Wednesday 31 December 2008

Well, that's another film ruined

Last night, I was watching 30 Rock on Five, lusting after Tina Fey, as is my wont. When suddenly, as is commercial television's wont, it went to an ad break. My tendency in recent years has been to overcome this affront to my senses by riding the remote control like a skilled horseman. So, for 3 minutes, I settled on BBC1, which was showing the film Deep Impact.

Deep Impact deals with a frightening - and possible - scenario. I think the producers of the film realised this, and therefore with some delicacy decided to make sure that everyone watching knew it was just a work of fiction. The best way to suspend reality? Black American President, of course!

For those three minutes, I sat there terrified, under an umbrella. I also realised that Hollywood is in something of a bind. It's going to have to completely redesign its coded mise-en-scène for the Obama Generation. My suggestion for future Deep Impact-style films - Austrian-born Presidents. There's no way that shit could ever possibly go down.

Of course, this will put a crimp in Morgan Freeman's style, but he's a skilled enough actor to play other parts. Having said that, his nose is incredible. Have any of you ever really looked at the nose on that fella? It's quite a feat of nature. Leonardo Fibonacci cried when he saw it, and that's true.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Holmes in one

More Holmes-Holmeserie
Yesterday evening I watched me a documentary on BBC2 about the varied portrayals of Sherlock Holmes down the years. I concluded that 1. Minette Walters is a titwitch and 2. I would solve the problem myself. I drew this as I watched the program. You can probably see the anger.

Sidney Paget and me will shortly be seen going over the Reichenbach Falls.

Monday 29 December 2008

On the sales

You know, all these sales at the moment, with a view to stimulating retail growth... I think they may be counter-productive. There's so many bargains to be had that innocent types such as myself assume that the shops will be full of herds of stinking humanity clamouring for deals. As such, I've been studiously avoiding consumer durables.

I am as far from being an expert on economics as you could be. In fact, it makes my head hurt. However, surely the best way to stimulate market growth would be to simply cull all the ugly, smelly and stupid people so as to allow the delicate and intelligent to have free reign?

As a basic guideline, they could start by rounding up anyone who has ever voted on the X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. If that isn't a convenient guide to total cerebral atrophy, I don't know what is.

Sunday 28 December 2008

On still being alive

I'm still here, although you'd be hard pressed to find much solid evidence of this unless you were spying on me. Which would not be particularly rewarding.

Basically, I seem to be spending less time online recently, particularly in the evenings. This causes me to worry that people will forget who I am. But not so much that it makes me do the honourable thing and sign in to MSN messenger or whatever the hell they call it nowadays.

Truth be told, I'm increasingly feeling a bit phobic. I know some people who have always said that they don't like instant messaging, that it makes them uncomfortable and so on. For some reason, I can now relate to what they are on about but the odd thing is, it's come out of nowhere.

I think the problem is that it's merely an extension of social interaction, whatever the paedo-baiting media will have you think. My dealings with people are largely diseased, so it perhaps shouldn't be a surprise that it has finally taken its toll on sitting and typing. I find myself increasingly full of admiration for those people who can leave themselves logged in and deal with any communications they receive at their own pace, rather than my white-knuckle method of sitting there, eyes on stalks and stomach tangibly knotting inside me with the stress of it all, feeling that I have to respond immediately to everything, whatever the cost to any other activity I may be engaged in, lest I accidentally commit some terrible social faux pas.

One day, I hope to regain enough control of my sanity to get back into the swing of the IM thing, but in a new, improved and laid back way. "(Away)" will hopefully become my mantra, as contacts around the globe marvel at my chillaxed ability to get back to them at my own cool-ass pace. Though, mindful of the whole 'baby steps' thing, I should probably start by typing in there rather than typing in here.

But not now. I'm going to go and look for little egrets. And not make some sort of facile "Be right back" comment as a smart full-stop to this piece.


Sunday 14 December 2008

New links

Listen up, minions. I've got some new el-clickos in my sidebar there, and you should probably be made aware of them because I always assume you either have no initiative or are, at least, not as nosey as me. The latter thing, obviously, is nothing to be ashamed of.

The first is a blog by someone who might or might not have diabetes. Why you should be reading this blog? Because the author is my friend and she is a lot more intelligent and eloquent than me. And you're reading this, so where's the harm?

Next is a blog by another friend, who is a bona fide local media celebrity. However, I'm not going to tell you the locality, because it's none of your business. However, she's bound to have some shizzle to get off of her nizzle. Whatever that means.

Also on the menu is Richard Tingley, who has moved his webnet activities to an artier forum. He's very good as well. (Incidentally, anyone who has gotten here from the link on his site, promising that this is the blog of a creative, I would like to remind you that 1. writing IS a creative pursuit and 2. I'm a lazy oaf)

The fourth offering is a blog about a pub in Suffolk. I have been to this pub. I had some drinks in there and it was nice. The end.

The last is something I thought would be a good project for me, started and then promptly forgot for a full 8 months. However, I'm going to try to keep it going because celebrities need to be judged more. Frankly, they get an easy ride from the media. Hopefully, I'll manage to get some other authors active on there too in time, so we can share the hate burden and bask in the crapulence.

(Actually, you should be visiting ALL my links. Do it now.)

Saturday 13 December 2008

Slow burner

In recent evenings, I've been playing IndyCar Series on the Playstation 2 a lot. This is notable because I've had the game for five years and this is the first time I've ever really sat down and tried to get to grips with it. I actually won the game, which is based on the 2002 IRL IndyCar season, for getting the Star Letter in Autosport magazine in 2003. This is because I know more than you about motor racing and am also a very eloquent writer. You loser. Until the past month, though, I'd barely played it at all.

Because, if I'm honest, I found it very hard. This is in part due to the basic fact that it is an oval racing series, which is a form of racing alien to anyone from Europe, where cars also turn right. But mainly, it's because the computer AI was entirely unsympathetic to my L plates. I could qualify on pole, only to be passed by 7 cars into the first corner, 6 more blasting by on the back straight, causing me to panic sufficiently to crash into retirement in the turn 3 wall. More despiritingly still, the game helpfully kept records of my race performances. The other week I checked out my combined efforts for the past half-decade. 36 starts, 6 finishes. Ouch. Worse still, I had over 20 pole positions, evidence that if I could drive more than one lap without crashing, I could probably be competitive*.

It's odd how video games can give you a feeling of pride. Perhaps it's a generational thing. I'm 28, which means I'm pretty much of the last generation who grew up playing very basic computer games which were frowned upon as mere fripperies by our parents. I imagine that people who grew up with Playstations or PCs, with their multi-textured, epic games would feel no such latent guilt. However, I do. Mastering a computer game is simply not a noble thing to do, in the small part of my mind which deals with snobbery and fecund pleasures.

Yesterday, I rounded on that part of my noggin by playing the game all evening, growing more capable and confident with each lap. This culminated in my driving a full-length Pikes Peak 225 mile race. I hope my brain's snobbery centre is disgusted, because I engaged in a 90-minute immersive battle and came out feeling my evening had been one of achievement. I raced wheel to wheel, I made tactical decisions, I saved fuel in the beginning so I could press on later. And I'm happy to say, in the end I won the race by a full lap over the computerised rabble. I felt just like a real racing driver.

A real racing driver with a huge, distended left thumb with a massive callous on it.

* Completists may be interested to learn that I have since started afresh with a new profile. My record now reads 6 starts, 5 finishes, 6 poles and 3 wins. And I have a proper racing driver excuse for the one retirement, which was on the penultimate lap of the Phoenix race. It was the other bloke's fault. I rule.

Friday 12 December 2008

Viewing update

I've recently been watching The Gilmore Girls, but I'm not entirely sure why. Nor, indeed, do I know what the hell is going on, who any of the characters are or what they are meant to be doing. Yet, I will continue to watch The Gilmore Girls.

It might as well be in Flemish, but I'll still watch it. More TV programmes need to be like this.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Christmas shopping

I went Christmas shopping this afternoon. Well, it's really more an exercise in note-taking. I wonder quite how despiriting it must be for the manager of a bookshop to see me, writing down what to get later on from Amazon at a better price, but still. If it bothered them that much, they'd not make their wares so expensive.

Nevertheless, the credit crunch did make for some (shock horror) actual real life bargains, including some offers in HMV which would have been scarcely bettered by just thieving it. In fact, their hateful doorway alarm seemed to keep going off of its own free will today, so that would have been a viable option. The weary staff, ears bleeding, would probably just wave you on. However, Immanuel Kant was, sadly, right about morality and I left the store without having stolen a single thing.

