Thursday, 27 September 2012

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

FCC still not guarding its trains

those graffiti boys are STILL getting as much time as they need to paint big, elaborate panels on First Capital Connect's trains. still so committed to customer safety that you continue not to guard the trains at night, FCC? so anyone who wanted to stick bombs under a train would get a couple of hours to do so, right? there's a thought to liven up your commute. more stimulating than 50 Shades of Shite on your sweaty Kindle.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Reshuffled defence to be tested at Spurs

A home draw is not meant to be the most satisfying outcome, but last weekend's goalless encounter with Chelsea was largely well received by QPR supporters. Ours lads, after all, were entertaining a side who, as their fans were keen to remind us (on the rare occasions their songs could be heard above the Rangers roar), are champions of Europe.

So although all three points could have been snatched had either of Messrs. Park and Zamora taken the scoring chances with which they were presented, getting even just the one point may have felt like some sort of victory to any Superhoops fans who had started the day fearing an embarrassing defeat. But while it's probably going too far to apply the word pyrrhic to any such sense of victory, the encouraging performance and result were not without cost. Most notably, of course, Andy Johnson is out for most of the rest of the season.  This is horribly bad luck for the former Fulham man, but injuries this serious are not without precedent for the diminutive forward, whose 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons were both blighted by long periods out of action. 

But, in Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cissé, QPR do have decent options up front, although the latter will surely be keen to rediscover the goal scoring form that was so vital in last season's relegation scrap. Also, other players, though not perhaps thought of as out-and-out strikers, can be pressed into duty further up the park if needed. Messrs. Mackie and Hoilett each scored seven league goals in league fixtures last season. So perhaps either can be moved from the wing to a more central position if needed.

In the short term at least, the more pressing area of concern is the Rangers defence. It was to this area that most damage was sustained during last week's encounter with the Pensioners, with loanee fullback Fábio da Silva and centre-half Anton Ferdinand both sustaining knocks that have ruled them out of tomorrow's trip to White Hart Lane.

These are not the only defensive headaches faced by Mark Hughes. Armand Traoré is not yet ready to step into the left-sided position temporarily vacated by Fabio, and new signing Stéphane Mbia is also not quite fit enough to play against Spurs.

So QPR fans may be right to worry about the ability of a reshuffled back line to deal with the threat posed by Tottenham tomorrow. One particularly pressing concern seems to be the left-back position. Whoever steps into that role will most likely be facing pacey opponents in the form of Aaron Lennon and a certain fullback whose abilities are well known to Superhoops supporters. The speed and guile of Walker and Lennon, then, are such that some people are asking whether dear old Clint Hill is the best man to deal with them. Another option, of course, would be shift José Bosingwa from right to left. Could he cope? Well, while a common perception may be that the experienced Portuguese defender is entirely and unhelpfully right-footed, it is worth remembering his magnificent performance against Barcelona just over three years ago. Petr Cech, one of Bosingwa's Chelsea team mates that day, remarked that "the biggest compliment should go to  José  because I think it was the second time in his life that he played at left back and it was against [Lionel] Messi. But you couldn't see Messi on the pitch today."

Perhaps it's way too optimistic to suppose that, on Sunday evening, Bosingwa will be enjoying similar praise for having nullified the threat posed by key Spurs players. But Cech's gushing praise of the Portuguese fullback should serve as a reminder that, slow start to the season notwithstanding, QPR have added a lot of quality to their squad. What that means in terms of our chances at Tottenham remains to be seen. But it is to be hoped that once this tricky tie is out of the way, the Rangers can really get their season going properly. By and large, after all, the weekends ahead are populated with what should be more benign fixtures. As we look ahead to October and November, trips to the Emirates Stadium and Old Trafford stand out as exceptions to what otherwise looks like a run of games from which QPR must surely start collecting some serious points.

But perhaps points can be had this weekend. Perhaps at least a draw can be secured tomorrow. Our opponents' only win so far this season was at the expense of newly-promoted Reading and they have yet to win at home, with their new manager (our old pal AVB) yet to make his mark and secure the affection of Spurs fans. So let's see if the R's can work around that daunting injury list and get something from the short trip to Tottenham.

U RRRRRRRRRRRssssssssssssssss

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

How easy would it be to blow up an FCC train?

Graffiti is a funny old business. Some of us are iconoclasts who rather enjoy the illicit claiming of public and commercial spaces by unseen, subversive folk. Other people (most people, probably) hate it - dirty, threatening, creating an uncomfortable impression of lawlessness.

Lately, the trains operated by First Capital Connect on the Bedford-to-Brighton Thameslink line have been carrying big panels of often quite elaborate graffiti. This one, spotted today, is a fair size: 

But it's small beer when compared to pieces spotted earlier this week, last month and back in the winter. Clearly, if you want to paint a big panel on an FCC train, it's by no means impossible not only to get access to wherever the rolling stock is kept at night but also to stay there undisturbed for the several hours that some of these pieces must take to complete. From an aesthetic point of view, this is my england has no problem with this. The feeling here is that many of these pieces show real artistry and craft.

