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Porklife

I remember after the last Olympics, people wondered aloud whether the running, jumping, cycling and everything would inspire a nation to get off its collective flabby arse and do some exercise. The answer was, predictably, no. This time, we’re wondering again. And the answer will be no again. And people will wonder why.

Well, as someone who bucked the trend and managed to get off the settee and do some exercise and lose some weight – a little over five stone since 2012, since you were wondering – I think I can tell you some of the reasons why it doesn’t just happen.

There’s two bits of Parklife by Blur that are revelant. The first is Phil Daniels’s cockney geezer character insulting some fat bloke. “Who’s that gutlord marching? You should cut down on your pork life mate, get some exercise!” The second comes later, when he says, “And it’s not about you joggers, who go round and round…” – all right, it’s just a silly song and there are probably better examples. But it highlights an attitude I’ve seen and heard a lot: first, take the piss out of people who are fat (and assume they don’t do exercise); second, take the piss out of people doing exercise.

Which leads me to this point: you must always take the piss out of fat people doing exercise. Like it’s the most fucking hilarious thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Go to a non-league football match and hear the jovial taunts aimed at the guy in the tightest-fitting shirt. Who’s actually playing football while other people are standing around doing nothing. Whatever else happens, you must make them suffer – for being fat in the first place, then for daring to be active at all rather than gluttonously stuffing pies down their face.

When you’re really fat you avoid things like mirrors and going out in public. It’s bad enough blubbering around in your own house, squeezing into your own ill-fitting clothes and feeling awful about the way you look and feel, without having to endure the cavalcade of taunts you’re likely to face from the general public. (At this point I should emphasise that I understand it’s much, much worse for women than men, but I can only speak from my own experience.) Then, when you actually try to do something about it, when you try to do some exercise, the jeers get louder. Your humiliation is worse. You either have to try and find a gym or swimming pool, and notice the chortles and sneers from the impossibly athletic, young staff watching you in less clothing than you’d ideally want to be wearing; or you have to go outside, among real people.

I used to live by the seaside, so I’d run along the beach. It was quite nice to get out there in the fresh air and try to exercise, but in the end I gave up, because, even with sunglasses on and a hat, wearing as baggy clothes as I could find to hide my figure, even with music playing as loudly as possible into my ears, I could still hear the shouts – people really do shout at you, so you don’t miss it – and see the gestures.

Cut down on your porklife, mate. Get some exercise! But not near me or I’ll take the piss out of you. Laugh at fatty. Now, I’ve been pretty overweight most of my life and I see the obvious amusement I provide you with. Yes, I wobble and I wear slightly larger clothes. I know, you’re already chortling. Funny. Marvellous.

It’s all about shame. Shame at these bloated corpses, these wobbly bodies, for daring to be in the same space as you. They don’t belong to people. You notice this when you see the decapitated, bloated midriffs, dehumanised of the person owning them, on the news, whenever obesity is discussed. It’s all about reducing the person to their body. Their big body.

Why doesn’t the Olympics inspire a generation? Because it shows you these supreme athletes at their peak, where anything other than absolute success is failure – even silver medallists feel they haven’t achieved something they should have done, and see it as a disaster. They’re doing things you can’t even imagine contemplating, and they’re still getting slagged off and feeling bad about themselves.

It wasn’t the Olympics that inspired me; it was just needing to be healthy. It certainly wasn’t a patronising “kick up the arse” lecture from my GP that made me change (although of course, as I’ve said before, people really do believe that’s the best way to get me to do something). It was just wanting to have the energy to look after my daughter, and the desire to want to be around for a bit longer, or at least to try.

So I started with tiny goals. Can I walk for half an hour? Can I walk for an hour? Can I walk a kilometre in ten minutes? It’s hard and then you try and try and get there. And you do it as much as you can. When you’re walking, people don’t really detect that you’re exercising, so you can get away with it. You can hide a little. Then, one day, I tried running as long as I could. I tried running a mile, because a mile seemed interesting. A mile in ten minutes? That came months later. Now I can run four, five kilometres. And there’s more to come. More to do. And I’m finally at the stage where I can say fuck you to passer-by abusers, because they don’t know where I’ve come from or what I’ve done, and sure, it’s my fault I got out of shape, but it’s in my power to do something about it, not for them, but for me.

