Mexico 2017

KK: Like all decent thinking adventurers LK and I have sworn not to visit the USA again until that lying idiot orange baboon they have for a president is dead or in jail. But where to go to emphasise the point?
Mexico baby. Yes Mexico: the other side of the proposed wall Trump wants to build. Mexico: with the express intention of shouting abuse in a northerly direction, with large glasses of tequila in our fists, Mariachi music in our ears and our faces painted for The Day of The Dead.
So, we went to Mexico for two weeks. Not to one of those resort/compounds people lock themselves away in because they think they are too good for Spain. Actual Mexico where we had to learn some lingo, eat some food that might make us ill and sleep on a bus that set off in the middle of the night to avoid the protesters who sometimes block the mountain roads. It was so bloody brilliant we spent the first week back in the UK sulking because we weren’t in Mexico anymore. We’re writing this because you should go too (or again). You should go to spite Trump, you should go to love the people, the food and the drinks (especially the drinks) and you should go because Mexico is bursting with life and noise and history and culture and is full in your face crackers.
LK: It’s a massive country – we didn’t visit the north and the border deserts of Westerns and cartel anarchy, instead starting our journey in Mexico City where the evening descent of our plane banked across its spectacular megalopolis sprawl. We stopped by in beautiful Puebla on Halloween, then onto vibrant Oaxaca for the Days of the Dead. An overnight bus trip saw us up into the Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, then moving across to the jungle howls and heat of Palenque. Another bus journey through the night delivered us to Capital of Culture Merida, finally ending up in Playa del Carmen which successfully hid its charms under sheets of torrential rain and tacky shops.

    Day of the Dead

KK: Like Jack Skellington in Nightmare Before Christmas LK and I had grown tired of being brilliant at Halloween, so thought we’d crash someone else’s festival for a change. We landed in Mexico City in time for a massive parade, inspired by the one in the recent James Bond film, Spectre. This isn’t a joke: Mexico City didn’t used to have much of a parade until the film and now it seems most of the 23 million people who live in and around the world’s busiest city head onto the streets surrounding the Zocalo to see it. Most of these people were trying to squeeze onto the same Metro as us and most of them would end up with their faces painted.
We were already frazzled because the fireworks from the night before didn’t stop going off until 8am. Fireworks, with the deep boom of a howitzer, that continually wrenched us violently out of sleep despite our being jet-lagged and quite drunk. This is our excuse for not seeing the parade at all. A couple of our new Aussie mates who are tall and who were prepared to wait for 3 hours said the parade was great. We lacked the height and the patience but later, after it got dark, we wandered through the park and marvelled at the amount of people, in elaborate costumes with intricately painted faces, whose preparation must have taken hours.
LK: Day of the Dead imagery has been increasing in Halloween celebrations elsewhere on the globe, but cultural appropriation is also happening in the other direction. Among the fluttering rainbow tissue paper garlands of skeletons in sombreros, la Catrina, and fancy skulls were floating ghosts and bright orange pumpkin designs. What this seems to have achieved is an extra day of partying before the Days of the Dead, and a three day festival in the UK for Halloween seems only fair. We fore-armed ourselves with a visit to the local confectioners before heading off into the joyful crowds in Puebla on Halloween night. Fantastically turned-out children were quick to spread the word among their friends on who to ask for sweets (very politely). A two-floor display of altars in the nearby Casa de la Cultura displayed an astounding range of painted miniature figures all brash and goth and kitsch and wow. The nearly full moon shone down on the central square and we smiled from the depths of our cobwebby hearts.
KK: For Dia de los Muertos actual we were in Oaxaca: the graveyards where the families and gawping tourists gather were closed due to earthquake damage, so the town was the party. There was no parade here or central entertainment area, just a happy strolling kaleidoscopic riot weaving through and around itself on a hot dusty night. Everything and everybody looked magical under the lights, there was music blasting out of packed cantinas, where patrons handed each other drinks across balconies. Street performances spontaneously happened, bands were just striking up and on one occasion a great crowd of people of all ages climbed onto an unused stage to start dancing. My face paint was on so thick that even after a long shower I still looked like I had failed an audition for the part of Nicky Wire in a Manic Street Preachers cover band. It was a good, if somewhat grotesque, look. Day two: 7 am and what sounded like a barrel being rolled quickly across a cobbled street turned out to be the drums warming up an entire, fevered, brass band. False endings aplenty with each re-start more frantic as revellers reeled around in the street in bizarre fancy dress. One guy was dressed up like a fat priest riding on the shoulders of a goblin – he had a bottle of beer in his hand and he looked like he was coming straight for us. He wasn’t. He wasn’t going straight anywhere.

