Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Dull Italian trilogy part 3

Imagine if you will, the people of London converging on Trafalgar Square singing the songs of their region. East Londoners; The Lambeth Walk, those from the West; Tosca, the North, If I Were A Rich Man and the South; 21 Seconds by So Solid Crew. Each follows a horse and a little man in pyjamas, upon which their hopes and dreams rely.

The Siena Palio is the Italy’s most spectacular festival. Every July and August the town’s seventeen family groups or Contrada establish bragging rights through a series of brutal, lawless horse races around Il Campo, the town centre, not the Bolton centre back.

Before each race the Contrada march through the streets, singing songs of battle, afterwards they feast and celebrate. The races are riddled with corruption, it’s been known for jockeys, local Italian cowboys, to be kidnapped on the way to a race. Corruption runs so deep, it is said that by the time they get to the start line no more than three of the seventeen horses have any chance of winning such is the drugging and bribery that goes on.

After an hour and more of jockeying for starting positions, the race lasts 90 seconds, jockeys ride bareback and are frequently sent crashing to the floor. It’s a contradictory event, the rivalries are fierce, yet the atmosphere celebratory and friendly, the racing is chaotic, yet regimented by history and pageantry.

Emma nearly fainted in the crowds, we waited for three hours for something to happen, I’ve no idea who won. It was ace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Tuscan raiders

On holiday we rarely got going before 4 o’clock. The heat was oppressive (the car registered 42 degrees one day) so we did little more than sit by the pool and siesta. I don’t really do sunbathing, to use a Danny Wallace-ism – “I know what I want and I know how to get it, it’s just that usually what I want is a cup of tea and a biscuit, and how I get it is by going to the kitchen.” So in between my five books we did frequent a few local towns.

The nearest was Pistoia, a town typical of the area, although you can become complacent of Tuscany’s beauty. As we sat in the square watching the Galetaria seller open her stall in preparation for the evening’s trade I turned to Emma and asked her a question I’ve wanted to ask for ever: -

“Is sweat dripping down your back and into your bumhole?”
“Yes what about you?”

Pistoia’s like that; it really needs something to lift it from being more than just another Tuscan town. Pisa is equally unremarkable but at least it’s got the tower. When you walk out of the meadow and into the town it is remarkable for its emptiness. It’s a town built on bad surveying techniques. Figuratively, not literally, if it was literally built on bad surveying techniques it wouldn’t be there.

Italian towns in August are dead; you can walk through them on a Saturday afternoon and not see a soul. Siesta is very unnerving for those of us cursed with a protestant work ethic. Would it be too much to ask the locals to siesta in the town square to assure hapless tourists that people live there? For all we know everyone could have been killed by a huge leak of noxious gases.

Florence on the other hand doesn’t fail to deliver or impress. When I went as a teenager it was in the middle of huge clean up so the Cathedral and surrounds were covered in scaffolding. That gone it is everything you hope for and more.

Emma, whose map reading skills are nigh on legendary told me before the holiday that we were so far from Florence that it wasn’t on our map although we were just 20km away from Firenze. It makes me wonder, how many people, and there have to have been a few, go to Tuscany intending to visit Florence but never make it because they are unaware of the Italian spelling.

We parked in a city centre car park, when we returned we were greeted by a swarthy unshaven Italian covered in sweat, in a dirty vest. He muttered something to his mate then turned to us and said “That will be 10 Euros please” in a voice which suggested he had learnt English from Mrs Slocombe from Are You Being Served? As we sorted through our funny money he broke back into his growling Italiano. we handed over the cash and he said “Thenk-ewe very maaaarch, your car is around the corrrrrner”. He even rolled his ‘Rs’. Apparently he went to boarding school in Dorset which has clearly paid dividends now he’s secured this late night shift in an undercover car park. Whilst we were tempted to ask about buggery and the intricate private school fagging system, we had to get home.

You’ve got to admit I’m a bit of a Bill Bryson, we visit the cultural behemoth of Florence and tell a story about the car park.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Busy doing nothing

Strategically it was a simple holiday; low key and low maintenance, and whilst there was something very fedora hat and imported copies of the Independent about a week in Tuscany, it met all pre-defined objectives. We were based in Il Cagnagno; a tiny hill village outside Pistoia which was accessible only by “A rough but asphalted road”, as if to say, ‘well at least it’s asphalted, what do you want? Jam on it?’

