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Monday, 19 November 2007

Current Vacancies...

Some nice little jobs going at the Tear Fund...

(They no longer seem to be advertising the post that a friend of my sister was going to be interviewed for - salary £50K... maybe she got the job...?)

Or Oxfam are looking for a Campaigns and Policies Co-ordinator in Yemen... [NB: Oxfam will meet any tax and social security liabilities of the postholder in addition to the net salary ...and £26K in Yemen'll buy you a harem or two, I'm guessing...)

Nice looking position with Save the Children - Major Giving Director (aah!) - just says 'very competitive' salary...

Still, you know what they say - you pay peanuts...

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

Hear how Bob's getting on in his search for 50 Missing Records...

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Missing Records Podcasts...

I've posted up the first two - here...

Or if you want to listen or download from here, just left or right click respectively on the song title...

Can't Stand Losing You

The Drowners

To subscribe and get the episodes as they're posted up, try here...

I won't be posting my ramblings about 'The Drowners' up here, so do have a listen to that episode if you're interested in following the series.

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Can't Stand Losing You...

b/w Dead End Job

A&M: AMS 7381 (blue vinyl)

Released: September 1978


Found: 12/9/2007

Packages begin to arrive. I open the first cardboard envelope and there he is; a man with a noose around his neck, stood on a block of ice that's been strategically positioned close to the red glow of an electric fire. Inside that sleeve is the blue 7 inch disc, just as I remembered it. 'Can't Stand Losing You'; that seems as good a good place as any to start, I suppose, especially if your theme is loss. I had planned to work my way down the list methodically, but instinct and impulse have somewhat taken over and this one seemed to call the loudest; I succumbed to the siren call of that long-lost pellucid polo mint stained a Quink permanent blue. Perhaps this disordered, groping anti-method is better anyway; more in keeping with the vagaries of my fraying memory...

For a band who achieved such enormous worldwide popularity with their accessible 'white reggae' style, the songs of The Police mine a surprisingly dark seam. Prostitution ('Roxanne'), paedophilia ('Don't Stand so Close to me'), brooding sexual obsession ('Does Everyone Stare?', 'Every Breathe You Take') and the essential loneliness of existence ('Message in a Bottle') provide the subject matter for their best (and, by and large, their best known) songs. So 'Can't Stand Losing You', an exploration of the psyche of a (possibly potential) suicide fits quite snugly into the band's bulging boxfile of case studies in which they chart the dysfunctional mechanism that is the human mind.

We know we've got a case on our hands pretty much from the off. The steady skank of the song's opening riff is almost immediately disrupted by Stewart Copeland's ominous off-kilter tom-tom thumps which provide an early hint of the mental instability that will be revealed later in the song. It's rather like the sound of someone banging their head repeatedly on a desktop before running into a school with a machine gun and opening fire indescriminately. The jilted lover has tried all the usual stuff; persistent phone calls, first to his ex- and then all her 'girlfriends' - at least, I'd always assumed that the injuring party was female, until I listened closely and realised that at no point is the gender of the one who does the dumping specified. The only clue that it is probably a female is the (still fairly ambiguous) use of the term 'girlfriends', as opposed to just friends; a choice that was most probably forced upon Sting by the imperative of jemmying the line to scan.

Whatever her or his gender, things have got so bad that the unfortunate recipient of all this no longer required attention has had to rope in a very big brother to help them out. Letters and records, the latter - and this shows just how bad things must have got - 'all scratched', have been returned but the singer still isn't taking the hint. He may think he is in the process of losing a lover, but as far as the other party and the listener are concerned, this one appears to have been lost quite some time ago.

