Monday, 3 December 2012

Gizza Job

Apologies for the two "personal" blog posts in a row, but I really wanted to write this one, for a few reasons. Regular readers will remember my last blog post, where I mentioned about the college course I had been enrolled on by the Job Centre. I just wanted to talk a little about that course, if you don't mind.

When you're on benefits and looking for work, the Job Centre like you to use their "SOC codes". What this means is that at your first interview, you discuss with the person what areas of work you're ideally looking for, what areas perhaps suit you re. your work experience, what areas are good for jobs etc. You discuss these areas, then you get allocated your "SOC code" for each, and you use that to narrow your job search down on their website. So, Admin jobs will be 4150, Librarianship 2451, and so on and so forth. Because of my previous experience, which was working in an office, a lot of jobs I go for are the Admin jobs, 4150. A lot of these jobs I'm not getting, however, because I don't have any experience with a thing called SAGE. I'm not going to tell you about SAGE because it's as boring as fuck, but it's essentially a piece of software that assists you with double-entry bookkeeping. Financial stuff, bookkeeping, accountancy - that's not really me to be honest (I did Business at A-Level but struggled with it and only got a D) so Lord knows why I agreed to do a six week SAGE course down at my local college, but I said I would be interested, and before I knew it, there I was taking the 30 minute walk down to the Arts and Technology college one cold October morning.

Six weeks, Mon-Thurs, 9-4. What the fuck was I doing? Why was I doing a course I wasn't particularly interested in? Well, fast forward six weeks, and the course is over, and my thinking has altered ever so slightly. Our exam was last Thursday, 1-3, and I think I did well. We don't find out our results for ages (about 8-10 weeks) but with 70% needed for a pass, and the ease at which I rattled through the paper, I think I've done enough. Yet for all my joy about doing well (I hope) in the exam, I feel an overwhelming sadness that the course has finished. I appreciate that's mental, considering how much I was dreading these last six weeks, but it's true - I'm already missing the course, and my fellow job-seekers on it, desperately.

It's crazy, I know. It was six weeks, that's all, but it's mad how quickly you can get attached to people, recognise their quirks and habits, identify what you like about them and how to behave around them. These people weren't my friends, and most of them, I'll probably never see ever again, but I was fortunate enough to be in a classroom with people that I liked - all of them - and I will miss them. I'll miss Howard's moments of genius. I'll miss Jon, always happy to help and patience personified. I'll miss Madeleine's laugh and I'll miss her because I secretly fancied her a bit. I'll miss Diane always looking smart. I'll miss Matt and his 'Pantera' T-shirts. I'll miss Steve - just in general. I'll miss Wera, a genuinely lovely lady. I'll miss Crystal whinging. The only person I won't miss is Becky - but that's not because I didn't like her, but because I'll hopefully be seeing a lot more of her in the future.

(We're dating, by the way. I'm not going to stalk her).

I've given them all a namecheck for two reasons. One because I know in five years time I'll have forgotten their names, so this blog post will be a handy reference to remind me of the "glory days". But secondly - and more importantly - because they were all interesting, smart, capable people, with fascinating employment histories, and they were all in that room with me because they're all currently unemployed. We were all in that room because the Job Centre put us forward for the course, and the course proved to me one very important thing - that some people's attitudes towards the unemployed need to change, and quickly. Nobody in that room was "scum", or "cheating the system", or a "layabout", or whatever adjective the Daily Mail wishes to use next. We were all in the room by 9am every day, so no-one was lounging about in bed until 10am and then sitting around watching Jeremy Kyle. Everybody in that room worked bloody hard, and several times I looked round at everyone working well and in complete silence and thought "I wish a Tory minister could come in and see us now - see that the people they constantly vilify aren't as disgusting and useless as they think".

Apologies. I'm a bit bitter about this, and I also know full well that there are people out there who "fiddle" and play the system. You don't need to tell me about them. But I do get angry when people try and bash the welfare system in this country. It makes me even angrier when the people bashing it are the Government themselves.It makes me angrier still when they don't target healthy young people like myself, but the sick and the disabled:

When I was growing up, my parents told me that it was how you treat the people with the least that says the most about you.

Cameron, Gideon Osbourne et al are easy targets here, but for once I'm not going to make this a political attack. After all, it was Labour who introduced ATOS, it's Labour who also have a leader who looks like he's never stepped foot in the real world, and it's Labour who are now occupying the same ground as the Tories. Let's not even mention the Lib Dems. Any wonder that people don't bother voting anymore?

It's Monday morning. My alarm went off at 7am (admittedly, this is only because I forgot to turn it off) and I got up to get ready for college until I remembered. None of that any more. So it is back to the old routine - scouring websites for jobs, applying for jobs, sending out CVs, writing covering letters, and then not hearing anything back 90% of the time. In a few weeks time I'll slow down for Christmas, before starting all over again with earnest in January. New Year = new start and all that shit.

Still, there are people far worse off than me. I'll never lose sight of that.

Monday, 19 November 2012

I'd Rather Have a Piece of Toast


I knew I hadn't blogged for a while, yet I was aghast to load up Blogger just now to find the last time I had scribbled some utter nonsense was almost two months ago. TWO MONTHS! Time to rectify that, I think. I haven't blogged for two months(!) because since my last blog my life has gone a bit mental, and that's not even taking into account the rather lengthy column Nigel Hastilow penned about me in The Shropshire Star a few weeks ago. Thanks for taking my constructive criticism on board, Nige. So what on Earth has been happening? I'm not too sure where to begin, so I'm just going to start typing and hope for the best.

A few weeks ago I was sitting here at my computer when something caught my eye out of the window. It was a cat, wandering around our garden. That wasn't unusual, as Tom Jones might say - our neighbours either side of us have a few cats, and they are always jumping into our garden and being chased by our dog. But I hadn't seen this cat before, and it was loitering by the gate at the back of our garden, which leads out into a neglected field covered in brambles and nettles. I didn't think too much of it, until the next day I saw it out there again. So I went to investigate, and found a gorgeous tortoiseshell who was worryingly thin and had no collar. She wasn't going away, so we put up a bed for her in our greenhouse and fed her whilst we asked around the neighbourhood whether they knew where she had come from. Nobody knew, so we took her down to the vets, where they confirmed that she wasn't chipped...but she was pregnant.

It was a beautiful cat, but with a dog already in the house we couldn't keep her, and she deserved to have her kittens in peace. So after phoning several cat shelter places, all of which were full, apparently, we decided to take the vets advice and "leave her to it. Cats are very resourceful". Meanwhile, our next door neighbours were in the process of moving, hiring a skip to chuck all their rubbish in before they left (can you see where this is going?) The cat disappeared for a few days, and when I next saw her her "saddlebags" had gone, and she was sitting on the fence in our front garden, peering into the skip (which was full of rubbish) before diving down into it. Again, I didn't think too much of that, until my mother saw her doing the same thing. Either the cat was very hungry, and was scavenging, or...but surely not?

Alas, it was true. The cat had gone off and had her kittens in the bottom of a skip, which was filled to the brim with sodden junk thanks to the insane rainfall we'd been having at the time. Any of you ever knocked on someone's door and asked them if you can root through their rubbish? If you haven't - trust me, you feel wonderfully awkward doing so. They probably thought we had gone bonkers, as we stood on their driveway in the drizzle rooting through their trash. We knew what we were looking for, but we didn't find it. The skip went the next day. It wasn't a nice experience, but the cat didn't seem bothered at all. Maybe they were already dead. The cat soon became the newest member of our family, I'm pleased to say - our fears about the dog failing to materialise after the cat whacked him one and then stood her ground after he tried to chase her. They're best friends now.

(God, this is boring. When is he going to talk about interesting stuff and shut up about cats?)

Finally graduating from university was a huge weight off my shoulders, but my mental health still wasn't improving. It turns out that my tactic of "try to ignore it and hope that one day you'll wake up and it'll be gone" wasn't the best, so I needed to re-think things. Against my masculine urges, I decided I needed to go to the doctor. I've had some horrific experiences down at my local health centre, but the doctor I landed with this time was honest, clear, and actually bothered to listen to me, which some of the dickheads down there don't. I'd been on tablets before, but I hadn't really got on with them and I had given up on them far too readily. The doctor listened to my concerns, prescribed me the same medication but in a lower dosage than before and then told me to stop being a knob and actually take them. I've been taking them for a month now and - touch wood - they're working brilliantly. I feel much more content with 10mg than I did 20mg. They're not miracle pills - I'm not suddenly "cured", and it's still a battle sometimes, but I'm fighting.

Away from cats and happy pills, the main reason I've not had time to blog is because I've started doing a course down at my local college. Like the idiot I am, when my advisor down at the Job Centre asked me if I wanted to do a six week SAGE Accountancy course, I said I wouldn't mind. The next thing I knew, I was booked onto their next one. True to form for the Job Centre, their communication was absolutely bollocks. I was told the start date for my course, that it was six weeks long, and....that was it. So on the Monday morning I walked down to my local college for 9am, not knowing: if I needed to be there for 9am or later, what hours I was doing, who I was with, who was taking the course, what room I was in, whether the course was just SAGE or with other stuff included. What a mess.