The upshot of all this is that I'm about to go and make Amazon a bit richer and, from a position of not knowing what I wanted for Christmas, I now have a list of about half a dozen items, several of which I simply cannot imagine living my life beyond December 26th without being in the possession of. Curse it all.

Despite this, the range of stuff available was, as has been typical of the past few years, crap. I made sure not to delve too deeply into any of the "comedy" books, knowing with a soul-crushing certainty that I'll have plenty of time to leaf through the bloody things from Boxing Day. Worst of all was a book called 101 Books To Read Before You Die. Yes, that's right. For Christmas, I got you a book outlining the fact that you are a pleb. Good heavens.

All in all, I'm now starting to feel a bit more festive. I think that all shopping trips should take place in the last hour of daylight, for one thing. Coming out of a shop to find it's now dark outside distinctly helps make you feel like you've left no stone left unturned and, therefore, like less of a fink when you end up buying shit presents for your parents. Also, everyone else seemed to be much more panicked and repulsively ugly than me, which can only help bolster one's mood. I ate three mince pies when I got back home.

Sunday 30 November 2008

BBC Sports Personality

Winning at sport is a means to an end, if you ask me. The real award is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy. I'll admit it's perhaps become a little devalued in recent years since they allowed the general public - who are fucking idiots - decide the winner on the night via a phone vote. But still, it's the greatest single sporting honour this country has to offer.

As you may have already guessed, I'm a big fan. I'm particularly excited this year, because I think it may turn out to be the hardest decision made in years. Not since 1992 has there been a clash between a decent British showing at the Olympic Games and a British Formula 1 World Champion, for example. Then, Nigel Mansell prevailed. But the Olympian feats in Barcelona pale compared to those of Beijing 2008, and Lewis Hamilton could very well end up being the first British Formula 1 World Champion since James Hunt in 1976 to not end up with the biggest prize of all.

I've had both my crystal and magic eight balls out, to try and use science, mathematics and my own brilliant mind to figure out who will prevail this year. So, get your money at the ready and prepare to dash to the bookmakers, if you want the greatest Christmas of your miserable lives.

Before we move on to specifics, it is important to consider the breakdown of where the trophy tends to go. The BBCSPOTY was first awarded in 1954, which means that this year's event will be the 55th. Of the 54 so far:

Athletics accounts for 16 awards; Motor racing 6; Boxing 5; Cricket 4; Football 4; Equestrian 3; Ice skating 3; Tennis 3; Golf 2; Swimming 2; Cycling, Motorcycle racing, Rowing, Rugby Union and Snooker have one each.

Germaine Greer will be interested to note that men have won 42 times, women 13 (the numerical discrepancy here due to Torvill and Dean's shared award in 1984, rather than the fact I counted Fatima Whitbread as both or John Curry and Robin Cousins as women. I didn't. That would be both mean and inaccurate).

Sports Personality of the Year
Let's get this straight, fans of semantics. "Personality" here is a misnomer. Let's instead think of it as the BBC Who's The Best British Sportsperson of the Year award. Anyone who argues any differently is a prick. I'm sorry, but you just are.

Last year: Joe Calzaghe (Boxing)
This year: Between Chris Hoy (Cycling), Rebecca Adlington (Swimming) and Lewis Hamilton (Motor Racing). Anyone who says Andrew Murray will be laughed out of Dodge.
Who should win: Out of that lot? Chris Hoy. Who SHOULD win? Victoria Pendleton.
Who will win: Rebecca Adlington, I should think

BBC Team of the Year
Because there is no I in team.

Last year: England Rugby Union
This year: No contest really. The British Olympic and Paralympic teams will piss it, although they'll pad it out by whiffling on about the Welsh Rugby Union team and Manchester United
Who should win: British Olympic and Paralympic
Who will win: British Olympic and Paralympic

BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
This is an award I love and hate in equal measure. I love it because it's not decided by the moronic populace. I hate it because it's so riven with politics, it might as well be. Michael Schumacher never won this award, despite a 12 year period of dominance during which he became the single most successful racing driver of all time. Sadly, it corresponded with the time that the BBC had lost the rights to F1 coverage, so he was well and truly buggered. Although, conspiracy theories aside, he also faced stiff competition from Lance "One Ball" Armstrong, Tiger "He's Black!" Woods and Roger "Not As Good As He Used To Be" Federer. But Goran "I Won One Thing, By Accident" Ivanisevic? Fuck off.

Last year: Roger Federer (Tennis)
This year: A fiesty duel between Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Rafael Nadal. (I'd not be surprised, in fact, to see a new award this year to put on public record the BBC's approval for this year's Wimbledon men's final, the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed. It would probably be given some brilliantly portentious title, too, which would be a bonus. Watch this space.) Oh, and they'll probably shoehorn a bit about Valentino Rossi in here, too.
Who should win: Michael Phelps (Swimming)
Who will win: Usain Bolt (Athletics), probably. Otherwise the whole show could turn into a swimming love-in.

BBC Sport Coach of the Year Award
Because red-nosed borderline alcoholics, wife-beaters or frustrated army drill sergeants deserve awards as well.

Last year: Enzo Calzaghe (Boxing trainer)
This year: Between David Brailsford (Olympic Cycling Team), Warren Gatland (Wales Rugby Union) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United). Fabio Capello might get a mention, but he'll have to actually win something before he gets a sniff.
Who should win: David Brailsford
Who will win: Warren Gatland, to keep up the BBC's ludicrous "Rugby is a sport" façade

The Lifetime Achievement Award and the Helen Rollason Award I will not be discussing. This is due to the fact that they are chosen by an internal BBC Sports panel and as such are always richly merited, being untainted by the pig-ignorant trotters of the filthy masses. The current holders are Sir Bobby Robson and Oscar Pistorius. I'll also not be discussing the Unsung Hero Award. Because it's so boring and stupid.

BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year
There is an age qualification element to this. Initially called The Newcomer Award for people 25 or under (principally to allow them to give the first trinket - in 1999 - to 34-year old pipe smoker Dean Macey). Since 2001, however, the upper limit has been 18.

Last year: Tom Daley (Diving)
This year: Tom Daley having blotted his copybook by the entirely understandable failure for a 14-year old boy to win GOLD at the Olympic Games, this one will be fought out between Laura Robson (14), who won Junior Wimbledon this year and Eleanor Simmonds (13), double Paralympic swimming gold medalist. A sawn-off Rebecca Adlington, if you will.
Who should win: Eleanor Simmonds
Who will win: Eleanor Simmonds deserves to breeze it, unless BBC Health and Safety decree that having a dwarf about the place would be a fire hazard. Which is possible.

The Semi-Official* BBCSPOTY-Dotmund Drinking Game

This is very simple. Watch this year's ceremony on BBC1 (it's on Sunday, 14th December). Every time one of my hot predictions is right, you have to drink. Every time one is wrong, you have to take two drinks. Every time they mention Tiger Woods, drink. Every time they mention Padraig Harrington without drooling, you get to eat a biscuit. Every time they manage to almost-successfully gloss over a sport they've lost the rights to, drink. Every time they manage to almost-successfully gloss over catastrophic British shortcomings in events they DO still have the rights to, drink. If you're not dead from alcohol poisoning by the end of this, probably best to take a handful of painkillers and end it all. And I'll see you on the other side!

* I've officially licensed this game, they haven't. I also take no responsibility for any death or injury incurred by anyone stupid enough to play this game, however funny those deaths or injuries may be. Seriously. Don't play this game, you spackwit.

The FA Cup

If it were up to me, the FA Cup would be melted down and turned into a novelty chess set. I'm thinking It Ain't Half Hot Mum. And if there's any of it left over after that, everyone can just piss on it.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

From Dallas, Texas, a flash - apparently official - it's Christmas!

I was walking through Hove yesterday. I was also walking through Hove on Saturday, fact fans. Hove is one of my favourite places in the world, which I suppose makes me middle class. Social strata put to one side for a moment, I was in Cromwell Road (both times! but the event in question happened on the Saturday) when I saw a twinkly sight, a house with its Christmas decorations up. It was the first such domestic dwelling I have seen for Christmas 2008, and as such wins my special Scrooge award.