Frankly, a lot of what's been painted on the carriages this year is a welcome change from FCC's nasty blue and pink colour scheme and dull corporate branding. Moreover, FCC is not a brand which is much loved by those who have to use the company's heavily subsidised services. No, theirs is not the worst train service in this country. But it is expensive and there are plenty of other dislikeable elements of the FCC experience. Of these, insufferably rude and inconsistent 'revenue protection' staff stand out. So when some of us see an FCC train covered in big pieces of graffiti, we silently approve. One in the eye for an unfriendly company whose 'services' we are forced to endure.

But at the same time, you might look at a carriage that someone has redecorated in this fashion and ask yourself an interesting question. If, you may well ask, a graffiti artist can spend hours unobserved, working away with the spray cans in some yard or on some siding, couldn't someone much more dangerous also gain access to the trains at night? Why would someone wanting to plant bombs under the carriages find it any more difficult to proceed undisturbed than the graffiti boys do?

Sure, notwithstanding the occasional genuinely shocking outrage such as the 7/7 bombings of 2005, the threat of terrorism is exaggerated by governments and security forces in order to force an insidious erosion of freedom on a fearful population. But that is not to pretend that threats do not exist at all. So given that when terrorist attacks do happen it is public transport systems that are often targeted, it seems foolish in the extreme for a train operator like FCC to leave their rolling stock unguarded at night. Presumably there is some kind of surveillance technology in use. But it's clearly the case that the low-tech solution of having a night-watchman on patrol is not. Why not? Well, one good guess might be an aversion on the company's part when it comes to employing extra human beings. 

So if your train does blow up during your commute one morning, your loved ones can at least console themselves with the thought that FCC was working hard to maximise its profits by refusing to guard its sidings and yards with the only truly foolproof defence mechanism, namely having enough blokes (and dogs) around to scare off the bad guys.

In the meantime, try to draw comfort from the bland reassurances of FCC's social media bods who state that their company is "working very hard" along with the British Transport Police "to put a stop to" the current wave of graffiti action. No detail on what this "hard work" entails. But it clearly does not entail paying people to keep an eye on the trains ALL NIGHT and EVERY NIGHT. 

modern football is rubbish

rumble sticks, jester hats, soulless stadia on the fringes of soulless retails parks on the fringes of soulless towns... and... SONG SHEETS for people who don't know they words ('cos they only watch their other team, Man Utd, on Sky when their local team isn't in the top flight):

Monday, 17 September 2012

QPR 0 Chelsea 0: consider yourself entertained

The recent passing of Max Bygraves went unremarked by this is my england. This was a shocking oversight. By way of correcting said oversight, today's musings on the QPR weekend are brought to you in the spirit of the late entertainer.

I wanna tell you a story... about a no-score draw
A 0-0 draw is not what many fans are hoping to see when paying today's eye-watering prices to watch ninety minutes of professional football. But not every goalless draw is entirely dour, and the fare served up at Loftus Road on Saturday was reasonably satisfying. Well, reasonably satisfying for most QPR supporters in attendance. The quiet, reserved fans of the away side? Not so much. For them, these terribly unimportant matches against teams that they don't care about (or even ever think about) are meant to be an easy stroll towards well-deserved victory. Instead, the visiting Pensioners supporters had to watch their £50 million striker having another of his anonymous off days. They also had to watch him flouncing off when substituted.  The poor dears also had to endure a woeful performance from one of their legendary stalwarts as a rapidly fading Frank Lampard managed to complete just 68.7% of the passes he attempted.

Lampard's efforts were in stark contrast to the composed elegance of the home side's Alejandro Faurlin, who completed 88.1% of his passes. The Argentinian has bounced back into fitness and form after a very long lay off and his return may prove to be every bit as important to the Rangers as any of the recent player acquisitions the club has made. That said, Faurlin's partner in the midfield engine room, Esteban 'the Pirate' Granero, is playing his way into the supporters' affections very quickly indeed. The former Real Madrid man was singled out for praise for his debut performance at Manchester City. He looked even better when making his first appearance on the Superhoops' home turf.

More surprising, perhaps, was the excellent play of Kiwi centre-half Ryan Nelsen. Not many QPR fans predicted that the former Blackburn and Spurs man would be a really useful addition to the squad. But it looks like the veteran defender may well prove his doubters wrong.

You need hands
But if praise is going to be spread around the team which QPR put out on Saturday, it would be entirely remiss to overlook the home side's new 'keeper. Because based on the evidence of this one game, the vastly experienced Brazilian stopper looks like a massive upgrade. This is a guy, after all, who has regularly been touted as one of the world's best goalies. Hail Cesar!

Now, while we're on the subject of a man who will doubtless contribute much to the Rangers' 2012-13 campaign by using his hands, it is worth reminding ourselves that hands were the focus of much attention before this match. Because once again we had to endure this country's sensationalist and puerile media outlets aggravating the bad feeling that was always going to be a feature of the game's pre-match handshaking ritual.

Feel free to take a view, then, on whether Anton Ferdinand was right or wrong not to shake the hands of the two Chelsea players with whom he continues to feel aggrieved. Feel free to wonder a bit about the more surprising business of Park Ji-Sung not shaking hands with the Blues skipper. But this short article is going to give that whole discussion a distinct and determined swerve. Enough already, right? Let's just forget the whole dismal business until we next have the pleasure of tangling with the Pensioners of SW6.

