Thursday 29 April 2010

She thinks 50 sounds unimaginably old. Trouble is, so do I!

50 years old minus 17 days and counting. Never had a problem with big number birthdays before. In the past I've always managed to sniff at the crassness of this arbitrary numerical human construct. Or simply just not given a damn, depending on my need for fewer syllables.

Not this time though. ‘Tis wrecking my head in a minor way.

Seeking consolation and the wisdom of experience, I emailed my friend Jon, who passed 50 last year, asking how it was for him.

Jon offered the following cheery observation:

“I think 50 is a bit tricky because if you have my miserabilist tendencies it’s easy to reflect that you haven’t got that much to show for the preceding years ... and yet the future must hold less rather than more than what’s gone before.”

Thanks mate. Self pity has never been my style, so refusing to drown in a sea of melancholy alone at home, I head into town, where I start chatting to a young American backpacker lass sitting outside The Quays.

She offers consolation as only a young person can:

“50? Wow! Like like wow wow wow! I just can’t imagine what it’s like to be that old. What’s it feel like? Hey, you know, you should really tweet about it.”

I bite my tongue which is dying to point out that my making a half century is hardly a newsworthy event. Several others on this planet have turned 50 too; just none that this lass had ever spoken to.

“What’s it like?” she persists.

Well, nearing 50 means I know what twitter means, but I don’t feel any desire whatsoever to tweet. My 'social networking' consists these days of such radical notions as talking to living breathing people who are standing in front of me, as well as talking on the phone, which is my Jewish imperative.

Oh, and texting, of course.

Aha! Yes! Of course! I have an answer for her.

“What’s it like nearing 50? Well, it’s like when you’ve been using predictive text on your mobile phone for 5 years and only just discovered last week that when you put a full stop into it.s or their.s or somebody.s name, you don’t actually need to press and twiddle the changy letter button round until it becomes an apostrophe.

"Nearing 50 is feeling quietly happy and smug that you’ve finally discovered that it changes to an apostrophe all on its own, and yes, of course YOU all knew that years ago, but I didn’t."

She has heard enough of my nonsensical ramblings and moves on to talk to a rugged yoof wearing a Palestinian scarf, evidently this year's 'Must Have' fashion item.

Nearing 50 is feeling silently proud that you’ve finally caught up with 10 year-old technology. But equally, nearing 50 means that such tiny quiet discoveries turn into minor victories, to be sniggered at by one’s self at home, when nobody’s looking.

"Enjoy your feelings of immortality" I yell after her, as I swing my aching old leg over the chair and hobble homewards. Nearing 50 is being happy to settle for staying vaguely in touch, rather than seeking the cutting edge.

In the 1970’s I ripped the heart out of my teenage years, taking every illicit substance London had to offer, while seeing every hot band play live before they’d even scored a mention in the NME. I travelled around the world in my 20’s and then went around it again in my 30’s, finally finding my home in my 40’s.

I didn’t waste a single day.

Now my knee hurts.

Friday 23 April 2010

Maybe Tayto can give the Irish a flavour for the World Cup!

It’s great when you knowingly and willingly fall for blatant marketing ploys, so it was with relish that I bought two packets of Walkers crisps, solely because they offered the chance to try a jolly-looking range of ‘World Cup flavours’.

Walkers crisps don’t have the same cachet in English culture as Taytos do in Irish, because we grew up with Golden Wonder, which were much more like Taytos in consistency, but inasmuch as Cheese and Onion is the default Tayto flavour, so we Brits fall for Walkers Salt and Vinegar every time. Except, of course, when they are pumping our heads full of marketing nonsense, and making the packets look like the national flags of footballing nations who qualified for this summer's World Cup.

So when himself The Body arrived round for a cuppa, there was on my coffee table a packet of British Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding flavour crisps, sitting next to a packet of German Bratwurst flavour crisps.

Well, even if I haven’t lived there since 1989, I am a Londoner, so I have to start off with the English versus the Germans, innit!

“What’s these all about?” asked The Body, looking at the colourful new packs.

“Oh, that’s the new World Cup flavour crisps. See, there’s the English Roast Beef flavour, the German Bratwurst flavour, and then there’s the Brazilian Salsa flavour and the-”

- quick as a flash, The Body interrupted -

“And the Irish Sour Grapes flavour!”

Laugh? Yes we did, as I silently marvelled yet again at the speed of his wit, together with his great ability to mock his country's hypocrisy.

Thursday 15 April 2010

It was going to be so good- but now you'll never know.

Broke the cardinal rule, didn't I? Sitting outside Neactain’s, watching the beautiful people walk by, I spotted a quintessentially Irish characteristic; made me laugh, made me smile, made me shudder with horror.

But I didn't take a note.

Always take a note.

Even now, when the sun has been shining on the West of Ireland for days, there has to be a place to secrete the old notebook and pen.

For 335 days each year I need to wear a coat or jacket here on the Atlantic coast.

It tips down.

Rain, jacket, pockets, room for notebook and pen.

Sunshine, T-shirt and jeans, no man bag thanks all the same, and no notebook.

No notebook, no note. No idea what the idea was.

Scribbler Rule No. 1. Take the note.

Take the note. I will not remember. At the time I think I will remember, because the idea appears so brilliant funny clever ha ha ha that is pure bleedin’ genius I’ve cracked it with that oh ho ho so I have.

But I will forget it.

Lulled into lethargy by the sunshine, I lazily try to compensate for not bothering to take a note by coming up with a mental trigger to remind me of the idea, but it proves useless.

