An Own Goal from your Own Goal

In the 1990’s, when I chose to support Aston Villa, I certainly wasn’t choosing to make my life any easier. At that time, and probably still now, Villa were an unfashionable club to support if you lived in the South of England, and I would often experience ridicule for it in school. “So what if you beat Nottingham Forest!” retorted a classmate during one year 8 Maths class in 1999, “Your shirts are still really ugly and your team is still shit.” That was the typical high-brow way in which the debates went. I responded by using my Aston Villa-branded biro with pride for the remainder of the day. Take that. My pen is better than yours.

Villa certainly weren’t about to win the Premiership any decade soon, but still, I really liked them. They were different. Understated. Interesting. To support a team which won when it wasn’t expected to, felt more special than supporting a team that just expected winning and trophies and took those things for granted when they got them. I came from a family of Spurs fans and whilst I liked them too, they just didn’t pull me in like Aston Villa did. I suppose in some ways, I also just wanted to be different, and instigate lively discussions around the dinner table about whether John Gregory was a better manager than George Graham (he was, by the way).

Anyway. Once you pick your team you’ve picked your team. I’ve followed Villa throughout, though I would never class myself as a die-hard football fan. Sometimes I even withhold from telling people, simply because in that moment I’m not up for the inevitable arduous football chat once I do. It’s fun to follow but it’s just a game, and if I took it as anything more than that then, well, I’d probably be pretty depressed. In over twenty years I’ve yet to see my team lift a trophy, and apart from an exceptional few years in the late ’00’s they’ve pretty much constantly been linked with relegation, and even became victim to it in 2016, taking two years longer than expected to gain promotion to the top tier again. They’re the sort of team who concede a late equaliser just as you start getting a bit excited, and if it weren’t for a huge financial injection from a couple of billionaires in 2018, they’d possibly not even exist anymore. Magpie-eyed supporters of either of the two Manchester sides, or Chelsea, Liverpool etc.. probably don’t realise how easy they’ve had it by comparison.

But once you pick your team you’ve picked your team.

In the past couple of years, Villa have progressively improved and these days are a team that others genuinely fear playing. In an era when the game is dominated by greed and money, there’s been something hugely romantic about supporting a team both managed and captained by boyhood fans of the club, Dean Smith and Jack Grealish respectively. It’s just not something you really see anymore, and it’s something every Villa fan takes / took (spoiler alert) a lot of pride in. You can be paid to do a job and you can do your best at it in return for picking up a wage, but if it’s for a cause or company you always believed in, you’ll not only do your best but you’ll excel, without even trying. That’s what Jack Grealish did for us. He wasn’t just “a really good player”, he was an excellent player and as a fan of the club, he was also “one of us”. Every time he scored a goal, you just knew it meant as much to him as it did to the fans.

This month, 11 months after supposedly committing his future to Aston Villa (“My City, My Club, My Home!” he waffled on at the time, as he put pen to paper on a bumper new contract), Jack chose to leave his club for the Premier League champions, a team who win things all the time. He chose to move because he too wanted to win things all the time, and whether us Villa fans like it or not we can’t argue with the fact that he’s more likely to win things with his new team sooner than he would with us.

But for myself and many others this situation prompted an ethical debate which transcends the footballing context within which it’s placed. Somebody who professed to love the club, had been a part of it for twenty years, and played an integral part in its progress, was ultimately swayed by the promise of immediate riches with a team that his historic Tweets had suggested he disliked. Grealish choosing to leave Aston Villa is not just bad news for football and any other football club trying to improve, it’s a harrowing indictment of society: victory and prestige obsessed. Willing to jump ship at the thought of personal promise, no matter how much the remainder of those on board supposedly mean to you. There’s this fixation with winning and the mistaken assumption that if you didn’t win a medal you didn’t succeed, so do whatever you need to in order to make sure you take it home. Verruca Salt’s worn out father frantically instructing hundreds of workers to spend all the hours under the sun opening up chocolate bars to find a golden ticket.

Whatever happened to choosing to stand by those you love no matter what personal gain you might miss out on? Is it better to lose with those you love, than win with those you feel nothing for? Somebody on Twitter put it very well (I know, I hate myself for saying that too), but what’s the point in showing off that you’ve reached the peak of Mount Everest if you took a helicopter up most of the way?

Putting football, Jack Grealish and Twitter to one side, this is a really important question, and given the nature of the responses on social media it seems that many are divided on it. “But he plays so well, he deserves his chance to win medals!” reads a very reasonable argument. “But he promised his boyhood team – the one he professed to love – that he supported their project to progress and wanted to be a part of it. The team that supported his talents and nurtured him to grow. The fans who loved him” reads a very reasonable retort. So… which is the right answer? Is there even one at all? Perhaps not, but I know which angle I sway towards.

