Sunday, 27 December 2015

Come As You Are

One of the reasons I started this nonsense, by which I mean Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard rather than this particular entry in it, was to try to raise awareness of disability and what it's really like. You can go to as many Disability Awareness events as you like, complete any online diversity modules you like, but it's all just bullshit lip service. Box-ticking of the most putrid kind. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard might not be the stuff of Helen Fielding or Sue Townsend, but it is at least a first hand account of the shit that is flung at you through disability. It keeps it real.

Which is why I want to tell you about a film I watched recently which was a noble attempt to do something similar. Come As You Are requires a bit of effort. It's not the easy watch that Avengers Age Of Ultron is. It's played out entirely in Flemish with English subtitles, which I realise is enough to put many people off. For reasons too absurd to go into I saw a subtitled version of the third Hunger Games movie at the cinema and it was all very off-putting. But somehow it's different when the language you are hearing the characters speak is not English. Either way this one is well worth that extra bit of endeavour.

Come As You Are tells the story of three young disabled men who plan a trip to a Spanish brothel in a bid to lose their virginity. Now there's an obvious problem with this I know. Such a premise suggests that disabled men who do not visit brothels must have their virginity intact. Which of course is a nonsense. Some disabilities make the loss of one's virginity more difficult than others. And in choosing men of varied disabilities for protagonists the writers seem to be tarring them all with the same shitty, soggy old brush. One is paralysed from the neck down, another is almost completely blind, while the third uses a wheelchair because he has an inoperable, soon to be fatal tumour. I can just about get my head around why the writers thought that the two wheelchair users would need to embark on their quest. The paraplegic Phillip is unable to dress or feed himself. His parents put him to bed at night and get him out of bed in the morning, and his mother washes him. Tumour-suffering Lars has more mobility but is equally fussed over by his parents. If I can testify (and I can) that something as relatively benign as Spina Bifida can interfere with your ability to attract the opposite sex, then it's a fairly safe assumption that guys in Phillip and Lars' predicaments will have a tough time with that also. Immobility is not sexy. Women see it as weakness, which is as uncomfortable as it is true. But the third protagonist, Jozef, is blind remember. What is it about blindness that renders one sexually ostracised? Josef was noticeably less attractive from where I sat than either Phillip or Lars so perhaps that was his problem. Or perhaps the idea being proposed is that the vanity of women prevents them from falling for someone who isn't with them at least in part for the way they look.

Away from their sexlessness, the saddest part of the lives of Phillip and Lars in particular is how they are not trusted to do anything by their parents, despite being young adults. They live a depressing, strangled existence and know very well that they will not be given permission to go on the trip if they reveal the reason for it. So they lie, and when the first nurse that they plan to take with them backs out at the last minute they are refused permission to go regardless. So they end up having to sneak out against their parents wishes. Which I loved. I've known people with various disabilities who have declined to do things for themselves based on what their parents would think and it's just tragic. You just want to shake them by the shoulders and scream at them. None of which is necessary with Phillip, Lars or Jozef.

The nurse they had booked finds them a replacement and it's all back on again. Claude brings a new dimension to proceedings as she firstly struggles to get on with the men but then slowly wins them over. Her clashes with Phiilip are particularly entertaining. He's not very likeable but then that's ok. Not all disabled men are. I've spent tireless hours being rude to people so I'm something of an expert. Refreshingly, the film doesn't try to pretend that everyone should love or feel sorry for Phillip just because he has a disability. An arsehole is an arsehole whatever problems they might have. This is very well illustrated by a scene in which Phillip almost gets his lights punched out by a hotel guest. Only the imposing and slightly scary figure of Claude gets him out of the sticky spot that his smart mouth gets him into.

Disappointingly only Jozef manages to make an actual emotional connection to anyone by the end. The girls at the brothel are clearly there for one thing and are deemed so irrelevant that their dialogue isn't even subtitled. This approach misses the target for me. Yes if you had reached the ages of these men without losing your virginity then the sex part would be important, but it's wrong to suggest that men of this age are only interested in physicalities. That's just part of it. Of feeling like you're accepted and not being dehumanised by everyone. My own masculinity takes a hit every time a woman opens a door for me. In this respect these issues are handled better by something like Inside I'm Dancing, a similar story with a similar premise but which has its protagonists looking for something deeper. Something real.

Come As You Are is funny, thought provoking but undeniably tragic. And well worth an hour and three quarters of your time if you find yourself combing through the iplayer for an alternative to cooking shows over the festive period.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Star Wars - Anticipation And Anxiety

I’ve been reading some headlines about the critics’ reception of the new Star Wars film. The Force Awakens premiered somewhere posh this week, and has its UK premiere somewhere else posh today. The great unwashed get their first opportunity to see it when it opens in cinemas on Thursday. Having read those headlines, I’m already regretting my decision not to go on the first night in a bid to avoid the horror that is Other People, Most Notably Children. As a consequence of that decision I am waiting until Monday, and already finding it difficult. I literally can’t wait. If I wasn’t on a cocktail of drugs to prevent it I might do a small wee at this point. Almost without exception, the UK’s press reviewers are lining up to declare it a resounding success. They are using words like ‘triumph’ to describe JJ Abrams’ Disneyed-up Episode VII, with some calling it the best of all of the Star Wars films.

I haven’t read the detail in these reviews because I don’t want any spoilers. You certainly won’t find any here. Not until I have seen it at any rate. By then you will probably all have seen it anyway, all three of you. I’m sure some of you make my level of fandom look like a mild passing interest. Regardless, and despite my excitement about seeing it, The Force Awakens cannot possibly be the best of all the Star Wars films. That would be going some. I’m a massive Star Wars fan even if my decision to wait until the start of next week to see the new film might suggest otherwise. Not even George Lucas’ laughable inability to write romantic dialogue can blunt my enthusiasm for what is essentially the greatest story ever told. Not even Darth Vader’s self-parodying cry of ‘no……….!!!!!’ upon hearing the truth economising tale (spoiler alert for those who have been in a coma since 2005) of how he killed his own wife could persuade me to give up on watching Star Wars films. Even if I am riddled with scepticism about where it could possibly go from the end of Return Of The Jedi. I will watch as many Star Wars films as they make in my lifetime and I’ll get preposterously excited before each and every one of them. Shit, I’ve even seen a few of those awful Clone Wars cartoons on Nickleodeon or whatever it is. But is The Force Awakens the greatest of all Star Wars films? I’d love to be proved wrong but, Nah. Doubt it.

One reason for my disturbing lack of faith (Star Wars fans will see what I did there) is that I don’t think that in 2015 it is possible to recreate the jaw-dropping majesty of Star Wars Episode IV’s opening shot in a cinema, or many of its other spectacular visual innovations. Or the feeling of what it would have been like to have been there to have seen it in 1977. There’s too much going on, too much is possible now, technologically and cinematically. An infeasibly large space ship cruising above your eyeline into shot, slowly moving away from you for what seems like an eternity was the height of cinematic ambition 38 years ago. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. These days it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. When a film tries to show me something visually spectacular now I’m likely to choose that moment to go and empty my bladder, safe in the knowledge that I won’t miss anything resembling a plot while I’m away. Nobody has combined visuals like that with that level of intrigue in film ever since, and my natural cynicism tells me that they never will, no matter how many Star Wars films they make. No matter how my bladder copes with the anticipation of each new release.

I suppose my apprehension at the concept of more Star Wars films is because I already consider the story to be complete, and I’m not sure what we are doing tampering with it. I don’t just mean the original trilogy when I refer to ‘the story’. The flaw-infested prequels were a necessary evil. We had to see Anakin’s regression from Jedi hero to hate-fuelled Sith in order to try to understand Vader better. It’s just that we could have benefited from a better script and some superior acting. A bit more ‘you were the chosen one’ and a bit less ‘what have I done….?’ If you like. And I just don’t know what else we need to know about the Star Wars universe post-Vader. He’s redeemed and dead, we’ve come full circle. Isn’t everything from here on in just a re-telling of the same message, parping on about the same themes but to a lesser effect? We won’t know until we see the film, but I’m worried that it is. Abrams’ most notable work so far is his long running disaster epic Lost, which began brilliantly. It was interesting and inventive with intriguing characters with cleverly woven back stories. Yet by the end of series 327 it all fell in a crumpled mess to the point where there is now nobody alive who fully understands the ending and what really happened on that island, or whether there even was an island to begin with. Had it not been for Evangeline Lily half the audience would probably have stopped watching after series 2.

To the naysayers Star Wars is just a rather childish fantasy about people who live on fictional planets blowing things up, but to some of us it’s an epic story with a masterful understanding of human nature. Of how we start off fine before life slowly throws enough shit our way to break us down. OK, so we don’t all go around building a space station with enough power to destroy whole planets, or chopping our own children’s hands off, but there’s a bit of Darth Vader in every one of us. That’s why he is the greatest movie villain of all time, because so many of us identify with his struggle, even if we don’t necessarily endorse his fashion sense. The trailers for The Force Awakens reveal that he is at least referred to in the new story, but without his actual presence, without David Prowse awkwardly staggering around in a heavy suit practising high level dark arts, without James Earl Jones’ childhood defining voice talents, it seems implausible that you could actually have the best of all the Star Wars films.

I’m just hoping against all hope that the Star Wars saga, that much beloved relic of my childhood years, doesn’t outstay its welcome. At least two more films amongst other projects are on the way over the next few years. But when you add Abrams’ previous to the Disneyfication of the whole thing you might, as a Star Wars fan, find cause for concern. And then what will you do?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll go and watch the next instalment with the same level of excitement all the same…..

Regrettably, the words to this piece will not scroll away from you at an interesting angle……….