I remember the trigger, but 24 hours later, the bullets are lost, my brainbox is unloaded. I have no idea what ‘Yellow Jumper’ ever had to do with being Irish, and I never will.
So, sadly, neither will you.

The revelation of my genius will have to wait a while. Aw shucks.
Always take the note.
Otherwise you have nothing worthwhile to write.

Monday 12 April 2010

Poetry, tragedy, mysticism and romance - yes, he's on about football again!

Dad looked down at me after the game.
“Well you must have been really excited. Look at the state of your programme!”
Clutched in my tiny 9 year-old wrist were the tattered remains of my Chelsea match day programme. Even though back in those days it probably only cost threepence ha’penny, it was a precious memento of a great day out, and Dad might have been a bit cross that I’d wrecked it.
But he wasn’t.
Instead he seemed to think that this tatty papery mess was evidence that I had really enjoyed myself. Throughout the game, I’d been so wound up that I’d twisted it and sweated into it and torn it out of exasperation and then raised it above my head in pure jubilation, as Chelsea scored the winning goal.
Dad was right. I had been excited, and for years to come, I’d make sure that my programme never made it through a game intact. As a young lad, I did it to impress my Dad, showing him how much I’d enjoyed myself at the game with him.
But years later, when I rode to Stamford Bridge on my own motorbike, I found myself subtly yet deliberately crumpling my programme during the games.
Dad wasn’t there, and anyway, being a teenager, I felt no desire whatsoever to impress my Dad.
So what was it? Why was I doing it? It couldn’t possibly be because Chelsea had won that very first game when I’d crumpled my programme, could it?
In the Beautiful Game, you never know.
To all those of you who cannot find any beauty in the game, I say look again.
There’s poetry, tragedy and glory in abundance.
Chelsea’s owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, is haunted. He is Ahab, and the Champions League is his great white whale. He bought the club solely to win that greatest of European cup competitions, and even though, thanks to his millions, we have won everything else we possibly can, his whale eludes him.
He hired the Special One, Jose Mourinho. Surely if he could win the Champions League with Porto, a lesser European club, he could do the same for Chelsea?
No. He couldn't.
Fired from the Bridge, the helm temporarily passed to Avram Grant, an Israeli known in my house as ‘Eeyore’, who took over the club knowing that nobody but a superstar could replace Jose Mourinho. Grant is many things, but footballing Hollywood he is not.
Under Avram we failed to win the Champions League by one little penalty kick in the final, but Abramovich fired him and hired superstar A-listers in the shape of Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, fired, midseason, and Guus Hiddink, who we really loved, but was only helping out while his missis was down the shops.
Now we have Carlo Ancelotti, who our Ahab has hired because he has won the Champions League twice. Two dead whales.
Carlo is doing a great job, despite the fact that he leads the out-and out glamour club which is Chelsea, standing on the sidelines looking like a bored clerk waiting for his pyjamas to come out of the the dryer.
Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League last month by Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. Abramovich must have been spitting pips as he watched the man he sacked kick us out of the European ocean.
Tragic maybe, but hold your breath. Football supplies yet more irony and poetry.
Avram Grant had gone from the Worst Job In The World at post-Mourinho Chelsea to The Other Worst Job In The World, managing Portsmouth, whose manager Harry Redknap had left for the mighty Tottenham Hotspur, taking most of his star players with him.
Portsmouth have gone broke, been relegated to a lower league, and will lose all of their star players next year. But in a flare of footballing solar wind, they managed to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where they faced their old and unfaithful manager Harry and his ex-Spurs team laden with ex-Portsmouth players.
Nobody gave Portsmouth a chance, but they prevailed. Kicked out of the Premiership on the Saturday, they made it the the FA Cup Final on the Sunday, with Avram Grant not only laying waste to his A-lister predecessor, but gaining the chance to meet ... yes, Chelsea and his old boss Ahab in the Cup Final at Wembley.
How deliciously ironic and painful would it be for Abramovich to be knocked out of two major cup competitions in one year by two managers he sacked previously? How wonderful for Avram Grant to beat Chelsea in a cup final, having been fired for making it all the way to and then losing another final with Chelsea?
But ‘ang on a mo, guv’nor. Do I really want Portsmouth to beat Chelsea at Wembley?
I’m well aware that the entire country will be behind Portsmouth, the innocent Cinderellas who have suffered so cruelly at the hands of bankers and boardrooms.
If Chelsea beat Portsmouth, we will be the most unpopular winners of the trophy ever, but I don’t care, because if all goes well, when we lift the FA Cup on May 15th, we will have already won the Premiership League title the week before, and carried away the Double for the first time in our club history.
To today’s generation, the Double doesn’t carry much gravitas, as along with the club’s owner, it is the Champions League they all crave.
But to this London boy, the winning of both the English League title and the English Cup still means a massive amount. The Double would be a wonderful and romantic climax to one of the most exciting and closest seasons for decades.
But somehow I don’t see it happening, and it’s all down to that little boy with his crumpled programme.
You see, I know that the rustling of that paper in my sweaty childish palm was not really influencing my team, in the same way that I know that we didn’t lose the Champions League Final just because it was the night before my Wedding Day.
But equally, I cannot escape the fact that we did lose that Champions League Final the night before my Wedding Day.
Add a dash of absurdity, mysticism and bollocks into the mix, and I find myself strongly wishing that the FA Cup Final was not being played on the day before my 50th birthday, because clearly the universe turns round me and my major life events, and those 22 players in that distant country will feel bewitched by my impending half century.