Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The generation game

I don't wish to rain on anyone's parade; particularly if that anyone happens to be old. After all, raining on an old person's parade is simply mean - they're old, and its unlikely there'll be many more parades for them to enjoy.

Nor do I disagree with the sentiment of the (wholly overrated) documentary that lead to the 'Internet phenomenon' The Zimmers. It doesn't appear right to shove old people in ropey care homes once their economic worth has been expended. But the choice of My Generation to raise the issue of their plight is a touch ironic, no?

OK, the general sentiment of the song appears to fit nicely, but like all great art you have to understand it in context in which it was written. My Generation was written by a 21-year old Pete Townshend as a call to arms for a nation of youthful Mods. Look at the lyrics and my explanation of what they probably meant when they were written...

People try to put us down

We are disaffected and ignored section of society, and our views are belittled by the powers that be.

Just because we get around

We are being actively ignored by society because we are an increasingly powerful underground force.

...good so far...

Things they do look awful cold

They are the establishment, who by definition are the older generation. What this is saying is; old people are boring.

I hope I die before I get old

I'd rather die than be old and one of them.

Why don't you all fade away

I wish old people would die a quiet death.

And don't try to dig what we all say

Don't even try talking to me, I'm not interested.

I'm not trying to cause a big sensation

I don't want you to listen to me.

I'm just talkin' 'bout my generation

It's just people like me won't listen to you.

I could be reading this wrong , but isn't this song really about everything the Zimmers are protesting about?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pretty Vacancies

We're recruiting at the moment. I haven't done much interviewing, and do feel like I'm making it up as I go along. When sifting through CVs I did find that I was able to convince myself that, in the main, people with older names like Diedre were less able than people younger fresher names like Gemma.

Last week we had one person whose interview performance was no more than moderate, but I found myself constructing an argument that suggested she had hidden depths. An argument predicated on little more than she had terribly smart shoes on (by the way, if you're a bloke with terribly smart shoes on, you don't have hidden talents, you are arrogant - fact).

Such is my amateurism at this, I am paranoid of being caught up in some discrimination case. In the end you can't help but discriminate; you're making a judgement on a 2 page CV. 50 years old, 25 years working for IKEA, Wembley which followed a 10 year career managing a major oil company in Nigeria? No thanks.

It is quite reassuring reading CVs. In moments of darker paranoia, I doubt my own abilities and assume somebody is plotting my downfall (which they probably are). There's a deep seated fear that I will be fired, leaving me to find another job and that I will finally be found out meaning the only job I will be able to get is collecting trolleys in Tesco car park. But, having read a pile of CVs, you realise that if you are slung back into the job market, that despite your own weaknesses there's an enormous number people out there more desperate than you.

I'm of the view (because I'm lazy, perhaps) that what you're really looking for in someone to work with is somebody you can get on with. And for this, I look to the 'other interests' bit of the CV. Some will list every interest they've ever had - Playing with cars in my back garden, Under-8 tennis champion. Others will try to impress significance and relevance of their extra curricular activity on the job - I like to go to the gym, which I find fascinating, looking at the way the gym manages its profit margins through the use of a small number of trained staff and flexible contractors who take my Body Pump class. Some, are downright scary - World heavywieght Ultimate Fighting Champion and some, you think, are lying I like needlecraft and weaving when you know they are binge drinking and flashing their thongs at men with pattern shirts and eyebrow rings. Above all, however, most people with a richness of opportunity out there, and little I can do to verify their claims will sell themselves as a person with spark and drive as spending their spare time Socialising with friends, watching TV and reading'.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Final heartbreak

The Cup Final was a turgid affair from the opening minute. It's not the first time the spectacle has failed to live up to expectations, but I can't remember an opening 10 minutes as tepid as this one, or the concluding 110 for that matter. John Terry afterwards claimed that both teams were 'scared to give the ball away', which seems a pretty lame excuse to me. After all, it's like a musician coming on stage and playing CDs because they're scared they'd play a bum note. With the game itself turning over £8 million and TV revenues and so forth dwarfing that amount, it would be polite, if at least the players could put away their 'fear' and try and have a game.

Plenty of things were blamed; the occasion, the pitch, the long season; but nobody touched on the real problem. Top flight football is just not competitive anymore, look at the stats; In the last 10 years 9 teams have made the final and only 4 have won it - the supposed Big Four of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Compare that to ten years before that: 1988-1997, where there were 12 different finalists and 7 different winners, 1978-87 12 teams and 8 winners, 1968-1977 14 teams and 10 winners. The game has become increasingly concentrated around a small number of teams.