Jack Grealish, had he stayed with Villa, would have become a club legend no matter how many trophies we won (or didn’t). Us fans had thought he was loyal and loyalty is what really pays. Loyalty is what makes one really stand out and be remembered for years to come. Instead, he’s off to win medals but become a forgettable part of Manchester City’s history, and if you don’t believe me on that, have a read-up on Fabian Delph. A few years back, he made what was virtually an identical choice, but is now still renowned more by neutrals for his time at Villa than City, regardless of the medals he won at the latter. Delph barely contributed to that success, but he still got the medals. Is that really something to be proud of?

Ultimately it’ll always be hard work and loyalty that makes you a winner no matter what jangly things you do or don’t have to show for it at the end. Taking shortcuts to the top doesn’t make you a winner, whether you’re a professional footballer or a person who cheats or buys their way to any form of success in life.

Ultimately, it’s not about what you achieve, it’s about how you achieve it. It’s how you achieve it which determines whether you are a true winner.

Song of the Day: The Delgados – Child Killers

Scotland has produced so many excellent indie bands over the years. Teenage Fanclub, Trashcan Sinatras, Belle & Sebastian, my guilty pleasure Bis, and we can add the Delgados to that list too. Their existence was relatively short-lived from the mid-90’s before disbanding in 2005, but they produced so many excellent songs during that time.

Child Killers is a classic example of, “songs you listen to over and over then forget about for fifteen years, before Spotify chucks it back at you”. It’s also a classic example of a song which has such unhappy-sounding lyrics yet remains such a beautiful and uplifting piece of music. I have loved being re-acquainted with this song. People need to hear it.

COVID 19 Internal Monologues Part 1: The Encounter

**Basically a live stream of an internal monologue which is not designed to make a great deal of sense, because nothing about the current situation does**

Last Sunday, I was planning to spend Wednesday evening at my elderly parents’ house for dinner and an overnight stay.  I had some reservations over whether or not it was totally safe to do so, but wondered if I was just being too paranoid.  I believed that by taking all relevant precautions, it would be okay.  After all, I have been washing my hands increasingly frequently, have avoided crowds, hugs and touching my face, and have no symptoms.  It’s fiiiiine.  They need the company and so do I.

On Monday, I decided against it.  My parents asked me not to go.  Not worth the risk.  What if I sat on their sofa whilst wearing clothes that somebody in passing might have coughed towards in recent days, their droplets caught in the fibers?  What if my parents then sat down on the same sofa, and then touched their face some time later?  Just not worth it.  Instead I’ll just pop round, drop off their milk (as they are advised to avoid supermarkets and don’t have the confidence in online shopping to take that route), pick up my parcel and come back home.  That’ll still be useful.  That’s still contact.

On Tuesday I wasn’t sure if I could even do that.  Leave them a bottle of milk? That I bought in the supermarket, that I touched?  That other people possibly touched too?  What if the person stacking the shelves had COVID 19? What if the person behind the till had COVID 19?  What if a customer who had COVID 19 touched the bottle whilst picking up their own. What if I have COVID 19?  I may not know for another fourteen days, none of the people listed above would. But my parents still need milk.  And they can’t go out and buy it for themselves because they fall under one of the groups identified as high risk by the government – both over seventy and my dad with high blood pressure – though you wouldn’t know it.

On Wednesday, after my third (of possibly thirty, or three hundred, who knows) days alone in the flat working from home, I’m driving to my parents’ house wearing a pair of pink washing up gloves I’ve owned since moving in here, but have never had reason to use.  Today they’re finally presenting their real value, because the door handle to my block of flats might be smeared with COVID 19 unknowingly placed there by another resident.  Then I’d touch the bags containing the milk.  Then they’d touch those bags, and then touch the bottle of milk when opening it.  So perhaps, for the best, I’ll wear the gloves and we’ll just leave the items in the garage for a day so the germs have time to die out.  But that’s maybe not even enough time.  And then… what do you do about the items that need refrigerating?  Maybe you just have to spray the packaging with Dettol.  And handle it with gloves until you do.

That’s as granular as my brain’s understanding of this shit game of Tetris can make the process right now, but after another few government press conferences and horrendous headlines, perhaps we’ll find ways to break it down even more.  We are still in the early days.  I know that.   It’ll get much harder before it gets even slightly easier.

I pull up outside the front door of what was my home for many years and knock, then spring away.  My parents answer the door.  There they are, in real life.  It may have only been a few days, but in the gravity of the situation I feel like a teenage girl who is finally seeing her favourite popstars on stage having previously only ever seen them on Top of the Pops or in magazines.  I want to give them both a hug and a kiss more than anything in the world, but I can’t.  It could maybe kill them.  It seemed far fetched last week.  Today much less so.

We exchange bags whilst maintaining a two metre distance from one another at all times, circling back and forth like two magnets repelling one another.

I look through the window into the living room to see my beloved cat, Scampi, fast asleep, oblivious to what’s going on in the world.  The fact that all they ever do is go on walks, eat, sleep and don’t have to worry about money or pandemics has meant that I’ve often wished I was a cat.

Today even more so.