Emma took driving responsibilities, a fair challenge for the winding ascents to the apartment which were reminiscent of family holidays driving through the Alps and Pyrenees. One time mum took over from a tiring dad whilst driving over a precarious Alpine pass. As she pulled away, a guide book balanced on the dashboard slid down and jammed behind the steering wheel locking it up and putting the car on a direct trajectory towards the edge of a million foot drop. She eventually decided to brake, and shaken they swapped back over so dad carried on driving, fully rested from travelling fifteen feet in the passenger seat.

Our apartment was a converted something or other with narrow windows like those you find on castles. Maybe Il Cagnagno was an independent state, as many of the towns in the area seem to have been, although with a population of no more than six, its nuclear arsenal was likely to be limited.

The pool next door was a honeypot for beautiful middle class locals. Young Italian women are without exception slim sexy bronzed nymphets able to wear bikinis without a second warning, capable of walking in 38 degree heat without perspiring a bead of sweat, and able to exit and enter swimming pools like supermodels. But their gorgeousness is short lived because young sexy slim Italian women just don’t grow into older sexy slim Italian women. They leap straight to being gnarly 32 stone deep sea monsters with jowls like a clowns pocket. Could it be that the diet of pasta and pizza, and inevitable stream of dates they attract catches up with them? That they wake up one morning with legs like oak trees. Perhaps Italian men don’t marry the thin ones because mama wouldn’t accept them (no child baring hips, don’t like their food, sullied by years of being gorgeous) and the fat ugly ones, hidden away learning to cook for years, suddenly become desirable wife material. Emma thinks that British Women win overall because they may start plain, but at least they sustain their plainness longer. 

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Out of office assistant

I am currently away from this blog, I shall be returning in a week, I will deal with your queries then. If your need for blog relief is urgent, please contact another blogger. But then come back to me. I’m funnier, and rely on your site hits to give my life value and purpose.

Yep, I’m off on holiday, which I’m sure you’re relieved to hear. I am fully aware during this hottest of hot patches, you could perceive from my recent musings that I, the boy Ruffles, have spent the last month playing tennis once, going out for dinner with Katie once and watching a whole heap of TV. This isn’t true. The TV bit is, but I have done other stuff.

It’s true I don’t really like the heat, if I were to choose one season to live in for the rest of my life; it would be winter (I can’t abide the Halfling seasons of spring and autumn). I find it very difficult to enjoy a hot day. I can’t sit in the garden and read a book, I mean I can read, but I’m not like Clare at college who covered her legs in cooking oil when sunbathing. She fried, quite literally.

This is the funniest time of year for me. It’s my birthday on Saturday, an occasion of underwhelming gravitas. The school summer holidays meant opportunities for parties and presents from friends were limited. Even when people were around, I wasn’t. I’ve spent many birthdays sitting in the boot of a car waiting to board a ferry on the first stage of an annual family invasion of Europe. We’ve even had holidays when I’ve gone back to work after two weeks on my birthday.

It doesn’t even have a particularly special place in the family calendar. Y’see we have a family birthday week. Two days before mine is Annia’s birthday, three days after is Kirsty’s. Yeah, go on, parents as regular as clockwork. Even Australia Jo’s is on the 5th. Emma’s 30th, which exists in blessed isolation in the middle of May, lasts forever. Her 30th lasted a month. My 30th was cocooned in several other birthdays and eclipsed, quite rightly, by Penny’s wedding. Over the years my birthday has simply paled into insignificance.

But I’m not bitter, the football season starts on Saturday which is compensation enough for me - life’s not that bad.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003


I should have gone to the gym or the pool or have done something because by 9pm last night my teeth were itching with boredom. Emma turned to watch That’ll Teach ‘Em on Channel 4, a series where children of the noughties are taught in the style of the 50’s.

There was nothing wrong nor right with the programme, it filled a space in the schedule whilst most people enjoyed the last of the evening sun in parks and gardens up and down the country.