Cromwell Road is a nostalgic place for me. I used to get the bus there, on the way to school. I would then walk up Wilbury Villas and The Upper Drive for more knowledge and not-at-all-emotionally-damaging FUN. So, dwelling on the past, and seeing the happy tree, I quickly noted that the day's date - 22nd November - was an important one in the History of The World. 45 years previously, President Kennedy was assassinated in Elm Street, Dallas.

Perhaps it's indicative of how the world has changed. Or perhaps it is more to do with cultural differences - Americans still have to slog their way through Thanksgiving before they can think about slogging their way through Christmas. But upon close inspection of the Zapruder film, I can't remember seeing a single Christmas Tree or fairy light.

Had President Kennedy been assassinated last Saturday rather than 45 years earlier, it would have made for some interesting juxtapositions for sure. It would also have been rather unwarranted, as he would have been 91 years old. Utterly stupid, needless and retarded juxtapositions. Not wishing to alienate my loyal readership, but anyone who has their house decorated for Christmas more than a week ahead of Christmas Day is a fucking arsehole*, plain and simple. The Lockerbie bomb should be made all the more tragic and poignant because of its proximity to the festive season - 20 years ago on December 21st this year. But remembering the Kennedy Assasination should not ever be done next to a Douglas Fir.

* Well, probably not. But I can't imagine they have a particularly special or exciting Christmas, given that their tree will have turned brown and all their lights burned out by December 14th.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Oh Bama

"The Americans will always do the right thing, once they have exhausted all other possibilities" - Sir Winston Churchill

Saturday 1 November 2008

Good morning, America

Things that I can never, ever forgive the United States of America for:
  • Trick or treat.
  • The fact all our teenagers now speak like they're in the cast of Friends, if not in accent, then in inflection.
  • The fact that all sorts of very clever people who I respect a great deal now say "airplane" instead of "aeroplane".
  • The fact our entire political system's integrity has been compromised for decades to come since the UK became America's little bitch.
  • The American National Anthem.
  • The "USA...USA..." chant at sporting events.

Things which go some way towards making this up to me:
  • Bob Dylan.
  • Warner Bros. cartoons.
  • Specs.
  • House M.D., Quincy M.E., Ghostbusters and the Die Hard films.

Almost all* of it will be forgiven, however, if you all elect Barack Obama as President next week. Don't do it for him. Don't do it for yourselves or your neighbours. Don't do it in a spirit of revenge against George Bush. Do it for me.

* I will never forgive trick or treating or your national anthem, though. Never. Not ever.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Tony Hart

Believe it or not, dedicated readers, but there was a time when presenters on children's television were all demonstrably adults. Nowadays, children are plucked straight from truanting down Shepherds Bush market, given an even worse haircut and some achingly trendy t-shirt, and stuck in front of TV cameras. The programmes they present treat children like idiots because the people who present them are idiots, and the overall effect is one great morass of old tits.

It was not always thus, which brings us on to Tony Hart. In the glorious days before society in general and TV companies in particular decided to make a virtue of being stupid and useless, Tony Hart presented a series of long-running art shows for children on the BBC. In fact, his career always spans much further back than I think it does - he is now 83 years old - principally because he never came across as being "that old bloke on the telly". Enthusiastic and encouraging without being patronising, adroit and authoritative without ever being patrician or preachy, Hart bestrode arts programming for children for thirty years.

Eventually, of course, he began to look like an anachronism as the schedules around him filled up with dismal, dreary, one-dimensional tossers whose entire personality was contained within their wardrobe. His last programme - Hart Beat - was cancelled to make way for SMart, a programme with no ostensible differences in format to its forbear, other than the fact the presenters now boasted the combined artistic talent of a shoe. But this was the brave new world of the 1990s, where being more or less incapable of the thing you were supposed to do was the new trend, and no-one noticed. On ITV, Art Attack was breezy, colourful and full of invention, but you could never get past the fact that, in Neil Buchanan, it too had a presenter who was entirely inadequate next to the shining example of Tony Hart.

Tony Hart made the news this week, as he revealed that, after a series of strokes, he has lost the necessary control in his hands to draw any more. In an article in The Times, however, he refused to gripe on in oh-woe-is-me fashion, choosing to use the forum to get people excited and enthused about giving art a try. Such greatness of spirit is very much the mark of the man. Most children of my generation - and several before - grew up watching Tony Hart's programmes. Many of them owe people like him and his great contemporary, Rolf Harris, a huge debt of gratitude for opening doors to them. People like me, who still plug on with drawing despite the fact our short trousers barely fit any more, probably more so than anybody.

So, thank you, Tony Hart.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Prostitution and anthropology

Last night, in the spirit of anthropological discovery, I decided to watch an entire episode of Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisps. Readers in the UK (and I'm assuming that's pretty much all of you, but still) will be well aware of how easy a task this is, to begin with at least. Watching Two Pints is like shooting fish in a fucking barrel. Every night of the year you can guarantee at least two episodes will be shown on Freeview digital broadcasts, the most basic and commonly available British digital service. So there's no DVD buying, sly recording or immoral downloading to be done. In fact, the hardest thing is to get through a night's viewing without seeing Ralph Little's gurning Alice the Goon face.

Now, for those of you lucky enough to have achieved this, it should be mentioned at this early stage that Two Pints is absolutely appalling and without any discernable positive aspect. It's ubiquity on British television cannot be explained other than by my assumption that it's cheap to make. Yet, during the course of researching this rant, I discovered there have only been 63 episodes. If I'd been asked to guess, I'd have gone for 730, making two for every night of the fucking year. Either that or one, because every episode is the same. Perhaps part of its economic viability comes from the fact every episode uses the same script (although, one of the show's GIMMICKS is that the word "fuck" is spoken once per series, in the last episode. For example, 'thank fuck for that'). This said, the concept of series-based TV is rather lost by the BBC's blanket scheduling policy for the programme.

The other fascinating thing for me was to find out about the woman who writes this filth, Susan Nickson. I've seen this woman's name written down so very many times thanks to this programme's grinding inevitability that I honestly believe I only see Queen Elizabeth II's likeness more during an average day. And that's just because she's on the stamps. Yet, despite this, I know next to nothing about her. Apart from the fact she can't write TV comedy for SHIT. That link at the start of this paragraph, for example, contains a photograph of her which represents the first time I've seen her mush. Well, what I have discovered is that she's been groomed for this business since she won a competition aged 14, and began writing Two Pints aged 18. She was born, therefore, in 1982, making her 2 years younger than me. For heaven's sake.

The BBC do not share my rather negative view. Aside from the fact that they repeatedly recommission series of this hoop, Nickson has also produced (ostensibly following a request from people who make TV programmes happen) one other series for the Beeb - Grownups - which was also terrible. I also assume she has a hand in the upcoming BBC 3 series which (for some reason) trumpets proudly the credit "from the makers of Two Pints!". Sadly, I can't remember the name of this, and can't be bothered to look. So I will assume it's called Crap Salad.

But here's my question. I read the credits at the end with something approaching a gimlet eye. There are some big hitters in there. Ralph Little has been in all sorts of things, a lot of them critically acclaimed. The two ratbags who were in Hollyoaks can at least point to the fact they were in Hollyoaks before it turned shite. And the series is directed by Gareth Carrivick, who was the hand behind much of Lee and Herring's BBC output during the 1990s, as well as The Smoking Room and producing episodes of A Bit of Fry and Laurie. Surely, a man who has spent a large part of his professional career in and around TV comedy must realise that what he's doing is bloody terrible. I am horrified by the fact that these people must have all just have turned off the part of their brain which is - with the wonderful opportunity and forum they have been given - endorphin-fuelled by the prospect of leaving a wonderful creative legacy, and instead just focus on raking in the pay cheques. It troubles me. Possibly because it's a glimpse into my future.

By the way, I almost watched the entire episode, but I couldn't quite make it. Sorry.

Monday 15 September 2008

Rhetorical questions cost lives

I live in a small seaside town. It's actually a village, under strict technicality, which should offer some insight into the levels of inbreeding and unpleasantness which pervade the atmosphere. Regardless, it means the majority of my fellow man I see on a day-to-day basis are likely to be of a very specific type.

This is all the more so considering the times when I'm normally out on a weekday. Most outside ventures revolve around stationery shops for art equipment or the Post Office for everything else. Yes, I spend a lot of time in the Post Office. There I pay bills, buy stamps, post solicited drawings I have done, post unsolicited drawings I have done, file speculative, frivolous and contrived personal injury lawsuits, the normal things. This means I tend to be out during business hours, either in the morning or in the afternoon (our Post Office closes for lunch). In little seaside towns, this means you will either encounter elderly people (a.m.) or horrible schoolchildren (p.m.). The third possibility is manual labourers, but I bear them no malice. They have important, functional jobs to do in society and besides, unlike the young or the old, they tend to have some modicum of social conscience and present no problems to me.

