Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Raheem Situation

Just a quickie today. I've heard all the evidence, read all the headlines and I just wanted to make my point about the burning issue of the day. It won't be popular, but then neither is Spina Bifida so what the fuck do I care? The only thing on the sports pages today is the news that Raheem Sterling is refusing to sign a new contract with Liverpool and will likely end up on the bench at Manchester City/Chelsea/Real Madrid/Bayern Munich/Delete As Appropriate.

I can understand fans being unhappy about this, but really the level of indignation thrown at Sterling while the club continue to get away with passively allowing their best players to sod off elsewhere is making me gag. OK, so Sterling is greedy and it probably is all about money and blah blah bloody blah. But to pretend that paying that amount of money to a player is an affront to Liverpool Football Club and it's unique classy-ness is what Stephen Fry would have called loose stool water and arse gravy. They've paid dozens of players that amount and more. In all likelihood they have no desire to keep Sterling and, instead of coming out and saying so and admitting to their fans that they have become a mediocre selling club in the manner of Spurs or fucking Everton, they want instead to bang on about the well-known evil of agents in football and greedy boys from London who have no connection with the club and are probably just bored of the lack of ambition that is associated with the belief that Martin Skrtel is a serviceable Premier League player.

If it is Liverpool's policy that they will no longer pay any of their players that kind of money then they have already joined the also-rans and will never win the league again. Ever. Perhaps they are waiting for Platini and his boys to give them a helping hand, but that looks unlikely given that his restrictive, cartel-protecting Financial Fair Play rules are about to be legally challenged into oblivion. I mean, I ask you, who in their right fucking mind wants to watch a league in which the traditional giants dominate and nobody is allowed to clumsily happen upon an oil-generated fortune and spoil their party? You can like Chelsea and Manchester City or not, but to my mind there is absolutely no doubt that football is a lot more interesting for the fact that they have been allowed to buy and pay the best players on the planet the big bucks and ritually tonk Crystal Palace and Hull City to pass an otherwise boring Sunday. If you block this from happening then you guarantee that everyone who is currently outside the elite will spend eternity playing for the privilege of avoiding relegation or a fate worse than that, the Europa League.

So no, I'm not saying Liverpool should pay Raheem Sterling. I'm just saying they should fucking grow up and stop whining about what it costs to be competitive in the Premier League these days. If they don't pay Sterling then the reason that they should not is because actually he's been crap this year, not because of how much money his agent wants him to make. Now I realise that this goes against all my every day political beliefs which lie somewhere to the left of Josef Stalin, but football is not remotely related to real life. Nobody in football has to go to a foodbank because Chelsea just bought another £50million squad player. And in any case, a football club trying to deny the fact that it is a capitalist behemoth masquerading as a socialist vehicle of the people is vomit inducing.

That's all. Bye Raheem.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Blackpool Part Three - Sunday

If you’ve read much of this rubbish you will probably know that I have been to the top of both the Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building in New York. I have spent time looking out over the city from both which offer mesmerising views of everything from the Statue Of Liberty and the Chrysler Building to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building are high. Very high. And I don’t like high. But if you’re going all that way….

Compared with all of this the top of Blackpool Tower was going to be a breeze. Hopefully without too much of an actual breeze considering high winds had stopped us going up there the day before. But easy. No bother. It stands 158 metres high, or 518 feet which must be some sort of mathematical anomaly. Surely not all heights and distances can be converted from metres to feet using the same digits? No, they can’t as we will see but it should be remembered that I failed GCSE Maths twice. When I say failed I mean I got a D when I needed a C. I got it at the third time of asking, which I still believe is down to the fact that nobody marks maths papers and instead names are drawn out of the education authorities’ equivalent of the FA’s velvet ballbag. Once they have the required number of successful candidates the rest get sent back to re-sit. In my case I re-sat with one-time Saints centre and winger and noisiest person in the class Andy Haigh, and Andy Mikhail who once carried Sonny Nickle on his shoulders in a particularly exuberant celebration of some Saints win or other and can now be found managing the affairs of St.Helens’ middleweight boxing contender Martin Murray. I’m an administrator for a wonderful organisation I am still not allowed to name. Maybe you had to be called Andy to go on to greater things from that maths re-sit class.