Then, a moment of unexpected clarity amid all the derangement; one of Andy Summers' ambient guitar interludes where you'd normally expect to hear a solo. His eureka moment arpeggios are effects pedal-drenched and jazzy, providing an oasis of calm in which the enormity of the decision to be made is weighed up by the protagonist. It's a no brainer, announced as calmly as a break for coffee. One loss will be repaid by another, one from which there will be no redemption and no way back. Because as he's already told us, 'to carry on living doesn't make no sense' to the song's narrator. The desperate mathematics of the prospective suicide find a subtle echo in that double negative as if two wrongs really will somehow add up and make a right in the distorted logic of the pained mind. But then there's never just one negation when it comes to suicide; there's always more than just one loss, always more than one who loses.

Sting's insistent, monotone bass, Summers' unswervingly sustained high guitar and Copeland's patient drum pattern crank up the tension beneath the valediction, an arrangent as tight and menacing as the lips spitting out this vindictive 'last goodbye';

And you'll be sorry
When I'm dead
And all this guilt
Will be on your head.

That 'you' feels more direct, somehow, listening to it now. Suddenly you find you have been implicated in all this madness. It was not some abstract, genderless and spurning lover in some silly little new wave song who didn't care enough, but you. You didn't care enough, so someone died.

Great pop songs - singles, to be more specific, I suppose - allow us to superimpose our own lives on to them. Perhaps the brevity and the ephemeral nature of the format allows this more readily than other more earnest and lengthy artforms. Songs multiply their meanings as our experience of life deepens. It's a trivial form, perhaps, and so not always ideally suited to the grand subject. But then, you could write several novels set in pre-World War II Europe and never match the emotional whack and resonance of these few lines from a simple popular song from that momentous time:

There may be troubles ahead
But while there's moonlight and music
And love and romance -
Let's face the music and dance!

The whole impending catastrophe of the second World War seems to be contained in the oh-so-delicate embrace of those few words. And isn't there a wonderfully liberating contradiction expressed in that last line?; "let's face the music and dance". If you read that facing of the music - as perhaps you're meant to - in the sense of confronting an unpleasant reality, or even, perhaps, accepting responsibility for an error one has made, then it seems incongrous to do so whilst indulging in the hedonistic escapism of a dance. But that is exactly what the dancer and the listener alike are invited to do. The song asks us to face the music and to dance; to confront the grim reality whilst simultaneously averting our gaze and seeking pleasure as a relief from the very same actuality. But then, isn't that the beauty of art?; that it doesn't feel the need to reconcile the contradictions that we come across in life and appears happy just to play with them or point them out. So, like that couple on the pre-war dance floor, we are able briefly to look upon the horror even as we make our glides around the floor and look away.

We've all broken up with people, have all wanted someone more than they have wanted us, been wanted more by others than we have wanted them. We might have bombarded them with phone calls for a while, or they have us; perhaps even done the rounds of all their friends, or they of ours. We may have returned or had returned once precious mementoes to or by our erstwhile lovers, whether having damaged them or not. Or perhaps we or they went one step further, and kept them for ourselves? Most of us have quite possibly felt at one time or another that we "can't see the point in another day". But most of us don't end up taking our own lives.

I had a friend who did. Most of the time you wouldn't have known that this friend suffered from periodic (and, as I later discovered, ever-deepening) bouts of depression. You'd spot the odd sign of obsessive-compulsion in those frequent visits to the ladies' room during which, I'm told, there'd be much over-zealous washing of the hands. You'd probably assign to the martyrdom of those excruciating period pains you knew she suffered from, that feint, slightly unhinged undertone that would occasionally come to the surface every second or third particularly hellish month or so. Perhaps, after all, you didn't really know her as well as you thought you did. But then it would have been hard, surely, for anyone to reconcile that gloriously giggling girl who comes most readily to mind, the one who could sing 'Ten Green Bottles' in fluent German through the madcap, tucked in two at the middle laughter, with someone who would one day take her life.

But she did.

And was she thinking this all that time?:

And you'll be sorry
When I'm dead
And all this guilt
Will be on your head...