Friday, 11 December 2015

World Club Challenge - Thanks, But No Thanks

I'm a season ticket holder at Saints. As it's winter, I'm starting to have withdrawal symptoms owing to the lack of rugby league at this time of the year. Football and the NFL get you so far, but there is nothing really like the rugby league season. Langtree Park may be the coldest place in western Europe and the quality of rugby on show is not always the highest, but there's no room for this kind of reasoning once you are hooked. I have to wait eight more weeks for anything resembling a competitive rugby league match, and I have just received the following email;



Saints will face Sydney Roosters at Langtree Park on Friday February 19th (KO 8:00pm) as part of the prestigious World Club Series.

It is a rematch of the first ever World Club Challenge game which saw the then Eastern Suburbs face St Helens in 1976.

The 2016 Roosters will come to the town having won the Minor Premiership for the last three seasons - and are packed with a host of NRL stars such as Shaun Kenny-Dowell, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Mitchell Pearce.

Saints will no doubt be blooding new signings Lama Tasi, Dominique Peyroux, Theo Fages and Jack Owens too.

It will be a real Super League v NRL test!

Demand for this fixture is expected to be high and 2016 Members can now exclusively reserve their ‘spec'.

Tickets are priced at:

Hattons Solicitors West Terrace, East Terrace and Family Stands:

Adult - £22.50
OAP and Young Adult - £15.50
Junior - £10

Solarking South and Totally Wicked North Stands:

Adult - £30
OAP and Young Adult - £22.50
Junior - £12

Adult - £28
OAP and Young Adult - £20.50
Junior - £12

Adult - £25
OAP and Young Adult - £18.50
Junior - £10

Tickets can be bought by 2016 Members only by calling into the Ticket Office at Langtree Park or by calling 01744 455 052.

A package for all three games (Leeds v North Queensland, Wigan v Brisbane) costs £60 and can be purchased by visiting or calling the Rugby League Ticket Hotline on 0844 856 1113.

Here's the thing. I'm not going. I have 24 hours to change my mind, but as things stand I am absolutely not going to the Saints v Roosters game. As I will be in Hull tomorrow for a family do there is little chance of me finding time to book my ticket even if I wanted to. Which I don't, and I'll tell you why.

This game is meaningless and my club, in trying to sell me a ticket for it for £30, is trying to take the piss out of me. Did you note the phrase 'prestigious World Club Series' in the email above? How exactly is it prestigious? In rugby league the teams that win the European Super League and the Australasian NRL meet every year in the World Club Challenge. The title of World Club champions is bestowed upon the winners of this game. Saints played in it last year and were roundly whipped 39-0 by the then NRL champions South Sydney Rabbitohs. That was prestigious, even if it did only serve to prove that there is a gargantuan gap in quality between the NRL and Super League at the moment. This will continue to be the case so long as the NRL salary cap is around 10 times higher than that of Super League. Several of the current England national team play their club rugby in the NRL for this very reason. All of which dilutes the quality of Super League but arguably increases the unpredictability of it. The previously cash-rich clubs can no longer just out-bid their smaller foes for the best players and so there is a more even spread of what quality there is in Super League in terms of playing talent.

Despite this obvious and still expanding chasm between the two leagues, the decision makers have seen fit to expand the World Club challenge to include the top three sides from each. Well....sort of. As before, only the two champion sides actually have anything to play for in terms of the title of World Club champions. The rest of us are expected to swallow the idea that our games matter as part of a series between the two competitions. The idea that I would support Leeds or Wigan (this year's other two representatives in the World Club series from Super League) against their NRL opposition is absurd. I hope that the North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos run up cricket scores against those two. I wouldn't want Wigan to win a tombola and I don't much care for Leeds either. They won all three trophies on offer in Super League last season and it was unpleasant viewing for the rest of us. Why would I want to sit and watch them pick up yet more silverware on a cold night in February? The only reason I will watch these games on television is in anticipation of them taking a fearful, humiliating battering.

The other problem I have with this whole shebang is the lack of a credible qualification process. Saints did not qualify for this event and have no business being part of it. We finished fourth in Super League last season, were knocked out of the play-offs in the semi-finals and went out of the Challenge Cup at the same stage. Originally the idea was for the league winners, Grand Final winners and Challenge Cup winners to be the three Super League representatives but with Leeds scooping all three they've had to have a re-thing. Hence the presence of beaten Grand Finalists Wigan. Logic suggests that as Wigan finished second in the league the final place would go to either the third placed team or the beaten finalists in the Challenge Cup, Hull KR. But Hull KR managed to lose the Challenge Cup final to Leeds by a mortifying, arse-clenchingly embarrassing scoreline of 50-0. They were too much of a risk, so out they went. Third placed Huddersfield Giants didn't get the gig either. It has been suggested that it was offered to them and they declined, but that would seem to make little sense given that there is no fee involved for them to participate, only television revenue. Huddersfield, despite their qualities, only manage to attract an average crowd of around 5-6000 fans in Super League, and I don't think I enter controversial territory if I suggest that this may have been a prominent factor in their absence from the line-up.

I understand the need to have international club competitions like this, and applaud the attempt to expand the game in this way. But in many ways the fact that the game needs this kind of exposure to enable it to rival the Omni-present evil that is rugby union makes the way they have gone about it even more of a crime. Are we really 'showcasing' our sport by offering up a non-tournament with little competitive integrity? I've been offered the argument that we must start here if we are to expand the concept in the future but I'm not having that theory across my welcome mat, let alone in my house. Start as you mean to go on. Be bold. If you are going to have a genuine six-team World Club competition then the least you can do is ensure that every team involved in it has the opportunity to win it, and that they have qualified for it on merit and not just because they are top three in terms of fans through the turnstiles. Fifty thousand people turn up to watch Newcastle every other week, but they won't be plonked into the Champions League at the expense of the rather more modestly supported Leicester City if the foxes can somehow continue their surprising early season form in the Premier League.

So after tomorrow someone else will have the privilege of snapping up my regular seat in the North Stand for the Roosters game, provided they are willing to part with their £30 for a glorified friendly. As long as my nerve holds......

Thursday, 10 December 2015

TV Times

Until recently I still needed a Sky engineer to come and reconnect the Sky+ box to the telephone line. This despite several loud and angry attempts to arrange it which are documented elsewhere on these pages. Consequently, over the last few months I have occasionally been left relying on the actual free-to-air television schedule for entertainment. It has been quite an eye-opener, particularly on a Saturday night.

Currently, Saturday night free-to-air television must be worse than it has ever been. I used to watch Strictly, I must confess. Millennia ago, the idea of fat, ageing celebrities donning the spandex and getting ritually slaughtered by a panel of mortifyingly pompous judges was an amusing one. Now though, well into it's 451st series, the joke is falling flat. The format is tired and predictable, the narrative formulaic. Television by numbers. The judges say the same things to the wholly interchangeable slebs. The soap actors, boy/girl band singers and athletes do well (especially if they happen to be good looking) while the television presenters, politicians and ageing thespians and crooners are bounced out after a few weeks of cheap ridicule. Even Dave Arch must be getting bored by now.

Not that there is any respite on what used to be known as 'the other side'. I've never actually sat through an entire episode of X-Factor but I've seen enough of it to know not to bother. Just as watching Jeremy Vine (or equivalent middle-aged, middle-class doyen of awkward) thrusting his pelvis around stopped being funny some time around the beginning of the credit crunch (remember that?), so the spectacle of the genuinely delusional trying their hand at pop music has surely lost it's edge by now? How do these people not know that they're shit in any case? As you know, I do a bit of singing. Sometimes I even get away with it. Yet never in a thousand series of Strictly would I ever contemplate trying to pass myself off as a professional. You know very well if you're rubbish. And if you are it's not funny. It's just embarrassing. So stop laughing at the same joke and maybe then we'll be offered something approaching original and creative television on a Saturday night. It might all be justifiable if the winner could look forward to something resembling a music career. Where is Michelle McManus anyway?

Lurching back towards the Beeb I regret to report that their encore to Strictly is Dr Who. Christ's arse....this is rubbish isn't it? I can't work out if the BBC want us to take it seriously or not. The later time slot suggests that we are expected to. This isn't CBeebies. But the Doctor looks like he's about to pass into the next life at any given moment. Is this intentional? He looks critically ill in a way that even William Hartnell could never manage. In a brazened attempt to uphold the traditions of the programme the aliens and monsters remain straight out of a primary school stage production. It's as if CGI had never been invented. The result is a puerile and pitiful attempt at sci-fi that would make the creators of the original series of Star Trek blush. And this is prime time on a Saturday. How does this happen? Is it that they know there's only me who is socially inept enough to be at home channel hopping at this time on a Saturday night? Is that it?

In the end I resorted to repeats of Dave Gorman's Modern Life Is Goodish (unlike modern tv which as we have seen is shitish). It's on Dave. Dave on Dave. I've seen that particular episode, in which Dave tries to decipher how YouGov have deemed the fans of Little Mix to be more politically right wing than those of Adolf Hitler, a number of times now and it still feels more original than anything on the Saturday night schedules of the free-to-air broadcasters. Saturday Night Dross, my dad used to call it just as he made his escape to the nearest social club. That was 30 years ago and he was talking about Game For A Laugh and The Price Is Right. The really awful stuff. If anything we've regressed since then.

Of course there is a large portion of laughable shit on Sky too. I've watched three episodes of an enviably terrible drama called Blindspot on Sky. It's about a woman who turns up in a bag in the middle of Times Square in New York. You know, the sort of thing that happens every day. She doesn't know who she is. She can't remember, but she has the name of an FBI agent tattooed to her body. Aswell as a number of other tattoos that make Michael Schofield's prison map efforts look like he's allergic to ink. Every week she and the FBI argue about whether or not she should go with them to their latest assignment. She always goes, and she always beats the shit out of someone three times her size. Turns out she is an ex-navy SEAL. In the latest instalment they identified her DNA, so that should at least cut out the irritating debates about who she is over the coming weeks. More time for beating up bad guys. Dreadful. But I'll keep watching in the spirit of you X-Factor fans who apparently know that what you are watching is bullshit yet you press on regardless. You troopers. I can sort of see how that happens after a few episodes of Blindspot. I drew the line at Supergirl, however.

