Monday, 21 June 2010

John Terry Must Stop The Sniping and England Must Deliver This Time

The World Cup has burst into life over the past few days.  Argentina have been awesome in their first couple of games.  The Brazilians are nicely warming up to the task (despite some terrible play acting Toure for the Ivory Coast).  The Portugese dished out a seven goal thrashing to the North Koreans and, as I write this, the Spanish are playing beautifully against Honduras.

Of course, there is a flip side.  The first round of group games was stuttering - with goals at a real premium.  The French squad are imploding in a very public way.  And John Terry has decided to go on a demolition derby following our shocking performances against Algeria and the USA.

Terry needs to remember that there is more at stake than his ego.  Rather than publicly questioning the authority of the manager (and there are some decisions such as the non selection of Darren Bent and the non playing of Cole that I think Capello has got badly wrong), Terry should be focusing upon avoiding a repeat of the painfully inept display against Algeria.

We are getting to the business end of the World Cup.  England's match against Slovenia on Wednesday is a real do or die moment.  It is the time for Terry and the other England players to prove that they are worthy of wearing the badge on their chest.  A nation expects that the three lions will eventually begin to roar.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Brendan O'Neill Is Utterly Wrong About Glastonbury

Brendan O'Neill has written a fairly silly article for the Spectator this week in which he complains about Glastonbury becoming "middle aged, middle class and authoritarian."  It is fairly clear from the article that Mr O'Neill hasn't been to the Festival much in recent years.  What isn't clear is why this former writer  for Living Marxism is now earning his shillings writing Glastonbury bashing pieces for the Spectator.

I will be pretty clear about this.  I'm going to Glastonbury next week and I cannot wait.  For me, the joy of Glastonbury is the sheer diversity on offer - the mix of music, the mix of ages, the mix of all kinds of entertainment make it a Festival without comparison.  

On one day (Sunday), I can see the buzzing new band The Drums, I can see MGMT and Julian Casablancas, I can see some of the hottest new dance acts in the various dance tents, and some great new acts on the John Peel stage and other stages.  On the same day, I can also see soul legend Stevie Wonder.  

No other Festival can offer this kind of variety.  The hottest new bands want to play Glastonbury as do the most established stars (Jay Z, Neil Young and Springsteen in the past few years).  When a band plays at Glastonbury as the sun is setting, something remarkable happens that is without parallel.  That is why the variety of people and ages at Glastonbury is so great.  That is what gives the Festival its own unique charm.

There are also some absurd comments made by O'Neill in his piece, which have to be addressed.

He says: "Some say the yoof abandoned Glasto because it became too expensive, because the acts consist of boring, bloated World Music types, because there are other, smaller festivals — V, Reading — where they can watch bands their dads do not like."

Well he clearly hasn't been the soulless, sanitised, commercial festivals such as V and Reading, which (V in particular) often has far more conservative and restrictive line ups than Glastonbury.  He clearly doesn't understand that Glastonbury isn't just about "boring, bloated World Music types" nor does he understand that the 'smaller festivals' he mentions are pretty much as expensive as Glastonbury, yet offer about 10% of the Acts.  But why let the facts get in the way of an argument that panders to the prejudices of your magazine's readers?

He goes on to complain about Glastonbury becoming authoritarian.  By this, he seems to mean that they have co-operated with the Police in order to bring about a substantial reduction in on site crime or maintain the licence that allows them to run the largest and best Festival in Europe.

He then goes on to make an absurd argument.  He complains about the Glastonbury 'authorities' encouraging attendees to practise safe sex.  This is a patently absurd, attention grabbing, nonsensical criticism of any music event.

O'Neill can continue to act as the self appointed voice of young people in a right wing magazine.  While he does that, young people will continue to descend on Glastonbury, for a Festival that sells out in record numbers.  Doubtless, he will enjoy the BBC's coverage next week while the rest of us enjoy one of the greatest cultural events that Europe has to offer.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Lets Defy The Killjoys. Why I Love The World Cup

I love football and I love the World Cup. Three or four matches a day, all on terrestrial television and all at pretty convenient times for TV viewing make for football heaven. The World Cup represents a chance to see some of the finest players on the planet in action in games that will live long in the memory.

There is a real buzz of excitement about the World Cup. A buzz of a tournament that brings people together.

