Monday, 13 January 2014

RAISING A GLASS TO THE PAST

Quite a long time ago, someone gave me a set of six handsome tumblers. Made in Poland (a country which produces some really striking glassware), they are satisfyingly robust - heavy in the hand, with the bulk of the weight in the thick base of the glass. They make a pleasing thunk when set down on the table or bookshelf between sips of the two things I most enjoy drinking from them: cognac or a tatanka (szarlotka, if you prefer).

The person who gave me this gift remains a friend, albeit one whom I expect to meet only very rarely in the years ahead. For a shortish period in the mid-1990s we were a couple. But the pleasures and pains of that period were already pretty firmly consigned to the past by the time the box of six heavy tumblers was given to me as a present very early in this new twenty-first century. She might have even said the words "when you use these glasses, perhaps you'll think of me". Or maybe that's just a false memory which I have confected since. It doesn't matter. The funny thing is, I do sometimes think of her when handling one of these glasses. But it isn't usually when drinking from it.

Each glass has an air bubble blown into its thick bottom section. The bubble is not completely trapped inside the material, though. Instead, each bubble is open to the fresh air, via a small hole in the bottom of the base of the tumbler. The very first time I used and washed one of these glasses, it became apparent that soapy water had entered the bubble. This happens whether the glasses are washed by hand or in a dishwasher. It can't be avoided. Not being the most practically minded of people, it took me a little while to figure out the best way to get the water out. It involves slapping the palm of your hand against the aperture. This seems to create a vacuum effect, thereby sucking the liquid out. A few slaps are required. A wet hand always results. A wet sleeve is possible too. But this is preferable to the interim method I used for a little while - sucking soapy water out with my mouth and then quickly spitting it into the sink. That was inelegant.

It is during this little ritual, then, that I am briefly reminded of the woman who bought me the set of glasses. She's a good person. I don't think I'm a terrible person. But somehow or other we spent a while treating each other less well than good people really ought to do. It's not a pissing contest, but I guess I behaved more objectionably towards her than she did towards me. I'm not sure whether she sees it like that or if her interpretation allows for a more charitable view of my part in the whole thing. I'll probably never know because it just doesn't feel right to go over all that old ground again all these years later. But either way, part of the time we spent together was not without upset. Perhaps that's why I think of her when slapping the dishwater from the bubble of one of her glasses more readily than I do when sitting comfortably with a nice drink. 

NO MORE HEROES?

It's been a long while since this blog last featured any musings about life as a QPR supporter. Prior to the most recent post of that nature (written back in May 2013), Rangers-related ramblings had been something of a staple here at this is my england. So why have I not since felt motivated to write about my beloved club?

Well, I only have to look back at that last article for a sharp reminder. I was writing, back then, about the lack of respect for the club displayed by one its overpaid and under-performing players, a certain  Stéphane Mbia. The Cameroonian's crassness, for me, added a shit-flavoured cherry onto the piss-scented icing of what had already been a depressingly toxic 2012-13 campaign for the Superhoops. Yes, there was the odd point of light in the gloom - the unexpected triumph at Stamford Bridge, of course, stands out in the memory as the brightest of these. But, by and large, last season was an unpleasant one for those of us who struggle through life carrying the burden of an affection for Queens Park Rangers. Notwithstanding all the frustrations and disappointments which followed, my own disenchantment reached its nadir during the home game against Southampton. I was surrounded by fellow fans who united in song, berating the men on the pitch in blue-and-white hoops for only being at Loftus Road for the money.

It was in this context that I felt moved, in March 2013, to indulge in a sustained moan about various features of twenty-first century football with which I felt dismayed: the know-nothing virtual "fan" spouting ill-informed garbage from a keyboard in Singapore, Mumbai or Riyadh; the dismal intersection of snide journalism and questionable veracity on the part of football managers; the deluge of filthy lucre and its numerous poisonous effects.

Nothing I've experienced or heard about since has disabused me of any these unhappy notions. I continue to attend matches at Loftus Road and continue to want QPR to do well.  I continue to enjoy sharing all of this with my dad, my son and my Rangers-supporting pals. But I really haven't felt the old fervour which used to sweep me along on match days. Perhaps this is partly down to the nature of the fare on offer this season - I'm certainly not alone in feeling that most Rangers performances have looked over-cautious and rather unexciting. Yes, there are solid reasons to remain optimistic about the prospect of immediate promotion back up to the division from which the club was ejected so ignominiously last May. But, to me at least, something is missing.

The last time the Rangers were pushing toward the bright lights of the Premier League, I experienced sustained feelings of excitement and anxiety, ending with an outburst of almost angry relief when the shadow of Faurlingate was finally lifted and promotion confirmed. This season? Yes, it's good to cheer a goal and celebrate a win. But it all just feels flatter and less vivid than last time around. Am I alone in this? I don't think so. Little Loftus Road, so often a noisy, exuberant arena in the past, has seemed oddly quiet in the last few months.

Some other time I may feel inclined to think more deeply about why I feel this way and to try to understand if others share these unsettling feelings. For now, though, I'm just choosing to resist the allure of nostalgia.