Some History

    LK: I was delighted to drop History as a subject as soon as I could at school. Dates, kings, some boats battling other boats, ludicrous combat hats throughout the ages. And then your proper education begins and you wonder why you weren’t told about everything else in the world that was actually interesting. Mexico has plenty to keep you captivated; the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is an impressive introduction to Prehispanic cultures, but our first site visit was to Teotihuacan, around 50km outside the City. Not sure who founded it (let’s say aliens) but it went into decline over 600 years before the Aztecs came to prominence around 1300AD. One line of thinking is that an ecological disaster struck, people got hungry and died. Oh, if only we could decipher this mysterious lesson and apply it to our modern-day planet. Flat open expanses between gigantic Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon leave you with nowhere to hide from the intense sun, or the traders with squawky terracotta instruments that mimic a jaguar, albeit a poorly jaguar with a high-pitched cough.
    KK: There would be other pyramids and other archaeological sites and a diversity of quality from the guides employed to pontificate on their meanings: Juan lost us inside ten minutes by trying to tell us the big tree at El Tule definitely weighed “six thousand million kilo tonnes” so by the time we reached the Zapotec site at Mitla we had grown tired of his rambling nonsense and had entirely stopped listening. Especially as we were in the company of a former guide on our tour who used to tell Japanese tourists visiting Africa that giraffes can walk on their hind legs. Our guide at Palenque however, Francisco, helped bring the place to life, despite stifling jungle heat and LK having a fragile constitution. Like the rest of us she was eagerly scrambling over ancient, overgrown Mayan ruins (of which only 3% are actually excavated) trying to keep up with Francisco as he pointed out animals and plants amidst a tale of the rise and fall of a mighty empire. “The Skull Temple”, “The Red Queen Temple”, “The Temple of The Inscriptions” – all very Tomb Raider. If you prefer more up to date history of a slightly less guessy nature: in Puebla we visited the Museo Regional de la Revolucion where The Revolution kind of started in 1910. There are bullet holes in the wall outside from where the troops of dictator Porfirio Diaz opened fire on the family and friends of Aquiles Serdán from the nunnery across the street. Just re-opened after earthquake damage it was a beautiful and haunting experience.

    Hombres Vamos

    LK: The past reaches right into the present in Chiapas state, creating and fuelling resistance. The town of San Cristobal de las Casas was founded by the Spanish in 1528, subduing and impoverishing the rebellious indigenous population. While hardly an immediate response, San Cristobal was occupied on the first day of 1994 by the Zapatistas, seeking redistribution of resources to the poor majority and raising the issue of indigenous rights within a wider population. A nominal ceasefire was agreed in 1995 but differences rumble on.
    The Tzotzil Maya have long been subverting the Catholicism imposed on them by the Spanish occupiers by retaining traditional animist beliefs in their worship. The San Juan Chamula church has statues of saints to receive offerings, but no priests. It’s laden with copal incense and candles, but the darker the colour of the candles the more intense the purification ritual. There are no rows of pews, but an open floor covered with pine needles to clear a space for your praying area. No pure white doves, but a black chicken being waved around a suffering woman to expel evil spirits. It doesn’t end well for the chicken.

    Food & Drink

LK: But, as we should all know by now, chickens make the world go round. I was fuelled up for the start of each day by huevos that were either revueltos, a la Mexicana, or rancheros. Top work, ladies. Enchiladas smothered in either salsa verde or mole poblano were excellent lunchtime snacks. The regional dishes are rich and varied, and in Oaxaca I tried a tlayuda which is called a Oaxacan pizza but it’s actually a thin crispy tortilla filled with a mild cheese and, in this case, spicy chapulines (grasshoppers). They were crunchy and a bit peppery, and I’m only getting in some practice before we all have to start eating insects after the Trumpocalypse. The fleshy cactus leaves on blue corn tortillas in San Cristobal were definitely my favourite, and the very next day I graciously accepted a homemade tortilla filled with beans from a local family of weavers; twelve hours later not very graciously I projectile vomited it back up again in our hotel room. I lost interest in food after that for a couple of days, which meant I passed on the chance to eat carrot-flavoured ants in the Palenque jungle. Maybe they do them in Waitrose.

KK: Corona and Sol are local beers but Mexican bar folk don’t jam a lime slice in the top like we insist on. You can get flavoured Sol and one of the flavours is lime and salt: the first and last swigs taste like sea water but otherwise it really works. Unlike the Salsa flavour which tastes like fizzy Worcester Sauce and is so vile that I actually anti-shoplifted a couple of cans, in that I bought some, tried one and sneaked the others back into the fridge of the shop I’d bought them from.
A hefty shot of tequila works out at about £2 in a bar but one of the guys on our tour picked up a bottle of silver Jimador (good tequila) for £6 in a supermarket which was a stroke of genius we copied. Mescal comes from a different cactus to the ones used for tequila and it comes in many guises. I bought a litre of Montelobos from The Tequila & Mescal Museum in Mexico City because it has a cool label and got appreciative nods from the staff. We also bought Day of the Dead shot glasses and, with a little help, saw the bottle off on a Oaxaca rooftop in two nights. On a mescal tasting evening, we sampled about 15/20 different mescals ranging from rich and smoky to smooth and milky. We carefully selected our favourite and carefully transported it all the way home without breaking it and … it tastes like petrol.

What else?