So apart from Dave on Dave is there anything good on television anywhere? Does anything meet with my approval? Everyone likes Homeland, don't they? After a rip-roaring start in its first two series it has chugged along pointlessly for a couple of years but seems now, in its fifth term, to be back to its best. The writers seem to have twigged that the audience is irritated by Carrie's mania but they seem unable to let it go completely. That's probably because Claire Daines is so exceptionally good at playing someone annoying, so they take her back to it from time to time. All of which makes for a bit of an inconsistent mish-mash but if you can put that aside there is much still to enjoy. (Spoiler alert) Alison Carr is a CIA mole in the very finest traditions, almost 24-esque in her indecision about which side she is on. We should have been suspicious of her from the very moment we found out that she was sleeping with Saul Berenson. There just had to be an ulterior motive for her to be shacking up with him and his frightful upside down head. Meanwhile Carrie's inevitable future squeeze Peter Quinn continues to cheat death in ever more elaborate and interesting ways. He's like a superhero with no cape. Far more interesting than that self-satisfied ideologically befuddled prat Brodie. I haven't been as glad to see the back of anyone since Thatcher resigned. And I was only 14 when that happened.

Homeland has been around for a while, having more than enough time to establish itself. The Last Panthers is still trying to find its way into the national consciousness but on the evidence so far it might just catch on. It ticks an important box for modern day television drama in that it is mostly subtitled. Strictly speaking a drama needs to be subtitled and Scandinavian to have the critics fawning over its brilliance, but setting this tale of diamond heists around mainland Europe was the next best thing. I've absolutely no idea who is who and what their motivations are despite being four episodes into the first series. This is mostly due to everything being darkly lit and everyone having the same haircut. What I do know is that some bad guys have done something wrong relating to diamonds and in the process of doing something wrong relating to diamonds they have managed to kill a small child. Samantha Morton and John Hurt are running around in pursuit while not getting on very well. If nothing else it is nice to see Hurt in good health after seeing him at Wimbledon in the summer looking ill to the point where he was hardly recognisable.

However that ends, let's hope it does so more plausibly than the mostly excellent but ultimately deflating London Spy. Now this was something the Beeb could be proud of broadcasting, for a time at least. Not a desperate celebrity nor a pompous judge in sight. It starred the currently ubiquitous Ben Wishaw as Danny, an ordinary bloke from London who just happens to be gay and one day happens upon a chance meeting with the mysterious Alex. From a starting position of butt-clenching awkwardness they eventually hit it off and begin a relationship, whereupon Alex is suddenly murdered. Over the course of this five-part series Alex turns out to be called Alistair, and Danny finds out that the name of his lover is not the only thing that he didn't really know about him. In support of Danny is his friend Scotty, a father-figure of a presence played by the usually comic but always brilliant Jim Broadbent. He's gay too, and he probably has a bit of a thing for Danny. It's all very complex and intriguing as Danny fights to convince everyone that he has nothing to do with Alistair's murder. That is until the clumsy and unlikely denoument which even the presence of Charlotte Rampling can do nothing to redeem.

London Spy was fresh and innovative, but in the absence of too much else which fits that description I find myself still plodding on with what are by now old favourites in serious danger of running their course. The Blacklist is one example of this. For how long can Red and Elizabeth's mysterious, slightly creepy relationship keep us in suspense? It seems that the answer to that lies in how many contrived scenarios involving notorious criminal masterminds can be conjured up by its writers. While some of those may grate, none of them can compare on that score to the head-banging irritant that is Agent Ressler, a man last seen trying to schmooze up to Brodie's wife in Homeland while the latter was away wrestling with the thorny issue of whether to blow himself up. Actually, he succeeded in the schmoozing, for a time. Until they all got written out of it for the greater good. But he's back here and he's schmoozing again, but this time its FBI Agent Navabi, who seconds after finding out that her brother who she believed to be dead was actually a well-connected terrorist, jumped into the sack with television's greatest predator of the emotionally vulnerable. And I thought Red was creepy....

Last on my list for now is Elementary. Goodness only knows how many series we are into now of the US drama based on English literary stalwarts Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Too many. But when you start watching something from the beginning it takes either a special kind of will power or a special kind of awfulness for me to not see it through to the end. Three series of The Following testify to this, as do a mammoth seven series of Lost, which truly was lost by the time it reached its airy-fairy, ambiguous conclusion. And that bloke is in charge of the new Star Wars movies. My apprehension about The Force Awakens is palpable. It's all a bit like making Tony Blair a sepcial envoy to the middle east. As if anyone would be that mad. What? Oh.

Back to Elementary, and Holmes is still English, but lives in New York with the American Dr Watson. She (yes, she) used to be a surgeon and is now some kind of happy-clappy life coach sent by Holmes' father to assist him with his various addictions. But Watson ditched that idea some time ago and instead has been schooled by Holmes in the art of detective work. Together they interfere in everything dug up by the NYPD and, irritatingly, the brilliant Holmes always finds the solution while the ordinary law enforcement people scratch their heads in bewilderment. The best thing about Elementary is Holmes' lack of social skills. I think they are trying to suggest that he has some form of autism or aspergers syndrome. Anything that perpetuates the myth that the disabled are actually all geniuses gets my vote. The worst thing about it is that there is no middle ground for anyone trying to play along at home and work out who the killer is each week. It's either blindingly obvious when they first appear on screen, or it's someone who hasn't been mentioned until about seven minutes before the end when it all gets rather hastily put into place.

Rather like one of my TV review pieces....

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Not In My Name

The UK is at war again. After a vote among MP's it has been decided that military action against Syria is the answer to the world's recent ills. This decision, with its inevitable loss of civilian life in that part of the world, was shamefully cheered to the rafters of the Palace Of Westminster by the MPs in favour and has been loudly backed by the usual war-fancying 'patriots' on social media and in the public eye. These of course include Prime Minister David Cameron, who outrageously suggested in public this week that anyone who opposes this action is a terrorist sympathiser.

To recap in case you have been in any world but this one these last few weeks. Almost three weeks ago a group of extremist maniacs arbitrarily murdered over 100 restaurant and theatre-goers in Paris, and also tried to blow up the Stade de France during France's international football friendly with Germany that same night. Three people died in that incident. It could have been a lot more. Now clearly this is horrific. Rightly we were angry and scared by this, and rightly we showed our solidarity with France and expressed our deepest sympathy for their losses. Or most of us did. There were those who made the somewhat sickening argument that the French would not have done the same for us, and so by that rather speculative logic we should not worry our heads about them. Fuck the French was essentially their message.

All of which makes it all the more surprising to note that now, in their call for someone or something to eradicate the terrorist group responsible, these same people are citing this attack on the French as a compelling reason for UK involvement in an aerial bombing campaign in Syria. These people who so dislike the French, use terms like 'frogs' in 2015, and who endlessly bang the drum for the UK to have nothing more to do with the EU, are nevertheless so enraged by what happened in Paris that they want someone to pay. Even if they're innocent. Syria as a nation state is no more responsible for ISIS than the USA is for the two whackos who killed 14 people in a social services centre in San Bernardino today. President Obama will not be authorising a bombing campaign on California any time soon. Nor should he.

This lust for blood might not be as baffling and frankly unpalatable to me if there was even the remotest chance that it would eliminate or even reduce the risk of terrorism in the UK and Europe. Yes it may have a significant impact on ISIS and its resources, but so too will it radicalise others who may then plot more atrocities around the world. In the city where you live, perhaps, or the beach you use on your holidays. As we have seen before with Iraq following 9-11 our miltary interventions tend to cause more problems than they solve, further destabilising the middle east and perpetuating this endless cycle. The idea that we can end terrorism by bombing Syria is berserk. The fact that it is all being sold to us by a toff twat in a suit who won't be anywhere near a war zone throughout is just stomach turning. Just as his claim that we are all in this austerity thing together is bogus, so his suggestion that 'we' must go to war to fight terrorists is similarly insulting.

So bomb whoever you like Dave (not California). You're going to do it anyway. Just don't do it in my name.

Monday, 30 November 2015


If I didn’t bollock on about it every third article it would be a little known fact that I used to play wheelchair basketball. It’s almost 10 years since I gave up this fools errand, but I still occasionally go along to watch the team play. Yes, believe it or not, they have managed to carry on playing without me. Who’d have thought it?

The fact that they play their games 10 minutes from my house helps motivate me to attend. We used to play in Liverpool in my day. My day. It was a Thursday. Anyway, I spend enough time driving in and out of Liverpool during the week for work. I’m not sure I could stomach going in there at the weekend. It would feel too much like work. When it starts to feel like work it is time to get out. Funny that, I can remember a time when all I wanted to do was play wheelchair basketball professionally. But then I can also remember a time when I wanted to be called Alvin and when all I wanted to do on a Friday night was play Barry McGuigan’s Boxing on a Commodore 64. I didn’t even have a Commodore 64.

My old club currently run two teams. The second team is up first, playing against Leeds Spiders. Nobody likes Leeds to begin with, so calling themselves Spiders might not have been the best PR decision. They probably don’t want to be liked. They’re Leeds, after all. One of my former team-mates, another who has long-since escaped from the folly of actually getting on to the court and participating, points out that one of the Spiders looks like Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame. Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters. Does that make this team Dave Grohl’s Spiders? The real Grohl thinks he’s a hard case because he broke his leg on stage and carried on with the show, but he wouldn’t last five minutes in wheelchair basketball. These are athletes who blow raspberries at their own physical limitations, personal demons and the fact that society treats them like bellends to drag themselves through 40 minutes of committed, high-octane if not always high quality sporting endeavour. I’ve done it and it’s fucking tough.

