Sunday, June 06, 2004

The final curtain

So, Reagan's dead. Once his term of office was over, unlike dear old Maggie the man she referred to as "one of my closest political and dearest personal friends" never sounded off at every opportunity like an embarrassing cranky grandparent. In fact, I'd forgotten he was still alive. So had he, probably.
Cleaning out my closet

Sad news that Mike has decided to shut up shop at Glamorama, an SWSL favourite owing to the always-engaging music-and-book-centred content. I for one am sorry to see it go.

Incidentally, over the last few weeks and months my blogroll seems to have become an overgrown bush in desperate need of pruning. Here's a list of what appears to be dead wood:

Acerbia
Arpeggio
Blogged
Neil Grayson
The Highrise
Me(ish)
Mo Morgan
Not You, The Other One
The Pill Box
Quotes Du Jour
Rogue Semiotics
Wildly Inaccurate

Not You... I know about already, but please let me know if you have any information about whether these blogs are only temporarily suspended and likely to be brought back to life, or whether they've been abandoned for good and their authors have either given up or set up new sites (URLs appreciated!).
Text message of the day

"Y'know, without The Stooges we would never have had Busted. And music didn't mean fuck all before Busted. 'I messed my pants when we flew over France.' Classy!"

Friday, June 04, 2004

Blogwatch

Congratulations to BykerSink, who's off to 'Nam with the VSO; to Anna, who's had a short piece published in the Guardian; and to Largehearted Boy on being named daily Top Blog in the same paper.

Meanwhile: Lord Marmite of Amblongus has been on a road trip travelling about the southern states of the US on parts of what used to be Route 66; Graham of Wisdom Goof is fighting against the forces of old gimmerdom by loudly pronouncing his love of Mclusky and The Fiery Furnaces, whilst also admitting a new-found fondness for stoner rock; and He Who Cannot Be Named tries to wow his readers with tales of close encounters with members of Keane and The Ordinary Boys - less like rubbing shoulders with fame than sniffing the gusset of fame's discarded underpants.
Cultureshock

Potentially a new regular feature on SWSL, but nothing more grand than a collection of links...

Stephen Merchant of 'The Office' on the legacy of the Marx Brothers: "Born of the Great Depression, the brothers were unhinged maniacs with no roots, no ties, no responsibilities, fighting back on behalf of the disenfranchised little man. ... When MGM vice-president Irving Thalberg kept the Marxes waiting once too often, he returned to his office to find them stark naked, roasting potatoes over an open fire."

Johnny Marr talks about his love for Keith Richards, Bert Jansch, T-Rex and a whole host of psychedelic folk bands. Nice to see another former member of The Smiths make an appearance in the media, for a change...

Clem Bastow's Top 10 Songs I Hate Off Albums I Love, which includes Led Zeppelin's 'D'yer Maker' (Houses Of The Holy), The Beatles' 'Her Majesty' (Abbey Road) and Fleetwood Mac's 'Oh Daddy' (Rumours). Off the top of my head, I'd say 'Well, It's True That We Love One Another' from the last White Stripes album (utter shite) and the Peter Buck collaboration 'Estate Sale' on the Eels LP Daisies Of The Galaxy (completely pointless).

Ian Mathers on Mogwai's 'R U Still In 2 It?': "This song, and the way Aidan won’t meet your eyes, and Stuart’s whisper, and that damned inflexible progression of notes, over and over, they all mean the same thing, less mutable than death or taxes (because they can both be cheated), the one dead certainty the lyrics end on: 'I will leave you and I will miss you'." Awful title, brilliant song - that's Mogwai in a nutshell, really.

... And finally: heavy metal belly dancing.
Feel good hits of the 4th June

A long-absent friend returns...

1. 'Kiss Like Lizards' - The Icarus Line
2. 'Point Of Disgust' - Low
3. 'First Of The Gang To Die' - Morrissey
4. 'Witch Mountain Bridge' - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
5. 'Skeleton Key' - The Coral
6. 'Greet Death' - Explosions In The Sky
7. 'Wanna Be That Way' - Ikara Colt
8. 'Gigantic' - The Pixies
9. 'Ch-Ch-Check It Out' - Beastie Boys
10. 'Inbetween Days' - The Cure

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Cash cow

Several days behind the times this may be, but a post on Nick Southall's blog Auspicious Fish about the Saatchi warehouse fire reminded me of a few other things I wanted to say.