    KK: Night time animals at Aluxes Ecopark Reserve – jaguars, manatees, crocodiles, tapirs, ocelots!
    LK: Frida Kahlo’s blue house – I want a house flooded with daylight and with a central courtyard filled with lush plants!
    KK: On our first night, outside Bosforo, a secret bar in Mexico City a local said to us, “This place sells the best mescal in Mexico, do you know mescal?” we said yes and thought, “everything is going to be ok”.
    LK: Metro journeys for 20 pence each, carriages so full people have their faces pushed up against the glass, exits that spit you out onto massive junctions where you can have arguments with each other about which way we need to go next.
    KK: Speed bumps on the mountain roads and sometimes absence of mountain road on the mountain road. Like, just a massive hole and a vertiginous drop that our bus driver edged round while we held our breath.
    LK: The sassy riot cop in Puebla leaning on her shield, beautifully groomed and made-up, smoking her cigarette, nowt’s a bother.
    KK: An open top tourist bus where we had to keep diving under the seat so as not to be decapitated by electrical wires or bashed in the face by tree branches.
    LK: “So basically they want £600 for a small mat?” after doing the currency calculation at a, admittedly, highly skilled weaver’s home.
    KK: I learned enough Spanish to get a haircut and a shave for £4, half of which was the tip.
    LK: The mischief in the eyes of the Mayan guy in Merida when he told us: “American are stupid, they walk around in the sun when it’s 45 degrees in May, and they are fat and they fall over.”
    KK: At the Lucha Libre, Mexico’s acrobatic, preposterous but very entertaining pantomime wrestling, one of our party cried, “That man just kicked a midget.”
    LK: Colours! Embroidered shawls, blouses, skirts all in the purple voted as next year’s trend by the women in Zinacantan. Vivid yellow and orange butterflies floating by on the breeze. Low roofed buildings in primary colours against skies so deep blue they make you want to stay.

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Savages – Norwich November 2016

Wednesday 23rd of November 2016 and The Damned played in Norwich. I first saw The Damned in 1981 on The Black Album tour and over the intervening 35 years have seen them more times than I can actually remember. Far from being a pantomime version of themselves they are a genuinely thrilling live act with a rich back catalogue of black-diamond encrusted classics. This year they filled The Royal Albert Hall so the chance to see them at the intimate Waterfront venue whilst sharing a beer with some old & very splendid friends seemed like a case of “why would we consider doing anything else?”
Wifey and I have seen Savages twice already this year (Cambridge, London) and we saw them last year as well. They were playing the same night as The Damned. Savages
We went to Savages – barely a decision to make. Savages are that good. Savages are so good that the first time we saw them Wifey (stone cold sober, tougher than most, seen most bands worth seeing) started to cry. We went to the London show with a long-time mate who pre-show dismissed them as, “a bit too Banshees a bit too Joy Division.” Post show he was a babbling, beautiful mess of awe-inspired enthusiasm. “They were fu-king brilliant!” he said. And they were and they are.
For a start, Fay is a cracking drummer all energy and sharp discipline, Ayse on bass has the perfect ability to mix effortless cool with a monstrous, floor vibrating assault and Gemma wrings such sounds out of her guitars that you find yourself looking to see who else is playing. There is no one else playing. And she does that bottom end of the fretboard torturing that made The Dead Kennedys so terrifying. They are military precision tight and (let’s not be shy about this) they look amazing. They dress in black and white, the lights (except for a pale orange glow on Adore) are only ever white spots, glows and strobes. Check out this 1½ hour clip, move it to any point and try and tell me they don’t look like they mean fucking business.
(Click here)
Right Jehnny Beth: there is no point pretending I’m not a bit in love with her. I am. And so is my wife. And so is anyone who has ever seen Savages live who isn’t horrible. Her cheek bones, her intensity, her feline grace, her speaking voice, her singing voice, her fierce confidence, her other-worldly eyes, the fact that she can be heart stopping scary and then warm and lovely with a nothing more than a hand gesture and a tilt of her head between one and the other. Savages
Jehnny Beth moulded this typical Norwich crowd: stage front was a little sparse, people were watching from the stairs around the dance floor. After starting with two killers (Shut Up / City’s Full) she said, “You’re quiet” and everybody thought, “Welcome to Norfolk”. Half an hour later she was presiding over a seething, feral, berserk mass of lads and lasses with wide grins and bursting hearts. Jehnny Beth’s crowd control is such that she can cajole one into a frenzy then stage-dive in and end up right back where she needs to be. And she can hold a silence for seconds longer than most front persons would dare. Leave a silence in a song and some dick will whistle or whoop but with a raise of a hand and a dark flicker in her eye the silence held until we all realised we weren’t even breathing. They finished with Fuckers, a ten minute monster of a song that begins as a whisper and ends in a fevered, triumphant apocalypse.
Such is the all-encompassing intensity of the Savages live experience we drove home elated via The Waterfront and it was only then I remembered that The Damned (soundtrack to most of my life) had even been in town.

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Please Buy Our “Not an actual book”

I’ve got a book available.
Well, I’ve written half of a thing that isn’t a traditional book.
And it isn’t a Furious book and it isn’t about Newcastle United much.
But I would be grateful if you bought it and I think you’ll like it. And it’s less than a fiver.

