13 August 2010

Home and away

Tomorrow afternoon, Hull City play their first away fixture of the new season, at Millwall.

And I'm not going.

Without wishing to puff up something that in the grand scheme of things wouldn't be amazingly important, especially to this corner of blogdom that principally dislikes football, it is still going to be quite weird and sad. I have not missed an away game in any competition since April 2007, when the Tigers went to Cardiff City and won 1-0, guaranteeing Championship safety and doing the game as a whole a mega service by simultaneously relegating Leeds United.

Since then, I have driven my car or caught trains to every ground we've visited. I've got stuck in fog in Norwich, been thrown off a train at Macclesfield en route to Wolverhampton, missed an entire half at Arsenal due to a bad accident and an even worse diversionary route, had the paintwork on my car scratched to buggery at Portsmouth, arrived in Colchester only for the match to be postponed, picked up a parking ticket at Blackpool and driven off from a petrol station in an embarrassed hurry from Crewe.

This season, financial constraints are curtailing my Saturday viewing pleasures. The Championship brings with it a number of Yorkshire derbies, plus Scunthorpe, and so I'll get a reasonable fill of away matches. The problem I have is I work in Stockport on Saturday nights and therefore can't volunteer to be "designated driver" from Hull as I'm unable to take people home afterwards. Midweek games are different as I can fill the car with fuel, and then people, and then collect appropriate monies off those people who otherwise would have had to travel on the club's coach service, which is one step away from a Bolivian mountain bus for its comfort, speed and value, and requires you to take two days off work for the very longest trips.

Away games involve so much more than the football, and after a Premier League season in which Hull City did not win a single match on their travels, you appreciate the other joys of the day even more. The verbal jousting and excited discussion on the journey there, the discovery of a friendly pub where you'll see all the other guys from Hull you knock about with. The walk to the ground, the singing, the laughter at how condescending the home team's match programme has been about your team, the humour in defeat (we know much about this) and the journey home which can be anything from excited discussion to absolute silence.

I'll miss a lot of that this season. And yes, Millwall might seem as good an away game to miss as any, given their reputation, but I've been there twice before and it is no different to anywhere else. I want to be there but common sense and a belated spot of financial wisdom dictates I'll be listening to online commentary instead.

A win at the New Den won't be for me, but let me feel like it is. C'mon City.

12 August 2010

To the Maxx

I understand from just about any female I know that this is a rare trait in a man, but I really like clothes shopping. I know plenty of guys who take pride in their appearance but don't necessarily like the rigmarole of traipsing about the shops searching for their required garments. Well, I'm different. I take pride in my appearance - no, really - and like the process of doing so.

Tell me I'm spending the day - well okay, the afternoon - clothes shopping and I'm there. Obviously by this I mean shopping as a man for men. I haven't clothes shopped in the company of a woman for years, probably because women shop much differently to men.

A bloke wants a shirt. He goes to the shop he prefers, finds the right department, goes to the rail containing shirts of his size (you can already tell I'm in TK Maxx here, my favourite shop) and then has a flick through. The only decision he generally then makes is the basic one about whether he likes the shirt or not. If he does, he buys it. If he doesn't, it stays where it is.

I know I'm an XL, and therefore never feel the urge to try on shirts. I know my waist size, and so I never feel the urge to try on trousers. I know my shoe size, and so ... exactly. I can go home with a reasonable quantity of items and know all will fit, all will look good (relatively speaking, just before you bray any "hark at Clooney" comments at me) and all will find regular use.

This doesn't apply to the contradictory gender at all. Everything has to be checked twice, three times, four. Then tried on. Then compared with something else. Then tried on again. Then declined, making it a fantastic waste of everyone's time - until a few hours later when nothing in any other shop matches up and so it is purchased after all. And probably taken back to the shop 48 hours later.

If a chap is in the company of a woman in a clothes store, you can about bet your kneecaps that he is looking vacant, bored and offering only half-arsed opinions that the woman doesn't really want anyway. If he answers honestly about whether he likes something or not, his opinion will be wrong. "No", usually gets the accusatory response "Why, what's wrong with it?", while "Yes" is greeted with the "Hmmm, I'm not sure" retort of indifference. You may as well say "it makes your arsecheeks look like two fat boys under a tarpaulin" for all the value it holds.

