Tuesday, 14 August 2012

My Olympic legacy is to start playing the lottery...

I've always been against the National Lottery. I called it a "tax on the poor"(justifiably). I have smugly felt superior to people who played it. As a (more or less) socialist, I've always thought that things that most people in the country want, such as support for elite athletes whose sport doesn't generate sufficient revenue to sustain the cost of elite training, should be paid for out of general taxation.

   But you know what? The joke's on me. Lottery players have supported the athletes I have cheered so loudly for last week. Just cos I would prefer to be taxed to support them, I have not supported them, even though I love what they do. So yes, I still don't agree with the lottery, but it's just a tax I have to chose to pay and from today, I am choosing to do so.

   (btw - I know there's tonnes of other factors covering the lottery good/bad debate, but I'm in a rush, so you know, fill in the other stuff based on what you think I'd probably think. ta)


Thursday, 18 August 2011

on the playing fields of North London....

In the annals of Gentleman’s Relish there are some games that, for a variety of reasons, it is likely very few of the protagonists remember playing in. Similarly, there are some games no-one involved will ever forget. Our first match against the Hawksmoor Cricket Club will almost certainly fall in the latter category.

Scheduled for 1pm at Parliament Hill Fields, a delightful ground, we arrived to find an altogether different team awaiting their opponents. Presently, the Relishers' Match Captain Chappers arrived with some very smartly dressed but decidedly confused chaps in tow who turned out to be our opposition. After some negotiation it became apparent that the pitch was not booked for our match and that in all likelihood, our game was due to be played on the Hampstead Heath Extension nearly 2 miles away. Your correspondent cannot be too harsh about this, having done exactly the same thing to the Relishers some years ago.

So, on a hot and sunny day we set off across the heath in search of a venue. This involved a fair amount of getting lost and gave the teams an opportunity to get to know one another. It cannot be described as a bonding experience.

After some time walking and with a stop for an ice-cream for the especially alert, We eventually happened upon the promised oval. After further discussions, a pitch was decided upon and the toss made. Auspiciously Captain Chappers called correctly and the Relishers went in to bat. The wicket was dry, green, slow and with a bit of a slope. The outfield however was glorious and, with the sun shining, conditions for batting looked good. Unfortunately, our youthful opponents, with techniques honed at extremely reputable schools, set about proving otherwise.

Roger and I were both off the mark quickly with leg-side nurdles. However, with plenty of free runs in the form of byes (inexperienced keeper, later replaced) and wides (rusty bowlers) our stroke play remained circumspect. We moved along at a very reasonable 4 an over for a while until it became apparent that one of their bowlers was indeed rusty rather than rubbish and the quality of the deliveries began to improve markedly. Scoring faltered and eventually the inevitable happened: forced back by a quickish back of a length ball, I failed to defend a slower ball yorker and departed.

We sent our borrowed player Benny in at number 3. He seemed to have been exiled to us for some transgression and was mercilessly targeted by his own side. However it was Roger, now set and becoming more fluent that fell first. The less threatening of the two opening bowlers sent down a fullish ball on middle and leg which stopped in the pitch. Roger, conscious of the need to up the rate saw the chance to drive but was defeated by the slowness off the wicket and sent back a creditable return catch for 24

The first change bowlers at either end turned out to be no slouches either. Benny was lbw for 5. Salman, normally the among most unflappable of Relishers’ batmen was kept hopping around with some accurate short pitched stuff and then spliced one to square leg for 7. Scoring slowed further and at one point the 1st change Lloyd-Thomas had figures of 2 for 0 off 3 overs. Suresh offered the brightest resistance, hitting some lovely shots square of both sides of the wicket and counter-attacking with considerable success until a moment of class ended his innings. A little too much air on an attempt to clear mid-on gave mid-wicket just enough time to run round and complete a spectacular catch. Dan followed quickly courtesy of another good catch by the same fielder.

We took drinks in some disarray at 91 for 6 and wickets continued to tumble after the break. The opposing captain brought himself on to bowl some pretty handy and delightfully orthodox leg-spin which bamboozled John when one failed to turn and bowled him. Chappers dispatched a full-toss to the square-leg boundary but then chipped to mid-on shortly after. Bod was struck in front before he’d had a chance to gauge the bowling and the innings threatened to subside meekly.

