Monday, December 19, 2011

I Survived The Great Stockport Tornado

I haven't been posting much recently, mostly because I've been working three different part-time jobs (two lecturing, one note-taking), and apart from the time spent travelling to them and doing them, I haven't been up to much other than writing lectures.

A couple of weeks ago a tornado happened in Stockport. More than that, it happened in Heaton Moor, just as I was walking home from the station. I didn't actually realise what was happening at the time, just that it was a bit windy and raining hard. The next day, the local news were interviewing a fireman clearing up some of the debris when he said that "Some people are saying it's like Armageddon". Really? What people? Where?


Above: Armageddon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Bullet For The Colonel

So Gadaffi's dead, which was kind of predictable. While I'd much rather have seen him in the dock at the ICC, it's probably much more fun shouting "SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS!" than "WE NEED AN EQUITABLE AND ROBUST SYSTEM OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE!"

And now the really hard bit starts in Libya...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Snake Alert

Snake Alert

I can tell you that this is the most exciting story to come out of Stockport in years.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

We Are Demanding The Sun

We Are Demanding The Sun 

Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, September 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

99 Problems, But A Pitch Ain't One


Edgeley Park from the Cheadle Stand. Note comedy head accidentally photobombing in the lower right.

It's a long time since I went to watch Stockport County. Despite them being my local club, the first football match I ever attended was Fulham away at Chester City in 1996. The second match I attended was Stockport, though, and I went quite a few times during my last year at school and my two years of Sixth-Form College. Those were probably the best years that Stockport have ever had, with players like Alun Armstrong, Mike Flynn, Jim Gannon, Sean Connelly, and Kevin Cooper. In the spring of 1998 I saw them finish 8th in the Championship, two places outside the playoffs for the Premier League.

Things are rather different now - last season saw them relegated out of the League for the first time since 1905. This seemed like a good time to return, so a couple of weeks ago me and my Dad went to see them at home to Ebbsfleet United.  I confess to no longer knowing who's who in the Stockport squad - the most familiar name is new manager Dietmar Hamann, the former Liverpool and Germany player.

The game itself was good. While Stockport played the better football, they didn't create many chances - the more direct approach of Ebbsfleet was much more effective, and they were slightly unfortunate not to be at least a goal up at half-time. In the second half, however, Stockport created far more chances, with a string of crosses low across the box from the right going unfinished in increasingly comic/frustrating fashion. Eventually the pressure told, Chadwick heading home from close range after yet another break down the right. That was about 20 minutes from the end, but unfortunately Stockport conceded a soft goal from a set-piece about 10 minutes later, perhaps having lost concentration due to an attempted substitution. While there were more chances for Stockport, none were serious, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. This was disappointing in that Stockport should really have won easily, but the point put them just outside the playoff places.


Corner to Ebbsfleet.

It was an enjoyable afternoon, and while I can't promise to be a regular attendee (£16 is fairly expensive to me) I would like to go a bit more often.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Favourite Parks Are Car Parks

When I was a teenager, Pulp were My Band. They were the band that made it OK to be me. In some ways they still are. This was proven by going to see their reunion gig in Hyde Park, about a month ago. I had seen them once before, at the Apollo in Manchester in 1998, and missed out on seeing them in Nottingham in 2001 for lack of anyone to go with. The fact that, in addition to my sister (who was the first member of the family to be into Pulp), I would be seeing the gig alongside Rachael T. and Vicky D. (née S.), lent the whole gig a sixth-form air.

I arrived with Rachael and we spent some time drifting between various stages. The first band I paid any real attention to were The Horrors, who I'd never really listened to before, but rather liked, in a Bowie/Psychadelic Furs way. I was left alone for The Hives, who were great fun, and brought back lots of memories of Nottingham in 2001. In particular, Pelle Almqvist's between-song banter was a highlight: "We're The Hives and we're from Sweden! Land of ice and snow, and lots of other shit that you've never heard of!" The new stuff sounded a lot like the old stuff, but I think that's forgiveable for a garage band made good.