The Olympics won’t ever inspire anyone, except those who have the confidence to be out there already – and good for them. But until we get it out of our culture that it’s acceptable to laugh at fatty, not much is going to change. Shaming and abusing won’t do anything. It just causes hurt, and makes it worse. So if you see a fat person running, or walking fast, or in your gym, the best thing you can do is leave them the fuck alone to get on with it, because it’s an achievement for them just to be there.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Five years

It’s not just me that this has happened to. There’s nothing particularly unique or terrible about my situation, and other people have things much worse than I do.

Five years ago, I found myself looking for a job. I didn’t get one. I remember this because I thought, at the time, it might be a few weeks or a few months before I had something sorted out. Weeks and months went past. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking, or that I wasn’t trying hard enough, but nothing changed. Friends were supportive. Some offered little bits of paid work, if they could, others offered advice. Something would come along.

I had a Plan B. That plan was to be a teacher, and it hasn’t really worked out. It’s partly me being me – as one trying-to-be-helpful headteacher put it, “You just don’t look like a teacher, why don’t you go away and try something else” – and partly something else that I haven’t fully understood. Friends have been a bit less understanding, for some reason. “Well, you have all the advantages on your side,” said one, and I suppose they were trying to be helpful, too. Teachers haven’t been especially kind, either. For a profession that’s built around developing other human beings’ skills, a lot of people seem to think you’re either “a born teacher” or you’re not.

When I used to report on non-league football, a manager once told me that he divided his players into two groups: “some of them need an arm round the shoulder and some of them need a kick up the arse”. For some reason, people seem to have put me in the latter category. I need tough love. Kick me and kick me and kick me, and it will make me work. Tell me I’m shit, and somehow I’ll get better. Tell me I’ve failed, and I’ll somehow do better. Tell me I’m worthless, and somehow I will thank you for it. I find it faintly disappointing that it hasn’t, seeing as they’re all so sure it’s the right way to go about these things, but I am afraid to say it hasn’t.

There have been a couple of times when people have tried to help. Once, someone rejecting me for a job, when discovering I had already had 29 job interviews as a teacher, and I’d been trying to get one for three years, started going quiet on the other end of the phone, and ended up putting it down on me because he didn’t know what else to say. I kind of felt sorry for him, but then I thought, why not just give me a fucking job, you cunt, but you won’t, will you?

I had in my head that something would have gone somewhere. That something would have worked out. It really isn’t that I haven’t tried hard enough, but there isn’t anything there, or enough there to make any kind of difference. And time ticks on, and you get older and older. Being unemployed at 36 is disappointing, but at 41 it’s downright unpleasant. When you have a child who depends on you, and you’re barely making enough money to cover your costs, you feel like you’re just walking in the dark.

You get turned down for entry-level jobs that anyone could do, but which apparently you can’t. You get turned down for jobs you’ve already done. You get turned down by people you’ve already worked for, for several weeks, on a temporary basis, where you know the ins and outs of the place so much better than anyone coming in from outside. You get turned down for everything, everywhere. This is how it is.

It gets more and more difficult to slap on the fake smile and approach every application with enthusiasm (!) and excitement (!) and passion (!) and all of those things. You get to an interview and you see someone half your age, who’s twice as keen, and full of ideas, and is going to stay later than you are, and doesn’t have a child to go home to, and you know what’s going to happen, and you know you were them, once, but you’re not them anymore, and all you can think of is silently pushing them down the fire escape in between bits of smalltalk so that for once you can actually fucking get a fucking job.

I’m sorry. It gets you down. It gets you down after the first couple of weeks, but you think you can stay optimistic. You think things are going to go your way. After all, there’s nothing you can’t do, is there? You’re qualified and you’ve got hard work behind you, you’ve got a decent CV – all right, it’s not in the right profession, but still, it’ll help you somehow – and something will come along. Something will work. Something will get you through it all. But it won’t. It won’t. It doesn’t.

August stretches out forever. I have three applications awaiting rejection. Oh, I know, let me patronise you and pat YOU on the head for once. Maybe I shouldn’t be so pessimistic! Maybe that’s what’s making it not work out! Maybe I should just be more cheerful after five years of constant failure! Maybe if I spent less time being so gloomy it’d all just fall in my lap! After all, I do have all the advantages! I know, I know. Of course.