trvel book, gap year, nufc

Available Now From Amazon

It’s a travel book, it’s a book written by Wifey and I about giving up work and cars and record collections to travel. It’s about firing rockets of recklessness into our own future to live in the now and see the world while we’ve still got the strength. It’s about giving up our comfortable life and trying to climb out of our boxes and how the world really doesn’t like it when you do that. It’s about setting fire to your old life and trying to find a new one even though you don’t know where it is or what it looks like.
We travel across America from coast to coast in a very indirect fashion, we spend longer than expected on trains, we drive, we catch a bus full of weird people to Las Vegas. We drop into Central then South America then visit Australia and try living in New Zealand. We decide not to live in New Zealand so head home via South East Asia but we can’t go home because there are people living in our house. Strange people who want us to give them our house because they like it. Although it turns out they don’t like it because they think it is trying to kill them.
It’s then a book about how we try and reintegrate and how the world really doesn’t like it when you try to do that either.
Like I said, it’s not a book about Newcastle United although we deliberately and accidentally meet Newcastle fans from all over the world. We try to keep up with what was happening with our football team and see televised games when we can; so there are chapters about seeing games in a Chilean desert, at 4am in a New Zealand disco, on a massive screen in a mansion and on a tiny laptop on a Thai beach.
I wrote half of it, Wifey wrote the other half, in short sharp turns, we squabble for your amusement, we get lost, we get drunk, we have days where we feel we’ve made a terrible mistake and days where we don’t care if we did because the world is so excellent. It is bloody funny as well.
It is available from Amazon for Kindle and you can read the first seven chapters for free if you click “look inside”. I am reliably informed that you can get free Kindle apps for your phone or tablet or you can read it on your computer. No print copies yet because distribution, print and storage are a pain in the arse and bump the price right up. Also while “A Mag For All Seasons” sold thousands of copies (thank you very much) I have still got dozens of the buggers in my loft.
Yes, yes we all like the smell and feel of actual books and of browsing the shelves at Waterstones. Some of us secretly enjoy having shelves creaking under the weight of extensions of our personalities but will the complete works of George R.R. Martin fit in the pocket of your jacket or in your handbag? No they bloody won’t.
“Screw Work, Let’s Travel” by Lynn & Kriss Knights will and you’ll be glad it did. You have nothing to lose. Buy it.
Thank you.

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I Kissed A Wolf & I Liked It

A couple of days before the event Wifey asked why I hadn’t tried to guess my birthday surprise. She had been scheming for weeks and I wasn’t allowed to check communal emails without express permission, so why with only a couple of days to go wasn’t I more interested?
“Because if I guess something super awesome like hunting bears with a wolf pack, you’re going to feel you have disappointed me with anything else.” Fair enough but I had to be given more information to make sure I turned up in the correct attire: It was going to be in the Lake District so a lot of waterproof clothes. Obviously. But specifically, no jewellery, loose clothing or strong smells.
Such a shame because I do like to wander around in perfumed robes like Lord Varys from Game of Thrones when on an adventure holiday.
We agreed to leave work and get out of Norfolk before the mystery was further illuminated. We got as far as Louth: a market town in Lincolnshire, where for reasons that nobody in my almost entirely North East based family has ever adequately explained, is where I was born. Nobody in Louth recognised or remembered me. I was two years old when I left so to me the whole place has never been more than a disappointing word on my birth certificate. Perhaps 50 years later I should give it another chance.
It’s alright Louth: it’s obviously not Newcastle or New York or anywhere useful that I could apply for citizenship of to escape this idiot Brexit but we found a place (Cobbles Bar) that sold draught Estrella and had decent music playing.
“So you know you joke guessed bear hunting?” said Wifey with a twinkle in her eye. Hmmm. “It’s not that.” OK. “And you know you joke guessed running with wolves?” …. “It’s that.”
“What?” I said. “Shut Up,” I said. Then I said, “What” again while my eyes thought crying would be appropriate and my heart seemed to decide this would be a good time to actually just lurch to a halt and then explode.
Dee and Daniel run Predator Experience and they are very lovely as you ought to be when you have got the best job in the world. There are never more than 4 people on a Wolf Walk and you have to be over 16. They sent us very specific instructions about how to find them. They are just off the A590 which runs along the bottom of Lake Windermere to Ulverston where Stan Laurel was born. We stayed in Ulverston. Loved it.
The day we arrived the weather was hot and sunny. The day of the Wolf Walk it was pouring down but if you stay in The Lake District and you are not prepared for a drenching you’ve gone to the wrong place. Did Withnail & I teach us nothing? Visibility was poor as I pulled our hired jeep onto a narrow lane and stopped to look quizzically at Wifey. Was this the right place? But Wifey didn’t answer, she was looking straight past me with an expression of shock, awe and delight. I turned and behind a wall topped with a wire fence there, standing on their hind legs with their forepaws on the wall looking at us with beguiling amber eyes less than a metre away, were two massive, handsome wolves. You have to be careful not to get too cod-mystical about wolves or you end up looking like those people who seem to think wearing an Athena Art Wolf T-shirt tucked into their sweat pants while wandering around Poundland in Hartlepool makes them a bit Cherokee. However, something stirred: some deep-rooted primeval, reassuring correctness in our decision to be here.
We met Daniel and Dee and drove up into the hills where we joined the two other people on the walk and then we were formally introduced to Maska and Kajika. Maska (meaning – Strong) and Kajika (meaning – Walks Without Sound) are brothers and Canadian Timberwolves mixed with just enough Czechoslovakian Wolfdog to make them legal to keep in the UK. Wolves like to lick your hand to get to know you. They want to lick your face and if you bend down towards them they will consider this an invitation to do so. Dee gently puts her hand on their heads to ask them not to and as they recognise her as our pack’s decision maker that’s fine. Yes, “our pack” – we’re accepted into the pack now and we mustn’t wander off or they become suspicious. Wolves are not dogs, they don’t need you petting them but you stand next to one and try not to run your fingers through their thick, luscious fur and it’s impossible. It took all my feeble will power not to bend down and give Kajika a cuddle and get covered in wolf spit. Wifey and I had Kajika on a twin lead and you could feel his power as he pulled in his insistence to be at the front. Maska challenged this early on and there was a squabble with snarling and a brief fight which looked vicious but Dee and Daniel were unconcerned by it.
We walked back with Maska who was stronger but more chilled than his brother. The wolves jumped up onto the back of their station wagon which put our faces at the same height – impossible, given this opportunity, not to steal the briefest kiss.
Wolves howl for different reasons, a call to arms, communal grief or just as a celebration of the pack. Dee set them off on the latter and we all felt compelled to join in.
Some people who, like us are galloping through their 50s, start to resent the rapid accumulation of old age that a birthday represents. We have been trying to use birthdays as an excuse to try new things and not just acquire more crap for the DVD/book shelf. In this sense Wifey knocked it out of the park by organising this for us because the sense of thrilling excitement, of privilege, of the memory of smelling of wet wolf was permanently branded into us last week. Oh and you know those people who complain about getting the same stuff every year? This is a rare example of that not being such a terrible thing.

