Tuesday, 21 December 2010

He Counted The All Out, Then We Did Too

As someone who has always been a bit obsessed with the history of air warfare who also thinks that war is singly humanity's stupidest idea and ultimate downfall, I found our government's decision to scrap our Harrier jump-jets a bit of a tough one to decide how I felt. On the one hand it can only be good that we need less military hardware. On the other hand, it marks the end of a bit of history that has been a fixture of my life for as long as I've been around.

And we do need less military hardware. With the world as allegedly screwed financially as it is, the only place needing to expand on military spending is probably somewhere like Switzerland, who might need to protect their banks. I mean, China won't be needing to expand. No one's going to attack them because they make all the stuff we want to buy, cheaply and often. They won't attack us because 90% of their population is too poor to buy the crap they need to sell to us. It's much easier now to fuck your neighbours over with commerce than it is with genocide and M.A.D.

So there's no place in this world for the remarkable, revolutionary Harrier. Whether you're a hippy or a conservative, if you have any pride at all in the achievements of this great (and it is still great, no matter what the Daily Mail et al tell you) nation, you've got to admit that it has earned its place not just in the archives of military advancement, but in engineering genius. Asking an aeroplane to go straight up in the air from a standing start is a bit like asking water to flow uphill, or a drunk to stand on a stepladder and spin on the spot without falling. Or asking David Cameron to actually think about the future of this country and him actually listen.

This 'plane is possibly the last reminder that we, the British, have at some point been world leaders in something other than invading places that don't have guns. We, the British, created an aircraft that was so unique it has never, in forty years, been equalled, let alone surpassed. And yeah... forty years! That's how long it probably is since we last made such a remarkable impact on world industry. The Harrier was so good even the Americans bought it!

However, going back to my interest in military marvels, I'm really hoping the Harrier will still grace our skies at airshows and public displays for years to come, because we've made a lot of historically important aeroplanes that we've mothballed, dismantled and scrapped. The Vulcan. The Mosquito. The Lightning. Concorde. Incredible, innovative machines all now left to newsreel footage and the loving reminiscence of ageing crew and support staff. Let's not make that mistake with the Harrier. Let's keep it - some at least - airworthy, if only so we can say "Look, we made this and no one's done it better since."

I was twelve when Argentina invaded the Falkland Isles. Even back then I thought the whole thing was a ridiculous idea, both to invade a tiny island and then send millions of pounds of hardware to win it back. But the point was I was twelve, and British, and there wasn't much to feel good about being British back then. If kicking the Argies arses was what was needed to lift our spirits (and draw attention away from the continuing destruction of our industry by a vicious, paranoid, shortsighted, greedy Prime Minister) then that was fair enough. The fact that going to war with Argentina was a bit like the Brazilian national football team playing Accrington Stanley was a moot point.

I got to see things I liked on telly. Our brave soldiers fighting for their lands, and more importantly to a kid who wants badly to be in the RAF, the sight of the Harrier jump-jet tearing up Argentine ground positions and taking down their crappy Mirages, Skyhawks and Pucaras. It was great, and it was made all the more amazing by the solid, factual, sincere reporting of Brian Hanrahan.

Brian died this week, age 61, after fighting cancer. It didn't seem right, somehow, that both he and the Harrier should both see their lives come to an end at roughly the same time. There are some things you just think will always be a fixture of British life, like Bruce Forsyth, complaining about the weather, or, if we're honest, being rubbish at things we invented.

I was impressed in the obituary on the BBC that they focussed on his phrase "I counted them all out, and I counted them all back in" because I can remember him saying that so clearly on the news back then in '82. He did it because he wasn't allowed to say how many jets had been used in the raids. Simple military logic, that one. I can't help thinking that in this day and age the press would push and push and push to get those figures to make the story sell better and attract more viewers.

Ahh. Simpler times. Different breeds of man and machine. Gods rest the both of you. Brian, I'll see you in the newsreel archives.

Harrier, I'll see you in the skies. Even if it's just with my eyes shut.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Just a Bit of Snow, Not Armaggedon

Just short of two years ago I was in Montreal. It was winter there, and on a couple of occasions the temperature dropped to -30c at night, and it hovered around -10c during the daytime. When it snowed, it was thick, heavy, and often wind-driven to an extent that it fell hard and felt like someone was flicking rice in your face. And all the while, the natives of Montreal went about their business, suitably kitted out in warm winter clothing for the cold winter conditions, their cars equipped with tyres to suit the conditions, and their public transport infrastructure solidly maintained and supported by city services that kept the roads clear enough to be used in as safe a manner as is possible, the way people drive in Montreal.

Here I am in England. In the last seven days we've had about the amount of snow that Montreal can realistically expect in a day. And we "can't cope". Apparently this is because the snow has arrived earlier that expected, and in a manner not seen on these shores since 1965. Which begs the question "If we could cope in 1965, how come we can't now?"

