Neverland: England bowled over by the Green

I’ve only written about cricket once before, back in 2007, which coincidentally was during the last world cup in Jamaica when the Ireland team caused a major upset. 4 years later in Bangalore an even bigger shock has occurred. I’m no fan of the game and have no wish to jump on the bandwagon or become a fair-weather supporter, but I just couldn’t resist blogging about this! I suppose this makes me something of a hypocrite, but hey isn’t the world full of hypocrites.

Ireland isn’t known as one of the great cricketing nations, but I can’t help thinking that a bestselling novel about cricket, Netherland by Irishman Joseph O’Neill (and recommended by a certain B. Obama) played a small part in this famous victory.

Ed Joyce must be kicking himself.

What next? England to beat Ireland at hurling?


Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter

Another inglorious end to England’s overinflated World Cup dreams and the post mortems go on.  Was it due to discord in the camp?  Did Capello get the tactics wrong?  Was it the disallowed goal that disrupted the flow of play?  Were the players just worn out after a hectic Premiere League and Champions League schedule?  Did manager and players just not connect?

At the end of the day it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for a bunch of overpaid, overrated, overindulged bunch of tattooed philandering underachievers who earn more in a week than most of their supporters earn in five years.  The fans who travelled several thousand miles and spent several thousand miles deserve better.  If Never has there been a stronger argument for the introduction of performance-related pay in football.

But whether England win or lose, the tabloid press always have a field day.  The punning headlines never fail to impress,  The front page of the Mirror screamed “ROUT OF AFRICA” (rather than the less politically correct KRAUT ROUT) on its front page and TORN TO FRITZ on its second page, while its back page responded with the line FABIGO.  Even the more subtle Times got in on the act with EIN ZWEI DREI…YOUR TEARS.

 But the possibilities are endless.  We could also have had:





 Or if an England fan had put money at the bookies on England to win the World Cup the headline could have read:


 If German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been at the match and a bad decision had gone against Germany she might have invaded the pitch to angrily remonstrate with the referee:


 And finally anyone who says the Germans have no sense of humour should check out this marvellously satirical and self-deprecatory song from the mid-‘80s by Udo Lindenberg, Lindenberg,a well known and respected rock musician in his own country plays on the stereotypical images of his compatriots – ie a highly efficient and hardworking, but ultimately dull and humourless people.  But Lindenberg can hardly be described as dull or humourless.

The blond german Fräuleins are pretty, but vain
You say ‘Guten Tag’ and they say ‘Auf wiedersehen’
They’re very hard workers, from Monday to Friday
Make love on the weekends, and yodel like Heidi
  [This line followed by some very impressive yodelling]

Classic stuff.

No Tyne like the present

The Millennium Bridge across the Tyne on the pound coin

The Millennium Bridge across the Tyne on the pound coin

I made my first trip to the legendary city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (or to give it its preferred modern moniker Newcastle-Gateshead, reflecting both the north and south bank of the river)  last week for a conference on records management – and didn’t regret it.  My limited knowledge of the north-east of England had been drawn largely from the popular stereotypes as depicted in Viz comic, The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedershen Pet.  Much of this depicts a rather grim, violent place, but I discovered a thriving modern city proud of its industrial past, steeped in history and looking forward to the future.  The city’s renaissance of the last few years is reflected by the recent developments on the south bank of the Tyne (ie the part known as Gateshead) such as the Sage theatre (which as one conference speaker pointed out resembles a giant silver slug), the former Baltic Flour Mill, now an art gallery and the luxury riverside flats which have sprung up.



And there’ also of course the marvel of post-modern engineering design, the Millennium Bridge, a curved bridge which lights up at night, regularly changing colour.  It was only on receiving change at a corner shop which yielded a pound coin, on the reverse side of which was the bridge itself that I finally realised that this image had been in and out of my pocket for all these years.

And one popular stereotype is in fact true – they do go out in t-shirts in freezing cold, wet weather.

University Challenged

_45523112_challI must admit to feeling a sense of schadenfreude on hearing that Corpus Christi College, Oxford had been stripped of their University Challenge title for fielding an illegible team member.  Much has been written about Gail Trimble the knowledgable team captain (and a lot of it quite unjustifiably derisory), but very little has been said about the real villain of the piece, Sam Kay, who was no longer a student at the college at the time the final was recorded.  It was for this very reason that I missed out on appearing on University Challenge for Sheffield back in the summer of 1999.  As I was a postgrad student at the time doing a 1-year masters course due to end in September of that year, I was ineligible as you had to be enrolled at the university for the next academic year.  This was made clear in the instructions the union received from Granada TV.  As no-one else seemed terribly interested, I was put in charge by the union officer and ended up as team selector/manager.  A job which generally involved doing as many pub quizzes as posible – or at least that was our excuse.  Ironically it would’t have mattered if I tried to cheat the system as we were eliminated in the second round at a time when I was still a registered student.  But as Jeremy Paxman says “rules is rules”. 