The only interesting thing about it was Mr Daplin the PE teacher. Y’see, Mr Daplin was one of my PE teachers at school, a PE Teacher Without Portfolio. He wasn’t the debonair Mr Jones (Brittle Bones, Jam and Scones) the head of the department and destined for a deputy headship. He wasn’t in the brigade of young bucks, like Mr Bannister, who was subject to enduring, probably apocryphal tales of being banned from one of the school’s sites after being found in the showers with a sixth form girl. Nor was he, The PE Teacher Who Used to Play for Morton, who definitely did enjoy carnal knowledge of someone he taught, because nowadays they are often seen cosily doing their weekly shopping together around town.

Mr Daplin was just a ubiquitous presence in the changing rooms of our school (am I allowed to say that?). Little did we know of the successful TV career he was planning for himself.

I can’t let this pass without giving you the simple stratification of women games teachers. There were only two kinds, the Gorgeous Ones (at our school numbered one – though thinking back she did look like a Duran Duran groupie, but at least she was young and wore a short games skirt), and The Lesbians. The Lesbians all had husbands and children, but because they were women and hung around where women got naked, and had short hair they were all lesbians, those were the rules. Don’t blame me for it, this is the law of PE.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Fat Bob's corporately funded freakshow

I took the opportunity to watch Fat Bob’s Knebworth shindig on Saturday and I just don’t get it. I don’t blame Bob himself; he’s just doing what he’s doing, and getting paid handsomely for it. And I don’t deny he can be entertaining. But is he really 375,000 people in three days entertaining?

Don’t get me wrong, he’s not blameless; his craving for fame is nauseous, thanking everyone from his family to his manager but “most importantly his fans” and claiming he was “Your son Great Britain”. But why do people pay £30 and more to watch a bloke doing a wedding reception cabaret? Bob claims he wants to be Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten when he goes on stage but it all comes out Norman Wisdom and he hates it. He’s right, he’s basically a cynical rip-off of stadium performers throughout the ages – from Freddie Mercury the yodelling call and response skit to the Bono-esque ‘saving’ someone from the crowd crush (a crush incidentally, which everyone else on the front row seemed to endure with big smiles on their faces). Throw in a little bit of the big show off at the school disco, and you seem to have a pop phenomenon.

There is an element of empathy in all successful music. So perhaps that’s it, maybe the girls want to regress back to school and be all giggly and silly around the good looking fool, the cheeky chappy who could get away with looking up their skirts in science lessons. The blokes just wish they could go back to that time or have had the guts to get away with it.

There are other benefits of course, it’s definitely cheaper and easier to see one Robbie gig than put the effort into seeing Oasis, The Stones, Queen, Bowie, U2, Bono, Take That and Wisdom live. It’s also easier to buy one Robbie CD than the back catalogues of all these bands. It’s definitely more interesting to see it at Knebworth than at a working men’s club. Although, don’t kid yourselves, we saw Oasis at Knebworth and when you’re as far back as we were, it’s more of a buzz for the singer that the crowd.

Will we look back on the Robbie phenomenon with a slightly embarrassed snigger, much like we will look back on Sex And The City and conclude that the women looked not like fashion icons, but like crap on a rope stick (whatever that is) and that all we fell for was the fact that Kim Catrell was prepared to do full frontal nudity in a mainstream TV show, and say “fuck”, or as she actually says “Fuuuurk”.

It’s definitely on the cards, the show last night seemed to involve Let Me Entertain You followed by two hours of fillers rounded off with Angels. In between were a series of skits and celebrity guests (well Max Beesley) and few vaguely recognisable hits, of which only Kids really makes the grade. What I assume is the new stuff, sounds like ropey copies of the old stuff and whilst I’m bored of it now, others’ will get bored of it soon enough. What Robbie does for his fame then, god only knows.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Get 'em while they're hot

I’ve put a new mix in the mix club. Knowing that Simon, who will always gets a copy, occasionally does his gym stuff to Ruffles’ mixes, and knowing how hardcore Plump DJ’s TB Reality is, this is called the Simon Splits A Kidney Mix.

