. Let the laughing bells of Brexit toll for drunken, sickened England.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Albums of the Year, 2018

I paid more attention this year, which is why I probably think it's been a 'good' year for new music, and why I'm bothering with a list for the first time since 2012. With the usual disclaimer that even if I'd listened to every record released in 2018 at least 15 times over, this list of favourites (as opposed to 'the best') would still be random and entirely subjective, and would read differently tomorrow compared with how I've aligned the albums today. Did I really like Halo Maud's record marginally less than Marisa Anderson's? Should you rank Oneohtrix Point Never's music side by side with Fatoumata Diawara's? Probably not. But here we go anyway: 

40. Vera Sola- Shades (Spectraphonic)
39. Rosanne Cash- She Remembers Everything (Blue Note)
38. Karine Polwart- Laws of Motion (Hudson)
37. Selling, Gold Panda & jas Shaw- On Reflection (City Slang)
36. Bombino- Deran (Partisan)
35. Liela Moss- My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth (Bella Union)
34. The Field- Infinite Moment (Kompakt)
33. Robyn- Honey (Embassy One)
32. Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood- With Animals (Heavenly)
31. Lubomyr Melnyk- Fallen Trees (Erased Tapes)
30. Natalie Prass- The Future and the Past (ATO)
29. Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert- Here Lies the Body (Rock Action Records)
28. Vanessa Peters- Foxhole Prayers (Idol Records)
27. Halo Maud- Je suis une île (Heavenly)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Books of the Year, 2018

I know - who publishes a top four? The answer: people who only read four books published this year that are worth mentioning. Apologies to the thousands of other authors I neglected because I got distracted by football magazines, music autobiographies, Orwell's wartime essays and diaries, and the instructions to my bluetooth speaker (still haven't worked it out).   

4. The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard (Vintage)
Nicky Beard, the skinny nine-year-old kid on the front cover half-covered in a beach towel and crouching on a rock, looks just like I did in the 1970s. A few hours after it was taken, on August 19th. 1978, he drowned off the Cornwall coast, watched by his helpless older brother, Richard, who only just managed to pull himself free of the same treacherous undertow before running for help. 
The novelist uses this memoir to re-explore a day that his family had conspicuously ignored for 40 years. It will resonate with anyone who's experienced grief the British way. Exactly a week before this tragic drowning, my own favourite uncle died in a domestic accident. After the funeral, we didn't talk about it either. I remember my mum running out of the living-room to cry sometimes in the following months. But the emphasis is that she ran out of the room. No one said anything. No one ran after her. Meanwhile, she felt unable to subject us to her raw, raging feelings for her lost brother. It just wasn't done.
Beard goes back in time to piece together what happened that day and in the following weeks, juxtaposing his own memories with those of his family, the coast guard who pulled his brother's body from the water, the official records, and the banal condolence cards that even in the days just after death suggest it's maybe time for everyone to move quickly on. Who was this boy, what remains of his identity in the minds of those who knew him, and why do we live in a culture so scared to properly grieve that we blank out those who've died as though they never lived at all?

Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Quiet Fan


I've added another new blog to this network, The Quiet Fan, to back the book of the same name (see picture), published by Unbound in the autumn of 2018.

The Quiet Fan is partly a memoir about watching Lincoln City, Rangers FC and Scotland in the 70s and 80s, and part philosophical musing on the way that supporters relate to the game and what really constitutes the 'importance' of football. The blog will feature exclusive content not in the book and will become a football-oriented version of Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop. You can buy the book here at the online shop of When Saturday Comes.

Update on the other blogs - Referee Tales is again being updated on a game-by-game basis after a period of rest enforced by injury, so the weekly tales of bother, aggro and violence (and occasional delight) have resumed. I also have a regular weekly column again at Soccer America, pontificating on various issues. In the first few weeks it's mainly been about how Gianni Infantino has reached low and achieved the impossible - he's proven to be an even worse President of FIFA than Sepp Blatter. We're now in a similar warped mindset to thinking that George W Bush - in light of the hollow-skulled fascist bampot on Pennsylvania Avenue right now - was maybe not so bad after all. (Though, in fact, he was.)

World Cup Human Rights has again proven too time-consuming to update regularly, and may well be merged with the The Quiet Fan at some point soon. True, that didn't work out well when Whizzer and Chips merged with Krazy comic in 1978 (cartoon characters were cruelly erased from the drawing boards and never heard of again), but I have the benefit of that experience to turn this upheaval into a smoother transition.  