“Coronavirus?  Meow. What’s that.  I’m having tuna tonight, and I’m overjoyed about that.” (Scampi’s internal monologue)

I drive away from the house as quickly as I arrived because the sight of my mum’s tears and the parents I love and worry about but whom I can’t hug is crippling me.  The former home I can’t even step into.

But, crippling me even more is the guilt for feeling the way I do, because I am one of the very lucky ones.  I can see my parents.  They live nearby.  They are still alive.  They have one another.  What gives me the right, at all, to be upset, when so many others have it far worse:  those with no remaining family, those who live far away from their families, those currently experiencing domestic abuse and for whom 14 days of quarantine is a terrifying prospect, those frantically working out how to pay their next bills in the wake of an economic crash, those with huge underlying health concerns already.   I could be here a while.

I am so cross with myself for crying, but the inner child within me needs me to do it and get it out my system.  To recognise that despite the blessings, the situation which we all face at the moment is still incredibly shit.

This is a mad time and it’s still only the early stages.

Time to Switch Off

Perhaps one of the saddest things about the untimely death of television personality Caroline Flack this weekend, is the fact that it doesn’t really feel like a surprise.  Any novice chef knows that if you keep the gas on high even when you know what’s inside the pan is rapidly heating up, it will eventually boil over.  I haven’t really been following all of the news about her in recent months but – somewhat telling given what has since happened – I’m aware how much coverage there was, despite her social media posts alluding to experiencing depression and dark times.  The coverage has remained relentless, almost. I can’t begin to imagine how tough it must have been for her to have constant reminders of her situation across the press and social media, and to read such vitriolic, personal comments from people she’s never met.

This is the latest in a long line of celebrity suicides and the impact of social media finds itself firmly in the spotlight again, with good reason.  Social media has a lot of benefits when you retain its use to being purely about pinning happy memories and re-connecting with long lost friends and relatives.  But it’s also got a far uglier, beastlier side that has taken  thousands of victims over the years.  By its own merits of accessibility,  social media strips away any notion of a safe haven from ridicule and contempt against those whom a mob of strangers seem to feel deserve it.  Celebrities.  Professionals.  Politicians.  Local personalities.  Fellow residents of a town.  Classmates.  If you slip up from being your best for the smallest of moments, it won’t be forgotten.

I think back to when I was sixteen and how there was a phase when I used to really dread the walk home from school.  A girl who lived nearby, who I had known my whole life and who had never liked me, would often be hanging around by the park on my route home, and would shout abusive things at me with her friend as I passed.  I was “ugly”.  I was a “sad loser”.  My clothes were “disgusting”.  These insults may sound banal now, but they were the sort to really assault and interrogate the mind of an impressionable sixteen year old.  I would dread the walk home so much, that without explanation to anybody I started staying behind at school for an additional thirty minutes every day literally twiddling my thumbs just so that the girls would be gone by the time I would walk past the park.  Teachers would ask me why I was still hanging around and I couldn’t bear to be honest about it.  It was a bit of an inconvenience being late home, and far from the most head-on method of dealing with an issue.  It was pure avoidance, but it worked.  I didn’t have to face the bullies.  The academic year finished, they went to another school and I could walk home in peace.  On time.  Problem over.

But imagine if social media had been as commonplace then as it is now?  I think it would have been a lot harder for me – and the thousands of others affected by the various forms and levels of bullying – to find the sort of solace that could be achieved by explicitly avoiding a person’s physical presence.  Eventually, MSN Messenger became guilty enough for funneling school drama into the weekends, but at least you still had control over who could contact you on it, and what you read.  I feel so much sympathy for impressionable teenagers these days who don’t have access to the same sort of save havens that we did in the pre-social media age.  The challenge for schools to tackle bullying has become hundreds of times more difficult, as the problem is no longer restricted to the playground or bus ride home, but the invisible walls of the internet.  No wonder mental health concerns are rife these days, particularly in adolescents.

And the same, of course, goes for adults, as is visible to all in the sequence of deaths in reality t.v – a concept which goes hand in hand with social media.  Reality t.v has been the public’s guilty pleasure since the turn of the millennium.  It’s good if it’s dramatic.  It’s not if the contestants all get along famously well, and treat with another with love and respect throughout the series.  Real people are placed in synthetic situations designed specifically to evoke emotions.  Broadcasters place morsels of fire onto the end of long rods dangling over the commercial break knowing that it’ll keep viewers glued to their seats.  And it does.  And after the several weeks of this, the person who people like the most is declared the winner, gifting the viewing public the justification to make judgments and personal comments, and that they do – everywhere.  Mistakes or bad hair days get magnified as viewers revel in the public shaming on Facebook , on news articles, on Instagram… all the sorts of places which are easily seen, especially by those to whom the comments refer.

Given that reality t.v bases itself on reality in order to try and make viewers feel affinity with contestants, I think this is bloody scary, and I don’t think that waiting another thirty minutes is going to be a solution that works here.  For celebrities like Caroline Flack, for teenagers struggling to keep up with peer pressure, or even for anybody.