Which name dropping bullshit does nothing to lead us to where we should be going. Which is comparing heights of well known global landmarks in tenuous preparation for my telling you about the day I went to the top of Blackpool Tower. So allow me to continue. The Empire State Building is more than twice the height of Blackpool Tower at 381 metres or 1250 feet, while Rockefeller Center stands 266 metres high or 872 feet. So given that, the 158 metres or 518 feet of Blackpool Tower was small beer. Except for the glass floor. Glass floors tend to freak me out a little bit. At the Yorvik Centre in York I had trouble crossing a glass floor which overlooked about a three-foot drop to a model of the old Viking digs beneath the glass. I was ok if I looked straight ahead but when I looked down at it and was hit by the optical illusion of nothingness beneath me I struggled a little bit. The glass floor was going to be interesting.

Getting there wasn't straightforward, however. The set-up is quite similar to the New York landmarks in that you are led from queue to queue by the staff before you actually reach the lifts to take you to the very top. There is information about the tower on the walls to distract you from the fact that you are waiting but the truth is that you are not waiting nearly long enough to be able to take it all in. Just long enough for it to annoy you. Included in the price of a ticket for the Blackpool Tower Eye, to give it its proper name, is a 4D show. So before you get to where you need to be, but after you have finished queuing and failing to read the end of the paragraph on the wall that you had started reading to make the waiting time go more quickly, you are given a quite absurd pair of 4D specs and ushered into a small theatre. Whatever happened to 3D? Is 5D a thing and if it is, is it hurtling towards us? In the 4D theatre there is a bar at absolutely the right height to stop someone at my eye level from seeing at least a quarter of the screen. None of which turns out to be particularly disappointing as the underwhelming 4D 'show' consists of a small boy who seems very taken by the tower, the ballroom and the circus and experiences some deranged fantasy about the whole thing launching like a rocket. Kylie Minogue's 'All The Lovers' is the soundtrack to all of this for reasons which are beyond my comprehension. But then I could only see three quarters of the screen so perhaps I missed something. Perhaps the names of all of Kylie Minogue's lovers scrolled across the screen like headlines on the Sky News ticker.

On the subject of tickers (another seamless link) the lift to the observation deck is not for the faint hearted. It's fairly transparent so you can see the framework of the tower as you go up to the top. We also had the bonus view of the scaffolding which currently envelopes parts of the tower as they carry out some refurbishments. If anything needs refurbishment it is the 4D show. Regardless, Blackpool Tower currently (at least at the time of our visit but bear in mind that I am writing this six weeks later) looks like an enormous version of my house, which is currently unrecognisable due to all of the building work going on. On the first day of work the builders phoned Emma and told her that they would have to remove my ramp, as if that wasn't really important and we could do without it. After all, Emma can help me inside and why the fuck would I want to go outside anywhere on my own given that I am a disabled retard who is a danger to himself and society? It's bad enough that I have to park my car at my mum and dad's house.

Back to the Blackpool Tower lift. I had a sneaky peak outside but I spent most of the ascent looking straight ahead at the door of the lift. Unlike the windows at the side you can't see through the door in front of you so it becomes just like any other lift if you focus your gaze straight ahead. We were let out at the top and advised that when we were ready to go back down a member of staff would assist us in using the lift around the other side. Normally I get irritated when there are signs on lifts asking you to refrain from using them without a member of staff to assist you, but in this case I'm reassured by the idea. If this were a free for all and little Johnny was allowed to press the call button whenever the mood took him, and then the lift broke as a result, well then we'd all be buggered. Or at least I would. I don't know how many steps there are from the top of the tower to the bottom of it but in the event that the lift breaks no emergency service worker is assisting me in descending them. I'm waiting it out on the top deck, on the glass floor, until they fix the fecking thing. I don't even know if this thing has steps any more. Nobody uses them. And this a listed building. Progress, that.