I have dreams of things that I miss from work. Getting money, obviously, is one of them, or grumbling about putting money in a pension – you still have to as a temporary agency worker, but it’s about £2.50 a year, and that gets eaten up in administration fees anyway, for what it’s worth. You dream about the gloomy office canteen. You dream about bitching about people sitting at the desk opposite on email to the person next to you. You dream about the sheer, overwhelming, tedious fucking banality of work. Because that’s what you can’t get. An ordinary life. Not for you.

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Stop it, all of you

I’ve tried and failed to write something about The Current Unpleasantness a few times this week. I keep getting to the end of the first paragraph and losing the will to live. But here it is, anyway, and I’m going to keep writing this through the pain. It’s hurting already because I know at some point I’m going to write – here it comes – “Corbynista”. And at some point I’m going to have to say – oh God, no, the dentist’s drill – “Blairite”. I’m wounded already.

And already I can see you’re waiting to see which side I’m going to take. Verily this is the Dreyfus de nos jours, and if you think that comparison is tasteless or hyperbolic, you haven’t been paying attention: everything is tasteless and hyperbolic now, and ridiculous, and shouty, and polarised, and designed only to slag off The Baddies on The Other Side, and who cares about anything else? Chuck a grenade down their end of the lifeboat just to see them sink.

Do you people not remember Robin Cook dad-dancing? Do you not remember that drowsy morning of hope, tainted with schadenfreude at seeing Michael Portillo humiliated? Who knew all these years later, the Tories would be in government forever and he’d be fruiting around continental railway stations in pastel-coloured jackets, and it would be Labour heading towards the rotating knives and wondering where it all went wrong. Was it that night in May? Did Things really not Get Better? How did it go so wrong?

I’ve no idea. For some of you, the problem was with the giant promises carved in stone and the £5 anti-immigration mug. For some of you, it was that that didn’t go far enough. For some of you, you neither know nor care. What even is Labour anyway? It’s the Most Fabulous Object In The World from Time Bandits – everyone peers into the box and sees what they want to see. For some people, Labour means “thrivers” and “aspiration”; for others it’s tackling “neoliberalism”, and never the twain shall meet, and all of that.

God, does it even matter how we got here? People that I like are being unbelievable cockends all day and all night, determined to trump the most obtuse, stupid, wilfully ignorant thing from the other side by doing something even more clownishly disingenuous of their own. People who say “Hey, Tories aren’t evil” are more than happy to patronise “the Hard Left” all day with snotty derision, like they don’t actually give a shit about being elected by them. People who say they care about social justice are telling “Blairites” they’re the devil incarnate or calling female MPs names. It goes on, it gets weaponised, it continues, it gets worse, gets angrier, angrier, angrier, and what ever gets achieved? Does a single person ever get their mind changed through all this haranguing and shouting and telling off and condescension? One person? Ever?

Or is it all about having fun slagging other people off. Because I don’t find it fun and I’d quite like there not to be a Conservative Government one day again. And if you’re thinking of typing “Well then you have to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn”, you’re the problem, not the solution. You. You are the problem, not that useless bearded fool – he is a problem, but a different one.

WHY DIDN’T IT ONLY GET BETTER? CAN’T WE HAVE ROBIN COOK BACK? I LIKED HIS DANCING. AND PRINCIPLES. AND STUFF.

Anyway, I’m out, I’ve joined the Greens. Don’t judge me. Don’t you dare tell me to vote for your precious Labour Party, whichever daft bunch of nihilist dimbulbs wins out in the end. You enjoy your mutually assured destruction, safe in the knowledge that you were right and that’s what mattered, and you managed to keep / jettison Corbyn, and ruin everything else.

Jesus it’s like being the child of a million simultaneously divorcing parents, having to listen to your endless he-said-she-said poisonous bickering all day long. And the memes, God alive the memes. The parodies of memes. The one-word responses to memes. Everything. A vast canyon filled with human waste, and we’re all swimming in it. And we’re being laughed at by the most incompetent bunch of venal bastards ever to be in government, who fucked up the economy twice, put people beyond the breadline and thought it was all a massive joke. And all we cared about was fighting each other. Well. Well done us. What did you do grandad when they blew it all up? Oh we were busily discussing the origins of a brick through a window and whether McDonald’s was actually A Good Thing. What a bunch of absolute useless, petty, spiteful, vindictive, vile, mean spirited, hopeless, vacuous, inept, tedious pieces of shit we – that’s me and you – are.