After eventually finding out what room I was in, I walked in with a very pleasant but also very confused German lady called Wera, and we sat down at a table with ten others. At the other end of the table there was a cute brunette, looking a bit nervous and shy. "She's pretty", I thought, but I didn't get the chance to talk to her until the following day, when our employability teacher (as part of our course, we have to do "employability skills". The Job Centre didn't tell me about that, naturally) put us in a group together. With all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, I engineered it so that I could sit next to her, and I tried to make conversation and make her laugh. At the end of the day, we swapped numbers, a process made a little harder than it should have been by me taking half an hour to pluck up the courage to do so. I'm glad I did, however. Things have snowballed a little since then, but we're taking it slowly. I dunno about her but I'm a happy bunny right now anyway.

(That doesn't make any sense - why did they exchange phone numbers when they're doing a college course together and see each other every day?)

Because, my irritating little friend, after two days of the college course I thought I was done with it all. I had an interview for a position at the university, one which I felt I wanted to do and one which I felt confident I could get. The position was to be part of a team, conducting a survey on behalf of the university. Every uni has to do this survey, apparently - getting in contact with graduates and finding out what they're up to now they've left education and (hopefully) in the workplace. Drawing up a survey, sending it out, getting the forms back in and inputting the data onto a computer system for decent money and the chance to work at the university? I could do that! I wanted to do that!

So the interview was going well until the catches began to appear. Catch 1 - we had to hit a target of 80% of forms returned. Catch 2 - the overwhelming majority of people can't be bothered, don't want to do it, so don't do it. Catch 3 - it'd be my job to phone up these people, and go through the form with them on the phone. Catch 4 - there'd be roughly 3,000 of these people. Catch 5 - some people, unhappy with the fact that they're unemployed, get emotional/upset on the phone. Catch 6 - some people, unhappy with the fact I've phoned them up, get arsey on the phone. Catch 7 - the university would be setting up a "call centre" for us to do this job. It was the second that the words "call centre" were uttered that I mentally bailed out on the position. I still tried my best at the test they gave us, still tried to give a good interview, but I walked out of the university a bit despondent. This wasn't what I thought it was. This wasn't what I wanted to do.

I had a tough decision to make. I was unemployed after all, and it was decent money. I was secretly hoping they'd turn me down, but no, there was the email - they had offered me a graduate internship. So the choice was a stark one - a job and money, but a job I had lost interest in before I had even started, OR no job and no money but the chance to complete a £600 course (which I was getting for free via the Job Centre), which will look good on my CV, which might open some doors and which I could do alongside a girl I fancied like crazy and wanted to get to know a bit more.

What would you do?

I finish the course next week, and whilst I'm not assured of passing the exam, I feel confident that I can iron out the little problems I'm having with SAGE and get it licked. Then it's back to the daily grind - applying for jobs, not hearing anything back, applying for jobs, not hearing anything back....

So that's roughly why I haven't blogged for a while.

The other day I was sitting on a train when a weird sensation came over me. I realised - for the first time in 7 years - that I was happy. My soul felt....happy. It was a nice feeling. Life isn't perfect - never is, is it? - but it's getting better. Slowly. And that's all I can ask for.

Until next time knuckleheads!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Oh-Oh, Hastilow!

Well, well, well, what do you know? You wait over a month for a blog entry and then two come along at once. TRAROTL is the blogging equivalent of buses, something which Will Self so eloquently whined back when I met him at a drinks reception in 2010.

Regular readers will be familiar with me analysing stupid letters that have been sent in to my local rag, The Sloppy Star, for many years now, so this blog entry is something an ickle bit different. On Page 8 of yesterday's Slop we have a column written by a man called Mr Nigel Hastilow (more on him later. Much more) which is possibly the worst thing I've ever read. I know I say that every week but, seriously. Let's go:

Complaints by us lefties wouldn't be right

That's the title, and it's one that caught my eye because, based on his previous muck, there's no way this dude is a "leftie".

There's nothing sinister about it. I am left-handed and the world's against me. Who can I sue?

Ah. Left-handed.

It's the ginger-whingers who finally convinced me there must be money in it.

As you read this column, please note one thing - I'm left handed. Yes, I'm left-handed, and even I think this is the shittiest thing I've ever seen since Lord Charles Shitty took a shit on a shitting toilet.

In Milton Keynes.

So, a few people call you carrot-top? Get over it. You really don't know what discrimination's all about. Try being left-handed, cack-handed or simply gauche.

Could you excuse me for a moment?

*taps out unnecessarily long phone number*

HEAVEN: "Thank you for phoning Heaven. For the Big Man Himself, press 1. For a guest, press 2. For a saint, press 3. To be re-directed downstairs, press 666."

HEAVEN: "Thank you for are now on-hold. Your call is very important to us. Please hold."

They're playing "Abide with Me". Don't you just hate on-hold music?

ST PETER: "Hello?"

ME: "Rosa Parks please. Fifth floor, I believe."

ST PETER: "One moment."

"Little Donkey" now, for fuck sake.

ROSA PARKS: "Hello?"

ME: "Rosa, it's me, Ewar!"

ROSA: "Yes?"

ME: "We met before, a few years ago. I was just wondering if you could tell me your story, you know, the bus one. I love to hear it."

ROSA: "Of course! Well, one day I was sitting on a bus, and, you know, there were awful problems at the time. This was 1950s deep south America, you see, and on the bus there was a "coloured section" and a "white section". A white person wanted to sit in my seat, in the "coloured section", and I refused.

ME: "Hmmm."

ROSA: "Yes?"

ME: "I was just thinking...were you called 'gauche' though?"

ROSA: "What? No!"

ME: "So what do you know about discrimination?"

ROSA: "...."

ME: "I mean, why don't you look up to and revere Nigel Hastilow? Why do you and everyone else discriminate against him, just for being left-handed? Hmm?"

ROSA: "It's not because he's left-handed. It's because he's a fucking cunt."


There was a huge fuss recently when Wolverhampton's Laura Payton was given an apology and £150 compensation by the Halifax because she took offence at a bit of a joke about the colour of her hair. Mrs Payton complained a member of staff told her: "I bet your daughter is glad she isn't ginger like you."

Now, OK, maybe this is just me, but I think that's pretty damn appalling. "I bet your daughter is glad she doesn't look like you, you freak"? If someone said that to my wife I'd poke them in the eye. An apology and £150? Good! I'd want that employee sacked as well. Why would you even say that to somebody? I've already laboured this point but "I bet your daughter is glad she isn't black like you" - would that still be "a bit of a joke"?

When I read about this I'm sorry to say I wasn't outraged on Mrs Payton's behalf.

You're not sorry.

It just made me chuckle.

Really? This is probably the unfunniest thing I've ever read in my life, and I've watched "Citizen Khan" AND "My Family". Saying that to a stranger isn't humorous, it's incredibly disrespectful.

But it turns out most of the world's redheads are happy to moan about how badly they were bullied at school and you think: "You're having a laugh." Or, in the words of John McEnroe, one of the world's famous left-handers :"You cannot be serious."

Nigel Hastilow's advice to children who are currently being bullied at school: "Just shut the fuck up."

I have nothing against redheads. Some of my best friends are ginger.

Did we have a sweepstake for how long it'd take for that sentence to get an airing?

Obviously you have to be wary of them, given their notoriously bad tempers.

I'd be wary of the Irish, given their tendencies to gun British people down.

Even so, there can be something distinctly alluring about all that flame-coloured hair. What really isn't on is for this group to complain it's discriminated against. Reddism is nothing compared with leftism, discrimination against left-handers.

(Here comes a really boring bit. Sorry. It does get better later on though.)

The world isn't designed to make life difficult for ginger-nuts but it certainly is for us lefties. We can't even sit at a computer without having to move the mouse from the right hand side of the desk to the left (assuming the wire is long enough) or we have to try manipulating it with our right hands. I'd like to see you right-handers try it left-handed. Institutionalised leftism is rife. For years, I found it completely impossible to use chopsticks. I just couldn't manipulate them in any way which conveyed food to face.

Based on what we'll see later, I'm a little surprised Mr Hastilow eats that foreign muck, but we'll get to that.

Then - and you may say this shows just how slow-witted left-handers must be - one day it occurred to me to try transferring them to my left hand.

And the award for "World's Shittest Anecdote" goes to....

Suddenly a whole new world opened up. The miracle of chopsticks. Why hadn't I tried them in my left hand before? 

You're a bit thick?

Because they are laid out for right-handers and the obvious solution to my problem never occurred to me.

As you're clever people you already know that this is bollocks, but take it from me, a leftie - this IS bollocks. If there's a pen to my right, I'm not going to pick it up and try writing with my right hand. I'm going to transfer it to my left. Now either Hastilow is the thickest man EVER, or he's just writing this to fill space and praying that this backs up his point. Not that he has one anyway.