Nick wrote: "I can't help but feel that it serves him right; not because I have any malice towards Saatchi, I just think it's quite beautiful that all this art which he was treating as a pension plan, an investment, a bond, financial capitol rather than cultural documentation, has been destroyed by an airily tossed cigarette or a gas leak or whatever it was that caused the fire". Irrespective of the quality or "artistic value" of the works which were destroyed, it's disappointing to see art treated in this way. OK, Saatchi might be a very important and influential patron in the British art world, but his purchases can hardly be regarded as altruistic and directed towards sustaining and promoting these artists when their works are stuck in a warehouse and viewed as an investment, simply as something to make money out of. Saatchi seems to have been happy just to know that he owned them.

Nick continues: "I like the idea of art being temporal anyway (sculptures should be touched, paintings exposed to light + air - how things react and change and decay over time is as much what the art is about as the actual things themselves; decay is as much a part of an object as its colour or molecules or whatever), and this art, preserved, hidden, banked upon, is now the most temporal of all". Part of the reason that I have a problem with people who buy cultural artefacts as status symbols and investments is that they're so reluctant for them to be "used". Books should be read, art should be seen, music should be heard - however rare or "valuable". Placing these objects in a glass dust-free case (whether literally or metaphorically) effectively denies the possibility of deriving enjoyment from them. And this instance is worst of all - a whole host of works bought and then shut away in a warehouse. Whatever you think of Tracey Emin's tent, that's not what should a patron of the arts should do; buying is only half the responsibility, if that - it's ensuring the pieces remain on public display that really matters.
Toonnews

More blathering from Radio 5 Live's Pat Murphy in today's Birmingham Post about the prospect of Blues boss Steve Bruce taking the reins at Newcastle next summer, when Sir Bobby retires: "The chairman of Newcastle, Freddie Shepherd, has gone on record to say that the next manager will be a Geordie. Well, to the best of my knowledge Jimmy Nail, Steve Harmison and Gazza aren't available so I'm racking my brains to think of suitable candidates from that neck of the woods. But Steve Bruce qualifies." According to Murphy, Bruce's "heart is still with Newcastle. His family are from there and he goes up to watch Newcastle play whenever possible." What a load of old shite, quite frankly. Even if this was true and not just the sort of sentimental dross Brucey comes out with himself when it suits him, we (and I mean the fans here) don't want him. I'd find it very hard to warm to him, so Pete, as far as I'm concerned you can keep him. However, if as looks likely, Rafael Benitez ends up at Liverpool, then I'd be very happy to see us make a move for Alan Curbishley - sorry to say it, Inspector...

As regards incomings and outgoings, Steve Caldwell's left, and Andy Griffin's signed up at Portsmouth, while today's Mirror links us with an £8million double raid for James Beattie and Michael Carrick, two signings that I'd certainly welcome.

... And finally, commiserations to West Ham, who'll be spending at least another season in the First Division after losing Saturday's play-off final to Crystal Palace. Cursed with the SWSL blessing of good luck - sorry Kenny.
"I'm the only comedian qualified to navigate a supertanker"

Yes, it's that man Peter Baynham again, this time talking to the Independent. There's plenty of interest, not least more comments about his current SWSL approved series 'I Am Not An Animal': "[The animals] don't exactly do what their liberators would want them to do, which is to go back to the wild and tear off their clothes. After living on food like wild-mushroom risotto, they're not really prepared for seeing things like birds eating worms."

(Thanks to Tobi for the tip-off.)
Quote of the day

"The opportunity to drive a golf ball down a street in Shoreditch, near the City of London, was too good to miss. This would have been the case on any day of the year, quite frankly, as creaming one straight down the middle would give you above average odds of smacking a low-quality artist clean between the eyes."

Scott Murray writing in yesterday's Guardian about the Shoreditch Urban Open.
"Oh Jesus, I'm never drinking ever again..."

Courtesy of The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha! comes a link to an invaluable internet resource for anyone who, like myself, often finds themselves incapacitated for days at a time after protracted drinking sessions. Happy boozing!
You WHAT?!!

painting of woman with pushchair at the seaside
world's loudest taxis
barnsley naked gnomes
smiths hand in glove fisting
the grim reaper eats fudge

Sorry people, I can't help you. Therapy probably can, though.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Blogwatch

Missing: Not You, The Other One. Sarah and her site (a SWSL fave) seem to have gone AWOL. Anyone who has any information is requested to come forward. Reward: my gratitude.

Deep breath...

Casino Avenue is the place to be for profiles of the prospective candidates in the London mayoral elections; a league table of the most linked UK blogs is up on Troubled Diva, itself a big hitter - incidentally SWSL rather likes being a minnow in the cyberocean, thank you very much, and there's no envy here, oh no, for links and hits bring pressure to produce, my friends; Mike of Glamorama is indulging in an orgy of excitement ahead of the release of the new Libertines LP (ditto Phil of Danger! High Postage as regards PJ Harvey's new album); Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey remembers ex-Newcastle-and-now-of-Portsmouth defender Andy Griffin's time on Tyneside by dredging up the story about the time he crashed his car into a Metro train; and Jonny's got a few issues with New Labour and hoovers.

