2 April 2009

Something completely different



I currently have possession of five footballs. They are of varying conditions, colours and makes, and none are especially well inflated.

They are in my possession, but they're not necessarily mine. All five are in my garage, having been found abandoned in bushes and on fields and in unlit streets while walking my dogs at all hours.

I'll rarely kick any of these balls around, but I hate to see good balls abandoned (actress, bishop etc) and so I've managed to carry them with me while also tugging four Basset hounds about and then safely deposit them in the garage upon returning home.

I once found an office chair in immaculate condition in the middle of the playing field, but didn't take that. I have limits. I think over time the local hobbledehoys shifted it across to the ravine at the side of the field. It's probably now in the Humber.

Footballs get lost easily - especially when I'm around - but what on earth possesses someone to put a chair in the middle of a field? Were they expecting John Cleese to turn up with an arcane mic and a dinner suit and make an announcement from it?

1 April 2009

"Our hero sits with head in hands..."



Dancing Girls by Nik Kershaw. Probably his least well-remembered single from his halcyon era and as follow-up to the groundbreaking and career-making Wouldn't It Be Good, it was very regulation, almost ordinary. But I liked it.

The video, as unpretentious as the previous one was eye-opening, still has some smart moments to it. Kershaw himself says that they had the idea for the lonely bloke living a tedious life for a while, but spent ages finding a house to film in and were knocking on people's doors for ages. Eventually, as Kershaw put it, "one nutter said yes. But we were very grateful to him."

This intrigues me. I don't know what the time process is for making a video but it must take a while to plan, shoot, edit and then dub the song on top. Two months before Dancing Girls was released, Kershaw was a total unknown, so it can't have been recognition of him as a major pop star that prompted the homeowner to agree to having a camera crew knocking about his pad for a number of days while this alleged pop musician emptied cornflakes over his kitchen table. No wonder the star himself expressed his gratitude.

So we get Kershaw in standard 80s collar pyjamas, the type which only valium males in toothpaste adverts have been spotted wearing since, getting wearily out of bed and doing a series of half-arsed stretching exercises while a ballerina lollops around outside his driveway and then appears from nowhere in his vestibule.

Note immediately that the cracking bleached Kershaw barnet is unaffected by a night's sleep in a single bed. Note also that we're expected to believe that a man with a haircut like that would wear such a dull shirt and tie combination for his day job.

So the cornflakes - shaken from the box to the beat of the initial synth riff - fly all over the table and he looks a bit pissed off. Not as pissed off as whoever had to clean them all up afterwards and replace them as the take wasn't quite right, I'll wager.

Off he goes to work, and is confronted with a lady traffic warden, a man in a bowler hat and various headscarfed neighbours choreographing his thoughts. It's insane and actually, it's still pretty funny. I love the two washerwoman-esque neighbours mouthing the backing line "and they dance for him inside his head". It's the sort of thing LAMDA prepares you for...

To the second verse, and Kershaw is in a board meeting, during which the secretary and then the canteen ladies do the dancing across the table while the suited men perorm the backing line. Again, one wonders exactly what sort of career a man with such a bizarre barnet as Kershaw's was aiming to follow when playing this character, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The two vocal effects in the song are well covered by the video plot. Kershaw's "hy-ahh" comes from his medical examination where, after having his blood pressure and his eyesight tested, he feels the need to perform the noise as a deep breath into the medic's auriscope. Then, as he returns to chorus mode, the nurse starts dancing and the ageing medic, still looking at the test results, does the back-up line before they all dance off. They really made these classically-trained actors work for their dough.

The other vocal effect was the harridan-female scolding noise (I've no idea what the words are, but you can tell she's displeased) and the ballerina following Kershaw around covers this as he idles in his chair. This seems to shock him into life and he escapes home, mouthing the chorus with his front door wide open. It's a bit of a disappointing ending, really. I was thinking back in 1984 that maybe the ballerina would drag him upstairs.

The song, underneath it all a basic plea for a life of boredom to be enhanced, was the second hit off Human Racing, the debut album panned by critics but lapped up by an audience that really took to this diminuitive, croaky-voiced bloke. Kershaw had signed to MCA in 1983 and released I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me at the end of that year which failed narrowly to chart. Wouldn't It be Good, with it's irresistible hook, new world synthesised break and chroma-key video, made him an instant start and he became a face of 1984. Dancing Girls was the comparative flop single, prior to the mega re-issue of his initial hit and then the title track, both of which came with live performance videos. He ended 1984 with The Riddle and all the guff about theories and theses that came with that.

As an unabashed Howard Jones fanatic, I felt kind of programmed to like Nik Kershaw too, and indeed I did. However, much was claimed then, as now, that they were essentially the same. Certainly both were good pop songwriters but I felt there was something more clinical and credible about Jones, while Kershaw, with his boyish features and willingness to caper about the stage rather than stand behind an array of keyboards, was more out-and-out teen pop. Also, girls would go to a Howard Jones gig but they'd listen to the music, sing along and cheer. You couldn't hear the music at a Nik Kershaw concert for the screams, something which heart-throb pop stars always felt was a double-edged sword as while it was nice to be categorised as attractive, screaming stopped people - the screamers and non-screamers - from hearing the music.