It is a shame that a few grumps seem to be taking it upon themselves to ruin everybody else's fun.

There are the jobsworths and killjoys who are insisting that some people take their flags of St George down from their houses, businesses, cars and vans. What a load of nonsense. This amazing event is bringing excitement to people's lives up and down the country and around the world. The snobs (who talk about patriotism but seem to dislike it unless it is of the Last Night of the Proms variety); killjoy and let everybody show their support for the national team and their national pride. I, for one, will be proudly flying the cross of St George.

And then there are the people such as Laurie Penny of the New Statesman. I'm still trying to work out whether this blog is some kind of parody. Her blog suggests that "football is commidified nationalism that excludes more than half the population." She seems to be trying to make a bizarre sociological/ political argument out of the fact that she doesn't like football.

Clearly she is the kind of 'liberal' who decides to look down on ordinary, working class people and utterly fails to understand the importance of the beautiful game to ordinary people. She would get laughed out of town if she tried to make her absurd argument in a working class pub.

If she managed to look at ordinary people in a non anthropological kind of way, she might notice how the World Cup is bringing so many people and so many communities together, of all colours and backgrounds. She may have failed to notice that kids in working class areas are inspired by the multi racial team that we have sent to South Africa.

I will leave it to the moaners to continue to moan. Like most of the rest of the population, I'm going to enjoy this feast of football.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Big Bands and Small Gigs: Great for Celebrities and Profiteering Touts

Big bands playing really small gigs are the stuff of legend. The Stones and Led Zep both played venues like the Half Moon in Putney when they were at their peak - often taking on peculiar aliases to try to put people off the scent. Bands love going back to their roots and fans love the idea of seeing their idols in a tiny venue.

This comes to mind now because it looks like the mighty Strokes are playing a gig at Dingwalls in Camden Town tonight. They have hidden behind the alias of 'Venison' and the news was mentioned on and a few other sites.

Now this is the kind of gig that big Strokes fans (myself included) would walk to the ends of the earth to see. But the question with this kind of gig is how many genuine Strokes fans were able to get tickets. The Dingwalls website was apparently down for the first 15 minutes of ticket sales - clearly unable to cope with the demand. By then, the sold out signs were up.

If this kind of gig was a genuine first come, first served gig for genuine fans that would be great. But the sad thing is that people are selling tickets for hundreds of pounds on e-bay. At the same time, I'm sure that assorted celebrities and 'industry figures' will have had no problem getting tickets.

Small gigs are great things. Sadly, however, they seem to be the preserve of celebrities and profiteering touts, rather than genuine fans.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

We Should Defy Efforts To Overturn The Ban On Commercial Whaling

It seems that the global moratorium on whaling is under threat. The Japanese are pushing for the global ban on whaling to be lifted at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in a few weeks time. Apparently, the Danes are threatening use EU rules to prevent EU states from voting for a continuation of the ban.

We should be perfectly clear about this - the global ban on whaling must continue. As this page shows, although there has been some recovery in the whale population of some species. Greenpeace say that:

"The blue whales of the Antarctic are at less than 1 percent of their original abundance, despite 40 years of complete protection. Some populations of whales are recovering but some are not.

Only one population, the East Pacific grey whale, is thought to have recovered to its original abundance, but the closely related West Pacific grey whale population is the most endangered in the world. It hovers on the edge of extinction with just over 100 remaining."

Commercial whaling led the international whale population to the brink of catastrophe and it must not be allowed to resume. If faced with a choice between our commitments to animal welfare and preserving the whale population and our commitments to the EU, then we must choose animal welfare.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Real Meaning Of The Daily Mail's Posh Test

The above is the 'posh test' that was in the Daily Mail (not a regular read of mine) on Friday. I'm pleased to say that I came out as resolutely not posh from the quiz but the questions do seem a bit daft.

Take question 4 - I like horse racing. Does that really equal posh. Does that make the guys I speak to in my local bookies posh as well?

Or question 6 - I tell people that I went to a North Eastern comprehensive school. I know that isn't what they mean and I know that some people might suggest that equates to a 'chip on shoulder' problem.

Question 8 - what if you say tea, rather than dinner or supper. If I say 'dinner' to my family in the North East I probably wouldn't be forgiven for a while. Does calling it tea earn you minus points on the 'poshometer'?

