Thursday, 8 December 2011

AND REPEAT...


It’s impossible for me to be entirely objective about The Rinse, as its artist is an old and valued friend. We’ve had a brief conversation about the book; now it’s time to take a proper look.

First things first: this is a very good-looking book. I’ll say again that it’s impossible to be entirely objective, but the visuals on the book are quite lovely. Marc Laming (the artist, about whom it’s etc etc) is inking his own pencils and while his previous work, inked by others, wasn’t what you’d call sloppy, it has an added depth here that can only be accounted for by the fact that what you’re seeing is what he wants you to see. There’s no intermediary artist/inker coming between you the reader and him the artist.

This is important in a book like The Rinse, with its cast of characters that could very easily become visually homogenised and lose their individual identities. That this doesn’t happen, even in sequences which are set in dimly-lit rooms, is a credit both to Laming[1] and to the colourist, Darrin Moore (whose parents were probably big fans of Bewitched, judging by his name’s spelling. This is a Good Thing, as the world can never have too many references to Elizabeth Montgomery).

So do I have a problem with this book at all? Yes I do, and that is that The Rinse is a comicbook that reads like a book, and moreover a book that was intended to be denser than the four-issue miniseries format allowed. Gary Phillips, the writer, is an established novelist, has written a graphic novel for Vertigo and, judging from The Rinse, has plenty of experience of plotting and characterisation, neither of which are a negative in this case. Characters have strong individual characteristics and the plot is good and tight.

But the book in its entirety, the story as an whole and the individual scenes between characters, seem to have a slightly uneven air, rushed in places, leisurely in others and at times just plain remiss. It’s fun, for instance, to see the bad guy has a phobia, but we have no idea why and it’s not really brought to our attention until it’s foregrounded in the last part of the story. We see that the two heavies who spent most of the four issues chasing the hero around have an air of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd about them, but given how their particular story ends, it would have been good to see some greater backstory or exploration of why they were working together in the first place, and of what kept them together.

The most obvious fault is that there are great chunks of exposition dropped into the story every so often, and that’s why the overall feel is of a narrative that would have been better serviced with more space to explore backstory, develop characters, and show rather than tell some of those details which are brought out via having a character stand and talk at another one.

Don’t get the wrong idea; this is a very good book indeed. It’s very much suited more to the trade paperback format than to pamphlets/floppies; Phillips has written a long-form story rather than a serial, so no recaps or any of the other standard ‘this-happened-last-issue’ comicbook tropes. In trade it’ll be easier to keep tabs on which character is doing what to which other character – somebody with a fleeting walk-on in issue one plays a major part in issue four, for example, and the casual reader in floppy format may not retain the knowledge of who and what that somebody is.


I’ll say again, as this review may well seem to be accentuating the negatives: I recommend The Rinse highly. I’d have done so without any prior knowledge of Laming. I do so with no prior knowledge of Phillips (though I do now intend to hunt down his novels). It’s a damn good comic, one of the many damn good comics that Boom! Studios are quietly slipping out these days (it stuns me that the two comics I’ve enjoyed most in the last few months have been this and Snarked! – a kids book!). If I was giving marks it’d get 7/10, borderline 8.

And for what it’s worth, I think it’d make a damn good film.



[1] It’s remarkably disquieting to refer to someone you know well by their surname. Reminds one of the Raj, don’tcha know. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

It's A Wonderful Life, Possibly

I’m standing at the cooker, watching butter slowly melting. The solids are separating, drifting off into a milky gold puddle in the bottom of the pan. On the worktop there are two white china bowls. One contains dark muscovado sugar, the other equal amounts of golden syrup and black treacle. There are a number of jars set beside them; ground ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves. Bicarbonate of soda, a carton of whole milk, a couple of eggs.

Soon, the butter will be liquid and the muscovado will be added, then the two will be stirred until they combine. Next, the syrup and the treacle, and the warmth from the low heat the pan is on will bring them together into a reflectionless dark pool. Looking down into the pan is like gazing into a well; I’m tempted to toss in a small stone and count the seconds until I hear the splash.

In go the spices, along with a few hillocked teaspoons of chopped fresh ginger, and the bicarb. The milk, with the eggs beaten in, lightens the darkness, bringing it down to a caramel duskiness. I stir it all into a bowl of flour, and scrape every last drop into the paper-lined, thickly-buttered cake tin.

Half an hour later, the kitchen begins to change. It’s warmer, more comforting. The smell of the cake is drifting up and around, filling the kitchen and gently moving out, exploring every room in the house.

It’s then that I realise this hasn’t simply been making a cake. This has been the beginning of Christmas. This is the moment when today stops being just another cold day and instead becomes full of soppy, sentimental tradition. It’s the moment I used to anticipate hopefully when I was young, the moment when the bite in the air isn’t just chill, but is suddenly loaded with the promise of winter; not just Christmas itself but the whole snowy, scarfy, wrapped-up-well and staying in by the fireside joy of this most beautiful of seasons. From today until sometime next March or April, the sky will be blue and breath will be white; the sound of your footsteps will for a time be crunchy and muffled by snow. Everything will be better, just that slight amount more exciting, simply because of the time of year.

I’ve missed this moment. It hasn’t been felt for too long, suffocated under everyday worries and the heavily worn cynicism of adulthood. Feeling it now, after a year filled with loss and confusion and sorrow, fills me with something that isn’t hope, isn’t the happiness that has been absent for most of this year, but is instead a sense of renewal and fresh beginnings. The harvest is late, but at last it’s coming.

Tomorrow I will begin planning and purchasing for the holiday weekend, talking to my family, deciding among ourselves who’ll be cooking what, where we’ll be on which day. The next few weeks will be as they usually are; stressful at times, joyous at others, probably culminating in a desperate hunt for a red cabbage on Christmas Eve.

But right now, as I take the tray of gingerbread from the oven, feeling the burst of heat against my legs, seeing the dark brown curvature of the cake, knowing that tomorrow it will have gained a shine and a stickiness and that each mouthful will glow slightly with ginger followed by the depth and darkness of treacle, I can only fall, slowly, willingly, into December’s soft, romantic embrace. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

I wish I'd said that...


Charity mugger on High Road to man walking just in front of me: “Hi, do you have two minutes to talk about the RSPCA?”
Man: “It’s alright mate, I’ve just been talking to your mate across the road.”
CM: ‘Okay!”
Man: “And I told him to fuck off as well…”

An' me fag's gonnout 'nall!


A couple of years ago I entered an ill-advised relationship with a woman a lot younger than myself. And for a while I was willing to ignore her screeching accent, her refusal to eat anything that didn’t come wrapped in plastic and her inability to pronounce the letter ‘t’ – particularly the one in my first name - because she was exceptionally pretty and she was half my age.

Earlier today I took a stroll down to the local supermarket. It’s on the High Road, the north-south road that crosses the east-west of White Hart Lane. WHL isn’t bad; it’s  typically 1930s council stock, interspersed with more recent tiny Barratt Home-style apartments that have 80%-sized furniture in the show flats. It has the Cemetary, which is a thing of beauty and a valued spot of quiet contemplation. Just before it ends, it changes name for a few hundred yards and becomes Creighton Road – the Lane itself skulks off on its own like a scolded dog for a bit – which is where the saintly Bill Nicholson used to live.

Tottenham High Road itself is quite ugly. There’s no avoiding the fact, it simply is. It’s a range of chicken shops and bookies; one or two employment agencies full of shaven-headed eastern Europeans willing to work all night for bare minimum wage in an Osterley industrial shed packing your Christmas doo-dahs; a couple of those barber shops full of black guys in their twenties talking into a Bluetooth headset and texting with one hand, there’s a plasma high up on one wall, and nobody seems to be either cutting hair or having their hair cut.

