It suddenly dawned on me this week that it is twenty five years ago this week, actually this very day, that I first visited New York City. A former work colleague of mine, is over there at the moment doing some recording, lucky and talented girl that she is, and it reminded me that about this time on September 9th 1989, I was sat at Ringway Airport, as those of a certain age still call it, waiting for the flight to take off. I remember getting extra leg room on the flight and Star Trek V was the inflight movie. Eight hours later, we set down at JFK and an adventure began.

I was only there for two weeks and spent a lot of time in one movie theatre or another. Although legal in the UK, I was two months shy of my twenty first birthday and had to surreptitiously drink in the Irish bar under my hotel. And I only got that because of my surname. I was by myself, amazingly self conscious, and didn’t want the ignominy of being refused entry to bars and taking it with a stiff British upper lip. I had very little money and survived on a diet of popcorn, M&M’s, KFC and Coke. There are days that I still do.

The intention was to sight see during the day and see a film at night. And I more or less managed to do that. Upper Manhattan for the first few days, mid town for the next few, and then downtown for the rest. I took the round the island ferry on the first day and then did all the tourist traps. I did it all, from Yankee Stadium to the World Trade Center. The lifts in that building were amazing, so fast you actually lost weight as they went up, according to a dial I seem to recall being inside the lift. The observation deck was closed but I managed to do a Ferris Bueller and lean my head against the window and look down to the ground. Amazingly, by the next time I went to New York fifteen years later, I had managed to gain a fear of heights and inched my way around the observation deck at the Empire State Building whilst Mrs X tried to lean through the grill.

As for the movies, I got to see a whole load of films before they were released in the UK, including Batman at the largest screen in the US at the time, plus Sea of Love and Black Rain on the day they were released. I had fallen in some sort of love with cinema the minute I bought an Independent newspaper in September 1987 and saw Fatal Attraction at number one in the box office charts in the paper’s list section. From then on, I bought the Indy every Friday specifically to see which films were in the top ten, including titles that didn’t see the light of day in the UK (Hiding Out anyone?).

The realisation of the twenty five years since I first went to the States led me to set myself a challenge. It must be twenty years since I saw most of these films in that chart that I went to a specific newsagent in Timperley for, although for the life of me I can’t remember why it had to be that specific newsagent. So, every day, I have to watch one of those top ten films, in chronological order. However good. However bad. And, let me tell you, there are bad ones. Fatal Beauty anyone?

A little bit anal I suppose, but it’s amazing to see how much has changed in those twenty seven years. No mobiles, not many computers, CB radio (when I get to Die Hard). And I’ve kept up the challenge, although, to be fair, it’s only been going two weeks.

It does bring it’s limitations. The US is an insular market and has been since before 1987, so there are hardly any art house films to watch, and certainly very few foreign (including British) films. But I’ll plough on. And then tweet my opinion on the film. So, today is Three Men and a Baby. Which is saccharine bollocks.

Thank you.