The glass floor is on the west side of the tower and offers some very special panoramic views of the seaside town. Directly in front of you is a huge glass window overlooking the sea. I focused completely on this and rolled over the glass floor without giving it half as much thought as I had in York. Perhaps the views of the sea and the town were a useful distraction. In the Yorvik Centre I don't remember there being much to look at other than the glass floor and the model beneath it. If you looked in front of you, you might catch a glimpse of a pre-historic stool from some ancient bowel. In a frame. Or an interactive touch-screen offering you information about the history of the horned helmet. Certainly not Blackpool beach.

Having gained in confidence I decided to look down at the pavement below. It's at that point that you realise just how high 158 metres or 518 feet really is. You can expect to lose at least part of your stomach but hopefully none of your breakfast. On the ground below there is the comical sight of the outline of a human body, the kind that you see drawn around dead bodies in crime dramas on television or film. Nordberg, all of that. Beside the outline it just says.....'ouch...!'. Which is amusing but I suspect inaccurate. I'm not sure you would feel anything if you fell 158 metres or 518 feet on to a concrete pavement. It's not long before I stop contemplating this and go for another wander around the viewing deck. It's far easier to look at tall buildings in the distance than it is to dwell for too long on the pavement and the ant-sized people traipsing across it.

Predictably, the ride down in the lift takes a long time. Since you cannot operate the lift yourself you have to just wait until a member of staff becomes available to do it for you. By which time everyone has had enough of the views and the heights and wants to go back down aswell. You do get to go straight to the bottom though, so at least you are spared another viewing of all Kylie Minogue's lovers. Any more of that and you could be tempted to try to find out whether you'd feel anything if you jumped off the top of the tower.

With nothing too vital to get home for we decided to spend part of the afternoon in the Tower's other major tourist attraction, the dungeons beneath. Adverts dotted around the town promise 10 live actors taking you through the history of various types of horrific punishment in England, going back centuries. The actors take their responsibilities very seriously, which they should do for £15 a throw, never once showing even the merest hint that they might exit their characters at some point. They've zoned out completely, and become medieval peddlers of torture and instruments of torture. No expense spared in the special effects department either as at one point one lucky punter is sprayed with fake blood from a body lying prone in the centre of a small room. All of which is surprising given that the body is both a dummy and supposedly dead. In another scene a young girl is shown the delights of some ball-crunching instrument of pain before being invited to lock herself into a small cage while another tour guide character finishes telling us the about the many and varied painful ways there were to impose justice in those days. But just to prove that the old ways can still be effective and at a much cheaper rate, one man almost vacates his skin at the beginning of the tour when an actor dressed as a monk leaps up from behind a desk and shouts something along the lines of 'boo'. Or something.

Upon being led from room to room in the dungeons we also manage to get lost among a maze of mirrors, which has to rank as one of my worst nightmares.

Of course, if you go to enough of these sorts of things you are going to get picked on. It seems everyone loves a bit of audience participation. And so it was that inevitably, after one lady who had declared herself to be called Fred and was found guilty of fornicating with a horse or something, I was called upon to move forward into the spotlight to face a bit of medieval justice. The judge reminded me of David Schneider from I'm Alan Partridge and The Day Today. Except he had a robe on a stupid wig on, of course. He asked me my name...

"Geoffrey." I replied. No, I don't know why. It was just the first name I thought of.

"And where are you from, Geoffrey......?" he asks, in a voice that would have been at home in the local shop for local people in The League Of Gentlemen.


No, I don't know that either, except to say that I thought about saying Wigan and then felt like that was a bit too predictable. Believe it or not there is a point where even I start to think that hammering Wigan becomes a bit stale. I've known two people in my life who have lived in Skelmersdale, on the other hand, and both have assured me that it is an unblemished, perfect shit hole. Either way I was going to answer the two questions with anything other than 'Stephen' and 'St.Helens'. I can't remember rightly what I was accused of. It may even have been more equine fornication, but naturally enough I was found guilty. But he'd already punished me by sending me to audience participation hell for the last ten minutes and charging me £30 (there were two of us, remember) for the privilege.