The foul, wrinkled elderly scroate or the sprout-faced little brat have much in common. Firstly is the way that they tend to mill around aimlessly, seemingly out with no other purpose in mind but to loiter around the Cancer Research shop (elderly) or the newsagent (everyone). Secondly, they are all of a certain height, which tends to bring their face and my crotch into direct territorial combat. Finally, they both teach us much about the danger of rhetorical questions.

Let's start with the elderly. Here, the danger is one of Potential Energy. The rhetorical questions in this case tend to be mine, and muttered under my breath. Such as, "why don't you just meander in front of me when I'm in a hurry and then stop without any conceivable reason?" or "are you some sort of cunt?". The danger here is, of course, that one day I will snap and vocalise my griping complaint and end up with a walking stick up the hooter or worse.

With the young, the danger is a problem of Kinetic Energy. Here, the rhetorical questions are most often posed by their parents, guardians or court-appointed social workers. They all begin with the child in question being referred to by name. This being a working class community of not particularly bright or attractive people, and this being Britain in the 21st Century, these monikers are almost always risible in the extreme. No complaint there, I enjoy a laugh as much as anyone. This is followed up by the rhetorical question.

I am pretty sure there has been some sort of parenting manual brought out since I was young which informs today's parents to never make a definitive statement of any kind to children. So, "Edward, get out of everyone's bloody way, you idiot" has become, "Petruccio, are you looking where you are going?". It is a dangerous strategy, because children are all rat-faced and very stupid. Now you have an errant child wandering into the path of oncoming traffic faced with the prospect of having to consider the answer to a question as well. This is exactly what happened to me today. A child, distracted by the undeniably exciting sight of a manual labourer getting into his van, was wandering straight into my crotch's path and closing in fast. "Louis, are you watching where you are going?"

Well, naturally, with all that was going on in his eyeline plus the internal mental percolations, young Louis could not possibly have gotten out of my way in time. Normally, a quick swerve on my part will be enough to diffuse the situation. However, today I was carrying curtain rods, javelins and splinted cobras. Louis didn't stand a chance, as they went straight through his eye and into his brain, killing him instantly. I hereby predict that the next time one of Louis' mother's prodigious litter is wandering into the path of some only-slightly-moveable object, she will phrase her utterance with a lot more assertiveness. Still, you live and learn.

Obviously, Louis doesn't.

N.B. In case you are very stupid, I did not kill any children today, accidentally or otherwise. OK? Good.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Pictures for sale!

I have some pictures for sale, they can be yours in exchange for cold, hard, currency. They are nice pictures, too, done by my own fair hand. Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell them I need to pay my cat's dental bill!

Actually, forget that last one. But if you are interested in owning these pictures, or know someone who would be, please let me know. My email address is downonthefarm AT gmail DOT com.

Wildebeest Scream (10" x 7", pen, ink and watercolour on 220 gsm cartridge paper; £40)
Amy Winehouse (10" x 8", Acrylic paint on 220 gsm cartridge paper; £45)
Marabou Stork (A4, pen, ink and watercolour on 220 gsm cartridge paper; £40)
Red monkey (A5, tempera paint and coloured pencils on 220 gsm watercolour paper; £17.50)

OR buy the whole lot in a massive art bundle for £120, all in! Start your own art gallery! Wow your friends and work colleagues! Show those people you just met again through Facebook how far you have come!

Lingua Franca

Thrilling news today from the hotbed, par 6, world of professional women's golf, as it is announced that all the players on the tour will have their membership suspended from 2009 if they cannot pass an oral English language exam. Ostensibly, this is for better - well, easier - relations with the media. Well, the big blubbery American media. Smacks of ingratitude, it fair does, it does, when one of the 45 Korean golfers on the tour wins a tour event in Korea and then gives their acceptance speech and media interviews in Korean! These people have to realise what side their bread is buttered on!

I anticipate the test will be akin to the bit at the end of The Great Escape when Richard Attenborough and co. are about to get on the bus. "Well done on your round today", someone will say in Korean. The golfer's guard temporarily down, the house of cards will tumble along with it. Aha! We caught you, just learning some English platitudes and gratitudes phonetically! We all heard you saying 'Fuck!' in Korean when you screwed your tee shot on the ninth into the de-militarised zone!

The LPGA are doing some important, pioneering work here. It's something I'd like to see expanded. Let's force anyone who ever speaks anywhere near a video camera, microphone, telephone or an English-speaker to pass an English oral exam. There's 1.3 billion Chinese for a start, and I can't understand a word of what they're on about.

Of course, when changes as major as this are being affected, it goes without saying that all languages other than English will be banned from sport, and the athletes forced to take stringent English examinations. The first casualty of this will undeniably be English football players.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

The Horror

I have loved old schlocky horror films for a long while now, particularly the British ones from the Hammer studios. In fact, there's a certain grade of British film - usually of the mystery, thriller or horror genre, but not always - which thrill me endlessly. The Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films are a good example of this. Another is that marvellous British invention, the horror anthology.

People who read Sight and Sound magazine will, no doubt, tell you that the correct term here is "Portmanteau Horror". Whatever the nomenclature, I have a voracious appetite for them. I can't even remember the names and details of all the ones I have seen, and for the purposes of this am working from the four I have seen the most or remember the best: Dead of Night, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. The latter I watched last night, so it is particularly inspiring and fresh.

You probably know the format. A certain group of people find themselves ensconced together, usually against their will. There, they relate to each other scary stories, bad dreams or dreadful thoughts. Each one is then presented for us as a mini-film within the feature. Indeed, for Dead of Night - probably the pioneering film of this genre - each film-within-the film had a different director which afforded them all a slightly different feel. My favourite, I must confess, is Tales from the Crypt. It has the perfect combination of moralising, horror, silliness, frights, pathos, bad acting and over-saturated colour.

As with any set of generic conventions, there are certain rules that these films tend to abide by. Dead of Night is something of an exception to many of these, but as the trailblazing film of its kind can probably be excused this. Besides, it contains perhaps the single most memorable mini-story of any of the four films I've picked out, the one which has had the most cultural impact beyond people who watch films after 2 a.m.

1. Sequester your dramatis personae

This is very important. The normal number of people for this is generally five, plus one other mystery man to tweasle things along. In Dr. Terror's, the five find themselves stuck in each other's company on a train journey with Peter Cushing as a mad old Tarot reader. In Crypt, a group of people wander off from a tour of an old Monastery to be confronted with a mystery monk. In Vault, the five people find themselves spat out at a strangely opulent room after their lift goes all the way to the bottom of the building.

2. Ensure that your characters are all completely amoral monsters

Foul swines who act in ways not even covered by the Deadly Sins are vital here. Murderers, cheats, cowards, crooks. This is very important, too, principally as a way to ease the audience towards point three, perhaps the most important point.

3. At the end, reveal the fact that all the people have actually died for real, and not just in their tales of woe

When one first encounters this, it can feel like a bit of a numbing experience. But you grow to relish it, I find. My favourite exposition of this important plot development comes in Dr. Terror, where a fluttering newspaper on a deserted platform reveals that the train on which they had been riding had crashed fatally, with no survivors. Now, THAT is drama!

4. If your cast list doesn't raise (a) an eyebrow and (b) a chuckle, you have failed

For these ensemble affairs, casting is by no means an easy process. Many different actors may be needed to cover all the stories. The more big-name performers you can get, the better. The more surprising their decision to appear in such a film, all the better! If you peruse the four IMDb links to the films in question at the beginning of this post, you will see a cavalcade of actors - Shakespearean heavyweights, hammy melodrama specialists, old dames, soap stars, comedy greats, horror legends, the lot. My favourite: the opening titles of Vault of Horror trying to establish mood whilst also revealing that one of the players is Terry-Thomas. I say! The film's credibility is not helped even beyond the title sequence when, in the first scene, Tom Baker enters the lift sporting a terrifying ginger beard. There's also the hint of a dynasty developing... Mervyn Johns stars in Dead of Night whilst his daughter Glynis features as Terry-Thomas' put-upon wife in Vault of Horror.