But it will be harder, perhaps, to forget another hands-related incident from Saturday's game. Harder still, maybe, to forgive it. Oddly, however, it was not an incident that was even noticed by very many people in the ground. Certainly, none of the good people sat in the X block of Ellerslie Road appear to have been aware of it. But a picture tells a thousand words. So look at this snap from one of the Sunday tabloids:

Here we see Rangers crowd favourite Jamie Mackie having his throat grabbed by that man Terry. Not pretty, is it? A sending off offence, surely? It certainly must be given that we only have to look to our recent memories to be reminded that a player who raises his hands anywhere near an opponent's neck is meant to get a red card. Think back, for example, to last season's home tie against Wolves. Remember how Djibril Cissé got his marching orders for putting his hands around the throat of Roger Johnson? So what's the difference? Not much, right? So presumably the referee is another person who failed to see this bit of thuggery from the Chelsea Captain. 

Fings ain't wot they used t'be?
This lucky escape for the Pensioners defender, then, may balance out the various unsuccessful penalty appeals about which Blues supporters are presumably still moaning. But it would be an unwise Chelsea fan who blames nothing more than bad luck with the officials for his team's failure to beat little, irrelevant QPR. After all, the Champions of Europe enjoyed less possession and passed the ball less accurately than the home side.

This is something that they will need to sort out if they are going to go back to their accustomed habit of swatting aside pathetic little also-rans like our team. Because this season's decent start notwithstanding, Pensioners fans will remember with discomfort a number of occasions during the 2011-12 campaign when their side did not manage to blow away supposedly inferior opposition. Wigan, Fulham, Norwich and Swansea all managed to hold the Blues to a draw.

Back at QPR, Mark Hughes has promised that our own struggles of last season are to be consigned firmly to the past. We will not, he tells us, have to endure another relegation battle. Well, let's see. The opening day capitulation at home to Swansea seemed to give lie to that notion. But perhaps Saturday's showing offered evidence to support the idea that the massive number of new signings at Loftus Road can indeed be blended effectively to create a decent team. That said, another tough fixture looms ahead. Their poor early form notwithstanding, Spurs will surely offer a stern test at White Hart Lane. But they do have a bloody awful manager and they do have a funny habit of leaving expensive new signings on the bench. So you never know.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

insults, injuries and a proper singsong

Good morning, QPR fans! For many of us, today brings the league fixture which is more eagerly anticipated than any other. So we offer a warm West London welcome to our dear friends from the dustbins of Crawley and Redhill and from the pricier parts of Richmond and Barnes. Here they come, swaggering along the Uxbridge Road. "E-D-EDL! E-D-EDL!" sing the Crawley boys. "There's only one Jason Marriner!" comes the cry from the Redhill mob. Then the Barnes brigade strike real fear into the hearts of the home supporters as they break into a rousing chorus of their own special song. "Caaaaaaaaaaarefree!! Wherever you may be! We are the famous CFC! Please sit down, my wife can't see! Loyal supporter since 2003!"

Harping on about old nonsense?
Singsongwise, the QPR side of the equation may run to the revival of some recent favourites and the invention of some new ditties. A popular number sung at last season's Stamford Bridge debacle, to the tune of Nel blu dipinto di blu, made the suggestion that Pensioners skipper John Terry "knees you in the back" and "hates you if you're black".

The latter barb, of course, relates to that unsavoury incident which occurred on the Loftus Road pitch during the season's earlier and fierier encounter. That the Rangers prevailed 1-0 that day is a fact that seems to have been overshadowed in the popular imagination by the long and dismal saga which has unfolded as a result of the incident. One day, perhaps, the fact that Terry uttered the words "fucking black cunt" on the field of play will be forgotten and this particular fixture will proceed without widespread references to that fact in the media and on the various online space where keyboard warriors do battle.

In the meantime, though, last season's nonsense will continue to cast a shadow over tomorrow's game. So, once again, we must endure speculation about whether the tedious, unnecessary and only recently contrived pre-match handshake ritual will proceed smoothly or prove to be some sort of flashpoint. At least this time we know that it will go ahead in some shape or form, the great football authorities having decided that it must. 

It is less certain, though, to what degree John Terry will be singled out for especially hostile treatment by the Loftus Road crowd. Online chatter suggests opinions are divided. Some Superhoops supporters are looking forward gleefully to another opportunity to express particular disdain for the opponents' skipper. Others take the view that it is time to forget last season's incidents and simply concentrate on the match itself.

Same old FA: always cheating
But it is easy to understand the feelings of those who do want to keeping picking at that John Terry-shaped scab, not least because the inept goons of the Football Association have allowed the stink to linger for so many months. Sure, it was not down to the FA that Terry's criminal trial was delayed until July, a full nine months after the Chelsea man's altercation with QPR centre-half Anton Ferdinand. No, if you're looking for someone to blame for slowing down the wheels of British justice in this case, look no further than Pensioners CEO Ron Gourlay, who breezily told the court that a trial during the season would hinder his team's chances of success. But why the delay between July's criminal trial and the FA's own hearing about Terry's abusive language? It seems farcical in the extreme for that procedure not to have already taken place. For that lapse of common sense (or common decency?), we can only look to the FA itself. Similarly, we must question the wisdom and decency of the decision to allow Terry to be selected for England duty while that FA investigation is pending. We can also question the wisdom and decency of the man who picks the England team. Roy Hodgson, surely previously considered by almost everyone to be a decent sort of chap, has rather blotted his copybook of late. It's bad enough that he selected the Chelsea defender for the recent tie in Moldova. But Hodgson's more egregious lapse of good judgement was to express the "hope" that the former England Captain would be "freed" of his pending FA charge. This is very bad form - a senior employee of an organisation speaking out about an unconcluded disciplinary procedure concerning someone in his charge. How can that not be taken as prejudicial to the case? 