You know those conversations you can have with strangers, where five seconds in, you realise it’s a mistake but you can’t back out? I had one of those. Some woman with a voice like a parrot being waterboarded sprang out of Love Lane – a name very much deceptive – and asked me if I lived round here. I said yes. It was a mistake.

“Where’s Norfumberlun Par Crow? Dah nair?”  I told her Northumberland Park Road wasn’t down there, it was in the opposite direction, end of the road, turn left, first right.

“See? Smar’arse! Iss dah natway! Yorso futtin clevva you wen ron way! Arsow!”

She shouted all of this over the road to where a rat-faced fella in a Helly Hansen waterproof was skulking along trying to look inconspicuous. He shouted something back. I felt a lurching in the old lunch when I fell in that she was going to walk alongside me. Which she did, in her giant sheepskin boots and her denim leggings and her coat made from the pelts of the finest cat.

“See, I doe noe roun ear, I doen liveer, I live down Edmonton, I live Edmonton Green.”

Which pretty much explained it. My former girlie lived that way too. Like I said, nice girl but not what you’d call gifted with the social graces. And if this sounds snobbish, then very well, it’s snobbish. If Stoke Newington, our neighbour to the south, can look down on us, then we have every right to do the same to Edmonton. It’s what it’s there for. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

BEEP BEEP HONK


You know the worst thing about cycling in London?

It’s not the cars that overtake you and then immediately turn left, so saving themselves about half a second by making you brake and so exposing yourself to the possibility of a nasty tail-ender.

It’s not the drivers who forget that a car is either a flat-sided or a convex-shaped vehicle and so, owing to the laws of geometry, will reduce the distance between the side of the vehicle and the kerb as it proceeds around a left-handed curve. And having forgotten that, said drivers will speed around said curve while the poor sod on the bike feels the odds of him being swept under the side of the passing lorry growing in inverse proportion to that diminishing curve.

It's not even the buggers who overtake at traffic islands WHICH IT TELLS YOU NOT TO DO IN THE BLOODY HIGHWAY CODE YOU ARSE.

It’s bloody pedestrians.

Since the accident a few weeks ago, I’ve redoubled my efforts to be seen after dark, especially since the clocks went back. The old single-LED front light’s been replaced by a multi-LED ultrabright. There’s a second rear flasher on the seatpost to supplement the one near the gear cassette. I’ve bought some exceptionally camp arm/wrist bands with LEDs that flash alternately red and yellow. Now, small children try to stand me near their tellies and put their Christmas presents underneath me.

I even wear this kit in the mornings, especially on grey, drizzly days when visibility isn't great and windscreen wipers may or may not be used depending on how blase a driver may be. 

Days like today. 

This morning, I’m threading through the school run traffic. Being careful, watching out for car doors opening or vehicles pulling out from sidestreet or parking space. I reach a set of traffic lights as my route crosses a major road. My east-west route is very low priority compared to the main north-south road so there’s usually a long wait for the lights to change in my favour.

I’m standing there for a while when a woman steps off the pavement and walks straight into me. 

Flashing front light. Flashing back lights. Flashing armbands. Big fucking yellow fluorescent day-glo reflective hi-vis bastard vest.

And she walks straight into me.

Mutters an apology, not to me but to the world in general. Something along the lines of ‘I didn’t see that bike.” Strolls off.

A hundred yards later, the stupid cow does exactly the same thing again.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a helmet-mounted microphone and a pair of PA speakers so I can announce my presence audibly as well as visually, and I’m going nowhere unless I’m surrounded by a full Salvation Army brass band playing Onward Christian Soldiers with choir accompaniment.

And luckily there will be a place in heaven reserved for them each, for you can bet your last ha’penny that some silly bastard will still not see us, and there will be righteous blood flowing on the streets of North London Town. 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Fuck You Mick Jackson


I once saw Brian Moore walking along the touchline at White Hart Lane. He had a very big nose. Far bigger than it looked on telly.

Brian’s TV programme, The Big Match, was the Match Of The Day of its time, only without annoying graphics or Alan Hansen. Or a budget. On The Big Match you’d get seventy seconds of long-haired dockers hoofing a cannonball up and down a bombsite, followed by Crimplene-clad baldie Brian sitting behind a plywood desk, discussing what he’d just seen with Alf Ramsey or Brian Clough. I always thought Brian Clough was funny. My old man couldn’t stand him.

The thing was, The Big Match used to be, along with Sunday Lunch and Sunday Tea, one of the high points of Sundays. And it was a high point because there was literally nothing else to do. No shops, very little else on telly except an old war film. Television used to close for a couple of hours in the afternoon – my gran always said it was to give the set a chance to cool down. Try that today, you’d have riots in the streets the likes of which would make the Occupy London movement wet their pants.

Sundays were exactly like Tony Hancock said they were. They were vast expanses of Nothing To Do. You’d read the paper, maybe have a kickabout over the playing field, and that was it. All that was left was to eat yourself stupid and have a bit of a kip.

Over the last few months I’ve noticed that ennui creeping back into Sundays, these days without the Sunday paper (none of ‘em any good anymore) or the giant blow-outs at the dinner table, but most certainly with the feeling that there’s absolutely sod all to do.

Go for a walk, maybe. But it’s November, it’s grey and damp and cold and the streets are full of either baying lunatics who’d stab you and steal your trousers just for the hell of it, or filthy media types clutching Costa Coffee take-aways in the park and wearing over-designed spectacles with writing on the arms. 

I suppose there are books to read but who can be fagged these days? Besides, Sundays are a day off and exertion of physical or mental nature shouldn’t be on the agenda. I want to be entertained at the weekend but it just ain’t happening.

Yes, I know, I’m a miserable old bastard who just needs a kick up the arse to get him going. Until that kick arrives I intend to sit on the sofa, have the odd nap, and complain about modern life.

Fancy joining me? 

Monday, 24 October 2011

And There's More


Part Two of what looks like becoming a three or possibly four part catch-up on all that’s new and groovy in the wonderful world of comicbooks (it says here) continues last post’s look at DC’s New 52, of which I could be bothered with twelve (‘twelve’ is a wonderful number, don’t you think? Always looks better written as a word than as figures, has a lovely sound to it, looks quite ravishing as well). 

Onwards.

I may be alone in thinking that JH Williams 111 is a slightly over-rated artist. I think the same of Alex Ross, who brought a few painting techniques from commercial art to comics and was hailed a god, but whose photo-realistic work I feel detracts from the necessarily faux-kinetic nature of the form. Wrinkly costumes do not a dynamic figure make. And don’t start me on his creepy man-child Captain Marvel.

Williams 111 has finally given us his much-delayed Batwoman series; it’s been one of the most anticipated and most demanded of the 52, selling out in a matter of hours at the shop and going into several (all right, three) printings. Some of this can be put down to the general 52 hype, some of it to the book’s astonishing delay -  this is a series that was meant to continue from the character’s Detective run but has taken the best part of a year to appear – which has lent it a reputation as something so good it’s been worth the wait.

I’m not going to traduce the book; it has a decent plot in it, the characterisations don’t just pick up from the Detective run but have evolved and changed since, and as a result of, that story.

What I’m suddenly impressed with is the subtle change in Williams’ art. His storytelling was, before now, all over the place; his signature off-kilter layouts and needlessly Bat-shaped panels not only detracted from the narrative flow but also demoted the narrative to a firm second behind the eye-catching visuals. It didn’t seem to matter that the reader couldn’t understand the story so long as it looked good.

That urge to dazzle is still there, but it’s been toned down considerably. Yes, there’s a two-page spread that’s contained within a bat-shape, but that’s about it, and that’s counterbalanced by a repeated use of another Williams trope: that of the continual background containing sequential images. Here in #1 the most obvious example illustrates Batwoman’s use of a grappling hook gun: there’s a particularly good use in #2 that shows a police detective taking a sweep of a crime scene.