What I'm finding funnier is that we do seem to be coping with it. Apart from the obvious and usual bunch of moronic girls that think wearing those stupid flat soled furry boots is a wise choice of footwear on snowy and icy surfaces, everyone seems to be dealing with the cold, and largely driving on the roads as though the roads are as dangerous as they initially appear. Okay, I've had to help get a couple of people moving because they don't know how to set off in deep snow, and I myself have misjudged the traction I can get on a hilly side-road and admit defeat carefully in reverse, hoping no one comes up behind me. But we're coping.

Some of you that read this might think that's not the case. "Yeah Ed, tell the old folks dying in this cold that we're coping." Meh. Old folks die every day. It's what old folks do. And yeah, if you use the trains you'll have been inconvenienced. And yeah, there are people panic buying in the supermarkets. And yeah, we can't all get to our places of work, and we will lose money as a result. But these things are symptomatic of the infrastructure being unprepared. As people of the nation I think we're doing pretty well!

But "WE'RE DOING PRETTY WELL!" is not an attention-grabbing headline, is it? It's so much more media to have headlines alerting us to dead grannies, static snowploughs, abandoned cars, understaffed hospitals (which will be happening, snow or not, now we have the real tories in power) and businesses losing money. We don't get stories of how neighbours are looking out for the elderly in their neighbourhood, nor do we get tales of people digging each other out of the snow and not stopping until everyone's moving. But I know these stories happen because I've witnessed them with my own eyes.

I love this snow. It might keep me from earning a wage from time to time, and it might stop my son's education temporarily, but in the interim there are those magic moments where we're out on a sledge, hurtling down a hill, laughing. We'll be throwing snowballs at each other, laughing. We'll be trying to write our names in the snow, and not with pens, and we'll be laughing. It might keep me from my wonderful girlfriend, but in its own way that's okay too, because it gives me the chance to miss her, and enjoy the moment when I do see her all the more.

I love this cold. It gives me the opportunity to appreciate that I live somewhere where I can get back to a centrally heated home. It makes me think about what the best way to cope with adverse conditions are. It stops me thinking we're the absolute and total masters of our planet, and that nature is always one step ahead of us.

To listen to some people talk over this last week you'd think the world was coming to an end. In a way I hope it is. I hope the world of Britain being temperamentally temperate to the point of rain about 70% of the year is coming to an end. Because it might make the councils stop and think about the way they budget a bit more. Yeah, a little more funding for ploughs, and blowers, and gritters. A little less budget for statues, committees, office improvements and hanging baskets. No matter how many of the latter you put up, Ripley is always going to be a crap-hole, and I don't want to be stuck on the road there in the winter.

But we're Brits aren't we? We've got to have something to complain about in our weather. We want snow on Christmas Day, but not if it inconveniences us. We want long hot summer days, but not if it makes us uncomfortable. We want rain, but only when we're not out in it. We want it all our own way, but we never get it, do we?

I'd like to think - no, hope - that this weather continues, and becomes a fixture of the British mindset. It really will make us reassess how we go about doing things here, particularly at government level, and it will hopefully get us to the point where Canadians don't think we're whining crybabies who can't cope with what they don't even think of as a light dusting.

I've just looked out the window. It's thawing. I think I'll take a nice safe drive over to my girlfriend then!

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Inevitable Royal Wedding Blog

I am not a monarchist. Sure, I know that the Royal Family are pretty much superstars of the world media in much the same way David Beckham and Tony Bliar are, but I've always thought that they're a sinister bunch that are not only completely out of touch with real life but also come at a price that's just as bad as sponsoring a council estate slapper to continually churn out unwanted child after unwanted child while the rest of us face the reality of austerity measures put in place to undo the mistakes of people with more money than the Royal Family get from us.

I think that's the first time I've written the word "austerity" down. It's the new catchword as we approach 2011, isn't it? With our government plans to butcher our public sector, the prospect of continued job losses, and the certainty of tax increases, we'll be going into the New Year with more trepidation and scepticism than we perhaps have in the 40 years I've been alive. I know I will.

So isn't it nice, then, that we have a lovely Royal Wedding to look forward to? We may even, nice Mr. Cameron says, have a national holiday for it. That'll be lovely for those you'll be putting out of work, Mr. Cameron. That'll be delightful, since it's probably going to be on a Saturday, Mr. Cameron. That'll be superb, since we'll be footing the bill for it anyway, Mr. Cameron. It would be fair to say that there are a lot of people across the nation who think you can shove the wedding and the national holiday up your arse, Mr. Cameron.

Oh, it's easy to be cynical about this. Prince William and Kate Middleton are delicious targets for the media as much as they are ripe pickings for sick jokes and novelty earthenware. He's the heir to the throne and eldest son of our most iconic tragedy figure, and she's a working middle class lass of no discernible extraordinariness or social excess. It has all the makings of of what I'm sure the press will call a fairytale wedding, with all the inevitable Sunday paper colour supplements and made-in-China tat that we know and love from previous Royal weddings of significance.

