23 May 2008

"We're the famous Hull City and we're off to Wem-ber-leeeeeeee..."

This will be my last blog entry prior to the Big Game.

I'm not nervous*. Oh no.

See you next week...


22 May 2008

Sky's limit

I was working until 8pm, then took some regular guests of the talk show to the hotel next door for a drink. Knowing all of this in advance, I'd earlier set the Sky+ to record the Champions League final.

At 9 o'clock, I got home. I ate and then put the game on via my Sky+, an hour behind everyone, not knowing a thing. Brilliant. Provided I got no giveaway text messages from a couple of Manchester United fans I know, I'd be able to see the game through to the end, not knowing the result until it appeared on my screen.

I watched the full 90 minutes, fast-forwarded the ads and the half-time punditry (it had Andy "Beags me old son" Townsend on it, who Hull City fans don't like after some stuff he said about Justin Whittle last season) in between, then watched the extra time period. I dislike Chelsea and their histrionics intensely, so I'm not sure I was wholly neutral in my viewing angle, but with no emotional involvement I found myself thoroughly enjoying the game, irrespective of outcome.

Penalties, then. In went a couple each, then Ronaldo missed, the gasps, the tension, Ashley Cole steps up...


Eh? Wha? WHAT?

I sat through 120 minutes of football and had just got on the edge of my seat when the recording ended. The match hadn't. But either ITV1, or Sky+, or both, had contrived to tell each other that their broadcast was over and therefore all scheduled recordings should cease.

I do not allow myself to use on this blog the word I shouted at my TV screen.

I missed John Terry and Nicolas Anelka's misses - remember at this stage Chelsea had the advantage with just one scheduled pen left, so as far as I was concerned, they were going to win. But I didn't bloody know this.

Anyway, I flicked on Sky Sports News, expecting details of Chelsea's victory, only to be greeted by the sight of Ryan Giggs being interviewed while sporting a grin the size of Salford Quays on his face.

So not only had I missed the penalty shoot-out, I'd missed a turnaround within it.

At least the right team won. But to see the two Chelsea misses later on the rolling channel, entirely out of context, and knowing what was going to happen, was so annoying. I'd made such a special effort.

I read here that Jim Gannon, the manager of Stockport County, has told Sky he won't talk to them, even if in victory, after his side's League Two play-off final against Rochdale on Monday - as the company won't fix his Sky+ problem.

I feel his pain. Sadly, I can't exercise any similar influence to make them grovel in the same way.

21 May 2008

"Where does the end of me become the start of you?"

I played Mad World by Tears For Fears on the radio this morning. It reminded me of how much I really, really liked - and like - Tears For Fears. Within and beyond the actual songs, there were loads of titbits and quirks which just made them interesting:-

- I like their use of the word 'halogeon' in Mad World, a word which I've never seen or heard in any other context. I wonder if it is entirely made up? There is a halogen group in the periodic table, if my GCSE chemistry lessons don't fail me, so maybe there was a connection there but Roland stole a syllable for scanning reasons.

- I like the fact that Pale Shelter was the first song they ever recorded, in demo form, which got them their record deal, and it was obviously so good that it was immediately earmarked for a re-record and release as a single.

- I like their names. Curt and Roland. They could only be upper middle class lads from a well-heeled city with names like that.

- I like Roland's full name. Roland Orzabal de la Quintana, as I recall. And I always used to pronounced a hard 'z' as an oikish child, not realising that his Iberian heritage demanded a 'th' sound.

- I like the name of Roland's cat in the 1980s - Zero Algebra Waldorf Churchill.

- I like the fact that The Hurting is still regarded as their best work, even though it's the album most stuck in the 1980s sound, a sound which Roland was desperate to ditch when making the second album.

- I like the egotism and indecision which infamously prolonged the production of The Seeds Of Love, and the tale that an engineer was fired by Roland during the recording of one song, and when he was reinstated nine months later after a succession of less able engineers were unable to cope, they were still working on the same song.

- I like the way the USA embraced them in a way the UK never did. The band had two Billboard #1s but their highest placing in their homeland was one #2 single. I like to think that they were regarded in American stereotype as quintessentially British due to their roots, names and accents.