Thick, I know, but we lefties are used to life's little inconveniences. Try, for instance, cutting your fingernails with a pair of scissors using your left hand. It is more or less impossible. Discrimination starts early, of course. When I was at school, they still held to the antediluvian 

Great word, I'll give him that.

view that all kids should be right-handed. Lefties were, as the Romans used to say, sinister. So I was taught to play cricket right-handed and kick a football with my right foot. Worse, of course, was the requirement that I should write with my right hand. It was very difficult and my handwriting was awful. We had to submit examples of our work to be assessed by the teachers. Mine were so consistently terrible I took to writing things out secretly with my left hand and then swearing blind it had been done with my right. What a terrible little liar I must have been. But the alternative was to have my work thrown back at me time after time because my (right handed) handwriting was so poor.

That's all very interesting, Nigel, but I don't think that sort of attitude has prevailed in our schools for many years now, so why reference it?

I don't think that sort of attitude has prevailed in our schools for many years now.


But unthinking leftism remains a daily difficulty for the 10% of the population blessed with the talent, creativity, and originality to make the best of our unfortunate predicament. Even my dictionary defines left-handed as being "awkward, unlucky, dubious."

A biscuit to anyone who can remember what kicked off this weird little rant in the first place. Wasn't it about a woman being abused in a bank? It's been so long now, I forget.

And if you think a laughable lefty is as bad as a ginger whinger, consider this: Research in America shows that even left-handed surgeons are themselves frightened of being treated by fellow left-handed surgeons - because all their training and equipment is designed for right-handers.

We've still got about four paragraphs of this nonsense left, fucking hell. I'm as bored as you are.

Still, this is not intended to be another moan from a supposedly oppressed minority. Quite the opposite, in fact.

You could have fooled me.

Mrs Payton should have laughed off the Halifax worker's little joke just as rich redheads like Lily Cole or Nicole Kidman should just get over it.

Fuck Nicole Kidman. I'm serious. Aren't you sick of her, constantly whining? I walked out of the cinema halfway through "Moulin Rouge!", such was the frequency of her moaning "Wah wah wah I have red hair, boo hoo everyone fucking hates me".

My advice to Lily Cole and Nicole Kidman - just, like, get over yourselves darlings!

And, whatever inconveniences we lefties have to put up with, you won't find us queuing up at the bank for compensation because all those pens-on-string are positioned for right-handers.

Because A) They extend across for left-handers and B) They don't verbally abuse you.

Yet the prevailing sense of victim-hood knows no bounds. Any group of people can find reason to moan - and most of them do: "Oh it's so unfair they're calling me fat or Welsh or too tall, or too thin, or a Scouser, or too old, too young, a social security scrounger, a rich banker..."

Am I wrong or did I just read about a million fucking words from someone complaining about holding chopsticks in the wrong hand, or something?

We are all eager to portray ourselves as hard done-by. I blame the compensation culture.

We're almost done, I promise.

People will always give each other nicknames, make snide comments and rude remarks or unthinkably ignore the needs of left-handers. But we lefties wouldn't dream of complaining. It wouldn't be right.

End of bollocks.

Hastilow's article caught my eye because I read some utter nonsense from him a few weeks back which was crowned off by the charming sentence of "What's good about the NHS anyway?" Last night, I was intrigued as to who he is/what his background is so I Googled him and H-O-L-Y S-H-I-T.

Google Nigel Hastilow. First thing you see is this:

"People also search for: Enoch Powell"

followed by several articles about him quitting as a Tory (of course) PPC because of his belief that "Enoch Powell was right". You then go onto his Wiki page, which tells us that he's an "active member of the TaxPayers Alliance and a supporter of the Freedom Association".

In short (and I bet he is short as well) Hastilow is mad, bad, and very dangerous to know. How fucking appalling it is that local newspapers are giving him space and money to spew his filthy bile out at us.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Never Let Me Go(ve)

By now you will have seen the news that the Government is mucking about with education again. The latest brainwave comes from idiot twerp Michael Gove, who is:
  • hilariously out of his depth as a Cabinet minister 
  • scarily thick
  • in a very influential position 
So that's pretty damn scary.

Gove's latest idea is to axe the oft-criticised GCSE and overhaul school testing. In a few years time, rolling assessments will be gone, and a heavy emphasis will be placed on your "traditional" end of year examination. There will be only one exam board, and, according to the BBC, pupils will be 'assessed entirely by an external exam, with proposals for an end to all internal assessment.' In basic language - no more coursework.

So what do I think about all this? Not a lot, quite frankly, although I'm prepared to concede that only having the one exam board for a subject isn't the worst idea in the world. Is there a "race to the bottom" under the current system, with various exam boards competing against each other and chucking out easier test papers? Possibly. Not for me to say, really, but regardless, I think for simplicity's sake just the one exam board is possibly a wise idea. But what about the exams themselves?

Because Gove's problem with GCSEs seems to be all about grade inflation - that the humble GCSE is nowhere near as difficult as the O-Levels he had to endure in his youth. I can imagine this is the case. In my hand right now is my father's O-Level mathematics book that he used when he was 16. I've spent the last 15 minutes trying to find a question in it that I can answer (correctly), and I can't find one. In some places, I have an excuse - the money questions are in shillings(?!), I don't have any algorithms on me, I've forgotten what words like "factorise" mean - but mainly I just can't blooming do it. And I have a B in GCSE Maths, I'm obviously super smart.

So if Michael Gove wants to tell me that exams have got easier over the years, then fine - he can. But for me the slipping in standards of exam papers isn't a reason to tear up the whole structure currently in place and start again, particularly in regards to destroying the notion of coursework. I don't think exams are necessarily bad things, but placing the entire weight of a subject on one exam is a bad thing, because you simply don't know how people will react. There was a girl in my year at college who was extraordinarily smart - far smarter than I was or ever will be - but continually she struggled with exam papers and never got the hang of them. She didn't get the marks she really could/should have got in them, for whatever reason, but at least she was able to fall back on her coursework, which was always magnificent. In short, we know that students learn in different ways, so to me it makes sense to draw out that learning in different ways too. Exams are stressful, which is why they reward those who work best under extreme pressure. It would be unfair to penalise those who don't in such an extreme way.

I hated exams when I was at school - who didn't? - so I've tried to block out the memories of them, but what I do recall, particularly in my favoured subject of English, is how the exam always went one of two ways. Either:

1) We opened the exam paper to find that it was indeed the question our teacher had predicted it was going to be, so the entire class sat there like automated drones writing the exact same key themes, quotes, points because our "learning" had been crushed and we were just regurgitating the stuff we needed to know to pass the exam.


2) We opened the exam paper to find that the question wasn't one we had been anticipating, at which point we all went "SHIT!", looked at each other, panicked, then began to scribble as much bollocks as we could.

Creativity and critical thought? Maybe a little in scenario 2, but it was frantic and far from our best work. Enjoyment? Nowt from either. Reflection? Again, maybe a little in scenario 2 but no time for it to be anything deep or meaningful. Pressure? Extreme in both scenarios. In the future, even if the heart rate is a bit slower in scenario 1, students still know that this is now their only shot, the long process of independent thought and creative thinking they enjoyed via coursework now stripped away.

So what's the answer? It's difficult to say - everything seems to have its pros and cons, and there is no perfect system. Rolling assessments makes the student feel like they are constantly being tested/evaluated/analysed and under constant stress. Coursework can be conducted without integrity and open to abuse. A block of exams at the end of the year is an absolute nightmare, an experience I'm so glad I won't have to go through ever again.

Maybe it's time for a new way. Something fresh and innovative, a method which strips away all the "You won't need to know this in the future but you need to know it just to pass this exam" bollocks. A revolutionary, exciting and inspiring new way of education, which will fill the students with enthusiasm and joy. A way which stimulates creativity, and passion, and critical analysis, a way that leaves our education system admired around the world for its originality and enterprise.

A way which, deep down, we know we'll never see under Michael Gove and the Conservatives.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

No Future For You (Redux)

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about my experiences down at my local Job Centre as a recent graduate - notably my first meeting with my "personal advisor". If you want to read that blog post, or have read it before but want to refresh your memory, it is here:

I've felt compelled to write a sequel to that blog post, here and now, after watching a Channel 4 documentary entitled "Dispatches - Tricks of the Dole Cheats" which - and I still can't really believe this - was partly filmed in "my" town and in "my" job centre. If you want to watch it, the link is here:

although I imagine these shows don't last forever on 4oD so if you're reading this in 2014 - unlucky.

First and foremost, the title of the programme is VERY misleading. Channel 4 have history of doing this - they call a programme of theirs something outlandish in the hope that people will be drawn in by the title and watch it, as shown by a previous show of theirs about disabled, single people being called 'The Undateables'. So there's no "tricks" of the "dole cheats" here - rather, the documentary follows a few young people eager and looking for work as they attempt to prove that the Job Centre is a bit shit. One of them is a chap called Joe Paxton, and he's going into "my" Job Centre in "my" town armed with a secret camera and a job diary filled with...his shopping list. Yes, to prove that the people who sign him on every fortnight don't bother looking at the diary that he's meant to fill out and hand in, he's decided to write down his list of groceries needed rather than "Applied for a job here", "Looked at the website there" etc.