The game is typical of this level. Low scoring but hard fought with some interesting decision making on show. Players at this level seem always to have their eyes fixed on the basket when they come into possession of the ball. The movements of their team-mates are an irrelevance most of the time. Sometimes that is because the movements of their team-mates are extremely limited. Other times it is because the player in possession cannot or does not want to see the movement of others. After three quarters of play our visitors from Dirty Leeds have only scored 18 points, and we have 28. I tell the other ex-players watching on that even if we don’t score again we will win this game. The maths seems to back it up. If they have only scored 18 points in three quarters of play, it is unlikely that they will reach the vertigo-inducing heights of 28 points. My fellow experts nod sagely, but we’re all wrong. Not about the result, but about our visitors’ capacity to rack up more than half of the points they have scored to that point in the few minutes that remain. They get to 28, but can’t stop our lot staggering over the line with three more of their own to win it 31-28.

It has to be said that we haven’t watched as intently as we might have. By the time Leeds begin their revival we have already dissected the problems currently endured by Oldham Athletic under new manager David Dunn. The same David Dunn who once fell over trying to chip a ball in behind a defender by wrapping his right leg around the back of his left leg and who, according to the man himself, could still breeze through a campaign in any Championship midfield at the age of 35. Pity Oldham are in League One. Dunn is in because the previous incumbent, Darren Kelly, fooled everyone with his claim that his previous job as manager of Sunderland’s under-14s would give him the contacts he needed to build Oldham back up to where they were in the hey-day of Frankie Bunn and Andy Ritchie.

In between games this blog becomes a topic of conversation. Someone tells me that he likes reading it because it always makes him feel better about his own life, such is the level of stupid shit that happens to me on a daily basis. I’m delighted to be providing that service, obviously. Someone else suggests that this column may go over the top occasionally. That’s not a charge I’m about to deny, and we laugh loudly about the time I claimed that the GBWBA Association committee was corrupt. What? That’s fair comment, isn’t it? They’re not there anymore, anyway. There are different people in charge now, one of whom is yet another of my ex-team-mates. I’ve been around a bit in my 20 years in the game, it seems.

So much so that someone just has to bring up the story behind my acrimonious departure from anything resembling the international wheelchair basketball scene. We laugh again as we recall how I was unceremoniously jettisoned by the under-23 coach (now the GB men’s head coach, or at least he was last time I gave enough of a shit to check). Having started in most of the training sessions leading up to the 1997 World Under-23 Championships in Toronto I soon found myself at the very bottom of the pecking order, behind even the most average player ever to play international basketball who shall remain nameless for the simple fact that he is a bloody nice lad who wasn’t even interested in playing wheelchair basketball and so it would be grossly unfair to criticise him. He was a track athlete who somehow found himself in the squad. We had depth, back then. Anyway, when even he was preferred to me I knew the game was up. I held a grudge for a while, swearing I would refuse the call-up which inevitably never came. It seems they had moved on from lippy, three-foot point guards with cows arse-barn door syndrome. Again, who knew? Like my burgeoning professional career, the grudge has gone and now there is only laughter at the very thought that any of it really ever mattered. Which is of course why I have included it here.

The second lot of opposition were, on local parlance, different gravy to the Spiders. When I started this blog I never thought I would find myself writing the phrase ‘different gravy to the Spiders’ but there you are. Funny old world. I have no idea where Knights come from. Wales, perhaps. Belfast Knights won’t be happy about the blatant theft of their nickname but then again they can hardly lay claim to have thought of it in the first place. This lot are not quite as good as the old Belfast teams were at their best, but they have a couple of taller players who are more than useful shooters. Soon they have built up a comfortable lead of over 20 points and are cruising a little bit. That allows us to sneak back in to the game and with some improved shooting, reduce the arrears to single figures late in the game. We don’t really threaten to complete the comeback, but we are competitive at least. On the sidelines, one of the ex-players in our group has given up to go shopping while our talk turns to early 90’s NBA stars. From John Starks to Reggie Miller and even as far as Luc Longley and Bill Wennington (who?), NBA basketball was much better in those days, we conclude. This may or may not coincide with the fact that at that time we were at an age when we could still play without sustaining a broken hip or a hernia.

Throughout this whole experience, sitting there watching two games almost in their entirety, I never really get the urge to make an ill-advised comeback. There’s always a moment, usually during the warm-up, when I wish I could go on court and shoot a few lay-ups or lob up a few wild three point efforts. But as soon as the game starts the urge disappears. It’s all too much like hard work, especially against people half my age who take this shit seriously enough to wear a gum shield! The discovery of said gum shield draws a few ‘not in my day’ murmurs from the sidelines but on further reflection I don’t think I’d go out there now without full riot gear. I fall out of my chair now going down Slater Street towards Burger King. I shudder to think what would happen to me if I was to go back to chasing after a round piece of leather with the people of the wheelchair basketball world, many of whom place little emphasis on their own safety on court.

The longer it is since I played, the better I was.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Mockingjay Part 2 - Does Not Really Contain Spoilers (but have you seen the price of a cinema ticket?)

My new cinema card arrived yesterday. That’s the one that gets me two cinema tickets for the price of one because I’m disabled. The idea behind this is that you might need someone to go with you, you know to carry your popcorn or something? Maybe watch the film for you? Or maybe just to throw you out when the slavering starts but anyway although none of this strictly applies to me my philosophy is that if you are going to get kicked in the bollocks on a daily basis by your disability you might aswell pick up any perks that it might offer you along the way.

So I do. Unashamedly. And what? At least I don’t use it as a chat-up line like one or two people I know. That’s only because 1) I’m not single and 2) If I was I’d still be too scared that even a free cinema ticket wouldn’t be enough to convince someone to go out with me. That’s when you know you’re struggling, although maybe some women are still old fashioned enough to believe that they wouldn’t have to pay for anything anyway. Maybe if disabled people got two for one on hair straighteners we’d be on to something.

So Emma and I used said card last night to watch Mockingjay Part 2, which confusingly is the fourth and final part of the Hunger Games story. While we’re on the subject, it is a bloody good job that I get two for one tickets at the cinema when you consider the price they charge these days. I remember going to see The Matrix at a cinema in High Wycombe when Emma and I first got together and reeling at the outrageous £6.00 charge back then. That was in the late 90’s possibly 2000 and it was still twice the price of what you could expect to pay here back then. Fifteen or 16 years later you will now be relieved of £9.20 for the privilege of viewing a film, even a shit film, Cineworld in St.Helens. Add in an unreasonably sized popcorn and a more sensibly sized soft drink and the whole lot costs over £17.00. It would have been over £27.00 if I’d had to pay for the two of us like you normal people have to. While everyone rightly screams and shouts about the price of going to football say, those at the helm of the cinema industry have stealthily sneaked up behind us and mugged us.

Not that Mockingjay Part 2 is a shit film, not by any stretch. If you don’t enjoy two hours of Jennifer Lawrence running around shooting shit in a suit that would be tight on Mo Farah then it is either because you are female, gay or dead. I could watch Katniss all night, to the extent that I remember watching the vastly inferior and relatively sleepy Mockingjay Part 1 with the unwanted bonus of subtitles after a bizarre, head-shakingly absurd mix-up, and not having it spoil my enjoyment completely. But there is much more to this final instalment than just Katniss running around shooting shit. We get the climactic if hastily tampered with denouement to the whole saga, which while it is not wholly surprising is no less entertaining for that. Aswell as Lawrence’s masterclass in combining stressed with sultry there’s also Natalie Dormer pulling off the stunning achievement of smirking seductively with one half of her hair shaved off, Liam Hemsworth and Sam Claflin competing for male pouting honours as Gale and Finnick respectively, another splendidly barmy turn from the brilliant Julianne Moore and the sinister, scary if brief performance of Jena Malone.

In truth, while I enjoyed it immensely it is not the best of the series. Like the books which I read a couple of years ago, that honour goes to the first effort. Part of the appeal of the whole thing, what sets it apart from tiresome and arse-achingly boring super-hero movies and run of the mill action thrillers is the original concept of a ritual fight to the death between children. The outright cruelty of the thing, the horrific idea that you will at some point have to exterminate someone who may have saved your life not long before is just preposterous and it is this which keeps you emotionally invested throughout. By the way there are only three of Suzanne Collins’ books, despite the fact that this is the fourth film. With true Harry Potterist chi-chingism they decided to make two films from the final book in the series, a decision which led to the frankly pedestrian meandering of Mockingjay Part 1 but which is somewhat atoned for here. I would recommend each of the books either before or after you see the films, especially as I say that first one.

Just one thing. Early in the film Gale tells Katniss that kissing someone when you are drunk doesn’t count. Or rather, he compares something else to kissing someone when you are drunk, meaning that it doesn’t count. I BEG TO DIFFER. If that’s the case, hardly anyone has ever kissed anyone. George Best and Olly Reed must have died with their virginity intact by that rationale.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Skyfall II - Skyfail

You'll remember I had a slight problemette with almost the entire workforce of Sky a couple of weeks ago. Well they've struck again, only more inconveniently, more ineptly and more absurdly.

After they had failed to call me back to arrange for an engineer to reconnect my broadband to my television I had left it for a few weeks. I was too blazing angry to contact them again for a while. I decided I could live without the last two epsiodes of Banshee and 83 series of The West Wing for the time being. By the way how hard can it be to send the right engineer? Why does there have to even be a 'right engineer', why won't 'an engineer' suffice? All these and maybe more questions may never be answered.