5. A combination of classic horror tales and inventive new twists is the optimum

None of the films in question here can quite compete with Tales from the Crypt here. However, all of them have at least one mini-film which will grab your attention. In Dead of Night, it is the famous story of Michael Redgrave slowly becoming possessed by his ventriloquist's dummy and going insane. This film alone is responsible for 90% of all phobias of puppets in the Western world. For Doctor Terror's, the one which always stood out for me is Roy Castle's tale. A jazz musician playing that damn dirty voodoo black magic shit in his sets, Roy is somewhat taken aback when the brambles around his house start to completely subsume it and anything else in their path. I can honestly say I have never done any gardening since, without thinking about Roy Castle.

In Vault of Horror, the standout tale for me is Tom Baker's, and again features voodoo. An artist, scorned by the art community so as to artificially decrease the prices of his work so they can later make huge profits on it, Baker returns from his exile in Haiti a bitter man who has sold his soul to a voodoo preacher. Painting portraits of his three bitter enemies, he amends them in such a way as to bring terrible things upon them all. But Tom Baker has a sword of Damocles - shortly before getting his voodoo powers, he's painted a self-portrait, whose safety he has to guard at all times! In fact, this film deserves praise for something else beyond its stories - knockabout comedy stylings! A group of vampires sticking a tap into a man's neck and using him as a wine box? Glynis Johns accidentally destroying a house which she was just trying to tidy for her fastidious husband? Gold!

I just love Tales from the Crypt, though. Every story is memorable, all for different reasons and some for all the reasons at once. The first story features Joan Collins, murdering her husband on Christmas Eve. Whilst trying to dispose of his body, a newsflash on the radio reveals news of an escaped madman. Joan is increasingly terrorised by this man, unable to call the police on account of having a stiff on her hands, before her daughter lets the man - dressed as Father Christmas - in, for festive japes.

The second tale features a man cheating on his wife with some bit of fluff. In a delightfully recursive morality fable, he and his bint are involved in a horrible road crash in which she is blinded and he is killed. NOT that he knows this! Superb screaming here, as he catches sight of himself.

The third tale features an odious man, forcing a delightful old fellow out of his house by a concerted campaign of cruelty which causes him to commit suicide after a raft of malicious Valentines. After every setback - the local children being told not to play with him, his job and his pet dogs being taken away, the man - played by Peter Cushing - takes it on the chin, confiding with a picture of his dear departed wife. It's particularly crushing, this, bearing in mind that Cushing made this film shortly after losing his own wife, something which was the single most devastating event of his life. In a film where the blood is bright orange, the skin is rubber and the acting is suitably dubious, Cushing's performance is a beacon. Actually quite profoundly moving and, yet, ultimately insane and brilliant. It takes a fine actor to get us to really connect with his character, as Mr. Grimsdyke rises from the grave a year on from his death to RIP THE HEART out of the nasty property tycoon before writing a poem in his blood on a handy piece of paper.

The fourth tale follows the old rule about abiding by horror classics, and is a reworking of the old tale of The Monkey's Paw. In this version, a man faces financial ruin and his desperate wife makes a wish on an old Oriental trinket to be wealthy. The method? Well, it turns out to be an insurance payout following her husband's death. Later wishes bring the poor man back as an embalmed corpse, who, thanks to some careless wording, in unable to die. Living the rest of your life in agony, AND being poor. Life sucks sometimes.

The final fable features a bluff old colonel becoming the manager of a care home for the blind. As the blind people freeze and starve to death on a diet of gruel, the man and his fearsome guard dog eat fine beef and drink fine wine in a splendidly opulent office. The blind are having none of this, and rise up against him. First they steal his dog and starve it for days. Then they trap the old colonel within a beserk Crystal Maze-style room with all lights out and the walls sewn with razor blades which they, the blind, had constructed. And designed. The dog is then set loose, eating his owner's face off.

Oh, what a film. I must heartily recommend you watch it.

Monday 25 August 2008

London Olympics, Day -1431: Boredom

After I watched the 10 o'clock news last night on BBC 1, I realised that I was already bored of the London 2012 Olympics. This is utterly spectacular as an achievement, and one the BBC decided to embellish with a programme this afternoon featuring the return of our heroic Olympic team. Several hours of shots of people alighting an aircraft, most of whom no-one has ever heard of. What an event.

I thought I might take this opportunity to once again mercilessly plug my other blog, where I provide a service much like my Dotlympics one, only less frequently. On the plus side, it tends to be more knowledgeably, as it is about motor racing, a sport I understand*. And you're none of you paying me for this, so can have no complaints.

It is here: Toto Roche's Flag

It only has one post on it at the moment, but you're not my mother, I don't have to please you. It will grow organically as and when I have ideas of things to write there and on that subject.

P.S. If you are my mother, hello.

* I understand the sport but not why I like it, incidentally. No more questions.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Day 16: I've run out of Olympics

It's Day 16 of the Beijing Olympics, which means I have just woken up to find it's all been a dream and I have to go through it all over again. Luckily, Hazel Irvine has reduced her restraining order on me to 20 yards and I have a really long stick. With a rubber glove tied to one end. And a feather.

The closing ceremony was a sad occasion. Not because a great sporting event has now come to a close, after all, all good things and all that. No, it was sad because in passing the Olympic flag over to the next hosts, 2 billion TV viewers all got a crystal-clear view as to what a total spanner the Mayor of London is. Many of these viewers will live in countries without a strong or consistent history of democratic government. Many of them will now realise they're not missing out much.

This much said, where the Olympic games doesn't really matter too much. Beijing's efforts have been universally well-received and will be, no doubt, fondly remembered. But that is the way of a games which runs as smoothly as 2008's has done. All the human drama and sporting excitement is by no means location-specific. The 10,000 metres was not run on the Great Wall of China, nor will Buckingham Palace host the Archery in the Queen's private quarters in 2012. London, then, doesn't have to worry about being as impressive as Beijing - only as efficient, organised and polished. Finishing all the venues on time and getting the transport infrastructure sorted out good and early would be a very good start. The key way for an Olympic games to be famous is for it to be faceless. The key way for it to be infamous is for all hell to break loose.

As an aside, during his interview with the BBC this morning, Gordon Brown displayed a number of gestures which were direct copies of those used by Tony Blair. It was quite sweet, really. Hopefully the Prime Minister in 4 years time - I'm assuming his name may well be David - will display as much schoolboy-like excitement as the current Premier did. And refrain from putting a windmill on Sue Barker and calling her Sustainable Sue.

Incidentally, in a piece of staggeringly fucking useless news, the BBC informs me that the start of the London Olympics is only 1432 days away.

Saturday 23 August 2008

Days 14 and 15: End of term atmosphere

It's day 15 of the Olympics, so John Inverdale and Sir Steve Redgrave are wanking each other off into Gabby Logan's hair. Then Hazel Irvine comes in frigging herself off and accidentally shits all over the floor in a great deluge of diarrhoea containing whole beansprouts. Claire Balding sees this and starts to lick it up, in so doing causing the large boil on her back to burst, revealing a cascade of writhing pus-coated maggots. Jill Douglas, being done up the arse by Jake Humphries notices this and laughs, breaking Jake's concentration for long enough to make him fart in Sue Barker's face. Sue takes the guff, and, shouting at Colin Jackson to put a foot up her, starts to lick her own tits. As all this goes down, Adrian Chiles enters, revealing his latest acquisition - a Prince Albert. He observes the great midden of shit, pus, maggots, blood and spunk and promptly shovels one out right into Jonathan Edwards' face as he prays for all our fucking souls.

Also, it's the day when controversy reigns supreme in the Biffa Baconesque-splendour of the Taekwondo, a sport already slightly over-complicated by having nonsensical and boring rules. The trouble with such sports - Judo is another - is that you daren't point this fact out to any of its competitors lest you end up in traction. Even an understanding of the sport isn't always enough to keep you out of the firing line, as the referee in the Arman Chilmanov - Angel Valodia Matos match found out today. Having disqualified Matos for an infringement too boring and pointless to repeat here, the Cuban decided the best course of action available to him would be to kick the umpire in the head.

It's difficult to know exactly what he thought this bold protest would go on to achieve. Earlier in the day, British competitor Sarah Stevenson was reinstated in the competition following her earlier loss to Chen Zhong of China. The judges seemingly completely failed to see Stevenson kicking Chen right in the face shortly before the end of the bout, a move normally reserved only for Premiership football managers. The British team appealed, and after having studied various angles and pictures of Chen Zhong being KICKED IN THE FACE, Stevenson was re-instated by the officials, going on to secure a bronze medal. You have to question, though, how it is that in a sport where you can miss out on progression because no-one saw you kick someone's teeth in, that umpires don't cop this sort of flak on a more regular basis.