... And finally: best of luck to Kenny's beloved West Ham in Saturday's First Division play-off final. It'd be good to see the Hammers back in the Premiership again, if only so we can take from them the six points they surely owe us for dumping Bowyer on our wage bill last summer...
Flaming 'Hell'

May I be the first to start the conspiracy theories about the Saatchi art warehouse fire? Jake Chapman, whose piece 'Hell' is one of many to have been destroyed, told the Evening Standard: "I hold God personally responsible and, on a scale of one to 10 of how annoyed I am, I'd say about 11." Nope, God had nothing to do with it, and neither did anyone from the Daily Mail. Personally, I'm more inclined to believe it was a brilliant K Foundation stunt, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond seizing the opportunity to send a whopping £50m up in smoke, rather than just the paltry £1m they burnt in 1994, and passing critical comment on the Brit art scene in the process...
Quote of the day

"In many ways, Nasser Hussain's retirement from all cricket is absolutely typical - it was something most people in his position simply wouldn't do."

BBC cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew on former England captain Nasser Hussain's decision to retire from the game with immediate effect. He certainly went out in style, scoring a brilliant century on Monday to propel England to victory in the first test against New Zealand.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Pigeon's treat

The mottled grey pigeon tottered over to the gutter. Evidently a more discerning gastronome than his fellow feathered friends, he (I'm assuming here...) seemed desperate to find something more nourishing than the usual fare of flattened and scuffed cigarette butts and the unsavoury half-eaten remnants spilt out of McDonald's wrappers and cartons onto the tarmac. Dipping and bobbing his head he pecked and picked, pecked and picked, tossing bits of roadside detritus into the air with a dismissive flick of his beak before tottering on to peck and pick some more.

And then, after an extended forage, he raised his head up once more, his ungainly totter suddenly morphing into a confident strut, as he triumphantly held up high in his beak for all to see the sweet spoils of success : a scabbed and withered pigeon's foot.

It's a bird eat bird world out there.
Viva hate?

There was one reason to watch 'Later With Jools Holland' on Friday night.

It wasn't for The Ordinary Boys - predictably, they were ordinary (note to anyone who's smitten by them: listen to The Futureheads). It wasn't for The Beta Band - despite Nick's enthusiastic endorsement of their latest LP I found it hard to muster any kind of appreciation. And it certainly wasn't for the ivory-tinkling tosspiece of a presenter.

No, it was for the appearance of Mr Steven Patrick Morrissey. The three songs he and his band played from the new album - the single 'Irish Blood, English Heart' plus 'First Of The Gang To Die' and 'Let Me Kiss You' - are all decent without stunning you into submission, and my interest had wavered to the point of switching over by the time they wrapped things up with The Smiths' 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' (curses!).

But it was as one of the piano-stool-interview victims that Morrissey was at his wilfully awkward and entertainingly obnoxious best, refusing to engage in any kind of matey bonhomie with Holland and coming out with some wonderfully acidic observations. He claimed that Los Angeles is "a very pleasant place, as long as you don't meet people", and in response to Holland's suggestion "You look like you could be a politician", he said curtly "I've never been so insulted". Even better was his immediate riposte to the rhetorical question "Can you think of a better show to be on than this?": "'Badger Watch'."

I couldn't help thinking that someone involved in the making of the programme has a mischevious sense of humour, putting the man who once told NME "Reggae is vile" on the same show as a trio of reggae artists including Junior Murvin. The fact that he also called it "the most racist music in the entire world. It's an absolute glorification of black supremacy" might explain why he has his own fanpage on a white supremacist website. The kindest thing you could possibly say is that what he says (and sings) often leaves him open to misinterpretation along these lines, and you have to wonder about someone who is revered by people who despise Cromwell for letting Jews back into the country and who are so detached from reality as to believe that New Labour is a "thinly-disguised Communist farrago". Morrissey's refusal to distance himself from any of this hardly helps matters.
In denial

On the subject of "white power", I was disappointed to see that the BNP's Nick Griffin made an appearance in Nottingham on Saturday. It seems as though this is part of a campaign aimed at stirring up trouble in advance of the Euro elections next month. A friend and his Asian girlfriend who live in Ilkeston, a place where racial tensions have flared up in the past, had a BNP flyer through their door the other day. The picture was of the party's prospective candidate for the area, surrounded by his family and holding his baby boy. Above the child's head it read: "Daddy's not a racist". As far as cogent denials go, that's pathetic. You can dress it up all you like, but under that suit-wearing family man image it's the same old poisonous prejudice.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Enough is enough