- I like the fact they pulled out of Live Aid due to a saxophonist quitting at the expiry of his contract. Having the nerve to ditch Live Aid on the day of the event itself over a sax player took some doing. In 1985, none of their singles to date had featured a saxophone, and Live Aid wasn't an event for doing favourite album tracks or untried new stuff, so it's hard to see the problem...

- I like the confusion with their numbers. Always a duo, but Ian Stanley and Manny Elias were given full band billing on the sleevenotes for Songs From The Big Chair. Other bands to do this included King (four piece plus drummer) and China Crisis (duo plus bassist and drummer).

- I like Songs From The Big Chair's title. It was inspired by a B side called The Big Chair, but despite donating its very title, the B side itself (from Shout) wasn't deemed good enough to get on the album.

- I like the mild con surrounding that album. Only nine tracks, which really became eight when you consider that Broken appeared twice (once as a live version, and even that was just the closing refrain tacked on to the end of Head Over Heels).

- I like Listen, the final song on the same album. It's gorgeous.

- I like Curt's proud proclamation that his wife Lynn made "the best cream of onion soup in the world".

- I like Roland's claim that his favourite thing from childhood which he still owns is his penis.

- I like the sympathy sent Curt's way - and the bile issued to Roland - after the infamous spat which led to the duo's split following the release of The Seeds Of Love, especially as Curt's marriage to Lynn had ended during the recording process.

- I like the heartfelt thank you message Curt sent via the sleevenotes on The Seeds Of Love to the friends and relatives who helped him when his marriage ended.

- I like the contrast between the two of them onstage during any point of their career; Curt sang and played with joy on his face, whereas Roland looked constipated.

- I like Roland's voice on I Believe.

- I like his dedication of said song to "Robert Wyatt (if he's listening)".

- I like the semi-pompous retitling of the song to I Believe (A Soulful Re-recording) when it came out as a single, even though it sounded no different to the version on the album.

- I like the backing vocals on Mothers Talk, which is clearly by neither of them.

- I like Simon Mayo introducing Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down) as "the new single by Tears For Fears, well actually it must be Tear For Fear now, as there's only one of them left".

- I like the organ refrain on Shout.

- I like The Way You Are, a stopgap single which didn't make a studio album or the greatest hits compilation, and was described by Roland as "an odd little record, as the hi-hat wasn't on the backbeat".

- I like Break It Down Again, and the Elemental album as a whole.

- I like the "BANG!" flag which flops out of the gun fired by Roland during the Head Over Heels video.

- I like the way that "so nice to taste" sounds like "so masturbate" on Sowing The Seeds Of Love, and "without love" sounds like "f**k off" in the same song.

- I like the billboard and magazine ads for Shout upon its release, proudly proclaiming it was "a six minute single".

- I like the way that Shout was saved by an appearance on Top Of The Pops' lower chart showcase The Top 40 Breakers, after climbing only from 35 to 32. It ended up at #4.

- I like the concession to a spot of post-production (that "dang-nang de-da-da-dang!" guitar bit) to make Everybody Wants To Run The World sound just slightly different to its parent song.

- I like the fact they did it in the first place; probably Hobson's Choice given what didn't happen at Live Aid.

- I like the way that Sowing The Seeds Of Love went straight into the Top 10 on release while one of their contemporaries making a comeback with their own relaunch single, Spandau Ballet, charted outside the Top 40 in the self same week (with this) and never got in.

- I like Curt's wishful thinking as he believed he could launch a career under the name Mayfield, based entirely on a pun via his name. He could therefore have called his solo career Strange. Or maybe Blow. Or even Woodhouse.

- I like their recent reconciliation.

Great forgotten songs of the 1990s - #5

Pointless, pointless, pointless

The Natural Blonde works for a well-known company which involves itself in finance and property.

As is such companies' wont, they tend to send their staff on largely meaningless courses and seminars every so often, which cause minimum benefit and maximum inconvenience to the workforce but are punishable by the sack or stoning or suchlike if they eschew them.

So, the NB today set off on a 140 mile journey on such a course, grumbling about how she should be working rather than wasting her time.

She got there.

The course consisted of one brief survey on a piece of paper.