You can't ever know what was going through their minds as they approached the point of no return, can only take a best guess as Sting does in the song. And unlike the successful suicide, we can play out that same scenario as often as we like when we come back to play that luminous, translucent record. A rediscovered piece of blue about those blues that for some can't be resolved.

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Oxfam Economics...

I was asked to speak on this subject at a recent symposium and, as we're once again approaching the dread Comic Relief/Children in Fucking Need/Of course they don't know it's sodding Christmas, they're fucking well starving season of goodwill to all men (and Jonathan Ross) I thought it timely to post it up here. For the sake of clarity, I've excised most of the expletives...

Oxfam Economics: Finding a Way Forward for the Grey Market in the Age of the Digital Download

by Dr. R. Swipe, Egregious Professor in Semantic Molly-Coddling, Faculty of No One is Allowed to be Bad at Anything, Online University of San, CA.

Like many academics, I have an ambivalent attitude towards charity. On the one hand, I am, like most rational individuals, mildly annoyed at best (and violently enraged, at worst) by the constant demands on my finances made by the rapid expansion of the benevolent sector. How often has one had to suppress the desire to crush the skull of the gaudily-bibbed, and infuriatingly tutting post-graduate as you have politely declined the invitation to discuss the setting up of a direct debit, index-linked tithe upon your wages to be set up on behalf of any of the various good causes that these organisations profess to support? Many of you, I'm sure, have failed to show the same restraint as I usually manage to; and whilst I don't condone such rashness, neither can I wholeheartedly condemn it either.

Obviously, one doesn't wish to be seen as a callous, impecunious old fuddy-duddy who cares not a jot for the sufferings of the poor African/Palsied Individual/Mental Defective/Abused Pet etc. Fortunately, there is a way ahead that not only allows one to appear as if one does indeed care a jot about the sufferings of the poor African/Palsied Individual/Mental Defective/Abused Pet etc, but which requires no positive or altruistic action on one's own part. My extensive research, painstakingly conducted over the last two and a half weeks has yielded some fascinating and surprising data. Let me share with you some of the astonishing discoveries I have made whilst outlining the Theory of Oxfam Economics...

The principles behind Oxfam Economics are simple. Charities and charitable donors have created a self-sustaining loop that does neither good nor harm to the prevailing state of either the beneficiaries of the charity or of the donor. Confused? Let me provide a concrete example. As you'll have observed by the statement of responsibility beneath the Title of this proposal, I work for a University. I also spend a lot of my disposable income on secondhand records; often, though not exclusively, buying the aforementioned in large quantities from one of the many charity shops in the area where I live. All well and good, you might think, but how does this help to explain the Theory of Oxfam Economics?

A few years ago, whilst trying to find a way of circumventing the various (and utterly needless) pornography filters on our University's mainframe, I happened to notice a news item on our home page celebrating the securing of a £2 million donation from the Cancer Research charity. Two Million Smackeroonies. That's a lot of research. Or is it? Because that £2 million probably gets slopped around with all the other funding that goes towards making our Universities the pride of...well, I think you can see my point. Bit of creative accounting here, a few jollies to Trinidad & Tobago to laugh at the even more primitive state of their refectory than even your own institution's pathetic eaterie... the odd Honorary degree (and stipend) to the occasional disgraced former Tory cabinet minister and... you get the idea. Some of the money may even go towards a whole raft of very useful and important educational and research-led activities; the annual sponsored book burning, or funding a new Rastafarian translation of the Classics initiative ("Is this a dagger I see before I and I?"), perhaps the Student Union's Campaign to Free Dierdre Barlow (Retired Members) Pension Fund Committee might get a new overhead projector - who knows, we might even get that new refectory we've been after for so long...and so on.