TV on the Radio are next on the line-up, but I have no memory of them, and I'm pretty sure this is because I was eating and drinking with the others. I did encourage people back to the main stage, where Grace Jones, who Caitlin had seen before, was doing her malfunctioning-replicant-of-pop act. As Caitlin had promised, Jones did indeed do the hula-hoop for the entirety of "Slave to the Rhythm". Apparently there wasn't room in the setlist for "Warm Leatherette", though, which was a disappointment.

After Jones' set finished, people began streaming past us to gather for Pulp's set. This provided the by-now-standard bit of crowd-based entertainment, as one group of lads passed us with one of them saying worriedly "No, we've done it all - the whole bag!" A noticeable difference between this and the Blur gig a couple of years ago was the good-natured aspect to the crowd - there was no barrage of empty bottles. I'm not saying that this proves that Pulp fans are better people than Blur fans, but, y'know: it does.

Given that Pulp had been away for a decade, it was interesting to see what they now looked like. A feature of 1990s Jarvis Cocker had been his ability to shift from high-cheekboned model to Alan Bennett-esque geek by the simple means of putting on some glasses. These days he sports a hip 1970s sociology lecturer-look, and carries it off well. Nick Banks and Candida Doyle look much the same, but Mark Webber now unaccountably looks like Jerry Lewis. Russell Senior added his usual gothic chill, althogh the razor-sharp cheekbones familiar from the cover of "His 'N' Hers" have been filled out by pies time.

They only had an hour for their set, due to being in the middle of central London, and this meant that they had to focus mostly on the main hits, with little time for delving into the more obscure parts of the back-catalogue. They started with "Do You Remember The First Time?" and "Pink Glove", which are probably my favourite songs they ever did. Rachael made her presence felt early on, with energetic dancing clearing a small space around her. With it being a London festival gig, "Mile End" from the "Trainspotting" soundtrack was a gimmie, as was the Acid House memoir "Sorted For E's and Wizz". A particular highlight for me was F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. - never a single, but a genuinely excellent track from the seminal album. The only track from the underrated "This is Hardcore" was the title track, with it's bleak evocation of post-fame comedown. This was followed with "Sunrise" a track from the last album "We Love Life". It wasn't a massively well-received album, and there are far better tracks on it than this one, so this seemed like a poor choice, specially with such a constricted set.

By this point, Vicky was becoming increasingly antsy, as her and Andrew were probably going to have to leave early to catch the last train - would they be there for "Common People"? It turned out that they would, just the other side of "Bar Italia", another gimmie for any gig taking place to close to Soho. "Common People" itself was met with the crowd going predictably wild, and Cocker didn't really need to provide the vocals, as everyone else was singing it anyway. A further highlight came just after the song, as Jarvis could be heard saying to Russell Senior "Come on y'grumpy bastard - give 'em a clap!"

All in all, it was one of the best gigs I've ever been to - helped, of course, by the fact that it's one of the only gigs I've been to where I know pretty much all the words to the songs. It's now very tempting to haunt eBay in an effort to find the old singles that I don't have.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

What We Talk About When We Talk About Gloves

One week ago I met Yvette and Dominik in a pub in Wood Green to watch the Klitschko vs. Haye fight. I'd never really watched a boxing match before, but fortunately Yvette was on hand to give some expert opinion. We got there well before the start and bagged a table, which was a good job, as the pub soon filled with aggressive north London blokes.

The fight itself was disappointing as a spectacle, although as it went the full 12 rounds at least no-one could feel they didn't get value for money. It was good to be watching it with someone who knew what they were talking about, but somewhere at the back of the pub there was a guy who kept shouting "JUST FUCKING DO HIM!", so all options were covered. There was some booing in the pub at the points-win being given to Klitschko, but even I could tell that he'd easily had the best of the fight. I'm told there was a small Ukrainian contingent in the pub who seemed to have brought their own vodka, but I don't remember seeing them.