Also, the differentation in art styles to show either different times or even different characters works better here, toned down from its use in the Detective run. Williams uses a more traditional comicbook illustrative style for scenes that don’t involve the actual, in-costume Batwoman character, changing to the Ross/painterly technique for in-costume scenes, and sometimes using both – there’s a sequence of the Kanes changing into costume where everything is in standard style and colouration except the Batwoman costume, which blazes out in fully-painted glory. Symbolism ahoy.

One last observation: all of the Bat-family of characters now have a unifying costume trait: they each have their individual emblem moulded into the soles of their boots. While I can see this being something brought down from on high by the man himself, Batwoman has no official ties to the whole Batman Inc concept. So either Bruce is really generous with the old steel toe-capped jobs, or somewhere in Gotham there’s a really discreet cobbler who’s grown used to these crazy footwear specifications.

Pull-listed? Didn’t think it would be, but why the hell not?


One of the big hoo-hahs surrounding this re-establishment of all things DC is that certain characters have been swept back up into the main universe (and what a terrible fanboyish phrase, ripe for something more grown-up, that is) after being considered for many years to be for Karen Berger’s use only. So there’s a DCU John Constantine again (as well as the swearing-shagging-ageing Constantine still under Berger’s wing in the Vertigo Hellblazer title), and there’s a Madame Xanadu, and there’s a Swamp Thing. It’s a bit too tied into recent continuity for my likes because I couldn’t be bothered with the whole Brightest Day thing, so maybe this one had better sit on the shelf until it gets the will-he-won’t-he ‘Alec Holland refuses to be Swamp Thing’ set-up is resolved and we see where Scott Snyder’s taking this thing. Pull-listed? For now.

Having said that: this comic made me realise why I don’t like the new Superman costume. It’s too militaristic for a humanist character – he looks like he’s here to take over the planet rather than help anybody. And while we all thought “Grounded’ was tosh, Supes should knock that ‘floating a yard or so off the ground’ lark on the head. It’s just showing off.

But while we’re talking about what were Vertigo characters, let’s have a look at Justice League Dark. If you’ve not been keeping up with/don’t give a monkey’s about this relaunch, you’ll just have reacted to the words ‘Justice League Dark’ in the same way that I did when I first read them: a snort of contempt and then a mild pang of ‘Really?  Really?’ Especially when you find out it’s written by Peter Milligan, who’s got form on the weird and unnerving front. Essentially, the Justice League Proper gets fucked over by MAGIC, so Zatanna who’s apparently in the Justice League Proper even if this is the first anybody’s heard of that, grabs a handful of MAGIC characters and away they go. Dawn Dove’s in it because Deadman, who’s one of these MAGIC coves, is her boyfriend. How the hell does that work, then?

There are some wonderful Milligan ‘yick’ moments, like the big opening spread of many many June Moones wandering about on a busy motorway (it doesn’t end well), or Superman getting cut up real bad by a storm of witches’ teeth, but they’re not served well by some rather bland art. But still: Pete Milligan writing John Constantine and Shade The Changing Man. Can’t say no, can you? No need to ask about the pull-listing, surely?

Blue Beetle is another of the books that I’m picking up due to a fondness for the character, or in this case for the character’s last series. The Rogers/Giffen/Hamner Beetle series was a lovely little thing, doomed from the start of course, one of those books that you dread reading the solicitations for because you just know that one month it’ll contain the words ‘Final Issue’[1]. Also, everybody hated that it’s not Ted Kord anymore but a teenaged boy (and a Spanish one at that!) and he didn’t go bwah-ha-ha with Booster Gold and all that. But it was a good little book that put a new spin on the BB concept while still keeping it firmly tied to the last two incarnations of the character.

So the perfect thing to do with the relaunched BB would be to take the characters and the concept from that series, pretend none of it happened, and start the whole thing from scratch. With different creators. Who, sadly, aren’t Rogers or Giffen or Hamner. But despite that, the new team – Tony Bedard and Ig Guara which you can’t help but type as Ig Guana – do a decent job, jiggling around the chronology so what was the climax of the original telling is the opening of this one, straight away bringing in characters that originally took months to appear, changing the characterisation of a couple of the cast. The concept’s a good one - the Blue Beetles as a kind of harbinger to an imperialist anti-Green Lantern Corps taking over any planet they can, but the one that falls to Earth is damaged and bonds with its wearer rather than subsuming him.

However, this would have been the ideal time to simplify the costume, which is beautifully conceived but terribly over-designed, but that didn’t happen because this is the age of the over-designed costume.

Pull-listed for nostalgia’s sake and to see how much more of the last run gets used here.

And finally: OMAC. Or O.M.A.C. but who the hell can be bothered to type all those full stops? OMAC. God, I love this comic. It’s Keith Giffen channelling Jack Kirby. No idea what Dan Didio does but he’s in the credits so he gets a mention.

It’s all-out crazy comics, with no explanations or subtlety, just overstated action all the way. Criticise Giffen all you like for wearing his influences on his sleeve, but nobody’s done Kirby like Giffen does Kirby since Kirby stopped being Kirby and started being dead.

I’ve been writing and re-writing paragraph after paragraph as to why and how Giffen isn’t merely another slavish copyist of Kirby but rather is an artist who takes Kirby’s tropes and uses them as foundation for his own modernist style. But each attempt at those paragraphs has got bogged down in over-intellectual blather and, to be frank, hasn’t proved my thesis. So instead, let me say that OMAC is a love letter to the original Kirby series, with the core character now a Hulk-like monosyllabic creature, hilariously repeating the last word of his controller’s sentences while ripping buildings to pieces with his bare hands, his blue electric Mohawk waving in the wake of the destruction.

It also has a serious subtext about the nature of individuality and identity in the modern, technologically-driven corporate world: OMAC himself occasionally re-stating his own identity while taking a huge splayed-legged stance like some giant beast staking out his territory, his alter-ego Kevin Kho being transformed from one office worker amongst many into this unique engine of destruction, and the continual presence of Brother Eye, OMAC’s creator/controller, through electronic devices. There’s a great scene in the second issue where the now-normal Kho tries to escape Brother Eye’s constant surveillance but can’t, as Eye makes contact through everything from somebody else’s mobile phone to a railway station ticket machine, leaving the exhausted and defeated Kho to accept his fate by simply putting on a pair of earphones.

Given that Giffen isn’t the superstar draw he should be, and given that Dan Didio is near-universally loathed as a writer (he isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with the dialogue in this book, but it’s a step up from what he was doing on Outsiders), and given that it’s a bloody tough marketplace right now, OMAC the comicbook is probably doomed to last no more than twelve issues. I’d say you should enjoy them while you can.



Next: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. There's Apples, And Pears. Maybe A Nice Banana.



[1] See also THUNDER Agents, Doom Patrol

Friday, 21 October 2011

OOF!


And there are times when Life takes a butcher’s at you, sees what you’re thinking of doing, and says, loudly and clearly, “NO!”

I was, for instance, supposed to be in Northampton yesterday. Instead I was sitting at the kitchen table and working from a laptop, occasionally wincing, occasionally getting up and either pouring another cup of coffee or taking a short, painful walk around the living room, occasionally grabbing another couple of painkillers.

I got hit by a car.

Not very hard, not very fast, but with enough of an impact to make life a bit more difficult until the bruising and swelling have gone down a bit.

What happened was that I was cycling north to get home and as I passed a turning on my left somebody in a car heading south turned to their right to enter that turning. I was in exactly the right wrong place to be hit, so that’s what happened. In a very short space of time I could see the car approaching, saw its signalling, recognised that it hadn’t slowed enough to stop and thus either hadn’t seen me or was taking a chance, and realised that there was no way I could either clear the junction or stop in time.

Then I looked down to my right and saw a car bumper smacking my calf. And then I fell down.

Anyway: the driver – a late-middle-aged woman – was bloody terrified. Once she’d calmed down a bit, and I’d collected bits of buggered chainguard off the road and ensured that no part of me was left behind, we went our ways.