Every day seems to bring more photos of abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison at the hands of the American forces, and today is no exception. From the Guardian report: "Guy Womack, a lawyer for specialist Graner [an American military police officer], told ABC News the photo of his client represented 'gallows humour'." The photo in question shows this particular officer stood over a corpse giving the ubiquitous thumbs up signal, a broad grin on his face. The sheer grotesquery of it all beggars belief, as does the news that more than 40 civilians attending a wedding party have been killed by US forces. Surely Bush, Blair and their allies must by now realise their actions and current stance are indefensible?
Be thankful for small mercies: Part two

Perhaps on reflection it was a good thing that we exited the UEFA Cup at the semi-final stage, given the ease with which newly-crowned Spanish champions Valencia disposed of our conquerors Marseille in last night's final. We could have made it to Gothenburg, got our hopes up and then seen them dashed in spectacular style by the likes of Mista, Baraja and Vicente. Still, it might have been nice to at least have had the chance to win the trophy.

On the transfer front, it's still fairly quiet. Griffin's off to Portsmouth, and we seem content to sit around watching Birmingham sign a proven England international striker and Everton bid for Alan Smith. Not a cat in hell's chance of either of those two clubs winning anything next season, but they still seem to have ambitions - whereas we just have delusions of grandeur. Not only do we need significant signings to strenghten the squad, we need them to provide a bit of a spark and reignite a sense of excitement and optimism about our prospects for next season. As it stands, Shearer and Speed aren't getting any younger, and the more youthful members of the squad have hardly shown they're capable of taking the club forwards.
Wild things

Just as I'd hoped. After an uncertain start last week, the second episode of Peter Baynham's 'I Am Not An Animal' saw the series hit full stride. With hindsight the opening episode was there purely to establish the premises behind the show, so Monday's installment, which opened with the animals finding themselves outside the laboratory for the first time, effectively marked the real beginning of the series. The satire seemed sharper and the script tighter. Highlights included the Coogan-voiced horse Philip looking down his very long and middle class nose at the concept of steak and kidney pie in a tin, and the monkey Hugh wanking over ten pound notes ("I've found some bare lady pictures! Very soft stuff - just ladies' faces."). The confused animals' attempts to come to terms with the real world were priceless, Philip claiming they must be in some kind of horrible future where animals go around naked and are the slaves of humans, and it is only the latter who are free to practise film criticism.
Know Your Enemy #43

"Of course, anyone expecting a new Smiths album from this was always going to be disappointed. However, anyone expecting a good album from it is going to be disappointed as well. What we have is a man entering middle age, motivated solely by vengeance, and no desire to make good music any more. Yep, we hate it when our friends are AOR."

Reviewing Morrissey's new LP You Are The Quarry, Dom Passantino of Stylus reaches a similar sad conclusion as the Guardian's Alexis Petridis.
Quote of the day

"When the Grim Reaper swings his scythe, it's no use ducking."

Fred Elliott on 'Coronation Street'. And to think that this decent and noble philosopher is about to be duped out of loads of his hard-earned cash by some scheming harpy - it makes me sick to my stomach, I say sick to my stomach.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Be thankful for small mercies

From the SWSL report of Wednesday's match with Southampton: "Two minutes into stoppage time, Robert picked out Ambrose from a corner and the youngster fired in from distance, but an equaliser wasn't what we needed or craved". In the event, that equaliser turned out to be priceless.

Going into the final round of Premiership games this season I didn't hold out much hope of us scraping into the UEFA Cup. We had to do better away to Liverpool than Villa did at home to Man Utd. Our Premiership record at Anfield is appalling, we're still suffering from something of an injury crisis and I was fully expecting Ferguson to rest players ahead of next weekend's FA Cup Final, giving Villa an easier ride.

Consequently we owe Man Utd a grudging thank you (through particularly gritted teeth in my case). Except for Roy Keane they were at full strength and set about a shellshocked Villa with more relish that we could possibly have hoped for, goals from Ronaldo and Ol' Horseface putting them two up inside the first ten minutes. That's how it stayed for the rest of the game - even though referee Rob Styles did his best to coax Villa into life by sending off Darren Fletcher and Ronaldo, the effort they (and the crowd) managed to muster up was pretty laughable given the prize at stake.