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A Drink with Karyn

In a dark cool little back street bar in Auckland, New Zealand, Wifey and I were sharing a drink with Karyn. The bar was the Lucha Lounge and Karyn was the owner/manager.
It was late, the punters had gone, the last of the staff were tidying up but Karyn had plonked a bottle of wine on the table and asked us how our travelling around the world was going. We’d travelled through North, Central and South America, Australia and we had driven all the way up from Christchurch to get to this bar. I’d rambled into an idle train of thought about always having to interact with strangers when travelling and how you keep thinking you’ve seen a familiar face when you couldn’t possibly have done. “Then we turned up here and saw you and I thought, ‘I actually do know her’”.
Karyn’s bright thoughtful eyes sparkled and she smiled as she said, “But do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Know me?”
There was a twinkle of mischief and sadness so I said, “Obviously not.”
This was 2011 we hadn’t seen Karyn since 1997.
Karyn Cullington worked at the legendary Riverside music venue in Newcastle where remarkable people came and went. Some people made more of an impact than others but there was a genuine sense of sadness when she announced that she was returning home to her native New Zealand. 14 years later she not only welcomed us into her bar but offered to lend us her spare room while we looked for somewhere to live. So we moved in with her for a couple of days where we met her then husband Christian and their cool cat Otis.
Wifey I and I fell in love with Auckland because it is an utterly excellent city and thanks to Karyn we had a local guide, interpreter and facilitator of good times. She introduced us to interesting, creative (often drunk) people, the New Zealand music scene and got us work writing and taking pictures for the local listings magazine. An instant happy life, so suitable and idyllic that we seriously considered staying, provided out of pure kindness. We offered our eternal gratitude by walking up to the Lucha Lounge through the park on a Friday evening to demand she make us one of her wicked, strong margaritas.

Karyn (on the right) with Chloe

On first meeting Karyn you could be fooled into thinking she was quiet to the point of shy but you soon realised she was funny and perceptive, with a fierce independent feminist fire. She was knowledgeable across numerous reference points of films, books and especially music, we chatted for hours, stayed up way too late way too often …
When Wifey and I finally decided we were going to head home to the UK we went out for a last drink. Karyn and Christian dropped us off at our apartment near Auckland’s Sky Tower and she looked so sad our hearts break a little whenever we think of her or Auckland – we named our summer house in Norfolk “Lucha Lounge UK” in her honour.
That twinkling sad warm smile keeps flashing into our heads just now because Christian got in touch to say that Karyn died of a heart attack in Mexico last week.
It never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t see this sweet, wonderful, generous woman again and the realisation is too, too, horrible.
There is a memorial service on Sunday and I hope it is a joyous affair because while her life was too short it was well lived and she will doubtless be remembered by all who knew her with deep, warm affection. If she provides a sharp reminder that we need regularly to tell our friends how brilliant they are then that is another positive effect she has had on the world.
We are unlikely to find the means to get to New Zealand before Sunday so we will raise a glass or six and simply be glad that she was in our lives.

Cheers mate.

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Intergalactic Nazi Punishment

BT Sport’s fresh way of covering modern football (apart from charging me more money for Champion’s League games that I have no interest in watching) includes throwing an excitable gaggle of experts at live Premiership matches. The range of this expertise stretches from former England international player, manager and religious ding-bat Glenn Hoddle, through the monotone droning of Michael Owen to the contradictory twattery of Robbie Savage. This works to the point that Savage’s idiotic squawking is somewhat diluted by Hoddle’s insightful diagnosis. Unfortunately experience has taught us that Hoddle is possibly about to start demanding we pelt disabled children with sharp rocks so I baulk heavily at the idea of agreeing with anything he says.
My preference for enjoying live football is now to put some music on, flick through my Twitter feed, cook, eat, drink and finally give up watching and plug in the Playstation. However BT have a secret weapon that has started to fascinate me in the form of refereeing insight provided by former Whistler in Chief, Howard Webb. And I can’t stress enough how much I use the term “fascinate” to really mean “terrify”, “upset” and “worry me to a point of nauseous incredulous giggling.”

