Face the Music

Everyone’s a fan of lists. Channel 5 in particular. List shows seem to have spawned from programmes such as ‘I love 1973’, and the public’s love of nostalgia in general. They started with the ten best films, or albums, which seemed fair enough. Suddenly ten wasn’t enough, and we moved into the top 100 best…, and the categories became rather more desperate too. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a Sunday night watching the countdown of the ‘Top 100 love scenes in family movies from the 1980s starring Molly Ringwald’. Whereas the original list shows meant that some pretty big decisions needed to be made, nowadays it’s more tricky just finding enough examples to cram into the list. What’s left to do? ‘Top seven days of the week’? ‘Top 100 colours’? I, for one, am on the edge of my seat.

This all acts as an introduction to this particular entry, which is a list about albums. Ten year’s worth of albums in fact. Starting in 1991, purely for the fact that it’s a palindrome, and for someone as ‘curious incident-y’ as me, that’s where you need to start.

In a bid to remove all controversy, these aren’t necessarily those albums that I think are the best of that year, simply the ones I reckon I’ve listened to most often. They’re probably the albums that I liked most in each particular year, though I seem to remember that as an angsty 15 year old, music was one of the main ways that you fitted in, and if you carried round a vinyl copy of ‘blood sugar sex magik’ in an Andy’s records bag, a reasonable amount of cool would be heaped upon you even before you opened your zit-encrusted mouth in front of a moderately attractive girl.

1991 – Nirvana, Nevermind
1992 – Tie: Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted and Sonic Youth, Dirty
1993 – Suede, Suede
1994 – Portishead, Dummy
1995 – Oasis, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (of course)
1996 – Cake, Fashion Nugget
1997 – Tie: Prodigy, The Fat of the Land and Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen
1998 – Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane over the Sea
1999 – Moby, Play (and may I be forever damned for this, especially given the number of times I played porcelein)
2000 – The Avalanches, Since I Left You

What a very depressing list. I wasn’t aware that I’d spent my time from the age of 15 to 24 desperately trying to fit in with the crowd, though my listening tastes would suggest differently. 1998 represents a high point, with 1999 the nadir.

When I’ve recovered from my despond, I shall compile a 2001-2010 list, which will hopefully be less predictable and formulaic.

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It just is cricket

I’ve just returned from my big sporting adventure of the summer, namely a weekend away in beautiful Worcestershire, playing cricket. Barring a possible guest appearance for Wroxeter CC up in Shropshire (Jamie, August 21st, 2pm, I know…), I have now completed my rigorous schedule for the summer. Cricket must be the only sport where you can end up weighing more at the end of the game than you did at the start (apart from perhaps the sport of competitive eating, but at least you’re likely to vomit it all up at the end of the session with CE). On both of the days I played, I had breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I still managed to sandwich (excuse me) the most important of all cricket rituals into the day: the cricket tea. I could write a league table of Independent Schools based on their cricket teas, using my own School days as a reference (incidentally, St Edward’s Oxford and Hailebury always came out at the top), and the tea is as integral a part of the day as either of the innings, and often informs as much of the conversation in the pub afterwards. Here’s a quick run-down of the essentials:

1. Sandwiches/buns: simplicity is the key here, with ham and mustard and cheese and pickle being staples. Brie and cranberry is at the other end of the spectrum, and should be avoided at all costs (not due to calorific content, you understand).
2. Cake: ideally home-made by a rotund wife of one of the team stalwarts. Ideally one slice should be big enough perhaps not to sink a battleship, but at least to make sure that everyone’s fighting to field at first slip for the second innings. Victoria sandwich and good old chocolate cake set the standard. Nothing with coffee please.
3. Waggon wheels/penguin biscuits/jaffa cakes: WW should be there to ensure that everyone can discuss whether they’ve got smaller over the years (actually it’s more likely that your adult hands are bigger than your child hands). Penguin biscuits for the jokes (and because they’re actually lovely), and jaffa cakes so that the team bore can attempt to start a conversation about whether they’re biscuits or cakes. Tiresome.
4. Tea and orange squash: there should be a rule against drinking anything else. The orange squash should either be so dilute as to resemble a homeopathic remedy, or so concentrated that you can only remove it from your teeth with a toothbrush. Tea is the staple of the elder members of the team, though it makes us all feel manly.
5. Something that no-one eats: this may be the white chocolate biscuits, or the punnet of fruit, but there’s always something that need to remain untouched, possibly to be given as a sacrifice to the cricketing Gods, much as the miners used to leave some of their pasty in the mines, or something…