Of course, defeat for O'Leary's side would have been irrelevant if we had lost too, but Ameobi latched onto the end of a Bowyer pass to finish calmly and put us 1-0 up over Liverpool at the break. Unfortunately, in the second half Michael Owen failed to break his habit of scoring against us and made the closing stages rather cagey and nervous, but ultimately we held out to secure a draw, and relief was etched on the faces of the two embracing managers at the final whistle. The result put us level with Villa on 56 points, but our far superior goal difference took us above them into fifth. Of course, had Ambrose not snatched us a draw from the game at St Mary's we would have been the disappointed ones.

So, where does this leave us? We secured European football by the skin of our teeth, and given that we've never really hit form as a team and certain players (Jenas, Bowyer, Viana, Dyer...) have been off the pace all season, that the teams above us all have arguably better squads, and that our away record has been appalling, that outcome and the UEFA Cup run have to regarded as positive achievements. But not for long.

We simply cannot expect to finish as high up the league again whilst playing so poorly. After finishing fourth and then third in the previous two seasons, we've taken a step back in more ways than one. There's a sense of simmering unrest at the club, and that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. As Fat Freddie Shepherd has said, "A fifth place finish is not acceptable for us. Fourth place was the bare minimum. This summer we will have to look at everything from top to bottom." Not only does that mean that the future of several players is uncertain (Griffin, Caldwell and Kerr, plus reserve regulars Zola, Ferrell and Orr have all already been released), but Sir Bobby himself finds himself on shaky ground. Although UEFA Cup qualification at least means there should be some money available and some incentive to help attract the sort of big names who can take the club out of the current stagnation, it's perhaps more important that we fend off the money-laden vultures that are circling around a number of first teamers, Woodgate in particular - now arguably our most important player ahead of Shearer.

Rest assured it's going to be an interesting couple of months, but let's hope that we can learn from this season's disappointments and then come back in August reinvigorated and with renewed hope and belief.

(Read Paul's thoughts on the end-of-season climax and the prospects for this summer here.)
Blogwatch: in brief

Much of interest on the subject of politics: BykerSink of It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware has been discussing the relevance of the old labels "left" and "right"; Inspector Sands of Casino Avenue and Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey offer their thoughts in the wake of Piers Morgan's departure from the Mirror following the publication of the faked Iraq abuse photographs; and Lord Marmite of Amblongus continues to pick his way carefully and critically through the fog of right-wing rhetoric in the build-up to the American presidential elections.

On a completely different note, Troubled Diva is intoxicated with Eurovision, while Matthew of Fluxblog is dedicating this week to posting music tracks by Brighton-based artists - of interest to Jonathan of Assistant, perhaps?
Respect due

Only the most mean-spirited of fans could fail to be impressed by Arsenal remaining unbeaten all season. Along the way they've played some unbelievable football, and in Henry they've had the league's outstanding performer by far. Consequently it's a source of some consoling pride that two of our best performances of the season came against the Gunners - a shut-out at St James's last month and a narrow defeat at Highbury earlier in the season, when three stupid mistakes from Newcastle players proved the difference between the sides. Of course, by that I mean the difference between the sides on the day - over the course of the season the gulf in class has been huge, as our pre-season aspirations of challenging for the title were made to look rather foolish.

Here's Kevin Mitchell of the Observer on Arsenal's triumph:

"When Preston's Invincibles performed their historic feat in 1888-89, a club playing at Plumstead Common in south London by the name of Royal Arsenal were just two and a half years old. At the time, football was played with no nets, no crossbars, no penalties, the goalkeeper was allowed to use his hands anywhere on the pitch and it was not even necessary for players on the same team to wear the same coloured shirts. Preston's run, over 16 games fewer, deserves to be acknowledged, but Arsenal's is an immeasurably greater achievement."

OK, that's enough of the niceties: Ashley Cole is still a cheating git, and keep your filthy hands off Woodgate!
Quote of the day

"Under her real name of Katie Price, [Jordan] has knocked fellow Brighton resident Lynne Truss off the top of the Sunday Times bestseller list. Ironically, the title of Truss's study of the apostrophe and proper punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, could have been a chapter heading for one of Price's tales of sexual encounters with footballers such as Teddy Sheringham and Dwight Yorke."

Maurice Chittenden writing in the Sunday Times.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Champions' League, we were having a laugh

Southampton 3-3 Newcastle. One for the neutral, as they say. Not one for the Newcastle fan, for whom the result made the extremely slim possibility of Champions' League qualification vanish in a puff of smoke.

In truth, despite the disappointment that greeted the final whistle, this was very far from being a poor performance. Following the disaster against Wolves I was looking for guts and fighting spirit, and that's what we had in spades at St Mary's - but our luck was most definitely out.

