Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Sightseeing in... Newport?

“It’s character-building,” “It’ll look good on the CV,” “You’ll be glad you’ve done it when you’ll be basking in the summer rain...” “What do you mean? Washing a rotting cauldron of budget madras isn’t your idea of fun?”

I’ve heard at least two of these platitudes offered to me as positive spin on the monotony of a summer job. Aside from free leftovers and developing a vice-tight grasp of small talk, life as a temporary catering worker is generally as exciting as it sounds.

Recent commitments have seen me jet-set my way from one soulless business park to another, soaking up the glamour of locations such as Newport and Bridgend in the process. In the former, I came across a ‘Sightseeing in Newport’ double-decker bus which, to those of you unfamiliar with the city’s charms, is like spotting a hog roast van weaving its way through the streets of Jerusalem. The incongruity of this particular mode of transport may explain why the amount of tourists on said bus came to a grand total of one.

Newport’s isolated business parks were a sight dystopian enough to make even Winston Smith choke on his Victory Gin. The word ‘park’ could scarcely have been so misplaced. If I was the one tourist ever to embark on a ‘Sightseeing in Newport’ trip, I would be seriously miffed if, having gone to see one of the area’s perfectly nice-sounding ‘parks,’ I’d be presented only with the industrial eye sore of the Quinn Radiators factory.

Misled by the jolly term, I’d feel cheated by those in charge of naming these parks. However, some have done their jobs properly. One estate is called the Imperial Park, which thanks to its first word, at least offers a crumb of reality with its Death Star connotations.

Alas, my sightseeing opportunities were limited to the kitchens and canteens of these places. Inside the Death Star, I was required to fry what seemed like enough eggs to feed an entire army of Imperial storm troopers, though my true tests came elsewhere. On one occasion, I had to confront my culinary kryptonite – mushrooms. And to make my duel an even more tortuous experience, the head chef had chosen the soundtrack. It was my task to wash away a repulsive cream of mushroom soup, collapsing pathetically into the sink to the sound of the painfully repetitive squealing of an inane pop ballad, taken to new, dizzyingly bad heights as it was electronically butchered by Scooter.

If the sensation of this music was meant to offer respite, it only managed to do so in the form of a lasting, enduring ear massage... with a kebab skewer.

Furthermore, my accumulated button presses of the tills could have supplied any flavour-of-the-month, new-rave-thrash-folk-disco-pop act worth their place in NME with a career’s worth of bleating electronic samples. Jim Morrison’s ‘Soul Kitchen’, this was not.

Outside, the desolation was compounded by the apocalyptic weather, with the sweeping rain and raging gusts of wind seemingly confirming that there are some things even more depressing about the world than the existence of Mariah Carey. I was cheered however, when looking back, I saw that jewel in the crown of South East Wales’ tourism industry, the ‘Sightseeing in Newport’ double-decker scuttling its one brave passenger along to another world, another business park.

Monday, 4 August 2008

The New Season Checklist

With another season almost upon us, here is a reference point to the key components of a Premier League year.

See how many you can spot, and how quickly you can do so...

1. An Alan Hansen sentence made entirely of listed attributes. Bonus points for nonchalant delivery or contemptuous tone.

E.g "Power, pace, aggression, strength, control... just great."

2. Exotic foreign signing to proclaim it a realisation of a long-standing ambition to join newly-promoted Premier League side.

"It has always been my dream to play for Hull. I can't wait to play alongside my hero... Dean Windass."

3. Aforementioned exotic foreign signing to make 'come-and-get-me-plea' to an underachieving Serie A side by January.

4. Joe Barton to be arrested.

5. Lee Dixon noting that an unfancied side's win is almost entirely a result of their closing down. At no point, should a side supposedly famed for physical strength be lauded for flair or skill.

"Bolton did really well today, they really got in (insert 'big four' team) 's faces. They closed them down, and didn't let them play."

6. New, groundbreakingly expensive Champions League side recruit makes flying start, putting Wigan to the sword in a second substitute appearance.

7. Said player fades from September onwards but roars back to form by bundling in a late second goal to ease nerves in January cup tie against League Two opposition.