Being a champion of the underdog and with an anti-elitist streak runnng through me, I always tend to support the other team on UC, whenever a team from Oxford or Cambridge is playing.  So naturally my sympathies lay with Manchester rather than Oxford during the final.  There’s a great deal of snobbery about universities, particularly in the UK.  But the fact is that a degree’s a degree, no matter where it comes from.  A graduate of Boatrace College, Oxbridge may be in a better position on the employment market than a graduate of the University of Barrow-in -Furness (formerly Barrow-in-Furness College of knitting and upholstery), but it’s the talents of the individual tht matter nowadays, and what that individual does with those talents.

I look forward to the day that the University Challege trophy comes to Barrow-in-Furness.

GAA and the People’s Republic of Finchley

Maggie Thatcher once famously said that Northern Ireland was British as her constituency, Finchley.  In cerain parts of Northern Ireland, especially in July, you’ll certainly see more British flags per square mile than in the said North London suburb.  Finchley, like many other parts of London has become something of a cultural melting pot.  If you walk its streets, you’ll find grocery stores run by Poles, Iranians and Indians, Turkish, Indian, Chinese,Thai and Japanese restaurants, ads in shop windows or in the local papers for Polish plumbers and various “massage services” provided by foreign girls.  Never mind the illegal trafficking and enforced slavery of young women of course  – as long as there’s a loophole in the law to be found and money to be made.

And like almost anywhere else in North London, you’ll also find Irish pubs.  This raises the more pertinent question – is Northern Ireland as Irish as Finchley?  The discerning GAA enthusiast who finds himself stranded in Finchley on a hot summer’s weekend of Championship action is somewhat spoiled for choice as to where he can watch the match.  Being the culchie redneck bogtrotter from Tyrone that I am, I was naturally keen to watch the red hands do battle against Mayo for a place in the All-Ireland quarter finals.  The highest concentration of Hibernianised watering holes to be found in the area is on North Finchley’s main street.  O’Neills doesn’t really count as it caters more for the plastic paddy than the genuine article.  Of the remaining three, The Wishing Well was experiencing a technical fault, The Erris (bizarrely for a Mayo-owned establishment) deferred in favour of the racing – which left Toolans.   It was a hard-fought battle with many a near-miss and a few scrappy incidents – but I managed to get served in the end.

Likely Lads stage unlikely Return

I was thrilled to hear that the classic situation comedy series of the 1960s and early ’70s The Likely Lads is being relaunched as a stage show. Following the mixed fortunes of Bob Ferris and Terry Collier, two young working class men, played brilliantly by Rodney Bewes and James Bolam in an unspecified location in the north-east of England the show captured the spirit of the times and although it does seem dated, its humour has a timeless appeal.
Co-writers Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais (also known for Auf Wiederschen Pet and the other classic ’70s sitcom Porridge) appeared on the radio to promote their new venture which will feature fresh young actors rather than ageing members of the origianl cast.
The superior sequel Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?, made a few years after the original series ended is described by Stuart Maconie in Pies and Prejudice, his masterpiece of social and cultural history on the north of England as “the best British comedy series ever”.  I wouldn’t quite go that far, as for me the inimitable Fawlty Towers holds its own at the top of the comedy premiere league. However, Whatever Happened would certainly feature in my all time top 10 greatest sitcoms alongside Porridge, Dad’s Army, Blackadder, The Young Ones, Father Ted, Red Dwarf, The Office and Peep Show – though not necessarily in that order.
In Whatever Happened the two characters’ paths diverge. Bob becomes the social climber who marries Thelma the sensible librarian and joins the ranks of the white collar professional, settling down to a life of middle class suburban domestic bliss. Terry by contrast has returned to the banks of the Tyne/Wear/Tees(?) after a spell as a squaddie in Germany with a failed marriage behind him and remains the salt of the earth working class boy, irresponsible and badly behaved – and this is where much of the comedy derives from.
However, the running joke throughout is that fact that Bob now thinks he’s superior to Terry, because of his new-found social status as expressed by his membership of the badminton club and skiing holidays, but in reality is no better and often just as badly-behaved. Deep down Bob still wants to chase women and get pissed down at the Fat Ox.
I’m too young to have seen the show during its original airing, but was inducted via the occasional repeat run which many other popular comedies of the era have enjoyed – and later on via DVD.
The show emerged out of the kitchen dramas of the ’60s, the new wave of British cinema known as social realism which broke the mould by depicting the everyday lives of ordinary working class people. The genre was concentrated particularly (but not exclusively) in the north of England, and thus became popularly known as the “it’s grim up north” film. Classic examples include Kes, A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Billy Liar.
Part of the show’s appeal, along with that of many other programmes of the time is the cosy sense of false nostalgia it evokes, aided in part by its catchy, almost melancholic theme song (“Oh what happened to you, whatever happened to me…). We like deluding ourselves into thinking that life was better back then, things were simpler, people more down-to-earth, the world was a safer place, etc – total bollocks of course, but a nice thought all the same.
It would be interesting to see how Bob and Terry would fare as old men, 35 years after their last outing. Unfortunately a reunion is unlikely due to the bad blood between Bewes and Bolam – a disappointment for fans, but a common occurrence in comic double acts. Steptoe and Son, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore spring to mind. So whatever happens to those likely lads (if you’ll pardon the cliché) the memories of classic comedy will linger on.