The Big Four all claim some kind of dominance based on a spurious set of self referencing criteria - Liverpool's 5 European Cup wins, Manchester United's global brand, Chelsea's money, Arsenal's purist qualities. Maybe Oxford could claim to be the best team in the country that play in a ground where you can see people going into a multiplex cinema during the game (although, knowing Oxford, they probably aren't). These four teams, with their big claims are increasingly fearful of actually testing who's best on the field itself; especially when facing each other. When they meet in the League Cup they compete to see who can field the weakest team; which gives them the perfect excuse when defeat comes. Arsenal even fielded a weakened side for this year's League Cup Final - their only hope of a trophy. It's getting to a point where the big players will be rested permanently only to be brought out in a big glass box on special occasions. When they do meet, like yesterday, the teams don't so much want to win the game as avoid losing it. Losing equals failure, so don't give the ball away Mr £100,000-a-week.

But English football is the best in the world - we're told this interminably. This year three (of the Big Four) English teams made it to the Champions League semi-final, which was considered a glorious success and widely lauded to be a credit to English football. Which part of English football should take credit? The managers? - well the big four are managed by a Scot, Portugese, Spaniard and Frenchman. The players? - less than half the players yesterday were English and the other two teams have a handful of homegrown players between them. Nope, the real credit must go to the English marketing men and footballing administrators who have turned the game into a closed shop and a money machine where everyone is ingrained with a fear of failure. Even further down the Premiership, teams are incapable of bridging the gap into the super big time, so they simply work to consolidate their position. It's one massive cycle of negativity.

Of course, it's also very successful. The reason could be seen just after half time on Saturday; there was a great wedge of vacant seats just on the half-way line. Slowly the section began to fill and you could vaguely make out men in suits easing their way back to their seats. The half time corporate buffet was clearly delicious. The equation is perfect; Football the brand is sexy, the first Cup Final at new Wembley is 'history', companies pay thousands to buy a lump of history (a seat) and pass it onto their clients as a sweetener for future corporate deals. Let's face it; when you've bought your lump of history, what's the point of actually experiencing it; especially when it's rubbish. Where does this end? Perhaps they should do away with 'historic events' completely - after all they can be quite tiresome and in the really good ones people tend to die - maybe you could simply sell shares in historic events over the Internet, I Was There certificates with a small supporting anecdote. Then you could just get them out at dinner parties - "Battle of Agincourt? Yes, I was there, I have the certificate of authentication".

When it comes down to it, uninteresting football is being sold to disinterested people with heaps of money. The football men aren't going to admit it, they're making too much money, the corporations aren't going to let on that they're paying fortunes for shite. This sorry state of affairs it's not the players' or managers fault, they are out to win, it's not even the evil spectres of Abramovich or the Glazers who are just taking a piece of the enormous pie. It's the marketing men who have structured the game in such a way that it makes huge amounts of money, and rewards those who succeed with even more huge amounts of money. No other sport does this, actively reduces the competitiveness of the game. SKY may market football heavily like some sort of gladiatorial encounter, a thrill a minute orgy of endeavour. But whereas showbusiness is flamboyant, risk taking and outgoing, football is prudent and measured to the point of suffocation. It's a corporate mindset dressed in a spangly boob tube. Give us our bloody game back for Christ's sake.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Emma’s birthday was on Saturday and in celebration we headed to the Mole and Chicken for a rack of ribs/warm duck salad/half a sheep. The Moley holds particular significance amongst my friends. It is a gastro-pub, and has been since before the term was invented. It serves quality, plentiful, hearty pub food. It’s the place we headed when we were old enough to eat in restaurants. We’ve never really graduated any further.

It’s also the scene of plenty of great nights out; as Spankee once described it; 10 people having 14 conversations all at the same time. Loud, boozy, delicious, funny; that’s the Moley.

Getting a table is hard; it’s very popular in the area and has a reputation that attracts people from far and wide. Emma booked six weeks in advance which was the first time in over a year that we’d actually succeeded in getting in.

In the morning we got a call from the pub checking we were still coming. It wasn’t unreasonable, the booking was for 12 people and if we hadn’t turned up it might have left a significant hole in the evening’s takings.

“Can you turn up earlier?” said the waitress of our 8pm booking. This was impossible – the chances of getting 12 people to turn up earlier than planned was about as possible as getting them to turn up on time. There were added complications of children and babysitters to organise and people coming from various corners of the shire.

“Well, you have order by 8.15 or you’ll get your food late” she said “we’re very busy”. What she didn’t seem to understand was in a pub which has about 10 tables, we would be taking up a significant proportion of her busy-ness.

As its always full it should be easy to predict the number of staff needed. What’s more, it’s one of those places that because it ain’t broke has had the same menu for a decade. Everyone orders the same thing every time. As these places go, it’s the most predictable business you can hope for.

Anyway, we all turned up at 8pm as arranged and the place was packed. We were seated and ordered by 25 minutes past – which was good going. The food turned up in good order and it was delicious. Fun was has by all. As always.

At 9.30 it became apparent that something was up… the place was empty apart from us. The staff were wiping table tops and staring at their hands in that way people with nothing to do do.