Oddly, it was only when I got home that I reacted – I stood in the middle of the living room for half an hour unable to move or think.

There is no harm done, except for a broken chainguard that was going to be taken off soon anyway, and a bruised, slightly swollen leg.

And the lesson is: you can have flashing lights and reflective clothing galore but it means nothing against human stupidity.

Oh, and always wear a helmet.

And thick upper-body clothing.

And learn how to fall.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

What Exactly Is It About That Number?

Hey hey hey, cats’n’kittens! Just to prove that Tottenhamista’s gotten over its spell of self-pity and can’t-be-arsedity, just to prove - if proof be needed – that not only is it once again cooking with gas but it’s also still following that same winning recipe of bad temper, bad language and bad grammar… Here’s some comics reviews!

And straight away let’s answer that question that’s been hanging over our heads like [redacted]’s beergut hangs over a ten-dollar blowjob: What did you think of the DC New Fifty-Two, Mr. Tottenhamista? Well, I’ll tell you.

You know what the most important thing about this whole thing is? More important than Wonder Woman’s pants or Starfire being a slapper (more later!)? It’s that the number of DC Comics that I personally slap down cold hard coinage for each month has increased from six to twelve. That’s a 100% jump. And against my better will and my bank’s, I’m going to stick with them for at least six months.

And furthermore, the regulars at the shop have increased their spend; new punters arrived near enough every day of the first month; many of those punters have stayed, opening new standing orders/pull lists. And a number of those who came in looking for ‘this new Superman, this new Batman’ have bought trades, and bought comics that weren’t part of the 52, and brought their kids along and bought those kids some comics too. (And here’s a tip for any retailers out there: that out-of-date promotional material? The Marvel Sneak Peeks from two years ago, the posters, the postcards? Give ‘em to the kids. They’ll love ‘em, and more, their parents will love you.) So, it’s been a good thing. Nothing wrong with that, and you name-callers and nay-sayers can just go away.

But to get back to the res; how about that 52?

It was alright.

That’s it. That’s all. It was alright. It was fifty-two new books, all put together in pretty short order. So it turned out exactly as you’d expect it to: some were good, some were bad, some were better than you’d think they’d be, some were nowhere near as good as you’d think they’d be, some were nowhere near as good as they thought they were, some were howling stinkers and one was totally batshit. (Totally Batshit was week three, wasn’t it?)

I can’t say I’ve read all fifty-two but I can say I’ve at least leafed through them all, and read (as in ‘paid for, brought home, sat down with, read, analysed) a number of them. And rather than give you an immediate response on each like some blogs have done  - it’s not a sprint, fellas – I’ve chewed over my responses for a time, often as much as ten minutes.

So:

This Red Hood and the Outlaws thing. Everybody seems to hate it. I loved it. It’s a stupid, sarcastic comic book. It has crazy action sequences where the artist doesn’t quite make things clear enough to follow, it has putative heroes going ape and killing people with arrows and guns, it even uses the ‘Tanks!’ ‘You’re welcome!’ gag. It’s exactly what modern mainstream comics are about. And frankly I don’t see the fuss about Starfire being portrayed as a slapper who’ll shag anything because A) most male characters are portrayed that way and That’s Just Fine, and B) it’s just a magnification of how she’s always been portrayed, ever since she first grabbed Grayson and tried to suck his face off. Pull-listed.

There were high hopes here at the ‘Nista for Stormwatch and Demon Knights because they’re both written by Paul Cornell who can do little wrong and is a very nice man, but frankly they both came off a little ‘meh’. DK wasn’t helped by some overcooked but still unclear art or by the fact that few/none of the characters are visually distinct (apart from Etrigan and the Shining Knight, obviously). Stormwatch seemed to be trying really hard to be Warren Ellis without emulating Warren Ellis’ techniques, especially – and thankfully - not those establishing captions that tell you The Carrier is Whistling Through Act Two of Hyperreality And Wearing A Dustman’s Hat. Still pull-listed, both of ‘em, but on the bubble.

Rags/Ralph/Rafe Morales draws people who look about five years older than they actually are, so if Action Comics is taking place quite some time in the past (which it must be if it’s showing a nascent Superman and if Justice League, which shows fully-formed Superman, is set five years ago), then the Superman it stars would be about sixteen. That aside – and it isn’t the complaint it seems to be, as I’m inordinately fond of Morales’ work and have been since Black Condor – this is what my mate Mark said it was: the best Superman story in years. Alright, it’s by Grant Morrison who is the God Of All Comics these days (but have you read Supergods? If ever a book needed a good hard editing…) and as such it will be a good comic. But this isn’t Morrison’s usual ‘concept above clarity’ style of storytelling, it’s straight-on linear stuff, exciting, action-packed, while still drawing on the tricks Morrison’s used in, say All-Star Superman or JLA: you can read the story carefully, noting the symbols and the subconscious actions, or you can read the story entirely superficially and still have a great time. Pull-listed? You betcha.

I bought and read every issue of the last Jonah Hex run and I have no idea why. Hugely pretty, some absolutely stunning art – how often do you get to see Jordi Bernet and Darwyn Cooke working on the same character? – but always slightly disappointing writing. Not disappointing story concepts, but stories that were disappointing in their execution: there’s always been a stilted quality about Palmiotti & Gray’s dialogue and story structure, a air of non-sequiteur that draws the reader’s attention to itself when it should solely be there to service the narrative. Still, the habit was there to be fed and All Star Western feeds it nicely. I don’t know if the format change from done-in-ones to longer arcs will help the title – it may keep new readers stringing along when they’re put off by the $3.99 price tag – but that’s by the by. New regular artist Moritat, who produced a fine few issues at the latter end of The Spirit’s last run, gives ASW a European feel that suits the book well. Hats doffed also to Gabriel Bautista who, when he isn’t playing left-back for Man City, colours the whole thing in muted, washed-out purples and greys. Pull-listed for old times’ sake.

Flash: Stunningly pretty, with some of the best Ordinary People in ages – there’s some schlub reading a paper in the background (though actually, technically, the foreground) of one panel who looks so real I’d like to read a book about him rather than Barry Allen. But no fair having a double-page title splash, even if it contains story-telling elements within its big, clumsy letters. Pull-listed? Probably. It’s like a first wife; it’ll have to stay this pretty.

Of the criticisms levelled at these new titles, the most common – and the most biting – is that there’s a strong element of 1990s Image Comics about them. Worst offender is Teen Titans – a book so poorly drawn it didn’t even make it halfway into the ‘flicking through the pages in the shop’ stage.

But.

I possess every issue of every Hawk and Dove comic. Even the piss-poor Mike Baron mini-series. So I had to buy this new one. It’s very, very 90’s Image. I’m willing to give it a chance but I’m not sure that even my love for Dove’s mask[1] can survive this. It looks awful, it’s not very well-written and the main plot point’s already had the rug pulled out from under it by a recent editorial statement[2]. Pull-listed? Depends on the second issue, which is on my sideboard as we speak. Apparently the bad guy’s called Condor. If he says ‘Nothing should disturb my moment’ at any point[3], I’m in.

Whar else do we have? We have Blue Beetle, and Swamp Thing and Batwoman, we’ve got the bitter chocolately goodness that is Justice League Dark, and we have OMAC. Oh boy, do we have OMAC.  Next time, okay?


[1] C’mon, those big blank eyes and the tiny little beak that doesn’t actually come anywhere near her nose? How can that not be sexy?
[2] This first issue makes great play of Hank Hawk’s resentment of Dawn Dove because she took the place of Don Dove who died during ‘the worst crisis the world’s ever seen’. A crisis which, according to Dan Didio, never happened. Sort that one out.
[3] If you understand this reference, please keep it to yourself

Monday, 10 October 2011

Beggin' Yer Pardon, But...

