Thursday, 14 August 2014

About The Chain Race

I have posted on the blog a story I wrote a couple of years ago, The Chain Race. It is  based loosely on the life of Choppy Warburton and his stable of racing cyclists in the 1890's. The main sources was Gerry Moore's 'The Little Black Bottle' but the story of Choppy crops up as a footnote in a few books on the history of cycling though I suspect that Moore's book is the principle source even for them.

The story takes us back to the point where the sport was just beginning to take the shape we know today. The case of Choppy is often sighted as evidence that there was never and age of innocence in cycling, that doping has been part and parcel of it since day one. But maybe what is more surprising is how Choppy assembled a world class team of British riders, the nucleus of which came from one family and their friends in Wales.

For anyone who has the stamina to read it, thank you.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Mad About the Boy - Bridget Jones - Send her back to a simpler time

Bridget Jones appeared in the mid 90’s, an optimistic and frivolous time. The economy was on the up, the Berlin  Wall had come down. There was a fresh young government on its way, Brit pop had won the war, and Brit art had conquered the world. The grim 70’s and the grasping 80’s were supposed to be giving way to a better time, less boom and bust, more ethical. It was starting to look like things were even going to get better even for Palastine. Football was going to be great and women were free to get just as pissed, and be just as sexually indiscreet as they wanted to be.

With that backdrop the light comedy romance of a young(ish) angsting woman making her way in the media kind did fitted the mood of the time. It was a satire, but an affectionate one on a certain type of person. Much could be forgiven in a world where Loaded was flying off the shelves and porn had gone mainstream. The reappearance of the now widowed 50 plus Jones is a much more problematic. Much is to do with the times. Brit Art’s place not only in the world but our popular conscience is much diminished. Brit pop can now been seen as the defeat it was. But much more we have been living through seven years of austerity, at time that has seen many people (and not just the poor an ill educated) face real hardship. We are faced with what feels like eternal rolling conflict in the middle east, and the old superpower tensions are back. It’s a far harder, meaner world than the one where Bridget was left last time out.

Of course you will know none of this from the pages of Mad About the Boy. Bridget and her circle of (extremely) well off relatives and friends seem completely untouched but the troubles of the intervening 18 years. Even the detonation of Mr Darcy in Darfur does not seem to have given Bridget any insight into the world beyond her immediate experience. Nobody, not even the boho Rebecca appear to have any money concerns, as they move between private school functions, edgy London Nightspots, parties and gatherings. They are oblivious to any world beyond this. And we were told, we are all in this together. Helen Fielding has, if we needed it laid bare that lie.

So where do we find Bridget and why should we care? Now over 50 and widowed she is raising her two children on her own. Well on her own with the help of family, and wide circle of very nice friends and no shortage of cash. Mr Darcy had to have been killed. For him to have taken the more familiar exit route from a marriage, infidelity and divorce, would have harmed the brand of the earlier books. But his death allows us and Bridget to embark on yet another featherlight search for love. In this she seems to have gained no knowledge or wisdom, but re-enacts the innocent abroad that appeared in the earlier books. It proceeds, following an updated version of the diary format through a series of set pieces. These have a familiar pattern where unlikely social catastophy leads to short term grief and humiliation before turning out alright in the end.

While one is led to believe that Bridget is chaos on legs she does also seem remarkably and effortlessly talented. She manages to acquire and agent for her screen play, a screen play that actually starts getting made, without this being a burning desire. Her creative career is placed a long way behind her children and her search for a man. And here we stumble onto more dodgy ground. It feels like one of those British comedies from the 1950’s with Dirk Bogard. The kind of film were despite being a genius all a woman want is a man. This image is hardened by a supporting cast and plot that determinedly follows this path. While in the 90’s Girl Power and Ladette drowned out many feminists, this is no longer the case. But Bridget’s circle seem untouched not only by austerity, but have not heard the rising voices of feminists either.