Hold the cynicism for a moment though. Whatever you think of the Royal Family, going back to what I said about the anticipated and expected doom-and-gloom of the coming year I personally think it will be quite nice for us, the nation, to have something symbolic of our country to be involved in something positive for a change. Sod the VAT increase. Set aside the worry of job losses for a day. We have plenty more days to worry and moan about that. William actually appears to be a pretty decent bloke, and Kate doesn't appear to have been pushed into marriage with him in some urgent and orchestrated way as might be suggested of his parents. She is not "the new Diana" any more than she could be described as "a young Camilla". Not that I know if Camilla was ever young. I assume she was.

I've always said I don't mind paying my taxes. I don't have to support "dole scroungers" because we have high-earners and professional sportsmen to support them. But I know I pay taxes towards a lot of utterly shit things about this country, like, for example, speed cameras, mini-roundabouts, MP wages, one-way European investment, the war in Afghanistan, and the bailing out of cheatings banks who've engineered a fake economic failure.

Thank you, William. You've announced your engagement, given the pro-Royals something to look forward to, and engineered a certain amount of "feel good factor" in the nation you will one day (assuming your Grandma isn't, as I suspect she is, immortal) rule. That's a pretty cool thing to do when our nation's political leaders just cannot and will not give us anything to look forward to. Oh, and before anyone says "What about the Olympics?" I think it's fair to say we won't be able to even touch Beijing. We just don't have the slave labour.

I look forward to paying for the wedding. I won't watch it, and I won't be buying any of the junk related to it. I don't care about the dress, or the guests, or the coverage, or the build-up. I just care that someone who is a national symbol is giving the people of the country something to look forward to, rather than continued bleakness and misery.

Or defeat to Germany.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Officially Sick Of Christmas Number Ones

I've not blogged for a while, but today I'm compelled to do so thanks to the numerous facebook campaigns to get certain songs to the top spot in the British singles chart. From attempts to get another Rage Against The Machine song there, through the mind-numbingly dull idea of championing 4+ minutes of silence, to the awful Surfin' Bird by the Trashmen. There's more...

Sod it. It's Christmas. I want a Christmas song at number one. Sadly, this is statistically unlikely to happen, as evidenced in 65 years of chart history. If you look at the list the songs with an actual Christmas theme barely reach double figures. I'm not saying there haven't been some good songs at the top (notably '69 and '79 for me personally) but there's something rather magical about Christmas, and I'd like to see something that reflects that magic at the top.

D'you know what? I wouldn't even mind if the Cowell Dross Machine churned out a Christmassy Number One (rather than the number twos that have hit #1) this year. I loved and participated in the RATM campaign last year because, like millions of other music lovers, I just wanted to stop pop pap from dominating a chart that I am only ever interested in at this special time of year. And I am. I really couldn't give a shit who's at number one the rest of the year. Not even if it's a band or artist I like. But Christmas... I love it! I want something fitting at the top, please!

Not Slade. Not Wizzard. Not Cliff. My favourite Christmas themed number one is this:


I would love it - love it - if Shaky made number one with this, twenty-five years after it last hit the top spot. It's cheery, upbeat, fun and simple. You know, like Christmas should be when we're not worrying about how much little Johnny's new Playstation 3 is going to cripple the credit card, or where we'll be sitting down to dinner now Auntie Geraldine isn't talking to Mum after what Dad said about the bath salts he's been getting from her for the last 50 years.

You may not like Christmas time. I do. But you may not like it for the reasons I tend to ignore. The greed. The advertising. How early it hits our screens/shops/garden centres/billboards. How money orientated it is. No no no. For me it's about seeing the look on someone's face when they get something they love rather than just something they want. It's about having a good time with friends and family. It's about the relaxation that comes after the hectic build-up. It's about mince pies, and tinsel, and there really being a Santa, and socks that I know I need but never ask for because I'll get them anyway. Except when I do need them.

So can we have Shaky at No.1 for Christmas please? Can we can we can we?!?! There's even a facebook group for it now. 16 members. You have to ask to get in. But hopefully they'll change that with the chance of it going global.

And if we can't have Shaky, how about some other Christmas songs I like?


Nah. Shaky please. :-)

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Kids Use Th is Street As A Racetrack

Before I embark on my tirade about "the youth of today" and "old people nowadays" I should like to point out I am at that heady junction of life which is 30 yards (check mirror, signal, then brake) from Life Begins At.

Seriously though, what the fuck is wrong with people over the age of 30?

When I was 18 years old I had a Morris Marina. It was the same colour as the product of a night of Carling, cheap black, and kebabs. It wasn't modified in any significant way, and it didn't have a loud stereo. But it was invariably full of pissed teenagers, who were invariably egging the driver on to drive faster than was boringly necessary. After than I had the Chevette that spawned the obsession, but the less said about offences committed in that, the better. If you totalled up what those of us who drove it got away with and applied them to me personally as the owner, I'd still be inside now.