In Praise of Rik Mayall

Posted: June 10, 2014 in Uncategorized
As you get older, more and more famous people die. This isn’t to say that the rate of famous peoples deaths has increased, just that you become more aware of them. When Agatha Christie died in 1976 it didn’t bother me one bit, playing outside the snow that January day, but it is a fair conclusion that it bothered a great many other people. As time went by, I noticed that more and more famous people were dying, due, you would suspect, to me being more aware of them. But they were old people, people who had been famous way before I was born. I knew that Cary Grant was a popular actor in his time, but by his close of play he hadn’t acted for a good few years. “How old Cary Grant?” He’s dead.
Not so anymore. The death of Rik Mayall, at the not a great deal older than me age of 56, is a sharp reminder that you’re not here forever. His death has followed quickly on the heels of Mel Smith. Both were people who I watched growing up. Both, in a sense, partly formed my sense of humour. Both have left quite the legacy.
To be honest, I wasn’t that much into the Young Ones when it first transmitted. Too young you see. Or we only had one TV and the news was on and I’d have been banished to bed. I’d come across Rik Mayall’s turn as Kevin Turvey once and found it went over my head a bit. It wasn’t until the Young Ones was repeated in about 1986 that I got the gist. And by that time he had played one of the great comic characters, Lord Flasheart in Blackadder II. WOOF.
It wasn’t that he was a very good actor. There was always something about Rik Mayall in everything he played, be it Rick, Flash, Richie, B’stard, Drop Dead Fred or the last thing I saw him in which he played a wheelchair bound detective in Jonathan Creek. Or that he was the first anarchic comedian of that generation. Alexi Sayle was that. But he had a presence about him which made you want to watch. The other members of the Young Ones have all gone onto acting in one way or another and the last time I saw Ade Edmonson in something, the John Simm’s “Prey” he was hardly recognisable. Must be all those Ade in Britains. And Rik seemed to continue to epitomise the dangerousness of the Comic Strip, long after they had all fallen into comfy comedy or, in Ben Elton’s case, rubbish comedy. Just a Rick type sneer would cast you back thirty years or those Bombadier adverts would remind you of Flash. BANG ON.
No one wants to speak ill of the dead but you get the feeling that the outpouring yesterday on social media was genuinely heartfelt. Here was a man who his peers looked up to and revered. People saying that Mayall was the reason they had got into comedy. Others retweeting a handwritten note that he had sent to an autograph hunter calling him tight for sending an email and not an actual letter. There are few who could get away with that. Rik Mayall was one of them. Whilst his output had vastly declined over recent times, he will still be missed as a comedy great. Who else could make nose picking funny?
If the Dangerous Brothers had been starting out today you would hope that they would be able to sell out arenas like McIntyre and Bishop. But you would also hope that they wouldn’t try. Not anarchic enough. Too much playing to “The Man”. Rik Mayall was an original. Although we still have the programmes, he will be sorely missed by a generation of TV viewers.
Neil, the bathroom's free. Unlike the country under the Thatcherite junta.

Neil, the bathroom’s free. Unlike the country under the Thatcherite junta.

Dirty Laundry

Posted: June 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

Jesus. I looked at the site a couple of days ago and realised that I hadn’t posted anything in about eighteen months. Too busy enjoying myself I guess, although it must have been a good old time as I can’t remember much of the actual enjoyment. And thank you to the seventy odd people who apparently turned up here on June 1st looking for something to do with you know who who’s married to you know who who used to play for you know who. Hope you enjoyed yourselves.

Life is good thanks. With apologies to anyone who hates those yearly updates on people’s lives that come with some Christmas cards, let me tell you what’s been going on.

Sometime last year, Mrs X and I decided to return to the south as I can’t get enough of paying £4 for a pint. And I want to live a life of permanent renting as there is no chance of being able to afford to buy a house down here. Luckily, if that’s the word, my former employer (public sector, that’s all I can say) was recruiting again. If, by recruiting, you mean that they are now employing people who like wearing uniforms and shouting at people. Which half sums me up.

Part of the reason we left the south to live in the north west again was that we never got to see people all that much. Only on special occasions would what we can euphemistically call “The Gang” get together and I felt that moving to Manchester would mean that we would see each other more than three times a year. I obviously forgot that in the ten years since I left to go to Sheffield Uni, everyone had married and had children, expect the one friend who spent most nights in his Gatley local. And when I say most nights, I mean he’s the kind of bloke who will have a plaque on the bar once he dies saying “much missed”. By the landlord and his bank manager.

It turned out that we still saw everyone the same amount of times as we did when we lived in East London, apart from our aged mothers. So, turn around and start all over again. Of course, everyone who I had worked with when I left have all now either left themselves or been promoted and it is surreal asking advice from someone who has the same amount of experience as I do. But I’m a big man, and rather they get the blame for getting the answer wrong. That’s why they get paid the big bucks.

Anyway, as we didn’t have anywhere to live an acquaintance offered to flat share with us in the leafy town of Berkhamsted (favourite son – Graham Greene) while we could save up for a deposit on a vastly overpriced one bedroom flat. She had just split up with her boyfriend and needed help with the rent. We needed somewhere to live and help with the rent. Everyone was a winner, especially as she only stayed there during the week due to her being temporarily based in North London. Shet actually lived in Brighton and returned there every weekend. All good.

She had a year’s contract, with a break clause after six months which took her up to either the beginning of May or the beginning of November. She had no need to stay there until November but said that if we wanted we could take the rent over from May as it would give us time and space to find somewhere adequate.