To cut to the chase, some of those 2 million sobs probably ended up, no matter how circuitously, in the pockets of yours truly. I no doubt, in turn, returned some (if not all) of those sponduliks to the very same charitable source from whence they came. So there you have your loop. Oh, I've no complaints; we senior lecturers in Applied Semantic Molly-Coddling in the age of the Digital Download have to spend our ackers on something. And they've a fine selection of records, carefully selected and regularly updated so, if anything, it's a win-win situation as far as I'm concerned. I get paid, shell out for a few treasured lumps of drastic plastic, the charity gets to feel that it's performing a worthwhile societal role without doing anything to deprive itself of its own raison d'etre and, eventually, the cash dripfeeds it's way back into my pay-packet and we can start the process all over again...

This is the shop-based, 'classical' or 'perfect capitalism' model, of the charitable concern in which would-be consumers are invited to donate their unwanted tat and bric-a-brac in return for, well, buggar all, basically. This essentially valueless junk is then assessed by highly paid business graduates and put up for resale at a highly inflated price often based on a cursory glance at a Collector's guide whilst phoning Uganda on the office mobile. This massive price hike would not be possible without a highly impressive (and otherwise completely superfluous) re-branding of the charity shop so that it resembles in every respect (apart from the quality and newness of the wares inside it, obviously) the 'normal' retail environment. Evidently, such a sophisticated retail ambience does not come cheap.

But there are easier ways to redirect money given entirely well-meaningly to aid a particular cause away from the intended recipients and into the bank accounts of the well qualified Western Middle Classes. The hard-nosed, new entrepreneurial charity has moved off the high street and on to the street in search of your hard-earned cash. Those red-bibbed beggars I mentioned earlier are all graduates with excellent careers ahead of them in the high-end of the Cold-Calling industry. What better start for them in the finer arts of persuasion than the opportunity to service their student debt by way of an honest day toiling on the high street, guilt-tripping their well meaning but fatigued and life-immersed fellow citizens into contributing to whichever charity they purport to represent. Who knows? After the squadron of hawkers and clip-board-wielders have received their five figure stipend, there may even be enough of a residue to build a shanty hut/prefab rest home/poorly sanitized lunatic asylum/kennel or two for the odd African/Palsied Individual/Mental Defective/Abused Pet? So there you have it - Oxfam Economics. It's a pretty good scam, isn't it?

So, dig deep, citizens; every little helps. And whoever it is who has been donating their pristine and beautifully chosen records, please keep an eye on these pages; I'll be posting up a list of LPs some time soon...

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Eine Symphonie des Grauens...

Monochrome Set - Eine Symphonie des Grauens

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

The 45s...