Thank heavens then for the final pair of Nikhil and Siva, who, with our blushes to spare, set about the bowling with gusto. A quickfire stand of 33, including a wonderful hooked 6 by Siva and flurry of well-struck boundaries from Nikhil’s bat took us to 132 off 21 of the allotted 35 overs.

This looked, charitably, 50-60 runs short. But as the Relish ate their tea there was a general feeling that this was not a game any of us wished to lose. Some of the chat during our innings had been a little irritating and there was a sense that here were group of young men who were not likely to do much losing in their lives and it fell to us to remind them that it happens to everyone sometimes. So, it was a resolute side that took the field after the break. Buoyed by a calm and determined talk from Captain Chappers we set about our defence.

Siva hit his lengths immediately and the openers, unconcerned by the required rate, took the hint and played defensively. Even so the bat was beaten frequently, but when the ball was straight they were good enough to keep it out. Salman also demanded respect with some nice away movement and a consistent off stump line and it was he who, in the fourth over made the first breakthrough when Bruce spooned a catch to Nikhil in the leg side. Siva was then rewarded for his excellent spell when he found a beautiful inswinger that pierced the defenses of the other opener Robinson and took out middle.

Sensing a chance to make serious in-roads Chappers kept the field in and was rewarded with some excellent stops as numbers 3 (Hobbs) and 4 (Captain Tom) tried to play themselves in. John and Dan came on as first change bowlers and though they too were accurate, the reduction in pace made the batsmen more comfortable and soon the Hawksmoor score began to tick over. Some unorthodox umpiring raised the tension levels a little as we strove to break what was starting to become an ominous partnership. It eventually gave in unfortunate circumstances as Captain Tom, turning for a second, aggravated an old neck injury and was run out by a yard.

This proved only a temporary setback for Hawksmoor as Hobbs formed a new partnership with the incoming Lloyd-Thomas and runs kept flowing despite some really good fielding. Chappers turned to Nikhil to present a different challenge and it nearly worked as Hobbs skied a drive to extra cover only for the bowler and John to get in each other's way in their eagerness to take the catch and the chance went down. Had we missed our opportunity?

Drinks came in the 17th over with the score at 75 for 3. With only 58 more required at less than 3.5 an over, two set batsmen and wickets in hand, things looked bleak for the Relish. The decision was made to bring back Siva and Salman to try and get through to the lower order who may find it harder to judge the chase. The first two overs after the break went wicketless but the intensity levels rose and in the 2nd over of Siva's 2nd spell came what might have been the turning point. Hobbs, unwilling to be kept quiet, tried to smash a good length ball over a deep-set mid off. Beaten for pace it flew high in the air, our substitue Benny settled under it and, to his credit, held on.

Immediately Chappers brought in the field. Siva and Salman bowled out without further scalps but the tenor of the match had changed somehow. John and Dan came back for their second spells and immediately looked threatening - particularly Dan who's left arm round line troubled both batters and he soon pinned the incoming Redout in front. This precipitated a minor collapse as Suresh came on, immediately settled despite the tension and in a fantastic over, bowled Varma and then also caught Lloyd-Hughes on the crease. The umpire had no doubt and Hawksmoor were 7 down for 105.

The dangerous Lloyd-Thomas was still there, but with so few runs to play with we tried to deprive him of the strike and eventually, sensing trouble at the other end, he tried to attack the wrong ball and got a leading edge off Dan which Suresh made no mistake with running round from point. 8 down but with only 16 runs to get in 8 overs the match was impossible to call. A maiden from John swung the momentum our way only for the incoming De Boreman to grasp it back with a boundary in the next over.