On that note, let me introduce the more naive of you to the phrase "This generation think they invented booze/drugs/sex/cars/fun" (Delete as applicable.)

We, the 80s generation know this is not true, because the 60s generation tell us so. And we know, from our own experiences that the parallels are too close to deny. They're just not so close we can make the young of 2010 see that it's... all... the... fucking... same...

We have a duty, as old people, to complain about The Youth Of Today. Be they committing the sin of Being Loud In Public, or Tagging A Random Wall, The Youth Of Today are louder and taggier than the youths who did it 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Whether they're Crack High or D.U.I they're more of a menace than we, or our parents, ever were. Because they've got, like, knives, and phones, and stuff.

Seriously, I would love to go back to 1985 to 1991 and arm myself, Stoney, Mark, Andy Haslam, Ju Robinson, Nick Ellis, Dave Duffy, Matt Dicketts and my own sister with a video camera and see what, if left to our own devices, we concocted for public consumption. There are names on this list that might not appreciate me pointing this out but... that's my point. We were YOUNG.

Do not blame the young for being young. They are not like us, but they are a product of us. We are the dickheads they hated because we hated the dickheads of our parents generation. Who produced us. Ehhh... you see where this is going...

But Kids Don't Use This Street Like A Racetrack.

Kids Today know more about their chariots than we ever did. God forbid a 17-year old should drop a 1600 lump into a 1.0 Saxo without uprating the brakes. A 2500w sounds system? Pffft! Unheard of, to us. Peanuts to Jake in his Fiesta Si. It's all about insurance...

We hear all the time about how kids driving cars kill other kids in their cars, but the reality is it's something that's been going on continuously since post-ward years. Seriously, I've heard the stories from the 60s... yet here we are: a post 1970 culture complaining about less powerful, more roadworthy vehicles, piloted by offspring with better knowledge, better training, and better hardware than we could ever have hoped for.

This Street IS a Racetrack. It's just not a racetrack like we knew it to be.

What goes around, comes around.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

I Really Don't Care About The World Cup Anymore.

Where to begin...

Well, this was going to be a cutting and jibe-laden blog about the lack of success by the English national team, but with almost a week behind us there just doesn't seem much point in reflecting on what was, when you think about it, something that had an inevitability about it before the tournament even started. In-team personality clashes. An implacable coach. Arrogant, over-exposed players. An insatiable, contrary tabloid media. Sorry, but there was no way England were ever going to get beyond the last 16 with the set-up it has.

That said, it's easy to argue that things might have been so different had Frank Lampard's line-crossing shot against Germany been spotted by the referee and allowed to count as a legitimate goal. Different, yes. Not better. I honestly think the outcome would likely have been 4-2 instead of 4-1. Plus, if we're going to bring up that incident we'd have to have another look at how Argentina set the tone for bad refereeing with Tevez's goal against Mexico. That would have still been an Argentina win though...

This has been an awful World Cup. Okay, the football itself has been thrilling from time to time, but from my point of view what has actually happened is FIFA have allowed the tournament to become the laughing stock of world organized sport. All because of their continued reluctance to use long available technology as a means of aiding the referees in their plight to avoid having "The referee's a wanker" sang at them in numerous languages. It being hosted in a nation where rugby and cricket - two sports that have accepted and vigorously utilised video technology - are king is a massive PR fail for FIFA. The host nation going out in the first round must also have grated on Sepp Blatter's non-line-crossing balls.

An awful World Cup: The French fighting like children. The English playing like children. The Italians playing like old men. The bulk of the African nations playing like they're not interested in national pride, never mind continental interest. The vuvuzela making it sound like crowds are being attacked by angry bees. ITV's inevitable piss-poor coverage. Every advert being football-related, even for products that have little or nothing to do with the once beautiful game. Stewards going on strike. Spain being Arsenal in disguise. Sepp Blatter still being alive.

Disaster.

I challenge anyone to find a positive in the whole tournament. That isn't called James Milner.

Of course, there may well be some of the possible 2 or 3 people out there that might read this who will be think "Yeah Ed, but you're only saying this because England got knocked out." You may even be partly right. I am pissed off that England are out. But then I thought England would be out from the moment the half-time whistle blew against the USA. I just think that the whole tournament has been, and will continue to be an immense embarrassment to the name of football (or soccer, if you prefer).

Sepp Blatter has come out, after the horrors of June 27th, and said FIFA will think about thinking about possibly wondering if it may be worth thinking about settting aside some time and resources to think about possibly having a committee to possibly think about reviewing the need for technology available since the 1980s to bring the world's most popular sport into the 21st century. Technology that even cricket, a game that can go on for several days, uses. Technology that even colleges use in games not even played at a professional level. No kidding. Technology that you have on your Tivo/Sky+ systems.