8. Sky Sports News to 'exclusively reveal,' every eleven minutes, that Phil Neville has a sore foot.

9. Supporter, player or manager of relegation-threatened team to claim that "every match will be a cup final." Kevin Campbell-styled motivational speech ("If you don't believe, you won't achieve!") optional.

10. A radiantly orange Gary Lineker to sign off an episode of Match of the Day with a smugly sarcastic quip, apparently dispelling the notion that the top four placings can be predictable.

"Just another typically boring 15-goal thriller, then. Good night."

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The 'C' Word

Some shudder at the sound of it, whilst others have become immune to its ability to offend, as it becomes a part of everyday vocabulary. As hugely enjoyable as my first year as a Northerner has been, I've increasingly felt the shadow of the 'c' word looming over me.

With some amusement, my fellow University of Leeds students and I had guffawed at the omnipresence of the word in our first term, be it on the campus or student clothing of Leeds Metropolitan. However, its inescapability has worn the novelty thin. We are now wary to tread anywhere in the city, in the fear that we are likely to be faced with the dreaded lexeme.

It's not big, and it's not clever but, everywhere one turns, it's Carnegie.

I'll be living within a two-minute walk of Headingley Carnegie next year, home to the Leeds Carnegie rugby union team and the Yorkshire Carnegie one-day cricket side. Women's football in the area clearly felt as if they were missing out, as Leeds United Ladies have morphed into Leeds Carnegie.

The word's presence is felt in non-sporting circles too, with the 'leading experts in childhood obesity' (fat camp, in other words) going by the name of Carnegie Weight Management. More alarming still was my encounter with the word at the Latitude music festival, as the obscenity was plastered across the shirts of the event's volunteers. Despite being in the deepest, most eastwardly Suffolk forests, in what I thought was a world away from the 'c' word's northern monopoly, I was Carnegie-confronted.

With such a rapidly increasing level of public exposure, the 'c' word can no longer be considered taboo. Whether you're looking to lose weight, watch sport or sip some lovely Aspall cider to the dulcet tones of Joanna Newsom, it seems that none of this can be done without the looming influence of that dirty word, Carnegie.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Blathering Blatter

The footballing summer seemed too good to be true. After a refreshingly expansive and entertaining major international tournament in Euro 2008 and, by its usually insufferably hyperbolic standards, a reasonably quiet rumour mill, something had to give. Step forward, Sepp Blatter.

In the latest in a long line of idiotic soundbites, Blatter has spoken about one of the transfer sagas churned out by the aforementioned mill. Referring to the tiresome tug of war for Cristiano Ronaldo between Manchester United and Real Madrid, the FIFA president claimed, "There's too much modern slavery, in transferring players or buying players. We are trying now to intervene in such cases.'' In Blatter's case, this is one intervention too far.

With a string of foolish quotes to his name, the Swiss is as much a subject of light-hearted ridicule as real criticism, but in this instance, his comments have pushed the boundaries of taste. Even those who work closely with Blatter have been quick to condemn his views, such as Uefa's communications director, William Gaillard,"It would be useful to remind people that slaves in all of the slavery systems never earned a wage." The incongruity of mentioning slavery's iniquity in the same breath as poor old, £100,000+ a week Ronaldo, is staggering.

Gaillard highlights the lack of sensitivity in Blatter's brash proclamations. For a man of such stature, it is irresponsible, if not plain stupid, to throw about terms that bear such painful significance with seemingly contemptuous disregard.

Not only is the 'slavery' quote grossly inappropriate, it is entirely missing the point that, in fact, it is players who hold the power in today's market. The Andy Webster ruling (where a player can buy out his contract in order to leave) has rendered contracts almost meaningless. Even if such a move proves too costly for a player, an agent's close proximity to endless media sources makes the now customary 'come-and-get-me-plea' an immediate, and effective, way of attracting suitors.

Blatter is a man whose ridiculous outbursts have often been ignored as the silly ramblings of a political eccentric. Quota plans contradictory to EU constitutional laws and a supposedly corrupt reinstatement were swiftly brushed under the carpet. Most infamous, though, was his view that women should "wear tighter shorts" to promote the female game, though this was largely laughed off, much to the chagrin of the undermined players.