I am by nature a polite person. Not happy-go-lucky by any means, nor naturally cheerful or optimistic. Years of experience have burnished the patina of cynicism to something hard and matt, like the paint on an old garden shed.

But I am polite. I make way for old ladies. Give up my seat on the bus if a pensioner or pregnant woman or just plain fat lazy sod looks like they need it. I’ll be scrupulously polite to shop assistants because god knows they put up with some arseholes. I may even go so far as be look aghast if anyone treats one of these benighted creatures with rudity or contempt because dammit, they're people and they're just as good as you no matter that there’s a counter (and all that it implies by way of master/servant relationships) between the two of you.

Sometimes, though… Today, for instance. I’d just spent too much time trying to explain to Pete The Greek – my tonsorial artist of choice – that if I was going to sacrifice a good nine month’s worth of hair growth I was going to have it in exactly the style I wanted, I’d even pointed at one of his wall photos that showed the desired length (but most certainly the undesired 1980s boy-band moussed-up style), and, as always, I'd left his salon raring to go home and shave it all off. The man cuts men’s hair for money. What part of ‘longish crop’ doesn’t he understand? I wanted George Clooney, I got Rosemary Clooney.

Next stop, the bank, to pay in some Income. The automated deposit machines were both out of action and someone had performed some manner of unspeakable act on the rapid deposit slot, so it meant queueing for a real human teller.

I’m standing there, end of the queue, when a woman comes in behind me, holding a small child, pushing an empty pushchair. No idea why. Maybe she just liked making more work for herself. She pushes the pushchair a little too far, it hits the back of my ankle, just by the Achilles. No harm done. I look round, automatically reacting to the feeling. The kid smiles, I smile back. His mother looks at me like I’m Gary Glitter on his first day release. Still. No harm done.

Queue moves forward. Woman pushes buggy into my heel again. I turn and give her the ‘That’s twice, let’s not let this happen again’ look, but still politely.

And again. And, surprisingly, again. By now I’m nearly at the head of the queue, estimating which number cashier, and frankly I’m a bit pissed off.

“Would you mind being a little more careful, please? I’d like to be able to walk out of here.”
“What you talk to me like that for? You should move your feet and not complain.”
“You’ve got a child, I don’t want to upset the child, let’s leave it, but please watch what you’re doing.”
‘Fuckin’ tell me what to do.”
“You know what, lady? Fuck you.”

And I paid in my deposit, leaving her muttering voodoo curses even as she manoeuvred the buggy to the adjoining teller.

But you put it behind you.

Sainsbury’s: three checkouts actually manned by a human being, twelve self-services. Three staff to oversee/help. Long queues on the manned tills, so onto a self-scan. As is usual, an item registers wrongly and sets off the little red light to summon an assistant. All three assistants are happily chatting about the weekend, or the X-Factor, or whatever. I look at them, raising my eyebrows and tapping my foot. One come s along.

It happens again. Assistant takes as much time as he likes. Third time, none of them take any notice at all – they’re all chatting away like it was lunchtime.

“Excuse me! Need to, y’know – “

And rather than leap over to my side and double check my Fairtrade bananas, the guy keeps talking.

“Hey! Can you come over and – “

Guy looks at me, so he’s obviously aware the scanner’s misread again… and he turns away and keeps talking.

That’s how come he had to clean up the bag of unpaid-for shopping that I upended, along with the unscanned items in my basket, over his nice, clean, but sadly unattended self-scanning area.

See? Be polite. Do your job. Don’t treat people like arseholes. ‘Cause if you do, they’ll act like one. 

Stretch. Yawn. Breathe.


Not been here for a while. Been a little busy, a little blocked. However; for some time, I’d been meaning to write something about how life folds in upon itself.

The reason for this is that in the last two years or so, my past has been like a mythical lizard-god, sloughing off the ocean floor under which it has lain for centuries, rising up from its rest and lumbering towards civilisation, there to wreak havoc and remind everybody exactly who and what it’s all about.

I’d kind of embraced, a long time ago, that there was a cut-off point, approximately twenty years ago, before which Almost Nothing Happened. School? Too long gone. School friends? Old work colleagues? Well, you swear blind you’ll be mates forever, but after a month or six they’re very much In The Past. If I’d wanted to stay in touch, I’d have stayed in touch. Others fade away, weekly meets become monthly become annually become ‘I really must get in touch with him/her’ become Gone Forever.

Admittedly, it’s difficult these days to leave people behind. Facebook’s a main culprit; one absently clicks the ‘Accept’ button and is forever seeing exactly what Former Work Colleague X had for lunch. Twitter’s probably worse, with its open-to-all attitude that allows anybody and their uncle to read what you’ve posted, without your permission or your knowledge. But that’s only for newer acquaintances. Old ones, ones from beyond the cut-off point, they’re gone, done, juvenilia…

…Except for the old school friend who phoned out of the blue a year or two back after over thirty years. And except for the old work colleague who recognised me, twenty years on, as I topped up my Oyster card at Blackhorse Lane tube, and who luckily now works for London Transport and so wears a name badge otherwise I wouldn’t have had a bloody clue. And except for the woman who just happened to be taking a friend’s photo when I arrived to see him and who turned out to be an old work colleague from nearly twenty-five years ago.

None of them expected, all of them welcome, all of them from a time so long ago it seems like someone else’s life, suddenly rushing up and handing to two entirely different people the realisation that they’re the same person, decades apart. All of them still in touch – with luck, though we’ll see what the passage of time brings.

There was another such person. She’d gone missing for about ten years when the phone rang and she told me we were going on holiday together. Which we did. And again the following year. The first of those holidays was the best I’d ever had, full of carefree, ridiculous, full-on childish behaviour, which is a good thing when you’re some way beyond being a child. Alright, at one point we almost died. And at another we honestly believed we were being driven out into the desert to be shot and left for the jackals. We got home alright though, didn’t we?

The second wasn’t so good: the place we were based at was n the middle of nowhere, the food was lousy and the weather was so hot that it played havoc with her diabetes (Type One, if you please. None of your namby-pamby ‘Ooh I’ve eaten too many McDonalds’ Type Two bollocks for her, oh no). Still a good time though, in spite of the horrendous, hypo-fuelled, no-testing-strips-left flight home during which she really didn’t look as if she’d make it.
In June, her sister contacted me through Facebook, asking for my phone number. You know what had happened. She’d gone to sleep, hadn’t woken up, laid undiscovered for days, until a local friend kicked down her door and found her.

In what had been her last few weeks she’d phoned me a hell of a lot. Too much, in fact. I’ll be honest: those calls I’d missed through not being in or just by not bothering to answer the phone, I’d stopped returning. She knew this. She said, in one of our last talks, that she felt she’d started stalking me and would be easing off a little. I laughed it off. I think, though, I was a little relieved. I don’t know how she felt things stood. I hope she didn’t think she’d become unwelcome.

Three days ago I pulled up her details on my mobile, took one last look at her photo – standing in a hotel lobby, one hand reaching up so she looked like she was swinging from the chandelier in the background – and deleted her. Then I went to my landline, listened again to her final message, from a couple days before she died:

“Hi. Don’t worry. It’s not important. Bye.”

Said goodbye. Pressed ‘Delete’.







Sunday, 25 September 2011

Thursday, 18 August 2011

And Tonight's Host Is...


In a desperate effort to get new content onto this blog, I have asked a couple of contributors to help out. First is Robert – never Bob – Harwoode. Robert has been a friend for many years and is the most immaculately dressed man I know. I’d like to thank him for agreeing to be the first ‘guest artiste’ on Tottenhamista.

Gentlemen, consider your ankles.

Travelling as I do on London Underground’s Circle Line each morning and evening, I cannot help but be drawn to other passengers’ clothing. As a man of refined tastes, it is to the male traveller that first I turn, though I assure the reader that the gentler sex receives equal scrutiny and shall be reported upon shortly.

