Monday, May 29, 2006

More than a game

Football is a wonderful wonderful game. It is, check out this site. Those who don't follow it should separate the business from the game itself. Its easy to play and understand; difficult to master. It's the same whether you're playing it in the street or at Old Trafford. It has no certainties and offers excitement, drama, boredom, despair and elation, sometimes all in the same game. It gives its fans focus and structure. This World Cup will see a team from Angola, where life expectancy averages 36, and Japan; life expectancy 81, playing on the same stage. It promotes racial, religious and political harmony; Iran and the USA will both be there. If they meet, like they did in France 98 (Iran won), nobody will die.

However, its not without its problems; the growing plague of celebrity football, for example. It enjoys a ridiculous media profile nowadays. It started years ago with Soccer Six, a tournament where teams from Blur and Oasis played against each other at the height of their Britpop battle. This year SKY dedicated a 6 hour telethon to it, despite there being no celebrities on it at all (the tournament included an Iranian celebrity team). Then there's SKY's summer schedule filler Masters Football, where its not unusual to hear things like "There's a goal from Willy Smith for the Motherwell Masters. Of course, he only played once from Motherwell reserves, he spent much of his career at Stenhousemuir reserves playing nearly nine times".

More recently, there's been The Match, where a team of celebrities train for a week to play a team of ex-internationals. This was followed by a charity re-run, sorry, walk through, of the 1986 Everton v Liverpool cup final. Liverpool won when John Durnin (a stalwart of all Liverpool Legends teams) scored after 89 soporific minutes. Durnin's legendary status being defined by his two League Cup appearances for Liverpool in the eighties scoring no goals.

The biggest of the lot was Saturday's Soccer Aid, teams of celebrities and ex-pros, lead by Robbie Williams and Gordon Ramsey, played in front of 70,000 at Old Trafford. Robbie's "England" team got to wear the full official England kit, like they were top professionals when surely they barely merit such an honour. Jonathan Wilkes, who is most famous for being Robbie's best mate (there's a site dedicated to him called Fansite for Jonathan Wilkes (aka Robbie WIlliams' flat mate), has a catalogue of showbiz career failures to his name and is now the closest thing you can get to a professional celebrity footballer.

The commentary, at one point, suggested that Wilkes had indeed been groomed to be exactly that in some kind of celebrity football academy. He had been a youth team player at Everton, where he played with the likes of Michael Ball. Although apparently, this was a rotund no-mark midfielder, not the bubble haired crooner your mum loves.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I don't want to do this but I have to

The composition of the Big Brother house follows a familiar pattern this year. Shahbaz was the fluffer, following a tradition that includes Kitten and Mary the Witch. They're not expected to last long, but they contain the requisite level of borderline insanity to kindle a fire of resentment in the house. Meanwhile, the motley assortment of over excited and sexually profligate act as the bellows to keep the fires burning. This allows the bevy of lad mad cannon fodder and boy candy to be the sausages cooked on the bar-b-que they create.

Presumably Channel 4 hadn't expected Shahbaz to move from charmingly bonkers to the early stages of a mental breakdown before his inevitable early exit. The frantic backtracking of Dermot O'Leary and Russell Brand whenever their guests put the words 'Shahbaz' and 'insanity' anywhere near each other suggests the channel are aware of the misjudgement they made when selecting him. Still, now he's out he seems to have steadied; albeit with a belief he has become some kind of Princess Diana figure.

There's little to admire in the house, which is how it should be. Nikki, who insists on over enunciating like a misfiring engine, can't drink tap water because it makes her 'PHYSically SicK' and is afflicted with being 'MIddle CLAss' although she was 'BOrn to have MOney'. She surely won't be tolerated simply because she has a nice bottom. Richard - 'Hi I'm a sexual terrorist' - no you're not you're a waiter - and the truly damaged Lea have styled themselves as a hideous house parents. The pre-requisites for this seem to be their age and experience, although few children would look for experience of 'hardcore pornography' and 'buggery' on any ideal parental check list.

The true mummy and daddy in the house are Imogen and Sezer, who in just over a week have settled into a pipe-and-slippers relationship without any problem. You suspect they will do little more than sit indoors worrying about the kids; the Chinese Jimmy Cranky, Lisa and Pete the 'Tourette-y Celebrity'. The long term aspirations of this duo will surely be curtailed due to the fact they're a bit of a novelty, thirteen weeks of 'WANKBOLLOCKSWHISTLE' will eventually erode any tolerance people will have for him and she's a, food fight/mis-directed vol-u-vent/argument/ejection, waiting to happen.

The evolution of the Mikey, Grace, George love triangle seems to have been born out of general boredom, although it's good to see how this has adversely affected Nikki, who is feeling generally left out because she doesn't have a house boyfriend, like Grace and Imogen, and has never been double penetrated on celluloid like Lea.