The long delay in having Terry answer his FA charges stands in stark contrast to the swiftness with which Anton's older brother was dealt with over a matter closely related to this sorry saga. Rio Ferdinand had retweeted another person's now infamous "choc ice" description of Chelsea's Ashley Cole. For this offence, the Manchester United player was rapidly ordered to pay a £45,000 fine. In light of this, it seems impossible not to conclude that two miscreants have been treated very differently by the FA.

A cynic, therefore, would conclude that John Terry gets special treatment. Is that because, unlike Rio, he's still a contender for the England team and still a favourite of Roy Hodgson's? It could well be. After all, there is no reason to suppose that the FA is not run by incompetent and corrupt people. There is just too much evidence to the contrary. Take your pick from the Association's obvious share of the blame for the Hillsborough disaster, the criminal waste of money on a vastly overpriced national stadium and the revolving door hiring policy with regard to expensive and ineffective national team managers. 

Proud English lions? Yeah, right
That the FA seems to give John Terry special treatment made the Association look particularly stupid this week. Having sustained a knock in Chişinău, the Chelsea man was ruled out of contention for England's more challenging home tie against Ukraine. But guess what? He's fit enough to play at Loftus Road today! It's a miracle!

No it isn't. You don't have to be a dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy nut to see that the Pensioners skipper could have made himself available for the midweek Ukraine game and that he simply chose to shirk England duty in order to ensure he would be able to play for his club side. This gives lie to the spurious idea that Terry is a proud English patriot prepared to put his body on the line for England. Terry, then, has mugged off the Association which does him special favours.

The same goes for his Stamford Bridge team-mate Ashley Cole, who also failed to turn up at Wembley but who will, it seems, be on duty for his club today. So if you're looking to spread the blame for England's failure to beat Ukraine, do keep these two malingerers in mind. Further, should England fail to qualify for the World Cup, do remember to look back at this week's match and keep in mind which players ducked out of the game but still managed to put in a shift for Chelsea just days later.

The presence of these two dishonest men, of course, will make a hard match harder still for the home side today. After all, you'd much rather see our forward(s) running at David "Sidehow Bob" Luiz than the crafty old bastard in the no. 26 shirt; and while Ashley Cole may be a particularly horrible human specimen in so many ways, he does remain one of the world's better left-backs. But for some QPR fans, the presence of these two miscreants is not altogether a bad thing. This is certainly true for those who do want to focus their bile on particular players in the visiting side and who do not feel inclined to put the Anton-Terry incident behind them. But remember, folks, both clubs contesting today's tie have issued stern warnings about what is and what isn't acceptable when it comes to expressing one's feelings during the match. So, on the basis of its homophobic overtones, the following song (to the tune of Sloop John B) is not reasonable:

"You're John Terry's bitch, You're John Terry's bitch, Bend over Ashley, You're John Terry's bitch"

The reference here, of course, is to the perception that Cole's defence of Terry in that court case was a particularly craven piece of toadying. But forget it, right? This song does not fit the guidelines within which we must behave today so absolutely no one must sing it, OK?

More acceptable, perhaps, is another ditty (tune: Cwm Rhondda/Bread of Heaven) that relates to the Terry saga and the shocking idea that perhaps the Chelsea Captain really IS a racist:

"Does Nick Griffin? Does Nick Griffin? Does Nick Griffin know you're here?" 

One advantage of this song is that it can equally well be directed at Terry himself and at anyone in the School End who breaks out into a chorus of "Anton Ferdinand, You know what you are."

Long odds... but let's 'ave it
Anyway, what of the match itself? Well, the Rangers' hopes of victory are surely fairly slim and doubtless many QPR supporters would be delighted with a draw. Perhaps the presumed debut of Julio Cesar in goal  makes a positive outcome a bit more likely. Maybe that man Granero will build on his encouraging first outing in a Rangers shirt a couple of weeks ago. But have no doubt - our chaps have a real task on their hands today. The visitors have a galaxy of expensive talent, not least Eden Hazard, already a very popular choice for fantasy football managers everywhere. But maybe Hazard can be rattled. Think back to how Juan Mata refused to take corners at Loftus Road last season. These fancy footwork millionaire types? They don't like it up 'em. They do not like it up 'em. So everyone going along to W12 today is urged to do their duty and get behind the Rangers. Let's 'ave it.


Thursday, 13 September 2012


so I'm walking down to the station
on a nice bright morning and
god's in his heaven and
all's well with the world and
then this bloke appears from a side turning,
riding his bike on the pavement
on the other side of the street:
a man of thirty-five or forty,
his front wheel wobbles as one hand
comes off the handlebar and slides
into his pocket
for a cigarette.
he spits a piece of chewing gum
onto the paving slabs outside the nursery school and
weaves his tyre tracks 
into the little lawn
at the front of those new apartments.
cigarette lit,
he zips downhill,
then diagonally across the road
just ahead of the junction and
straight through the red lights,
mounting the pavement
on the other side.
and I think

and on the train
this tool
in an M&S suit
and a Thomas Pink shirt
gets on halfway through my journey,
sits next to me and steadily widens
the gap between his thighs.
he is trying to push his way from his seat onto mine and wipe ME
against the wipe-CLEAN plastic-coated
carriage wall,
and his elbow
is working into the tender space
above my hip. jabbing, jabbing.
and he's tutting 
as I push back a bit
and I'm going to say
"are you trying to sit on my lap, you cunt?
are you fucking winding me up?"
but I don't.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Leon Knight: any lessons for the unwise?