Unfortunately, she gave notice on the flat to move out in May. Even more unfortunately, she handed it in and didn’t tell us. Until Mrs X asked her what her intentions were. No conversation or even apparent thinking about us thank you. We still don’t even know if she was going to tell us at all.

Of course, this left us scrabbling around for a new place to live with little money for a deposit and the extortionate fees that agents charge. When we found somewhere to live, a flat above the local cinema (one screen, has a bar. Who doesn’t want a cinema like that in their town?) we didn’t have all the money for the fees. So, I asked her if we could pay half that week and half the following Monday, a grand total of five days. No, she said in a text from Brighton, where she was recovering from an operation on her arm that meant she had actually moved out in early April. OK I said, hoping we could come to an arrangement, what’s the best you can do. There is no best I can do, she said, your financial problems aren’t my concern.

Now, normally I would agree with her, but our financial problems had been caused by her dicking us by handing in the notice without letting us know. She was going to get the money, it was just going to be slightly late. That’s the kind of thing you do for your mates. or so we thought. It turned out that we had served our purpose of saving her £3000 and now, from the safety of the other side of London, she couldn’t be arsed with us. So, we paid the rent, lost the flat and someone we considered to be a friend.

Of course, we could have not paid the rent and had her come for it, but what was the point of that? She may return to work and I don’t want a reputation. We could complain to the agent that she was subletting and prove it as all our post had been diverted there. But that would just be petty. Better to be the bigger person.

Naturally, some of her post was still coming to the flat, including bills which were all sent back “not at this address”, so her credit rating may take a hit. And she won’t know why. It’s not much recompense to us that she may not be trusted with a credit card for a couple of years but it proved to me that, even at my age, you can learn a new lesson. Never go into business with friends as the probability will be that you’ll end up falling out. Have a drink with them, have a meal with them, have a walk with them. But leave it at that.

In the end, we got a nice flat overlooking the town, but it’s only one bedroom. And it’s not got SKY. Friendship I can lose, but not Game of Thrones.

The bitch.

 

Leave it there. I'll put it in for you.

Leave it there. I’ll put it in for you.

Welcome Back

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Right. Let’s try this again.

Hello, my name is Quentin X, but my friends call me Steve. Until recently, I was editor of the Bolton Wanderers blog site, Vital Bolton. You’ll find a link to it on the left hand side of this page. But, if you’re here, you already know that.

I left Vital Bolton last week after nearly two and half glorious years writing about the football club. There were a number of factors for this, but the main one is that I couldn’t commit the time to writing articles every other day. My job, one I’m not allowed to tell you about for legal  and security reasons, but which most people could guess at, is not the best environment to write anything in. But write there I did, possibly to the detriment of the job. And the people who pay me.

However, almost immediately and quite sadly, I missed the sitting down at the computer and trying to tell a tale. And in this world of ours there are lots of tales to tell. So, I thought I’d give this blog another crack.

However, if you’re coming here and expecting a blog on Bolton Wanderers, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. Barring the odd aside, there will be very little reference to the club, its players and staff and assorted others. If I did that, then there would have been very little point leaving Vital Bolton and I don’t want to step on the toes of my successor on the site. I may look at football in a wider context at times, so I’m sure that Bolton Wanderers will creep in at times.

Or maybe not.

I think that this will give me the freedom to write about other things that interest me but it will also give me the freedom to do it when I’m able, rather than rushing to a deadline and letting things trail off into meaningless meanderings, which I think I was guilty of beforehand.  I also hope that the time I spent writing at Vital will mean that there will be no other over extended diatribes like the very first article I wrote here.

So, now that you know I’m kind of back, I’m off to work. Do you see what I did there? Hook you in and then let you go. A bit like fishing in the Lake District. Only slightly less boring.

Now, let’s see if I can find a picture that sums this all up.

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-return-of-the-king-gollum_422_19580

 

Yeah. That’ll do.

A Voyage to My Father’s Cup

Posted: September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

My father died twenty two years ago in March. This year I became more than twice the age I was when he passed away. It is a strange feeling, knowing that I have had more life experience since he died than before it. I can still remember waking up with my mother sitting at the edge of my bed to tell me he was no longer here. She told me later that she had been sat there for an hour before waking me, not knowing what to tell me. I can believe that. I am a notoriously heavy sleeper.