Thankfully John got rid of De Boreman with a slower ball that he tried to thrash to the boundary, but could only poke to Chappers at mid on and suddenly Hawksmoor were 9 down with 9 runs to get. Kaufman tried to get the deficit to within a single hit with a slog to cover but an alert Siva managed to keep him to a single. Then came the moment that will live long in the memories of all who witnessed it. Nikhil, bowling at the death under intense pressure sent down a good delivery that Kaufman hoicked from outside off towards deep midwicket. Feeling he'd struck it well enough he turned for a second only to be sent back by his partner who saw Salman closing in on the ball. Attempting to arrest his momentum Kaufman ended up in a heap, a yard and a half short of his ground but with time to get back had it not been for an outrageously excellent throw from Salman that Nikhil had the prescence of mind to divert onto the stumps. A single bail dislodged and the Relish ran to a delirious huddle as the realisation of our achievement set in.

An amazing match that both sides thoroughly enjoyed playing in. A wily and experienced team performance from the Relish saw us just over the line. With the match over, the slight needle that had permeated some of the game dissipated and we all went to the pub for a heartfelt celebration/commiseration. Many thanks to all involved, particularly Chappers for marshalling the team so well. I look forward to a repeat fixture next year. We might book the pitch though.

Man of the Match

Nikhil - An excellent all round performance. Without his runs at the end of our innings, we'd have had nothing to defend and his nerveless bowling and fielding at the death saw us over the line.

NB: This report was contructed from my own deeply limited memory and from a potentially highly inaccurate scorecard. any corrections/omissions please let me know.

Match: 35 overs

G.R.A.C.C 132 All Out in 21 overs
Hawksmoor 125 All Out in 32.4 overs

G.R.A.C.C won by 7 runs

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Spicy Tiger Prawn and Tomato...what? I was hungry ok?

Spicy Tiger Prawn and Tomato Soup

I've had the prawns in the freezer for ages and couldn't decide what to do with them. This is what i came up with. Turned out way beyond my expectations. I meant to take a photo but this happened before i could.

Serves 2. Or me when hungry.

1tbsp Olive Oil
1 Large onion diced
3 Large cloves of garlic thinly sliced
2tsp Paprika
1tsp heaped Garam Masala
1tsp dried thyme
1tsp dried chilli flakes
200-250g Tiger Prawns (frozen)
3-4 Ripe Vine Tomatoes seeded and diced
400ml chicken stock (hot)
1tbsp tomato puree
Fresh basil finely chopped (thai basil even better of you've got it)

Soften the onion on a medium/low heat and season with salt and pepper. Just as the onion starts to brown, turn the heat right down and add the chilli, garam masala, paprika and thyme. Fry for two minutes and then add the garlic and fry gently for a further minute. Turn back up to a medium heat and add the prawns. Stir thoroughly to coat them in the onions and spices. As they start to colour add the tomatoes. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring regularly, until the prawns are almost cooked. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil then turn down to a low heat. Stir in the tomato puree and the basil and simmer for a minute or two to let the flavours combine. Serve with whatever you like.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Facebook

This post is one of countless thousands generated in the last few weeks about the changes to facebook's privacy settings. Generally, the tone of these has ranged from "concerned" to "haylp haylp somebody sayve me" with the occasional "we're all going to die" thrown in to make the soup of hysteria a little bit spicier. This post is going to be more "DUH!"

The hand-wringing has generally centred around the feeling that at first Facebook was a wonderful benign entity that allowed people particpate in the manifold joys of social networking and now that it's got us all hooked, it has suddenly morphed in to some evil cackling renegade that wants to sell our babies to ICI for recycling. This anger comes about because people thought that because all the content came from the users this wouldn't be possible - if people stopped trusting facebook, they would go somewhere else and the world would spin serenely on.

This is about as naive as the Incas thinking that the Spanish weren't just interested in all the yellow shiny stuff they had lying around.

Whatever its origins, Facebook is a company. A company that has had *MAHOOOOOOSIVE* injections of VC money. A company that has to run an insanely huge infrastructure, serving a gazillion page impressions a second or people start to panic that the world is ending. I'm too lazy to find out, but i bet the amount of energy used to keep everyone up to date on their current rank in Farmville is roughly equivalent to a medium-sized european town. The costs involved are staggering.