I have experience of this, and he's right - they don't bother looking at your diary. However, this bit of the documentary saddened me a little, as the woman behind the desk caught on camera being neglectful was a lady who has signed me on a few times. She's very nice - particularly when compared to others down there - and though in the documentary her face was blurred out, I, and presumably thus everyone who works down there as well, could tell it was her, just from her appearance and certainly her voice. I feel very sorry for her, and I suspect I won't be seeing down there again. The question is, was she at fault?

Because criticise the Job Centre all you want - and I do - but with 2.5m people now unemployed in the UK, the situation is beginning to get out of hand. I see it myself, when I go down there and I'm twelfth in the line to sign on. Once I'm done, I look back at the waiting area as I scarper out of the door and it's full again - it seems that there's a constant steady stream of people waiting to be signed on. When we're now dealing with these numbers, is it any surprise that Job Centre staff are cutting corners in order to get the stream of people flowing quickly? Is it any wonder that they don't spend valuable time with each person - proof reading their CVs and finding jobs for them?

The documentary made a big play on how their "Channel 4 Job Centre" manned by experienced recruitment consultants was "much more helpful" than the Job Centre next door, but it was a gimmick and scarcely credible. In fact, for all of their finger pointing and criticisms, not once did the documentary put forward any arguments or theories as to how the Job Centre can become more efficient, professional or modernised. Instead, it attacked the website, which I found surprising as I've always found it easy to access, navigate and use. Highlighting that the head manager of the Job Centre wasn't au fait with finding jobs on the site was perhaps revealing, but it all just felt a little flimsy and desperate.

So what's the answer?

I don't know, to be perfectly honest, and I don't want to try and work it out either. I just want to get out. Going down there every fortnight isn't a pleasurable experience, and I've only had to do it for a handful of times (at the time of writing). God knows what those unemployed for years feel like. However, there could be good news looming on the horizon. I've been invited to a "selection event" with a well known banking group (booooo) which will take place next week over in the Black Country. The job is only part-time, but it's in my home town, with decent pay, and quite frankly I'll take what I can get right now. If nothing else it'd be a start, a step on the ladder and the chance for me to earn money and do something rather than sit around waiting for Bargain Hunt to start.

So that's me, but when I'm away from the hell-hole, unemployment will still be around. 2.5m people - that's a lot - and with no end to the recession in sight, the number doesn't look like going down dramatically any time soon either. In fact, with machines now taking over the jobs formerly inhabited by people eg. in libraries and supermarkets, the number could very well keep on rising.

Gizza job!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Double Glazing

I'll get to the crux of this post in a minute, but before I do, here's two quick caveats. Firstly, I've attempted to write this blog post in a balanced manner. I'm not mightily impressed with the Glazers but, as you'll see, this isn't really a piece debating their pros and cons. Secondly, as this is my personal blog and not a site dedicated to Manchester United, some of my "regulars" might need a little bit of context on this subject, so here it is.

In 2005 Manchester United - the football club I support - were taken over by an American called Malcolm Glazer. Now Mr Glazer is an old dude, so nowadays his business undertakings are co-ordinated by his sons. There's a few of them, and I always forget their names, but the list is something like: Joel, Avram, Bryan, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, and Grub.

Now Uncle Malc took over United thanks to a thing called a "leveraged buy-out". I'm fucked if I fully understand what that is, but here's my rather crude knowledge on the subject - it's a special kind of acquisition where the purchase price is financed using debt, debt which is repaid (eventually) by the company's assets and profits. So the thinking for the Glazers was pretty clear:

1) Manchester United is an extraordinarily well run football club - a profit making machine and always very successful on the pitch
2) Buy the club - make sure it's a leveraged buyout, so that the club itself is saddled with debt and not on the owners personally
3) Pray to fuck that United keep on winning, keep on getting big crowds and sponsorship deals and basically keep on printing money
4) Use the money to fuck off the debt
5) ????
6) Profit!

(And if it all starts to go tits up, you get out ASAP and sell it to a Qatari oil tycoon for $1bn)

Now I mention all that because the nature of the leveraged buyout meant debt, and that didn't sit very well with United supporters. Still doesn't. Overnight, we (when I say "we" in this post I mean United) had gone from a club who were doing very well thank you very much, to a club saddled with about £650m of debt (plus interest). Some supporters were so appalled by this they effectively walked out on their club, instead choosing to form a new team called FC United of Manchester, whilst others joined MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust) and came up with the catchy acronym "LUHG" - Love United, Hate Glazer. There was a brief flurry of activism against the Glazers when a campaign based on the "Green and Gold" of United's original colours was abuzz, but it soon died down, and for the last few years there has been constant ill-feeling towards the Glazers, but it's never manifested into something bigger.

OK, that's enough context.

The nasty Glazer business has reared its head again recently because of a thing called an IPO. Now if I struggle with "leveraged buy-out", I don't stand a chance with this thing, but a quick read of Wikipedia has helped slightly. An IPO (Initial public offering) is a scheme where shares in a company are offered to the general public to buy, though not enough shares to put the ownership of the business under any doubt. In essence, it's a crafty way to raise a bit of dosh pretty quickly. A good thing, right? Well, no, not according to MUST and Glazer critics, who point to the fact that even though some of the money raised will go towards repaying the club's debts, the vast majority of it will instead go to the Glazer family themselves.

Who's right, and who do I side with? In fairness, that's not what this post is about.

Because the IPO has brought out the worst in Manchester United fans, particularly on Twitter. Nowadays it seems that we're not united in supporting the team any more. Pro-Glazer, anti-Glazer, pro-Sir Alex, anti-Sir Alex, and let's not even get started on David Gill - every United supporter now comes with a label, and it's all down to the finances of a company owned by a family we've never met. This has led to stupid, stupid, STUPID arguments, some of which are so mind-bogglingly unnecessary it beggars belief. The latest came when anti-Glazer supporter (see?) Andy Green raised the point that due to the terms listed in the IPO, there was a strong chance that Sir Alex Ferguson would benefit financially from the whole shebang. "What a cunt, I've lost all respect for him!" screeched a few. Others castigated Green for even daring to raise the issue - to even hint at criticising Ferguson a sign of some form of betrayal to the "Man Utd family". Finally, some others thought that it was only right that Ferguson, possibly the greatest manager of all time and certainly a long-standing employee, would receive some financial gain from this scheme.

Ferguson was forced to release a statement, categorically stating that he wasn't in line to benefit in any way from the IPO, yet the cease-fire was only in existence for a matter of hours. Last night, it was announced that the club had signed up to a shirt deal with Chevrolet, and we'll receive a total approx to $560m by 2021 off the back of it. Minutes after the news was announced, and before it had even begun to sink in, people took to Twitter to furiously claim how that amount of money per year would be "peanuts" by the time 2021 rolls round, before they in turn were criticised for being negative and instantly critical of anything the Glazers do. And so it goes on, and on, and on, and on.

I can't quit on Manchester United - the emotional bond is too strong. Yet with all the angst swirling round on the internet over my football club - from our own "supporters" - I do find it difficult to enjoy the experience of being a fan as much as I used to. (In that respect, the less said about MUST's latest scheme the better. I can't say I take favourably to being told which bottle of wine I can or cannot buy by someone I've never met.) Partly this is because it's August, and there's no football to talk about right now, but mostly I think the problem is that fans, itching to be called "Top Reds", fall over themselves to analyse and dissect anything and everything to do with the club. For financial experts like Andersred that's fine - I enjoy reading his blog and agree with him often by the way - but I can't say my life has been enriched by swathes of people weighing in on the subject of an IPO listed in New York, and the endless arguments that inevitably ensue.

What does the future hold for United, then? I don't know, but what I hope is for three things. Firstly, that the debt is paid off, and United can go on with no financial worries hanging over them - whoever owns the club. Secondly, that the manager who comes in after Ferguson is given time and adequate resources to do his own thing and try to continue the success we've had recently. Thirdly, that the fanbase becomes a little more...y'know....united. Because as much as I don't really appreciate them, forcing the Glazers out and opening ourselves up to possibly something/someone even worse seems, to me, to be utter madness.

LUHG? I understand. But how about a bit more of the LU bit?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

O is for...

Providing you haven't been on the planet Zog for the last few months, you'll know that tomorrow sees the start (well, opening ceremony) of the 2012 summeria Olympia down in Londinium (Apologies for the stupid names but I'm terrified of LOCOG suing me for some copyright infringements).

So much has been scribbled by so many about these Games that there's not much point in me rambling on about the same old topics, and to be honest it's too hot to be sitting inside at a computer banging on. So, I'm going to try something a little different. Apologies for those of you interested in my thoughts about the largest McDonald's in the world being at the Olympia village (LOL) or who I think should light the Olympia flame (Redgrave)'s pictures time!