All of which leaves the door open to welsh speaking Glyn, who earlier in the week was chastised by Big Brother for 'speaking in code' after a chat in his native tongue with Imogen. This simpleton seems to have the winning formula, he's not offensive to anyone in the house and seems settled to simply sit back and enjoy the daftness around him, like everyone outside it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Midwife of Doom

Some pearls of wisdom from the Midwife of Doom -

DOOOOM! - Her ex-husband once designed an educational leaflet about teenage pregnancy, when he presented his ethnically diverse designs they told him to take the Asian faces off because had only been one unplanned Asian teenage pregnancy in the Cardiff area in 40 years.

DOOOOM! - When she had a baby in Cardiff, she was moved to a ward for 'mature mothers'; she was 28, the average age of a Cardiff mother is 18.

DOOOOM! - Oxford has a terrible heroin problem.

DOOOOM! - If there'd been no intervention during Emma's labour she would simply laboured for days and then died,

DOOOOM! - and so would Millie

DOOOOM! - Level 7 at the John Radcliffe Hospital is where they take all the still born and deformed babies and the babies that have resulted in a maternal death.

DOOOOM! - In this country there area round 7 maternal deaths a year.

DOOOOM! - Maternal death is the biggest killer of young women in the world.

DOOOOM! - A popular celebrity London hospital is not popular with the truly posh because there maternal death rate is 'off the chart'... mainly because 80% of their births are 'too posh to push' caesarian births (national average 23%).

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Andy Gray was apoplectic about the pivotal moment in last night's Champions League final. Jens Lehmann's sending off, he said, ruined the game as a spectacle (though not, somewhat perplexingly, 'as a contest'). Richard Keys reinforced this by pointing out that people had spent a lot of money to watch the final (not least, one assumes, SKY themselves).

If football matches are simple 'spectacles' offering cast iron value for money why not make the goals bigger to guarantee goals. Or you could have a ball for each player - after all, who wants to see lumbering defenders hoof the ball into the stand when you've paid good money to see Ronaldinho's exquisite talents? Hell, why not get them to play the game behind closed doors then cut the best bits together; like a Nike advert.

If you didn't see the key moment; Barcelona's passing cut Arsenal to shreds, Samual Eto'o broke through, Lehmann came out and grabbed his ankle dragging him to the ground. The ball squirmed to Guily who slid it home. The referee chose to send Lehmann off and not award the goal because he'd already blown up for a foul. Technically there wasn't much wrong with the decision. The foul was clear and cynical, preventing a clear goal scoring chance. Once the offence was committed and the game was stopped. If anything, the referee was wrong not to send off Lehmann AND play the advantage therefore awarding the goal. In a sense Arsenal got away with it lightly.

Not in the eyes of Gray who managed to lose all sense and objectivity. When Eto'o slipped in to score the equaliser. Gray was adamant he was offside, firstly he wasn't, and secondly surely on borderline decisions like that you give the striker the benefit of the doubt... after all, you don't want to ruin the spectacle do you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The state of the obesity pandemic as encapsulated in a lift between level 6 and 2 of John Radcliffe Hospital

Woman standing up: "Have you eaten anything?"
Woman in a wheelchair: "I asked Nath to get me some Pot Noodle, 'e asked me what colour I wanted; i said brown and 'e got me red.... 'im and Naomi are going down the carvery today. S'pose they'd be finished by now."

As if to reinforce this, Emma overheard this as a woman had an internal examination:

Nurse: "Right, this could be a bit uncomfortable, so think of something nice."
Woman: "Oooh, MacDonalds."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Singers with big bosoms GO HOME!

It was, for once, a classic Cup Final. The first Cup Final I remember was in 1978 when Ipswich beat Arsenal 1-0. Since then, of the 28 finals (and 5 replays) only a handful have fallen into the 'classic' category. This year's had everything; goals, near misses, lots of 'what could have beens' and a proper man of the match performance by Steven Gerrard. Oh, and cramp, lots of cramp. All great Cup Finals finish with the pitch looking like a particularly colourful interpretation of the Battle of the Somme. Yes, it was a very satisfying final indeed.

The Cup Final is the one game the super casual football fan will take time out to watch, after all, it is still the only domestic cup final that you can watch live without a SKY subscription. Unfortunately, this means it has become infested with the modern day phenomenon of ' celebrity communal singing'.

Presumably some marketing bod in a record company sees the Cup Final on the BBC as the single most valuable opportunity to present their stars of classical-light opera singing to a captured audience. Therefore, we get Michael Ball and Lesley Garret ladling their shrill talents all over the otherwise rousing FA Cup haka of Abide With Me. This is an corporate occupation of a national institution resulting from the increasing marketability of sexy, accessible, classical artistes such as Charlotte Church and Katherine Jenkins. With good promotion, a smile and a bit of cleavage (or nice hair, in Ball's case) there's good money to be made from selling your £9.97 'Emotions' CD from Tesco without disturbing the tawdry side issues of talent or originality; Jenkins, Church, Garret and Ball all have renditions of Ave Maria on their 'Best of' compilations.