It appears that the reason tables are hard to come by is that they only have one sitting which is a strategy designed to get through the busy period as possible. Being full and busy all night in a restaurant is a bad thing, it seems. So they make hay for an hour and a half and then remain open for another 3 hours waiting to lock up. Gordon Ramsay would have a field day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Another disgraceful performance at Eurovision, I see. We were out for Emma's birthday and didn't see the actual performance or voting, but we were doomed to failure from the outset.

The UK have got Eurovision all wrong; we have an intensely kitschy perception of the competition. As a result we pitch up increasingly woeful parodies of past success on the assumption that the rest of Europe share a desire to relive the hedonistic days of Bucks Fizz. Even the show where the UK representative is chosen is no longer called; 'A song for Europe' it's called 'Making your mind up'.

Scooch were one such parody with a lineage that stretches back to Abba. They were originally formed as a Steps clone. As Steps became successful, two things happened - they became popular around the world and were unable to be in all the places they needed to be at the same time. Secondly, the more successful they became the more ragged they got and the more they believed in their own talents. It's the typical lifecycle of a pop band. Scooch were there to squeeze a few more dollars from the Steps cash cow after they split to pursue catastrophic solo careers, and sell a few CDs whilst the originals were saying 'Konichiwa, we're Steps, we hope you like our new single' in unison to the vast Japanese market.

Steps, of course, were firmly positioned as family fun, smiley pop. They had nice singalong choruses, didn't say motherfucker, and did simple dance routines that everyone from 8 to 80 could learn. They were perfect for weddings. Which is exactly what Abba have been distilled into. A criminal injustice, in my view, because they were probably the greatest song writers since the Beatles. The Abba brand has been so dumbed down it is no longer possible to give them the credit they deserve.

The rest of Europe don't see this, they don't get the irony or build the link back to days of yore. Sure, a Eurovision winner can look quite cheesy to UK eyes, but the common factor is a song which is universally 'fun', and has a transfer value across all nations. The spoken-word double entendres that punctuate the Scooch song; 'Some salted nuts sir', will mean nothing to a majority of Latvians.

It's unlikely that the UK will ever win Eurovision again - firstly, we're not a member of the new school. The Eastern Bloc invasion means that there is a voting cabal that the UK will never be able to penetrate. Secondly, whilst no bad song is going to win the title, the voting is not on the song alone. It's a commentary on global social and economic politics. Our ongoing occupation in Iraq is not going to bode well with the voting public. So it's not really advisable to have a song which claims to be 'flying the flag all over the world', they might as well sing 'we invaded Iraq and we don't give a shit'.

Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker were both mooted to be writing songs for Eurovision, which may be a worthwhile experiment. But we're more likely to simply attract an increasing band of desperadoes trying to drag themselves out of their showbiz mire and onto the heady heights enjoyed by, em, Katrina and the Waves.

I'm fascinated by these people; the basic economics of scraping a living from anything that is vaguely related to showbusiness. Take band member Russ Spencer (oh, and compare the picture of him here, with the one on their official site), who's main career credits are being in Scooch, a second rate imitation of a second rate imitation, and coming second last in Eurovision. Prior to that he was in the TV show Boys Will Be Girls, which involved creating a girl band made up of boys in drag. At what point will Russ realise that his dream to be Bono, Robbie Williams and John Lennon is likely to remain unfulfilled.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

365 days later

Millie was 1 on Sunday - a year on from the weirdest day of my life. She's hilarious and everyone seems to enjoy her company. People are probably being kind, but they often comment on the fact she's the happiest baby they know. She changes constantly, and not just her nappies. I know that babies grow up fast, but nobody told me just how fast fast is.

From day 1 Millie has been part of the gang. We've always tried to have an open house policy with our friends; if they want to come round for something to eat or a cup of tea, they can. Even if there's 15 of them, which recently, there was. Emma knocked out a vat of lasagne and three desserts and we were off.

Millie is part of that culture and I would say that our social life, though different, is better than it ever has been. We still see all our old friends and we have a bunch of new ones. We haven't had a clear weekend for weeks.

I've also realised of all the things I like doing, the thing I like doing most is sitting around drinking tea with my friends. On Monday we sat in Katie and James' dining room sheltering from the rain that abruptly ended their BBQ drinking tea and chewing the fat.

These are people I've clubbed with, drunk with, partied with, holidayed with and been to school with. Yet of all the great things we've done together I enjoy nothing more than drinking tea with them. We still joke around in the same way we always have; about zonal babysitting strategies, Willy's plans for the holiday in the summer and Jo's new job buying soft furnishings for oil rigs in South America. It's where I feel the most comfortable.

What's more, not only do we sit around drinking tea like we have for years, we have babies hanging around with us; and I love it - it's the epicentre of my comfort zone.

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