If you've spotted a parallel between Tevez's goals against Mexico, and Maradonna's goals against England (in that the first one is cheating and the second one is incredible) you've probably already thought about what might happen with goal reviews further down the line. What the sport could really do with is a situation where America will take an interest. Seriously. America are out. But America loves an underdog. And Ghana are still in. Just imagine if it was Ghana v Argentina/Spain/Brazil in the final? America, having been knocked out by Ghana, would have the pride of knowing they were beaten by a potential eventual champion...

...unless a refereeing decision means Argentina cheat their way to success yet again. Christ... imagine if America had got through and something horrendous happened to them like that? No doubt there'd be US Marines into Switzerland quicker than you could get them into an Iraqi teenage girl.

Aside from ranting about shitty England I was going to avoid posting a blog about football until the World Cup is over, but frankly I've come to the conclusion over the last few days that I can't be alone in thinking what a disappointment it's been so far. Apart from France and Italy. So this blog is dedicated to the sport I once loved, and the chance that the abhorrent nature of it's current flagship tourney might finally drag it tripping, screaming, and rolling over and over into the 21st century. Or that Ghana pull off the most amazing sporting coup since the USA took Gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Okay, I think I'm done. No more football blogs for a while. It's tiring and depressing. For me, and possibly for you.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Rooney Is A Paedophile

I may be outspoken on this topic, but what I like most about an impending England bid to become the FIFA World Cup winners every four years is guessing which player will be the scapegoat for our inevitable failure. When it got to the point a pizza advert featured our "failures" in a campaign to boost sales I knew footie was no longer that important to us as a money-spending nation. Then there's Beckham's lazily youthful prone kick, and... well... there's examples aplenty, right?

We love a scapegoat. Spacegoats extend beyond the media sales buzz agenda for future revivalists in the "Remember The [insert decade here]'s" clip/analysis shows.

What's great about the imminent South Africa 2010 tournament is that our wonderfully free and democratic British journalists have moved one step ahead of the game. Not content with rooting out which of our players is having an extra-marital affair, entertaining hookers, lining up the Columbian marching powder, betting on the Argies, mainlining heroin, shooting peasants, baiting badgers, plotting nuclear annihilation, taking it up the Wenger, posing nude for Out magazine, eating vegan food, eating fast food, voting for the BNP, or being revealed to be an Al Qaeda sleeper cell operative, our beloved "free press" has now decided what's really needed is the sabotaging of our chances of hosting a future World Cup tourney, should the world still exist as we know it after 2012.

You may want to read this first. Whether or you do or not, the fact is that there's at least the potential that an English newspaper published details of the private conversation of an English ambassador-to-the-game making an inappropriate remark about rival bids. In the sneaky world of financially motivated journalism there's no guarantee it might not have ended up in Spain, serving to doom us forever rather than set us back somewhat...

...But a British newspaper, whichever way you look at it, has pissed towards the candle of our nation presiding over the inevitable lack of repeating its own 52-year long exile from surprise and arguably shocking world stage success. A British newspaper has at least temporarily eased a cancerous burden that could have annihilated us closer to decision time. The news now is that "this may affect England's bid, prematurely" according to Radio Four, earlier. And don't get me started on the woman who sold the tape.

Right about now I'd be expecting the Daily Mail (and indeed all their scumbag ilk) to be luring Lampard into a honey trap or tempting Terry to, well, be John Fucking Terry, if we're honest about things. Because recent history has proven that if there is something that can screw up England's chances of winning anything it will be our hopeless "free press", in their misguided modern belief that The Public Have The Right To Know.

No, we don't. "Careless Talk Cost Lives" is something we were once taught. Well now lives aren't really on the line with what concerns us, how about our broadsheets and tabloids suddenly realised that "Careless Talk Costs Games"? Because I'm sure there's nothing worse, from the perspective of the England Team dressing room, than travelling past a newsagent to Wembley to be greeted with "SUN REVEALS ROONEY BUMS KIDS" on the board outside. I mean, I assume it's not true. But nevertheless, you people who have just read it have found it a little unsettling, I'm sure. And since you've read this far into the blog I assume you're smart people who can guess I'm going somewhere with this, and not someone who asserts that England's strongest strike threat is nothing more than a Catholic priest in shorts.

Rooney doesn't - at the time of going to publish - have a track record akin to Michael Jackson. Although their skin tone and grasp of social convention hasn't been dissimilar over the years, based on my findings in TV programs featuring articles from The Sun and The Daily Mail.

It's time for me to do my bit for blatant, testosterone driven national pride.

I want to see England win the World Cup in 2010. So I beseech of thee, as a right good user of proper; English with no typoes or owt, that you, the grand English public of North, east, south and west to go and kick the head in of any journalist you've ever heard of in the UK. It doesn't matter if it's Richard Hammond: he's had head injuries before, he can handle it. It doesn't really matter who it is, trust me. The basic instinct of a journalist is to "get a scoop". It doesn't have to be the man from the Mail or the woman from the Wormwood Weekly, it could just as easily be someone from Heat magazine. In fact, why not target Heat magazine journalists just because it's Heat magazine?