Back in July, this is my england made a few remarks about the failed journeyman footballer Leon Knight. The itinerant forward had just hit the headlines for unleashing a torrent of seriously unpleasant Twitter abuse towards the wife of Wolves midfielder Jamie O'Hara.

For Knight, this was not out of character. Despite being the father of a young girl, his output on Twitter made clear that he dislikes women, speaking about the opposite sex purely in degrading and hateful terms. To the former striker, now unemployed and on the scrapheap at just twenty-nine, young women are all to be dismissed as sluts and slags. 

Anyone observing all of this who has even just a cursory knowledge of the Malicious Communications Act (1988) may well have been thinking that it's only a matter of time before Leon Knight's online antics are interrupted by the long arm of the law. Rumour now has it that this has indeed come to pass. Because last night, having made the move from casual written abuse to a more elaborately planned and really disgusting stunt, it seems that the much-travelled striker may well have been arrested. There is certainly chitchat to that effect circulating on Twitter right now. Time will tell, no doubt, if there is substance to those rumours because an arrest in Knight's case would be sure to get some media attention. In the meantime, we do know that his Twitter account has been suspended.

Dirty pictures: maybe not a good idea?
So what was that disgusting stunt? Well, the vile little creep spent several days tweeting regularly to drum up interest in a nasty and presumably illegal exercise. He encouraged other idiots and other people of low character to email him compromising photographs of young women. With Knight having tens of thousands of Twitter followers and with this world being generously supplied with utter wankers, it seems that his appeal yielded a fairly plentiful supply of smut. As far as can be made out from Twitter activity, it seems that horrible sods were sending in intimate photos of ex-girlfriends or of girls with whom they had more casual sexual contact.

At this point, you are warmly invited to question the wisdom of any person who allows another person to make a digital image of that nature. Stories about the repercussions of this are rife and widely known. A girl allows a boyfriend to take an explicit photo of her. The couple break up. The boy decides to forward the picture on to schoolmates, possibly as an act vengeance if his fragile pride has been wounded by the breakup. The picture circulates more widely, and before long the girl has been thoroughly humiliated. The possibility of really serious effects on her mental health and self-esteem cannot be discounted.

But not everyone is wise. People, especially young people, do make mistakes. It's not hard to imagine a girl believing herself to be in love and feeling some pressure to please her boyfriend by consenting to have a compromising picture taken. She believes him when he says the image is just for his own pleasure. Perhaps at the moment he makes the promise, he really is speaking in good faith. But feelings change. Rejection follows. Egos are bruised. It's horrible. But it happens. 

Moreover, if a young man does something like this once and then regrets his actions, perhaps he is not to be condemned forever as a nasty piece of work. Perhaps it teaches him something about other people's feelings, about actions having sometimes very serious consequences and about what it means to be thought of as someone lacking decency. It's a terrible way to learn lessons of that sort, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility that redemption could follow such a stupid and horrible act.

Premeditated nastiness 
But Leon Knight was planning something of this nature on an almost industrial scale. It was also clear that he was not acting on a sudden impulse. This was a proper project for him, premeditated and carefully worked out. Earlier this week, his follower count on Twitter was under 70,000. By last night, having spread the word about his planned 'slag alert' stunt, this number had risen to over 100,000. So any pictures shared by the former footballer would have reached a far wider audience than those spread in the usual instances of this kind of harassment. Knight also intended to identify by name the girls in the pictures, using their Twitter account names if he had them. In the build-up to his planned stunt, he was taking obvious delight in the inevitable fallout. He was laughing at the prospect of girls' current relationships breaking down as a result of his antics. More than once, he taunted women he knew to be married or engaged, delighting in the prospect of them being dumped by embarrassed or angered husbands and fiancés. It's easy to come to the conclusion that Knight would take pleasure from the idea of having ruined someone's life. 

It seems, however, that his plan did not reach its conclusion. It appears that pictures were deleted as soon as he posted them and that the suspension of his account swiftly followed. A number of wags are right now repeating the joke that Knight's #SAP stunt turned out to be roughly as successful as his football career.

There are rivers of shit out there in cyberspace. An ocean of ordure. Every day, the details of some horrible personality or the workings of some deranged mind are mainlined into our homes. Leon Knight has both, and it is to be applauded that his latest and more ambitious piece of nastiness has fallen flat.

So what lessons can be drawn from this sorry incident (or non-incident, if you prefer)?

Well, one rather depressing aspect of this dismal affair is that a pretty large number of young men were out there condoning Knight's unpleasantness, offering him encouragement and eagerly anticipating a deluge of humiliating filth. Of course, you would be forgiven for wondering how a Leon Knight fan would have reacted to seeing his own sister or girlfriend humiliated in the way that Knight was planning. That said, it was no good remonstrating with Leon's online worshippers with that line of argument. To do so was simply to court the inarticulate and hateful response of someone with no regard for decency and no empathy for his fellow human beings. A wasted effort.