There was nothing more he could to me now.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Election Catastrophe - Is It 2020 Yet?

I feel more than a little depressed. As I write all but one of the UK’s 650 constituencies have returned their result from yesterday’s General Election. Shockingly, the Tories have secured an overall majority of seats in the House Of Commons. Only a small majority (maybe around 12 seats) but a majority nonetheless. This is not how we were told things would turn out.

We were told by every leading media source in the weeks leading up to the election that none of the parties would secure a majority. All the talk was of what deals could be done between the parties to try and form a new coalition. No doubt all the major party leaders had been in talks with each other on the subject, and they spent long hours fending off questions from the media about possible alliances.

And then we had the exit poll. Remember that cricket match analogy I strangled yesterday? The one about four days of rain and everyone trying to force a result on the fifth day before going home early? Well perhaps we can think of the exit poll announcement just after 10.00 last night as the moment when both sides forfeited an innings before one captain or the other offered a ludicrously generous declaration. The exit poll had it that the Tories would win 316 of the 326 seats they would need to secure an overall majority in the house (technically 323 as Sinn Fein don’t take up their seats in the UK parliament – what are they running for then?). It also had Labour floundering way behind on 239 and the Liberal Democrats facing perhaps a more predictable clobbering, losing 47 of their seats to slip to just 10 in the entire house.

It was so preposterous that in the early hours of the BBC’s election coverage the great and the garbage among UK politicians queued up to tell us that the poll was wrong, that 11 YouGov polls had previously predicted a fiendishly tight race that would likely end in another hung parliament. Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown declared that he would eat his hat if the exit poll was anywhere near correct, but only if the hat was made of marzipan. It was that sort of night. The shiver down the spine upon viewing the exit poll had clearly been enough to consume Ashdown in witlessness. Tory bastard Michael Gove agreed, however, advising caution to all the watching bastards. Let’s not celebrate just yet, was the message. The SNP were similarly quick to play down the outlandish exit poll which had them winning 58 of the 59 seats in Scotland. That result would all but sink Labour hopes of an overall majority, but there was still the hope of some involvement in a coalition at that point.

And yet somehow the result is even worse. I was only seven at the time, but this is how grown-ups must have felt when Margaret Thatcher won a second term in 1983. The Tories currently have 331 seasts, Labour only 232 while the SNP have made off with a staggering 56 of the 59 available in Scotland. Five more years of Tory austerity it is then, and five more years of Tory austerity that is likely to finish us off. Without a junior partner in government beside them they will be free to make even more wild, savage cuts than they have over the last five year parliamentary term. They can work uninterrupted on their thinly veiled dream of privatising the NHS in a system which will ensure that the state of your health will have a direct correlation with the state of your bank balance. The poor and, dare I say it without coming across like I’m feeling rather too sorry for myself, the disabled, will be favourite targets for Cameron, Osbourne and the despicable IDS while those with the most will continue to get tax relief. At the very least, their tax dodging, loophole finding chicanery will be allowed to take place with a blind eye turned. I think I’m going to vomit.

So how did it all happen? How did a race that was not supposed to be won outright turn into 316 Tory seats in an exit poll to 331 in reality? There are a few explanations offered. One is the bewildering dominance of the SNP in Scotland. Led by elf-like, ubiquitous ballache Nicola Sturgeon they stated before the election that they would help keep the Tories out of Downing Street. If anything, their obliteration of Labour north of the border has all but sealed the deal for Cameron and his cohorts. I can’t really see how the SNP thought that their success would have any other outcome. But then you can’t criticise a party for winning seats and playing a part in the democratic process. That’s what it is there for. Still, it’s quite baffling to me to note that just months after voting to stay in the UK the Scottish people have elected a squillion MP’s from a party whose sole aim appears to be to leave the UK. All of which leaves me scratching my head. Perhaps Labour’s stock is just that low in Scotland. Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy lost his seat, which gives us some indication of the state of the party up there. The Scottish clearly can’t bring themselves to vote Tory but they have done the next best thing. In droves.