In order to recoup the investment and pay its bills, Facebook has to make money (see? i worked this out all on my own). It'll probably never be able to charge directly for its service, so it must make money out of the one thing it has in spades: our personal information. The equation is simple. Sell as much of the info as it can without alienating the majority of its users. Because of the shear number of users Facebook has a monopoly of sorts. It is the only place you can have the kind of interactions you want with *all* the people you want. Monopolies are always bad for the consumer.

So you may think that i am adding my tiny, irrelevant voice to the growing clamour saying that people should delete their facebook accounts, that they shouldn't stand for this treatment etc etc yawn. I am not. Facebook is useful. That is why it is successful. In a few small and boring ways it enhances my life signficantly. Mostly it tells me when parties are on. It also points out when a friend has discovered a new band i might like. It allows me to keep in occasional contact with people who live in other countries who i might not otherwise talk to from year to year. Useful. But if it wants my detailed personal info it can fuck off. All Facebook knows about me is what i am happy for it to know. It knows my name, that i live in london and that i like some obscure bands. It can probably infer a few more things, but nothing particularly interesting or marketable. I don't use apps and whenever i hear about a change to the privacy settings i set them as tight as possible. The key point here is that if you don't want the whole world to know something about you DON'T PUT IT ON THE FUCKING INTERNET. And, if you do DON'T WHINE WHEN THEY TRY TO SELL IT TO ADVERTISERS. Don't expect *anyone* online to have your best interests at heart. They might, they might not. You don't know.

Ultimately, it is for governments to legislate what companies are allowed to do with our data online. The idea that the market will somehow keep us all safe is ridiculous. The market doesn't care a flake of sick about you. The market wants as much of your paycheck as it can get for the least amount of effort/investment. This may sound worryingly communist to some of you, but it is self-evident.

The current controversy around privacy on Facebook is potentially a very good thing. It is perhaps where we become more enlightened consumers, more aware of the deal we are making between ourselves and the companies who's services we use.

Don't stop using a service that makes your life better. Just make sure the price you're paying is not too high.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Snooker, Sneering and Shadrack in South London

Last week someone sent me a video that inadvertently reminded me of one of the oddest nights that London, in all its infinte silliness, has ever provided me with. With the benefit of 2 years of hindsight I now realise the tale says quite a lot about London and why I love it and why i still haven't gotten sick of living here about 5 yrs after I thought I would. Telling it might also involve talking a bit about race, class and sexuality, every self-respecting Englishman's most feared topics, so I shall try my utmost not to offend, but I'm not making any guarantees.

The snooker club that N and I used to go to in Brixton closed - a casualty of the smoking ban and a couple of illegal poker games getting out of hand. After a few weeks of our cue arms rusting up we decided something had to be done and I consulted the internet for a replacement. As the pint glass flies, the nearest, google-indexed club was in West Norwood so we hopped on the bus one evening. We walked down an alleyway and up some stairs and were confronted by a very locked door and an iron bar-covered window with no-one behind it. After some knocking, buzzing and quite a bit of "well this isn't happening then" a straggly-haired and monumentally grumpy middle-aged woman appeared, cradling an evil-looking jack russell and demanded we explain ourselves. on being told we wanted to play snooker she said

"well we're open, but you can't play snooker cos it's roller-disco night"

N and I said nothing as were clearly in the presence of an weapons-grade lunatic. Roller-disco night? in a snooker club? W...T.......F?

"you can play pool tho."

as this seemed to be the best offer we were likely to get, we said that sounded fine. Without making any sudden movements.

We were let in to an open plan, low-polystyrene-ceilinged, dingy and totally empty bar where some extremely desultry pies sat behind filthiest glass counter you have ever seen. I got a cue, paid a deposit (mostly to show that yes I did have a wallet and I was willing to use it) and negotiated the fee. We were then directed to the pool tables, separated from the main part of the club by some more semi-opaque is-it-*really*-glass? glass with a stern warning to replace the table cover when we were done, rattling in our ears. Our ears were already rattling, because somewhere in the place, the most stupidly tinny music - tinny to the point of un-identifiability - was being played. very loudly. It could have been Coldplay or a Brahms Concerto. If Brahms wrote concertos. I imagine he did.