Seriously folks: silence these media soundbite whores, no matter who they be, or their agenda. Be it a "major feature push" or a cheap laugh at the expense of Frank Lampard's lisp, John Terry's obviously small penis, Steven Gerrard's deranged squint, David James inevitable stupid hairstyle or Peter Crouch's face, there will be something. They must be stopped!

Just take this as legally binding gospel: if you hear a card-carrying journalist say "Rooney is a paedophile" before we've got the World Cup on the coach home and rammed it up Ashley Cole's obviously willing arse, everything that might possibly go wrong is a direct result of modern media. Not on-pitch skill. Not diving South Americans. Not boring Germany. Not even misplaced words uttered to a traitor.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Team That Bob Built

In the past I have been quite heavily criticised on the topic of my passion for the Montreal Canadiens. On the one hand, here in England, people think it's ridiculous that I can be so obsessive about a team in a city 3000 miles away that is characteristically anti-English in many ways. On the other hand, my over-the-pond perspective on the team I love has infuriated many a Quebec-based Habs fan.

I don't think the whole team should be made up of French Canadiens. I don't think it's important that key role-players on the team are bilingual. I don't think it's essential that key characters from our glorious history play key roles in the development of the team and our ambition to with a 25th Stanley Cup. I don't think the club's history in a 6-team league has any bearing on our future in a 30-team league. It seems I'm quite outspoken on these topics, and as a result I am "not a proper fan".

When Guy Carbonneau was fired as team coach, I was annoyed. I loved the guy as a player, but it did plague my thoughts that his initial successes as coach went along with my opinion of what's required to be competitive in the NHL. The fact he was fired by Bob Gainey and replaced by Bob Gainey with Bob Gainey actually sent me further down this path when we were humiliated in the playoffs by the Boston Bruins. A team, I might add, coached by another Gainey firing. It resulted in me joining a facebook group delicately titled "F**k Bob Gainey!" that called for his head.

It had over 10,000 members.

As the Habs stumbled through the 09-10 season without ever looking like a cohesive team of ambition, coached by an ex-Senators head coach who'd failed to win a Cup with arguably the strongest bunch of skilled players in the league at the time, my hopes of anything good coming from the season diminished further. So when Gainey resigned, I nodded confidently that a new GM might soon be able to build us a core of guys who could, at some future point, get us past the 1st round of the playoffs. Certainly someone who could provide us with a team that would make the playoffs - as we didn't seem like we were going to.

When we scraped into the 8th seed by virtue of the failings of other teams I was perversely satisfied with that as a final outcome. This ramshackle team of injury-prone underachievers, odd free agent selections and dubious trade acquisitions were to face the might of the #1 ranked Washington Capitals, led by Alex Ovechkin and a whole bunch of other guys with the skill and finesse to tear our defense apart and easily make last season's centenary humiliation by the Bruins seem like a quality performance.

They did tear our defense apart. Thankfully we had a ninth round draft selection (by Gainey) goalie between the pipes. Jaroslav Halak: an instant hero. We took the Caps to game 7 from a 3-1 deficit, and did the unthinkable. We beat them. A team ranked 8th had never come back from 3-1 down against a #1 team in NHL history. I like us making history.

So, as I write, we have just done the unthinkable again. We took Sidney Crosby's Penguins to seven games, and not only did Halak shine once again, but our defense was solid, and we completely took them apart in the seventh game in Pittsburgh. We looked like a team that not only belonged in the playoffs, but a team that could actually... win... Okay, I'm not going to get ahead of myself here!

The simple fact of all this is that this team that has surprised everyone is the very same team that Bob Gainey - a 6 time Staney Cup winner - has put together over the last few seasons. Eyebrows were raised when he got rid of the likes of Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Alex Tanguay and Mike Komisarek. They were raised when he hired Jacques Martin as coach. They were raised when he signed "small" players like Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta to replace them. My own eyebrows were raised so much that they ended up at the back of my neck.

Travis Moen. Glen Metropolit. Matthieu Darche. Dominic Moore. Marc Andre Bergeron. All names that, if you look at them on paper and judge them by their (if any) draft selection and scoring history don't constitute much in the way of a good team. But they're all Bob Gainey acquisitions for the team. They all have their role to play, and their point to prove, and they do it game after game after game in this year's playoffs, against teams expected not only to dominate them, but annihilate them.

This is the team that Bob built. Bob is gone, for personal reasons, in a regular season that was as unremarkable as it was unrewarding for fans to watch. But this is the playoffs, and the playoffs are a bit special. Often for personal reasons. I suspect that half the battle we have fought here so far is a lot of people who didn't do their job very well for 82 games thinking to themselves "Wow, we kinda let a legend down, didn't we?" and have realised that not only do they have a point to prove, but that they're involved in something so fanatical, so proud, and so historic that the driving force behind their stellar play goes well beyond actual ability and desire.