So anyway I got home from work on Wednesday night to another spectacular surprise from everyone's favourite evil media empire. I would say it had been a bad day at work but I don't use that term any more. There are no bad days at work, because that would imply that there are some good days. There is now no longer any expectation that a day in work can be anything other than bad, so it was just another day in work. As I rolled through the door, trying not to let the suddenly adventurous cat out, Emma handed me a card with a 'sorry we missed you' note on it. This is the kind of thing that normally arrives when she has had something delivered. Two bags of shite for the price of one, as I always say. Not this time. This time it was from Sky, who were sorry they had missed me when they had come around to sort out my small broadband problem. So small is it, in fact, that their achievement in turning it into a colossal, unsolvable mind-bender is worthy of some praise. As is the fact that they tried to fix it by turning up without telling me. I'm genuinely in awe of their staggering incompetence.

I had no idea. Their failure to call me back after our last furious row had, as far as I was aware, left the situation in limbo. I was taking time out from speaking to them to calm down, and to contemplate whether I would rather give my money to that bogus man of the people Richard Branson than to that blatant man of himself Rupert Murdoch. The note advised that I would need to contact them to make another appointment but brilliantly, in the way that only Sky seem to know how, it complicated this by not including a number on which to contact them. I had to Google that number, using my Sky broadband. It is easy to see how they have become so powerful.

At first I thought it was going to go smoothly. The usual 8-minute wait to speak to someone did not materialise and I was put straight through to someone. I say straight through, you do have to spend a couple of minutes talking to a machine which has the effect of making anyone within earshot think you are just shouting random words down the phone like some kind of berserk biff. The first person I spoke to (there were five) asked how they could help me and this is where I made my fatal mistake. Instead of just saying that I would like to rearrange my engineer's visit, I added that I would like to complain about the shabby and ridiculous level of amateurish service on offer from Britain's biggest media empire and it's army of barely English-speaking Stormtroopers. But someone else has to deal with that, like the Good Morning Sir queue in that same episode of The Young Ones I referenced in my last rant at Sky's expense.

I don't really consider myself to be a bad tempered person. I don't really get angry. When someone pisses me off I tend to roll my eyes, tut and then write a furious blog about them. Mentioning no names of course. But when I have been put on hold for five minutes at a time and am awaiting another conversation with the fifth different Sky employee (who may or may not help me) it tends to raise my temperature. In the end I had some kind of psychotic break. The latest Sky minion had told me that she needed my mobile number to continue this discussion, for reasons that I absolutely cannot fathom still. Humouring her, I gave her my mobile number, answered when she called and then put down the land line receiver. At least I was no longer paying the call charge for this bullshit. Not that this had cooled me down any since she kept asking me the same questions over and over, questions that didn't seem relevant or to which the answers should have been readily available considering this was the 762nd time I had tried to fix this problem. It was like Room 101, with all my personal hells coming to visit me all at the same time. Abject torture. In the end I said;


And I did use those words, and some worse ones. She was just about to tell me that she would not be able to continue the call if I continued to use that language when I gave up. Emma had come into the room to find out what was going on and so I just handed her the phone and left the room. Emma is not known for her patience, but she is even less likely to shout 'just send the right fucking engineer' at anyone than she is to show patience. It took another 10 minutes of utter bullshit to come to something even resembling a solution Even then they could only tell her that they would send a text message to me at which point I would have to contact them again to make final arrangements for another appointment. As I write this, they have just this moment sent me the following text;

Thank you for contacting Sky with your recent enquiry. We have applied a resolution on to your account and believe the issue to now be resolved. Please check your bill at blah blah blah. Resolved is an interesting choice of word, I think. My definition of resolved would be for me to go home tonight and find that my On Demand service, for which I am paying a fucking fortune, is actually working. Which it won't be. This is not then, in any way, resolved. In short, this is not fucking over. Far from it.

I can only hope that when I do contact them to finally get this 'resolved', the first person I speak to offers me a plausible explanation as to how any of this happened, some money off my bill, and a solution to the problem without having to speak to 14 different people, each from a different country. Maybe its best if Emma does it....

Friday, 20 November 2015

I Believe In Miracles

This column will now take a detour from its usual route down the valley of sneering sarcasm on the subject of modern life with a disability and become a book review column.

I have just finished reading I Believe In Miracles by Daniel Taylor and Johnny Owen, the story of Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough-led rise to European glory between 1975 and 1980. This is the best book I have read about sport since Fever Pitch. The words Fever and Pitch might scream middle class Johnny-Come-Lately at you, and you might well point to it as the precursor for all of the current ills in professional football. Certainly it helped to make football fashionable among the wealthier to the point where now you should probably think about selling your house if you want to be able to afford a season ticket for one of England’s top clubs. All of Roy Keane’s prawn sandwich brigade probably read Fever Pitch and loved it. Yet none of this detracts from the fact that Nick Hornby’s breakout tome is not just a book about football or sport, but about life, love, work and obsession. It’s utterly compelling.

As is I Believe In Miracles. It begins with Forest in the old second division at the time of Clough’s appointment as manager in 1975, the year of my birth. It culminates in Forest winning a second European Cup in successive years by beating Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg in 1980. In between there are tales of running through nettles to get fit, drinking heavily as preparation on the eve of big games, and a plethora of priceless Clough witticisms which became legend. Coughisms, if you want to go that way. On being told by one player, left out of the team for a big game, that he was ‘not happy’ Clough simply replies;

‘No, well which one are you then?’

Of course, plenty of books have been written about Clough and his managerial partnership with Peter Taylor. Not so many of those have focused on the characters within the Forest team while the pair were in charge. Men like Kenny Burns, Larry Lloyd, John Robertson and John McGovern feature heavily here as they tell the story in their own words. McGovern tells the story of how he missed out on selection for the Scotland squad for the 1978 World Cup despite his status at that time as one of the first division’s premier central midfield players. When asked why McGovern was not in his squad for the tournament in Argentina Scotland manager Ally McLeod, who would go on to be mocked for stating that his team would win the World Cup only to see them eliminated in the first group stage after defeat to Peru and a draw with Iran, replied;

‘’McGovern’s Scottish?’

I don’t want to tell you all the best bits now, so I’ll try to keep the quotes to a minimum. Oh ok, one more. At the 1980 European Cup final Forest fans paid homage to Robertson with a banner that said ‘Robertson lays on more balls than Fiona Richmond’, a reference to the actress and glamour model who was the female sex symbol of the day. What leaps off the page at you is how different football was in the 1970’s compared to the modern era. Forest won promotion from the second division in third place (no playoffs) at the end of the 1976/77 season and by the end of the following term were celebrating winning the first division title itself. This was viewed as a remarkable achievement even at the time but the difficulty involved, while high, is nothing like what it would be today. The idea of a promoted team winning the Premier League at the first attempt is utterly laughable. Year after year promoted sides scramble around with the sole aim of staying in the division, and they are wise to do so given the financial gap between themselves and the elite within the elite. In less cynical times, Clough and Taylor saw no reason why Forest could not compete at the higher level, proving that they could do so and then some. In that title winning season Peter Withe was Forest’s top scorer. He was sold to Newcastle United, then of the second division, just three weeks into the following season. A season in which they were about to play in the European Cup. Can you imagine Jose Mourinho, fresh from winning the title and preparing for an assault on Champions League honours, selling Diego Costa to Sheffield Wednesday or Birmingham City just weeks into the season? Can you imagine Costa agreeing to join one of those clubs? If Mourinho was of a mind to sell Costa, the Spain striker would sit on his fat contract, train with the reserves, train on his own and generally sulk and cause chaos until such time as a sensible offer came along. Not Withe. He wasn’t wanted, for whatever reason, and off he went to Newcastle. Four years later, he scored the winning goal for Aston Villa in the European Cup final against Bayern Munich. Yet given everything that Forest won after his departure, Withe’s sale can hardly be considered a managerial mistake on the part of Clough.

European football was a different beat also. Nowadays if you are not good enough to win the league in your own country then all is not lost. You can finish as low as fourth and still qualify for the Champions League if you are a Premier League team. When Forest were conquering Europe the only English representatives were the first division champions unless an English team were the European Cup holders. Forest beat holders Liverpool on their way to the 1979 final, but none of their subsequent opponents, AEK Athens, Grasshoppers or FC Cologne regularly find themselves in the Champions League now, even with its expanded qualification criteria. Similarly in 1980, Forest beat the then mighty Ajax in the semi-final after overcoming Oster of Sweden (who?) Arges Pitesti of Romania (you what?) and Dynamo Berlin. Regular viewers of ITVs Bundesliga coverage will have noted that the latter are not at Germany’s top table these days. The European Cup in those days was a more cut-throat business, but that meant that often the identity of the opposition would have what we would now consider a more Europa League feel to it.

It wasn’t all sweetness and sunshine for Forest during their run, however. Taylor and Clough fell out frequently and never quite made up by the time of Taylor’s death in 1990, while Clough was not afraid to upset star players. Archie Gemmill, scorer of THAT goal against Holland for Scotland in the 1978 World Cup, was left out of the Forest team for the 1979 European Cup final having only just recovered from injury. His response was furious, claiming that he had been told by Clough that he would be picked if he could prove his fitness, which he felt he had. Despite being a vital cog in their title-winning midfield Gemmill never got over what he saw as a betrayal, and never played for Forest again after that final victory over Malmo. He moved on to Birmingham City, and was so disturbed by Clough’s actions that he refused his old boss’s advances when he apologised and tried to bring Gemmill back to the City Ground the following season.

Nottingham Forest currently languish in the second tier of the English league structure, just about where they were when Clough walked through the door 40 years ago. After their 1-0 victory over Hamburg in the 1980 European Cup final they never got close to repeating those heroics, and were relegated from the top flight in Clough’s last game in charge some 13 years later. They have been back up and down again since, but the fact that they have never threatened to challenge for a title since shines a light on the magnitude of their achievements on which I Believe In Miracles is a funny, sad, eye-opening and generally sensational account.