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Referee Tales - new offshoot blog

Referee tales - please come and visit.
There is a new blog in this network, Referee Tales, and a re-activated blog, World Cup Human Rights. The former bills itself as "dispatches from the amateur leagues of a multi-ethnic city somewhere on Earth". It aims to update at least once or twice a week*. The latter is a campaign and commentary blog urging soccer/football fans to boycott the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as a protest against the severe human rights violations in the respective host nations, Russia and Qatar. Its author maintains that it is fuelled by righteous anger which will hopefully not, as in the past, be subsumed by defeat and despair at the condition of mankind in general. 

They would love for you to pop by. Come on, it's not like there's much else out there on the internet.

*Bear in mind that this is an Internet Promise, as tangible as a free-floating spirit. All broken promises will be paid for in bitcoins.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

SAHIP Laid To Rest

One daughter has just left home for good, the other will soon be old enough to drive. My pseudo-identity as a stay-at-home dad, or primary care-giver (to use the technical term), is pretty much falling away, bar the shopping, the cooking and the laundry. It feels like the right time to sign off on this blog and direct you (yes, all three of you) towards a more subject-specific blog about my forthcoming book, 'Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League', and its sister web site

For those of you with absolutely no interest in this subject, thanks for reading my sporadic ramblings since 2003 - this blog will stay online until the Great Cyber-Collapse. To the rest of you - hope to spot you soon on the underground or in the airport lounge immersed in the very best of NASL literature.
My new gig. Cover design:
Richard Green

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Great Suburban Traditions: Number 14 – Rush Hour

Here we go again... (pic: SAHIP)
Around once a year I get caught up in the rush hour. I think that the reason I’ve never had a ‘proper’ career is that I still remember all the rush hours of my 20s, when I had the grave misfortune of going to work every day. Specifically, I remember how rush hours took at least two hours out of your day, every day, just so that you could get to and from a job that you hated.

     Yesterday I got caught in a traffic snarl around Dupont Circle in DC and – should we atheists turn out to be wrong - enjoyed a glimpse into the punishment I will likely undergo for eternity, having in the course of my life indulged in various activities not permitted by the bible. I will be in a line of traffic, and a long way up ahead I will see the light change from red to green. I will get ready to advance, and the cars and buses and trucks in front of me will rev a little, filling my nose and lungs with unpleasant fumes. Then the light will change back to red, with nobody having progressed a single inch.

    This will remain the same, for ever, and every time the light changes to green, I will retain a stupid hope that the traffic is going to move. I will never be able to see what is going on  up there – it could be road works, it could be an accident, it could just be the sheer volume of bovine commuters sitting stoically in their cars waiting out their lives, listening to the local traffic reports running through where all the problems are and why, but never mentioning the unexplained delay at Hell’s Dupont Circle.

      When jammed in like this, do people ask themselves, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ If they don’t, why not? How could you sit in this kind of traffic twice every day and not doubt at all the point and the worth of what you are doing? Why do I never see people abandoning their cars and shouting, ‘Ah, fuck this, I’m off to live on an organic farm in Montana.’ Then they run down the street waving their arms about and cackling at their new-found liberty, while all the other drivers look on with envy.

    I realise that people deal with commuting in different ways. For some, it’s the only time they get to spend on their own, away from family and work colleagues – as soon as the door is closed they make duck noises, fart like sailors, and sing random snatches of songs from the 1970s. Then once they’ve got all that out of their systems and settle down, they learn languages, listen to audio books, or sit with microphones wrapped around their heads talking earnestly, showing the other commuters that they are so important that they’re already on a conference call at 7.30am, or still on one at 7.30pm (“Need to talk to Tokyo”).

    Maybe if you do this every day you develop the precious virtue that deserts me when I’m behind the wheel – patience. Although, once the traffic loosens up a bit, you don’t see many drivers exhibiting this quality as they make a rush for the space ahead. Courtesy, caution and concessions are for fools naïve enough to think that there’s any reward here for fair play, while others steal ahead and make it back to suburbia ten seconds faster.

    You finally arrive at your silent, same-old destination and wonder, “Why was I in such a rush to get home?” Falling asleep to the imaginary preview in your head: Coming up in tomorrow’s episode – yet more of the same.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Celebrating the Lost Art of Imperfection

Murky and mediocre - how our
pictures used to look.
The other night a friend of mine told me that he and his fiancé had been planning to invite myself and the family round for something to eat, but that his betrothed was hesitating. “We’ve been having work  done on the house, and she wants it to look perfect,” he said. “She’s a perfectionist.” I told him not to worry. If there’s one thing I can’t tolerate, it’s perfection. I’ve been practicing the imperfect all my life. “Please,” I said, “invite us round while it still looks like crap. I’ll be much more comfortable that way.”