All in all, the very light hearted quiz does also incorporate the very important issue of social class. Despite people saying that class doesn't matter, and people such as Harriet Harman clearly thinking that gender and other issues matter more than class, it is clear that social class matters more than it has done for some time.

Sadly, in all too many cases, life chances are determined by the accident of birth. Witness the dominance of public schools over Parliament, the professions and the universities. The great challenge for politicians over the coming years is to break down the barriers facing people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ensure that life chances are decided based on merit rather than the accident of birth.

The Disgrace Of The Greencoat Boy

Until yesterday, the Greencoat Boy was just one of those nondescript chain pubs in central London. Generic menus, generic beers, no dartboard, no jukebox and no pool table. Overall, it is a case study in the declining uniqueness of many British pubs under the crushing impact of the massive pub chains.

That was until yesterday evening, when the pub's name was tarnished by an act of bigotry. Yesterday evening, the #greencoatboy became the biggest rending item on Twitter. A LGBT Labour group had made a group booking for the pub but were told by the barman that he would not serve them and would not have taken the booking if he knew what kin of group had made it.

And then the power of Twitter kicked in. Within minutes, political tweeters of all parties had protested about the shocking behaviour of the pub. This Facebook group was set up and gained hundreds of members within minutes. Bloggers posted the contract address for Punch Taverns and other means for action. Various means of social media made this bone-headed decision by pub management the cause of rapid activism.

That this kind of thing can happen in modern Britain is absolutely shocking. Frankly, it isn't good enough. The pub is rightly facing opprobrium from across the political spectrum.

If you do need to drink in the area where the Greencoat Boy is, you should check out 'The Speaker' or 'The Cardinal' - two very good pubs that have ten times more atmosphere than the Greencoat Boy.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Quirkiness and Magnificence of Derby Day - The World's Greatest Flat Race

Derby Day remains one of the big sporting days of the year and really sets up a tremendous sporting Summer (the World Cup is only five days away).

The misty eyed nostalgics might complain about the race being on a Saturday (it used to be held on a Wednesday and Parliament didn't sit on Derby day) but they should accept that the Derby is remaining on a Saturday and it has retained its place as a key national event.

A few years ago people were complaining that the Derby was losing its cache both in bloodstock and racing terms. A mile and a half was seen as an unattractive distance when the bloodstock world put an emphasis on speed rather than stamina. The doom-mongers told us that the Derby winners weren't as good as they used to be.

The doom-mongers have, of course, been proven entirely wrong. In the past few years we have had Derby winners that will be ranked alongside the greats. Sea The Stars last year proved that he deserves a place among racing's immortals. Galileo, High Chapparal and Authorized must surely be ranked up there with previous Derby winners.

It may not have the money of the Dubai World Cup, the razzmattaz of the Breeders' Cup or the sheer class of the Arc but the Derby offers a unique test of a racehorse, as well as a remarkable history. As Aidan O'Brien says, "The whole thoroughbred breed is about the Derby — it’s why these horses are bred."

And Derby Day itself has recovered its national cache. Epsom is buzzing on the day. 150,000 people line the Downs - a whole mixture of people from all kinds of backgrounds. A day that attracts the Duke and the dustman and feels like one great big party across the Downs.

This year might lack the obvious superstar of previous years (always too early to write off a generation of thoroughbreds) but looks a fascinating puzzle. I would love to see Bullet Train win for the great Henry Cecil. What a story that would be.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Now Is Not The Time For A Minimum Price For Alcohol

The National Institute for Health and Clinical excellence has issued a report suggesting that there should be a 'minimum price' for alcohol. In effect, they are arguing that the price of a pint of beer should increase.

This kind of idea is one that would hit the already troubled local pub and hit the responsible drinker in the pocket at a time when everybody is having to tighten their belts. I haven't seen a single reason why the responsible drinker and hard working person enjoying an occasional pint after work should be punished because of the irresponsible minority.

There is also not a single piece of evidence to suggest that a minimum price on alcohol will affect consumption - particularly amongst problem drinkers. Education about the effects of problem drinking will go much further towards solving the problem than setting an arbitrary minimum price.

38 pubs a week are closing up and down the country. In too many cases, the closure of a pub is ripping out the beating heart of a community - the place where people come together and which acts as the communal bond. A minimum price for alcohol is the last thing we need.
Click for