25 November 2011

Wounded knee, wounded pride

Friday has started with a rare feeling of human achievement. Driving away from the gym (a place where I seldom feel human achievement), I edged round the final corner and came across a moped rider flat out on the concrete.

Quickly I got out of the car and remembered one of the few episodes of Casualty I'd ever watched - "have you hurt your head or your neck?" I asked. The answer was a very pained no - and so I asked the rider to remove their helmet.

The injuries suffered by this girl - and she was a girl, 17 I reckon - were two heavily gashed knees and some severe, severe embarrassment. I applied tissue to the heavier of the cuts while another motorist who'd just turned up was calling 999. I then lifted her into the back seat of my car so she could sit up properly and then shifted her bike, then we all waited for the ambulance.

The operator seemed to have no access to Google Maps, or common sense, or sympathy, given that he was still asking me for a more precise address in a featureless voice when the bloody ambulance itself actually turned up. The communication system in that avenue of the emergency services needs a bit of work, really. It was one of those Ambulance Responders, the type you mistake for police cars all the time, and the burly bloke inside had a bedside manner ("I had a knee like this after crashing my go-cart", "you'll get a scar your boyfriend will be proud of") that made this lass smile and blush simultaneously.

Then a "proper" ambulance turned up, containing two more burly blokes. They cracked weak but reassuring jokes and then the three of them lifted her into the back of the ambulance as her parents arrived to check on her welfare. I'm assuming this girl was arriving for sixth form lectures - the gym is tagged on to my old school - and instead found herself being given medical treatment by three men. She's got a story to tell to her mates.

Anyway, my work was done. She couldn't look me in the eye once her helmet had come off - teenage pride and deep embarrassment over the fuss - but I think she was grateful. Teenagers, eh?

23 November 2011

It actually says: "Welcome to Barbados, have a nice day..."

"To you it may be taboo to boo the tattoo; but for me the tattoo is something to say ta-ta to..."

When you watch a Premier League match on telly now you see an array of artistic images burnt into the flesh of the players. There has been quite a rise in the prominence of the tattoo in recent years, possibly as a direct consequence of these chaps.

How do they cope with the pain? Given that some have a penchant for rolling around in agony for ages when an opponent exhales on them, it's quite remarkable to consider that they can sit for several hours in an artist's studio while needles dipped in a combination of ink and molten lava are rammed under their skin.

Players who choose to wear short-sleeved shirts show off their forearm pictues and patterns; those who take their shirts off entirely for any reason are often sporting serious artworks on front, or back, or both.

As for me, nope. Not on your nelly. I expect I'm in only a small majority of tattooless people of my generation. I don't have kids, so I don't have the motive for a tattoo that many people choose to use. But now there is quite the number of people who have their kids names, or some Greek proverb, or an oriental bon mot, branded into some area of their anatomy. And I have both admiration and a touch of pity those who have the patience and pain threshold to sit down, keep still and bite on a wooden spoon while their artist of choice imprints an image of Enceladus or Selene, sitting proudly on a rock while holding a staff and shield, into their back.

Admiration for the nerve and commitment, and pity for when the day comes that, for whatever reason, they regret it. Usually this applies with ex-spouses, doesn't it? You're asking for trouble the moment you imprint a partner's name indelibly into your skin.

The stories about tattoos are well-thumbed, aren't they? The woman who thought it would be amusing to have a No Entry sign imprinted in the very base of her back. The Geordie who had a complicated, agonising, detailed tattoo of Andy Cole put into his torso 24 hours before Newcastle United sold him to Manchester United. The woman who had a cartoon image of Kelly Holmes crossing the finishing line tattooed into her back, only for the tattoo artist to forget the letter 'l' in the athlete's name.

And I can say this as a chap who can recognise a good-looking guy without any question marks over sexuality, but that thing on the back of his neck has ruined David Beckham.

(I assume you recognise the punchline in the title of this blog...)

22 November 2011


There was no voting scandal in the end as, finally, Russell Grant bid farewell to Strictly Come Dancing. He had been entertaining, willing, self-deprecating and humorous to the limit, but the timing of his exit was spot on.

His now familiar position at the bottom of the leader board was cemented by a public vote that the programme actually seemed to cock up in using its "no particular order" policy for announcing the results. The two participants immediately above him - Robbie Savage and Anita Dobson - were the first two to have their safety confirmed, making the eventual confirmation of Grant's exit something of a non-event. Ultimately, it was the clinical Aussie plaything Holly Valance, fifth of the eight, who stood beside him as the other celebrity in danger and although one wondered briefly if we were about to witness a genuine outrage that would have surpassed anything Ann Widdecombe's shtick last year attained, the result was obvious.

Len Goodman said, not entirely without a menacing tone, that we'd remember Russell Grant flying out of his camp cannon for years to come. He was right of course, but I thought it was a dreadfully executed stunt. A potentially great idea ruined by the desire to make spectacle outweigh substance. That Grant emerged very slowly and with his belly attached to some kind of protective toboggan made it all the more pointless. He then landed on the deck and proceeded to parade and point rather than dance, something which even a man of his limited abilities had admirably managed to avoid in previous weeks. He and his partner thought about the setting - Wembley Arena, 6,000 people - far too much, and forgot about the contest.

From his point of view, that was a pity, because there were enough weaknesses in his nearest rivals to give him half a prayer of surviving another week had he done a better job. Savage isn't improving enough and cannot convince the judges at all; Dobson is only as good as she was in the first fortnight, which is a real worry for her; Valance has ability but doesn't seem remotely emotional about it at all; and her Aussie compatriot Jason Donovan is in danger of seeing his considerable chances ruined by his own intensity. His missing steps within a jive that had been built up and built up by others as potentially one to ape the Halfpenny standard of seven years ago could be the starting point of a breakdown before our very eyes. His perfectionism and professionalism is proving to be part of the problem rather than the solution. He needs to lighten up.

Still, all of the aforementioned remain, and Grant has gone. With the comic relief confined to the audience from now on, the competition again can restart, just as it did when Nancy Dell'Olio got the shepherd's crook three weeks ago. The remaining septet are all winners in the making, but right now only Harry Judd is obvious. Chelsee Healey is hot on his trail and the surprise package Alex Jones needs to be taken seriously - in the past slowburning improvers like Darren Gough and Chris Hollins have overwhelmed more instantly gifted rivals to peak just at the right time. It helps that Jones has come across as witty, humble and affable, attributes that we had not been previously able to see from someone whose national profile had been 100 per cent in front of an autocue.

As for the show, it just didn't work. Of course, it was fine for the crowd packed into Wembley Arena, the admission fees of whom had contributed a six-figure sum to Children In Need, but for the dancers and television viewers - the two most important sectors in all this madness - it wasn't good. The floor was too big for some of the less fit competitors while we at home were forever seeing crew sneaking around while hearing bad echoes and wrongly activated microphones. For what it's worth, however, it did seem to be one of Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly's best performances as a presenting team, and the main man himself has been much less prone to error in general this year. And Bruno Tonioli really, really made me laugh.

I keep changing my mind, but at the moment it's a brave person who backs anyone other than Judd or Healey for the title. Much will depend on whether ultimately they have the personality to match their dancing, deficiencies that have done for other competitors at the last minute in the past. The biggest personality has now gone, but he wasn't a dancer, so now on likeability we're looking at Dobson and Savage. The best dancers are lacking personality and profile, while the best personalities are lacking as dancers, so maybe someone in the middle - someone who can combine a bit of ability with a smidge of character - has a better chance of winning this thing than they realise.