Possibly some Space-Nazis

As a younger man I thought referees were egomaniacal space aliens who resented missing the Thousand Year Reich they had come to earth specifically for and, as such, were hell bent on ruining the world game as some sort of Intergalactic Nazi Punishment. A more recent theory is that referee’s arbitrarily make the rules as they go along for either their own entertainment or because they just want a easy life. Witness the second half of last season where Newcastle United could no more get a penalty than could an opposition player get sent off against them. Put simply we were seemingly safe in mid table and why live with all the fuss of sending off Manchester United’s Johnny Evans when you can just wave play on despite the offence being obvious to 52 thousand witnesses? Similarly Robert Huth should be on about five red cards this season but refs are turning a blind eye because Leicester are so much fun.
Just as I think I might be learning to manage my paranoia Howard Webb turns up, seemingly, to try and prove both theories correct. This from the recent game between Man City and Leicester: “people think refereeing is a case of judging black or white and it isn’t. Refereeing is an art form” – What? This isn’t interpretive dance – precisely what we ask of referees is for them to judge whether things are black or white with specifically designed and refined rules to help them do so. Asked to comment on the six bookable incidents involving Marouane Fellaini playing for Manchester United at St James’ Park recently Webb said, “You know what you are going to get with Marouane Fellaini,” like this made everything OK. His only criticism of match referee Mike Dean was that after the fifth foul, “he should have got Wayne Rooney to have a word with him.” Like somehow Fellaini turns up for every match like a retarded chimp who doesn’t know the rules and he has to be walked through gently or it will look like bullying one of those kids Glenn Hoddle possibly wants us to throw sharp rocks at. As Leicester’s players rattled again and again into Sergio Aguero, Webb repeated the mantra that a referee doesn’t want to be handing out yellow cards too early lest he give himself a problem later in the game. How is sending off a recidivist, serial cheat a problem for a referee – a red card is the solution and not the problem. Seeing the situation any other way is what has given us nasty players with a sense of entitlement. It’s what gave us Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand and ten years of people wondering why Wayne Rooney’s temperament was so poor.

Definitely not a Space-Nazi

Hearing Howard Webb speak confirms all the suspicions we ever had about referees, how they don’t apply the rules uniformly, how they indulge certain players and how they view their own role as fundamentally central to the entire game. The terrifying thing about Webb is that he is utterly unapologetic about this thinking – a better trained person than me might call this mindset psychopathic – but they might not – so I’m not going to say it. Nobody here is calling Howard Webb’s expert analysis of a football match “a troublesome insight into the twisted brain of a psychopathic Space-Nazi.”
Nobody said that.
What I am saying is that if he isn’t offering crazed lunacy as punditry for today’s North London derby then BT will be receiving an angry email.

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Mr Pavel Srnicek

Like many Newcastle fans I was shocked and upset to hear about the passing of former Newcastle United goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek. Coming so soon after the death of, the seemingly indestructible, Lemmy from Motorhead it is difficult to escape the feeling that another great chunk of our collective history has been tinged with sadness.

Pav was clearly a handsome and charming gentleman who appreciated and reciprocated our love for him but that affection wouldn’t be so marked if he hadn’t been a bloody good goalkeeper.

I’ll leave the proper eulogies to those who knew him but this point is relevant: Jim Smith bought Pavel but Ossie Ardiles gave him his debut during a difficult period in our history. He replaced bonkers John Burridge at the end of the 90/91 season and started between the sticks in 91/92 by which time some people had seen enough. “Worst bloody goalkeeper we’ve ever had,” a large fellow growled to me in the Gallowgate toilets after Pavel had suffered a torrid first half against another team of 2nd Division cloggers intent on roughing him up with high crosses and late challenges. This wasn’t a one-off opinion, many fans and journalists didn’t rate him.

My Garage Yesterday

“He could turn out to be one of the best,” I said, ever the optimist.
My pre-match mob of degenerates had been talking about Srnicek in the pub, one of whom, Bront, used to be a goalkeeper. So I’m not claiming this insight for myself but Bront’s view had inspired my taking this bigger, drunker guy to task.
“You can’t learn quick reactions,” Bront had said, “and this kid has got really quick reactions and he’s got the build and the agility. You can learn when to come for crosses and how to dominate your penalty area.”
It took time but Bront turned out to be right. As Srnicek’s confidence improved so did his standing with the crowd and not just with whip crack hand speed and acrobatic saves. He took a, sometimes terrifying, glee in coming out of his area to audaciously skip past inrushing forwards with the ball.

Pavel Srnicek will be fondly remembered by Newcastle United fans but he should also be remembered as proof that you don’t have to be from Newcastle or even to be English to understand Newcastle United and to be welcomed into the tribe. Hopefully an additional legacy would be the lesson that sometimes a footballer needs to be given a bit of time and patience before being prematurely written off.