My father wasn’t anything special to anyone else. At his funeral, the priest called him a quiet man, which he was. He was so quiet that the same priest hadn’t noticed that he had stopped going to church five years previously. “If God isn’t there when I die” he had said “I’m going to kill him.”

His death wasn’t expected. He had popped his head round the living room door the night before and said that he would see me in the morning. He never did. The coroner said that he had died of  atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries around his heart. He had had a similar problem in  the seventies, when he had pains in his legs. The doctor told him then to stop smoking. He tried, but failed, on numerous occassions. It was this that finished him. I think he knew he was on the verge of a heart attack, based upon a couple of character changes in the months before. He lost his temper quickly and, on the Christmas Eve before when all the male members of the family went out for their usual drink, he had suddenly upped and left the pub.

His lifestyle didn’t help. He was a central heating engineer, which allowed him time to puff away without my mother knowing. And he always cooked in fat, bacon butties normally, which he would throw at me every lunchtime when I was off school ill. Jamie Oliver he wasn’t. When he didn’t have time to do bacon, he went to the chip shop.

He had also worked down the mines in the fifties, which may have had some impact on his later health. But he was also a paratrooper, and had taken part in World War II and also the Palestine conflict. It wasn’t until shortly before he died that I discovered that the number of people that he had killed you couldn’t count on your fingers and toes. I still don’t know how I feel about that as at that age I was immortal and death didn’t figure. Not until he died.

It took me six months to cry. It was only then that I finally got it that he wasn’t coming back. My sister had accepted it earlier as he died three months before she was due to marry. When my uncle gave her away in his place, he had the whole reception in tears with his speech. Such a happy day.

My mother went back to work about three months after she had discovered him, but there has always been something missing, like half of her has been cut off. She got on  with her life, as that is the character she is, but never met anyone else. And I think that is for the best. She would never have been happy with anyone else.

He would be eighty six now. Or he might have been. The probability is that we would have felt that grief somewhere between 1990 and now. But I would still have preferred it in the intervening years rather than at that particular time. One month more. One day more. Even one minute more. I miss him every day.

In 1986, my uncles, who were all crown green bowls players, set up their own club and, being short of players, roped in the pair of us. We were poor, my dad’s play not being helped by the cigarette he always had cupped in his hand as he walked along the green. But we got better, as you tend to do if you do something a lot. He had a favourite “mark”, marching up and down in front of the club house, nearest to the bar. Not that he was a heavy drinker. It was the furthest point from where my mother could see him smoking. When he died, they named a cup after him and it has been played for ever since. The first trophy was a bit chipped when it was bought and not particularly nice. When we decided to get our own trophy the next season, it was the beginning of the end for the club’s trophy secretary. He wasn’t happy that the trophy with the plastic bowls player on top would be consigned to the bin.

I stopped playing when I went to university in 2001, but always came back for that one competition. For twenty years I played. I reached the final twice and the semi final three times. But the emotion of the thing got to me. I wanted to win it so much, I couldn’t. Each of my uncles has won it at least twice. One of them beat me in a final. So much for nepotism.

This year, I was late getting there. This was the first time I have been tardy and strange considering this is the nearest I have lived to the club in eleven years. I was placed at the bottom of the draw. But, by some strange luck of the Gods, the rule had changed this year and it was just a round robin. I would play four other people out of the twenty four of us and the person with the highest score after thirty six ends, nine against each opponent, would win. It didn’t start well. I played the uncle who had beaten me in the final previously and, true to form, he beat me again, 8-3. Next came the former barman of the club, but he had a dicky hand and hadn’t played for as long as I had. I won 10-3 but was still trailing the leader by ten points. Luckily, the next opponent turned out to be my mother.

“One day, you’ll win it” she had told me on the Wednesday before, as I agreed to bring a loaf’s worth of cheese sandwiches with me. So, I did what I needed to do to win. Nine ends later and I had sixteen more points and had managed to leap to top place. She feinged no knowledge of our little deal and some of the more eager competitors told me off for being unfair to her. They were just unhappy that they hadn’t got to play her themselves. Next, in another surprising twist, came my fifteen year old nephew, who had played the game twice before and a confident 12-3 win made me favourite, although there were still games on the green.