Because quite frankly if there's one thing in this world that I love, it's a photo booth. Ever seen anyone look good in their passport photo? No you haven't, and that's why I love them - for us ugly people, they really are a fantastic leveller. No make-up plus no smiling plus a harsh white background? Why, those conditions make even the most beautiful women in the world look....plain.


Here's a few photos I've found on of either famous athletes or members of Team GB looking odd/silly/confused. For some of them, if they didn't have their name underneath their picture, I'd have really struggled to recognise them. Seriously, see how many you can get without cheating.

(I mentioned earlier about copyright laws. Truth is, I've no flipping idea whether I'm allowed to put these photos on here or not, but as I've seen them elsewhere I'm going to chance my arm. See you in the courtroom guys!)


1) Ana Ivanovic
2) Kelly Smith
3) Chris Froome
4) Yohan Blake
5) Elena Baltacha
6) Michael Phelps (!)
7) Jessica Ennis
8) Victoria Azarenka
9) LeBron James
10) Queen Victoria Pendleton
11) Marcos Baghdatis
12) Andy Roddick

However many you got, just take a moment to consider that Roddick has had sex with Brooklyn Decker more times than we've had Prime Ministers. Not bad for a guy who looks like he works at a gas station in Arkansas.

Enjoy the Olympias, humble and law-abiding citizens!

Friday, 22 June 2012

No Future, No Future, No Future For You

Finishing university was a surreal experience. For several years I've had books sitting by my computer, paper with notes scribbled on all over the place, thoughts whizzing round my brain about the current assignment, or the next one, or the next module. And all stopped. I clicked "Save Post" on the on-line forum I was to use for my final assignment, my post was duly saved, and then....nothing. No fanfare, no celebrations, no round of applause. I sat at my computer and, to be honest, struggled a bit to take it all in.

One month later and I'm the "proud" owner of a 2:2 in English and Creative & Professional Writing. I'll take it, but I know I could have done better. I have nobody else to blame for not doing as well as I possibly could have done, though, so I learn from the experience(s) and I move on with life. No complaints from me about anything. Of course, "moving on" entails that it's time to enter a new period of my life - to get out of the comfort zone I've been in and ramp it up a notch.

I know I have a lot of catching up to do. I remember watching an interview with the darts player Phil Taylor once, after he had lost a match. The man has won absolutely everything in the game (several times over) and he's a multi-millionaire, but after his defeat he was berating himself. I'm paraphrasing, but his attitude was "That wasn't good enough. I've got too comfortable, and these guys are coming back at me now, and it inspires me. I'm not scared, or worried - I'm inspired, to work even harder, practice even longer, and stay at the top". At the time I thought he was bonkers - just like I do when I see the multi-millionaire Michael Schumacher still risking his life every fortnight in a racing car - but over the past few weeks I've begun to see exactly what he meant. I see a friend of mine, with his nice car, new flat and decent job, and rather than feel bitter or jealous or anything negative, I feel like it's a kick up the backside, a shot in the arm. As I told a(nother) friend the other night - "I'm trying to be excited about my future, not scared of it. I've spent too long being anxious about things."

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, however. For all my excitement and positivity, four years of uni and no part-time job has seen the bank balance dry up quite spectacularly. I would say "God knows what I've spent it on" but deep down we all know where it's gone - on books that I'll never get round to reading/can't read but make me look cultured when put on my bookcase. My reasoning behind this tactic is to one day have this conversation:

Fit girl: "Wow, look at your collection! Madame Bovary!"
Me: "What a cad Flaubert was eh?" *laughs falsely*
Fit girl: "Pride and Prejudice! Wuthering Heights! You're SO cultured! I'm really turned on - can we have sex right now?"
Me: "Sounds reasonable. Let me just move Lee Sharpe's autobiography off the bed first."

With my funds standing at precisely £0 and being unemployed I knew I had no choice but to go down to the Job Centre and sign up for JSA. I didn't want to - still don't, to be honest - but when you tell your brother that he can't have a book from his school's book fair because they're too expensive and you wonder how exactly you're going to pay for your mum's birthday present/Father's Day gifts/the tooth filling at the dentist/meal and drinks out with mates etc you realise that you don't have a great deal of choice.

I signed on. It makes me feel awful doing so, but my friend tells me "that's what it's there for" and my parents agree with me doing it so it's got to be done. As I am 25+, I get £71 a week, paid fortnightly, so I won't be buying an iPhone5 any time soon but for things I'll need - envelopes and stamps, printer cartridges, clothes for interviews - it is a help. As part of receiving JSA I have to trundle down to the Job Centre every fortnight, and once a month I have to meet with my personal advisor, who I met for the very first time today.

What an appalling woman, quite frankly. One minute after I sat down she told me that my degree was "useless", because employers don't care, they want work experience instead, and as I haven't worked since starting uni I wasn't likely to get any interviews anywhere either. She then pointed out that I'm allowed to look for the jobs I want to go for for about 13 weeks, at which point I will have to start applying to be a cleaner/work at McDonalds/retail instead - anything I can get, basically. My previous office experience - where I worked really hard over two years for minimum wage in a shitty, boring job I didn't really care for - wasn't much use either, because I didn't use SAGE, I didn't get an AAT qualification. In short, I'm fucked.

My favourite exchange between us was this little beauty:

Her: "On my screen here it says you'd be interested in being a librarian or working in a library."
Me: "Yes, that's correct - like I said, I'm not fussy, because I know the job market is tough and I can't afford to be picky, but when I chatted with your colleague last time it was something we put down on the screen because it is certainly something I'd like to do, I'd jump at the chance to do it to be honest."
Her: "Yeah, well, we have a bloke who first came here eight years ago wanting to be a librarian - he's still here. You won't get a job in a library."
Me: "Oh."

Followed by this one:

Me: "I was wondering, for graduate jobs - are there any specific websites that you guys use, or recommend to me? I've looked on your website but those jobs aren't perhaps too suitable for my qualifications, and I've been warned about using the commercial sites such as Reed, Monster etc"
Her: "It's not difficult to type in 'graduate jobs' into Google - have you not done that? Look, I'll do it now." *turns screen round*
Me: "Sorry, yes, I meant any specific sites that the Job Centre can recomm...
Her: "See, look here - Google, there's 10 pages of results come up when I type 'graduate jobs' in."
Me: *loses the will to live*

All that positivity that I was talking about earlier - all of it that I was trying to build up disappeared in roughly three minutes. I'll tell you now - being told that the degree you've worked for over several years isn't worth the paper it's printed on isn't much fun. Still, at least I didn't accumulate over £20k worth of debt for it, eh?

Don't get me wrong - I'm not thinking for one moment that a guy with a 2:2 from Wolverhampton University is going to jump into a job worth £50k a year within a matter of days. But to do things properly -  work hard, get A Levels, work hard, get work experience, work hard, finish a degree - and just be sneered isn't easy. I've never called myself a "good guy" but I don't think I'm a bad dude. I'm not a benefit cheat. I haven't faked a back injury or fathered six children to get more benefits that way. Yes, I am at home and get to wake up when I want, but let me tell you a little secret - it ain't much fun. Sure I can spend my days reading and masturbating but I like to think there's more to me than that.

The other day my Gran told me how lucky I was - 25, newly graduated, life ahead of me. Today a portly woman from the Job Centre told me that I'm a bit useless, I should be ashamed that I've spent a few years in higher education and not the workplace, my degree counts for shit and I'll be lucky to get an interview anywhere any time soon.

It's difficult to know who to believe, or where to turn, but I know one thing - I'm going to try my damnedest to prove one of those women wrong, and it ain't the mad Irish one now living in Greater Manchester. The challenge has been very much accepted.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

From Russia with Love

Huge thanks to Twitter pal Curtis (@Curtos07) for this doozy. It is strangely comforting to see that bad, thoughtless, terrible journalism isn't limited to the United Kingdom. Shame on you, Paul Sullivan! You have shamed your fine country of Canada with this one:

Let's analyse this baby in full FJM ( style!


When Maria Sharapova won the French Open on Saturday, it was another victory for the Beautiful People.

Loved their second album. Their third - and final - album "Mongoose Overdrive" left a lot to be desired however. No real surprise they split up after that one.

Sharapova, all six-foot-two of her, is gorgeous.

She is. Oooh, I'd really like to kiss her!

But then, so are a lot of tennis players these days. 


Somewhere along the line, right at Anna Kournikova, perhaps, it became important for female tennis players to be beautiful as well as talented.

This is a load of bollocks, quite frankly, and it serves as a warning as to all the nonsense that's still to come in this one. First off, there's been loads of beautiful tennis players gracing the courts down the years - a few that spring to mind were around before Anna Kournikova swung a racquet around in anger. The Kournikova reference is just lazy. But that isn't really the point, here.

"Important to be beautiful as well as talented"?