Everything goes to pieces in the end anyway. The consolation for mortals contemplating impossible beauty is the knowledge of its inevitable decay. The afternoon wedding’s picturesque bridesmaid with her exquisitely fashioned dress and fairy-tale hair will be all fucked up on drink by 10pm and lying in a pool of lonely tears and speckled vomit. And why spend hours sculpting a complex, eye-pleasing dessert for the cooing delectation of dinner guests, if those same guests are going to immediately demolish it, digest it, and excrete it before the sun’s up, when we all know it won’t look (or taste) half as pretty.

Which brings me, logically enough, to a new book of football photography. Except that although the book is new, the photos are old. They’re mostly terrible, but impressively so. Their lack of quality highlights the fakery involved in digital photography. Nowadays, you delete the bad shots the second after you’ve taken them. Even if you keep a bad picture, it only takes a few techno-tricks to make it look good enough. Nothing comes out bad any more. That’s why I love this book: ‘What A Shot! Your Snaps of the Lost World of Football’ by Gary Silke and Derek Hammond, the two excellent gentlemen of Leicester responsible for producing the ‘Got, Not Got’ and ‘Lost World of Football’ encyclopaedias of football memories and memorabilia.

The mainly blurred book consists of pictures that fans took with proper cameras in football stadiums 30 or 40 years ago. Heads get in the way. Some objects are massively over-exposed, some are murkier than a cup of Bovril on a foggy night in Workington. A few are quite impressive, most are shit. Because football back then was largely shit to watch, and so was the experience of watching it. And so were the amateur photographers who had the desire and patience to take a camera to the game and risk getting it nicked or confiscated. Furthermore, you had to ignore the hard stares of suspicious punters that you might be an undercover cop slyly snapping wanted or wannabe hooligans. And then you took the time and money to have the film developed, only to undergo “the slight twinge of disappointment” the authors describe in their introduction when you sat on the bench outside Boots the Chemist and opened up the envelope to see what you had hoped would be award-winning action shots.

One of my moving, iconic stills from Lincoln City v
Gillingham, January 1982 (pic: SAHIP)
Three of my own sorry efforts, taken on a dull day at Sincil Bank in early 1982, stretch across pages 60-61. I couldn’t understand why Mr. Hammond was so keen to see them, and then to publish them. Now that I’ve seen the book, I understand. Back then, everything seems faded, washed out, shabby and slightly derelict. And all the better for it. If we look mediocre and far from perfect, it’s because that’s just the way we were. And still are. Though now you just need a digital sleight of hand to hide it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mazzy Star at the Fillmore, Silver Spring

Reluctant Stars: I suppose a smile's out of the question?
The bloke behind me at the Mazzy Star concert last night had a profoundly cerebral reaction to the band’s first song. “Whoooooooo!” he shouted, about five seconds in. He knew the song, you see, and was excited to hear them play it live. It turned out that he knew all the songs that Mazzy Star played, because five seconds into every song, he shouted the very same thing, his hands cupped around his mouth to enhance the volume of his message. Which was, “Whooooooo!”

He was genuinely pleased, I’ve no doubt about it, and wasn’t just wanting to let us all know that he knew every single Mazzy Star song. There was also an element of surprise contained in his “Whoooooooo!” Like he really hadn’t expected them to play that song at that particular moment. As if, coming to a Mazzy Star concert, he’d thought they might play their version of Beethoven’s fifth Cello Sonata. Or a few Gene Autry numbers. Perhaps something from former Orange Juice drummer Zeke Manyika’s long forgotten solo album, or their take on Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. But no, get this, Mazzy Star ended up playing nothing but Mazzy Star songs. “Whooooooo!”

It goes without saying that I felt ill-will towards The Fan Behind Me. And as the night went on, this ill-will extended towards Mazzy Star, despite the beauty of their drowsy, reverb-swabbed ballads about… I’ve no idea what they’re about. One song is about how far away California is. For all I can understand, the rest could be about singer Hope Sandoval’s recommended temperature for washing light colours. This, however, is the least of the band’s communication issues.

Aside from half a dozen candles, the band played in the dark, so we couldn’t actually see them. Granted, this meant that there were very few wankers thrusting their phones into the air to record precious footage for the delight of friends and family over Thanksgiving. On the downside, we couldn’t see them. You know when you say, ‘I went to see Mazzy star last night’? Well, I went to not see Mazzy Star last night. Mazzy Star are too sensitive to be seen on stage. This means the tickets were extra cheap because they passed the savings from not having to employ a lighting technician directly on to the fans. Or perhaps they would have, if they didn’t treat their fans with such disdain for being fans.