The welcome return of the fly-fronted Mackintosh raincoat has been noted in recent weeks, sometimes in staid black but for the more daring, traditional fawn is the choice. These must be scrupulously maintained, as nothing mars the overall effect more than an unsightly stain from a rapidly-consumed Big Mac Meal on the breast, or the tell-tale greyness around the pocket flap that betrays overuse of the pockets.

Also to be greeted with inner gratitude is the passing of recent years’ trend for shoes to have one or worse two seams from instep to toe, and an elongated upper which gives the foot an appearance of some mis-shapen pasty or Arabian slipper. The Brogue and the Oxford – the latter sometimes with toecap, often without – are also making a comeback, though these must be polished and buffed like a squaddie’s parade-ground boot. Nothing marks a man as slovenly than does an ill-shone shoe.

Trousers maintain the slim silhouette that has prevailed for a decade or more, and rightly so. Pleats lend a boastful air to the upper leg and as such are vulgar. Turn-ups remain banished, and so the leg entire retains a modest slimness that suits the well-turned-out gentleman as would a furled umbrella, though please, never of the folding variety.

I am also pleased that shirt collars are no longer left unbuttoned, and that the hideous fad of fastening all buttons on the shirt without the wearing of a tie seems to be over. If we are to dress, we must dress entirely.

There are, sad to report, still those who wear three- or, criminally, four-button suit jackets. There simply are not sufficient negatives to describe this holdover from the years of excess. A simple two-button, single-breasted and cut in the Italian manner is the style of the day, although some bold souls dare sport double-breasted with no seeming concern for restraint.  Your choice of peaked or notched lapel, with the proviso that the former does lend an air of spivviness to the wearer which I am certain is, in most cases, not deserved.

It is, I am sad to report, in the matter of hosiery that the male commuter lets the side down. I believe Sir Michael Grade was responsible for the laissez-faire attitude to sock colouration, with his unchanging choice of bright red hose. This may be acceptable in Sir Michael’s choice of profession but ill suits the workaday male. In the past few days alone I have witnessed sky blue, emerald green and one occasion multi-coloured stripes in certain gentlemen’s feet, and to add insult to this sartorial injury the perpetrator seems always to sit with one ankle crossed over the other, revealing his eccentricity to the innocent eye of his fellow traveller. Pastel shades particularly emphasise the gulf twixt shoe and trouser and make obvious any misjudgement on the part of your tailor of inner leg length, be he Savile Row or Marks and Spencer. Woe betide the man with a inch-short trouser and a bright yellow sock, for he may as well dress in a flamingo costume and be done.

Plain black or dark grey should be the choice regardless of the colour of the rest of his outfit. I may possibly be lenient enough to allow vertical stripes in the style of Mr Jeff Banks, but again, monochrome should be the word to follow. One is, after all, off to one’s place of toil, not attending some polychromatic technicolour dream happening.

Also, the sock should be tight against the ankle and the calf. A sock that sags down over the top of the shoe is a thing of misery and should be avoided. This faux pas is easily remedied: a sock of sufficient length and elastic content, even allowing for Lyrca content in extreme circumstances, will grip the calf like a lover’s caress providing comfort, warmth and style during the most punishing of commutes. Be forewarned, though; bending to hitch up the sock in a crowded tube carriage is a sure indicator of a man with a surly disregard for his co-occupants.

The truly well-appointed male will take the necessary steps to prevent both sock slippage and its rough cousin, the over-long shirt sleeve.  A little assiduous researching among outfitters will surely provide those twin stalwarts, the elasticated armband and the sock suspender. The Prince of Wales himself is known to appreciate the rule of cuff: never more than one and one half inch of shirt cuff is to show below the jacket sleeve, and neither is to skim the knuckles and bestow upon the wearer the appearance of a besuited ape. Links, knots or buttons: the choice is yours, but please be restrained in your selection of these. Plain square or round, if you will, restraining double cuff or single, be it Bishop cut or French. No Union flags, jagged engravings or Lilliputian versions of motor vehicles. Your wrist should be a thing of classic elegance and not a miniature bazaar.

Finally, the golden rule for shirt and tie: one plain and one striped or patterned, or alternatively both plain. ‘Mix and match’ is the worst of crimes in the matter of colour choice. Please do not commit such atrocity. Also, bear in mind that as there is currently a mode for a pocket handkerchief to be worn in the breast pocket of one’s suit jacket –never, never in that of a blazer – such kerchief should be folded square and barely peek one quarter of one inch from its nesting place. Linen is the material of choice and must under no circumstance be used as a handkerchief per se. Should one need to attend to any nasal affairs, another square of equal material should be produced from a trouser pocket and returned immediately the necessity has been met.

I hope with all modest sincerity that those absorbing this advice adjust their attire to reflect my concerns. I retain the strongest conviction that should we all pay sufficient heed to our outer aspect, the inner man shall shine also.


RH, August 2011.

Monday, 8 August 2011

On The Passing Of An Old Friend


I was very young, maybe six, maybe even five, when my mother took me out, one bitterly cold day, wrapped in scarf and coat and Wellingtons, to the most magical place I’d ever been.

It was a bus ride away, which to a boy that age is like traversing the Arctic; it was even further than Nanny Bob’s house, and if going to Nanny Bob’s meant crossing the big road, and we were going even further from home than that, then surely we were putting our lives in danger even thinking about the trip.

I remember the dull yellow insides of the upstairs of the bus, the stairs so steep, each one so deep it took mountain-climbing gear, ropes, pulleys, and a smiling conductor at the top to pull you up the last few treacherous feet.

But we got there. And when we got there, my father was waiting for us outside, fresh from work, wearing his big coat with the dark collar. “Come on, son”, he said. “There’s someone who wants to meet you.”

That was when I first went up the two escalators, across the top floor, through gauzy curtains and tinselled pillars, to see Father Christmas. Other visits followed, but none ever felt as astonishing as that first trip.

On the way back downstairs, I looked around at the rest of the place. Huge refrigerators, big enough for me and all of my mates to hide in. Dresses so glamourous they would make even the old witch down the road look lovely. Shiny things for the kitchen and living room. A jacket that my dad really liked, but couldn’t afford, so he pretended it didn’t suit him.

When we came out, I turned around, reluctant to leave this amazing palace of wonders. I didn’t know it then, but it had a name. Officially it was Union Point. On the outside of the upper floor, above the window where, I was certain, Father Christmas was watching me walk away, there was a tower, and on the side of it were three letters, set in relief on the great white panel mouldings. LCS. London Co-Operative Society. Everybody knew it as the Co-Op.

I grew up. Union Point was still the Co-Op. Father Christmas wasn’t still Father Christmas but a man in a false cotton-wool beard. The Co-Op closed, leaving an empty building, boarded up against the indifference of shoppers who had been tempted away from the High Road by the sirens of the newly built Shopping City a few miles away.

It stayed empty for years, eventually becoming occupied by a carpet retailer who tacked garish greeny-blue plastic all over the beautiful original façade. The upper floors looked empty, old curtains hanging dusty and torn in the grimy windows.

I’d go past it so often it stopped registering. On the way to work, or off into town, or seeing girls from so many different parts of London, by bus or by car, Union Point was either the sure sign of a good night to come, or the last marker on the drink-blurred journey home.

Recently, life wasn’t good to Union Point, or to me, which meant we saw each other every fortnight as I went to sign on in the JobCentre that had been built next door to it, a modern redbrick slab butted up against its 1930s classicism. I’d walk through the park and along Lordship Lane, and there it’d be, its upper floors retaining their dignity despite the cheap nylon twist carpet offered half-price on the street level, the façade the same despite the modern flats that had been carved out of its interior. Always, always, the same three letters, LCS.