Separating the wheat from the chav

After Irish President Mary McAleese made a somewhat undiplomatic remark about comparing Protestants to Nazis a few years ago, the protests which accompanied her visit to a school in a loyalist area of Coleraine were not totally unexpected.

There was the inevitable lively debate on Slugger O’Toole which inevitably turned into another “them ‘uns is worse than us ‘uns” style sectarian bun fight, but what struck me were the semi-humorous comments directed at the socio-economic background of the protesting parents – a selection of which I’ve reproduced below:

“I can picture the scene, buggies with weans in them (for the cameras) waving flags. Assorted hoop earings XL XXL XXXL for the “ladies” and “discreet” for the “gentlemen” Rings on all fingers and cheap fags hanging from the lips. Fake designer trakkies for both genders thought “muffin Tops” a must for the ladies and the obligitory peroxide multi-toned hair colour.”
“Beer-Bellied, hairy-arsed layabouts-and that was just the women. All that was missing was a pair of duelling banjos.”

Another urged them to “get their fat arses off their sofas and away from the eejits lantern and they’ll get a chance to breathe in some fresh air instead of the usual diet of tobacco smoke and stale pub air.”

Other commenters (most of whom I think it’s fair to assume are well-educated and from middle class backgrounds) referred to the protestors as “gutter runners”, “chavs” and “ugly trampy women” While such comments were made half-seriously and half in jest and I did find myself amused by some, they do make an important statement on how a certain section of society is perceived. The social sub-class to which the protestors apparently belong, is not of course confined to the Protestant/loyalist community. Simply swap the Rangers shirts and the union flags which were on display for Celtic shirts and tricolours (but retain the fake tans, fake designer sportswear, cigarettes, prominent tattoos and the inexpensive jewellery known as “Argos bling”) and you have the mirror image from the other side.   One only has to think of the Republican Sinn Féin idiot protesting outside Croke Park holding up a placard saying “No to foreign games” totally oblivious to the irony that he’s wearing a Celtic shirt. 

 One could argue however that the problem is more acute on the loyalist side which harbours a disenfranchised working class in a post-industrial society no longer able to get jobs in traditional industries such as shipbuilding and linen who feel deprived of a coherent voice – but that’s another debate altogether which I won’t go into at this point (but if anyone reading this would like to discuss the topic further I’d be happy to continue – in fact a more discerning commentator on Slugger articulates this view, referring to a social grouping who are “not aided by a lumpen-middle class (well represented I suspect on this board) who cling to the notion that their own outdated politics and prejudices are somehow more respectable that that of their working class co-religionists.”) 
Instead my thesis will explore within the wider context the phenomenon of one of the most demonised groups in contemporary western society, the white underclass.

It’s easy to indulge in snobbery and elitism where chavery is concerned – something which I, myself in all my smug middle class complacency, am guilty of to an extent. It’s also difficult to write about the subject without coming across as patronising, but there’s no point in pretending we have a classless society, when we quite blantly do.

Chavs, spides, skangers, trailer trash – ubiquitous throughout the English-speaking western world. Stereotypes mix with reality in a confusing mish-mash amidst the council estates of South London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Dublin, Limerick and many other large cities, dreary provincial towns and downmarket seaside resorts across these isles. It’s not hard to conjure up the negative images – rows of rundown houses, each one sprouting a satellite dish, the almost compulsory burnt mattress in the garden, heavily tattooed muscular midle-aged men in the mould of Johnny Adair sporting chunky gold jewellery and sportswear walking pit bull terriers or rottweilers on leads, overweight young mothers, Sporty Spice lookalikes, wearing low-necklined top revealing huge rose or butterfly tattoo on the upper breast area, wheeling pushchairs, the child inside often of mixed race (cf Kathy Burke’s Waynetta Slob character “I want a braaaahhhnnn bybie!”), large gangs of hooded youths drinking cheap cider, abandoned pubs boarded up with wooden planks, or in certain parts of Dublin, scrawny tracksuited boys astride half-starved, malnourished horses.