Ameobi opened the scoring after just seven minutes, making use of his size and strength to hold off Claus Lundekvam and then crash a shot into the bottom left corner. We survived a couple of scares before slack defending allowed Saints to get a shot in which Given could only parry straight into the path of the malingering Beattie three yards out - 1-1. The match ebbed and flowed with chances coming at both ends, Dyer causing problems on his return from injury, and then a few minutes before half-time Ameobi escaped a defender on the left and pulled the ball back for the onrushing Bowyer to fire in a left-footed shot for his second goal in two games. Sadly, once again the celebrations were short-lived, and once again we let ourselves down with some horrible kamikaze defending. A cross came in from the Newcastle left, Caldwell sliced his attempted clearance, Bramble stuck out a knee and the ball flew past Given. The half-time whistle came, leaving me to reflect on the fact that, despite Caldwell and Bramble playing like they'd never set foot on a football pitch before let alone played with each other, we still had a good chance of snatching the vital three points.

The players evidently felt the same, coming out for the second period and battering the Southampton goal with chance after chance. Caldwell hit the crossbar with a header, while Ambrose's brilliant long-range shot also rattled the woodwork. Before the match I'd rubbed my hands optimistically when I found out that Antti Niemi, probably the best keeper in the Premiership this season, was out injured and his replacement Alan Blayney was making his debut - but, of course, sod's law would have it that the rookie had an absolute blinder, denying Ameobi and Bowyer as well as an unbelievable save from a Shearer header. Though there were still occasional flashes of danger at the other end (Given pulled off a fine diving save to deny Fernandes), our defence looked more solid and the momentum was with us.

But time dragged on and, with only a few minutes remaining, as we desperately sought a winner, Saints substitute Leandre Griffit escaped Bernard's attention and slipped the ball through Given's legs into the net. For the most part we've got what we've deserved this season, but not this time - it was a cruel, cruel blow. Two minutes into stoppage time, Robert picked out Ambrose from a corner and the youngster fired in from distance, but an equaliser wasn't what we needed or craved.

To be honest, our chances of grabbing the fourth spot had effectively evaporated before Wednesday night - the appalling Wolves draw, lacklustre defeats to Spurs, Bolton and Man City, and all those points dropped late on at Birmingham, Blackburn and Portsmouth have cost us dear. Over the whole season we simply weren't good enough. Now we have to pick ourselves up, get a result at Liverpool and hope (and pray) that Man Utd do us a favour by beating Villa so we can sneak into the UEFA Cup at the last available moment. European football is imperative if we want to strengthen (or rebuild?) the side with players of the calibre of Smith, Kezman and Beattie, all of whom I'd love to see on Tyneside. If we can't steal fifth place, then it could be a quiet summer as we watch the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool put more distance between themselves and us via their dealings in the transfer market. We don't want to go the way of Leeds, but perhaps it needs another leap of faith on the part of the board - the sort of leap they took in splashing out on Robert and Bellamy three years ago.
"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum"

"Waiting is also a place: it is wherever you wait. For me it's this room. I am a blank, here, between parentheses. Between other people."

I'd forgotten just how good a novel Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' is. If you can set to one side the apparently inconsistent circumstantial details that occasionally render her vision of the future puzzling or even incoherent, it's evocative, poetic, horrifying, acid and beautifully written. And a damn sight better than the Harold Pinter scripted silver screen version, with its clumsy feminism, wooden acting, irredeemably goofy lines and gratuitous plot alterations. However, as this commentary suggests, there is a problem with the novel in the sense that its dystopian world seems to implicitly and contrastively endorse contemporary America as some sort of feminist utopia - and that's questionable, to say the very least.

Links:
An interview with Atwood about her novel.
Further links relating to Atwood and / or 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
Animal magic?

Was anyone else left a little bit underwhelmed by the first episode of 'I Am Not An Animal' on Monday night? On paper, the animated series promises much. Written by Peter Baynham and produced by Steve Coogan and Henry Normal's production company Baby Cow, it features the voices of a stellar cast of comedy talent: Kevin Eldon, Amelia Bulmore, Julia Davis, Simon Pegg, Arthur Mathews and Coogan himself. True, there were moments of brilliance, but overall it felt a bit flat and tame - not much more than 'Creature Comforts' with a slightly darker edge. Still, it probably just needs time to bed in.