It’s time to switch off from this barbaric practice for good.

Song of the Day:  MU330 – Fragile

This is a band I used to love when I was around the same age that I dreaded walking home from school, funnily enough. Best described as “Weezer with horns” MU330’s music used to bring so much joy to me, and still does.  I had completely forgotten about this song until I randomly thought about them the other day and thought I’d hit them up on Spotify.  This song is a complete gem – and when you listen to the words – it seems to be pretty apt.  I was interested to see it had only received 1k views in 6 years on YouTub when I think it’s impossible to not love.

To Proceed In Peace

We are all vulnerable.

We are all at risk.

That has been the resounding sentiment that has reverberated around each corner of the world this week; and there is a pretty convincing argument to suggest that it is more than just a feeling, and that it’s actually a fact.

In the past week, we have been reminded that our personal safety is, to an alarming extent, beyond our own control.  You can keep good company, maintain decent health and be spiritually sound, but none of those things will necessarily protect you at a time of crisis.

It would be wrong and irrelevant to make assumptions about the lives of those who perished in Paris last week, but what we do know for certain is that they were people out doing what the majority of others do – dining at restaurants, drinking at bars, watching live music…simply being pedestrians in their home city, trying to get from A to B.

Any one of us could have been one of the 129 who were killed had we been in Paris last weekend, and we all know it.

We also know, that none of us are immune from suffering a similar plight in the future.

And it’s that feeling which is the one petrifying the world right now.  We fear that it’s incredibly unlikely that this most recent wave of terrorism will stop here.  In fact, a lot of us believe it’s probably only going to get worse before it shows any sign of getting better.  I am not normally one to be easily defeated but with the Mali massacre having taken place only a few days later, and Brussels being in a state of lock-down today, it’s very hard to find a trace of hope in the idea that the world is going to be given the chance to recuperate following what happened in Paris.

And so here we are at this current moment.  Nations all over the world living in a uniform state of fear, albeit of slightly different things.  What choice do we have?

Negative though it may sound; when you consider some of the biggest news headlines from the past few years, there is an overwhelming sense that absolutely nowhere is an hundred per cent safe anymore, and so maybe we should stop trying to find somewhere that is.  Yes, I am sounding depressing here, but the point of writing this article isn’t to depress anyone.  It’s to demonstrate why we simply cannot let this fear govern us, and how we need to step around it.

Last week, the morning after the shootings, I was on a markedly sparse train heading into London.  At this time of year you’re usually lucky if you can get a seat on these trains, so it was somewhat surprising to see so many available when I got on board.  It was quite evident that many of those who had perhaps planned a trip into the capital that day, had re-evaluated their plans upon seeing the news, and decided to stay at home instead, through fear of a sister attack.

These people changed their plans because they felt to do so would make them feel safer, but again this brings the question, where actually is safe?   Think of those headlines again: You’re not safe on a plane heading towards South East Asia.  You’re not safe in an Australian chocolate cafe, or on an island in a Norwegian lake.  You’re not safe in the skyscraper in which you work or on the train you take to get there, and your children aren’t even necessarily safe in school. All these events considered, it’s no surprise that to many people, going anywhere that constitutes public space feels like a risk, and so the only other option, which many people feel more inclined to take, is to simply stay at home whenever possible. Depressing as it sounds though, even our homes aren’t necessarily safe, as residents of Lockerbie, who saw neighbours’ homes destroyed and inhabitants killed by passengers falling from an exploded jumbo jet bound for New York in December 1988, may attest.   Simply put, terrorism can affect anyone, anywhere; and wherever you are in the world, even if you’re not at as much risk of terrorism necessarily, you’re probably at risk of other kinds of danger,including natural disaster or general violence.

So there we have concluded that nowhere is guaranteed to be safe.  And do you know what?  Maybe, in a peculiar way, that knowledge is what could actually make this whole thing much easier to deal with, because to some degree it removes the element of choice and deliberation out of the equation.  As with anything we might fear, the worrying and the trepidation itself doesn’t achieve or change anything, and sometimes, on those occasions when our fears do come to fruition, that can actually be the most peaceful point.  The problem is identified so the questions and circumspect cease and the reaction can begin.

If we consider that nowhere is safe then we maybe we should stop painstakingly trying to work out what we should and shouldn’t do, and where we should and shouldn’t go, in terms of the risk to ourselves.  To do so would only prove to be a source of frustration and irritation that as innocent people – who had no involvement in the cause of this carnage in the first place – we should have to for-go the things we really want to do in the places we want to visit. Maybe, instead of feeling foolish for ‘taking a risk’, we should commend ourselves for sticking to our original plans even in the wake of such disaster.  In fact, perhaps we should enjoy our original plans even more, high on the knowledge that we haven’t been defeated by the fear like some hoped we would be.