Thursday, 19 November 2015


As everyone is aware I don't care much for rugby union. It's boring, elitist and it appears to spend large chunks of its time and resources trying to eliminate rugby league. I watched half an hour of the rugby world cup, and that was only because it was on in the pub in the lead up to the Super League Grand Final.

Yet the passing of All-Black legend Jonah Lomu this week has reminded me of a different time. Years ago, before I wrote a 12,000 word dissertation which all but proved the pro-union bias of the British tabloid newspapers, I was as entertained as everyone else by the exploits of the giant New Zealand winger. He transcended rugby union in many ways, but the way in which he casually humiliated the toffs in the England team during the 1995 world cup was joyous. He just ran over them, showing them up for the princess-dating wet blankets that they were. And it was all so effortless. At 6 foot 5 and with the build of a heavyweight boxer, Lomu was nevertheless a sub 11-second 100 metre man able to run not only quickly and destructively, but with the grace of a much lighter man.

In the day or so since his death it has been suggested that he is the greatest winger to play rugby in either code. The only rugby league man I can offer up as a challenger for that title is Martin Offiah, and even he started in union. Not many of you will know that in the late 80's and early 90's Offiah was something of an idol of mine. I used to turn up for training wearing a Widnes shirt because of Offiah, still the fastest thing I've ever seen on a rugby field. That early adulation fell in a heap when Offiah signed for Wigan, which perhaps left a gap in the market for a free-scoring superstar who shredded opponents. Enter Lomu.

But more than just his try-scoring and subsequent trophy-hoovering endeavours, Lomu is remarkable for the fact that he did it all while suffering from a serious kidney condition. As I write this it hasn't been confirmed, but Lomu's untimely death at the age of just 40 is likely to have been caused by that condition. He was diagnosed with it at the age of 20, yet managed to defy it to the extent that he became one of sport's all-time greats. That's pretty inspirational stuff, especially to this 40-year-old who complains about having to take a few tablets each day in order to lower the blood pressure and hold off the threat of further kidney deterioration. It's not really comparable to what Lomu went through. He had a kidney transplant in 2004 while still in his 20's, a peak time of a professional athlete's life. That kidney started to fail seven years later in 2011, and by the time of his death he was enduring six-hour dialysis sessions three times a week while waiting for a second transplant which never came.

We never saw him in rugby league despite rumours of a switch to Wigan or Leeds as the game went fully professional soon after Lomu's explosive world cup performances. Yet it says something about him that he managed to make rugby union entertaining to this league-centric observer, and that he did so while fighting a brave and inspirational battle against the filthy disease that appears to have taken him so young.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Scenes From A Sitcom

With everything that has gone on in the last 24 hours you would be forgiven for not knowing that there was a rugby league game on today. England met New Zealand at Wigan's Pie Dome (otherwise known as the DW Stadium) in the third and deciding test match. I had planned to be there before that ridiculous lost wallet fiasco from a couple of weeks ago. You may have read about that on these pages. All of it is true because you literally couldn't make that shit up. As it turned out the enforced cancellation of my bank card meant that I wasn't able to book tickets either online or over the phone, and as regular readers will know it is utterly futile to try to turn up somewhere to buy rugby league tickets in person if you're going to insist on taking your wheelchair with you.

By the time my new bank card turned up they didn't have any tickets left. Or rather, they didn't have two together for me and another of my band of sinister wheelchair using schysters. We would have been in different stands. The pub was calling. Yet with my local having long since declared itself a karaoke bar we were going to have to find an alternative venue. Where better, I naively thought, to watch a game of rugby league than at the clubhouse of the local amateur rugby league club? It's five minutes from my house which was going to be handy in the miserable November rain, and it is all kitted out with the kind of accessibility features that most local landlords work overtime to try to avoid having to install. Toilets and everything, you wouldn't believe it.

So an hour before kick-off I made my way down there. There was a hairy moment when the lift to the bar area stopped half way up, but it started up again fairly quickly. I approached the bar area but looked through the doors to find rows of people seated across the length of the room. They were listening to a man talking on a microphone. I looked closer and saw that half of the people listening in the rows of seating were young children. There was obviously something going on that was not advertised anywhere along the accessible route from the entrance to the bar room.

I was just about to leave when a woman opened the door and beckoned me inside. Slightly confused, I popped my head around the door to see that there were one or two men drinking at the bar. They seemed like regular punters so I reasoned that the event, whatever it was, must soon be coming to an end and that they'd be putting the England game on. Ploughing on in hope I bought a drink, and turned around to face the man speaking on the microphone. It was only polite, I thought. As I did so, I caught a glimpse of the screen in the wall behind him. On it was what looked like the classic sports team photograph and the words.....


I couldn't believe it. It was like something out of a long running sitcom and I was playing Victor Meldrew or Rodney Trotter. With three quarters of a Bud in my hand there followed an excruciatingly awkward 10 minutes or so during which my priorities were to 1) drink quickly and 2) Think of somewhere else to go for the game. There were one or two moments when I thought this awkward stand-off might end and I'd be able to stay, but as soon as that thought came it would pass as someone else got up to speak, giving their thanks and handing out prizes. Having outstayed my welcome by a good 20 munutes, I took the desperate decision to meet my friend in The Vine instead.

In fact we ended up at The Elephant. It was slightly closer, giving earlier respite from the rain, and they had taken the unusual (for them) but welcome step of leaving the accessible entrance open. That, added to the 20-14 win recorded by England was just about the only thing that went right during the whole excursion. Sometimes I can see why some members of the general public think I shouldn't be allowed out by myself. In an age when you can't take photographs of your own kids in public without someone accusing you of being a paedophile, it is not a good idea to turn up by yourself to an under 7s rugby function. At that point the stigma of a wheelchair becomes the least of your worries.

Before I go, can I ask that people stop being so bloody stupid about immigration in the wake of the terrorist atrocities in Paris? I am no fan of religion but to suggest that these attacks are some kind of manifestation of Muslim ideology is beyond ignorant. The percentage of Muslims involved in this sort of thing is minuscule. Probably no larger, for that matter, than the percentage of people from other religions and races who are involved in this kind of evil. It's pretty shameful to use such a tragedy to try to justify what are essentially bigoted views. So knock it on the head, eh?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Cristiano Ronaldo Signs For Tottenham

Ha ha. Gotcha. Dickhead.

Right, first of all let’s clear something up. It has been suggested by my two and a half readers that the reason my car won’t play my MP3 player is because of my taste in music. It was also suggested that I own an album by the long-forgotten teen screecher JoJo. I don’t even know if JoJo has an album for me to own. I own a single by JoJo, and I own it because the person accusing me of owning the album bought it for me. By the same rationale, he owns a single by David Hassellhoff. I suspect that this person is the only person who, before yesterday, remembered that JoJo ever existed.

As for my poor taste in music well…..I would describe it as different. You lot stick to your Ben Haenow singles and your Arctic Monkeys dirges about smoking on street corners in Sheffield, I’ll stick to my contemporary but perfectly authentic soul. Though I would add that Joss Stone should probably not do another reggae album. She is to reggae what I am to ice hockey.

You’ll be pleased to know since you are not even reading any more that I am going to spare you most of Friday in London. We went to the Museum Of London which is somewhere close to St Paul’s Cathedral. We had to get there by bus due to the small problem with the DLR at Cutty Sark. It turned out that their lift isn’t just out of order, but that the whole thing is being renovated if not replaced. It will be closed for some time, then. That’s access in your capital city at its finest, right there. Before we headed out I had to go back to the car to retrieve Emma’s make-up bag which she had left there when we arrived the previous night. As I came back into the hotel lobby I was accosted by an unshaven man who moved his wheelchair towards me, pointed at mine and repeated ‘buenos, buenos’. He then said something else in Spanish before reverting to ‘buenos, buenos’. I think that meant he liked my chair, which was not surprising since he was sat in the most unsightly rust bucket imaginable. We might complain about wheelchair services in this country but on this evidence we are some way ahead of the Spanish equivalent.

When I say we had to get a bus I mean we had to get two buses. The first of these, the 188, left handily from a stop just around the corner from the Wetherspoons at which we had by now taken up residency. Or at least the staff probably thought we had since we were back for breakfast that morning only a few hours after staggering out of there half cut. It was again bitching down with rain in Greenwich and we spent a sodden few minutes waiting while the bus driver pleaded with his customers to ‘make room for the wheelchair’. This doesn’t happen on the 10A. On the 10A most drivers just let you on and let you worry about the fact that you have got 26 toddlers under your armpit and their mothers’ arses in your face. If that sounds appealing you have never been to Thatto Heath. Strictly speaking people are obliged to ‘make room for the wheelchair’ in any case, which they did but which as we all know is one of the many and varied reasons why young women with children hate the disabled. The other reasons can almost certainly be attributed to the poor behaviour of me and my friends. We are representative of the disabled population after all, especially since nobody seems to be able to tell any of us apart.

The first bus journey was long and arduous and took in such sights as Bermondsey, although it did also offer stunning views of the Houses Of Parliament and the London Eye. When we arrived we met up with Emma’s mum for a trip round the museum. Before we did that I had the worst cup of tea it has ever been my displeasure to consume in the museum cafe, which takes some doing as I have had tea in Los Angeles. I have no idea how a London museum gets tea wrong, but if I were to spend any time trying to decipher this conundrum this piece would run well past 5,000 words and your attention span hasn’t even got you this far. Your idea of literature is the album notes on your Metallica CD so let’s crack on, shall we?