Matos has, naturally enough, been disqualified from competition for life. Quite whether or not he considers it all to have been worthwhile, I doubt anyone is quite brave enough to ask.

Thursday 21 August 2008

Day 13: Relaying bad news

It's day 13 of the Olympics, so I'm starting to notice the little signs that things in Beijing are winding down. The commentary team have started to swear more often, Sue Barker has stopped shaving her legs, and the 4 x 100 metre relay heats have started.

The relay is an interesting event inasmuch as a well-drilled team will, more often than not, defeat the outright fastest team. Great Britain's men are the reigning Olympic champions, as to bear this theory out. This year's relay semi-finals, however, proved a step too far for their successors, a baton mishap on the last changeover leading to disqualification. They were not alone, though.

Team USA have had a fairly torrid time down t'mill this Olympics track and field program. As I write this, the medal table shows that the US are in second place with 27 gold medals, with Team GB third with 17. Had Michael Phelps been born in Rutland, however, it would be a very different situation. The United States team hasn't had a particularly stellar Olympics by their lofty standards. Nowhere is this felt more than in the athletics stadium, normally their own personal fiefdom. In Beijing, though, their sprinters have been put to the sword by their Caribbean counterparts, and other athletes have started to look pretty vulnerable from all sides. In terms of numbers, the US leads the medal table with 15, but with only three of these are golds, leaving them trailing Jamaica and Russia. Getting it together in the relay would provide a welcome boost for their athletic team's flagging morale*.

This is not how it turned out. Both men's and women's teams bungled their final changeover, neither team making the finish. All signs pointed to the fact it wasn't going to be their day even before the gun. In a soggy Birds Nest Stadium, the organisers hadn't got any "USA" labels printed for the athletes to pin onto their chests. The team, already up against it rather, could not have been particularly enthused to see their teammates each wearing a bit of A4 paper with USA handwritten on it in magic marker. I had wondered if, in keeping with this school sports day vibe, they would be given an egg and spoon instead of a baton. No such luck, there, either.

It was a mixed blessing, that, as the baton system didn't work out very well for them anyway. Maybe the problem is that a hollow metal tube doesn't quite inspire the sort of reverence and respect which the event demands. After all, it's all in the baton. It's the baton that has to be carried round, the runners are merely couriers. My suggestion is that instead of a baton, each country is made to ferry around a gleaming but fragile bowl of all of their nation's hopes and dreams for the future. Or a big dildo. Something to focus the mind on the changeovers.

If I were coaching a relay team, I'd suggest that the baton be passed between teammates in a stationary fashion, possibly accompanied by a warm handshake and some pleasantries. I reckon that, with the rich seam of slapstick comedy bound to be breaking out all around them, they would still be a good bet for a medal.

* since I started writing this, the USA has just won its 28th gold, and it's 4th on the track, just to prove me to be an idiot.

Today's sport

Today, I've been getting excitable about FIELD EVENTS. The two big British hopes that the BBC have been following today are Goldie Sayers in the women's javelin, the first British Olympian to be named after a Blue Peter dog since the great marathon runner Shep Harris in 1976; and triple-jumper Phillips Idowu, who I think was named after a video recorder. Sayers broke the British record in a bold and largely unexpected tilt at a medal, finishing down in 4th place. The surprise winner, ahead of the German and Russian favourites, was the Czech thrower Barbora Spotakova having the sort of day you normally only read about on the back of cereal packets. Having previously only ever thrown a pencil into a ditch, Spotakova hurled her javelin over 70 metres, the second-longest throw in history, to secure the gold. I think she was as surprised as anyone else. It was a reminder that it's always a highlight of any Olympics, when an unfancied competitor has the day of their life.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, Idowu sits in second place in the triple jump final. The soggy sandpit must be like holding the horizontal jump finals in Filey, which can only help the two British competitors. The fact that Idowu is the favourite, however, is likely to prove nothing but a hindrance on a day in the stadium where history has decided to play its jokers.

Cheating bastards update

In an unusual twist, four horses - all from different countries - have been caught cheating. Their horse blood at a routine horse blood test showed traces of Capsaicin, which as any curry fan can tell you is the thing in chilli peppers that makes them hot. I can only assume unscrupulous competitors from Ireland, Brazil, Norway and Germany have got a Tabasco saucy finger and stuck it right up their horse's arse to make them run faster. I knew that doping was an ongoing problem in sport, but I had no idea it could spread to injecting a horse with Chicken Tonight.


Liudmyla Blonska spotted eating three Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodles before Heptathlon 1500 metres. More as we get it.

Days 12 and 13: A laziness round-up

It was Day 12 of the Beijing Olympics yesterday, which meant I got so engrossed in my oil painting of a naked Jill Douglas ravishing Dame Kelly Holmes I forgot to do any blogging of Sports Issues. It was quite a piece of bad timing, because yesterday was another notable day of Sports Happenings.

The big news was Usain Bolt, for once in his life running as fast as he could for the entire distance, in the 200 metres. The rest of the field looked flabbergasted as he disappeared into the distance, and at the line he broke Michael Johnson's 12-year old world record. It was a time which I clearly remember being set at the Atlanta games, so now having seen the mark be broken twice in front of my very eyes, it is now a very special world record for me. From this moment onwards I insist on only counting in base-200. I could pass comment on how astonishing an athlete Usain Bolt really is, but I'm sure you've all read all the superlatives everywhere else already. So, what I will say is this: Michael Johnson is probably the single most impressive sprinter I've seen in my lifetime. Anyone who can run fast enough to make Usain Bolt actually run flat out - and even dip at the line - to beat their best time has got to be the best of the best of the best.

Day 12's sport

Yesterday felt like a very hockeyey day, and so it proved, with the Women's Hockey semi-final between Argentina and the Netherlands. Hockey is a sport which people who enjoy football will often start to follow during the Olympics. This is mainly because hockey is played with swift, neat, passing moves and exciting teamwork. Hockey is played the way football should be played but never is, in other words. By Jake the Peg.

All this said, there are some exciting and bewildering differences which are just bound to get my juices up.

The first thing I noticed is the opportunity to accessorise. I had imagined that the hockey sticks would be painted up in team colours and handed out to the players by a faceless drone before the game began. But the hockeyists all provided their own bats. It's an opportunity all the top world footballers would kill for. In the absence of a third, wooden, leg, David Beckham has had to turn to tattoos to such an extent some of his earlier ones are now being tippexed out and worked back over. The hockey players are able to neatly sidestep septicaemia with the simple expedient of a trip to JJB Sports. Argentina's star player, Aymar, thrilled the world - both with her doomed attempt to win the match on her own - and through her matching pink shoes/ pink stick combo. All marvelled. Except, possibly, the Dutch, who play a brand of the game best described as Total Hockey.

Running out comfortable 5-2 winners, Holland's success was largely due to their mastery of that other intriguing aspect of Hockery-me-Hock, the Penalty Corner. Awarded for any infraction in the defending team's shooting circle, the defending team must retreat to their goal line whilst the attacking team go through a carefully choreographed routine which normally ends in a ROCK HARD ball flying through the air (at head height) towards the goal.

This is such an important scoring opportunity that the majority of teams now have a specialist shooter. Some of them are so specialised that they are only brought onto the field of play for a corner to take place. They have evolved to be brilliant at shooting, with a huge muscular upper-body and trunk-like arms, but their legs are so atrophied that they cannot walk. Possibly. The Dutch specialist was able to both score from short corners AND play hockey, and she put Argentina to the sword. Argentina's game plan was seemingly reliant on the dribbling skill of - almost inevitably - "The Maradona of Hockey" Aymar. The Dutch team neatly circumvented this tactical masterstroke by keeping the ball at all times.

A word must also go to the Hockey goalkeeper. These brave, fearless, lunatic, prematurely-aged souls are entrusted with the hopes and dreams of a nation. A responsibility discharged in this case by very hard projectiles being fired at you with sticks. The reason so many hockey games are so high scoring compared with football, I think, is basic self-preservation instincts. At the post-match festivities, I imagine the outfield players celebrate or commiserate over a foaming pint of mead, pausing only to sing a filthy song or spit out a few teeth. The custodians, in the meantime, are carried off to a darkened room readt go into therapy. Or, if they've been forced to face a penalty stroke, a medically-controlled deep narcotic coma.