Anyway, as we got to the pool area, we got our first look into the main snooker hall. It was immediately apparent that all the tables had indeed been moved to one end of the moderately large, lino-floored space. This was further evidence of a serious madness somewhere at work in the place. You don't move snooker tables. For starters they're huge and monstrously heavy, but mostly you don't do it cos it completely fucks them up. They take hours of rebalancing by people with thick glasses and spirit levels. No one who cared much about snooker would have performed such an act vandalism. Though admittedly that does leave about 95% of the UK population, I wouldn't have expected it to include the owners of a snooker club.

Looking in, we also located the source of the music, which was a DJ playing on some worryingly antiquated equipment through a soundsystem that had long since had every bass frequency pummelled out of it by inconsiderately played ragga. Close up, it was possible to discern that the music was in fact some pretty standard off-the-shelf, medium-insipid r&b. But only cos the predominant identifiable sound was the evil that is the vocoder.

We pulled the cover off the pool table which, other than a damp patch in one corner, didn't look too bad. If you've ever played pool in a pub, you've probably played on worse. After a bit of baize-brushing we got down to play. Almost immediately a buzzer sounded somewhere and the main door was opened by a humungous black guy. Think Marcellus Wallis in Pulp Fiction. Only carrying roller boots. Not blades, boots. Proper, 80's rollerboots. Not saying a word to the proprietress he moved to the middle of the bar and began stripping off his Evisu shell suit and limbering up. Over the next hour or so he was joined by about another 25 or so properly hard-looking Jamaicans, similarly equipped and attired, all of whom, when they noticed N and I, regarded us with undiguised contempt.

We weren't much concerned about this. For many years N and I were customers at a Brixton speakeasy that was gradually taken over by West Indian crack dealers. Eventually we were the only white people who went, but we were tolerated, partly cos the guy who ran it, a wonderful wise Jamaican guy, had become our good friend and vouched for us, partly because we were there first but mostly because we weren't intimidated by them and also as a couple of skinny white guys we weren't any sort of threat to them either. The only problem they ever really had with us, apart from not being able to beat us at pool, was the lingering suspicion that we must be gay. And to your average red-blooded yardie, gay is a about as bad a thing as you can be. Even the most enlightened and liberal of them, some of whom I would happily call friends, would no more tolerate a "batty man" than they would a paedophile. This prejudice is cultural, rather than religious, for though it has its roots in evangelical christianity, these were not men who's christian faith in anyway guided their actions. It is something they grew up with, are surrounded by and when pressed are completely unable to justify. N and I teased them mercilessly about it as in many other respects these were nice, reasonable, clever guys but they were completely unable to equate their homophobia with the racism they regularly suffered.

I mention all of this because once the assembled company at the snooker club had got themselves changed, they very closely resembled a monstrous hybrid of the casts of Fame and Starlight Express and looked, frankly, as camp as a caravan site the size of Florida.

This effect was heightened by a display of stretching and posing that wouldn't have looked out of place at a regional ice dance championship. Now don't suspect that we had stumbled across some underground persecuted gay sub-minority of black culture, forced to practise their art away from an un-understanding world. A couple of spectacularly bored-looking girlfriends had been bought along to witness, but certainly not to participate in, the show. There was an undercurrent of aggressive alpha male competition firmly suffusing the entire atmosphere. And as someone who would categorise themselves firmly as a beta male, I can taste one part of that shit in a million.

At this point we did begin to get a bit concerned because the main event seemed to be about to start and it was now clear what this was going to involve. And the sheer incongruity of that was going to make us laugh. A lot. An outbreak of totally un-ironic disco pointing a few minutes earlier had already provoked some serious giggles we had risked major internal injuries to suppress. Laughing at any of these guys was going to get us properly beaten up, at the very least.

Then, I had to take a shot that required me to put my hand in the wet patch on the table. After I'd safely missed it and took my hand away I was overjoyed to discover that the wet patch was urine. Dog urine specifically. That was it. It was really time to go. Leaving the cover off the table, to allow it to dry out, we went to pay our bill and make our escape.

The lady at the counter had sunk to new depths of grumpiness,

"you've left the cover off"
"yes. you see...the thing is...I think your dog might have had a little accident on the table...so we left it off to..."
"it wasn't him. he's housetrained."
"ok...but there's definitely wee on the table"
"it can't have been him. he's 18 months old."