Links:
Peter Baynham defends his creation from the charge of getting laughs out of vivisection.
Henry Normal talks to the Times about the series and the current frenzy of activity at Baby Cow.
The Might Boosh, written by and starring surrealist fuck-ups Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett (both of whom contributed to 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace') - another Baby Cow production which hits BBC3 next week.
Heaven knows I'm miserable now

"Morrissey fans expect to be shocked by what he has to say. He once bravely led the listener to places that pop music never dared venture before: this way, please, for child murder, regicide and the world-view of a racist football thug. Morrissey fans are certainly likely to be shocked by 'America Is Not The World', which takes four minutes to deliver the excoriating announcement that some Americans are overweight and that George Bush's foreign policy may not be entirely motivated by altruism. You can't help feeling deflated. Morrissey broke a seven-year silence in order to state the blindingly obvious? It is the first sign that his comeback may rest on shakier foundations than was first thought."

Alexis Petridis has a few harsh words for Morrissey's new LP You Are The Quarry.
Quote of the day

"The Unconscious will always expose itself. If the British tabloid press shows the nation's unconscious mind at work - a bubbling pit of prurience and anxiety - then the Hollywood block-buster reveals the deepest fantasies and paranoia of the American psyche. Either way, it's probably better to have our monsters oozing towards us across the sitting-room floor than bottled up in the basements of our minds."

Who else but J G Ballard, writing in the Guardian about American disaster movies as 'The Day After Tomorrow' prepares to hit our screens. Which reminds me: having enjoyed 'Super-Cannes', I must get round to reading the other novels in Ballard's trilogy, 'Cocaine Nights' and 'Millenium People'.
A helping hand

Another new kid on the SWSL block: Assistant, a Brighton-based blog written by a chap named Jonathan.

(Thanks to Kenny of Parallax View for the link.)

Monday, May 10, 2004

What's happened?!!

Aaaarggghhh! Blogger's changed. I fear change. I'm confused. Give me a couple of months and I might have got it figured out.
Reflections

The second week of our season, way back in late August, was an unmitigated disaster. Defeat by Man Utd was followed by the crushing blow of failure in the second leg of our Champions’ League qualifier against Partizan Belgrade, and then by an unforgivably limp display against Birmingham resulting in a third straight loss at St James’s Park.

Now, as the second last week of our season is over, it’s clear that the nightmare has repeated itself. Almost a complete mirror image in terms of woeful inadequacy on the pitch and soul-destroying results for the fans. After the tame 1-0 defeat at Man City came Thursday’s devastating exit from the UEFA Cup, and now the embarrassment of an appalling home draw with Wolves that leaves our already slender Champions’ League hopes hanging by the thinnest of threads.

Sunday’s game was always going to be about how we would react to the pain and anguish of the Marseille result. And the answer seemed to be with casual indifference and indolence. Bowyer, who replaced Viana in the starting line-up after the Portuguese midfielder’s dreadful performance in France, got on the end of an Ameobi cross late in the first half to notch his first goal for the club – indeed, his first for 18 months. Otherwise we huffed and puffed but failed to blow in the defences of one of the weakest teams in the division, whilst at the same time allowing their forwards occasional sights of goal. At the interval, though, we had the lead and the three points were all that mattered.

However, the second half followed a depressingly familiar pattern. Laziness and sloppiness crept in, Robert being the most conspicuous but by no means only culprit, Speed was left to cope with the opposition midfield single-handedly and our defence began to wobble spectacularly. The one-time whipping boys relished the opportunity to get their hands on the whip, and Wolves came closer and closer to scoring until substitute Vio Ganea finally put the ball in the net with 20 minutes to go and with Carl Cort standing in a suspiciously offside position – if he’s distracting Given then surely he’s interfering with play?! Though we were still creating chances too, at that point they looked like the most likely winners, but much-needed help arrived with only seven minutes remaining in the form of a dubious penalty award from referee Matt Messias. On this occasion, though, even Shearer couldn’t save us, his spot-kick repelled by Wolves keeper Paul Jones who was having an inspired second half. In a desperate attempt to make amends, the skipper produced a couple of powerful efforts, but it wasn’t to be and our final home game of the season ended all square amidst a cacophony of boos (indefensible, even for displays this pathetic).

Unlike on Thursday night, this time our current injury list cannot be used as an excuse – quite simply, the players we did have on the pitch were more than capable of getting the win we needed at home to already-relegated opposition, and their failure to do so is not only a damning indictment of their collective desire and drive, but also an incomprehensible disappointment given the spirited win over Chelsea just two weeks ago. It’s time some of them woke up to reality, took a good hard look in the mirror and realised that they’re not the footballing geniuses they believe themselves to be and that they don’t deserve any kind of success by right.