1. Ernie - Benny Hill

2. The Israelites - Desmond Dekker & the Aces

3. The Funky Gibbon - The Goodies

4. Twist & Shout E.P. - The Beatles

5. Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever - The Beatles

6. Something Else/Friggin' in the Riggin' - The Sex Pistols

7. Sunday Girl - Blondie

8. Can't Stand Losing You (blue vinyl) - The Police

9. Message in a Bottle (green vinyl) - The Police

10. Up the Junction (mauve vinyl) - Squeeze

11. What's so Funny 'Bout Peace, Love & Understanding (Nick Lowe on sleeve) - Elvis Costello & the Attractions

12. How I Wrote Elastic Man - The Fall

13. Gangsters/The Selecter - Special A.K.A./The Selecter

14. Tears of a Clown - The Beat

15. Hands off She's Mine/Twist & Crawl - The Beat

16. A Forest - The Cure

17. Eine Symphony des Grauens - The Monochrome Set

18. The Last Time - The Rolling Stones

19. Going Underground/Dreams of Children (double pack) - The Jam

20. This Charming Man - The Smiths

21. This Charming Man (12 inch) - The Smiths

22. Everyday is Like Sunday - Morrissey

23. Hit me With Your Rhythm Stick - Ian Dury & the Blockheads

24. The Prince - Madness

25. Green Onions (Atlantic re-issue) - Booker T. & the MGs

26. Big A' Little A, Bouncing B - Crass

27. Original Sin/Legion - Theatre of Hate

28. Dancing With the Rude Boys - The Ruts

29. Hi Hi Hi/C Moon - Wings

30. Anticipation - Delta 5

31. It's Different for Girls - Joe Jackson

32. You're so Fine or I Found a Love - The Falcons [can't remember which I used to own]

33. You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin' (re-issue) - The Righteous Brothers

34. Baal E.P. - David Bowie

35. Magical Mystery Tour E.P. (mono) - The Beatles

36. Run Run Run [I think it was this one we had] - Jo Jo Gunne

37. The Harder They Come/Run Rudolph Run - Keith Richards

38. Car Trouble - Adam & the Ants

39. She's Not There E.P. (blue vinyl) - The U.K. Subs

40. Big Tears/Tiny Steps - Elvis Costello

41. The Drowners (12 inch) - Suede

42. Jim One - James

43. Christmas Day (white vinyl) - Squeeze

44. Working for the Yankee Dollar (double pack) - The Skids

45. Paint it Black - The Modettes

46. On my Radio - The Selecter

47. I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down - Elvis Costello & the Attractions

48. Daddy Cool - Darts

49. Two Pints of Lager & a Packet of Crisps Please! - Splodgenessabounds [this may have been coloured vinyl too - I honestly can't remember]

50. Something That I Said - The Ruts

Bubbling Under:

51. For My Country/The Black 45 EP - UK Decay [I'm pretty sure I had one of these...]

52. Pulling Mussels From the Shell [Clear vinyl, I think] - Squeeze

53. I've Just Been Feelin' Bad - Eddie Floyd [This was a b-side. I can't remember what the A-side was, as I fell in love with the flipside...]

54. Dreaming - Blondie [I have this and the b-side on Eat to the Beat, but it's just such a great single...)

55. Let it Be/Get Back - The Beatles [I think I had the Get Back single in the Let it Be sleeve...]

56. Blow Away - George Harrison

There are one or two tenuous ones, records that I never actually *owned* but which spent enough time in my collection for me to feel as if they were in some way briefly mine, if only in spiritual sense - The Fall, James and Monochrome Set are examples of such gestalt ownership and thus, I think, the only real cheats. I suppose that opens up a whole other argument about the notion of ownership itself, and I'm sure we'll delve into that more later on.

But otherwise, it's a fairly scrupulous list, I hope. There may have well been several important and inadvertent ommissions, but these are more likely to be lapses of memory, not necessarily attempts to conceal bad taste. Many of you will no doubt find more than enough examples of such tastelessness as it is to put your minds at rest on that score. Consequently, with the exception of the three interlopers already mentioned, I've tried to avoid too much wish-fulfillment. So there's no room for records I loved at the time but didn't buy - which is a shame, because I currently have a real hankering to hear, for example, 'I Got You' by Split Enz and I'm sure there will be others like it in the months ahead that come into my mind unbidden, some that may even have been eligible for this list. But, as you'll see, that's been excised from this list. It is, after all, an inventory of the lost, not the never found.

I've already ordered a few of these via ebay and I can see that the Royal Mail is going to make a pretty penny out of this one. So if anyone can help me to keep the Post Office's or Insignia's or whatever the fuck they're calling themselves now's profits down by donating any of the above in the interests of literature, please don't hesitate to get in touch. You can email me here:

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Missing Records...

I'm not sure if this is a side effect of loss, or just of growing older, but rather than appreciating the abundance of wonderful stuff I do possess, I find myself increasingly dwelling on the things that I no longer have. I suppose anything else would be like lopping someone's arm off and expecting that amputee immediately to express their gratitude for the three limbs that they still found themselves in possession of; you might be able to see the logic of the proposition, perhaps, but you would probably feel entitled to remain somewhat aggrieved at being an arm down. Oh we all come to terms with loss eventually in our own ways, but the first part of that process, surely, is to accept the loss, to acknowledge it for what it it is; unwelcome, intrusive and painful, and perhaps even plain bloody unfair. Later, maybe, there will be time for us to count our blessings, more room to give thanks for what we still have. But first we need to mourn for what's been taken from us; perhaps even to rage.