Incidentally Murphy was not the only, or even the most high profile MP to lose his seat in the carnage. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has gone, as have Liberal Democrat heavyweights Danny Alexander and Vince Cable. Somehow Nick Clegg managed to hold on to Sheffield Hallam but that hasn’t stopped him from falling on his sword and resigning as Liberal Democrat leader alongside Labour leader Ed Milliband and frog-faced UKIP clown Nigel Farage who was also defeated in his constituency. Though Clegg was given a reprieve in his own constituency, he was always likely to pay a heavy price for the betrayal of the party that was hopping in to bed with the Conservatives after the 2010 hung parliament. He will argue that he and his party colleagues played a vital role in limiting the damage that could have been done had Cameron had free reign, but had he left the Tories to try to form a minority government he would arguably have had as much power or more to vote down anything that had too much of a right-wing whiff about it. What he would give for that opportunity now.

There is more head-scratching when considering how it came to be that those Liberal Democrat voters who furiously abandoned their party turned Tory blue rather than Labour red. Where were all the left-leaning Liberals voting Labour to punish their erstwhile leader? Surely not voting for Nige and his band of bigots and gaffsters? UKIP only won one seat as even Farage hilariously got ran out of town in Thanet, yet their overall 12.6% share of the vote is the third highest of any party behind only the Conservatives and Labour. Thankfully they are a long way behind the big two, but they will argue that their rise continues. But you can’t help but wonder how much of their 9.5% increase in vote share was gained courtesy of furious protest voters abandoning the Liberal Democrats, whether they had previously leaned left or right. Even voters who are left wing in most aspects of politics are not immune to succumbing to their inner racist.

There are fewer laughs in this piece than I expected to be honest. I thought maybe I could bring a kind of gallows humour to it, but another five years of Tory savagery is a baron featureless desert for comedy, particularly in the hours after they have claimed what is still a shock overall majority. All that can happen now is for Labour and the Liberal Democrats to re-group, and find new leaders who will convince the electorate and particularly the swathes of new SNP voters that they can again be credible opposition to Cameron, currently sat smugly aboard his runaway toff train, no doubt thinking of new ways he can annihilate the poor.

I did say I felt more than a little bit depressed……….

Thursday, 7 May 2015

A Massive Election

Have you been to vote yet? Today is that day. The day that comes along only once every five years when you have the opportunity to have your say on who is running the country. I haven’t been yet but I will. After all, my local polling station is near to the chippy so what more incentive to get out and exercise my democratic right do I need?

In the unlikely event that you haven’t noticed or in the even more unlikely event that you haven’t noticed and actually want to know, I’m voting Labour. I’m in the fortunate position of having a party which more or less represents my political views so it’s what is now irritatingly referred to as a no brainer for me. Not only that, but my constituency of St.Helens South and Whiston has had a Labour MP since the last Ice Age. In the last General Election in 2010 they held a majority of 14,122. Even with Tory defector Shaun Woodward standing as their candidate, Labour were unmovable in the seat. You could stick a red rosette on Gary Glitter in St.Helens South and Whiston and he would still enjoy a sizeable majority.

All of which leaves some of us feeling that we maybe have a little less influence on the overall outcome of the General Election than others. If you live in a marginal constituency then your vote really, really matters. It could be the difference between five more years of Cameron and austerity, or packing the posh knob back off to his country club to guffaw about his personal fortune with all the other pheasant-shooters. When the financial crisis hit Cameron told us that we were all in it together, that it was going to be painful for us all but that together we would get through it. What he meant was that it was going to be painful for you if you were poor or unemployed, but a bit of a hoot if you happened to be already among the country’s top earners. All I need tell you about Cameron’s Britain is that despite more money being lost to this country by non-payment of tax by…say……snivelling Tory pop stars than by any amount of benefit fraudsters making bogus claims the fawning, right wing media spotlight remains on the latter. By ensuring it stays there Cameron can focus the minds of the undecided on that problem, divide the working classes, turn them on each other and conquer them. I’d give him credit for the brilliance of it if it were not an ancient Tory strategy.