You might say, well wait a minute, you’ve just abused people, and you said that was damaging. Quite right you are. But you started it.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Gin Palace

Cronyism is Bad for Britain

2 meals for £9.39

IX XII III

Breakfast Served Until 12 noon

We Don’t Need Trade Deals To Boom

 

Empty sugar packet

Wooden stirrer

Fruit machine lights

PAYBACK

 

Baby at the table

Chatter

The bleep of a till

Shudder

A crash of coins

 

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

A day this week

 

I don’t fancy her, no, no one, she’s the reason

Yeah

I was sat up there

He sort of went

It’s going to be genuinely

As a human being, are you actually going to do that to someone?

If they’re going to do it anyway

 

Tolerate a little more and condemn a little less

Wherever you’d like

Outside

 

Paradise on Draught

Wraps, toasted baguette, jacket potato & bagel

NO

Say I’m OK

Writing is 0

 

Life is everything, everything, everything.

 

It’s Mexican Monday.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Drip-drip

This was coming for years. There’s been a slow drip-drip, in every banner headline blaming immigrants or scaremongering about immigrants; there’s been a slow drip-drip, in every unchallenged racist vox pop (the angrier and uglier, the better); there’s been a slow drip-drip, in every time cutbacks were blamed on the foreign scapegoats; there’s been a slow drip-drip, in every article written post 9-11 or 7-7 about the “failure of multiculturalism” or the “threat to our Christian values” from Islam.

Calling migrants “swarms” and “cockroaches” – we allowed it to happen. They were effectively dehumanised, and they became the problem that needed solving.

It’s been coming, and we didn’t stop it; we didn’t challenge it. Not enough of us challenged it, and not enough of us challenged it strongly enough; it might not have made any difference if we had, but we should have tried. We might have seen it coming, and some of us might have tried to say something about it, but in the end we didn’t think it was as overwhelming as it was until it had overwhelmed us completely; and now we’re stuck where we are, and we have to do something about it – but it turns out we can’t do anything about it.

All through the early 2000s, the argument went, you couldn’t even talk about immigration anymore without being called racist – particularly, it turned out, if you were being really massively racist about it, but that’s beside the point. The right-wing newspapers found a useful tale: here come the immigrants; New Labour have let them in; you have to pay for them; they’re taking your jobs and homes and getting free handouts! It wasn’t true, but it’s never about whether it’s true or not – it’s about whether it’s an inviting tale that supports your prejudices and fears. And it does. The bogeyman is the Pole or the Romanian or – even worse – the Muslim refugee, who is probably a terrorist as well.

Little Englanders who saw their world crashing down had a reason for why their entitlement hadn’t worked out: the foreigners were going to the top of the housing list, rather than there being an actual housing crisis that no-one wanted to address. The foreigners were taking our jobs, rather than work disappearing into a horror show of zero-hours contracts and agency work misery.

Blame us, the liberal-left metropolitan metrosexual bien-pensant intelligentsia, if you must. We didn’t “listen” to the “legitimate concerns” of the head-wobblers on the news, shouting with bulging veins about how Brexit will somehow mean that all immigrants or descendants of immigrants are going to be sent back “home”. Incidents of casual racism increase since the vote. Empowered and emboldened and legitimised, they have crawled out from under their rocks. Good luck in trying to get them back underneath there.

There wasn’t a golden age where racism disappeared, but there was a time, maybe from the tail-end of the 1980s to the early 2000s, when it seemed less visible, although the mind plays tricks of course. You can argue about whether political correctness merely drove it underground and let the racists code their language more politely in mixed company, or whether it genuinely became less socially acceptable – and that was a good thing, perhaps – but whatever the reason, racism’s back. Not Black & White Minstrel Show racism or Love Thy Neighbour racism but vicious NF-style British Movement racism. This isn’t cultural; this is brutal. Racism is back.

The landscape didn’t change overnight. Racism didn’t explode over the course of the vote. But something has been building over these years. And the trouble is, it sells papers and it makes interesting telly, so why challenge racists? The racist vox pop has become the staple of the news over recent days, but it’s been coming for years. News crews have become Bill Grundy egging the Pistols to swear live on TV, gently easing racists into a safe place where they feel they can be as racist as possible.