And so this, to be honest, is why I’m choosing not to worry or change my plans following what happened in Paris.  It’s not about being ignorant to the disaster, quite the opposite, it’s about not wanting those perpetrators to do any more damage than they already caused.  It’s about understanding that if we only did what we thought was safe in life, we wouldn’t do anything beyond maybe stay tucked up at home reading books about adventures we only wish we could allow ourselves to have.

Despite everything that has happened not only recently but frequently throughout the years, live on as you would and do the things you enjoy, because life is much too short not to, and certainly so if you are refraining from doing so on the basis of fear.  We all know life can be cruel and ugly at times, so grab any opportunity to have fun, and see the best of it.  Go to wherever you want to go to, follow the things that fill you with purpose, and take those risks for which the desired outcome strongly appeals to you, because that way, whatever happens to you, you can still say you did the best with what you had and made the most out of life.  That’s really all that matters.

All those innocent people from all over the world – not just Paris – who have been killed as a consequence of what is basically just somebody else’s irritation with something else, need to be considered at all times.  We owe it to them to ‘fight back’ with peace, love and the willing to focus on only the good in a world which often feels so besieged with evil.

It’s our only choice.

Song of the Day: Jewel – Life Uncommon

“…And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom.  No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.  Fill your lives with love and bravery and you shall lead a life uncommon…”

Remembering the Victims of 9/11

To head this post, I’d like to share with you the following excerpt from one of my old diaries:

Tuesday 11th September, 2001:

Got home from school to find mum in a state of distress with the t.v on.  There was news, smothering every channel, about trouble in New York.  4 planes had been hijacked and crashed – two of which had been directed into the Twin Towers, which consequently collapsed.  The city centre is covered in dust.  Thousands have been killed, vast amounts injured.  The finger of blame is pointing at Palestine.  People are likening this to a much worse version of Pearl Harbour, and fearing a Third World War.  There are also whispers that London will be next.  Tony Blair is pledging allegiance to President Bush which means we would be their allies in War.  Everyone I know is completely shocked and subdued right now.

Do you remember where you were, and what you were doing, when you first heard news of this atrocity?  I don’t know of one person who isn’t able to recollect this information when asked.  I can clearly remember also, returning to school the next day and our headteacher showing us newspaper images in assembly.  For somebody normally so outspoken, on this occasion she said very little, for the pictures spoke a thousand words.  I think, for many of us teenagers sat in the hall that day,  pumped up on the innocent naivety of our youth, the news served as a harrowing notification of a world beyond Watford.  Yes, two towers collapsing 3500 miles away does effect us.  There is more to our planet than the daily rugby scrum around the vending machine in the school canteen.  Powerful nations are not exempt from tragedy, and our world will never be the same again.

There is a lot to be said about 9/11.  It is a topic of much debate across the globe.  Occurring at a time in which the internet was rapidly gaining popularity, it is arguably one of the most documented and debated events of all time.  Suddenly, more and more people, young and old, rich and poor, were firmly planting their flags somewhere along the spectrum of political opinion in an attempt to try and answer the question on everybody’s lips – why?  How did this happen?  Who is responsible?

However, this weekend, let’s cast aside our various beliefs and opinions over where we apportion our blame, and remember one thing and one thing only – all the victims who lost their lives on that day.  9/11 isn’t merely about a straightforward tussle between the U.S government and Al-Qaeda, it’s also about the number of innocent people – from both societies- who have been caught up in the brawls of their leaders, losing their homes and loved ones because a minority of people in a position of world power were unable to resolve their differences any other way.

This Post is for the real victims of 9/11, the ones who had no choice but to be caught up in it.  I’m referring to all the mothers and fathers who ended up losing their lives on what was meant to be another Tuesday in the office, working hard to provide for their children.  I’m also referring to all the firefighters who so bravely went out to face the terror head on in order to try and save as many lives as possible.  And finally, I refer to all those who have had to live with the pain of their family being torn apart, or the images engraved in their memories of people jumping from 80 floors up in a desperate attempt for escape – one of whom would land on a firefighter and consequently kill him with the force from his falling body.  That kind of visual is one that just shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century, but it is.

2,977 people lost their lives that day –  people just like you and me – the peace-seeking working class.   The only difference is that they were there that morning, and we weren’t.

Below is a tribute that somebody made about the disaster.  It is incredibly moving and at times distressing.  But for anybody who questions why we remember this atrocity every September, this is why:

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I hope one day that peace will come, for all of us, everywhere.

I won’t be wearing shorts this August, but I can still post them.

It’s raining, it’s pouring, it’s August, it’s Britain.  The wind blows, the trees sway, the sky is grey… and I sit inside lumbered with a kidney infection so painful that if childbirth were to be any more painful than this, you may as well just zip me up now and start calling me the Cat Lady.  Yes, this is the epitome of a perfect Summer’s day.  Who needs strawberries ‘n’ cream when you can instead have the gourmet lunch of Diclofenac ‘n’ Cefalexin tablets?