As well as shrinking from the horror of light, they also can not bear verbal contact with the audience. They’re just too otherworldly, high up in their own elevated realm of distant stars and celestial musical musings (otherwise known as ‘their own arses’). Not that I’m expecting folk club banter, but would a muttered ‘Thank you’ be too much to ask? Or is that an overly mundane expression for these delicate artistes? Would pronouncing such a commonly used phrase irredeemably besmirch the purity of their counter-cultural compositions? That’s probably why they have no lighting technician – they overheard him saying thank you to the cashier at Starbuck’s and fired him. Hey, we don’t say thank you in Mazzy Star.

I realised about three songs in that the way to enjoy this concert (which I’m sure MS would tell you – if they spoke - that this is absolutely not what their music is there for) would be in the state known as stoned-out-of-your-box (unfortunately, I wasn’t). “Interviews are difficult,” Sandoval told The Guardian recently. “Performing live is difficult. But nobody's forcing us to do it.” Really, Hope (who’s 47, not the 17-year-old she comes across as), it’s no big deal if you want to stay at home in a room full of candles. I’ll do the same, and be $30 better off, listening to your gorgeous voice without the intervention of Mr. Whoo.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Josh Burdette - DC's Favourite Bouncer

Why do good guys have to die? (Pic: Semi-Charmed
Not many people claim to have favourite security guards, and I would never have thought about having one either if Josh Burdette, head of security at the 9:30 Club, hadn’t died earlier this week in his premature 30s. From the photo you’ll see why Josh was hard to miss, but he was nothing like many in his profession who like to needlessly throw their weight around. As I discovered the very first time I went to the club.

I’d just arrived in the US and went to see Billy Bragg on my own at the 9:30. Being British, I just stuck a few dollars in my pocket, never for once thinking that a man of my distinguished greyness and thinning top would need to show proof of being younger than 21. On the way in, the woman at the door asked to see my driver’s licence. I began to squeak in protest, but before I could even finish my sentence she stamped my hand and said quite emphatically, “Try to buy an alcoholic drink and we’ll throw you out.”

The first thing I tried to do was to buy an alcoholic drink. It was a wet night, and I was wearing a raincoat, so I ordered a beer by cunningly pulling the sleeve of my jacket down over the stamp on the back of my right hand. “You don’t look under 21,” said the barmaid truthfully as she poured me a beer, “but can I just see your hand?” I sheepishly pulled back the sleeve to reveal my inky stigma and she angrily tossed the drink away. 

Incredulous, and still thirsty, I went to one of the toilets and scrubbed the stamp off. It took several minutes, and made me even thirstier. I went to the basement bar and sat down and ordered a beer, and the barman began to pour it. Nice. Sitting next to me was Josh, who on hearing my accent politely asked me where I was from and what I was doing in DC. “By the way,” he said, “you should have gotten a stamp on your hand when you came in here.” It was at this point I realised that there were two kinds of stamp - one for drinkers, and one for non-drinkers, and that my ingenious ruse was in fact as transparent as my teenage daughter’s story that the weekend we were away in Chicago, 15 of her friends “just happened” to pop by our house on a Saturday evening with beer and sleeping bags.

I stammered out an excuse about being from Britain and just wanting an evening out with a couple of leisurely pints, all the while backing out of the bar, then turning to run up two flights of stairs to the club’s farthest corner. I sat down and tried to look inconspicuous, but a few minutes later Josh had tracked me down - it was still early and the club was quiet, so hiding wasn’t really an option. He sat down next to me and patiently explained why the club had to adopt such a strict policy on under-age drinking. I said I understood, and apologised for running away, but added that when I’d come in they’d told me that if I tried to get served, they’d kick me out.

“I know,” he replied, reaching over for my right arm. “That’s why I brought this stamp up.” He gave me a fresh imprint that would continue to ban me from the bar. I didn’t resist, and he didn’t throw me out, no doubt out of sympathy for my age, my status as a foreigner in a new town, and perhaps my general stupidity too. I thanked him, and off he went, and me and my driver’s licence have been regulars at the Club ever since. And I managed to bribe a student who’d been sitting nearby - and watching with some curiosity my exchange with Josh – to go to the bar for me all night in exchange for free drinks, so a double happy ending.

No happy ending to an anecdotal obituary, though. His unmistakable presence was reassurance that things were always under control, and would probably remain so throughout the evening – I’ve never once seen trouble of any kind at the 9:30 Club. Great bloke, great shame.