Let's not even mention the insistence of the woman that she looks at every item in every other department without intending to buy anything whatsoever.

So, the genders should do their own clothes shopping in their own time and their own way. Unless you really do know someone prepared to indulge your habits.

And yes, I like TK Maxx. I like the fact that everything is arranged by size, not by item. There is some real tat in there but it is a goldmine as far as finding a gem within the rejects is concerned. The prices are cheap, and ridiculously so when it's a sale. I know charity shops are cool and the possibility of picking up something wild and wonderful for 75p is quite strong, but I've never done it. I have an unreasonable prejudice against them, convinced that I'll find dried bogies in the buttonhole of the seemingly smart jacket I've just purchased. TK Maxx feels like one step up to me. It's reassuringly bogie free.

Mind you, I took a shirt back there today as it had been mislabelled. It was an L when it said XL. The press-studs that attached each side together undid in perfect popping sequence - Norman Cook could have made a record from the rhythm it made - as soon as I unsucked my stomach.

I got the tenner back. And, of course, a comment from the woman behind the counter that I should have tried it on first. And, as I explained to her, I know my shirt size so ... etc.

11 August 2010

Death on the cobbles

Coronation Street, one of my few televisual obsessions, is commemorating its 50th birthday at the end of this year by killing off half a dozen characters in a tram crash.

You've seen the tram in question, presumably part of the Manchester Metrolink, as it travels over the viaduct during the opening titles. The fact that nobody ever catches it from Weatherfield - or, indeed, mentions it - seems to be neither here nor there. Everyone gets on the remarkably efficient bus service outside the salon though.

The tram is apparently set to hurl itself over the viaduct and down on to the cobbles, where the gaggle of death row characters will just happen to be together, ready for decapitation. A more realistic way of causing death by tram would be to make them all attend a Manchester United game and then catch a tram with everyone else immediately afterwards. I've done that. My liver ended up in the luggage rack.

So, who do you reckon is for the chop?

Ashley and Claire seem likely, as the performers in question have been told they're not having their deals renewed anyway. However, this causes the problem of what to do with their two young children, as I expect no soap opera would dare kill off a child in an accident such as this, let alone two of them. The nearest I can think of is Nick Cotton's son dying on that motorbike in EastEnders, but he was about 17 or something.

Jack Duckworth is a possibility as the actor is retiring, but according to the papers (yes, I know) they're going to make the character ill in order to raise the thorny subject of euthanasia.

The other one we know is departing is Janice Battersby. The Zippy-esque actress that plays her is chancing one of those "explore other opportunities" things, which usually means panto and then a guest appearance in Doctors. I doubt that there is a reason not to just add her to the death list, assuming she wasn't there already.

So who else? Well, here are my guesses...

*Natasha, though she won't be pregnant by the time of the accident. I really liked her initially as she delivered witty Corrie pay-offs really well, but now she's gone all clingy and sour.
*Sean, who is becoming more of a caricature by the episode and is really irritating now. And they simply can't bring themselves to give him a regular boyfriend for fear of what the Daily Mail might say, lessening the character's purpose substantially.
*Bill, who has literally no discernible future now that his business is dying and his girlfriend seems to have suddenly done one.
*Trevor, just to put Carla in Gail's league for seeing off gentleman companions forever.
*Kirk, whose thickness surely restricts the storyline possibilities beyond wisecracking with Chesney and packing pants in boxes.
*Ciaran, for being a former member of Boyzone and never mentioning it. Or for being the biggest ham on there since Ashley's last sale at the butchers.

And beyond that, I reckon that they're planning to pension off one of the genuine Corrie legends. One of Ken, Deirdrie, Emily, Rita, Betty or Gail will go. Gail is the outsider for me as it'd be too far-fetched to have her crushed under a flying tram having previously lost one husband to a car crash in a canal and another to falling off a boat. Her record with transportation already isn't good, and this would be a step too far.