Eh...not really. I mean, yes, beautiful tennis players will rake in more $ when it comes to modelling etc - let's not be naive on that one - but to pretend that a professional sportsperson should place as much importance in their appearance as they should harvesting and using their talent is just a bit pathetic, quite frankly. I bet Petra Kvitova really regrets not doing as many photoshoots as Maria Sharapova does when she wakes up every morning and sees the Wimbledon trophy on her mantelpiece.

Partial list: Daniela Hantuchova, Sabine Lisicki, Vera Zvonareva, Lucie Safarova, Maria Kirilenko, Simona Halep, Tatiana Golovin, as well as the aforementioned Kournikova and Sharapova.

This is one of the most blatant and shameless "Shit, I need to fill my word count for this piece" tactic I've ever seen. Simply listing women you fancy. Good work sir, good work.

Kate Upton. Kelly Brook. Jessica Alba. Scarlet Johansson. Zooey Deschanel.

Wow this is a fun game!

Apparently, it doesn’t hurt if you’re eastern European either.

Bit racist, no?

One honest BBC producer has admitted that “babes and Brits” get the centre-court treatment at Wimbledon while less attractive players have to grunt it out on the outer courts.

I don't understand this paragraph, at all. Whether you take "centre court treatment" in a literal way or not, it still doesn't make any sense. Literally - well, a BBC employee would have no say whatsoever on which court a player plays on. The "Brit" bit isn't true, because Andy Murray plays on centre court not because he's British but because he's normally seeded somewhere between #2 - #5 in the competition. Don't think we'll be seeing Elena Baltacha on there anytime soon. As for the "babes" bit - Ana Ivanovic regularly wins the "sexiest tennis player" award and the last time I recall her playing on Centre Court was back in 2009 when she played Venus Williams. That might not be right, as my memory isn't the greatest, but I sure can recall her playing a lot of matches on the small, outside courts these past few years.

Non-literal way? Well, that then doesn't fit with "have to grunt it out on the outer courts" and it's still wrong. The Williams sisters have got an awful lot of attention the past decade or so, yet I don't see them in FHM's Top 100 List. Anyway, let's move on, I'm boring myself.

But that’s the way of the world. If you’re gorgeous, you’re golden.

Daniel Hamermesh, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin and author of Beauty Pays, estimates that, in a lifetime, a bad-looking person can earn $230,000 less than a good-looking person, all other things being equal.

I'd really love to see the science behind that claim.

The truth about looking good is out there.

In the job market: Attractive people get more job recommendations, are considered more qualified, more likely to succeed, more likely to be hired, paid more, promoted more and less likely to be fired.

In the courts: Juries think physically attractive people are less likely to be guilty. Attractive people get lower bail, lighter sentences and smaller fines. Except maybe not Luka Magnotta. But imagine how much trouble he’d be in if he was really ugly?

In school: Attractive people get better grades.

On Facebook: Attractive people are more “friended” than ugly people.

Sex: Attractive people get more dates, have more sex and even have more orgasms.

The really tragic thing about this article is that it could have been written with an interesting and thought-provoking take on this matter. Attractive people do better in life blah blah - why? What does that say about society? Does society need to change, to stop being so vain? Sadly we know Paul Sullivan isn't going to do this, seeing as he spent a good paragraph telling us which tennis players he'd like to have sex with.

OK, too much information, perhaps. Good thing I’m attractive.

Hoho. By the way - remember this piece being about Maria Sharapova winning the French Open? No, me neither.

Did I mention that generally, men tend to overestimate their good looks? Women go the opposite way. More than eight out of 10 hate the way they look in a mirror. 

Can't help thinking that you should either use "eight out of ten" OR "8 out of 10" rather than mashing the two.

One study showed women see themselves as fatter after eating a single chocolate bar. It would have to be a 35,000-calorie chocolate bar for that to be true.

Hamermesh (whose wife thinks he looks average) finds that 70 per cent of people agree on what’s attractive most of the time. It has to do with symmetry. The more symmetrical you look, the more attractive you are. Jug ears are out.

Well, if we combine that with all the guff you've provided us with above, that means Gary Lineker will never, ever be successful in his media career, right?

So that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” stuff is fine … just as long as you’re beautiful.
Have a nice day, and if possible, stay away from mirrors. They’re bad luck, in more ways than one.

I am going to have a nice day because I've just decided that I'm never going to read your writing ever again.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Euro 2012

OMFG! Football! EURO 2012! Eng-ur-land!

That's right kids, another major international football tournament is upon us already, so I may as well continue my tradition of incorrectly predicting what will happen and noting it all down on here so you can all laugh at me afterwards. After a fine Premier League season and a thoroughly entertaining Champions League campaign, we're going into this one with enthusiasm and excitement - albeit for the tournament itself and not England's chances. More on them later.

Some quick predictions for you then. I'll use the structure that the Grauniad uses here:


Germany v Spain

I'm sold on the Germans this year, I really am. I thought they were sensational at the World Cup of two years ago, the best team there, but just ran out of fizz when they needed it the most. With the experience of that campaign under their belts, I like their chances. Spain? Jam packed with quality, of course, but David Villa's absence is a blow and they can't keep on winning these things. What a fantastic final this would be, and I reckon Germany would just sneak it.

Germany 2-1 Spain


One name springs to mind immediately, but I have a feeling he'll be Top 5 but not the #1 goalscorer. So I won't go for Robin van Persie on this one, but I will go for Mario Gomez. A lot of that is based on my "Germany to win" prediction so we'll see, but I do fancy him to bounce back from a rotten Champions League final and bang in a few.


A number of people spring to mind here. Close to home, I think this tournament could see the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a real player. He's so much better than Walcott it's untrue, and searing pace + a brain = trouble for defenders. Further afield, I really like Cabaye of France, and I hope he can play for his national team like he does for Newcastle. Mario Balotelli is of course always very watchable - will it be triumph or despair for the maverick Italian? What about Fernando Torres - can he get back to this best? From my tip Germany there's Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller, all quality young players. I'm not sure how much they'll play, but the Spanish duo of Santi Cazorla and Fernando Llorente are both fun to watch despite having thoroughly different styles.


The squad isn't as terrible as some are making it out to be, but it is still difficult to see England winning this one. The first match against France will tell us a lot. A win, and the momentum will carry you through towards being group winners. A draw, and suddenly you're a bit worried about topping the group, but still content you can qualify from it. A defeat, and you're facing Sweden who you've never beaten in a major tournament before followed by Ukraine who are a poor side but are at home and haven't had to travel all the way from Poland for the match, and you're beginning to sweat a bit.

Group winners or runners up, however, it's a stretch imagining England beating the likes of Spain, Germany et al in the knock-out stages. It could very well be QF and out, once again.


Germany, Holland and Spain playing good football. Danny Welbeck to do well and gain a whole world of confidence in time for next season. Ireland to do well, and have fun whilst doing it. Mario Balotelli to do...something. The French to spontaneously combust again.


The lingering threat of hooliganism and racism. The inevitable fall-out when England lose. The endless Ferdinand/Terry questions immediately after Terry slips on his arse and costs England a goal. Poland and Ukraine being bloody awful and really not warranting their places in the tournament.

Enjoy the tournament, fellow soccerball fans!

Friday, 1 June 2012

The One Where People Wrote Letters...

...into The Shropshire Star and I responded to them in my own unique and daft way.


Money can't buy me love The Beatles sang, but it can buy you football's Premier League title.

Everybody tells me so, Can't buy me love, No, no noooo

Join in everyone!

Manchester City have spent hundreds of millions of pounds over the last two years, more than the rest of the Premier League put together. 


But even then they needed the help of the referee on the last day of the season to beat a poor Manchester United side to the title by the smallest amount possible, goal difference.

I've not seen a single United supporter - of which I am one - blaming the referee in the City game up until now. Joey Barton thoroughly deserved to be sent off, simply for being Joey Barton.

City fans should make the most of it because when a team is made up of players who only come because of the huge wages and nothing else, they soon get fed up as we have seen with one or two of their players this season. The saddest thing for City fans is, even though they won the league, they are still the second best club in Manchester and will remain so for many years as they don't have the rich history behind them that United do.

About 10 years ago this would have been the wet dream of all letters for me, but now that I'm past the age of 15 I just find this all so thoroughly sad. As much as I disliked the events of the Premier League's final day, it was a fun season and I look forward to the two Manchester clubs battling it out again next season, and as much as I disliked the events of the Premier League's final day, it's only a game. Nobody died.

United were the better side overall


as they won more points against the rest of the league than City did. If United had won the two derby matches they would have finished 12 points ahead of City which proves the point.

If I...

Lived in London
Had loads of money
Was incredibly good looking
Owned a sports car
Was a professional athlete
Was the most charming and charismatic man on the planet
Was as intelligent and learned as a brain surgeon

then I could have sex with Kelly Brook! Yay! This is a fun game!

Here's another one for you - IF Jonny Evans hadn't been sent off in the first derby match, and IF Ferguson had started Antonio Valencia in the second derby match....well, who knows, but we can do the "If" bollocks all day long.