I presume this book has not been written to be the catalyst for some violent uprising by the have nots. So who is it for? Who empathises with Bridget enough to come away from this book warmed inside. I guess there is an element of wish fulfilment. If Fielding’s readership has grown with her, then yearning for the excitement and pleasure of new love must have a big appeal. It is also reassuring, everything turns out ok, even though the children get nits and pick up leaflets on venereal disease and tell the school embarrassing things. Its also at times quite funny. Fielding creates some nice moments. But its not enough. Like Loaded and Oasis, Bridget Jones belongs in the 90’s, something we can look on as typical of its time. Reheating now sees a book that struggles to rise above the crass.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

SCCU 100 G100/60 - Round and Round we go

Back at the start of the season I had some fine ambitions of doing a 4.30 in the SCCU 100. Reality had dawned in the recent ESCA 50 when  I came in with the 2.15, maybe 4.30 wasn't going to happen, but I nursed dreams of something around the 4.40 mark. Then I saw the course. Hmmm.

This one kicks off as did the SCCU 50 with a run out to Bolney, a trip to Henfield and then onto the A24. I had an early start 6.16 and that meant the traffic hadn't built to much by that stage. It the heads down to Washington, before turning back on a lumpy twisty bit of road through Partridge Green and back onto the A24. We had 41/2 laps like that to do. While I had been on reasonable schedule up to the start of the first lap  I was losing a couple of minutes each time I went through. I kept a consistent pace, and was doing a reasonable job of maintaining the heart rate and decent position on the big.  I just didn't have the power. I held my own on the A24 but found strong guys spinning past of the return.

Other G100 courses use this for a couple of laps, and I have never found it easy, but with the loss of the course after Southwater this was pretty much the only option. Finished with a 4.50.22 that was some way from where I wanted to be, but as they say its the race of truth. Only one other Port entered today, John Mulvaney and faired much better with a 4.42. That said for those who can it isn't that tough a course. The winner Steve Kane of Brighton Excelsior romped home with a 3.54, which is frankly incredible.

Big thanks to Jacqui Champion who was there to encourage and hand me a bottle, and another big thanks to Sam Ramsey of Lewes Wanderers. Sam had been clever enough to park his car near the finish, and generous enough to offer me a lift back to the HQ, sparing me an extra 4 miles I didn't need. Anyway, glad its done, and kind of accepting that this is a season of rebuilding after two fallow years.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sham 69 Punk (disappointingly not) Footnotes # ??

A couple of days ago browsing facebook I came across a link from the Dead Kennedys page to an article where the write reflected on the most disappointing punk albums ever. This was as balance to praise for the first Ramones Album.

Clearly to be disappointing the band in question must have achieved a level of success and had a reputation. However lacklustre I may have found Peter and the Test Tube Babies, I don't even think they would list 'Pissed and Proud' amongst the greatest. The author of the article picked on Rancid (Clash lite and hype), My Chemical Romance (Emo isn't punk) and the Misfits (just not that good). All fine choices in my view but I think fall short of my selection.

With a nice 35 year gap, the greatest gulf between reputation and the actual quality of the output has to fall to Sham 69 for the 'That's Life' album. Actually I could have picked on any of their albums but That's Life just got unlucky. Some bands have enjoyed positive critical reappraisal  over the years (X-Ray Spex for example) Sham's havn't. However they were massively popular at the time and had a devoted army of skinhead fans (which has a lot to do with their rather ambiguous legacy).

However that they racked up a string of chart hits and was generally taken seriously does seem remarkable when one listens to this record. Firstly its a concept album, about some numpty bloke's day. To link the songs into sub quadrophonia story between tracks you have little bits of dialogue. I found this toe curling when I first heard the album and it has curdled with time. One thing to note is how cinematic Sham's influences were. Films like A Clockwork Orange, and Scum, along with kitchen sink dramas and Spaghetti Westerns seem to feature large.