There is no arguing with logic like that. We paid up and left meekly. As we walked out another party of rollers was entering. One of them took the trouble to give me a stiff thud to the shoulder with his own as we passed each other on the stairs. At the time it annoyed me, but looking back, he was right. We weren't welcome. Not because we were white, or middle-class or anything like that - though it probably didn't help. We weren't rollerbooters. And people have the right do the thing makes them happy in private, without being sneered at or mocked. As long as it's not at anyone else's expense of course. And that is a lesson that London tries to teach me all the time and occasionally on nights like that I remember to listen. An infinite variety of peccadilloes and pastimes are available and participated in all the time in the capital, a sizeable chunk of which we have no knowledge of or interest in, but London gives us the chance to experience them anyway and consequently broaden our horizons. Even long after we're safely tucked up in our own predilictions and prejudices.

All that having been said, once you're up on youtube, you are pretty much fair game so watch the video that inspired this post. *ALL* the way through. The end is hilarious.

Monday, 1 June 2009

pregnant women are smug

i tweeted this over the weekend, but having been singing it to myself since i discovered it, i felt it deserved a wider airing:

Pregnant Women are Smug from Erika Lindhome on Vimeo.

It's the work of garfunkel and oates who are a couple of jobbing actresses united by a sense of a humour. Their Worst song medley is also worth a listen. enjoy.

Monday, 9 February 2009

someone make me stop watching this crap

I have become transfixed by a spectacle of such hideousness that i am now unable to go bed for fear of missing the next gawp-worthy atrocity. I feel like a cctv operator forced to stare at a fog bound motorway across which someone has constructed particularly spikey brick wall. I'd always assumed the Grammys would be an essentially harmless musical circle-jerk: dull speeches, robotic, monochrome versions of the year's most inoffensive hits and a few quick cuts as members of linkin park are forcibly removed by security. Internet, i have been hopelessly naive. They are actually trying to destroy the fabric of music.

Where do you start? The announcer sounds like a live version of my bank's automated phone system, calling out the names of musical luminaries with all the passion of an autistic belgian accountant. Then there's the insistence on shoe-horning wildly dissonant artists into blood-curdling collaborations: Justin Timberlake dragging Al Green down to his level? ghastly. not painful enough for you? how about Stevie Wonder accompanied by the Jonas Brothers? i had to break one of my own fingers just to get through that one. I was still reeling from the vindictive cluelessness that led to Coldplay being nominated for best rock album when they ACTUALLY FUCKING WON IT! Rock? Coldplay? Awesome. Seriously, well done guys. The stage set for Katy Perry's shambolic rendition of her record executive erection maintenance device consisted of various giant plastic versions of pretty much every type of fruit. except oranges. that's a subtle as the evening has got so far.

Then there's the sheer, crushing, stilted ineptitude of the whole thing. OK the Rock is never going win a prize for Best Reading of an Autocue on a Large Translucent Plastic Island, so perhaps don't make him do a two and a half minute comedy routine containing precisely one joke. don't let mily cyrus sing live, particularly not alongside someone who can actually sing. when introducing ESTELLE, singing ESTELLE'S song American Boy with Kanye West rapping away alongside, try say, introducing ESTELLE the person who's song it is rather than the idiot with Thriller hair and a god delusion.

There has been one good bit, Radiohead playing with a marching band. but you could see the embarrassment seeping through Thom Yorke's spasmodic, "i actually have talent so don't care" dancing.

I expect my pointless self-congratulatory schmaltz to at least be effectively stage managed even if the music itself is cock. that the Grammys couldn't even manage that frankly comes as a bit of a shock. and we're expecting the music industry to sort out such complex issues as copyright and file-sharing? not to mention nurturing the next generation of genuine artists? dear christ.

I'm looking forward to next year's ceremony already. if they can top this they might actually generate some kind of musical black hole, sucking the entire monstrous edifice into itself, crushing it to the size of a higgs boson and then hurling it across the dimensions never to be seen again. and i wouldn't want to miss that.