There are a number of things I feel I could write about today, so rather than write about just one, I thought I’d do some shorts instead.  Enjoy:

R.I.P Amy Winehouse

Last week, I was shocked to receive an instant-message from a friend informing me of the death of Amy Winehouse, 27.  I can’t pretend I had ever enjoyed her music, and I had never really found her personality too appetising either, yet despite that, I was genuinely rather sad to hear the news.  To me, it is a sad reflection of the ‘other side’ of fame and fortune.  Without knowing myself what the celebrity culture is really like,  or knowing Amy personally, it would be naive of me to speculate what exactly caused her to start suddenly rolling down the hill of drug abuse, but the biggest shame is that her death appeared to happen just as she was starting to get her health and personal life back in check.  I hope that wherever she is now, she is at peace and rest.

In the meantime, I cannot help but laugh at portions of the British press and public, who were more than happy to slate and ridicule her whilst she was alive, only to now place her on the pedestal of being some kind of demi-goddess now that she is gone forever.  Such hypocrisy and mawkish sentiment is nothing if not cringeworthy, and you could even draw comparisons between this and the precedent death of ‘The Peoples Princess’ some 14 years earlier.  One can only hope that, unlike with Princess Diana, the press can leave Amy to rest without needlessly regurgitating aspects of her life years down the line in order to ‘make a good story’.  R.I.P Amy, you leave behind a legacy of a music enjoyed by many, but if the world can take anything from your story, please let it be the lesson that drugs are not the answer to either a problem, nor a need for ‘fun’.

Putting the ‘poo’ in ‘shampoo’

Owing to a recent move a couple of hours South, and a lack of money not helped by the extremely frustrating rarity of available work in the area, I have had to temporarily go to a different hair salon that’s more local for my usual cut and blow-dry, until money becomes available to me again and I can go back to Watford for one.  It’s always strange going to a different salon when you’ve been used to attending the same one for three years, and as with any kind of ‘replacement’ you cannot help but critically compare it to it’s predecessor.

There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with my haircut itself, rather, the strange experience had whilst my hair was being washed and shampoo’ed.  As I lay back with my head in the sink, trying to relax as advised by the stylist – a spindly young man in his late teens with bleached blonde hair – I closed my eyes and tried to think about soothing images to go with the gushing water trickling down my neck.  For a couple of minutes I was at complete peace with the world, until the stylist started speaking; “I had to get the train to work today, and Sittingbourne Station smelt of poo.  Then I got on the train, and that absolutely stank of poo too…. I wonder where it goes? Do you know where it goes when people poo on a train?  Like it must just go straight onto the track or something. Ewww.”  I grinned, politely, not really knowing what else to say, and the young man continued his story.  By the time we had reached the second rinse, I had heard all about a school trip he had been on as a 12 year old, when the coach got stuck in traffic in Paris and a fellow pupil had thrown up into a sock because there was no toilet on board the coach, and how the coach had also smelt of poo.  Something tells me that the editor of 2011 edition of, “The Hairdressers Handbook” tried to aim for an innovative new approach when it came to conversational tips.  Long gone are the days of being asked if you’ve booked any holidays, or whether or not you watched Eastenders on Monday night, faeces-focused folktales are here to stay!

Memories in Waves

On Monday evening we went to the beach at Tankerton for sunset and dusk.  This is the beach at which we used to own a beach-hut, some 10-12 years ago, and being back on those pebbles, looking out over that same patch of ocean I used to take my dinghy out on back in the late 1990’s, I felt a strange shiver down my spine.  For fleeting moments, I felt as though I was 13 years old again – short bedraggled hair, fringe, braces.  I remembered what my personal sphere had been like back then – school, lessons, teachers, my Backstreet Boys posters, my 8-strong group of best-friends.  I remembered all those pre-teen dramas, some of which would be playing on my mind during our weekends by the sea.  Why did so-and-so sit on a different table in Geography class – I don’t think she wants to be friends with me anymore.  What will happen if I can’t find my piece of homework about Mughal India, will I need to re-do the whole leaflet?  What if my felt-pens ran out?  When will I next see that cute boy I sometimes pass on the way home from school? Have I been invited to Rupal’s sleepover this year?

It’s funny how when you look back you wonder why you spent so long worrying or thinking about particular things that nowadays seem so insignificant.  I probably did see that cute boy again on the way home from school, but that’s all that would ever become of him – just a stranger who’d walk the Whippendell Road at the same time as me.  And it was never worth me losing any sleep over my piece of homework about Mughal India – I did end up having to re-write it, and as far as I recall I got a ‘B’, but it wasn’t a piece of work that would ever had any bearing on my future.

I compared my personal sphere then to the one I have now and marveled about how life is an on-going process of change.  My home has changed, my career direction has changed, my best-friends have changed.  Worries have come and gone, people have come and gone, jobs have come and gone.  Life is a transient motion which does not stop, and it fascinates me no end.  It can also be pretty intimidating to think that things you put a lot of focus an emphasis on now may one day, 10 years down the line, mean less to you.  Maybe things cannot be forced, maybe they can only be.  I just don’t know, but still, it interests me…  what do you think?