Here are some things you should never serve:

1. Anything ‘foreign’: I found this out as I attempted to serve quesadillas to the good men of Wem last year. I was regarded with the suspicion that Texans reserve for homosexuals and thin people. Stick simple, cricket caterers.
2. Salad: even if this is served as part of a ‘proper’ lunch, with ham and new potatoes, the chances are that no-one will eat it. If you serve it, you will be regarded with the same level of suspicion as in point 1.
3. Gatorade/other sports drinks: playing in Shropshire division 6 (or likewise) is great fun, but you don’t want to look like you’re trying to raise the level of your game by that 1-2% that’ll tip you over the 45mph mark on the speedometer. Best to look as though you’re taking the game only a bit seriously.
4. ‘Branded’ crisps: for some reason, monster munch or wotsits just look wrong on the cricket tea table, unless of course you’re playing for the under 9s, in which case they’ll be lapped up before anything else.
5. Alcohol: there’s always one peasant who feels the need to neck 3 cans of strongbow during the tea interval. This will not impress anyone, save the 2 straggley sunburned chavettes who’ve turned up in bikini tops and jeggings, and you probably had a pretty good chance with them back in ‘Velvet’ anyway, didn’t you?

But what about the cricket, I hear you ask? We won one, we lost one, and it didn’t rain.

The land of the free

I’ve just spent the past two weeks in the States. I love America. So much so, Victoria and I were even discussing yesterday how we might go and live there some day. All of my London friends seem to be decamping to Australia, but much as I love Oz, it doesn’t hold the same fascination for me as the ‘greatest Goddamn democracy in the world, boy…’. America is much more a different Country to the UK than Australia, and Oz still feels almost colonial in places. The American language is totally different from English (or even Aussie English), and they do seem to like the Brits far more than the Aussies do (the lack of sporting rivalry and a greater propensity to forget the colonial past might have something to do with this). Anyway, here’s a few reasons I like it so much:

1. Friendliness: American people are so much more friendly than any other Country I’ve been to. We’ve stayed for free on 89th and Park with the family of a friend (when I’ve never met any of the family before, and said friend was away at the time); we were then invited to stay with members of said family in Baku, Azerbaijan. I’ve been bought drinks all night by a chap I’d met five minutes earlier, ended up as the only non-Mexican people at a Mexican film premiere in Texas, sung karaoke with some chap from a Houston Astros game, been welcomed into an invite-only bar opening night in San Francisco, and been welcomed into a private booth for some Canadian chap’s stag-night in Vegas (and Mike Tyson was in the booth next to ours, I kid you not).

2. Lack of Chavs: I’m sure there is an American equivalent to the English ‘chav’ or the Aussie ‘bogun’, but I’ve yet to locate it, or even to find a term for it. This was emphasised for me this week: I’d met only genuinely nice people for two weeks across the pond, but when it came to the flight back, I found myself sandwiched on the flight between four English Craig David lookalikes, who all sported the same nasty pencil beard and said ‘man’ and ‘innit’ a lot, and three tattooed Northeners, one of which carried a boxing bag, and whose girlfriend sported a rather meaty looking black eye.

3. Food: tricky one this. There are certainly pros and cons to the American love of food, but I think the Country just about comes out on top. Admittedly, just about all the advertising of food comes under the ‘look how much MSG you can stuff in your face for $1.99’, but whether it’s high end or low end you’re after, you can find something to satisfy anywhere. Uchi in Austin, Picasso in Vegas, Salt House in San Francisco, Etais Unis in NYC, Cochon in New Orleans, Artisan in Paso Robles all leave a pretty good high-end taste in the mouth. The peanut butter and bacon burger at ‘Yo Momma’s’ was pretty memorable too, as is the 504 Ferrari pizza in RI. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the Asian fusion place on 82nd street in NY where the conversation made me realise just how much in love I was. We’ll go back there someday. Food, and the memories associated, are a large part of why I like the US.

