17 May 2008

Ferry pleasant trip

We'll be on a ferry in a couple of weeks, headed for Zeebrugge. Then it's a four hour drive through a bit of Belgium and half of France. My ten days' holiday a year begin!

My parents bought essentially an uninhabitable shell of stone and slate 11 years ago. It was in a beautiful area of France - which is a beautiful country wherever you go - but it required serious work. This was the pet project which would take up my ever-resourceful parents' holiday time and provide somewhere to spend most or even all of the year once they had retired.

It is just the most fantastic place now. In a hamlet near Limoges, it is a three bedroom stone cottage of tranquility, beauty and authentic Frenchness. It is fairly close to a small town named La Souterraine, which has the supermarket and restaurants one needs when holidaying in France, but otherwise it's very easy to wake up in the cottage, potter about all day, eat, drink, read, sunbathe, watch a spot of TV and go back to sleep again.

It's unbelievably quiet too. Social activity in France consists of longer lunches and early evening dining, so by 11pm everywhere is closing and everyone is heading home. Only the very biggest cities have a post-midnight existence. Therefore while tiny villages and hamlets in the UK can still be woken by taxis and mildly inebriated people staggering back from the pub, in France you can hear the blood rushing around your head for as long as you're awake.

I adore France. I'm not an experienced traveller, as I have previously admitted, but I could happily head across the Channel every year for the rest of my life. It irks me when I hear of the usual prejudices from Franco-sceptics in Britain - "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" is a quite horrible phrase.

People find it hard to imagine why I like France, given that I don't drink wine and don't eat cheese. But it's not just about the food - it's the culture, the climate, the laid-back nature, the language, the general way of life. I think we're lucky to have such a fine country right on our doorstep.

One thing, however, that does irritate me about France are the predominant type of English person who goes there, and even lives there full time. They don't learn the language - even rudimentary terms like asking for the bill they don't bother to swot up. Wherever you are, whoever you are, you should always endeavour to show respect to your hosts by making their job easier, not expecting them to make yours easier. They're French and in France - why should they be fluent in English?

My mother is fluent and I scrape by on a good A level and a genuine interest in the language. When I hear supposedly successful people talking to teenage waiters in VERY LOUD VOICES and then muttering obscenities about them afterwards I get most angry.

I'm looking forward to the trip and the ten days of utter relaxation and good food. I don't need a beach and I don't need late bars to enjoy myself on holiday any more.

16 May 2008

Clunk click

I've had three separate people emailing me today, to say none of the links on my blog are open and clickable. I've noticed this too - but it works on Firefox (my home PC's browser) but not on IE (which I use only on Firefox-incompatible sites). So it's an IE thing, I assume... or is it? This is where my technical ignorance shows up. IE also seems to have italicised every link at the side, which is most odd.

Anyone else noticing this? Any suggestions? If so, use Firefox (!) to reply or email me offsite. I could do with the help.

EDIT: Thank you to webfixer for swift assistance via Blogger's Help Group. The links are still in italics on IE, which I don't want, but at least now you can click them - and the comments link too!

EDIT EDIT: And now thank you to T E D who has helped fix the italics problem. Marvellous!

Great forgotten songs of the 1990s - #3

"And sure, I like a few..."

15 May 2008

"Wemberleeeee, Wemberleeeee...."

"Flying high up in the sky
We'll keep the Hull flag flying high
From Boothferry to Wembley
We'll keep the Hull flag flying high."

It's amazing just how much of Hull City's past lack of achievement is known by the wider footballing consciousness. Biggest city never to have had top division football? Check. Never been to Wembley? Check. Only club whose letters can't be coloured in? Check.

Well, we can do bugger all about our name, so all you crazy colouring freaks will have to make do with Bolton Wanderers and their many enclosed lines when you're doodling on your pools coupon. But the other two? Well, one's done, and one's hopefully to follow on Saturday week.

We defeated Watford 4-1 at home and 6-1 on aggregate. It wasn't as one-sided as the scoreline suggests but we were also rarely in trouble. The fans invaded the pitch at the end and the players emerged in the top tier to pop some champagne before heading through the hospitality area to the changing rooms. I snapped a few of them; a thrilled Andy Dawson even struck a pose here...

So, we're off to Wembley. At last! My friend Tony and I are pictured in the pub, looking rather happy.