I, in the spirit of Great Journalism, made a list of points during the game which I felt needed to be covered. Now, in the spirit of Lazy Journalism, I present the remainder which I was unable to shoehorn into velvety prose.
  1. From the normal corner, players do not tend to head the ball.
  2. The match surface is butcher's grass watered to the point at which a football match would probably be abandoned.
  3. You are seemingly not permitted to hit your opponents with your stick.
  4. Giant orange inflatable novelty hockey sticks have been invented and are available to buy.
Cheating bastard update

Five athletes have so far been caught being dirty, filthy, cheating bastards so far. Day 12, however, saw the first medal-winning cheating bastard. Ukraine's Liudmyla Blonska won silver in the Heptatlon but was caught on the goofballs. Her B sample is expected to confirm the findings today, at which point Blonska will be facing a lifetime ban, having been caught doping twice in the past five years.

Two points. One, surely the answer to this is simple: lifetime bans from drug cheats immediately that the first offence takes place. This way we can try to avoid a repeat of this, where the promoted athletes in the event will receive their medals in a fed-ex bag rather than on a podium. Two, how shit is Liudmyla Blonska? If you're going to cheat, at least win the bloody gold medal. There's only one thing worse than a cheat, and that's a stupid, useless cheat. A round of applause, then, for Liudmyla Blonska, Official Cheating Cow.

Day 13's sport - interim report

China is a culture deeply entrenched in numerology and superstition. Most people now know about their love of the number 8, and perhaps their distaste for the number 4. They are based on the fact their words for these numbers sound much like important life events, such as health, wealth, death, crabs, hangnails, sex, etc. I can only assume that the Chinese word for the number thirteen sounds a lot like the Chinese word for Insanity. Because all the most outrageous sports are out in force now. None more so than the 10km open-water swimming.

'Swimming' is something of a misnomer here, because whilst a certain amount of aquatic self-propulsion does take place, the event is rather more complex than that. It seems to also involve elements of fighting, rape and murder as well. All wrapped up in the handy package of the sternest feat of endurance since the 40 days in the wilderness. This is an event so tough that, no matter what your parents or teachers warned, the competitors actually have to eat and drink during the race in order to stave off the effects of death. Just to add an extra air of lunacy to proceedings, this is completed floating on one's back, like a sea otter opening a clam.

Britain's David Davies led off and at one stage held a lead of seven metres. Funnily enough, by the end of the race - which takes just shy of two hours to complete - he was rather tired and being closed down by his rivals. Closed down, punched, pulled, bitten, wanked off, robbed, the whole gamut. All of the competitors were so tired that they were lurching from side to side in the water like drunkards at closing time, but Davies, in only his third open water marathon swim, was taking it harder than most. Taking a very deliberate look up to see the position of the finishing buoy was all the invitation his Dutch rival Maarten van der Weijden needed to burst into the lead. Davies crossed the line second, 1.5 seconds behind after 6 miles of madness. He was completely delirious, and was carried out of the water on a stretcher. The real Olympics starts NOW, I thought.

The result of the race came with a postscript. The gold medal winner, van der Weijden, is a cancer survivor, having beaten Leukaemia at the beginning of the decade. I think he can now add survival of the Olympic 10km Marathon Open-Water Swimming to his CV.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Day 11: Eruptions of nationalistic fervour

Today, Team GB became the most successful Olympic team from our immeasureably hip island in exactly 100 years. In 1908, at the Games of the 4th Olympiad in London, Britain won 56 gold medals, a target which is likely to elude even us this time round. However, at that Olympiad, there were a mere 22 competing nations, and the sports included Pipe Smoking, Chastising Domestic Servants, Wife Beating and Racism, none of which we could ever lose. In Beijing, Team GB have 203 other competitors, whilst Bear Bating and Gossip have been replaced by Athletics and Cycling.

Never fear, though. In those intervening 100 years, we have slowly but surely caught up with the rest at these high-fallutin' new disciplines. Now it is starting to look like we might even be able to make a fight of keeping our outrageous 3rd place in the overall medals table. At the Atlanta games in 1996, the British team blustered and flumped its way to a measly one gold medal with a combination of under-performing athletes and people who were just too old, too young or too rubbish. Twelve years on, it feels like a lot longer ago. A huge amount of the credit has to go to UK Athletics and the Lottery funding, a prime example to point out when it is - as it will be - needed that Britain can organise a piss-up in a brewery when the mood so takes it. We are a very small country, especially in terms of geographical area, so what we have managed to achieve is probably the outstanding story of the whole Beijing Olympics, along with Michael Phelps and the West Indian teams' insane production line of world class sprinters.

Our key victories today yet again came in the Velodrome. Our cycling team are now statistically the single greatest ever in the history of a single Olympic Games. Indeed, our dominance became such that the BBC's cycling commentator Hugh Porter started to display signs of a blasé confidence, thought to have been extinct in British sports broadcasting. It was not, however, ill-placed. Thankfully not, indeed, as the two gold medalists in question today were perhaps the most deserving of the lot. Both Chris Hoy (Men's 1 km) and Victoria Pendleton (Women's Keirin) had some or all of their favourite events removed from the Track Cycling schedule for Beijing's games. Hoy's medal in the Sprint was his third at this summer's Games, again a return for a British athlete not seen since the heady days of 1908. Meanwhile, Victoria Pendleton, the world's greatest female sprint cyclist, finally managed to add Olympic gold to her growing pile of other clanking bling. Pendleton had seen all but one of her events pared out of the schedule to make room for BMX, Topless Bingo and Monkey Bartering, so winning in the sprint was her only chance at the medal she missed out on in Athens. Despite this pressure, and the weight of the growing expectation on the team, I've never seen a gold medal look quite so certain from first to last. Nobody else stood a chance.

As if to rub the world's noses in it further, we even bagged two medals in the Bird's Nest stadium, including a gold for Christine Ohuruogu in the women's 400 metres. She paced herself perfectly to sweep past her wheezing rivals in the last 10 metres, thus becoming the highest profile Ohuruogu since the first series of Star Trek.

A word, though, for our rivals who have all fought so poorly and capitulated so readily. Ah, no, sod it. They'll all be beating us again soon enough. Eat our dust!

Today's sport

I joined an audience of 660,000 European football scouts in watching the first semi-final in the Men's Football. Nigeria gave Belgium a good hard licking, emerging as 4-1 victors to face Argentina in the final. The Olympic football being an under-23 contest, almost anyone who can tie their own shoelaces or walk and walk at the same time will soon be gracing one of the top European football leagues. On this evidence, this is unlikely to include any of the Belgian team, who now face Brazil for the bronze. However, a lot of the players on display here are already names familiar to European football supporters - a tribute to the ever-tighter tentacles of the top clubs' scouting networks - so what this match really taught me is just how good African football teams can be when they're just left to play football.

I also enjoyed the Women's 100m Hurdles final. The favourite, the USA's Lolo Jones, led up to the penultimate barrier before she clipped it with her lead leg and stumbled, allowing her teammate Dawn Harper through to take the gold. And, indeed, everyone else. A distraught Williams bungled through the tape 7th out of 8th, beating only the British competitor, Sarah Claxton, to the line. It was a faintly reassuring reminder of times past.

Monday 18 August 2008

Day 10: Hellhound on my trail

I have an awful lot of stuff to say about Olympic happenings today, so this is likely to be a disordered brain dump. But try to bear with it, because Sport Is Important™. So, I've had a big poo and a really troublingly lengthy after-lunch nap (which meant I missed the end of the Women's Pole Vault final. Bugger. Bugger.) and I'm now ready for my marathon.

It's Day 10 at the Olympics, which means I refuse to watch Hazel Irvine's studio links without wearing x-ray specs. The big news from Beijing was China's face of the Games, Liu Xiang, pulling out of the 110 metres hurdles heats with an Achilles tendon injury. This, we are informed, has sent much of China into shock and mourning. A fact that I am willing to take with more than a pinch of salt, given the fact they said the same thing about British people when Princess Diana died. Nevertheless, it's a major blow for the hosts. The idea of the athletics as "the proper Olympics" is a fairly pervasive one, and Liu was their one big medal hope. Liu was the reigning Olympic champion at 110m hurdles as well as its World Champion and World Record holder, so it's a big loss - his medal was pretty well bolted on. It's odd the way sport works; that a country feels robbed and cheated of one gold medal even in spite of having already secured 35 in other disciplines.