The draw feels even more like a defeat when you take into account the manner of Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Birmingham, free-flowing and clinical, and Villa’s hardworking determination in gaining a point at Southampton. We were spared the ultimate humiliation of defeat because Wolves didn’t quite follow the script to the letter – the team without an away win in any competition all season didn’t snatch all three points and Cort didn’t grab the winner against the side who paid £7m for him to make 28 appearances in three and a half years – but the point “earned” can only prolong the agony by giving fans hope that we can record back-to-back away victories over Southampton and Liverpool in the next week and pip the Scousers to the Champions’ League post. As a pessimist – or should I say perpetually disappointed and demoralised realist? – I assess the chances of this happening as slim to zero.

Right, you gutless clowns – it’s up to you to prove me wrong.

For Paul's rather more upbeat assessment of the match, click here.

(Alan Hansen on our current plight. Though I was fearing the worst, he's actually quite kind - he obviously hasn't been watching too many of our games this season. You could count the number of top-draw team performances on one hand.)
Thank you for the music

Sean O'Hagan in the Guardian on the fifty most significant moments in pop history. It's a list. You know you love 'em.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

French kiss of death

On Thursday night in the Stade Velodrome the sky really did fall in on our season. Alas, it just wasn’t to be.

Quite simply, we were Drogfucked. Didier Drogba, Marseille’s most impressive performer during the first leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final at St James’s Park, had another outstanding game, scoring once in each half to propel his side into an encounter with Spanish league leaders Valencia in the final and leave us down and out.

Most of the details of the match are hazy, recollected only dimly through the alcoholic fug, but the overriding impression of our first half display was that we simply carried on where we left off against Man City: lethargic, anaemic, spineless – the sort of performance that communicates nothing but white flag waving. I may have feared for our chances going into the game, but the players themselves seemed convinced of their own inferior quality. Given did as much as could be expected of him, Shearer battled manfully up front and Speed did his best to stem the flow of the Marseille midfield – but on a night when we were deprived of key players and so already knew that vital contributions were needed all over the pitch, three displays of modest conviction and effort was never going to be enough. And the less said about Viana and Robert the better. Drogba grabbed the only goal of the half after making a lightning break following a Newcastle free-kick that was knocked clear, beating Hughes with power and skill before slotting past Given.

Thankfully there was a marked improvement in the second half, Ameobi causing a few problems and a few chances going begging. Going into the last ten minutes, the score was still only 1-0, and we knew that an equaliser would probably be the killer blow – but only the most blinkered Newcastle fan could possibly argue that we deserved to get back onto level terms. For the most part Shearer and Ameobi had been well-marshalled by a strong Marseille defence, their midfield had been fluent with the ball and combative without it, and Drogba posed a constant threat up front. Just when the French side were getting jittery about the possibility of a fatal equaliser, O’Brien allowed Drogba to wheel away from him at a free-kick and fire home the decisive second unchallenged. The dream was not so much dead, as lying stretched out in a wooden box six feet under.

Of course there will always be a host of if onlys: if only Ameobi and Speed had taken very presentable chances in the home leg, if only we’d been able to field something approaching our strongest team – Woodgate’s importance to the side is underlined more strongly with every game he misses, Dyer’s energy and attacking intent might have made a crucial difference in midfield, Bellamy’s pace could have unsettled their central defensive pair… But the truth of the matter is that on the night the better team won. That much can’t be denied.

Not that that makes the pain of defeat any easier to bear. Heads were in hands once again, a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh not enough. 2004 – another year in the litany of so-near-yet-so-far catastrophes the fans have had to endure since the Fairs Cup glory of 1969, eight years before I was born. 1974 – FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool. 1976 – League Cup final defeat to Man City. 1995-1996 – 1st place in the Premiership conceded to Man Utd after holding a 15 point lead. 1996-1997 – 2nd to Man Utd in the Premiership again. 1998 – FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal. 1999 – FA Cup final defeat to Man Utd. 2000 – FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea. How much longer must we wait for success? How much more ignominy can we take?

(To read Paul's thoughts on the whole sorry charade, click here.)
"Benjamin is nobody's friend. If Benjamin were an ice cream flavour, he'd be pralines, and dick"

The latest installment of Stylus's I Love The 1990s series, with occasional contributions from yours truly. This week, 1992.

Part One: the grunge breakthrough, Disney's 'Aladdin', Kriss Kross, US presidential election race, 'Beverly Hills 90210', 'Melrose Place'
Part Two: Pavement - Slanted And Enchanted, Barney The Dinosaur, 'The Mighty Ducks', 'I Will Always Love You' - Whitney Houston
Part Three: Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, 'Basic Instinct', 'Home Improvement', booty anthems
Part Four: 'Wayne's World', 'I'm Too Sexy' - Right Said Fred, the Goosebumps series, alternative rap
Part Five: Douglas Coupland's 'Generation X', grunge fashion, 'Singles', Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Madonna's 'Sex', 'The Simpsons'