And loss, you start to realise, is not a temporary, once and for all occurence; loss goes on and on. Once lost to us, people stay lost and their continued absence becomes apparent in a variety of ways, even if we do find ways to bring the lost ones back and keep them living, if only in our minds. And then, just as you feel you've come to terms with one, another loss occurs. And one day, like those ubiquitous gondolas that so derail the Monty Python travelogue's narrator, you feel one day that is all that there will be; loss, loss and more fucking loss. And that's just the lost people. Loss then opens up a second, a third and a fourth front; you lose your looks, lose your youth and finally you lose your mind.

Perhaps this is as much a sign of the extent to which I've been shaped by the materialistic culture that I was born into and grew up in as much as it's a symptom of loss, but the finding of lost things now has a definite allure for me. We are all too aware of the realities of of life and death and have already or soon will be keeping a careful watch on that unyielding, hoarding burglar we call Time. So there's something quite joyous, I find, in the perversity of these thief-defying artifacts, the ones that turn up every now and then, unsoiled, unblemished to remind you of a time long gone. You welcome them home as you would a returning prodigal.

To that end, my counter to the losses - my compensatory factor if you like - has been buying second hand records. Like many in the mid 1980s, I got caught up in the rush to CD and pretty much gave up on those relatively fragile 33 1/3s and 45s some time ago. Then, sometime around 2002 or 2003, I bought the cheapest turntable that I could find with the aim of transferring to CD some of my harder to find old LPs. The turntable quickly became an obsession. The already surprisingly good sound achieved by this incredibly modest deck meant that it was rapidly enhanced and customised, tweaked and supercharged before it soon gave way to better turntables as the crazy, rekindled passion grew. The old family home was ransacked for what remained of my collection - sadly, nowhere near complete after a series of retrospectively agonising carboot sales and visits to the Collectors Record Shop. Daft, I know. But it was one way of coping with loss.

My mum had died in August 2002, you see. It was a long illness, very traumatic at the time and I suppose, looking back now, something of a watershed in my own life. You can still think of yourself as being young in your mid-to-late thirties. But death just makes you feel so old. It's not so much that you become more aware of all those days stacked up behind you. No, it's just the sheer violence that a loved one's death can inflict upon your body. Death just wears you out, frankly - at least, the ones that come at the end of long drawn out illness do. In death's wake, everything you do seems slower, less natural, less spontaneous; the easy pace of youth moves into a slower gear; your Little Red Corvette is forced to dawdle on the narrow country lane by the snail-like milkfloat chuntering up ahead.

But, if anyone's still reading after such a bleak opening as this, it's not all bad news up ahead. You start to cling, as you get older, to the comforting myth that youth is indeed wasted on the young. It isn't, of course, but there is a dividend of clarity that pays out when that superannuated body of yours starts to slow. There's the bittersweet thrill of finding lots of good stuff that you missed out on at the time and thought had gone for good and yet, there it is, still waiting patiently, like an over-generous or slightly desperate blind date. And what seemed at the time to have been a curse, to have missed out on the Sixties as those of us did who's teenage years happened to take place in that decade's wake, now seems more opportune. It's only six years, after all, between the Beatles split and the rise of the Sex Pistols. Another seven, and we've reached the Smiths. We were close enough to peer back not too far at all that wacky flower power stuff and still had plenty of good things to look forward to, one starts to feels as the years tick on. So Pop Time can do old gits like me a favour, even if the Old Father kind is not so....well, kind.

It does seem strange to me that a grown man - I'm well into my 42nd year as I write this - still has so much time for such a supposedly juvenile form. I suppose that we all carry a residue of youth, even when it seems it ought to have no place in us. And, as you get older, you start to realise with increasing certainty that there really is no way back. You can only rewrite so much history. You remain the product of the choices that you made and if you want to understand yourself, you have to face up to and understand those choices. I guess that, if I'm honest, is what is fuelling this quest.

