Friday, 29 August 2008

My Newest Favourite Thing: The Stop Go Man

Everyone hates road works. They clog up the street making your journey take longer and making you arrive even later at your destination – usually work which you were late for anyway. Other road users get equally annoyed and behave in irrational and impatient ways.

So imagine my surprise to find the stop/go man on Tory Street is now my newest favourite thing (if a person can be a thing, but that’s far too existentialist for this time in the morning). The adjacent car park and apartment building is covered in scaffolding and builders are crawling all over it like construction rats, hurling slabs of materials into waiting skips below.

The man in the middle of the road orchestrates the passing cars, trucks, and cyclists with a cheery wave and a few bizarre dance moves. All he needs is a pair of white gloves and he could be a French traffic cop. Or a Michael Jackson impersonator. It’s satisfying to watch people drive by with a smile and a laugh to start their day.

I wonder if this task is shared among the road crew or whether it is his specific designated duty. I was once told in the States that there are diplomas for this sort of thing, and I laughed; I assumed we were playing our much-loved game of ‘let’s smugly mock our American cousins’, but now with the way the world is, I’m not so sure.

Anyway, if there is such a qualification for this particular vocation, I would like to recommend that this chap gets a scholarship.

Incidentally, when looking up ‘stop/go man’ on the Internet, I came across this blog from a bloke in Bermuda, so it’s proof (if you can call a random sample of two, ‘proof’) that people around the world are interested in the phenomenon.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Wellington Phoenix: Badge of honour

As gluttons for punishment, him outdoors and I have got season’s tickets for the next instalment of the Wellington Phoenix.

The first game of the season had an upbeat atmosphere, the pubs were bursting at the seams before the match, there was a surfeit of yellow and black as folk proudly modelled their new hats, scarves and t-shirts (admittedly over long-sleeves – this is Wellington!), and the sun was shining brightly.

A friend had come up from Christchurch for the game (among other things) and he commented that it was great to see so many people turn out to support a new team without any history or tradition (they’re only a year old) who finished bottom of the league in their inaugural campaign. There were about 10,500 people present.

Last weekend there weren’t so many people out in force (about 6,500) as the rain pelted down and the sodden pitch didn’t exactly lend itself to any silky footballing skills. And the Phoenix lost 2-4 in a fairly horrendous display saved only by the odd flash of competency from Shane Smeltz (currently the top scorer in the A league and the only scorer in Wellington) and Richard Johnson.

But I enjoyed it. There was that same resigned demeanour that used to accompany those awful matches on Tuesday nights away to Chester City. You faced up to it like a martyr, as though you should be awarded your football supporter’s badge to sew onto the shoulder of your uniform. It may have been rubbish, but at least we were there.

One thing that ruins the determinedly festive atmosphere though is those appalling banging-together sticks. I think the marketing term is ‘thunder sticks’ but ‘blatant advertising slogans for people who don’t have the intelligence to clap their own hands’ might be more appropriate.

Usually seen at netball or Chinese stadiums where if you don’t follow the orchestrated regime you will get shot, these things are horrendous. Children love them because they love irritating things that make pointless noise. Actually, they are irritating things that make pointless noise. Their only saving grace is that they have given rise to the chant of ‘You can stick your f*%^ink sticks up your arse.’

Said friend from earlier in the piece reckons these would make it into my blog as the first in a line of sporadic ‘my latest least favourite things.’ Don’t get me started…

So just to recap - this is a football crowd:

And this is a netball crowd.

See the difference?

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

No Sleep til May

Now that the Olympics is over, it's back to the Premier League - one door closes; another one opens or something like that.

So all eyes (or mine, anyway) will be glued to the television over the weekends to watch the pinnacle performances of the beautiful game. Last weekend was the start of the season and the teams kicked off their campaigns with varying degrees of success.

Liverpool looked, as usual, fairly nerve-wracking. If Torres and Keane stop getting in each other's way they may well prove to be an excellent partnership - but they need to communicate. New signing Andrea Dossena also looks pretty handy.

The back four looks more flighty than mighty, which is ominous for the nails this season. Whenever a Liverpool clearance or a decisive tackle was made back there, you just knew it was Stevie G. And he continues to score in stoppage time (as proved against Middlesborough) - also not good for the nails, but we'll let him off that one.