Oh, you mustn’t call racists racist, it’ll upset them, and how can we win them back? That’s another thing I keep being told. But I am afraid I take a rather less charitable and more gloomy view. I don’t think that these racists aren’t racists, and I don’t think that not calling them racist or giving them a cuddle or nodding along and listening to their “legitimate concerns” will make it possible to turn them around; I think they think what they think, and they’re not going to change. I think they’re racists, and they need to be challenged, and hated, and despised, and ridiculed, and fought. They do. They aren’t poor little misguided lambs, and the more you try to pat them on the head – look at Labour bringing in the evil Phil Woolas, making a ridiculous “controls on immigration”mug or sloganising about “British Jobs for British Workers”- the more it makes them feel that their prejudice is correct. The less you argue, the more you empower.

And besides, what a luxury it is for whites to be able to try and “engage” with these people. What a luxury, and a privilege, to be able to say, well, let’s wait a minute and listen to these people and their legitimate concerns. We aren’t on the receiving end of this new wave of racism, day after day – although, all of a sudden, now that it’s white Europeans being harassed on buses and having stuff chucked at them in the street, it’s brought it home a little bit more to a few folk.

But this wasn’t about racism or bigotry or xenophobia, I keep being told; it was about the abandoned communities of the working-class white folk who were left behind by successive governments. And there’s a crack of truth in that: those communities, and those people, were abandoned, by Tories and Labour alike. But the Poles or Romanians or whoever didn’t steal their jobs; no-one stole their jobs – their jobs just disappeared, and no-one came to help, and the communities died.

Of course those people are angry. They have every right to be angry. But they have no right to be racist. There’s plenty of working-class people, even in the “abandoned communities”, who don’t turn to racism or feel a sense of entitlement in a world in which jobs for life have gone, pensions are disappearing and the welfare state has been torched. Anger, yes, but be angry with the right people, with the people who actually brought this about, surely.

Anger, everywhere. Where does it go now? Where will it go when the Leave voters realise that the Poles aren’t on the next bus home, that the Muslims who’ve been here for three or four generations aren’t going to be moving out, that immigration will stay pretty much the same as it always was, no matter what the new governments or their leaders promise, in a bid to hold back the tide?

There are dangerous times coming. We allowed it to happen by not challenging it when it began. We allowed it to happen by reading the papers that published this absolute garbage, and by not challenging it then. We allowed it all to happen, this is our fault and we have to try and clear up the mess. How we go about that, I don’t know. I keep hearing about how we need to “roll up our sleeves” and “get on with it”. I think that’s right, but a big push is needed now to try and undo the harm of the past 10-15 years, or this collection of islands is going to be a very unpleasant place to live.

Maybe the migrants will “go back” because this is an unfriendly, unwelcoming, vile little hole. Maybe I’ll go with them.

 

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Aftermath

It began soon after Jo Cox died. Quietly at first, and then you saw and heard more and more about it. This murder represented something about our culture: not something about the political motivation of the crime, apparently, but something about the way we treat our politicians. We’re too mean to them. We all killed her, by being beastly about our MPs rather than patting them on the back for a job well done.

At first, I found this distracting, but understandable. Someone was dead, and there was a rush on to get the hot takes out. The best and worst thing about the instantness of our culture is the demand for an immediate response to something baffling and emotional, like the murder of a politician, but there it is: keen to share something, write something – anything – or provide a sliver of insight into the perplexing and demoralising, writers prepare their words.

(I was no different when I was doing it for a living, merrily blundering into the world of geopolitical assassinations or identity politics for the sake of something to write about, and – let’s not be shy about this – there are precious numbers to be had in the aftermath of something huge. I wonder now, though, how useful any of that immediate response is, other than just crystallising a particular feeling on a particular day.)

And it seems on the face of it to be a noble enough sentiment: why do we dehumanise politicians, who are real people with real lives and families? Why do we demean ourselves, the people these professionals represent, by assuming they have anything other than benign intentions? Why do we cheapen their humanity by making out they’re all on the take?