The album contains Sham 69's best song, the cheery and very silly Hurry up Harry. Its a cracking tune and the lyric is light and fun. These are qualities largely absent on the rest of the album. Jimmy Pursey's approach to lyrics seemed to be come up with a half decent opening couple of lines, or a chorus and then any old drivel will do. Frequently this drivel is delivered as mighty social commentary, that then collapses under the slightest scrutiny. exhibit A

Running for the bus in my flash blue suit
someone shouts out poof so  I put in the boot
I don't want to wear it, its my boss that tells me too
So when you laugh at me, you only laugh at you

Er no Jimmy we are laughing at you.

Again maybe the world was different back then but their depiction of working class life seems to skate pretty close to Chas n Dave (actually I feel a thesis on the influence of Mrs Mills on hardcore punk in the late 1970's coming on). Such classics as 'Everybody's Right, Everybody's Wrong' and 'Win or Lose' or 'Is this me or Is this you' (can you see a theme here) bring little inspiration to the world. The song 'Evil Way' may have sounded like laddish knock about fun in 1979, now sounds like a battle cry for date rape.

Sham69 did have huge influence. The whole Oi/Street Punk style has its roots in Sham 69, not just on this side of the Atlantic. On the sleeve liner of Flex Your Head, members of the nascent Minor Threat wear Sham t shirts. When Sham's thick chords and terrace chant choruses are twinned with Wire's velocity and brevity one has reached hardcore. But Sham's great tunes are thinly spread, and  what sits between quickly becomes tiresome.  Its not rubbish, there's the aforementioned Hurry Up Harry and a few good lines here and there. But it just isn't that good, and worst of all, actually quite boring.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fake Sheik, Rattle and Heads that Roll

Whatever actually went on between Tulisa and the Fake Sheik what puzzles me is why it was seen by the CPS as the kind of case worthy of taking to court. I may have lost my moral compass but attempting to supply £860 worth of coke doesn't  seem to me to place Tulisa in the Napoleon of Crime category. We live in a world where the middle aged daughter of a former Chancellor uses a little charlie. Whatever his motivations, the scale of Mazher Mahmood's investigation went way beyond anything the alleged offence justified.

From my perspective it would have seemed the kind of offence that would be handled with a caution if anything.  So  I took a look at the CPS site to see what kind of sentence Tulisa could have expected. I was surprised by weight of the sanctions. Some years ago I came across a woman who had been stabbed by her partner and the Police would not take the case forward because she was not willing to testify against him. He was a thoroughly violent and nasty man who soon after stabbed a friend, and had an appalling history of violence and antisocial behaviour. In the context of this the sentences around drugs seemed heavy. However but to Tulisa's supply case.

Against her is that Coke is a class A drug so it all gets very punitive. However there are significant mitigations. He role as a supplier seems to fall into the 'lesser' category. She seemed to be involved through naivety, her influence of the supply chain small and could be said to have been pressured into doing it. Then is the quantity, I am not expert but my assumption is that £860 would place it in the lowest category in term of volume. In addition the purpose of the supply is also relevant. She was not dishing it out in school playgrounds. Instead she obtained a small quantity for what she would have believed was a business associate (maybe even friend) to use on a lads weekend. On this basis if convicted Tulisa, who doesn't have a long history of drug dealing, and who from the evidence was having massive carrots dangled before her, it is likely that it would have ended in a community sentence.

On that basis I do wonder whether some of the CPS motivation of pressing ahead with this case (where they would have been aware of all the entrapment challenges etc) was not in some way driven by the celebrity not of Tulisa but of Mahmood, the fake sheik. To have left the case on file, or issue a caution would have not satisfied. Given the high profile of the investigator and the huge operation he had undertaken was this a pressure to go ahead with a case that seems to lack value. Interesting to the public yes, in the public interest, dubious.