The closest we'd previously come was in a pre-war FA Cup semi-final where we were 2-1 up with 20 minutes to play but didn't go through. After that, there was our only other play-off experience, when we led 1-0 against Leyton Orient in 2001 but lost the second leg 2-0 in London. In any event, the final would have been in Cardiff because of the protracted rebuilding of Wembley which had just got underway. In fact, the only time a Hull City kit has been on duty at Wembley was when Leigh Jenkinson, our flying winger of the late 80s and early 90s, reached the final of the Rumbelows Sprint Challenge in 1991, to be run at the old Empire Stadium as a curtain-raiser to the League Cup final. He came last.

It's impossible to put these emotions into words, but I'll try. In 21 years of supporting this club, I've been laughed at by Hull lads in Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and even - eugh - Leeds United shirts for daring to hold a candle for the team representing my home city. I've seen our club taken to the brink of death by shysters in the boardroom and incompetent, greedy men in the dugout and dressing room. I've seen brief hopes of recovery or progress dashed by fate or error on the pitch or in the accounts.

I've seen us at the bottom of what we all used to call Division 4, seemingly with no way out. That was less than a decade ago. I've seen the rugby league fraternity in our city, against whom I hold no ill will, patronise the football club and its supporters, telling us to support a 'proper' sport which apparently gives our city its 'national identity'. I've seen us mistreated by our local paper, overlooked by the regional television and overrun by away supporters in our own stadium.

But I've also seen Garreth Roberts, Billy Askew, Garry Parker, Peter Skipper, Tony Norman, Richard Jobson, Charlie Palmer, Andy Payton, Keith Edwards, Billy Whitehurst, Wayne Jacobs, Leigh Jenkinson, Peter Swan, Leigh Palin, Steve Wilson, Duane Darby, Greg Abbott, Alan Fettis, David Norton, Roy Carroll, Neil Mann, Justin Whittle, Mark Greaves, Mike Edwards, John Eyre, Jon Whitney, Theodore Whitmore, Ian Goodison, Kevin Francis, Gary Brabin, Paul Musselwhite, Jason Price, Leon Cort, Stuart Green, Damien Delaney and Stuart Elliott play for my club. All great players who did their bit to make the bad times better and the good times last.

Now finally we have a squad which can fulfil the last of those dreams and remove that statistic that everyone knows, quotes and scorns. Led by Ian Ashbee and including two grizzled veteran Hull boys in Dean Windass and Nick Barmby, they have every sense of the history they have before them. For what they have attained so far, they are already heroes. For but one more victory, they will achieve immortality round these parts.

The final is on my 35th birthday. What a day of dual celebration it could turn out to be. Wish us luck... again.

13 May 2008

"Out there the law's a-coming; I'm scared and so tired of running..."

The much-envied, long-trousered Five Centres was given the task of choosing the tracks for this week's 70s Night on KCFM. I asked for 42 songs, and he gave me far more than that, so some had to fall by the wayside. Showing musical taste and knowledge to match his comic timing and general human loveliness, this is how the F-C programme sounded...

M "Pop Muzik"
Middle Of The Road "Soley Soley"
Rah Band "The Crunch"
Bob and Marcia "Young Gifted And Black"
Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs "Seaside Shuffle"
Starland Vocal Band "Afternoon Delight"
Hello "Tell Him"
Frankie Valli "Grease"
Cher "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves"
Buggles "Video Killed The Radio Star"
Wizzard "Ballpark Incident"
Driver 67 "Car 67"
Marmalade "Cousin Norman"
Terry Jacks "Seasons In The Sun"
Althia and Donna "Uptown Top Ranking"
Hotlegs "Neanderthal Man"
Billie Jo Spears "Blanket On The Ground"
Jilted John "Jilted John"
Mary MacGregor "Torn Between Two Lovers"
Hot Chocolate "I Believe (In Love)"
Sweet "Fox On The Run"
David Essex "Rock On"
New Seekers "I Get A Little Sentimental Over You"
Temptations "Ball Of Confusion"
Badfinger "Day After Day"
Abba "The Name Of The Game"
Status Quo "Down The Dustpipe"
Manhattan Transfer "Walk In Love"
Dolly Parton "Jolene"
ELO "10539 Overture"
Pluto Shervington "Dat"
Lobo "Me And You And A Dog Named Boo"
R Dean Taylor "Indiana Wants Me"
Bad Company "Feel Like Making Love"
Syreeta "Your Kiss Is Sweet"
Jigsaw "Sky High"
Samantha Sang "Emotion"
Steeleye Span "All Around My Hat"
Judie Tzuke "Stay With Me Til Dawn"
Joe Jackson "Is She Really Going Out With Him"
Dawn "Candida"
Stevie Wonder "He's Misstra Know It All"

And - brace yourself - here are the songs from F-C's list we rejected (for good reasons, actually - unavailability, unsuitability, duplication from last week's show - or just entirely the wrong decade...!)