The museum was brilliantly informative and entertaining but it would be entirely lost on you so we’ll gloss over it. I read everything but never remember any of it anyway. It’s free, though, which might interest you. Afterwards we headed to a nearby pub called The Lord Raglan and waited there for Emma’s dad to finish work. The plan was to move on to the Red Lion in Westminster but we decided against it. It was Friday afternoon just after work had finished for the weekend and the pubs were bound to be packed. We had a table here, and there was a disabled toilet. Albeit a disabled toilet that was currently blocked by people sitting at a table next to it, but a disabled toilet nonetheless. They would just have to move. The people in the Lord Raglan were all very well dressed, the kind of people who wear suits for work, but some of their barnets were a little less grand. One man had a hairstyle that could eventually see him face legal action from Paul Calf and he was not untypical. Despite this minor distraction a good night was had by all as we ate, drank and speculated on the promotion prospects of Sheffield Wednesday.

Saturday was what this whole visit was all about. Game day. The second test between England and New Zealand, with England 1-0 up in the series having won the first game 26-12 at Hull last week. Kick-off was 2.30pm, which just left us time to spend those Hard Rock Cafe vouchers that we never got to spend on Thursday night. We took the tube from Greenwich to Green Park, and walked (pushed?) down the side of the park behind which you will find Buckingham Palace, passing Park Lane Hotel on our way. It was like Monopoly but wetter, and without a top hat or a dog. Happily we were the first people to get in to Hard Rock Cafe that lunchtime, so there would be none of the problems we experienced in New York. We were seated and introduced to our ‘server’ Joanna (pronounced Yo-anna) who brought us excellent but massively over-priced burgers. The $50 (about £32) vouchers did not cover the cost of two burgers with fries and two large soft drinks. It still left us with around £1.30 to pay ourselves, plus a few quid extra for a tip for Yo-anna. She’d had the temerity to work out for us what an acceptable tip might be, just like they do in America, and whacked it on the bill as if it were part of the actual price. She came up 59p short of what she thought was acceptable, but I feel no shame over the matter. They were excellent burgers, however.

Fulfilling its duty as an access guide Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is bound to report that getting to the disabled toilet was a challenge, as it had been at the Lord Raglan. This is because it is tucked away in a corner of the small dining area, and with a family of 72 seated at the table opposite by the time I needed to use the facilities, it was necessary to disturb them and others so I could get through to them. It would seem sensible if they are going to have the thing right in the corner of the room to seat disabled customers on the table nearest to it. None of us really thought it through, to be honest. But you will if you go there now. Possibly.

Next it was back on the tube at Green Park to head for Stratford and the Olympic Stadium. That journey takes about 40 minutes before the long walk from the tube station to the stadium itself. It’s all very well signposted and with 45,000 others heading in the same direction you are unlikely to get lost on the way, but I’m sceptical of Google’s claim that it is only 0.4 miles from the station to the stadium. You have to work your way through an entire shopping centre first, very reminiscent of Liverpool One in the way it is laid out, with parts of it outdoors and so offering little protection from the damp conditions. We had to ask for directions at one point after getting out of a lift, and were told to go ‘up Jamie’s passage’.

‘Wouldn’t want to be Jamie.’ I said, to the haunting sound of tumbleweed floating across the concrete.

When the stadium comes into view you are still some way from it. I think maybe they are trying to recreate the anticipation that you used to feel when going up Wembley Way towards the twin towers. It doesn’t have the same effect for me since the towers were replaced by that unsightly arch, and it doesn’t quite work here either somehow. Perhaps it was the wind and the rain, but all I felt on approaching the stadium was the need to get to a bar and to my seat. It helped that we were in Block H, which was fairly central to where we had approached from. The first thing you see as you enter the stadium is people selling beer out of cooler bags. There’s also a small kiosk selling beer (and food) just by the entrance so it couldn’t really be any easier. It could be cheaper, however. One man with a heavy Yorkshire accent began bellowing his disapproval at being charged £4.90 for a bottle of Heineken, and while it is hard to disagree with him that this is some kind of grand larceny, you have to wonder how much expected to pay at an Olympic Stadium in London. His observation that he could get a full crate for that price at ASDA rather ignored the fact that he could not witness an international rugby league test match at ASDA. They’re not even doing Black Friday for fuck’s sake.

Beer bought, we found our way to our seats after conferring with a couple of quite useless stewards on the matter. It turns out that our seats were at that point being used as a standing area for some suspiciously non-disabled fans. The stewards eventually twigged this and turfed them out, allowing us to get a first taste of our view. I have to say it was fairly spectacular. If you’re quibbling you would say it was slightly too far towards the corner but you are far enough away and high enough to be able to see the whole field at all times. And this stadium, it has something about it, an aura that I wasn’t expecting to find. So many of today’s new stadia are soulless places but here you really get a sense of great things having taken place just yards from where you are. Like Jess Ennis’ Olympic heptathlon triumph in 2012 which happened here on the same day, the so-called Super Saturday, that Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford also won golds in the 10,000 metres and long jump respectively. The sound system is utter garbage, however, as we found out when the Queens Guards tried to ‘entertain’ us with their rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. That’s a trivial matter, comparatively speaking, but when their attempts to play ‘The Last Post’ in respect of those who fought and died in world wars are an equally muffled mess you start to realise just how important a decent sound system is within a stadium.

Much has already been said of the game, which was one of the dullest spectacles perhaps in the history of test match rugby league. No wonder the usual piss-hats tried to start a Mexican wave at one point during the second half. Neither side were willing to play any open rugby league it seemed, and in selecting John Bateman at left centre England coach Steve McNamara blundered pretty badly. Ryan Hall isn’t my favourite player, but even he can be absolved of any blame for his ineffectiveness playing outside of Wigan’s third choice centre. How does Wigan’s third choice centre get selected ahead of the first choice centres of any other Super League club? It’s baffling and if it does not change on Saturday when the teams meet at Wigan we are likely to get the same result as we had here, which was a thoroughly underwhelming 9-2 win for New Zealand.

There was only one try in the game, a tally which would embarrass rugby union, as both teams stuck it up the jumper and slugged it out in the wet conditions. There was some excellent defence on display from both sides but anyone viewing our sport for the first time would not have left the ground with the impression that rugby league is an exciting, enthralling sport full of thrills and spills. They might have actually left thinking that it is not too different from rugby union, in fact. The game turned on the disallowing of a James Graham ‘try’ by the video referees (both of whom have been stood down for this week’s series decider). The former Saints prop managed somehow to avoid getting downward pressure on a loose ball behind the Kiwi try line, clamping it instead with his not inconsiderable torso. This was not considered to be controlled downward pressure by the officials in the booth (probably correctly), and the game was gone.

With Cafe Football and others full to bursting point on the way back through the shopping centre we settled for a post-match brew at the cafe at Marks & Spencers. By the lift, a random girl questioned me about why I was no longer involved in disability sport because a friend of hers was involved in fencing and I was not too old and blah blah blah. Believe me love, if I’m old enough to breathe heavily after a gentle push up towards the Olympic Stadium, then I’m too old to get back on a basketball court. We rounded the night off by taking in the Red Lion at Westminster where we had met Sky Sports’ Stevo last year. He wasn’t there this night, but we did meet another Michael, one from Manchester who talked and talked and talked, about how his wife didn’t want to move down here but now she is here she won’t leave and how he supports United but everyone else in his family supports City. With a lack of facilities here we took the decision to get the tube back to Greenwich to a pub near the hotel. The Mitre was too packed which was a shame as there was some decent live music on (not Arctic Monkeys or Metallica) so we ended up where it had all began, the Gate Clock Wetherspoons.

They don’t play any music in there.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Thursday In London

There are 118 days between the 2015 Super League Grand Final and the start of the 2016 Super League season. That’s around 17 weeks. Almost as if they knew that 17 consecutive weekends without rugby league was a prospect that I could not countenance, the powers that be organised a three-test international series between England and New Zealand to take place in November. Just to tide us leagueaholics over that little bit. We’re still going to have to cope for 14 weekends without our game, but every little helps.

To this end, Emma and I decided to attend the second of these three tests at London’s Olympic Stadium. Or the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Stadium to give it its regal, full title. The first test was in Hull and although I have nothing against Hull, London seemed like a more suitable place to be able to spend a few days while taking in the game somewhere along the line. We did attend an international game in Hull once, but only stayed the one night. My abiding memory of that night is of two lads coming in to the pub looking all cool and gangster (gangsta?), not saying a word even to each other, until a Black Eyed Peas track came on and caused them to lose their minds and their credibility as they started busting the sort of moves that would make Fergie blush. So we didn’t go to Hull this time….

The game took place on the Saturday so we drove down there on the Thursday morning. We had chosen to stay in Greenwich, which is close to Stratford which houses the Olympic Park, but which is also home to an accessible part of the erratic London Underground system. That would allow us to get around to a few other parts of the city and take in some other sites. After all, even a leagueaholic doesn’t drive 220 miles just to get to the game. If it was just about the game there would be a coach involved, and an open bottle of whiskey at 5.45 in the morning. But those days are very probably behind me now, so the whiskey money went on the Ibis Hotel in Greenwich.

The journey south was perfectly Hellish. We left at around 10.45am and did not arrive in Greenwich until around 4.30pm. We did not stop, except when the volume of traffic dictated it which was often. But more than that, the principal reason for a 3 and a half hour journey managing to last well over five hours was the berserk antics of the satnav in the new car. We’ve had that car for about six weeks and it has already caused us problems. Well, I caused a problem with it when I tried to get through a space not big enough for a child’s tricycle in the university car park the other week, but the car has also had its moments. It steadfastly refuses to play anything on my MP3 player which was downloaded on a Tuesday, for example. I remember one Monday after buying my new MP3 player painstakingly loading all of my favourite music on to my equally erratic laptop and MP3 player and then driving to work on the Tuesday with the pleasure of an alternative to bloody Joel and Lorna on Heart North West. I then downloaded some more on the Tuesday evening and every single one of those tracks still refuses to play. They don’t even register. It’s like they’re not there. Except they are because when I use the MP3 player outside of the car they all play perfectly well. Now either the car has decided that it doesn’t like my taste in music, or the people at Ford have seen me coming and it is in fact a heap of shit. I suspect the latter but considering I only paid £95 for it I don’t think I can complain too much. Alright it is not quite £95 because they take the £200+ mobility allowance I receive to cover the rest of it but given that I also get free insurance and am exempt from road tax I am still getting a brand new car for only just north of about £7000. It probably thinks it is entitled to have a shit music system.