I understand that a corporate marketing executive from EMI will pay a good few grand to the FA to get their man or woman pitchside for 3 minutes but I doubt anyone has been offered a Cup Final ticket and asked who's doing the pre-match sing-a-long before accepting. 70,000 emotionally charged football fans already singing themselves hoarse has, for many years, been quite enough to get the hairs on the back of the neck standing up thank you very much.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Twist in my priorities

Thursday 4.00pm - Emma and I arrive at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford for her scheduled induction.
4.45pm - With the delivery suite heaving nothing is happening. The midwife comes in to explain she will begin the process as soon as the delivery suite is clear.
6.00pm - Midwife explains that the delivery suite is still busy. We should go for a walk and come back at 8pm. We go an buy some chocolate from the nearby garage and watch some football in the park opposite the hospital.
8.00pm - Back at the hospital maternity suite is still busy. Shift changes, new midwife tells us she doesn't think anything will happen tonight.
9.30 - I go home.
Friday 5.00am - Emma sends a text to say that they are starting the induction. There's not likely to be any action for another six hours.
8.45am - I arrive, Emma asleep, nothing happening.
8.45am-6.00pm - A continuous cycle of blood pressure tests, monitoring the baby's heart and telling us that the delivery suite is still busy.
6.00pm - Finally the delivery suite is ready, we pack all our stuff and head down.
6.45 - Midwife applies second dose of gel to get some progress. Emma immediately starts to feel uncomfortable.
6.45-1.00am Saturday: During the next six hours discomfort increases, we walk up and down the corridor, slowly. Eventually Emma can only lie on the bed breathing slowly to 'ride' the contractions.
1.00am - Midwife attempts to break Emma's waters, she can't so she calls in the doctor, he's more brutal and 'thinks' he's done it.
2.00am Emma is permanently laid out on her side strapped to a heart monitor. Midwife suggests that it may be wise to introduce an epidural.
3.00am - Anaesthetist arrives to apply the epidural and the pain begins to subside. A drip is put in Emma's hand; this is designed to increase the contractions to progress the labour.
3.00am-5.00am - Emma continues to have contractions, continues to lie on the bed.
5.30am - Baby's heartbeat begins to drop, two more midwives appear. Emma takes a puff of Ventolin; an inhaler often used by hayfever and asthma sufferers. The baby's heartbeat starts to steady. The dose being administered by the drip is reduced and a heart monitor is attached to the top of the babies head so they can get an accurate reading.
5.40am - Doctor appears and suggests that a caesarian section may be the only option. As the baby's heartbeat is steady, there's no hurry, so we wait.
7.30am - Emma is exhausted, we decide to go for the caesarian. There's one other woman in the queue (they've done 5 c-sections during that shift alone). A new shift is on in about an hour. We'll wait.
8.30am - After phoning home I come back in the delivery suite. The baby's heart beat has dropped and then falls off the chart. More midwives appear, and doctors. They decide to open a second operating theatre rather than wait. The wires and tubes are unplugged and Emma is wheeled out the door. I'm on my own packing our bags and waiting for a porter.
9.00am - A midwife appears, baby is OK, she begins packing up the room.
9.30am - The porter arrives and escorts me into the theatre, Emma is waiting, happy and relaxed. everyone introduces themselves. They are friendly and chatty. Joking about how it's like Holby City. The anaesthetist turns the blips on the heart monitoring machine, to make it 'sound more authentic'.
9.47am - After a few tugs and shunts Amelia Winifred, Millie, is born... the team shout 'IT'S A BOY!.. no, hang on... IT'S A GIRL!".
10.00am - Emma is sewn up, photos are taken and everyone is brilliant. I'm escorted back to the delivery room to take the bags to the Observation Ward where Emma and Millie will stay for the next day or so.
10.15am - Emma is back, looking great and beyond happy. Millie is quiet and contented trying to have a feed. She's not doing too badly for a half-hour old baby.
10.15am-12.30pm Text messages are sent, phone calls are made, Emma's mum and my mum arrive then they have to go because Emma can't have visitors. Emma suggests I go to the football.
12.45pm - Emma's sister texts wanting to visit. After lots of umming and erring we decided to ask her to bring my season ticket so i can go to the game.
2.00pm - Emma's sister arrives and I go to the football.
3.05pm - I arrive just after kick-off on the way I hit something and take my wing mirror off. I might be tired. Oxford need to win to stay in the football league, Leyton Orient, their opponents, need to win to go up. It's a sell out and the atmosphere like a bear pit. There are people sitting on the fence at the open end of the ground and people standing in the aisles of the stand.
3.07pm - Orient are fluid and quick, Oxford huff and puff. After a swift exchange of passes Lee Steele, former Oxford striker, hits the post for Orient. Steele is brilliant throughout; it's clear he'll have a say in the outcome of the day one way or another.
3.14pm - Against the run of play Eric Saban, Oxford striker, scuffs a shot into the corner, 1-0, Oxford are staying up.
3.17pm - Orient attack, a cross from the right to the back post is headed back towards goal. Oxford's goalie can't keep the ball from going over the line. 1-1, Oxford are going down.
4.03pm - Orient striker, Gary Alexander, chips in for 1-2, now Oxford really are going down.
4.05pm - Oxford scramble an equaliser, 2-2, another and we'll be staying up.
4.40pm - Chris Wilmott lashes out waiting for a free and is sent off.
4.50pm - With both teams appearing to play with 5 up front, Lee Steele, a menace throughout the game slots home Orient's third. The Orient bench streak onto the pitch. Their 4,000 fans go ballistic.
4.52pm - Final whistle; Oxford 2 Leyton Orient 3; Oxford are relegated to the Conference and Orient are promoted. I walk out of the ground, I'm not interested in watching the Orient celebrations. Certainly not interested in the lap of honour some Oxford fans think their players deserve.
5.00pm - Nobby phones and rants about the referee and linesman. Some of it I agree with, some I don't. At the end of the day, crap football probably deserves crap refereeing.
5.00pm-5.40pm - Drive home. Listening to the radio the commentators are saying that fans need time to 'collect their thoughts' and 'reflect on what's happened'. It's like someone has died. Given my day, this is all a bit bemusing. Nobby comes on the phone-in repeating his views about the referee. He's cut off moments before he gives a shout out to Millie so they can interview the Oxford manager.
5.45pm - Get home. Watch telly. Have bath. Watch more telly.
8.00pm - Phone for a curry, not sure I really want it, but I should eat. It'll be 25 minutes. Catch opening scene of Friends, fall asleep.
8.40pm - Wake up, realise that I'm fifteen minutes late for collecting my curry. Go and get it. Eat it. Watch some of Match of the Day. Fall asleep. Wake up as Match of the Day finishes. Go to bed.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Corporate entertainment