P.R. Jones

Those grapes are mighty sour!


A word now from the lovely Emyr Davies. I've typed up a few of Emyr's letters for this blog in the past, and I always enjoy reading them. Emyr is evidently an elderly chap who uses the letters page of The Shropshire Star to describe events/adventures that have taken place in his youth, and more power to his elbow, I say. The reason why I enjoy his letters is because - bless him - they rarely make much sense. However, rather than being cruel and laughing at him, I find his letters a welcome relief from all the xenophobia, homophobia, bigotry and religious nonsense which is usually printed on these pages, and long may his pen have ink in it.

During National Service with the RAF in 1951, I was walking through Shrewsbury late in the evening when all of a sudden two Military Police (Red Caps) men (lance corporals) jumped out on me from the shadows. Fear set in for a few minutes as one Red Cap accused me of 'walking like an old farmer.'

All of a sudden two civilians in trilbies emerged. One stated: "Are these so-and-sos causing you trouble, mate?"

The Red Caps let me go. "Take care," one said.

I have often wondered were those two civilians really sergeants or colour sergeants in the Military Police or just civilians who had done National Service like me?

It's true, I stoop a little through reading a good bit, and have bought a brace to help my posture but it would be nice to see the Red Caps back on Britain's streets again! Our bobbies need help and during 1939-45 there were Army, Navy and RAF police around, plus those big American Red Caps, too, some black men with truncheons.

Slightly surprising end to that one, Emyr!

Mr Emyr Davies

D'aww, I love Emyr, and wish he was my Granddad. Like I said, he's a tonic when compared to all the other letters about the EU, "the immigrants", Tony Blair and the TV programme 'Crossroads'.

Of course, that last one is just me having a laugh. Nobody has ever penned a letter to The Shropshire Star about 'Crossroads', obviously, and I doubt anyone ever will.


I feel compelled to write in reaction to Ben Bentley's review of the programme 'Unforgettable Noele Gordon.'

Unforgettable, isn't he? I thought that 'House Party' was juvenile nonsense and obviously 'Deal or No Deal' is just randomness and luck, but I do like that programme where he gives Christmas presents to sick kids. What a nice man!

Proof-reader: "That's Noel Edmonds."
Me: "So it is. Who the FRICK is Noele Gordon then?"
Proof-reader: "Dunno. Apparently she's unforgettable though."

I am angry at the disrespectful and misinformed way he described Miss Gordon's Crossroads.

Of all the things to be angry about, this is right up there.

The programme was not pantomime. The sets only wobbled in the very early days, alongside those of Coronation Street. And to say it made Neighbours look like a million-dollar Spielberg production was absolutely ridiculous.

I hope this guy signs up to Football365 Forum one day and writes stuff like this. He'll be absolutely buried in the avalanche of "He's seething!" replies he'd get.

It's true though. This guy is properly seething, or #seething if you like Twitter and hashtags and all of that nonsense.

Crossroads was at times inspiring, sometimes very moving, and a great comfort to the elderly, and those living on their own, who regarded Meg Richardson as their friend.

This is all rather odd, isn't it?

Crossroads and Noele Gordon are still missed by a great many people. How dare anyone criticise either of them?

Bob Oakley

I happen to think Crossroads was a load of ol' shite, Bobby boy. What you gonna do? You come at the King, you best not miss!


One final letter for now, this one coming from the master of short, snappy nonsense Allan Tucker from Oswestry!

After the President of France Francois Hollande's first cabinet, we still dont know his attitude to nuclear weapons, nor to nuclear power.

Allan Tucker

I started compiling a list of other irrelevant things we don't know Francois Hollande's opinions on yet but I got bored after the 784th thing and so deleted it. Instead let me take this moment to phone the new French President and congratulate him on his election!

(picks up phone, presses an unnecessary amount of buttons very quickly)

President of France Francois Hollande (PoFFH): "Allo?"

Ewar: "Bonjour Monsieur Hollande! Je m'appelle votre ami Ewar!"

(I don't know French but Google Translate tells me that's right)

PoFFH: "Who?"

(I've given up on the French)

Ewar: "I know you are very busy sir but I wanted to ask you about your preference when it comes to biscuits!"

PofFH: "Who iz theeez? 'Ow did you get theeez number?"

Ewar: "I like chocolate hobnobs, particularly with a cup of tea, but I also like custard creams. You?"

PoFFH: "I do not have ze time for this inane chatter, be off with you!"

Ewar: "Alright, fine. One final thing, sorry - you don't happen to know who Noele Gordon is, do you?"

(Phone gets slammed down)

What a nice man.

Until next time bloggerheads!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

So Long, Farewell

This blog post is intended to be a bit of catharsis I need to "throw out there" in order to get over last night's awful Manchester derby and the choking away of the 2011/12 Premier League title. Before I get onto all that however, I want to talk to you a little about a man called Mariano Rivera.

Mariano Rivera is a pitcher who plays for the New York Yankees. He is called a "closer" - which basically means that if the Yankees have a lead going into the final inning, it is his job to "close" the game out and stop the other team scoring a tying run - and he's been doing this job since 1995. Mariano Rivera is also very, very, very, very....(wait for it)....VERY good. If you don't like/know about baseball you'll just have to take my word on this one, but I assure you that Mariano Rivera is jaw-droppingly good and a certain Hall of Famer.

Of course, Mariano is now 42, and no man - no matter how talented - can ultimately defeat the sands of time. As good as he is, there's always the worry that Mariano is going to wake up one morning and it's gone. All gone. Here's what Baseball Prospectus 2012 says:

"He can't go on forever, of course, and like Cary Grant retiring from the screen while he still had his looks, let's hope Rivera quits before his famous cut fastball does. The only thing worse than not having him would be seeing him fail."

If I now bring this back round to Manchester United, you might begin to see where I'm going with this one. Ryan Giggs and Mariano Rivera don't have an awful lot in common, but I can't help thinking about both of them today. Whilst the latter keeps on going relentlessly, it might be about time to admit that for the former, his race is run. It isn't easy to say that, and I've written off United players before and they've proved me incredibly wrong, but I really do feel it's the case this time. For a while now we've all been thinking about what impact Giggs can have in the "big games" nowadays, but we've never had the nerve to say it out loud. He isn't the flying left-winger of yesteryear, his body isn't suited to centre midfield anymore and the past season or two he's given the ball away a staggering amount - far, far more than he ever did. Little mistakes have crept in as the clock has kept on ticking, and it's sad. It really is.

Of course, if we're going to look at the Manchester United midfield, we shouldn't stop there. A player by player analysis suddenly throws up some serious problems:

Ryan Giggs - See above.

Paul Scholes - Reserve team coach who came out of retirement (and has done brilliantly)

Darren Fletcher - Won't play again.

Paul Pogba - Gone to Juventus.

Anderson - The least reliable person ever.

Nani - Great, but inconsistent.

Antonio Valencia - Great.

Ashley Young - Unconvinced. Has talent, though.

Michael Carrick - Splits opinion, but I love him.

Ji Sung Park - Love him, but he's old now and as his legs go an incredibly important part of his game goes with them.

Tom Cleverley - Talented, but injured this season and still a kid.

And that's it. Here's football writer Iain Macintosh:

"When the biggest team on the planet is still relying on 1991's breakout player and the reserve team coach, there's a problem, isn't there?"

I'd say that Real Madrid were the biggest team on the planet, myself, but regardless of that - he's correct, and we know what...sorry, who....the problem is. But when you float the club on the stock exchange and let any Tom, Dick or Malcolm with some $ able to take over what do you expect?

This isn't a knee-jerk reaction to last night, and I understand that a football team can't win everything, every year. I'm glad that they don't, to be honest, because gosh that would be dull. I also recognise that I'm very lucky to support the team I do, particularly at a time when we've seen smaller clubs have to fold and start again, or in the case of Wimbledon just suddenly picked up and moved miles away by some businessman.

No, it's not that we won't win anything this season. It's the sense of unease around the place. That we know the manager hasn't got long left. That all the success recently has been in spite of the Glazers, not because of them. That Sir Alex is effectively fighting against the tide. That our friends across the city have overtaken us and are driving off into the distance. That - to quote any amateur historian - every empire crumbles eventually.

I don't know whether you'll blame Glazernomics for this one or not, but last night was not the game for two club legends such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to be playing in centre midfield together.

The only thing worse than not having them is seeing them fail.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Undateables

Hallo again.

Truth be told, I'm not one for "soapboxing", especially on here. However, the title of a television programme caught my eye yesterday and it bothered me greatly, so humour me for a few minutes whilst I rant about it and ramble about other stuff that comes to mind.

The programme is called "The Undateables" and it goes out on Tuesday nights, Channel 4. Rather than explaining the concept of it to you myself, here's excerpts from 4's website about it:

"Looking for love can be tricky, but some find it harder than others. Add disability to the equation and it can sometimes seem almost impossible...from a stand-up comedian with Tourettes and a trapeze artist with brittle bones, to a media student with Down's Syndrome, an amateur poet with a learning disability, and a skateboarder with a facial disfigurement, the series follows them as they enter the world of blind dates, matchmakers and speed dating..."The Undateables" explores the realities of looking for love in an image-obsessed world, where too many people make snap judgements based on first impressions - and even consider some to be 'undateable'."