Anyway, back to the satnav. Naively, we had muted the voice instructions. We had done this because it rudely turns the radio down when it wants to tell you something. You don’t do that, do you? If you want to speak to someone in a car you don’t turn the radio down, do you? You shout above the music. The satnav is not for shouting so we took it to the other extreme and muted it. Which was a mistake in hindsight because what we didn’t know is that every time the visual instructions guided us away from the motorway on to some deserted outpost of an A-road, it was only doing so to try to avoid heavy traffic. At one point, we were stopped dead on the M6 and noticed that all of the traffic on the slip road for the A14 was moving reasonably well. The satnav was flashing up all sorts of visual prompts to get off the motorway and take the A14. Which we did, at which point the traffic on the A14 stopped dead and the queue on the M6 that we had just left magically disappeared. You couldn’t make this shit up. It reminded me of the bank robbery scene in the last episode of The Young Ones, when they get stuck in the queue behind the man from the penny arcade across the road who has just turned up to have all his pennies changed into banknotes.

I’m not one for worrying about immigration. I don’t care how many foreign people live here as long as they’re making a contribution like everyone else. There are huge swathes of English people living here who aren’t making a contribution in any case, so for me it is not an issue. But still, it would have been somehow comforting if even one of the staff at the Ibis Hotel in Greenwich had English as their first language. It’s amazing how long it can take to check in to a hotel when there is a language barrier between you and the staff. It didn’t help that we couldn’t remember the registration number of the car and Emma had to go back outside to get it. That bloody car, again. When we got to the room we had to phone down to reception to report the complete absence of an accessible shower, which they responded to by bringing a chair to our room. A chair with holes in probably designed for use in the shower, but a portable chair nonetheless. I had this terribly antiquated idea that an accessible shower should have a seat bolted to the wall. With a bath also conspicuous by its absence, it would have to do.

The plan for Thursday evening was to pay a visit to Hard Rock Cafe. At the risk of again veering dangerously off topic I have to give you a little bit of background to that. Otherwise you will rightly wonder who in their right mind would choose to go to Hard Rock Cafe in London for an evening out? You need to have a second mortgage just to get through the door. But we had vouchers as a result of an unfortunate incident in New York last summer. You can go and check out that full story elsewhere on these pages I’m sure, but I would prefer you to stay here so I will summarise it thus. We went in there looking to just having a drink only to find that the only accessible low seating was reserved for people who were dining. No food, no seat. Emma, who is the person in charge of written complaints to charlatan corporate giants, wrote a long and dissatisfied email about this, the net result of which was the acquisition of $50 worth of vouchers for any Hard Rock Cafe we wished to frequent. That we have left it this long to use them is mostly down to the fact that there aren’t many Hard Rock Cafes knocking about the north west of England, and we are not in London very often. So it just seemed like an opportune moment to score a free meal, even if we ran the very real risk of racking up a gargantuan drinks bill.

We needn’t have worried about that. After the short stroll down from the hotel to the Cutty Sark DLR (Docklands Light Railway) station we were informed rather rudely that we would not be gaining access to it that night. There was a note on one door asking customers to use the door opposite, and just as we were about to do so a voice from behind us just bellowed out ‘NO LIFT!’. We turned to see a burly man in a high viz jacket who just repeated this two word utterance as if it were the only morsel of English he knew. That would have been no surprise given the language issues at the hotel, but it turned out he was just being incredibly rude. We know this because we asked him for directions to an alternative station at Greenwich and his English was impeccable. He told us that the station at Greenwich was 10 or 15 minutes away, which didn’t seem like a big deal except that it was raining pretty hard. After a long hard slog of a journey it was all too tempting to sneak into the Wetherspoons just next door to the Cutty Sark DLR station.

“Shall we just go in here and get lashed?” I said. So we did.

It was busy downstairs so we took the lift upstairs and found a seat. The girl working behind the bar looked remarkably like a girl I used to work with only younger. Maybe she has a younger sister working in the Clock Gate, Greenwich’s branch of Wetherspoons. Stranger things have happened. Or maybe she just looked a bit like her and it was a perfectly reasonable coincidence. You get free Wi-Fi in Wetherspoons so I remember feeling uplifted to see the news that Sam Burgess had returned to rugby league from the dark forces of Toryball. Other leagueacholics are terribly worried that he has not made an impression in that game and that he will be deemed a failure by them at their poxy cocktail gatherings. I personally couldn’t give a flying fuck. He took their money so he should be prepared to cop the consequences. In any case, he is back in the only game that matters now, the game that he says is in his heart, which is a triumph for our sport and a poke in the eye of the public school pig-porkers who enjoy line-outs and contested scrums.

Then I had a phone failure that will no doubt come back to haunt me at some point. I texted a friend of mine to see if she was alright after having some surgery a day or two before. She replied that she was and so I just told her to take it easy, but tried to add some vomworthy smiley face emoticon with it. I meant well, but on my sent items the smiley face was a little green man. He looked quite ill as it happens. This may seem insignificant but where I work it will no doubt be used as a stick with which to beat me at some point in the future. Which is why it is better that you all find out about it here, before it becomes the most twisted and contorted Chinese whisper of a story in the history of modern civilisation. I don’t even know how that happens. That’ll teach me to use emoticons. They’re just not for men, are they?

The rest of the night was an astonishing blur, but then that is what seven or eight Budweisers will do for you. I can remember how angry Emma got when she realised that she had left a bag of Boost Bites in the car. I’ve never seen her so angry over chocolate. She’d had quite a bit to drink to be fair and I am myself hardly averse to getting a little tetchy over trivial matters when my blood turns to alcohol. But still it was surprising, but mercifully short as sleep took over us both ahead of what was going to be a busy Friday in The Smoke.

Monday, 9 November 2015


I'm waiting for a call from Sky. They're late. They are supposed to call between 1.00 and 3.00pm. It is now 3.05pm. This shouldn't even be necessary. When we had the builders in the house during the summer they had to disconnect the broadband router and the telephone line from the television. Consequently, this meant we could no longer get access to Sky's On Demand services until we got it reconnected.

When we moved back in to the house in August the Sky+ box was not working. We just got a message saying we weren't getting a signal. I pay something like £8 a month for insurance on my Sky system. £96 a year. £960 since we moved into this house. You get the picture. It's money that could have been spent elsewhere even if it isn't a massive amount. It is in addition to the £94 a month that I pay Sky for my subscription. That makes a grand total of £102 a month going directly from my pocket to Rupert's. Things you can do for £102 a month;

Buy around 15-20 kindle books
Drink 34 pints
Attend 5 Saints matches (two people)
Buy 1.8 cats called Mowinkle who will not come to you but will nevertheless lie down and have his belly tickled by the Sky engineer.

Ah..the Sky engineer. So to pick up the story the Sky engineer came out in August to address the problem with the Sky+ box. When he did so he advised us that unfortunately he would not be able to reconnect the broadband and telephone to the television. A different type of Sky engineer was required. This seemed to me to be taking the deskilling of engineers to new levels. After all, we all know that one shonky bloke who can tile your floor, paint your bathroom and fill in your tattoo as the situation demands. Surely it is not too much of a stretch to expect a man who can realign a satellite dish to the optimum position - turns out the builders had inadvertently moved it - which they no doubt would have denied as they denied responsibility for everything else that went on in our house for three months - to be able to reconnect a cable? Apparently it was, so a new appointment with a new Sky engineer was required.

That appointment was arranged for today when we are off work anyway having only got back from London yesterday. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the appointment free, despite the aforementioned monthly insurance premium. They would have quite liked to have charged me £50 for the call out but after an exhausting and circular telephone conversation with one of their half wit employees they agreed that the insurance covers this problem. They would send the engineer on Monday (today) between 8.00am and 1.00pm.

Their generosity and helpfulness didn't end there. They texted me this morning to narrow down that window to somewhere between 11.00am and 1.00pm. One NFL game, one episode of Homeland and one of The Blacklist later the engineer arrived as planned. Expecting no problems this time around I'd gone for a bath. Their generosity and helpfulness ended there. I hadn't had time to run the bath before Emma was knocking on the door to ask about my annual leave situation because the thing was the appointment would have to be rearranged. A second engineer in the space of three months was refusing to address the problem. They don't touch phone lines they said, as if they were fishermen and we were asking them to perform a bomb disposal.

Slightly staggered, I listened while the engineer spoke again to the customer service people to ascertain exactly why he had been sent when we needed someone carefree and risk-happy enough to touch phone lines. He had to pass the phone on to Emma to try and confirm a new appointment because I was too angry. Yet they couldn't even manage that, offering only to call us back between 1.00-3.00pm to make the arrangements.

I called them straight back when the engineer left. Undeterred by their queues, buck-passing and other delaying tactics I hung on long enough to inform them that first and foremost they are a fucking disgrace, but also that as a loyal customer of over 10 years I resented paying £102 a month to be treated like a recently passed ton of turd. I also let them know that if they were to charge me £100 for moving my phone socket or for a new telephone lead as had been suggested by the visiting engineer then respectfully they could stick their services up their collective rectums. There are, I reminded them, several other good satellite and cable providers who charge less than they do. In short Sky, I Believe In Better and will be cancelling their services if something is not done about my enormous monthly bill as compensation for this astronomical balls up.

They were all apologies at that point, not seeming too keen on the whole cancellation thing. However, on reflection their apathy towards my loyal custom might be the reason they have not called back...

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