This is the team that Bob built. This is the team that has brought superstars to their knees. This is the team that may not win its 25th Stanley Cup this season, but it nevertheless made a grand statement about what is required to win, what your draft ranking really means in the big scheme of things, and what playing for the Montreal Canadiens - whichever city you were born in - is really all about: looking up to the rafters and seeing those cup banners and those retired jerseys, and knowing what it means. And perhaps paying particular attention to jersey #23.

I'm sorry I doubted you, Mr. Gainey. You rock.

GO HABS GO!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Bored of Electioneering... Here's MY Manifesto!

I don't know about anyone else, but quite a lot of the policies of the "three main parties" are seemingly interchangeable. Quite a lot of them are vague enough to be the kind of impossible rhetoric that lead us to believe that all politicians do is lie their way into office and then never carry out the plans so fervently detailed in their manifesto.

So here's mine, since I'm not going to be getting into office and they'll therefore never happen. Some of them might seem a bit extreme or even contrary, but compared to some of what we have as rules and laws as of now, I'm not so sure they really are.

1) Taxation.

A) 50% Income tax only on earnings over £250,000pa: I know there's a threshold at 50% that's lower than this now, but I mean a flat 50% with no scope for scamming the tax system. You earn that much in a year and you owe the nation half of it. Because if you can't live on £125,000 a year there's something seriously wrong with you.

B) All tax collected from sportsmen and women to be spent specifically on the benefits system, so the average joe need never complain about "supporting dole bludgers" ever again. Because, as I've blogged before, that seems to be the working public's main problem with the state benefits system: the insane belief that it's your own personal PAYE that goes directly into the pockets of those either less fortunate than you, or those that maybe are playing the system for a fool.

C) Do away with road tax: Instead reintroduce toll roads on all motorways and major in-roads to towns and cities. The technology's there, and toll-roads work fine worldwide. Plus, tollbooths create jobs, and while it might not be a glamorous job, it's a job.

D) HALVE the amount of income tax that commuters pay if they can prove they use public services instead of their own cars: Okay, this is as much an environmental policy as a tax, but let's be honest about traveling in to work. Out of 100 cars you can count in a traffic jam at 8.45am, about 95% of them will be someone solo, and maybe 2-3% will have two people in.

2) Environment.

A) The introduction of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes into and out of all major cities: In Britain this would only really work if the existing bus lanes were used as HOV lanes, but I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that the basic infrastructure is in place already with those bus lanes. If you really want to get in to work quicker, use either public transport or ferry in some colleagues or neighbours.

B) Tax breaks for all businesses that agree to turn off all lighting during dark hours: No one needs to see office lights on and billboards lit up. No one is going to worry if the big golden "M" doesn't alert you to fast food at 3am when it's shut. But in every town and city you can see a multitude of them all over the place, from small businesses under the impression that lighting the place up internally somehow deters burglars through to the giant corporations who can easily swallow a massive utility bill from month to month.

3) Crime.

A) The abolition of the drink/drug driving laws. There will be no fines for driving under the influence. The law will simply change to make a road vehicle the same as any offensive weapon in the event of someone being killed or injured. You can drink and drive as much as you see fit. But you'll be tried and convicted as someone in possession of a deadly weapon with intent to cause injury/death if anything happens. Sounds unfeasable? Think about it: there are any number of people out there that can easily have four or five beers and be as conscious of what's happening on the road as if they were completely sober. Likewise there are people that think they're okay to drive on a couple of alcopops who quite simply aren't. So think about it some more: would you chance driving with alcohol in your blood if you knew you might end up being tried as a murderer?

B) No prison sentences for people convicted of committing repeat assaults: Instead you join the army. The army needs people prepared to kill and injure. Our streets do not. Okay, many of us have been in a fight for one reason or another, and some of us even in our defence have ended up at Her Majesty's leisure just because the protagonist of the fight ended up in a worse state. But there are plenty of folks out there that are out there mainly for the trouble. It's this social ethic that needs removing from a night out, and I reckon this is a better option than the one offered by people I know who remember National Service saying "all youngsters could do with a bit of National Service in 'em". Not all youngsters. Just the idiot pissheads and violent morons.

C) Time Relevant Speed Limits: We've got technology enough that speeds on roads could be automatically matched to conditions and time. e.g A long, wide straight road through an area with industrial units and a school could easily be a 50mph zone between 9pm and 6am, then 30mph from 6am to 9pm with a 10mph reduction during school in/out hours. The same technology could be applied to rain/ice/fog. There's plenty of roads around the UK we all know where we wonder why the speed limit's so ridiculously low, and I think it's fair to suggest that many of these aren't for safety reasons but as revenue generators. Time-based speed limits would mean you could leave speed cameras in place for those who genuinely take the piss.

4) Community & Utilities

A) Fair use policies for all: We're always being told to stop leaving our phone chargers plugged in, stop the tap running when we brush our teeth, or stick a sweater on instead of jacking up the gas central heating, but the reality is we're creatures of convenience who don't like being told what to do. So why not give people an incentive to be a bit greener? We have "fair use" policies for how our internet usage is metered, so with meter systems already in place for gas, electricity, and water, why not introduce the same fairness for those?