Half an hour, all told.

Then she, and the others, left again.

They came from all over the UK for this. In many cases, a lot more than the NB's 140 miles.

What a dreadful waste of everyone's time, fuel and brain cells.

An official complaint has already been lodged via the NB's laptop. She won't be alone in doing this.

If her figures for the month are down, she has a valid reason for it. Whether the company would accept this reason while calculating her wages is another matter.

I despair.

20 May 2008

"I didn't think she'd be a Royal!"

So, the Duchess of York's visit to Hull to help a typical struggling family improve their health and diet was finally broadcast. The residents of this fine city of mine have been biting the cushions for months waiting for this.

And although I've heard contrary views from people I know round here, and I'm also in no doubt that the family she assisted will be a) pilloried to buggery; and b) summarised as typical of the whole city by the wider media from today onwards, I think, well, it was okay actually.

The family were rough people, but didn't seem to be bad people. They were working class and poor in the way so many people reading this are never likely to be - convenience food, cigarettes, mum struggling to keep everyone happy, dad unable (not unwilling, but unable) to work. and kids testing their nerve.

I found it amazing that the mother, who was in her 40s, didn't recognise Sarah when she first knocked on the door. "Do you know who Prince Andrew is? I was married to him!", she was obliged to say. I didn't know the family were in the dark as to the identity of their visitor (I missed the very beginning) and only when the teenage lad later said "I didn't think she'd be a Royal" the penny dropped with me. For all that, the mum surely must have watched the wedding back in the 80s? Or seen the papers? Spitting Image? C'mon... I know Fergie's been out of the public eye for quite a while now - not least because she remains isolated from her former in-laws - but she hasn't changed that much...

Anyway, once introductions were complete, the Duchess got to work, watching the family's eating habits, questioning them about exercise, finding out more about them one to one. I loved the image of them taking her shopping to the local Netto and debating the issue of spuds, beans and pears - there was hope after all for these kids, as they liked fruit but mum simply couldn't afford to keep filling the bowl at the rate they emptied it.

Later, she chatted to the dad's dad (in a BP Saltend jacket - I used to wear one of those...) at his allotment, and his brilliant lack of airs-and-graces ("they get to 18 and do what they bloody like!") in front of his well-heeled interviewer, and his obvious frustration that he had good, fresh and free vegetables available to them and they wouldn't take them off him - not because they didn't want his help, but because they reckoned they wouldn't like his stuff.

Fergie chucked together a coleslaw at the Holderness Road guest house she was staying at, using a cabbage from the allotment, then stuck in some asparagus tips and ferried it round to the house. They loved it. So, Grandad's cabbage was no longer an issue. Progress.

I was most moved by the dad, who'd been a proud forces man until an accident damaged six vertebrae and his coccyx and, under mild questioning from Fergie, his front disintegrated and he sobbed about feeling useless and unfit.

So, the mum had been taught that her father-in-law's veg was okay to eat, the dad had opened up about why he was letting himself decline, and the kids were - actually, we didn't learn as much about the kids, apart from the 13 year old's smoking habit, condoned by his parents and outraging Fergie (and me). The teenage girl - who had a full-time job, which is unlike many post-school adolescents on that estate - claimed she had no time for exercise due to work and her domestic duties at night, but Fergie brushed those off as an excuse. That seemed to be their main problem - excuses.

Ultimately, it boiled down to money. And improving the diet of the country, something governments claim to be a priority, is not going to happen until the healthy stuff becomes more affordable to our poorest people. This was the mum's main issue and she's right - fresh stuff is fine, but it has to be able to last and it has to be affordable. And the Duchess agreed with her. It's no good preaching about "five a day" if the produce is beyond the budget of the family.

And yes, they could give up smoking, but to tell them to stop for financial reasons and not health reasons (you wouldn't tell a millionaire smoker to stop for financial reasons) is missing the point entirely.

I think Fergie did well. And although Hull will take its usual kicking (have any of these people ever been?) after this latest bit of lowest denominator telly, I don't think the city I love came out of it too shabbily at all. The scheduling was unfortunate, given that the activities of our football team have lately provided us with lots of positive press, but ultimately those of us here know the truth.

18 May 2008