Nevertheless, it happens. It happened yesterday here, but on a smaller scale and without Claire Balding sobbing at all: Paula Radcliffe's heroic failure gained higher billing in headlines round-ups than some successes for lower profile athletes. One such athlete who experienced this particular fate was Rebecca Romero. Rebecca Romero is my new sporting hero. Now, I know that I spend most of the time here taking the piss. But I'm quite serious on this point. What reached me from Romero is not her gold medal success, or the piece of history she made, but her reaction to it.

The British are a funny lot. We are just about willing to indulge tears of celebration and positively sustained by the tears of the gallant loser. But they have to be our winners and our losers. In athletes from other countries, commentators seem at best amused and at worst bewildered and uncomfortable. Cesar Cielo Finho is a Brazilian swimmer who won the 50 metres freestyle - swimmings version of the 100m sprint - last week. On the podium he sobbed his heart out. I found it very touching and, more importantly, totally human and totally relatable. The commentators, however, seemed at a loss. After Brazil's outstanding national anthem finished playing, they tittered their way through a few utterly misplaced platitudes about him having "his Gazza moment", and questioning just how embarrassed he would be in years to come when he looked back at footage of the moment. What utter rubbish, I thought. He'll look back and say that he was the Olympic champion and that he was very proud. What made this worse is that one of the commentary team had welled up watching the replay of Rebecca Adlington's second gold medal, with his commentary on it, in the studio. Double standards ahoy. The massive tit.

Rebecca Romero didn't cry - not, at least, until she was on the podium. But her celebration was so exceptional it reached clean out of the screen and grabbed me. THIS, this is what it means to be Olympic champion. This is the reason sport makes your hair stand on end. Romero was a silver medalist in Athens, a member of the Quadruple Sculls rowing team. Chasing something within her, a rage perhaps. Running against what she described afterwards yesterday as the demons, she changed to a completely different discipline - 3 km pursuit cycling - and rode into the history books as only the second woman in history to achieve two Olympic medals in different sports.

I love the pursuit cycling. For those who don't know, it's the one where competitors start on opposite sides of the arena and chase each other down. The one who finishes the distance closer to the other is the winner. It's very exciting, combining speed, drama and - with the chase aspect - moustache-twirling levels of movie melodrama. What Rebecca Romero offered was a cherry on the cake. As the cheers died down - the British fans who have filled the velodrome most likely all exhausted and/or hoarse after several days of near-perpetual cheering (not to mention the fact that in Romero's success was failure for the silver medalist, her Team GB fellow Wendy Houvenaghel) - a slight hush descends. Romero, slowing down from her run and still soaring round the track faster than most Virgin Trains, punched the air and screamed.

This was no girly exhortation. This was a roar from the depths of her being. You could hear her soul. It was a noise from the pure depths of hell. It made it obvious that sporting success isn't just winning a game, but a way to find your own humanity within yourself. I'm sure that if I ever achieved anything even remotely comparable, I would do exactly what she did. I had never heard of Rebecca Romero before yesterday. Now, in a strange way, I feel like I know her. If you're reading this blog in the UK, you will be able to see what I've been prattling on about here.

Today's sports

In a hectic day, I spent far too much time watching sport. At breakfast time, I watched the Women's Triathlon. Which was insane, insane I tell you. Any one of those disciplines would be more than sufficient to make me actually die, but these women were virtually push each other out of their way in the hurry to cycle 40 kilometres, having just been swimming for 20 minutes. The winner was Australia's Emma Snowsill, who was probably very tired at the end. Britain had two competitors in the race, one of whom - 18-year old Hollie Avil - had been struck down with the shits in the days leading up to the event and was forced to pull out of the race during the cycling element. Which is fair enough. I shat myself just watching it. Besides, she was knackered out, against a world class field and her stomach must have been boiling furiously.

At moments of equanimity such as this, I have to also congratulate Paula Radcliffe for her marathon performance yesterday. A lot of people I know, myself included, don't particularly like Radcliffe. It's hard to know why, but there you go. I do, however, respect her abilities and am fairly sure that being labelled a quitter in Athens must have been difficult to take. Why else would a woman with a broken leg run a marathon, just to prove something to herself?

Congratulations must also go, incidentally, to the commentator on the triathlon, Australian Greg Bennett. His commentary was measured and informative, and pleasingly free of any notable bias in spite of the fact that his fellow countrywoman was winning the race, a few positions ahead of Laura Bennett, his own actual real-life wife.

I also watched the Women's Gymnastics Asymmetric Bars final, featuring British world champion, the Nosferatu-me-do Beth Tweddle. I had hoped to do an in-depth report on it here, but I rapidly realised it was a battle I could not win. Whilst as a spectacle it was truly magnificent, as a sport it left me cold. The judges (yes, them again) seemed to be marking in an entirely arbitrary way that even some of the rival competitors seemed taken aback by. With me in the chair, I'd have given a joint-gold medal to seven of the eight competitors, with a silver for Dariya Zgoba of Ukraine. Because she was the only one who fell off. Now, that I can understand.

Sunday 17 August 2008

Day 9: Fatigue

Another remarkable day of sport in the 2008 Olympics. Sadly, your correspondent may have been somewhat waylaid by a night drinking mojitos. Sorry about that. Still, in some ways it gave me a product at least as meaningful as Paula Radcliffe: eight farts, 3 pisses and a big ol' crap upon returning home.

So, analysis of Rafael Nadal's gold medal performance will have to wait. As will any circular and impossible arguments regarding Michael Phelps - now with a record-breaking 8th gold medal and, I assume, the stomach muscles of a pensioner - and his position in the pantheon of sporting greats. I will, however, pause to reflect that even in spite of two of our more trumpeted medal hopes - Radcliffe and Kelly Sotherton - falling by the wayside today, a weekend's prolonged success on boats and on cycles has left Great Britain a scarcely believable third place overall in the medal table. It surely can't last, even with the bankers of more guaranteed medals tomorrow in the velodrome. Which is all the more reason to bask in it now.

By way of compensation for this pickled stream of semi-consciousness, I have prepared an illustrated guide to today's Olympic action. And here it is. Again, sorry about this.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Day 8.2: Super Saturday point 2

Oh, to be British! Foreigners must be as sick as pigs! etc etc

As predicted by any number of wise owls, Britain had a fill yer boots sort of day at the Olympics, including 4 more gold medals. The UK team has now won as many golds in Beijing as... Michael Phelps. It all rather pales, of course, next to the really big story of the day, the 100 metres sprint final.

On a scrap of paper, I'd been writing down ideas for things to write here in case nothing on earth happened. One of them says "why does no-one break world records any more?". It's now pretty redundant, as you can barely move for new marks being set all over the place. Usain Bolt's new time for 100 metres - 9.69s - is the first time under 9.7s and doubly impressive considering he spent the last 5 metres of the race jumping up and down like an excited bunny. As spectacles go, it was unmissable.

It reminded me of something, but it may well be difficult to raise this issue without being taken the wrong way. However, I'll just spit it out: it reminded me of the 1988 Olympic final. 20 years ago, Ben Johnson went into the final as the most talked-about athlete in the world. He then became the first man to ever run under 9.8s, despite backing off towards the end. In a retrospective piece for the BBC, Jonathan Edwards said that, despite what happened after that, watching Ben Johnson that day remained the single most impressive thing he'd ever seen in sport. Whether or not this piece was recorded before or after the day he saw Sue Barker's tits, I do not know. Regardless, this dichotomy is something which I can relate to now. The world still feels the shockwaves from Ben Johnson: thanks to him my first reaction to Bolt's outstanding performance is flamboyant cynicism and a touch of emptiness. Usain Bolt is the fastest man ever seen in the world, and yet all I want him to do is wee on a stick.

Thanks for that, Ben, you fuck.

Due to the rigour of the measures in place following the aftermath of the Seoul games, I am confident that there is nothing suspect at all in Usain Bolt's brilliant success today. How could there be? As soon as you run under 10 seconds these days, every second piddle is straight into a test tube. So, in 20 years from now I will be able to look back to this race and this day, reflecting on Usain Bolt running 9.69 powered solely by chicken, spuds, Reggae-Reggae sauce and lager.

I just needed to quickly offer my congratulations to all the cheating bastards who went before, who have all spoilt my enjoyment - of what is a major milestone in the human world - somewhat.


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