Kershaw's second album, also The Riddle, sold reasonably well in 1985 (he was described as "the thinking person's Limahl" in one magazine review) and he managed three Top 10 hits from it but he failed to shine at Live Aid and his chart career in the UK ended at the end of 1985 with the largely characterless When A Heart Beats.

31 March 2009

"I'm just going to give you a little prick..."


Steve, bless him, has tonsillitis at the moment. I hope he doesn't mind me mentioning this and I hope he gets well soon. Fortunately, a surgical procedure when I was eight prevents me from ever suffering from this unpleasant ailment.

I suffered frequently from ear infections as a child, exacerbated by the chlorinated water which would regularly enter my ears as I was a competitive swimmer and was therefore in a pool most evenings. Eventually, my GP referred me to a specialist - an ancient but kindly lady called Dr Calder - who rammed various narrow sight aids down my ear canals, tutted a lot and then announced to my parents that I would be better off without my tonsils.

Immediately, I wondered why tonsils - which I knew were somewhere in my throat - were somehow responsible for ear infections. I couldn't see the connection, figuratively or literally. To be truthful, I'm still not entirely sure to this day. I also got a little scared, as this meant hospital, an operation, pain, discomfort. I'd been hospitalised with croup in 1978 and I hated it so much. I went on the waiting list and forgot about it for a while. Then six months later my NHS call-up papers arrived through the letterbox.

As I was only eight, the surgical summons was addressed to my parents and they, bless them, kept it secret as it was mere days before Christmas and they didn't want me to spend Christmas Day being frightened. My brother and I unwrapped an Atari games console as a joint present on Christmas morning - though his self-appointed status as head sibling purely by accident of birth meant I barely got to play on it except when parental intervention forced his hand. We fell asleep on Christmas night, happy at another really enjoyable festive day. On Boxing Day morning, after breakfast, my dad quietly sat me down and showed me the medical papers, informing me I was going into hospital that day.

I was upset and it was quite a shock because I'd genuinely forgotten all about my impending surgery. Maybe I was hoping that Hull Royal Infirmary had forgotten too. A few tears were shed, as I was petrified, but then things calmed down and my mum packed my hospital bag. We all travelled in together and I was then left behind to settle into one of the children's wards.

The paediatric department of HRI was on the top floor of the building. I assume it still is. HRI is a vast, imposing place, easily visible from most second floor windows in the west, north and centre of the city. I wonder now, when they structured the departments upon the building's inauguration in the 1960s, if the children's ward was deliberately placed on the top floor so there would be a mild element of excitement about being so high up for the sick kids who had to go in there. It was so thrilling to be so high above the ground, as we all discovered when looking out of the window. It's only ever adults who are scared of heights, after all. My mum once took me on the big wheel at Hull Fair and only one of us was nauseous and as white as a sheet upon dismounting, and it wasn't the child.

In my room were four beds and I was given one near the window. Two other boys, both a little younger than me, were in the beds on the other side of the room and for precisely the same reason. The other bed remained empty for the next 24 hours then, briefly, a girl slightly older than me was put in it, seemingly with the 'flu. Even at the age of eight I knew that you didn't normally get hospitalised with the 'flu. My dad reckoned she was in because her 'flu simply wouldn't go away. Anyway, she was shifted after only a day or so and the bed became unoccupied once again for the rest of our stay.

Now, everything you read in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (or it might have been Growing Pains... - I can't remember) about having your tonsils removed is true. The pre-op care involves frequent medicine doses, nightly baths where a nurse stares at you in order to make sure you don't drink the water and, otherwise, total boredom. When my dad had his stay in hospital the December before last, he was furnished with a tv, radio, games console and internet access, all above his bed on a natty pulley system. Clearly the latter of these was unavailable in 1981, but there was also no tv or radio in the room. There was a play room up the corridor with a tv (and a box of really crap toys, covered in dirt and scabs) but you needed nurse permission to get out of bed for any reason other than to go to the lavatory, and most of the time there was no nurse about to ask. Back in those days kids, ill or well, recognised authority...

We each had to have two days of checks and tests before our operations. The three of us, if I recall accurately, each had a moment where we got frightened and shed a few tears, which was understandable. I remember one of the other lads getting really upset when he was the only one whose parents hadn't turned up at visiting time, so my dad went over and told him a few daft jokes to get him smiling.

This hospital stay also introduced me to the concept of nightshifts. Until this point, I though a night nurse was that weirdly-coloured liquid the tv told you to take before bedtime if you had a runny nose. I thought literally everyone went to sleep at night, simply because I did. But we had proper night nurses on duty, wandering around the wards while all the young patients slept. I remember wondering how much work they actually had to do given that everyone in their charge was away with the fairies. I wasn't aware of the concept of admin in 1981...