There are cases where Mahmood's tactics have been of value in capturing genuine gangsters. If that is where he focussed his talents few would have anything but admiration for him and the papers that employed him. The choice (especially in the post Leveson world) to use this weapon to embarrass and humiliate mid range celebs for minor wrong doing seems foolish, both on the part of the paper and Mahmood.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sleaford Mods - The Angry Young Man becomes an angry old man

There was a time in my teens when I was seeing bands just as they were becoming the next big thing. Pride of place goes to seeing The Smiths play to a couple of hundred people at North East London Poly. Now, I hear about bands two years after they have appeared through interviews in The Guardian. Such is life.

It was though this route that I came across Sleaford Mods, a thoroughly awkward pair dishing out angry rants about austerity Britain. Their breakthrough track (if it can be called that) is a first person tsunami of bitterness called Job Seeker. Chin jutting, hollow braggadocio of a man losing the plot in a job centre, his self hatred and rage against the world competing in a foul mouthed tirade. One can hear The Fall, The Streets and Plan B in there, but somehow different. Less abstract than The Fall, grimmer than The Streets yes. But while Plan B may have occupied similar lyrical territory Sleaford Mods are not ranting for the 16 year old on the fringes of gang culture. They are about the broken man in his 30's 40's men (and it is very male) who have tried and failed. Their failure is their own.

Reading that both members were in their 40's made sense and also struck me as interesting. They are not grown ups pretending to be down with the kids, they are writing angry music about who they are. They are not social commentators from the outside, they place themselves, like Morrissey and Lou Reed did at their best on the inside of the world they want to depict. When I was in my teens the idea that a band with members in their 40's could be writing angry music about their lives, and it to have any resonance would have seemed ridiculous. But it is still us baby boomers driving the music industry. Our tastes dominate. I would rather two guys in there 40's had a crack at saying something about the world than the legions of young bands who seem to make old music.

Whether the Sleaford Mods have any longevity will depend on two things. Firstly can they still say vital interesting things now that they are critically lorded musicians rather than frustrated wannabes. And secondly can they evolve their musical template. Plan B found huge commercial success breaking out of the Grime Ghetto. He could do this partly because he was armed with remarkable singing voice, and clearly vast ambition. Whether Williamson of SM's can do the same is to be seen. But even if they don't they have made an indecent mark.

Tree House Croydon -

Last night fancied a bit of a treat dinner, especially one we didn't have to cook. Over the years we have given a fair pounding to the restaurants in Croydon and sometimes it does feel a little over familiar. Anyway, there was a food festival going on down in South Croydon and warmed up by a nice pint of London Pride in the Spread Eagle we headed down before the quiz night started.

The Tree House is a pretty well established pub restaurant, only those of my generation and older will remember it as the Blue Anchor. We have had some really nice meals their in the past, I have particularly fond memories of a smoked haddock with poached egg and mash. A short menu of well prepared unfussy dishes is one of their strengths.  Last night wasn't its best though, and I am afraid that maybe it is on a bit of a downward slope. On a warm Sunday evening following a food festival we were surprised to see it was largely empty when both Brasserie Vacherin and Bugatti's were busy. The waitress was cheery and the menu looked good.

We ordered a bruschetta and a Carpaccio of beef starters. They were fine, but to be honest very very small. A cheery pile of leaves on my plate could not disguise the fact there was barely a mouthful of meat, and the Bruschetta was about the size of  half an English muffin. We were now damn glad we had ordered some sides with our main. And were even more glad as there now seemed to be a long wait for the mains to appear. This was curious as they were not exactly busy. The grilled salmon and the veggie Wellington were lovely when they arrived but it was a very long time.

We wanted to round the meal off with cheese, and the waitress assured us that one would be enough for two. I was sceptical but deferred to her judgement. I never got to find out as she returned to advise that 'the chef has told me we have no more cheese board.' By now the magic was lost and took the bill and headed home.

Its a shame the overall was just a bit slack when the food tasted good and the service was friendly.