Not everyone has been vocal about who they are voting for and why, turning their attentions instead to trying to convince everyone that they must vote, whoever that might benefit. The argument goes that the right to vote was fought over for years and that if you do not take up that right then you are being ungrateful in the first instance and that secondly you are forfeiting any right to bang on about how shite things are after the next government makes everything even worse than it already is. It’s an argument that troubles me. Surely the fight was for the right to take part in the democratic process, which you should be able to do just as well by not endorsing any of the current rabble. If you are not as fortunate as I and you find that none of the parties represent your personal political beliefs then what do you do? Vote for a party you do not support in the hope that it will damage the one that you hate the most? Possibly. Tactical voting will play a part in today’s election. But what if instead of that we had an option to abstain on the ballot paper? If the returning officers announced the number of abstentions registered in each constituency it is likely that many winning MP’s would nevertheless have secured a tally of votes which would be dwarfed by the number of abstentions. At that point perhaps the politicians, many of whom have become murky, arrogant shysters in the comfort of their huge majorities, might realise quite how unpopular they are and lift their game. If the low quality of the choices on offer is the reason for low turn-out rather than a lack of interest from the individual, then that individual has every right to moan for the next five years.

Until we have an option to abstain on the ballot paper I can’t see how compulsory voting is fair or sensible. I have seen and heard lots of people professing to know nothing about politics and have no interest in learning anything about it. One woman who was interviewed on the television recently did not know what a manifesto is, while another could not quite put her finger on who Ed Milliband is. Do we really want people with this level of ignorance to influence something as important as the decision on who forms the next government? Wouldn’t that be like asking me who should coach the England rugby union team, only with much graver consequences? It strikes me as particularly absurd to wait until the day of the election to encourage the politically disinterested to vote. The damage has already been done. Surely the way forward would be to try to find ways to engage these people in politics long before the General Election so that when it comes around they can make an informed choice? Quite how we do that is one of life’s imponderables. Russell Brand’s Park Life blathering doesn’t help, nor does the primary school jeering of MP’s every week at Prime Minister’s Question Time. But in the end the onus is on individuals to turn away from Joey Essex and Embarrassing Bodies and towards political engagement. I’m not hopeful.

As for the result itself, despite the declaration by every single news source that this is the most unpredictable election in years, most experts firmly believe that nobody will win outright by securing a majority. It’s like a cricket test match which has had four days of rain. Everyone tries to force a result on the fifth day but very often they give up early and go home. A party needs 326 of the 650 seats in the House Of Commons to secure a majority. That did not happen in 2010 which is the reason we have had a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government since then. This time around the permutations for possible coalitions are dizzying with Con-Dem, Lab-Dem, Lab-SNP coalitions and indeed everything except for a Lab-Con coalition within the realms of possibility. If none of these parties can work it out between them then the Conservatives or the Labour Party could attempt to form a minority government alone if they acquire more seats than any one of the other parties but less than the others combined.

Complicating matters further is the recent rise to prominence of far-right, Thatcherite foreigner-hating UKIP under Nigel Farage. Shockingly, UKIP have managed to seize the support of Little England. The kind of people who want to stop anyone who isn’t white and 100000% British from living in this country except for when they or their child needs that life-saving operation or that top quality education. I can speak from personal experience about receiving high quality health care from extremely clever individuals who are undeniably none-whites. The truth is that ideologically, and to paraphrase Will Self, UKIP and the BNP are an anorexic cigarette paper apart. If support for UKIP is a protest vote against the current government, against Labour, or against the current immigration situation which I think we all would agree needs further examination, it is a very dangerous one.

Whatever the outcome I am personally very excited about voting. There’s a chip barm involved.