Such characters enjoy their fair share of representation in popular culture, partcularly as objects of comic derison.  On television think Little Britain’s Vicky “Yeah, but no but” Pollard, Catherine Tate’s Lauren “I ain’t bovvered” character, Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke as “the Slobs”, the dysfunctional Battersby family in Coronation Street, Cletus, the trailer park-dwelling redneck in The Simpsons and the exploited guests who appear on the human zoos disguised as trashy daytime shows like Oprah Winfrey or the odious Jeremy Kyle.  In the pages of Viz comic we have the Bacon family, the fat slags and Tasha Slapper and in contemporary literature the novels of Irvine Welsh and Roddy Doyle pull no punches when it comes to the depiction of disaffected working class communities.


This section of our society is all too easy to mock and ridicule – like the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel. Chav-baiting has almost become fashionable.  Ironically the members of this sub-group within so-called “working class” allegedly don’t work and are branded by the reactionery right wing press such as the Daily Mail in the UK and the Sunday Independent in Ireland as dole-ite welfare scroungers and chain-smoking, beer-guzzling couch potato layabouts who have no intention of earning an honest day’s crust.  Ethnic minorities, homosexuals and the disabled are all protected by political correctness, but the indigenous underclass is supposedly fair game for satire and ridicule.  Racism, sexism, ageism are all banned by a militantly PC society, but classism is still very much alive.

Is it all about income and financial status though?  Not neccessarily.  The emergence of the “celebrity chav” as popularised by Wayne Rooney and Colleen Mc Loughlin, Katie Price and Peter Andre and former Big Brother contestant Jade Goody indicates that money doesn’t automatically convey respectability or acceptance. 

Michael Collins in his excellent book The Likes of us, a history of the white British working class with a healthy sprinkling of humour provides a succinct summary of the situation:

“Traditionally, the white working class would take to the street only for the end of a war or the beginning of a sale, with the exception of the death of a princess. Naturally there were other exceptional occasions: Jarrow marchers, the dockers responding to the Powell furore, and in the 1980s, in Southwark, there was rumour of revolt when the call went out for the muzzling of Staffordshire bull terriers. But more recently within the working class, there were those women taking to the streets against paedophiles. There were the taxi-drivers protesting during the petrol price debacle, and the Billingsgate porters’ bid to reclaim the streets when they marched to oppose London’s congestion charge. Those who champion democracy, direct action and single-issue pressure groups were suddenly referring to many of these protesters as “mobs”, and even suggesting that the police be sent in to form a thin blue line. Then there was the more pressing concern of a growing support for the British National Party. In Slade Green a BNP member beat the Tory candidate to second place in a by-election. Behind this “protest” vote – as it has been described in the press – are working-class whites in poor areas who believe they have been neglected and ghettoised, their views ignored.”
The meaning of the term “working class” however has become somewhat ambiguous. Skilled trades such as plumbing, carpentry and plastering, all traditional working class blue collar occupations are now in similar (if not higher)  income brackets to white collar professions such as teaching and the civil service – and have thus effectively become “middle class”.  With a university education no longer a guarantee of a good job, it seems that more and more middle class parents are now encouraging their children to become plumbers and electricians rather than get themselves into thousands of pounds in debt and end up as low-paid office clerks or call centre workers.
The real underclass among the native white population of these isles are the welfare state generation – what we call the “working class” don’t actually work – much like the upper classes of the traditonal aristocracy who tended to inherit money rather than earn it, and thus had no need to work.
Society has come full circle.


An England of two halves along the Thames

As I’ve mentioned before on the old Dreaming Arm, this blog’s predecessor, I’m an avid reader of travel literature. And not just the stuff about exotic, far-flung locations. Certain writers can make the most unglamorous places seem interesting. Being a keen rambler I was interested to read a piece in last Sunday’s Observer about a walk along the Thames pathway. The author Rufus Purdy emphasises the contrast between the different places along the route:

“I walk through woods and meadows into chocolate-box villages where honey-coloured country churches stand over velvet-textured village greens. The river gurgles over its stony bed like children blowing into milk shakes. It’s as English as vicars on bicycles.”

All very quaint and civilised. The words conjure up a long forgotten, almost stereotypical image of England, a world immortalised by Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse, of cricket on the village green, bobbies on bikes, afternoon tea et al, but the style takes a dramatic turn in the next sentence:

“Less than an hour later, all this changes. Signposts direct me away from the river and on the main road towards Reading. This is the other England, roads lined by boarded-up off licences, greasy spoons and tattoo parlours, where flags of St. George – red crosses bleached orange by the sun – hang raggedly from windows. It‘s as though I‘ve taken a wrong turn in a gallery and walked straight from a Millais exhibition into a Martin Parr one”.

From one extreme to another.