Shake It (Mutiny Funk Mix) - Marascia
Stucco Homes (Return of the Ghost Mix) - Brett Johnson and Dave Barker
Shine On (Circoloco Remix) - Lucky Vs Hill Sixty
Patricia Never Leaves The House (Wally Lopez & Dr Kucho 2003 Edit) - Wally Lopez and Dr Kucho
Thrill Me - Junior Jack
Dooms Night (Da Hardstylaz Remix) - Azzido Da Bass
Body Freefall Electronic Inform #2 (Counterplan Mix) - Luke Slater
Bucci Bag (Wally Lopez Weekend Con Mazo De Graves!! Mix) - Andrea Doria
TB Reality – Plump DJs
Remember My Name – Plump DJs
No Ticket to Run – Santos
Killa Instinct – Initial Research
Noels House Party – Midfield General
People of the World Unite (Jon Carter Mix) - Tony Thomas & Access S8
Deeper Down (Hill Sixty Remix) - DKS

Hell, I’m so excited, I’m going to put another mix in there, it’s an oldie but a goodie - here’s my Wedding Special: -

Young Scene
Groove is in the Heart – Deee Lite
Doin’ The Doo – Betty Boo
Vogue – Madonna
Can’t Get You Out Of My Head – Kylie Minogue
Static Avenger
Roger Sanchez
CafĂ© Del Mar – Energy 52
Professional Widow (Armand Van Helden Mix) – Tori Amos
Red Alert – Basement Jaxx
Renegade Master (Fatboy Slim Mix) - Wildchild
Hey Boy Hey Girl – Chemical Brothers
Because of You - Scanty Sandwich
Born Slippy – Underworld
Star 69 – Fatboy Slim

By the way if you have asked for a CD, I’m getting round to it.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Busted busted

I rather like Busted, well I like the principle. Whilst I’m sure they’re not a statement on the hackneyed rehash of punk rock attitude that fills MTV, it would be nice to think their was some art statement going on behind their chiselled good looks.

Emma often talks about their single “Year 3000”, in which they claim to have been to the Year, er, 3000 and how the story in the song doesn't ring true: -

Overlooking some outstanding rhyming couplets including “Funny noise” and “Rowdy boys” the story begins when the lads see their neighbour Peter holding a Flux capacitor, part of a time machine he’d built. Instantly, the boys recognise it as like the one they'd seen in a film. Peter, the errant genius replies with the rather unsettling “Yeah, Yeah”. Now we’re not given any indication as to whether this was a nonchalant agreeing “Yeah Yeah” or a rock god “YEAH! YEAH!” either way it’s a less than inspiring response from someone who has changed the face of science using no more than Back to the Future as reference.

Things then begin to spin out a little. You see, thanks to Peter, they’ve been to the year 3000 where not much has changed but they live under water. Here I must interject, I know younger people are more agreeable to evolutionary change, but surely even they must agree living underwater is somewhat of a significant change, for example, you couldn't eat digestive biscuits anymore.

Now whilst change is unnerving the Boys reassure us that your great, great, great grand daughter is pretty fine. Now my reaction to any punk with a guitar making overt advances on a relative would be to pin him up against a wall and cut his throat. However, if this is your great great great granddaughter, to be still living in the Year 3000 she would have to be nigh on 800 years old. In which case Busted are a bunch of sick little shits. On the other hand she may be your 23rd generation granddaughter, but that wouldn't scan.

The next thing they see in this world where not much has changed is triple breasted women who swim around town… totally naked. They're adament that this is fairly normal.

But as the song progresses it sounds like Busted are doing OK. Their song has gone multiple platinum – which is not surprising, Prince has a big hit in 1999 with 1999, Eurythmics with 1984 in 1984, presumably Paul Hardcastle will be raking it in with 19-9-9-9-9-9-9-19. But that's a few year's off, and a terrible terrible joke to boot.

Things are going well for the boys, everybody buying their seventh album and its outsold Mich…. Hang on, SEVENTH? What the bloody hell have they been doing to cause them to release an album on average nearly every 143 years? Those cheeky scamps with their boyband rock hybrid music are cheating the fans. Looking at the evidence, and their simple workshy attitudes, I think they could be an evil marketing scam pulled by a major record label.

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