Song of the Day:       Super Furry Animals – The Turning Tide

In line with my third point, this is an amazing little song about the fascination of change by legendary Welsh rockers, the Super Furry Animals.

“The service was slow, my eyes began to grow into telescopes, that are looking out to a world of quick-sand-castles  on their keep, still waiting under siege for the turning tide.  Need some inspiration, time to hitch a ride on the turning tide”


Enough is enough, Cheryl

I’ve always thought Cheryl Cole was cool.  As a fat 16 year old with bad hair and bad dress sense back in 2002, I remember tuning in to ‘Popstars: The Rivals’ every Saturday night and excitedly anticipating that all-important question of who would make it into the group, and who wouldn’t.  Cheryl was one of the contestants, and she was my favourite out of all the girl contestants (my favourite male being the chisel-jawed Mikey Green, who was sadly evicted on one quite heartbreaking weekend).

16 is quite an impressionable age.  You’re aware that very soon, you’re going to be initiated into the culture of dressing up and partying that will stay a part of your adult life for at least the next ten years, if not longer.  The bridge can seem long, and the other side can seem daunting.  It is a period where people often frequent the higher levels of self-consciousness and constantly ask themselves if they’re on the right track, “Is this outfit a good look? Have I got too much make-up on? Should I use a different foundation?”.  I was no different, and found a lot of guidance through looking at these young, female celebrities on the television and seeing what they were wearing.  I remember admiring not only Cheryl’s style, but also her attitude (clearly, this was long before the pantaloon pants and the military jackets).

With this in mind, I can understand why older generations will often refer to an emotional attachment of “having grown up with” older celebrities.  Its perhaps too early to say, but being only two years my senior, Cheryl Cole is one of those celebrities who in sixty years or so, when they’re reading out her obituary on the news, might make me turn around to my grand-children and say, “Ah, Cheryl Cole… she was of my era.  I grew up with her.”  This sentiment can lead to a greater interest in the life of the particular celebrity, and a greater empathy with the milestones they reach in life.

I believe Cheryl Cole is essentially a very sweet, kind person, who has done well to alleviate herself from her troubled background and become a role-model to many young girls across the country.  However, if the news is to be believed and she is to be taking a break from showbiz, I would wholeheartedly agree that the time is right for her to disappear from our television screens and newspapers for a little while, if not longer, and focus on herself.  The strain that comes from being under the spotlight for so long has finally got to her, and I fear that if she’s kept there, like a Bengali-tiger in the media circus, it will become too much.

As celebrity lives go, Cheryl’s has seen it all, and there have been more lows than highs.  Let’s be brief.   In the beginning, it all seemed so perfect.  Girls Aloud were frequently topping the charts, and in 2006 she got married, in the most lavish of ceremonies, to the footballer Ashley Cole.  Everything was perfect until 2008, when Ashley’s affair with various women came to media attention.  The romance was shattered, though against all odds the couple reconciled, only for a repeat occurrence in 2010.  This time Cheryl, who had been gaining mass popularity as a judge on the UK X-Factor, filed for divorce.  A few months later, she caught malaria whilst on holiday in Africa and was within a whisker of death.  She survived and by Winter was back in her role as a judge on the X Factor.  In 2011, after much uncertainty, she was confirmed as a panelist in the U.S series of the show, many citing her friendship with show-owner Simon Cowell as the sole reason for this success.  This was considered a massive boon to Cheryl, and a new opportunity to finally overcome the pain caused by the failure of her marriage and make it in the United States, where she was unknown up to this point. She had only been in the States for a few weeks before it became apparent to X-Factor producers that she wasn’t going to be popular with the American public.  A new-look which consisted of purple flared trousers and an orange top was much maligned in the Atlantic press, and a perceived lack of chemistry between herself and fellow-judge Paula Abdul was considered as the writing on the wall.  Cheryl needed to be axed from the U.S X-Factor before she had even started, or the show would fail.

She returned to the UK with her tail between her legs, but support from the UK public had disintegrated.  She still had a legion of dedicated supporters, but she had also lost a significant amount.  Cheryl had made a fundamental mistake in her quest for bigger things.  Her acceptance as the role of judge on the US X-Factor had culminated in the automatic ejection from the role of judge on the UK version of the show.  This move upset, and ultimately lost her, thousands of her fans.  Don’t forget that it is these same fans who bombarded her with supportive letters after she was cheated on, twice, and who sent her get-well cards when she almost died.  This decision would have gone down better had it seemed to make more sense, but from the very first whisper that she might be offered a role in the U.S, there was always a cloud of doubt.  She was unknown in the U.S, and ran the risk of not being understood by the masses.  A businessman will propose that in accepting the American role, Cheryl was just trying to further her career and maximise her potential.  However, she did so at the risk of losing what she already had, and she did lose.

She’s not a judge on anything anymore, and her self-esteem had descended so much that she is now considering getting back with the ex-husband who broke her heart, twice.