The premise for the show itself isn't a bad one necessarily - it's an interesting concept, it's a programme that could be very beneficial and it's a fresh take on all these ghastly dating shows which seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment. So why that title?

Because it can't just be me, surely? It can't just be me that looks at that title and finds it offensive, ridiculous and unnecessary, and think that the advertisements for the programme: are also thoroughly unhelpful. You've made a programme about single, disabled people and called it "The Undateables"? You've promoted it by highlighting a man's Tourettes and a man clearly floundering in a socially awkward situation? The film "Freaks" came out in 1932 - eighty years on I thought we were past all that. There's just something so horrible about that title - so unnecessarily horrible. I'm not naive - an eye-catching title is what a show needs sometimes, but in this instance it leaves a bitter taste. Before we've even watched the programme, the tone has been set - look at these weirdos! Look at them and laugh! They're "undateable" because they're FREAKS! Funnily enough, the programme itself isn't as bad as I feared it would be, and I'll talk about it in a bit, but the worrying thing for me is how the show is marketed and how that fits in with what we see as "successful" television in this day and age.

Because quite a few shows that pull in big ratings reflect this theme, and they trouble me greatly. I watched "The X Factor" once only to be appalled by what I saw, as a panel of multi-millionaires sniggered at untalented people who have been told constantly by their families that they're talented. I used to like "Britain's Got Talent", as that had an actual point to it rather than simply "earn Simon Cowell a few more quid" but that's going the same way, albeit it doesn't have the laughably awful judge "feuds" that the former has. "I'm A Celebrity"? Isn't it HILARIOUS to see shameless celebrities looking for a route back into showbiz having to endure humiliating tasks? "Big Brother"? An interesting social experiment, the first series. I watched it. But that claim only held for so long, and we need ratings, damnit! Quick, ration their food, encourage fights, increase the bitching! Who goes? YOU decide - based on our extremely dubious editing policy of course!

The worst programme of all is "The Apprentice", a thoroughly hateful sack of shit which I plead with people not to watch every single sodding year. I will never, ever understand how there's people out there who are lapping up a programme that encourages greed, spite, selfishness, hate, blame culture, individualism, the love of money etc. yet then have the gall to complain about "the greedy bankers" who have played with your money. Next economic crisis, don't come running to me with tears in your eyes blaming "capitalism" and "the city", blaming a yuppie cunt in a sharp suit with shit for brains but a nice line in bullshit and self-delusion. Not when 10m of you sit down every Wednesday night to thoroughly enjoy the nightmare that is Thatcher's children squabbling and desperately scrambling over each other to work for a man famous for making technology which is known in the industry as "absolutely fucking shit". I once asked a friend why he watched it, and his reply was "to laugh at all the dick heads on there". Can't help feeling that the joke has worn a bit thin myself, especially when these people are then glorified on prime time television.

That mindless rant brings me back round to "The Undateables". Having been appalled at the title and the adverts, I was going to give it a wide berth, but then changed my mind - if I was going to blog about it I should at the very least watch some of the programme. As I said earlier, it wasn't as hideous as I feared, but the horribly snide "let's laugh at these people" theme still ran through it. I don't know about you, but I find first dates awful enough, never mind a) having Asperger's Syndrome and b) Them being filmed to go along with it. But that was the case here, as we watched a woman walk out on Richard, 37, on what was his first date for twenty years. Sections like this were torturous to watch, and you couldn't help thinking that the makers of this show constantly took the easy way out. Hey, why bother analysing why a perfectly normal man who happens to have Tourettes can't get a date when you can show him struggling to contain his verbal and physical ticks at the end of a long and tiring date instead?

The show did do some things well. Richard, Luke and Penny were given time on screen to show themselves to be decent people who are just a little different from "normal" folk, and the important relationships between Richard and his mother/Penny and her parents were highlighted and handled well. Yet still the uncomfortable aspects of the show lingered in the air, and as it came to an end I was left to think about the show's crass title and these questions - how many viewers watched this solely to laugh at the people involved based on how the show was marketed, and when the fuck is that attitude going to disappear from our society?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Good Grief

I wasn't watching Spurs v Bolton last Saturday because, to be perfectly honest, once my team have gone out of the FA Cup I find it difficult to care a great deal about it. Instead I was lying on my bed dossing around - as per usual - just before I was due to go out and get some dinner. With a few minutes to spare, I thought I would check Twitter on my phone, and that's when I was made aware of what was going on down at White Hart Lane.

Roughly thirty tweets about Fabrice Muamba later and I was scrambling for the remote control, desperately trying to remember what channel the game was on, what channel number ESPN was on. Something had happened, and I wanted to see it. Before we go any further - reflecting on events, I'm struck by how odd that thought process is. I'm the first to chastise people for slowing down at car crashes, but here I was - effectively doing the same thing. Something had happened to Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, but rather than being content and saying "I don't need to see that" I took the exact opposite view. The funny thing is, I don't even know why I did it. It doesn't make any sense, really, the only real excuse being that something out of the ordinary was happening and to effectively "be there" was the best way to be informed of the situation.

I didn't think Fabrice Muamba was going to survive. In fact, I was sure of it. I didn't say it - either out loud or on Twitter, but I thought it, and I bet one of you lot reading this did too. On Saturday evening there was an agonising wait as nobody knew anything - the only information flying around was that he was being taken to hospital and that they'd tried resuscitating him on the pitch but that hadn't worked. As football fans, we've been here before of course - Marc Vivien-Foe and Miklos Feher being two notable examples - and the vast majority of the time with incidents like this the end result isn't good. After I had had my dinner I put Sky Sports News on and sat in front of the television waiting for the announcement that was surely about to be solemnly read out live on air. Thankfully, it never came. At the time of writing, Fabrice Muamba is still in intensive care but he's showing signs of improvement and the prognosis is good...better than what it was at the time, anyway.

Whatever the long-term effects for Fabrice Muamba after his collapse last Saturday, his plight has inspired a debate about grief, one which for some peculiar reason Manchester United fanzine 'Red Issue' has decided to stick an oar into. Their opinion is based on what they term as "Dianaification" and it's all about the faux grief and the mass hysteria that society tends to jump to immediately after something like this happens. I know what they're saying, and I'm inclined to agree with them - I was in France when Princess Diana was killed, and when I think back I'm always grateful that I was there and away from all the madness/nonsense that was ensuing back here over her death. So I'm sympathetic towards their argument, but that doesn't mean I'm overly impressed with the cover for their latest instalment:

A lot of their ire on this subject is directed towards Twitter, and that's understandable. As a medium, Twitter encourages instantaneous response, as well as encouraging people to write stuff that gets them noticed. Therefore a rather odd game of grief "one-upmanship" can start to take place on there, as people compete to express how sorry they are about the situation that's unfolding rather than waiting to see what happens or simply saying nothing at all and keeping their counsel. Then there's the Twitter bandwagoners. I don't know who settled on #pray4muamba but they got a trending topic out of it, and the other day I saw a celebrity RT an account specially set up to express their sorrow at Muamba's plight. Now to me that's all very odd, and it all backs up the point 'Red Issue' are trying to make. It's a decent one, in my opinion.


I struggle to understand the thinking here. OK, I'm not naive - Red Issue is getting a lot of publicity on the back of this one - but as a Manchester United fan this front cover bewilders me. We could go three points clear at the top of the Premier League tonight, there's ALWAYS something to talk about when United are concerned, and they run with....this?! I don't get it, and I'm left wondering why they need a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. Being anti-faux grief is fine - and I agree - but this smacks of the 15 year old jumping up and shouting something deliberately provocative just to be "edgy" and impress his sniggering mates.

One of the great things about being a human - and one of the worst, for that matter - is the experiencing of emotions. Happy, grumpy, anxious, terrified, upset, elated etc etc - we've all felt those things at one point in our lives. Grief is another. We can't suddenly stop people from feeling it - whether the people they're grieving over are related and personal to them or not - and I wouldn't want people to stop feeling it either. I don't know about you but I wouldn't want to live in a world where Dunblane happens and everyone just shrugs their shoulders and ignores it. I thought Jade Goody was a largely terrible person, truth be told, but when she died I felt sad for her family and for her children who will now grow old without having their mother with them. I also felt so desperately sad for Fabrice Muamba and his family last Saturday night when he collapsed and I was sure he wasn't going to make it.

So am I a "grief junkie"? I don't think so. I hope not. It's not my intention to be one, anyway. Nevertheless, I don't like Red Issue's front cover. We don't know Fabrice Muamba, but feelings such as compassion, empathy and love towards our fellow man ain't terrible ones, all things considered. I hope he gets better soon, and I hope Red Issue go back to what they know best - Manchester United.