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Don’t Tell us the Football Scores

Late on a Sunday night 2011 Wifey and I were wandering the streets of Salta in Argentina looking for a place to stay. At the third hostel we tried the guy we spoke to had to leave the front desk to go and see if the last remaining room was suitable for human habitation (it wasn’t, but he let us have it anyway). Spotting an unattended computer monitor I typed into the search engine to find out the football scores. Newcastle had won and the beer we bought (Quilmes – I strongly recommend it) to celebrate having secured lodgings tasted all the sweeter because of this news. In fact I struggle to think of a place we have been on the planet where we couldn’t find out any football score we were interested in. It’s called the “World Wide Web” – there is a clue in there somewhere.
Anybody, in a place civilised enough to have a working television, wanting to know the football scores can find them out in seconds. Some random busy body barking out results is no longer “a service”, it is in fact “a bloody nuisance.” Some of us actually don’t want to know and consequently telling us feels like an act of smug spite. Most football is so wearisome, pointless and boring that knowing the score before replayed highlights start is all you require to quit the game and go and do something more rewarding instead. Like looking out of a window while scratching your bum. Match of the Day is virtually unwatchable in real time anyway: we don’t need five replays of a goal scored by Stoke or West Brom and we don’t need interviews with managers who are notorious liars. The only reason to sit through unconvincing and selective analysis from the likes of Martin Keowen or Alan Shearer is because they will sometimes show chances that were inexplicably missed out of the match highlights. And nobody cares what Robbie Savage has to say about anything, ever. Hungover on a Sunday morning you can get an hour and a half Match of the Day done in around half an hour and know everything you need to know and have seen everything worth looking at.

Click to buy Kindle book. Please & thank you

I can’t be the only person who avoids the football scores to make Match of the Day more interesting (in fact I know I’m not because Wifey does it too) but you would think this was a debauched and illegal act given the amount of effort the broadcasters put in to thwart it. The BBC used to be the worst, sabotaging their own programme, by flashing the scores up on the news immediately before Match of the Day starts. This means results are exploded into your face right at the start of any recording you might have set. You can get round that by starting to watch the recording five minutes in and rewinding to the point where you see Gary Lineker’s eager welcoming face. Things get more complicated if you have any interest in watching the Saturday evening game live where BT or Sky will sometimes run the earlier results along the bottom of the screen just in case you are watching with the sound turned off.
Traditionally once you have made it into watching the highlights of a game you are safe from having the end result spoiled providing you stay off Twitter and don’t let Brian Glover know where you live. (This is an obscure yet obvious Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads joke that ignores the fact that it is not 1975 and that Brian Glover is dead). However BT recently surpassed all convention by revealing the final score of the game they were actually showing just 26 minutes into the match: The highlights of a Roma game came with an uninvited blitzkrieg of information around the screen like Sky Sports News employs. This was already vexing (to the point that I was casting flirtatious looks towards the Playstation) then they rolled the previous day’s Serie A results across the screen, including the news that Roma won 5-1. I was instantly delighted, annoyed and angry but couldn’t stop laughing at the bare-faced stupidity.
Why do BT think this sort of thing is clever technology when they should be concentrating on a red button service that means we can all fire painful jolts of electricity into Robbie Savage’s eyes whenever he says something idiotic or that directly contradicts something he said himself five minutes beforehand? As this would be every time he opens his mouth this would soon render the service painfully but satisfyingly redundant due to Mr Savage’s unfortunate death. We could then quickly move onto technology that administered a fish-based punishment beating every time Michael Owen says something obvious and boring.
BT clearly have the public’s best interests at heart: we can see this from their generous decision to televise Newcastle’s game at Bournemouth and showing it at lunchtime so nobody has to actually bother making the 720 mile trip. All I’m asking is that they and the BBC keep a bit of their public spiritedness to themselves.

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Who The Hell is Delaney Davidson?

Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s Club – 22/7/2015

Nights like this shouldn’t work. A Wednesday evening in Leytonstone, upstairs at The Ex-Servicemen’s Club where nobody is taking money on the door. The bar dispenses cheap drinks, the small stage is dressed in flowers and the “DJ” is a man playing scratched antique shellac on some sort of gramophone. Later an energetic Irish fellow who has obviously been talking non-stop for the last 55 years will collect donations for the artists by scuttling around with a vase.
All three acts are from overseas: a skinny lad from Florida singing heartfelt songs about road accidents; a Canadian cowboy wearing a preposterous Stetson hat; and a musical sorcerer from New Zealand called Delaney Davidson.Ex-Servicemen's Club Leytonstone
We saw Delaney three times during the all too brief period we spent living in New Zealand so a 220 mile round trip to see him again is virtually on our doorstep.

Our mate Karen from Auckland said of Mr Davidson, “You can’t say he is our Tom Waits.” I wouldn’t, it’s the first thing they teach you a music journalist school: Day 1, Lesson 1 – don’t say anybody is in anyway akin to any other artist because it’s lazy, despite the fact that this is how normal people communicate.

(And if you’re going to be lazy at least be accurate : Delaney is also New Zealand’s Hank Williams, John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash, although I suspect his actual influences are wildly obscure.)

No need for inaccurate comparisons in this day and age of course: now we can just cut and paste a link which actually does away with the need for music journalism at all.
This is a previous show from what looks like the same venue.