It won't be Betty either, as she is never seen outside the Rovers Return, and even then that's only a couple of times a month. Deirdrie is probably a bit young to kill off still, and I think there would be an outcry if Corrie got rid of Emily in such a brutal way. So, Ken or Rita then. Take your pick. My money is on Rita. She's just had six months off and then returned with someone else's face. Her authenticity has gone.

Even though those veterans are regarded as untouchables, I think there are a new breed of such on Coronation Street now. Steve, Eileen, Kevin and Sally, Fiz (who is just superb), Norris, Peter (who is also superb), Michelle, Maria, Roy and Hayley.

With these to take on the baton, I really think Corrie is finally getting to the point where it can dare to get shut of someone from a cobble-laden pedestal. And when better than your 50th birthday? Look out for flying bricks and glass, Rita...

10 August 2010

"Swimmers, 60 lengths freestyle, take your marks..."

I swam 1500 metres in just under 28 minutes today, with just one brief ten second pause after 900 metres in order to relieve my goggles of water.

My local pool is attached to my old school and therefore there is, during term time, no public swimming during working hours as the kids are always given priority. Now, however, there are adults-only sessions every morning and I've been taking advantage of it.

This morning was my first focussed go at completing the longest race in any pool-exclusive swimming event. The 1500 metres is the equivalent of the 10,000 metres in athletics and in my youthful days as a competitive swimmer, it was the only race where they had a "heat declared winner", as having heats and a final would swallow up the whole day.

I did my first competitive "mile" in 1982 at the City of Hull Swimming Club championships. It was for boys aged 11 and under and just five opted to take part, and the other four were all 11. I was nine. Times and achievements suggested I should have come third, but I swam like a boy possessed and came second. I received one of the hallowed (they just were, trust me) City Of Hull Super Swimmer T-shirts for this, as I was the youngest boy in the club's history to complete the race. I had to write a letter to the club committee to apply for one.

At that age, these races take half an hour and much more to end, and so everyone not partaking has to find a way of dealing with the boredom. Even the parents of the swimmers involved find themselves struggling to maintain an interest as their child ploughs up and down the pool, praying for the race's end. Most of the races involve no personal battles and it's clear after a third of the race who is going to finish where. The officials on the poolside have to do a count of the lengths and then each swimmer would have a whistle blown at them as they tumbleturned with ten lengths to go, and then again at two lengths to go.

I would do one of these per year at the club championships but there was no bigger stage for the 1500 metres at that time. In district and county championships it only became part of the schedule at the "open age" stage - ie, aimed tentatively at over 16s but still available to anyone younger who fancied a go. I never swam a 1500 metres race outside of the pools of Hull and the East Riding.

I won a couple of them as I got older, though my only real memory of any of them was that I had Shake The Disease by Depeche Mode running through my head throughout one race, but from 14 onwards my abilities weren't growing (and neither was my body, annoyingly) and younger and more natural swimmers than I began to overcome me. The last competitive 1500 metres I swam was when I was 15 and I came fourth from four, but the three of us who trailed the swimaway winner traded advantages in a personal three-way battle that I was told afterwards was really exciting. I remember catching these guys up with about half the race gone, overtaking them into second and stretching the pace in a way I never thought I could. With four lengths left I was spent and had no sprint finish, and both of them eased past me and I trailed in at the end. My mum said she was as proud of me that day as she had ever been when I was actually any good.

If your local pool is 25 metres long, then you'll evidently work out that 1500 metres is 60 lengths. That's what I did this morning. These days, as an unfit but improving 37 year old I can cope with the cardio-vascular side of it but my arms are devoid of sinew and muscle after about 500 metres and afterwards it becomes a real endurance test. I was in the mood though, just kept going, and was helped by the lack of hairdo swimmers also in the pool which meant I could swim in a straight line and undisturbed. When I finished the 60th length, I did a further 50 metres of warm down breaststroke while wondering if this was how the children of Thalidomide felt.

The men's world record for 1500 metres short course (ie, in a 25 metre pool rather than the Olympic-sized 50 metre pool) is 14 minutes ten seconds. So you could say I'm halfway there...