I don't imagine it would be tough to work out what a sensible amount of these services a basic UK household uses, based on occupancy. So it wouldn't be difficult to introduce a flat rate system of charging for them. This way, the households that are using excessive amounts would get charged for excess use of our mutual energy and resources without those of us that do keep a tight rein on how we use our services footing the bill.

B) Protection of agrarian land: It's all very well being aware that a nation needs growth (as politicans are always harping on about) but with growth comes the expansion of population. Already in a worldwide market economy, you can go to any supermarket in the land and see vegetables and meat products shipped in cheaply from overseas. Many of these are commonplace items that could be produced effectively here if it wasn't such an attractive proposition for land owners to sell off growing space to make way for yet more housing. I'd like to see people encouraged back into agriculture (and remember how important it was known to be to our war efforts not that long ago!) as a means of getting Britain back to excelling at something that provides jobs, ecological benefits, and food for our population without relying on imports.

C) Shaping the future by understanding our heritage: I think a lot of what breeds racism and poor community spirit in our times is the fact that people don't understand how this tiny island has been slowly but surely integrating other cultures pretty much since the creation of the boat. The problem now is that people don't really understand that immigrants have become a part of British society for aeons, and they should. I mean this in terms of the Pakistani or Albanian who does't understand why people can't understand his culture as much I do the British born white man who's aggrieved that his suburb is now largely an Asian community.

What's needed is to educate people (both as children and adults, either native or immigrant) as to what has made Britain the nation it became, it's place throughout history for both good and bad, and to instil in everyone that becoming part of the people that made Britain Great is far more noble than the actions that made it so. Because this is a great country, and that's evidenced by the fact that people have been wanting to come here for thousands of years.

D) Social responsibility: Everyone seems to "know their rights" these days, but the reality is that with having certain rights comes having responsibilities to suit. Part of what makes that difficult to get across is the stupid idea of having these rights come at different points in life, like having sex at 16, driving at 17, and voting at 18. Let's just made it so you're an adult at 16.

I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that a lot of 16-year olds can already make social decisions a lot more reasonably than many over-18s can, and let's not forget that the hazy concept of "teenager" is a late 20th century invention that's clearly not helped society progress. It might seem trivial, but I genuinely believe that just having a single target marker of when you're an adult would help youngsters better understand what's expected of them, particularly in two manners: one, that they're educated to know the responsibilities that come with adulthood, and two, that they and their families will be in a world of shit if they get caught doing the adult classification of life before they hit 16. No more being supported by the state if you have a baby at 14. Mummy and Daddy takes responsibility, not the state.

***

I could go on, but I'd be very surprised if anyone's read this far. If you have, thanks for taking the time to peruse my ideas.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Return To Blogging: An Haimless Pastime.

How many people were actually shocked when they heard that Lost Boys actor, Corey Haim, had died of at 38? All I remember reading or hearing about him for Gods know how long was how he'd struggled with drugs or booze... or the fact he wasn't a teen heartthrob any more; as though that would be something you'd want to be known for into your thirties. So I've come to the conclusion that his death is a publicity stunt to try and get him up there in the dead-but-not-forgotten ranks with Heath Ledger and Britney Murphy.

Which isn't going to work.

I do find it interesting when someone who really didn't seem to make much of an impact on anyone or anything other than swoonsome teenage girls (and presumably some boys) and cult celebrity passes away and is suddenly relaunched into the stratosphere of international newsworthiness, and it seems almost always exclusively because of the (at least) possible connotations of their drugs use. The focus always seems to be immediately on this, as though it's no longer possible to die any other way and attract media attention.

I commented at the time of Michael Jackson's drug-fuelled death that the truest measure of celebrity in the world today is the number of jokes their death inspires. Jacko himself must have minted the mobile phone companies, considering the number I sent and received. If the cellular network had been as expansive when Princess Diana popped her clogs, I think it's safe to say the networks would have exploded and Vodaphone, T-Mobile et al would now have offices made of gold. On the moon.

Yet poor Corey seems to have no jokes. I know, because I've been looking for them for two days having been able to come up with any of my own. Because that's what I do when someone "famous" dies. Celebrity attracts worship and derision in generally equal doses, but I stand by the belief that if you've not got at least one quality joke about your death then you never really made it.

Of course, if someone we loved or cared about close to us became the focus of a joke like that we'd largely not like it at all. It's different when it's close to home, and I've already seen a few posts while browsing Google that suggest there are people out there who thought of the late Mr. Haim as being someone they "knew". Personally I'd love it if someone came up with a joke about me, but then that's maybe because I'm the sort of person who starts thinking about the joke potential when someone gets a gig at Harp Central.

I'm just waiting for the Cyrus family to die in a plane crash. I'll have a field day.