With each show presenting an unpredictable set-list, you’re guaranteed a unique, unexpected experience every time. He released his fifth album in 2014, “Swim Down Low” and I’m pretty sure he didn’t do a single track off it tonight. He just rocks up in a vintage suit with a guitar, a minimal amount of gear and weaves rich heartbreaking spells with dusty bits of country and blues melded with a junkyard art aesthetic. If you look at nothing else on the link above, go to 27.47 minutes and see what he does to the Leadbelly song, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”

He loops sounds with pedals; some as simple as a riff or tapping his guitar and then conjures layers, providing his own backing vocals, until listeners find themselves wrapped in a sonic web.
Mr Davidson is joined by a guest singer Nicole Garcia for a couple of hauntingly beautiful songs, one of which is “Macorina” – this can weird you right out here:

At 11pm our Irish compere tells Delaney he can only do two more songs. Once he finishes his lengthy rambling thank you he can’t resist inviting a last song. This turns out to be a Dante-esque tale of the Cathedral in Christchurch (Delaney’s home town) which fell over in the earthquakes, unleashing all the bad spirits in the process. It’s pushing midnight by the time we clear Leytonstone.

That’s who Delaney Davidson is: a guy who can entrance a cynical, lazy man into his beguiling world to disregard the consequences of not getting home until 2am on a week night.

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Hooray for Benefit Scroungers

We wake up to news that our Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, wants to stop the benefits of people who refuse to stop being fat or drunk or smokers. Like it’s, “right you’ve all had your fun this week shouting at super rich tax evaders, can we shift the agenda back to where I want it?”

Er… no.

Good Lizards

From The Independent (June 2014) “Just 0.7 per cent – or £1.2bn – of total benefit expenditure in 2012/13 was overpaid due to fraud. This compares with £5bn a year that the government loses through tax avoidance.”
Billions of pounds leave the country to tax havens and whatever you think about people on benefits 1. they cost us considerably less than tax evaders and 2. The money stays in the country. In fact if you consider that many benefit payments are cash injections into society’s poorest areas they are, in fact, a good thing and should be massively increased.

People who like to vilify folk on Job Seekers Allowance will point at how much the UK benefit bill amounts to but the part of the equation that they never mention is that the majority of that bill is made up of old age pension payments. This from The Guardian November 2014 –“If we include state pensions, the overall benefits bill is in excess of £150bn a year. But only about £4bn of this goes to the best-known benefit for people out of work: JSA. That’s less than 0.6% of tax revenues – and much less than goes to topping up people in low-paid jobs.”

People working hard to survive don’t like the idea of idle ball-scratchers and permanently pregnant trollops sitting about the house all day seemingly enjoying a superior life-style to them. But until we manage something close to 100 percent employment we have to live with them because most of the people out of work don’t actually like it if you take the time to ask them. Some people are fat lazy fucking idiots – they just are – and you want to force them to work? Do you want them to work with or for you? Turning up late, pretending to be ill, nipping out for a smoke, moaning about having to do anything, hiding in the toilets? Of course you don’t. But that’s what you risk if you try and bully people into jobs they don’t want to do.

I was a benefit scrounger in the golden age of benefit scrounging: the 1980s; your dole would cover food, rent, match tickets, a modest amount of beer, live music, heating and if you chose to have one, a TV licence. During that time I learnt to type, play the drums, be fuel and food efficient, sleep for 14 hours a night during the winter and really appreciate life’s tiniest luxuries. I was far from alone, most of the nation’s most important music and comedy between the 70s and 90s came from people mastering their craft at the tax payers’ expense. Look at your musical history; The Clash were on the dole, Joy Division, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, Oasis – would those bands have happened if they were all forced to work in a call centre or pick turnips all day?

Good Lizard

I appreciate times have changed considerably but what remains the same is that most people out of work, or not getting by on part-time/zero-hours contracts, do want a proper job. Many of them were turfed out of their decent jobs by the same people calling them “scroungers.” They are refugees in the Tory war on public services.
No, the emphasis has to stay on the super-rich evading their taxes and no, we won’t be waiting for the “trickle-down effect” where we let these people keep getting richer until somehow money starts seeping out of them for the good of society like George fucking Osborne, the shit-bag reptile, keeps telling us will happen. We’ve heard this claim before and experience proves it doesn’t happen.

“Ah but we used to make things in this country – manufacturing kept people in work.” Well there was a report on Radio 4 this week saying manufacturing has never been higher in this country. Problem is, two thirds of what used to be people’s jobs is now done by machines. This is the future we were promised – robots and computers doing all the work so we don’t have to, why do people have to be punished for it? We have nearly made it, just a bit more to go and nobody should have to work if they don’t want to. So double the benefits.

Bad Lizard

Double the benefits – but here is the proper clever bit. You can only have double benefits if you produce a set amount of electricity at one of the new Government Super-Gyms. The Super-Gyms are plugged into the national grid and people on bike/rowing machines and cross trainers spend up to 10 hours a week powering the massive turbines that will replace the need for coal, fracking, wind farms and nuclear energy.
People would be fitter, which eases the burden on the NHS, and because you are done with work for the week as soon as you have peddled out your quota people will have an incentive to eat better, not smoke, not be pissed on fake vodka at 10am and not sit around the house with their filthy paws down their trackie bottoms all day.

It’s such a bloody brilliant idea I can’t believe nobody has thought of it before. Unless everybody who came up with the idea before me has been killed by our lizard overlords.
I guess we will see.

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