My feelings about current manager Harry Redknapp remain stubbornly mixed, resulting in a strong temptation to compare him negatively to former QPR bosses towards whom I have found it easier to develop some measure of affection. Neil Warnock, for instance, was someone to whom I warmed far more readily. But that doesn't mean placing the outspoken Yorkshireman on a pedestal marked "hero". Any admiration for Warnock, as with Redknapp, should not, perhaps, be wholly unalloyed. Rumours of sharp practice cloud the images of both men, after all, adding baggage to their various successes.

We were reminded of this only today when Jason Puncheon, once brought to Loftus Road on loan by Warnock, unleashed a potentially libelous Twitter tirade against the former QPR manager. The tweets, all since deleted, include a very serious allegation of what can only be described as disgracefully corrupt practice. It will be interesting to see what follows. If Puncheon is neither sued nor forced to retract his remarks, serious new questions about Neil Warnock's ethics are bound to occur. This is a shame for me. Even in middle age, and even with a ton of reasons not to be so sentimental, I continue to want my football club to provide me with heroes - men for whom my admiration is uncomplicated, uncompromised and unarguable. It's silly, I know. But there you have it.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

a little jar of sticky memories

Lately, many of my London journeys have taken me through the hipster valley of Shoreditch/Hoxton. In terms of being able to fit a little street art/graffiti photography into my working day, this has been very good news. So I've been going positively bonkers on Instagram over the last few weeks.

The single most productive spot for me has been Blackall Street, a tatty little alleyway not far from Great Eastern Street. Almost every available surface is decorated and it seems like there is fresh activity most nights of the week. New stuff seems to pop up on pretty much a daily basis. Spotted this week: a little piece by the prolific street artist Bortusk Leer.  The object depicted is something like a jar of Marmite or Bovril. Perhaps the latter, given that the label says EXTRACT OF BEEF CURTAIN.

This smutty expression transported me almost twenty years into the past, to a notable day on which a mispronounced version of that term was the cause of much hilarity for some. I was, that day, one of the weaker links in a seven-a-side football team playing in tournament on the rutted, unloved pitches of some university sports club in Kraków. My team mates were fellow Brits living in the city. We were the only non-Polish team, the other outfits including a group of (beatable) taxi drivers and a group of (bulky, intimidating) police officers. With one exception, no one in our side had paid any attention to the matter of the teams in the tournament having been given names. That exception was a guy named Phil. He had registered us as participants in the tournament and had deliberately failed to mention the team name that he had chosen. It was only when the results of the first tranche of games were read out over a crackly loudspeaker that the rest of us finally got to hear his joke. We were Beef Curtains F.C. That this meant nothing to any of our opponents only added to the hilarity of the gag for Phil and the other couple of goons who thought that our team name was the funniest thing ever. I thought I'd forgotten this entirely meaningless incident. But some things just stick.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

SAME OLD CRAP FROM AN UNEXPECTED VOICE

When Tottenham Hotspur F.C. is mocked, experience has taught me not to be surprised when the mockery takes an unpleasant anti-Semitic tone. Experience has also taught me not to be surprised when stuff of that nature springs from the lips or the keyboard of a Chelsea supporter. More surprising today, though, has been seeing this sort of thing from a Chelsea supporter who also claims to be a sports broadcaster working for BT Sport. It's good that she writes "all views my own" in her Twitter profile because presumably today's bit of unpleasantness is not quite in line with the values of the recent arrival on the UK TV sports scene:

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

BABY ON BOARD

those BABY ON BOARD badges
worn by pregnant women
when swaying around
on London's buses and Underground trains:
it feels like they're a good idea, conceived (pun intended)
with noble intentions
and high hopes
about the decency
of the travelling public.

but see what so often happens
and think again.
see the able-bodied
suits and brogues and cufflinks
acquire, suddenly,
a selective myopia.
and see them stare,
more intently than before,
at the bright little screens
in their laps and palms, never connecting
the dots between the unborn child slung
uncomfortably out in front of the living person stood inches away
(from the spreadsheet, the Twitter feed, or the game
of solitaire)
and the children spawned
from the loins
inside their own trousers. 

maybe it's more understandable
in someone who's not (yet) had kids
of their own.
think of that scene
in The Office
when that (admittedly creepily irritating) woman objects
to the plumes of cigarette smoke emanating from the nasty mouth
of that horrible sod from the warehouse and he says
she's not special just because she let
some useless tosser blow his beans up her muff.
but look, even if you haven't had children and
even if you're one of those people who goes on about
how you're never going to have children and
even if you're one of those people who goes on about
how it's other people's choice to have children and
how you don't see why you should have to listen
to someone else's fucking brats making noise
in a restaurant
or how you don't see why you should stand up for some bird
just because SHE'S DECIDED to have a baby,
well,
let me put it this way:
one day you're going to be old
infirm
incontinent
and confused.
and
when that time comes
and you've had no children
or the children you've had think you're a mean-spirited arse,
then you'd better hope that enough fucking brats have been born
in the time it's taken you to become
a desiccated husk.
because if new humans
are in short supply
then who's going to wipe your backside
and listen to your peevish bullshit?