Finally, the day of the operation came. Now, although I was the eldest of the three boys, I was also last alphabetically, and so the other two were wheeled out of the ward first, one at a time. The first lad was brought back after his op, totally zonked out by the anaesthetic, and the second lad gave me a small wave, rather poignantly, as he was then taken away. We all had to put on a strange gown and shower cap and remove our pyjamas. I remember protesting a little at having to remove my Casio digital watch (with calculator) but did so anyway.

The trip to theatre was quick. I was wheeled out, taken down the corridor, into the lift and downwards, but only briefly. Then it was out of the lift, through two lots of double doors and into the theatre itself. The surgeon said hello, asked if I was okay, told me not to worry and then said the immortal words "I'm just going to give you a little prick". This moment is as vivid as any, even though it was seconds before I dropped off the edge of the world. I'm pretty certain I wasn't asked to count to ten, and I suspect I'd have made it to no more than three...

The next thing was me waking up in the ward, with mum and dad either side of my bed, reading. The two other boys, de-tonsilled before me, were already awake and chatting with their families. To this day I don't know how long the operation lasted or for how long I was unconscious. All I remember from that point is how sore my throat felt. It wasn't a standard sore throat, it felt more like a fire eater's throat during his apprenticeship. It felt burned and incredibly tender, and instantly mum handed me some water - not hospital tap water, which we'd all previously discovered to our cost was wholly undrinkable and quickly regurgitated - and I sipped away while trying to come to terms with the pain. The nurse quickly arrived with some painkillers.

The next three days were spent sipping water, eating sloppy food and taking pills while trying to stay reasonably entertained. I read the same comic over and over again - some BBC tie-in thing featuring drawn versions of Barney Bear and Basil Brush - and my mum brought me my Paddington books. Slowly but surely, the throat was healing. Ice cream formed a staple part of the post-op diet, being cold and soothing and I happily devoured masses of the stuff. However, on New Years Day 1982, my day of release, I had to eat a large bowl of cornflakes as a final test of how well my throat had healed. I did so, at a struggle, and then got dressed and was taken home.

Finally, on January 2nd, I got to play that Atari console on my own, and was soon beating our kid at Space Invaders and finding the white key in Adventure. I never felt my throat again - except when standard sore throats came and went - and my ear infections never returned.

Get well soon Steve.

30 March 2009

Sports news, but without the news...



A much-anticipated World Cup qualifying match in a football-crazy nation. A glut of ticketless fans turn up at the 35,000 capacity stadium and try to force their way in.

As a consequence, a perimeter wall collapses and a number of people are caught in the crush. Later it transpires that 19 are killed and 132 injured.

Local police exacerbate the situation by doing what all police officers do - they assume the supporters are causing trouble rather than in trouble, and fire tear gas into the mêlée.

The game, featuring a handful of global football superstars, goes ahead and the result stands. FIFA then demands an inquiry.

Now, this is a major sporting catastrophe. Yet on Sky Sports News, not only was it relegated as a story until 20 minutes into each of their hourly rolling bulletins, but one of their presenters managed to describe the perishing of 19 innocent football fans as "an unfortunate incident".

I don't know whether it was off the cuff or scripted, but either way it is woefully inadequate as an appropriate description of the tragedy and deeply insulting to the loved ones of those killed.

Even on the BBC website's own sport pages, it was a side story on their menu, not one of the major headlines.

Both sources dictated that the absence of Michael Owen from the England squad (which isn't news anyway as he's been ignored for a year now) and other colourless comments from international footballers about their qualifying chances, plus a car chase in Australia, were more important and newsworthy than the loss of 19 lives at a major sporting event.

Could the fact that it took place in the Ivory Coast, rather than a major European nation, have anything to do with it?

29 March 2009

Jacqui and the red hot 40+



Jacqui Smith really is a card, isn't she? Not only is she making a mockery of the expenses system by claiming briefcases full of our money for a house she neither owns nor lives in, but now a claim has been made to pay for two blue movies viewed at her house.

Of course, she wasn't at home when the films were ordered and viewed, says her spokesperson. Actually, I suspect it'd have done her more good if they'd said she had been home, and she and her husband had enjoyed a right good evening of squelchy conjugals while watching skin flicks that Richard Desmond had funded.

After all, the press have never been able to take her seriously as Home Secretary because they noticed on the day she was appointed that she was rather blessed in the chest area and duly focussed, in that charming tabloid way, on her physical assets rather than any intellectual or moral dynamism she may have possessed. Given that we've subsequently established she is in fact entirely lacking in both intellect and morals (and scruples, honesty and competence), she's probably best off flaunting her visual attributes and adding that she frequently enjoys watching naked romps with her husband. She'd stay in a job for life (or at least until her party is removed from power).

Of course, she has done what all red-faced women would do in these situations - she has blamed her husband for the pornographic misdemeanour and the quote says she "gave him a good ear bashing". Oooh, the possibilities for misinterpretation there are endless... if it had been a "tongue lashing" instead then we'd have been in paradise.