Everybody knows Union Point. It’s the place you saw on the news on Sunday morning, flames swirling from every window. You saw it today; mortally wounded, empty, broken-backed, its roof bowed under its own weight, aching to give up and collapse in on itself like a dying whale.  Union Point: destroyed, purposefully, by the people it had watched over for the last eighty years.

Tonight, there are cranes at the corner of Lansdowne Road and Tottenham High Road. Union Point is so badly damaged it cannot stand, and will be demolished. You might see it on the news. Many families will be homeless, their possessions devoured by the fire that destroyed their building. But until the wrecking ball swings, the last remaining part of Union Point that stays recognisable, defiantly unchanging even in its own death, the tower, staying upright only by its own will, and the letters: LCS.

I have no moral point to make. No symbolism, no analogy connecting Union Point with the social cohesion of this country. No ironic juxtaposition of its name and its origin against the selfishness that brought its end. My opinions over the last few days have swung, wildly, from hour to hour. I don’t know what’s happening, but I feel it will get worse.

So, for as long as I can, while the mobs and the flames stay just far enough away on the other side of the borough, so long as the sirens get no closer than the main road two hundred yards from my home, I’m going to sit and feel as safe as it’s possible to feel tonight, and I’m going to raise a quiet glass to those three letters that have there in the edge of my vision for most of my life.

Goodbye, Union Point, Goodbye, the Co-Op. Goodbye, you life-long lodestone. Goodbye, thank you, and sleep well to those unforgettable three letters: LCS. 

Saturday, 18 June 2011

HEY, LUKA WHERE YA GOIN’!

We may as well resign ourselves (and the ‘we’ here is my fellow Spurs supporters) to the fact that one of our finest players will soon be off. Luca Modric may well have been a major contributor to the team’s high aggregate level of physical unprepossedness – he and Gareth Bale between them must have cracked more mirrors than a cack-handed glazier – but he’s also been a damn fine footballer.

Actually, he looks pretty good here. I wouldn't, but...
Which means the chequebooks have been circling like sharks around the Indianapolis since the final whistle of last season’s last game. In the past Mr Levy would have had your arm off if you’d waved twenty mill at him, but since Daniel’s Damascus a few years ago we’re more likely to put up a fight, or at least try a spot of haggling to get the price up instead of just taking the money and hoping we could sign someone half as good.

Luca’s being quite adult about it all – a quite astonishing level of maturity given the Bentley-crashing antics of certain other players who we shan’t name but who rhymes with Ashley Cole – accepting that an offer has been made, and has been laughed out of town, and that he may be worth a great deal of money more than he was a year ago and that a great deal of that money could come his way, but still maintaining a dignified attitude and insisting that he won’t put in a transfer request out of respect for the club. What a lovely man.

Harry insists Luca’s not for sale. But that’s just Harry being Harry. Luca’s going to leave us and there’s very little we can do about it except hold out for at least thirty million.

So who do we le him go to? United are reportedly sniffing about but they sniff about more than a randy bull terrier in the local park, though they might put in a bid just to let their fans keep up the ‘feeder club’ jokes that amuse them so very very much. City are in the ring, and they’re more than capable of upping their price, but they’re also our main rival for fourth place next season (and there’s a surprise in itself. Back when Dan Levy was happily taking fifteen shillings for a twenty-goals-a-season man, City were nobodies and Arsenal were the rich kids up the road. Now City have the money and Arsenal are declining further every season to the extent that Spurs are their major competitor for what should be sloppy seconds to a club of Arsenal’s self-proclaimed stature – which we all know they never really had in the first place). I doubt the wisdom of selling to a club we’re going to be neck-and-neck with in the future.

Which leaves Chelsea.

I don’t like Chelsea.

I know I’m supposed to hate the Arsenal, and believe me I still do. And I know that City are the latest rich kids and that I’m supposed to despise them for buying their success as much I do Chelsea for doing the same, but City always seem to have an element of clown’s car about them – you always expect the doors to fly off at any second.

And while I certainly wouldn’t begrudge Luca the chance to play in Europe without it seeming like either a miracle or first prize in ITV’s half-time competition (YOU! Could Win! Fourth place in the Premier League! Plus £20,000, a bleeding big telly and a hotel room! ONE TIME ONLY!!!), and I wouldn’t begrudge anybody the chance to raise their pay grade from ‘Immodest’ to ‘Absurd and Obscene’ in one go, I’d be miffed if he goes to the Bridge.

I live with a Chelsea fan. He lives in my spare room. Ten years ago he was he was one of the most pleasant people you could hope to meet, but as soon as the Abramovitch money hit, he was transformed into an arrogant bastard. Every half-way decent player – “We’ll buy him”. Every game – “We’ll win this.”  It was an extension of the change that came over the club itself. Even though Chelsea had always seen themselves as the better-off cousins of every other team, even though they’d always had a certain undeserved air of superiority, the helicoptering-in of billions in oil money suddenly changed them from the decent fella up the  road to whom you wished no ill will to the fella up the road who won a double rollover on Euromillions and straight away started wearing a Max Miller-style fur coat, lighting cigars with fifties while he stood outside the Jobcentre telling everybody how considerably richer than them he was.

Chelsea are the ugly side of immediate riches (QPR may turn out to be the decent side. The next few seasons will tell). And I don’t want to see a decent, honourable footballer tainted by their ugliness. Even if he was no oil painting to begin with. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

So What I'm Hoping Is...

... In the first issue of the re-launched Superman, Supes flies down like he did in the first movie, but where in that there was a black dude who said "That is one bad outfit!" (or words to that affect), this time the dude takes one look at the new all-blue no-pants kit and says "What the fuck you wearin', motherfucker?"

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

BELEIVE IN BETTER

The man from Sky came knocking on my door a while back, wanting to know why I don’t have Sky. Simple, I told him. I don’t want Sky. There followed a longer than necessary conversation – as far as I was concerned the conversation ended as soon as I saw his Sky ID badge – which mainly comprised of him saying ‘you don’t have Sky’ and me saying ‘I don’t want it’.

Eventually I just closed the front door in his face, though not before he’d made some ill-judged assumptions about both my entertainment choices and my lifestyle.

I don’t have Sky for a couple of very simple reasons. Firstly, I believe quite strongly that Rupert Murdoch is The Devil Incarnate. One day he will die when the spirit of evil currently occupying his body finally wears it out through exhaustion with the sheer weight of its malevolence. It will then gust out from every wrinkly orifice in a cloud of luminous grey and choose a new fleshsuit - James, Elizabeth, Lachlan, Wendi, whoever the hell, I don’t care, the same feeling of repulsion and disgust I feel for Rupert will apply undiminished for this new host.

Secondly, what kind of idiot do you think I am?

I don’t watch television a great deal. I don’t have it on in the corner all the time as some folk do. It gets turned on when there’s something on that I want to watch, and it gets turned off again immediately afterwards. What I do watch is generally on the BBC and generally either on BBC2 or BBC4. This isn’t snobbery, it’s just how it falls. I’ve never missed an episode of Desperate Housewives, so don’t go throwing accusations of elitism at me, sonny.

The BBC is funded by the licence fee, or rather it isn’t. This is a popular misconception. The roads aren’t funded by Vehicle Licence Tax, more commonly called Road Tax, and the BBC isn’t funded by the licence fee. The licence fee is actually exactly what it states it is; a fee which grants a licence to possess equipment which is capable of receiving a television signal regardless of that signal’s origin. It isn’t a hypothecated tax dedicated to funding the BBC. So you can doctor your set as much as you like, you can scream blue murder about only ever watching ITV or C4, it will do you no good. You want to watch telly, you pay the licence fee. If you only ever watch DVDs or play games on your TV, you can escape the licence fee. Good luck with that.

Whatever: I pay a licence fee, it pays for the BBC. In return I get four TV channels and a great big bundle of radio stations, most of which carry the kind of programming that I like. And best of all, there is no advertising. There may be promos for other BBC stuff, but it only hits the screen/speaker between programmes, it doesn’t interrupt the dramatic flow or butt in during a long debate on Question Time.