What is somewhat dubious is the dull grey away strip, which is probably called silver or platinum or some such marketing talk to make it sound more exciting. It is strongly reminiscent of the away strip Liverpool wore in the 1988-89 season, which is the last time we won the league. Coincidence? Let's hope not!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Olympics: Disappointing ending

It's really no secret that I have loved these Olympics, and followed the antics and achievements of the athletes like a spectacular drama.

But I'm afraid to say that the finale was ultimately a let-down. Despite all the hoopla of the closing ceremony and the handover to Britain involving a double decker bus, David Beckham and some umbrellas, the events of the last day were all a bit ho-hum.

True, it kicked off with the men's marathon which was remarkable for its pace and style in that heat and humidity, but where were the rest of the athletics? I'm sure that the final day used to involve proper events and baton twirling - sorry, relay races. Now the baton twirling is not ironic, and represented by rythm gymnastics, with handball and volleyball finals also being decided. Add to this the spectacle of water polo and the whole thing is a bit of a damp squib.

So I am left looking ahead to the prospect of the next games in London. I really hope that we will dispense with the lavish ceremony and cut to the parade of nations, a couple of speeches and then everyone is entertained by a quick burst of morris dancing and a couple of stand-up comedians, and it's off down the pub - bring your own tankard. We could save a good thirty million pounds right there. Maybe we could plough it into sporting organisations or, and here's an idea, give it to the health and education systems!

I have heard a rumour that darts will be in an as exhibition sport - now that's pretty British. Let's not stop there. Why don't we include cheese rolling, fell running and pint racing? This has to be better than cricket, golf and rugby which are some of the suggestions for sports to be included. They have their own major, and highly paid professional, tournaments. They don't need to be part of our games.

I have also heard that baseball and softball will be dropped, and if there's any justice, beach volleyball will go the same way. If we must include it, why don't we make them play on Brighton beach with its not-so-soft shingle and it's freezing water? They'll rue those skimpy costumes then, although that would probably please the lecherous lads (the only people who actually watch this 'sport') even more.

And if we must have a closing ceremony, let it be along the lines of It's a Knockout. The athletes could race up and down on tricycles wearing comedy clown feet and royal family masks. They could play their jokers, wade through blancmange and carry buckets of coloured water with holes in the bottom. And Stuart 'As a Hatter' Hall could guffaw throughout proceedings. Now we just have to start lip-synching and crushing protests. I'm looking forward to it already!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

My Newest Favourite Thing: Ashes to Ashes

Actually, I have a confession to make - I don't actually like Ashes to Ashes as much as I liked Life on Mars. I think LOM was good drama, whereas A2A just seems to be taking the piss. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and it's still one of the best things on television.

The music is fabulous. This is more my era, and so far it's been great to hear Ultravox, The Stranglers, The Clash, Temple Tudor, Madness, OMD, Visage, Heaven 17... the list goes on, but it also includes Imagination, which proves that you can't have everything.

Besides the ludicrous plot lines and the dubious fashion, there is the strange and ethereal sight of a man dressed up in a David Bowie Pierrot costume constantly disappearing around corners or into public lavatories, which is more than slightly suspicious.

The dialogue is still smart and Gene Hunt is a perfect anti-hero, but a lot of the time you feel that the story is secondary and I picture the writers spluttering into their beer as they try and fit a slightly credible plot around a witty one-liner rather than the other way round.

But back to the fashion. As I said, this is more my era, and it makes me cringe in memory. I can remember Mrs Thatcher trying to privatise the entire nation and claiming there was
no such thing as society, but I had managed to block out the fashion crimes until now. I am traumatised by the perms; my friend had one that made her look like a poodle, and my best mate asked her, in an attempt to be sympathetic, 'How long do you have to wait for that to grow out?' You know who you are. I shudder at the memories of pouty expressions, aided and abetted by lashings of lipgloss and smouldering blue eyeshadow - and that was just the men!

And I can't pull my eyes away from the off-the-shoulder tops, the bat-wing sleeves, the wide PVC belts and the tucked-in blouses. I watch through my fingers as I think, 'Oh my God, I used to wear that!' or in the case of the white leather bomber jacket, 'I used to want one of those!'

The sight of people wearing tight stonewashed jeans and slip-on tasselled loafers brings me out in a cold sweat. We used to call them casuals - they used to beat us up. Happy days.