Mike Oldfield "Portsmouth"
Tonight "Drummer Man"
New World "Kara Kara"
Ramblers "The Sparrow Song"
Whispers "And The Beat Goes On"
Arrival "I Will Survive"
Boomtown Rats "Diamond Smiles"
Glitter Band "The Tears I Cried"
Flying Lizards "Money"
Gerry Rafferty "Night Owl"
Eagles "New Kid In Town"
Wings "Helen Wheels"
Fiddler's Dram "Day Trip To Bangor"

A Five Centres production for KCFM 99.8.

12 May 2008

Great forgotten songs of the 1990s - #2


Be cool, be hot

I don't like really hot weather and I don't like really cold weather, but give me the choice and I'll take a scorcher over a cold snap any day. The sunshine over the weekend was most conducive to the things I needed to do - walk dogs, cut grass and watch Hull City in the play-offs at Watford.

It must be hellish to play football in this weather though. I remember back in the mid-1980s when Colombia were awarded the 1986 World Cup, only for FIFA to then swipe it back and hand responsibility to Mexico owing to Colombian economic and political struggles.

Anyway, the expected conditions at altitude that summer in Mexico prompted calls from medical types to urge FIFA into another re-think. The temperatures were vast and the air so thin that the players, especially those who rarely experienced such temperatures in any circumstances, were felt to be at risk. As it turned out, they were regularly chucked bags of salt water to suck on during ten-second intervals for throw-ins (or longer, especially every time Uruguay played as the number of fouls they committed meant the games stopped for longer than they started). In 1986 - as with the Mexico competition of 1970 too, the one where England lost their grip on the World Cup - players would come off the pitch more than a stone lighter than when they set foot on it.

Now, temperatures in Watford yesterday were not exactly of the level associated with Central American heatwaves, but nonetheless the players must have felt dreadful at periods of the match, hence the relentless hurling of water bottles from technical area to pitch during interludes for treatment or discipline. Normally, players come across for water as a way of getting surreptitious tactical instructions from the coaching team. Yesterday they came across for water because they were somewhat thirsty.

In the crowd, men were in shorts, women were in tight tops and some fellows went the whole hog and removed their tops, showing off their tattooed pectorals (lots of bulldogs, Hull City badges and devotional motifs to 'TRACEY'). As a man of the world, I can assess whether a torso is in handy condition or not (hence why I kept my shirt firmly on) but it always seems to be the case that the blokes who do this have the fewest aesthetic attributes - and the most conclusive evidence of years of half-time pie consumption - to show off. It's not pleasant.

Frankly, if it is a criminal offence for a woman to expose her breasts in public, then it should be for men too, especially those men whose breasts are actually of a similar size to even the most reasonably-endowed woman. And more nauseating to clap eyes on, for male or female.

Anyway, the players not only coped with the temperatures, but they won the match 2-0 and we're one colossal step closer to the Wembley dream we've been sitting on for 104 years. The hot weather held up all the way back home.

The hottest temperatures I've ever experienced were 40 degrees celsius and more when the Natural Blonde and I were on our honeymoon in Egypt. With a hat, a parasol, a vat of sun cream and a nearby pool to stagger into every so often, such temperatures are more than bearable. But when you're walking around Luxor looking at tombs and Egyptian monuments and ruins, and your tour guide says you're going too slowly (because he wants to get you to the souvenir shop he co-owns while claiming it's an essential part of the tour), that's more of a problem.

The NB was taken ill in the afternoon after one sight-to-see too many. She was sick at the scene, sick at the hotel from which we were travelling back to our resort, sick on the short flight, sick in the taxi and sick in our room upon arrival. Sunstroke is something she gets easily unless she is well protected; sadly, her hat was one of those basket types, therefore full of tiny holes for the rays to get her. She won't make that mistake again.

It's warm again today, and the shorts are on, the shades are out. Maybe I'll go and find a cricket match to watch. Maybe I'll take a stroll along Mappleton beach with my thoughts. Maybe I'll sit in the garden with a sandwich and an iced drink, listening to the radio and idly dreaming of the future. Or maybe I'll stay indoors and, erm, watch yesterday's match again on tv thanks to Sky Plus. Hmmm, it's a tough old choice, that one...