Alternately I can watch one of the commercial channels, which is unlikely unless it’s Wednesday night and Desperate Housewives is on. If I watch a commercial channel I understand that, as these are funded by advertising revenue, I shall have to watch advertisements. I shall have to watch way too many advertisements for my liking; about a quarter of each hour of commercial airtime is taken up with relentless shilling, most of it humourless, badly-dubbed and more than slightly insulting.  These advertisements will disrupt the programme’s narrative flow, which is in turn structured entirely as twelve-to-fifteen-minute blocks so as to accommodate advertising breaks.

“Ah!” says somebody with far more patience for this than I, “You don’t pay anything for your ITV or your C4 or Channel 5 and that, do you? Aren’t the ads a fair swap for not paying owt?”

Yes. They are.

If that was the case.

But as everything I buy carries a premium of some sort which finances that product’s marketing, I’m paying indirectly for commercial television whether I want to or not, and that strikes me as being way more unfair than being forced to pay a licence fee.

One day, somebody will figure out a way to link together the data-mining potential of store loyalty cards with the media-consumption pattern of the individual consumer, which will enable Heinz to say to Sainsbury’s “Look, that guy buys our ketchup but he never watches the shows we advertise it in. Give him a few pence off, it’s only fair.”

Except whoever devises that will not return home that night, and will never be seen again.

And let’s not, for now, go into whether the need to raise revenue through advertising creates the need to deliver large audiences which leads to the blanderisation of programming. Take any person who believes this to be untrue, strap them to a chair, make them listen to Capital Radio, or Heart FM, or Galaxy, for a couple of hours or until their brain oozes out of their ears, whichever is the sooner.

See what they think then.

So: there’s the BBC on the one hand, and ITV/C4/C5 on the other, and then – and then – there’s Sky.

Which carries advertising. In fact, as a non-terrestrial broadcaster it can carry a damn sight more advertising than ITV/C4/C5 can – up to 12 minutes per hour plus as many trailers or promos for its own programming that it needs to show to fill up the hour of airtime that carries a 42-minute programme. The same applies to the ITV2/3/4/E4/More4/FiveUSA sub-channels and all the other Freeview channels.

And not only does it carry advertising, it charges a subscription fee. So you pay for it twice over. And you pay for it at a rate that makes the licence fee’s £145 a year look like an absolute steal. The basic Variety pack sets you back £19.50 a month. £234 a year. That’s the basic pack; no bells, no whistles.

One of the Sky man’s arguments is that with Sky you only pay for the channels you want to watch. Hogwash, sir! Bullhockey of the highest order! If I want to watch Sky Arts, I have to have it as part of a package that includes several other channels I have no care for. If I want to watch a football match I have to have a full year’s worth of Sky Sports. That’s not menu-pricing. That’s force-feeding. That’s having to eat Big Macs for a year when all you wanted was a quick cheeseburger to tide you over ‘til dinnertime.

And besides, if I want to watch a football match I’ll go to the pub. At least then I can walk out with ten minutes to go and no remorse.

So really, what the man from Sky wants me to do, every time he knocks on my door, is for me to invite him in, sit him down, and nod my head while he gets me to sign up for the televisual equivalent of an endless semi-consensual wade through untreated sewage.

Anyway, that’s enough. I have to go and find out what’s going on with Susan Delfino’s kidney. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

And The Spurs Go Marching On (with the occasional stumble and more than a few nasty falls)


That’s another one over with, then. And a disappointing one it was too, a bit like being a kid and really wanting a bike for Christmas, and seeing a bike-shaped parcel by the tree, all wrapped up in the most exciting shiny paper ever – paper made of the same black and glossy stuff as Darth Vader’s helmet, paper spun from the skin of Jesus himself – then unwrapping the bike and being more excited by it than you would be by even an astronaut suit, then riding it around for a couple of months having more fun than any other human being ever before has ever had, before realising, as you stare up at another impossibly steep incline and feel the dull ache in your calves, that in the end it’s just a bloody bike.

At the start of the season my mate Phill was pre-emptively complaining about the state of play – I think we were lying sixth or something – and I told him that if a year beforehand somebody had offered sixth place and the Champions League, he’d have had their hand off. Which he would’ve. But here we are, one eminently losable game against Liverpool away from the end of the season, and no matter how much you piss and moan about lousy refereeing decisions costing us fourth place (yes, we should have won at Chelsea, but we should also have won the five games before and the two games afterwards regardless of who was running the line) we’ve got sod all to play for and a great stretch of wasted year behind us. Great dreams of a decent CL run, of a top-four finish being our right, all gone. Sixth if we’re lucky, seventh more likely.

So let’s put it behind us: loathe as I am to agree with an Arsenal supporter, the neckless fat ginger sub-literate git Steve Byrne said after the victory at the Emirates that it was ‘just another game.’ At the time he took a pounding from the Spurs fans, but he was right. This has been a bloody awful year to be a Spurs supporter. As John Cleese said in Clockwise: “I can handle the despair. It’s the hope I can’t take"[1]. But we have to accept it, embrace our limitations, and move on. It's been just another season. 

So: next season. Tempting though it is to say that QPR and Norwich will easy six-pointers, the new boys and the bottom-of-table stragglers tend to be the ones we screw up against. It will, however, be nice to see Loftus Road again as it was where I saw my first ever away game.

Players? VdV, Luca and Pav may well move on having shown the rest of the Prem what they’re worth (which isn’t as much as it was a year ago). Crouch and Palacios can go regardless of how well Harry gets on with Wilson’s mum.

And the two biggies: Gomes first. Goalkeepers are remembered for their mistakes more than for anything else. The only exceptions are Gordon Banks and Pat Jennings. Don’t believe me? What ‘s the first thing that comes into your head when I say the following names: Seaman. Green. Fabianski. And Gomes. Against Nani. Harry’s right, he’s a great goalie who pulls off some astonishing saves – that left-hander against Blackpool was a beauty, stopped us being a complete laughing stock in that match. But the eye-popping beauties are well outweighed by the comedy slip-ups and the school reserve-team errors. Ben Foster’s just withdrawn from international duties and despite his fragility he’d be a decent buy. Frankly, someone pulled at random from the crowd and given a couple of those giant foam pointy fingers would be a decent buy, but Foster would do.

And what about Gareth? Come closer, I have to whisper this: is he a bottler? Seriously. He had that incredible run in the CL, made himself one of the most talked-about players not just in England, not just in Europe but in the world, and then… not a lot. Injuries all over the place, one or two trademark runs down the left, but the talent we all threw our hands in the air and stared open-mouthed at seems to have taken a long holiday.

So: if there’s a clause in his contract – which there’s reported to be – that lets him go if the club’s not in the Champions League (a clause that a couple of the other big names may also have), then do we let him walk away? We’d get a fair amount of money for him but that’s a secondary consideration. Would it do him good to spend a year or two somewhere in Europe – not a Real or a Barca, I doubt they’d actually want him on his late-season’s showing – but a Schalke 04 or a Bayern where he could learn a different style of game, gain a bit of patience, show them what he’s capable of?

I’d say not. Bale’s got the potential to be our Giggs, and not just because he’s Welsh. He could be the talismanic player that Defoe or Jenas should have been but never became. He could be our new figurehead. He could be the new Ledley King. 

Anyway; there’ll be no victorious open-top-bus parade down Tottenham High Road this year. We’re going to slink back home like a repentant drunk, hoping nobody notices us, praying we can have a better tomorrow. Harry says he wants to win the Premiership with Tottenham. Let’s see if he can make a few decent buys during the next transfer window, get us the extra level of skill and resilience we need to make his ambition a reality.

And most of all, let’s see if he can get us to stop losing to the Hull Cities and the Blackpools. 




[1] Going by memory there. Probably a misquote.