4. It’s a continent: And in saying this, I mean that there’s something there for everyone. Much as you don’t really need to go outside of France to find any style of wine you want, you don’t have to go outside the US to find pretty much any holiday you want. Whether it’s scenic, hedonistic, cultural or a mixture of all three or beyond, the fun is all there to be found.

5. Bigness: I like the fact that I can order one appetiser, and still the pair of us won’t be able to finish it. One appetiser in Boston ran to four chicken breasts. That’s supposed to be a starter for one person, incidentally. Nothing makes you feel as virtuous greed-wise as watching Americans eat their breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, supper, snack etc. All burgers are half-pound as standard, and the record on the ‘big-boy’ wall at Chunky’s burgers in San Antonio is twelve of these half pound monsters (that’s putting on half a stone in one sitting…). The cars are ridiculous: we drove a 5 litre Mustang last week, and still felt pretty pee-wee on the roads. The people in Texas look like they’ve been gone at pretty hard with a bicycle pump, and then have been melted into their clothes. But hey, if it makes you feel good about your weight, I’m all for it.

So where next? New York, of course, Chicago, Washington, NW Coast and my beloved Green Bay, to see the Packers.

Out of Africa

All of my previous blog entries have been written with a sense of calm. I’ve tapped lightly on the keyboard, whilst transferring my rambling thoughts from brain to screen. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve been impassioned to write this latest entry, but maybe I’m tapping just a little harder.

Here’s the facts that have brought about this feverish state of mind: tonight, Ghana played Uruguay in the 1/4 finals of the World Cup. It’s a 1/4 final that not many would have predicted, though it has a sense of importance: Uruguay won the first two World Cups, and Ghana are Africa’s last representative at the first African World Cup. To put you out of your misery, in case you haven’t seen: Uruguay won. On penalties. A harsh way to go for Ghana, certainly, but a ‘fair’ lottery. But maybe it shouldn’t have gone to that lottery, because right at the end of the game, Ghana were awarded a penalty, which would have taken them through, had they converted it. Not just any penalty mind, but one awarded for deliberate cheating, when an outfield player for Uruguay (subsequently sent off) handled the ball deliberately on the line. Anyway, Ghana missed it, cue much gnashing of teeth and cries of unfair play.

Yes, it is unfair, but so was England’s goal that was ruled not to have crossed the line, and so is any goal that is chalked off for an incorrect linesman’s flag. But that’s the beauty of sport. So much rests on key decisions, and often they are called wrong. It’s human error, only this time it’s from the officials, not from those on the pitch. Are the officials expected to be infallible? Of course not, they are only human, like the players. They make mistakes, but their impartiality is never called into question, and surely that’s the most important thing. Sport is great because it throws up upsets, because the best don’t always come first, because the story doesn’t always have a happy ending. It’s unpredictable, and that’s often the best thing about it.

The script said that Ghana should have gone through tonight. That much is obvious. The African people were behind them, and the World outside of South America were behind them. But to pity them is to patronise them, and this is something that Africa has endured more of than most. If the situation was reversed, and a Ghanain player had handled on the line, Uruguay would have had the chance to win the game. The Ghanain player would have been lauded, and the World would have accepted it far more readily. There’s no great sportmanship in football any more, because it’s only partly a game, and the money and National expectation have placed it on such a pedestal that we have lost the sense of football as entertainment, and see it only as winning or losing, as justice being done or not. I’ve seen the Ghana players holding up mock yellow cards in an attempt to get the referee to book the players of other teams. They’re no worse than the Uruguayans, or any others, but it’s a sad indictment of what football has become.

Anyway, here’s the solution: man handles deliberately on line, goal is awarded, man stays on pitch. Fair.

Just one further observation, and a pet hate of mine: the sense of ‘deserving’ in football. By this I mean the situation where a team dominates play, squanders chances, and ends up losing 1-0 to the opposition’s only meaningful attempt on goal. You did not ‘deserve’ to win. Football is about putting the ball in the back of the net, and no more. If they score more than you, you deserve to lose, not win, because possession, shots on target etc mean nothing, apart from to Andy Gray and other football analysts. It’s an odd concept, and seemingly unique to football. We love the sense of justice being done, and are up in arms when the perception is that this isn’t the case. It’s not solely a British thing, but it’s most definitely ‘not cricket’…