But then I started seeing and hearing this over and over again. I started reading so much about the general public’s unpleasantness towards MPs (it was usually framed as something done by plebs at laptops, rather than professional writers at slightly more shiny laptops) that I wondered if a point was being missed, or an opportunity wasted. Why were so many people focusing on this, rather than the more important issues about what this awful event said about our culture? The climate of fear and hatred towards minorities, particularly immigrants? The labelling of the “Left” as traitors and terrorist sympathisers? Those last two things perpetrated by the mainstream, by the way, not the keyboard warriors. Why was the most important thing to say that we aren’t deferential enough towards our superiors and betters?

(Yes yes, I know about the laws of contempt, by the way. I may have been kicked out of journalism a few odd years ago, but the faint memories of media law are still in my memory. It isn’t about that. If the Lee Rigby killers received a fair trial, given the words written about them in the immediate aftermath, I reckon this guy’s got a pretty decent shot of getting one. Besides, he hadn’t even appeared before a magistrate while all these pieces were being written. No, that wasn’t the reason.)

And then you start to see how tragedies like this become co-opted and twisted into opportunities. I’m not saying any of the thinkpiecemongers have been part of some kind of deliberate movement, because they write what they want and it’s not part of some bigger push, but it just so happens that their allegiance is towards the powerful, not the weak. I think they see in the murder of an MP an attack on the powerful and the political – an attack on their class.

So you hear things like, we may not have agreed with Jo Cox’s politics (and her left-wing thinking has been largely marginalised in favour of a more woolly “community MP” portrait to ensure we don’t dwell on the politically troublesome aspects of her life that might have brought her to the attention of those who would call her a traitor), but all MPs are doing a difficult job and they’re all, just like her, trying to make a difference in the best way they see fit. All MPs of all parties are basically on the same team, just with slightly different methods of doing that. An attack on one MP is an attack on all of them.

And that’s where I have the biggest problem, because that just isn’t true. It wasn’t an attack on all MPs – it was an attack on one in particular, apparently because of the compassionate and passionate support for minorities and immigrants. If you try and delete that from the crime, it makes no sense at all. The reason it happened was not because we’re cynical about politicians; it didn’t happen because people are mean and sometimes nasty on social media, and sometimes carry over that behaviour into real life. It isn’t evidence that some kind of enhanced civility towards our rulers is necessary. That isn’t why it happened. You need to look at why extremism has been courted, stirred up, fluffed and admired by politicians for over a decade now, and what the mainstreaming of extremism by the media and politicians alike has done to embolden people who have gone from the fringes to front and centre.

Sure, it wouldn’t hurt if we were nicer to each other, but this isn’t a wake-up call about that. There is some hard thinking to be done, but it’s not by the masses. This tragedy didn’t come out of nowhere. It wasn’t made by allowing people to be rude and unpleasant towards public figures. It was created elsewhere. And to examine that means to examine a culture that has tolerated intolerance for too long, that has said it’s OK to be borderline racist because that makes for a lively debate, it’s OK to be a troll if you’ve got a photo byline, it’s fine to dehumanise people as long as they’re foreign or different, it’s conversely expedient to brand people who aren’t extremist as extremist and as a threat to our family’s security. That’s where it came from. But to answer that requires some hard thinking, because that would mean looking inward rather than out, to the articles themselves rather than the comments underneath, to writers rather than readers. And that just wouldn’t do, would it.

 

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

You say that you love me

I got into football quite late, I suppose. I didn’t really have a team until the late 1980s, and I chose the club my father used to go on the trolleybus and watch when he was that age: Crystal Palace. It seemed such a tremendous, glamorous club, named after a glittering prize. I was young and I didn’t know what Selhurst Park was really like. I just liked that my dad liked them, and that was that. I began to follow the results, the ups and downs, usually downs, and few ups. But still. You waited for the videprinter on a Saturday afternoon, or the faithful chimes of Sports Report on the car radio, to tell you how many they’d lost by this week, and my father would come out with the usual grumble of despair – or occasional yelp of delight. Crystal Palace, 3-1!

Back then, football was still clambering over its hangovers of hooliganism and Hillsborough. We didn’t go to games, although there wasn’t really any trouble. You followed on Ceefax or on the radio – John Salako from the halfway line sending the Capital Gold commentator into ecstatic apoplectic frenzy in a replay against Nottingham Forest one year, I recall it vividly. It was later that I started going to matches, and where I discovered the grimy joys of Selhurst Park, the rivers of toilet water in the Arthur Wait stand and the long trudge up the hill to the station or a car parking street after another bleak defeat sending the team – I still find it hard to say “us” – towards relegation from the Premiership promised land.