Beyond this dispiriting reminder about just how many people seem to be absolute wankers, the more useful lessons are around the disjoints between the wonderful potential of digital technologies and the capacity of our culture to agree on how best to enjoy them.

Upside with the downside
If you're old enough to remember living before the digital age really got going then you may sometimes marvel at the changes you've seen. Remember what it was like before everyone had mobile phones? Meeting up with friends was different then, wasn't it? You had to specify an exact time and place, and you would sometimes hang around for ages wondering why your pals were running late. Also, certain kinds of spontaneity which are possible now were not possible then. For instance, these days, if you decide at the last moment to go to your local pub or to a game of football, you can text a few friends to see who's around and up for a drink and chat. When you add the broadcast functionality of social media to the immediacy of mobility this becomes more powerful still. As you head down to the boozer or the football ground, you can update your Facebook status and/or write a tweet to let your associates know what you're up to. Pretty quickly you will know who is out and about. All very useful. Do today's youngsters realise quite how much these now ubiquitous technologies have transformed the daily lives of their elders?

Digital photography and digital video have also been massive game changers. Creating still pictures and moving images used to be expensive. Remember what it was like with a film camera? You would go on holiday with a couple of rolls of film, each with thirty-six exposures. You'd worry about wasting a shot and you'd take ages getting the family lined up in a grinning group. What a disappointment if that one snap of your happy clan in front of a popular landmark was spoiled by mum having her eyes closed or by part of someone's body being cut out of the picture. But now? You just rattle off the images at speed. Take ten pics of something and one of them is sure to be half-decent. You can just delete the others if you get close to filling the massive capacity of the memory card on your camera or, for that matter, the pretty decent camera now built into many popular mobile phones.

Consider your digital footprint 
The volume and variety of data generated by ordinary punters are increasing with giddying speed. We now create as much information every two days as the human race managed to create between the dawn of civilisation and the year 2003. In the specific case of video, YouTube users now upload more content in any given sixty days than all three major US television network created in sixty years. We can all be photographers. We can all be film makers. We can all be artists. We can all be publishers. This is empowering. Potentially, it represents a form of democratisation. But it comes with dangers and it comes with responsibilities that many people simply don't seem to understand. Too many people fail to realise that making a digital image or writing a comment online potentially leaves an indelible mark that may one day be bitterly regretted.

Perhaps you are involved in hiring people. Perhaps you will be involved in considering an employee for promotion. Maybe you will have some influence on someone's admission or otherwise to a course of study. Perhaps you are considering doing business with someone. In any one of these contexts, you might well Google a person's name to get a bit of insight into their character, their background or their interests. If you see something you don't like perhaps you will quickly eliminate that person from your plans.

It's a little frightening that so many people learn how to use a mouse and keyboard or the functions of a mobile phone without also acquiring a sense of the dangers around certain kinds of online behaviour. Compare this with the business of getting a driver's licence. To do so, one must demonstrate the ability not only to operate a vehicle in the most basic way but also the ability to drive safely. Learner drivers are appraised of the dangers they will pose to themselves and to other road users. Only when the learner can prove that these dangers have been understood can the licence be handed over. There is, however, probably no equivalent way of limiting online activity only to those able to demonstrate the ability to use communications technologies responsibly. This is a shame, really, given the daily evidence of both self-destruction and harm to others that thoughtless and spiteful online behaviour can cause.

An army of idiots?
this is my england has followed a number of examples of this over the last few months. Back in March, we saw Welsh student Liam Stacey making a name for himself by racially abusing Fabrice Muamba as the Bolton player lay unconscious on the White Hart Lane pitch. Very shortly afterwards, Stacey's comeuppance arrived in the form of arrest by South Wales Police and suspension from his university.

But despite the prominence of Stacey's case, it has become apparent that some idiots have either never heard of it or have failed to learn from it. Take the case of Alan Haywood, a West Ham fan from Southend. Outraged by his team's capitulation to a rampant Swansea City side, Haywood took out his frustration by directing racist abuse towards Hammers striker Carlton Cole:

At the time, this is my england made the confident prediction that Haywood would be arrested. So it came to pass. Of course, you are welcome to debate the issue of whether the police and our legal system have responded to this in a manner disproportionate to the nature of the offence. Perhaps you consider it to be an erosion of freedom of speech if one person is denied the opportunity to address another as a "fucking useless nigger cunt". Perhaps you consider the words "fucking useless nigger cunt" to constitute the expression of an opinion rather than as simply an act of harassment. That's entirely up to you, of course. For now, though, the prevailing trend seems to be that behaving in this way will lead to arrest and imprisonment.

Even if you don't like this provision of our legal system, you have to live with it. So by all means write an article in which you argue the case for people being allowed to say absolutely anything to absolutely anyone without fear of legal consequences. But until you get your desired change in our laws (and in the way our laws are applied), you need to realise that saying certain things in certain ways will get you in trouble. Moreover, using Twitter and other social media to say those certain things may have quite long-lasting consequences. Liam Stacey, for instance, has at least delayed his career progress, if not fatally stalled his ambitions before he really got started on making them a reality. Alan Haywood, too, may find that his idiocy follows him around and causes him more trouble for a while yet.