The end result is a far cry from the young Cheryl who I used to think was a bit of a style icon.

The story is reminiscent of something Aesop would have written about.  In life, we are provided with opportunities.  We are constantly seeking to improve and grow.  Its good for us that we take these opportunities, and it is good for us that we are always seeking to improve.  However, this can only work if twinned with the ability of a bit of caution and foresight.  In Cheryl Cole’s instance, she took one step forward and five back.  She took an opportunity which she knew would be a risk, and it almost worked until it backfired horribly for her.  The bottom line is that she took on more than she could achieve and ended up losing more than she had.  I strongly hope she turns it around.  Who knows, she may use the series of misfortune as a catalyst for much bigger things, but the early signs would not suggest so, and I think it is imperative that her life should have a bit of a respite from the nation’s glare.  I hope that she recuperates, strengthens and succeeds again, and I hope that next time she knows she must keep hold of a good thing, rather than throw it away to free her hands for something better that she fails to catch, leaving her empty handed.  Good luck, Cheryl.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing more annoying than:  The television remote suddenly dying just as Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ comes onto the t.v.  3 hours later, and I’m still very much la-la-la-la-la-la-laaaaaaaaa.

Finally:  Thank you to those of you who have so far read this Blog, and provided me with your feedback.  I haven’t given the link out to many people yet and am still very much in the early stages, but support is so welcome, particularly now, so thank  you, you’re all brilliant x

Song of the Day:  Bright Eyes – Touch

Bright Eyes are one of the most successful American indie-rock bands of recent times.  Frontman Conor Oberst, 31, has the sort of vocals that you can swallow down into your insides, and the following song is one that I feel illustrates this concept well.  Its about heartbreak, losing something you once had that used to bring so much joy, a bit like Cheryl Cole did.  This is the kind of song you listen to if you’re feeling down and just want to indulge in your tears for a few minutes, only to resume life at full speed once it finishes.

“…wishing this could last, knowing that it can’t…”

If only footballers had guts. If only.

All About If

The most annoying word.

If, is uncertainty.
If, is circumstantial.
If, keeps you waiting.
If, is a tormentor,
It reminds you of what you “could have done”

If, is an unwelcome ultimatum.
If, is not an answer.
If, cannot be trusted.
If, is a cop-out,
You will find it neither here nor there.

At least its easy to spell…
iv it wasn’t, it would be even more annoying.

Meanwhile, in the news …

Everybody’s talking about the married footballer who had an affair with a glamour model and then paid millions to have a super-injunction taken out on the matter, preventing the issue from being discussed in the media.  For once, humanity has prevailed in the form of various celebrities, MPs and thousands of Twitter users defying “the silence that money bought” and revealing his identity to the masses.  Whilst the long-lasting adulterous act was crime enough, the staunch attempts at keeping his name quiet whilst the glamour model (who herself is not without blame, but isn’t married at least) was being hung out to dry in the press and unable to defend herself, served only to exacerbate the general disapproval for his actions.

Sadly, this is not the first time a famous football star has been exposed for having an affair, and it certainly won’t be the last.  Those in one corner of the ring will claim that footballers are as entitled to as much privacy as the rest of us.  Certainly, of course they can have their privacy.  The public doesn’t care much for the colour of the towels in Frank Lampard’s bathroom, or whether Wayne Rooney prefers ketchup or brown sauce with his chips.  We’re not interested in what radio station you listen to on the way to training, or even what you and your wife talk about over breakfast.  Behind closed doors,  football players are entitled to as much privacy as they want.

To an extent.

If you are lucky enough to be paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, and millions of pounds a year (suffice to say, more than most people will earn in a lifetime) to do a job that you love, such as playing football, in front of thousands of supporters week in, week out, then you need to accept that you have put yourself into the public eye.  You are role-models to many aspiring football young football players, you are adored by the fans who pay good money to see you play for the club they love.  This doesn’t mean that you are not human, and won’t make mistakes just like everybody else does.  However, it does mean you are more accountable for your mistakes.  Only a foolish footballer would have an affair and believe that nobody would ever find out about it, particularly an affair that lasted so long.  When the truth started to bubble underneath the surface of the public glare, this footballer’s response was to throw money at the matter and desperately try to ‘buy’ silence.  It worked, but not for long.  A much more appropriate response would surely have been to confess to the crime, and show genuine remorse and explain to the masses, particularly the young, that what you did was wrong.  Instead, the cowardly approach was taken, the truth got out anyway, and whilst adults can condemn him for what he has done, younger generations who usually see him as such an idol, will be left asking “Why?  Is that the right way to act?”, and that – moreso than the adulterous act, is the biggest crime in all of this.


Song of the Day:  Ed Harcourt – Fireflies Take Flight

Ed Harcourt is a criminally underrated singer-songwriter from London and this is a guaranteed tear-jerker, but in a wonderful, wonderful way.  So beautifully heart-rendering.  Maybe one of the best songs ever written.