Every other week, the same chance to talk through the match with my father. It wasn’t always easy as a teenager to find something in common, and like most children I think I was pretty aloof and unlikeable as a son during that time. But we had football, we could always talk about that, and everything would somehow be all right. My dad had watched me hopelessly hoof a football around in the little league for all those years, cheering on in horizontal sleet and never once complaining that my boots had made his Vauxhall Astra carpet into a crust-ridden swamp. This was the same, but different: we could talk about our shared ambitions for the club we followed. We could talk about the games we saw and the players we liked. It kept us closer than I could have hoped during those years of my early and middle 20s.

When mum died, I think we both found some kind of comfort in football, and a perverse pleasure in the ups and downs of Palace. There was a void to be filled, and you know the void of the person you loved can never be filled with anything other than that person – it’s just a hole that will never heal, whose scars will always be felt, no matter how hard you hide. In between conversations about cancer treatments, chemotherapy, prognoses and, eventually, death, we always had that safe place to go to, where we could be just a dad and his kid again, talking about something simple and meaningless rather than the more brutal, bitter, bleak world into which we’d found ourselves launched. It was the inherent randomness and fate of life, but it was about something we could trivialise and put in a little box and leave alone, which wouldn’t give us nightmares. Football isn’t “more important than that”, but it did help.

I wonder how many other people it’s the same for, how many people found some hope in something at a time when the rest of the world fell apart. It’s easy to cheapen or ridicule sport, largely because it’s a cheap shot and it is faintly ridiculous to follow a group of coloured shirts in preference to another group of coloured shirts. And yet, and yet, it does mean so much more. It’s a place you can go to for a couple of hours and scream and sing and jump up and down, then go home and go back to everything that’s still fallen apart – except you could forget it for a while, for a beautiful while.

I even managed to get a job covering Palace for the local paper. It was called live text commentary and it was a new thing. It’ll never work, they said, but I did it anyway. (It ended up being comfortably the best writing that I ever did.) I went everywhere to follow the club, from St James’s Park to Stockport Country, from the open-air toilets at Grimsby or Barnsley to the rocking old stand at Maine Road, from Walsall on a Tuesday night to Burnley on a burning hot August day at the start of the season, watching the cricket being played on the ground next door while the game itself wasn’t up to much cop. I saw the team wander all over the place, and I wandered with them. I made friends along the way, some of the red-and-blue clad fanatics who travelled along with the team and saw them struggle to break back into the top division – and go nowhere in the FA Cup. Ah, the FA Cup.

People talk about the “magic of the cup” and how it’s largely disappeared. I know that’s true but I do remember why it was a little bit different. I guess my first FA Cup final that I can remember was Ricky Villa wandering through Manchester City’s defence. In those days you could buy the cup final programme in newsagents; it was a big deal. Bigger than almost anything else on television. You followed the teams to the ground, then watched one of them pick up the cup. Tottenham, then and then they all blur into one giant montage: Norman Whiteside’s strike; Dave Beasant’s save; Elton John’s tears; Gary Mabbutt’s own goal, and then, oh yes, 1990. What a game. What a final. What a let-down in the replay. All that hope gone.

But it really meant something: that game really meant something, more than all the qualifying for Europe or coming third or fourth in the top division do nowadays; it meant a piece of glory you could never have taken away. Except of course it wasn’t glory but a glorious defeat.

Now it’s 26 years later. I won’t be watching that cup final through a tear-soaked haze in the living room of our old house; I’ll be there. I won’t be a 15-year-old grumpy teenager but a 41-year-old dad, with a baby of my own, though I doubt I’d ever want to inflict a football team on the poor girl. But my father, now 71 himself, will be there. He promised me his ticket if I couldn’t get one, but I wouldn’t have dared not let him go, after all he’s seen as a season ticket holder down the years.

Look, it’s a daft little club, playing a daft little game. And I know that we – they – probably won’t win. We have no right to win, given the relative strength of the squads, and that’s that. But to me it all means something more than the result. It means having that day, having a memory I can take with me, something more than what it is. Just to say you were there. Just to be there. To sing, and be part of something, to follow. To be there with dad.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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