We stayed far too long in the pub afterwards, drinking. During the fight the place had been so crowded and the night so warm that condensation had started forming on all suitable surfaces. This made the men's toilets pretty inadvisable. There was also an Irish guy in there who came very close to accidentally pissing on me rather than into a urinal, and I wasn't sure what the correct etiquette for that situation was.

We were eventually thrown out of the pub at its 2:15 closing time. On the walk back to my sister's flat an urban fox darted across the road some distance ahead of me, so it was all good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

People Ask Me Why I Don't Like Coldplay

'Los Gatos'...was also the last thing The Sleepers ever recorded, as the group lost patience with their out-of-control lead singer. "'Los Gatos' shows the effects of speed," says Michael Belfer. "We had to drive Ricky back to his grandparents every night while we were recording; if he went into the city, he'd disappear. One night we tricked him: we said we'd take him to the speed dealer. All five of us were in a Mustang and as we turned down the ramp onto Highway 101. Ricky freaked. We were holding him down but his legs shot out and he kicked the transmission into reverse. There was an incredible bang and the car just coasted. The band just lost it. They dragged him out and beat him up. He was black and blue. He sang 'Los Gatos' just after that."
- Jon Savage, sleevenotes to Black Hole: Californian Punk 1977-80

Friday, June 17, 2011

No Time To Be 21

With age comes the realization that of all William Gibson's protagonists, the one you resemble most closely is Coretti from "The Belonging Kind".

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Write What You (Don't Really) Know

For the first time in a long time I've gotten around to doing a little bit of non-academic writing. It's only a fragment, but unlike everything else I've done before this is - at least nominally - part of something larger. Long time readers may remember me pondering writing a science-fiction novel set in Athens, and this is the first bit of progress I've made with it. The fragment, called "ANTHINT", is up over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T.

Comments are, as ever, welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I was clearly wrong in assuming that the American operations had had little effect on this valley - they had freed up the antique smuggling market.

'And what have you found out about the life of this ruined city?'

'I don't understand. What do you mean?'

I tried again. 'Have you found out roughly what the plan of the city was... where the bazaar was, the religious schools?'


'The smaller mosques, the gardens, the military barracks?'

'No. You are asking difficult questions. We just dig downwards and find a jumble of things. It can be very frustrating - yesterday we dug a pit ten metres wide and didn't find anything worth anything.'

'What did the ordinary houses look like?'

'Like this house - built from mud, but the rooms were very small and crowded, and many of them were multistoried, perhaps because they were built on such a steep cliff. We can sometimes guess which the better houses were from the state of their foundations. But it doesn't help us find the treasure - many of the houses have nothing in them. Nothing at all.'

Abdullah interrupted, 'I think I've found a bathhouse, there were a lot of pumice stones in it and guttering which brought the water up to the ridge from a spring three kilometres away.'

'That is very interesting. Anything else.'


'What do you think about the people who lived here?'

'Gamesters,' said Bushire, and everyone laughed in agreement. 'We find so, so many playing pieces like this bronze dice. This old man,' Bushire said pointing to a toothless villager, 'found a whole set of beautifully carved ivory chessmen a month ago, in one of the smallest houses on the hill. Our ancestors weren't Taliban.' The Taliban banned chess. 'And he's just sold a wonderful carved wooden door, one and a half metres high, with tigers and hunting scenes, to a merchant from Herat for a lot of money.'

'How much do you sell these objects for?'

'This,' replied Bushire, holding up the twelfth-century ewer with its bold wave pattern, 'is worth one or two American dollars - good money.'
- Rory Stewart, The Places In Between (2004)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Warm Leatherette


A couple of weeks ago, I managed to pass my driving test at the second opportunity. Today I completed the Pass Plus course, which covers things like rural driving and city driving. The last bit was motorway driving, which meant I had to drive to Leeds and back. Motorways aren't as difficult as I'd thought they might be, although travelling at high speeds is something I'll have to get used to. And I can't believe that some people drive for the first time on a motorway without having done any instruction.

In a couple of weeks I'll get the Pass Plus certificate, which will let me sort out a deal on insurance. Then I'll be loose on the roads, so some people may be more likely to get a visit.