The official scorer, unsurprisingly the woman who gave birth to me, left us all hanging as second and third had to play off for their prizes, a bottle of wine and some beer from Aldi respectively. And then she announced that I had won. Walk to green, trophy given, burst into tears on mother’s shoulder.

That kind of thing never happened to Nick Faldo.

It may have been the easiest way of winning it that I have come across in those twenty two years, but no one begrudged me my victory. Not even those who had complained that I had treated my mother unfairly. The trophy now sits on our mantlepiece, although Mrs X has told me it’s getting moved. It won’t make me closer to my father. But somewhere, somehow, I think he’ll be drinking something and murmuring under his breath…

…at last, the little sod has won something.

Cheers Dad.

London: The Return

Posted: August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Sometime last year, just after the riots I believe, I wrote a love letter about London. Just two months previously, Mrs X and I had moved from London after spending nearly five years there. Just my luck to miss all the excitement.

The reasons why we moved are plenty. My job was bringing in a new shift pattern, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to get back to the north at the weekend as much as I wanted. I missed the people that meant the most to me, my family and my friends and whilst the old shift pattern had enabled me to get back once a month, the new one wouldn’t allow this. My mother has a degenerative illness and, although she can get around, is now a little unsteady on her feet. Moving back meant I could see more of her. I also missed being called up by my mates for a pint on the off chance that I was free. Living in London meant that organising a beer was a drawn out affair.

We’d also had issues with meeting people in London. Through my job, I had managed to get hold of a “key worker” flat in Bromley by Bow. This meant that, although the rent was in four figures per month, we only paid two thirds of it. The only problem is that Bromley by Bow is, to coin a phrase, pretty rough. Where we lived were new flats but there was nothing else around, bar a Tesco’s. What local pubs there were had been closed and boarded for years. From our flats we could see the Olympic Stadium rising up but, on our side of the River Lea, the nearby abandoned office block was vandalised and then tagged by local graffiti artists and whilst a brand new shopping mall appeared in Stratford, Mrs Khan’s local convenience store wasn’t exactly the height of anything. As the years passed, we lived there for three of them, our new flats started attracting drug dealers into the car park underneath us. The lift broke down regularly and the lights malfunctioned on a regular basis. It wasn’t nice and with there being nothing else around, being able to meet and socialise was tough. Especially in a city with a reputation, however deserved, for being unfriendly.

This didn’t mean that we couldn’t enjoy ourselves. We regularly went into town (Up West, as they say in EastEnders, which is actually set where Bromley by Bow should be on the tube map), to the theatre or just for a night out. We liked exploring the little places of London that people didn’t know. We went to the Proms at the Albert Hall, eateries run by famous and not so famous chefs and the open spaces that prove that London is not really one big, crowded, smoke filled cesspool. We  particularly liked Greenwich, although when we went there was no sign of Zara Phillips dressaging her way to a gold.

When we left in May last year, I had already been commuting up and down the motorway for seven months. We said that we would return as much as we possibly could.

Last weekend,we went back for the first time. I know of a lot of northerners who have never been to London, just as I know if a lot of Londoners who have never been north. Although I can’t understand the latter, I am more bemused by the former. Mrs X’s brother and his wife visited before we moved back north and it was the first time she had been. She was telling people for weeks beforehand that she was going to London, as if it is some foreign place rather than two hours awayon a train. Some people go once and never return, saying it is too crowded. Some people refuse to go, saying that they fear getting blown up on a tube train. Some people are strange. I agree with Samuel Johnson, although I would change his statement that ‘a man who is tired of London is tired of life’ to ‘a person who cannot find anything to like about London needs his head looking at’.

And what did we find last weekend? We found that we still held London in our hearts. There were tourists standing in the middle of the pavement, gawking at something that had either been there for more than two hundred years, like The Tower, or had just been built and was dominating the skyline, like The Shard. People stiill didn’t look you in the eye on the Underground. The beer was still pricey. Yes, some of it smelt. All the toilets in pubs are downstairs. And I couldn’t get to a Bolton Wanderers match because I was in London. It was like normal service had been resumed.