Such easy forgiveness is worryingly similar to the slack that has been afforded to Boris Johnson (as Charlie Brooker points out http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/14/charliebrooker.boris). Blatter's handling of world football's public relations are as sound as Johnson's relationship with Liverpudlians, yet he has somehow been appointed for a third term at FIFA's helm.

Reservations about the London Mayor should be held in the same way about the out-of-touch football chief. If Blatter chooses to lament the game's state in his uniquely ill-informed manner, it should be his own position and running of the sport that should come under serious consideration.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Shattered Myths and Silenced Pundits

Having overcome a tenacious Turkish effort to progress to the final of Euro 2008, Germany’s pulsating 3-2 success belied the sombre mood in the Match of the Day studio, which suggested the win was a dull miscarriage of justice. “Lucky, lucky Germany?” Gary Lineker lazily asked a typically uninspiring Alan Shearer, whose response was myopic and cliché-ridden, “Aye, they’re a very average side... at the end of the day, they’ve just done enough.”

At times, Shearer contradicted himself as he confused the tired, now unfounded, notion that German success is traditionally a product of “good, solid organisation” at the back, with his belief that this current crop were a “very poor” defensive outfit. Yet, despite the evident difference between the two thoughts, the former beneficiary of defensive mishaps seemed to believe that this ‘shambles’ of a team was actually a perfect example of a structured German fluke. Undermined by his own paradoxical analysis, Shearer was seemingly blind to see that, despite their defensive misgivings, Germany had stormed to victory in a five-goal thriller for the second time in a week.

Clearly rattled by the early Turkish onslaught, it was a joy to see Germany respond with a fine counter-attacking goal, almost a carbon copy of their clinical opener against Portugal. As Bastian Schweinsteiger deftly turned the ball beyond Rustu’s grasp, here were the “average” side shattering their dour reputation with some über-thrilling football. Furthermore, Philipp Lahm’s excellent late strike, just one of this tournament’s many memorable German goals, gave the match a fittingly explosive climax.

Bold and direct, Turkey gave their illustrious opponents a thorough, sometimes torrid, examination. Colin Kazim-Richards (whose full name, the BBC would have you believe, is ‘Colin Kazim-Richards-Formerly-of-Bury-Brighton-and-Sheffield-United’) was a particular thorn in Germany’s side. The forward’s incessantly-mentioned English background is just one example of the shameless way in which the BBC’s patronising coverage hasn’t allowed a single match to pass without a British reference.

Whether it has been “Kuyt of Liverpool” giving Holland the lead against France, or “Andreas ‘The Austrian David Beckham’ Ivanschitz” spraying the ball profligately, John Motson has found countless opportunities to yelp with delight about this competition’s increasingly tenuous connections to Dear Old Blighty. Did you, by any chance, know that Italian midfielder Simone Perrotta was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, the very same birthplace as Geoff Hurst? Yes we did, John – you told us four minutes ago.

The verve of Turkey’s performance should not diminish the excellence of Germany’s march to the final. Vivacious in their dispatching of Poland and driven as they prospered in a tense encounter with arch-rivals Austria, their progress in the group stages was both entertaining and testament to their unyielding passion. Moreover, their high-octane 3-2 victory over Portugal was the pick of the quarter-finals, and their semi-final triumph of the same score line demonstrated how the Germans have produced some of Euro 2008’s most exhilarating moments.

Firing them forward has been the front four of Podolski, Ballack, Schweinsteiger and Klose, the attacking nucleus of an enterprising side. Boasting nine goals between them, the quartet have combined to devastating effect, with Ballack, in particular, imperiously dictating proceedings. The 2006 World Cup laid a foundation for such entertainment, as Jurgen Klinsmann’s semi-finalists notched eleven goals in their first four matches. At the time of writing, only Spain have scored more goals (11 to their 10) during this tournament, which offers further evidence to disprove the stale concept that Germany can only grind out narrow wins, dependant on their so-called miserly and rigid defence.

Contrary to popular (or punditry) belief, such exciting talent is neither new nor revelatory for a country that has produced some of the game’s most mesmerising stars, like Günter Netzer and Bernd Schuster. If only to silence dubiously tanned doubters, come Sunday evening, this year’s vintage can hopefully serve up another spectacle and join the illustrious line of German greats.