Forget Leon Knight and think about your own online life
The likes of Alan Haywood and Liam Stacey actually don't look too bad when compared with the vile and persistent trolling of Leon Knight. Haywood and Stacey are undeniably idiots, young men who failed to understand the potential consequences of their online outbursts. Knight's actions, on the other hand, were altogether more premeditated. At one stage last night, he was even responding to suggestions that he would be arrested with taunts, inviting his detractors to call the police. Knight, then, it must be assumed, is either seriously mentally ill or has a personality disorder of some kind. Probably, no lessons can really be drawn from his actions because hardly anyone else would go to so much trouble to get in trouble. 

One lesson that can, perhaps, be learned from Knight's abortive stunt, though, is around the wisdom of letting someone take a compromising photo of you, however much you currently love or trust that person. Equally, if you already live by the useful idea of 'think before you speak' in the physical world, then you may want to check whether you apply that principle online.

Digital technologies: changing faster than we get get our heads around the risks which come along with the useful functionalities. So let's be careful out there.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

that's really funny

the first year I lived in Poland
I lived alone,
something like six storeys up
a building that swayed in a wind which whipped in
from east to west, starting out beyond the steppes
of central Asia
and gathering speed across the low
green Świętokrzyskie Mountains.
and on the evenings when the power went out,
I'd sit on the floor, reading Bukowski by candlelight and
eating meatballs or bigos heated on the little gas stove, and
I never complained
about the lack of furniture
or about sleeping on a very thin foam-rubber mattress
or about the graffiti
and the shaven-headed teenage smokers
on the stairwell
of the block.

I liked the solitude,
I liked it better than coming home
to the sound of someone else's voice
and the tutting and the post-it notes
about not rinsing out the bathtub
about not double-locking the door
about all that stuff
you have to worry about
when you share a place
because working your drop-out job
pays far too little
to buy you
even the smallest space
in which to be

but ten months in Kielce was enough.
it was unlovely,
with its little bits of life and light
all seemingly straggled
along one long central street,
ulica Henryka Sienkiewicza.
and all that was
was a couple of places
to eat bad pizza
or drink a beer in a cellar,
worrying that some arsehole
in a bad tonic suit
might shoot some other arsehole
in a bad tonic suit, and
all the time
not knowing enough of the language
to know how dangerous
those fuckers really were.

don't get me wrong,
there were some good people there,
hardened into humour, ready to share
their homes, their food
and their stories
with this young Englishman
who was crazy enough
to spend time
scratching out a living
in their out-of-the way town.
yeah, don't get me wrong,
before and after the snow came
I liked to walk arm in arm with this one young girl,
this smart little Anna,
through the untidy parks and
across the cobbled marketplace
where peasant women
in tight headscarves
sold their potatoes, their plums,
their jars of fat.

so I took the offer
of a bigger city, taking my few things
to Kraków,
not suspecting,
of course,
that I'd be there,
in love with the place,
in love with everything going on there and
in love with one maddening girl there
and in lust
with a few more there
for a few more years
after that.

for the first few months
the only bad part about having moved there
was needing to live in the same apartment
as a pretty curious fellow who worked
in the same place as me.

this was Chuck, an American,
a graduate
of a state university in New England,
and a native of the Connecticut suburbs
to the north
of NYC.
curious? yes, yes, curious.
a real weirdo, in fact,
but harmless.

he had a small number of ageing checked shirts
which he buttoned right to the throat, and
a small number of pairs of fading jeans
that he tucked tightly
into these stupid looking
pale brown waterproof duck boots
just as soon as a few drops of rain were heard falling
past the windows
of the flat.

he was a man of strange habits.
for instance, he was particular about the way he ate his cornflakes.
he would pour a layer of the cornflakes
from the packet
to the bowl, then
he'd splash on a little milk and then he'd pat down the cornflakes,
using the back of his spoon.
pat pat pat. like he wanted the cornflakes to lie perfectly flat.
then he would pour on more flakes
then more milk and then go
pat pat pat
again, with the spoon,
pat pat pat.
over and over this went,
four or five layers of cornflakes
applied in this way.
oh, and the whole time
he did this
he was standing up,
with his spoon held right out at arm's length.
it was one of the damnedest things I've ever seen
and he did it like that every morning
for all the mornings I lived there.

and he was obsessively tight with money.
I mean, we all earned nothing in real money,
our wage in złoty,
well it would make you wince
to convert it to dollars or pounds.
but everything was still cheap there then.
I never worried about what I spent.
there was no point saving,
'cos as soon as you went home for Christmas or whatever,
the cash was really worthless.
so you'd eat in restaurants,
take pretty girls to the cinema,
spend all night in bars,
get haircuts,
go to the football matches
and always have a little left over
when payday came around again.
but not Chuck. he watched everything he spent,
and he took to schlepping right across the city
just to get to a supermarket
where things were a fraction cheaper.
he used to head off with this little shopping trolley,
one of those two-wheelers that old ladies use,
and he'd load the thing with cartons and cartons
of fruit juice
that cost a little less
than the same thing
from the all-night convenience store
forty paces
from our front door.
we were on the third floor and I'd hear him
and his trolley
coming up the stairs
with all those cartons.
slap, slap, slap,
as he dragged it
up from the street.