For the second time in six months my Powerbook has had to go in for repair. This time the backlight has stopped working making the screen too dark to see.

As before I phoned the Apple helpline and was instantly transported to a call centre somewhere in the world. I find being consumed by global corporations disconcerting. Its not natural to phone a helpdesk in California, talk to someone, then ring back five minutes later to continue the exact same conversation with someone completely different in Mumbai. This is magnified further by the fact it’s Apple, who are little short of a religious cult in computing terms.

Last time I chose to send the Powerbook off for repair; within what felt like minutes a man from UPS with a Powerbook sized box appeared on the doorstep and took it away. Days later it reappeared all fixed. In between I watched its progress via Apple’s repair tracking service online.

Brilliant though the process was, I found the experience quite troubling. It was too slick an inhuman.

This time I talked to Priya, who then helpfully sent me emails I couldn’t properly see (because my backlight isn’t working) these explained what we’d been doing. She was later joined by ‘David’ a product specialist who didn’t speak. Instead, Priya ended every sentence with “David agrees”. I wondered whether David was really there, or whether they can achieve greater credibility amongst middle Americans if every “foriegner” is supported by someone resolutely Christian.

Priya: “How can I help you today?”
Me: “When I turn on my computer the back light flickers, then it goes off so I can’t see the screen anymore.”
P: “OK, can you do a hardware test.”
Me: “I would, but I can’t see the pointer on the screen to move it to start the test”
P: “OK, let’s recap, you have a flickering screen problem, a backlight problem, and no pointer.”
Me: “There all part of the same problem, there’s no problem with the pointer, it’s just I can’t see the screen properly because the backlights not working.”
P: “David believes you have a hardware problem, but we haven’t isolated the pointer problem.”

I was tempted to throw in a few random words to see if Priya would process them.

"Yes and when I check my email I can't CHICKEN IN WELLINGTON BOOTS when I then hit send"
"Let me recap, you have a back light problem, a flickering screen, no pointer and a chicken in wellington boots?"
"We haven't isolated the chicken in wellington boots"
"Surely that's the easiest bit; Chickens can't go very fast in wellington boots"

Eventually David concluded, and then told Priya who then told me that the PowerBook should come in for repair. I chose the option to use one of their local service centres (basically a computer shop with a licence to fix Apple products). I phoned one in High Wycombe, there was no answer, as it was a bank holiday I wasn’t surprised, in fact I was rather comforted by the poor service.

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