Today will also be the last time I ever see my driving instructor, probably, which will be a bit weird, as I've seen him for two hours a week for the last eight months.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Germ Free Adolescents

I woke up this morning and found Twitter telling me that Poly Styrene, singer with the under-rated punk band X-Ray Spex, had died of cancer at 53. Here's their appearance on Top of the Pops in 1978, doing the single "Germ Free Adolescents":

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Blast from the Past

You don't expect to hear about people being arrested for possessing Semtex anymore: up-to-the-minute British terrorism seems to involve explosives made in your kitchen, which I suppose shows that the drugs trade is better funded than Islamic fundamentalism. Semtex, like the phrase "Christmas bombing campaign", belongs to a bygone era. It's only a matter of time before Peter Kay does a "Do you remember the Provos?" routine.

Thinking about it, I'm also amazed that Luke Haines has never formed a band called "Christmas Bombing Campaign", but that's another matter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Dustbin of History

I've deliberately not been commenting on Libya here, for fear that I'll end up issuing orders to General Steiner, but a turn of phrase in one of Gaddafi's speeches this week conjured something up from memory:
You are pitiful isolated individuals; you are bankrupts; your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on - into the dustbin of history!

- Trotsky to the Mensheviks, at the Second All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, 25 October 1917

"The dustbin of history" is one of our terms for finality, for putting history behind us, where it seems to belong. There it was as Trotsky spoke on the stage of world history, our present-day ironies curling around him like an invisible snake. There it was in Hanover, New Hampshire, materializing right before your eyes if you were reading a certain story in a certain moment: no thing of the past or even for it, but a trap, a death sentence, or maybe a goal, a promised land, that can be found at any time. It can suck you in; perhaps it can be escaped. Leon Trotsky consigned the Mensheviks to the dustbin of history in 1917, and there they remain, with his shade now keeping their company.
- Greil Marcus, The Dustbin of History (1995)

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Inspired by this post:

1981 - Living at home in Stockport with my parents and sister.
1991 - Living at home in Stockport with my parents and sister.
2001 - Living in a student house in Nottingham.
2011 - Living at home in Stockport with my parents.


Monday, February 14, 2011

You Could Leave Your Door Open

The menace of the blackout gangs reached the headlines with the Skipton Street murder of seventeen-year-old James Bolitho Harvey, on Saturday 21 March 1942. Harvey and his younger brother had come out of the Elephant and Castle station at midnight on their way home from a West End show. They went to the coffee stall and then towards the stop for the Brixton tram. Almost at once, they were set upon in the dark by a gang seeming to consist of seven men, though only three were caught. Both boys were robbed, Harvey was beaten to death with a lead-weighted cosh, his fifteen-year-old brother kicked into semi-consciousness. Witnesses at the coffee stall heard their screams but assumed that it was yet another 'drunken squabble such as we often hear around here'. 'I'll never forgive myself for not going,' said one of the men at the stall.
- Donald Thomas, An Underworld At War: Spivs, Deserters, Racketeers and Civilians in the Second World War (2003)

My dad's mother, living in London during the Blitz, used to wander around the streets during air-raids rather than use the public air-raid shelters, which she believed to be wretched hives of scum and villainy*. The book suggests that she wasn't all that wrong.

* Not a direct quote.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Revolutionary Research Methodology

I've been refraining from commenting on Egypt here, on the basis that I don't know anything about Egypt, and that my main opinion - that an Egyptian democracy would be better than an Egyptian dictatorship - doesn't add much to the discourse.

Yesterday, watching the BBC's piece about the role of the internet in the protests, I was struck by how vast and diffuse the body of data is. Anyone who wants to write a history of the 25th January movement is going to have to get to grips with Facebook pages, Twitter posts, mobile-phone videos spread across a number of different sites. And that's without even factoring the ephemerality of those sources in. Somewhere in academia, someone must surely have begun working on research methodologies for the online age: I'd be really interested to see them.

Thursday, January 06, 2011