Chuck was also a very strange guy to talk to.
he didn't really get jokes,
he listened in complete silence
when someone else spoke,
not giving back any signals.
then sometimes,
at the end of somebody telling him a story
about something they'd done
or something they'd seen,
he would say,
without smiling,
and with no laughter in his voice,
"that's really funny".

he was strange about women.
I know he really lusted after this one red-haired girl
from Manchester
who was also working in the city
and who wandered into our workplace one day,
looking for other English-speaking people she could hang out with.
but he never made any move on her
and he seemed more painfully silent
and shy than ever
when she was around.
and then one night
he saw me walking somewhere with her,
from one bar to another, I guess,
we were drunk
and holding onto each other for support,
tottering about
in the dark.
and that's all it was. I wasn't into her.
but he kind of confronted me.
a day later.
asking why I'd been with this girl,
what I'd been doing and
didn't I know
that he liked her.
there was a flash of violence
in the usually unperturbed eye
of this bloody American fruitcake.
I was, seriously, like
what the fuck are you on, Chuck?
cool it, brother. really.
for fuck's sake.
anyway, this didn't go on forever.
pretty soon I was living in a big house full of boisterous Poles,
wild parties
and the sweet smoke of cannabis.

anyway, that was all years and years ago.
it sometimes shocks me to realise that it's fifteen years now
since I finally came back from Poland for good.
yes, I have seen him since. he stayed in touch by email,
back when people were starting to get into email.
he used to send these very very long messages,
describing everything he'd done for months and months,
where he was working, how much money he was making,
how he was back at his parents' place, how he started to make money
selling stuff on eBay,
back when people were starting to get into eBay.
and he'd tell me
about trips back to Poland, where he'd always meet a new girl,
a girl with whom he had exchanged emails or whatnot
prior to getting on the plane from New York.
and these trips of his, well it broke your heart to hear about them.
he'd fly three or four thousand miles or whatever it is,
with the idea that the Polish chick waiting for him
was actually waiting for him,
when in fact all she'd done
was say "yeah OK"
when he suggested meeting up.
in a couple of these stories he told,
the girl wasn't even in her home town when he arrived from the USA.
generally he managed to embarrass them into showing up at some stage,
but he seemed impervious to the rejection
and kept doing it every summer.
different girls. same results.
in one message back
I asked him why he didn't just get together with someone in the States,
meaning a woman living close by.
he never answered.

then I was getting married
and he sort of invited himself to the wedding.
it was hard to say no.
I'm glad he wasn't in time for my stag weekend.
the frenzied screaming at the football,
the jibes of my old mates,
the blizzard of cocaine.
well, it wouldn't have been his scene,
and the boys would have been all like
who the fuck is this bloke?
but there he was
at the wedding with,
guess what?
a confused-looking Polish girl in tow,
a girl who visibly didn't feel attracted to him.
and then,
a few months after that,
my wife and I were in America, and we wanted to spend
new year's eve in Manhattan,
getting wasted,
all that.
so of course I mentioned it in an email,
and of course he showed up one December afternoon.
and guess what?
he had those fucking duck boots on.
actually the same pair, I think,
something like eleven years
after I'd first seen them
in the hallway of the flat in Kraków
and wondered what they were.
he also had these fuzzy earmuffs on.
it looked ridiculous
and my wife felt awkward, shuffling around an art gallery in New York,
me, her
and this funny dude.
and he suggested a place to eat, and it was decent enough,
which surprised me, because I remembered him only eating in the cheapest places you could find.
and, at his suggestion, we had wine. and the wine was kind of expensive,
but what the hell. we were on holiday. and we were doing OK moneywise.
and we'd be splitting the bill, right?

no, he got up and walked out to the toilet when the waiter brought the bill,
and he was out there long enough for me to realise
that me meant for us to pay.
I didn't get angry. I guess he was broke,
having lost another job to which he wasn't suited,
having spent years, by then, living with mom and pop.
again, sort of heartbreaking really.
so we paid. and he dashed off to catch his bus back to Connecticut.

the last time we saw him
I decided enough was enough. this time he was really a pest.

our kid was just a few months old,
I had a lot on at work,
and it wasn't an especially convenient time.
but Chuck wrote to say that this time he was going to look around England
rather than Poland and I said OK when he asked could he come stay with us for a short time.

he drove my wife crazy.
how can you talk to this fucking guy? she asked.
all he does is just list how much he's paid for really banal things
and tell me he got a good deal on this or that.
it's maddening. he doesn't listen to what the other person's saying.
get him out of here, she said. find a way of not being a shit about it.
but get him out of here.
so I did.
well, I just said it was a little bit more of a strain than we'd expected,
that my missus wasn't really feeling up to having house guests,
what with the boy being so young and waking us up
a zillion times a night.
so he was off.
but not before telling me about his trip to Newcastle, a couple of weeks before he'd come to stay with us.
he'd emailed some girl he'd met online on some chat site or something.
she'd said sure look me up.
so he went to bloody Newcastle of all places,
only to find she wasn't there.
poor bastard.

I guess he's somewhere on the autistic spectrum
and I guess that shit with the cornflakes and the saving money
is some kind of OCD.
you want to dislike him. because that would be easier.
but I guess I'm not quite as hard-hearted as I tell myself I am.

I wonder when he'll turn up next.