And we realised that, if London is two hours travel from the north, then the reverse is true. I have a job that is easily transferable and could easily allow me to go back north during the week if I needed to see someone. Plus it pays better. So I can afford the beer. What I thought I loved about Manchester was a rose tinted memory from when I left to go to University eleven years ago. My friends are married with kids, for the most part, and it is just as tough to arrange to do something with them now as it was when we lived in London.

And we haven’t got any ties. There are no little Xs running around. We don’t own a house. We can’t necessarily move on a whim as moving is bloody expensive, but there is nothing to stop us doing it soon. And then we’ll stay. Because we discovered this weekend the one thing we should have remembered before we moved.

No matter where you come from. If you have ever lived in London, you are a Londoner for life.

We won’t be moving back here though. We’re not that in love with the place.

It seems to me that David Beckham is a fundamentally nice chap. Well presented, loves his mum, loves his wife, loves his kids. He earns a lot of money for doing more than kicking an inflated pigs bladder around and, save for a couple of aberrations early on in his career, has had a pretty blemish free record on the pitch. He had to put up with a season’s worth of abuse after his sending off in the 1998 World  Cup was thought by those who don’t really know about these sorts of things to have cost us getting to the final. In all probability it probably cost us getting knocked out by Holland in the next round. If, indeed, we would have got there with him.

He has had a pretty spectacular football career, although most of the medals that he has won came during his time at Manchester United. Once he had left there, he picked up one league medal in Spain and one in the United States. But he has perfume and underwear to sell, so is never far from our screens.

He was also the highest profile ambassador when selling the Olympic Games to the world and the second biggest, behind the future king, when it came to trying to sell the World Cup to the world. He managed one, didn’t manage the other, but will probably bag a knighthood when his playing days are over.

So, him being part of the team that brought home the five rings means that he should be selected for the once in a lifetime British Olympic football squad, surely.

Well, no. It is a funny thing about the Olympic Games, and has been since going back to the original incarnation of the modern version, that celebrity is usually subsumed by the sport. Even Beckham, one of the most high profile athletes in the world, would have found that. Sure, he may have raised the profile of the British football team, but people would have paid to see them anyway. It’s not like we will see it again. 

The Olympics are unique when it comes to high profile sportsmen. Superstars mingle with also rans in the Olympic village and, whilst no one could see Beckham bunking up with a British shot putter in a small flat in Stratford, most high profile athletes do. But then, he may have done just that, knowing that it would make for great publicity. And if there is one thing that Dave likes, it is publicity.

But, why would this discount him from playing for the team? Well, the answer to that is that he is no longer good enough. In fact, for all his status in the hierarchy of world football, if you asked the normal football fan who the greatest English player of the last fifteen years is, you would be hard pressed to find one that named Beckham. Yes, he had a good right foot and no one could question his commitment. But he always favoured that foot, never taking the man on, never coming inside on his left. Not so much a one trick pony as a pony with a very good trick.

The players who have been selected ahead of him, Giggs, Bellamy and Richards, all play at a higher level and are better players. The whole idea of entering the tournament was for the British team to win, not just to compete. Whilst a Beckham free kick may come in handy, those three overage players would bring more to the team.

But what about the effort that Beckham put into getting the Olympics here? Well, if that was the case, Seb Coe would be putting on his singlet and trying to win his third 1500m gold medal, Denise Lewis would try and roll back the years and dear old Bobby Charlton would be vying with Beckham for a place in the midfield. And don’t even begin to wonder what sport Tessa Jowell would have been lining up in.

You don’t give people places in the Olympics because of the amount of work they put in. In our particular culture, that’s what knighthoods are for. You give people places in the Olympics because they deserve it and, whilst we can all be grateful for the amount of work that Beckham did, what would have happened if we had won the 2018 World Cup bid. He would have had to be cryogenically frozen for six years. With David Cameron and Wills on either wing.

There are those who are wringing their hands and saying that they want reimbursing as they only bought tickets with the promise that Beckham was playing. I would take those tickets back like a shot as those people aren’t sports fans, they just want to ogle and nice looking man. And that is not the spirit of the Olympics. And if Beckham really wants to still be involved in the Games, maybe he can give out some bling to the winners.

Although he may have his hands full consoling his best mate.

Don’t worry Tom. I can get you Geri’s number.