I haven't told you about the quest, have I? That's age for you. This will probably seem to most of you like tilting at a windmill, but what the heck. I've compiled a list of 100 records - 50 singles, 50 LPs - all of which at one time or another passed through my hands but none of which I currently own. I 've replaced most of the things I used to have on vinyl, but not these strays who've somehow slipped through the net. The quest is to find them and to discover what, if anything, they still mean to me; a sort of audit of their emotional value, I guess. It's a pretty poor list if truth be told - as you'll see tomorrow when I post the names of the 50 singles up. But it's an honest one. They are all missing records. I just want to find out how much I'm missing them. And who knows, in amongst the mistakes, and the horrors, there may be a few pleasant surprises. I just hope that I can find them all...who knows - maybe some of you may even be able to help?

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


Contrary to what you may have heard, satire actually is by far the sharpest weapon in the writer's armoury. That said, to all intents and purposes, it might as well still be the bluntest for all the good it does. You see, it seems that no matter that s/he may have aimed to skewer the heart or how accurate the barb, the satirist still only succeeds in doing little more than clipping the toenails of the intended target with his or her rapier-like wit. I suppose it does loosen and redirect some bile though, so it's not completely without purpose...

Lsst night I made a terrible mistake. Scrolling through the onscreen TV guide, I alighted on a programme I didn't recognise from it's foreshortened title in the listings. Unfortunately, it featured Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - or Hugh Titting Fearnley-Fucking Whitting-Cunting-Stall as he's affectionately known in our house. I don't want you to get the impression that we don't like the chap. As vegetarians, we like little more than to turn on our set, sip at a glass of freshly squeezed kitten's blood and watch Hugh saw away at a bison or hang a calf upside down or any similarly rational and cuddly activities he might deploy to entertain and educate us in matters culinary.

He is, in the unlikely instance that anyone reading this hasn't come across him already, the sort of carnivore who looks askance at a dollop of buffalo mozarella before enquiring in a pained voice, "what have you done with its horns?" So you can imagine my joy at finding him there on the screen before me, grappling some chocolate sponge cake-coloured soil with a demonic Nicky Horne lookalike from the other side of the Atlantic at his side. It transpires that Hugh has hit upon the idea of dispensing with the services of the local market gardens and abbatoirs and embarked instead upon transforming his own backyard into a fully functioning farm capable of providing comestibles for his famous restaurant, the River Cafe - or something or other Cafe. All excellent stuff.

So, soil duly grappled - "is it any good?", Hugh asks the diabolical bearded dwarf beside him; Christ, the man really will eat *anything*, it seems - the Hughster sets about inspecting his livestock. "I'd been a bit apprehensive about this aspect of farming", confides Hughie as he does that cutlass sharpening thing with a couple of lengthy carving knives, a maniacal grin spreading about his otherwise cherubic face. "But it turns out to be a breeze". Apparently, you just bung a bit of sawdust in the general direction of those little brown things with the wings and beaks and give the occasional showers to the penned up pink thingies with the snouty noses every now and then and nature pretty much takes its course.

"The pigs are a real revelation", enthuses H.T.F.F.W.C.S. "Not only can you get a fair old bit of meat off them, but the kids love 'em and they're actually rather good company!" I don't want to appear to be jumping on my soapbox here and lapsing into a predictable and over-emotionalised piece of animal rights polemic or anything. So can I just assure the gentle reader that I have at no point in my life ever owned, much less stood upon, anything as coarse and demeaning as a soapbox. Now, can I get back to the predictable and over-emotionalised piece of animal rights polemic? OK. But, really, one can only hope that The Hughster doesn't waver from this attitude when Monty Don or Sophie Grigson or any of his other "well, I just sort of ambled into a career in the media really, because I come from a good family and I can be more or less relied upon to open a bag of seeds the right way up and not say the word 'oik' when I'm referring to a tradesman and that sort of thing" friends come for supper. "Ho Ho Ho, yes isn't uncle Monty a card trussed up like that Jemimah. Now, are you sure you can manage a whole leg, Alpha Romeo? And how about you Ezekiel? Are you sure you wouldn't rather I sliced the trousers off for you?"

Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against people who eat meat. Most of them would, I'm fairly sure, be like me if they had to wring a chicken's neck or stab a lamb in the throat themselves to get their food. The worst you can say about the average British carnivore is that they're a bit lazy. No, it's cunts like H.T.F.F.W.C.S. and Gordon Fucking Ramsay - the sort who take such a peculiar delight not only in inflicting death on their fellow creatures so blithely but also insist that the television audience looks on as they do it - who I wish to eradicate.

There seems to be something quite perverse about a society that considers legislation enabling the police to detain terror suspects for up to 56 days in order that the constabulary has time to come up with a reasonable justification for having said suspects taken out by trained marksmen on the platforms of our noble public transport network when men like Ramsay and Fearnley-Fucking Whitting-Cunting-Stall are free to walk the streets.

But Hugh can rile me even without the butchery. Just watching him as I did last night,fondling some hideously distorted root vegetable or other and cooing "ooh - look at my celeriac!" is enough to boil the blood. The man is seriously warped - and, no, I don't mean eccentric, I mean *warped*. Only a person of sectionable derangement would dress up in a beekeeper's outfit and go out in the middle of the night to scour the acres upon acres of lamb's lettuce he has had planted in his garden that's a quarter of the size of the Duchy of Cornwall for slugs. "Gotcha, you little pest!!" Hugh gloats before throwing his head back in silhouette against the full moon and letting out a maniacal and blood curdling laugh (...alright, I made that last bit up...) I turn off before I can find out what horrible fate is inflicted on the poor, wretched mollusc. You see - he really *will* eat anything...

Funny, isn't it? All the pomp and ceremony of the State opening of Parliament and the Queen's speech pass me by without a murmur and yet I can take one look at Hugh and want to line the whole fucking lot of them against a wall and gun the bastards down.

Why is the world so wrong??

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

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Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Billions Watched...

Saturday 3rd November, 2007: Arsenal 2 (Fabregas, Gallas), Manchester United 2 (Gallas o.g., Ronaldo)

It had to happen sooner or later, I suppose, the first real stumble of the season. Not the team; the two draws that have so rudely interrupted our fine sequence of wins in all competitions were both against quality opposition, so no disgrace there. I'm talking about the book; the writing is the problem at the moment, not the team. Three days have elapsed since William Gallas' late goal earned us a point against the reigning champions and I have been, until now, unable to get any words to come out at all. I've been stuck, sat before the white sheet with nothing coming; just blankness and a fuzzing of the brain. With the away game in Prague looming, I've forced myself to start writing, just to see what comes, before the whole lumbering juggernaut that is The Road to Moscow judders to a halt with barely a quarter of a season played. Moscow seems a long way away right now. I've come very close to jacking it in.

Like a billion other people, I watched the Man U game on television. Maybe that's the problem. After all, most of those billions of souls - we'll assume that most of them had or now have some interest in the broader game of football - might reasonably be expected to comprise the bulk of my prospective readership around the globe. If they've seen the game, as I did, via the mediating filter of satelite TV, what could I possibly tell them about Arsenal versus Manchester United that they don't already know? Why should my experience of the match be worth reading about when they already have a perfectly good one of their own?

So we all sat there; or slouched or stood or sprawled across the floor or the sofa or reclined in an office chair and gawped at the screen on the wall of the dilapidated pub, or at our laptop in Silesia, or a projector in Saigon. The vagaries of the shapes and dimensions of the screens no more significant than those of different sized bowls into which uniformly apportioned slops of identical gruel might have been doled on a collectivized farm. Because even with the death of communism, we can still be made to endure a similar communal impoverishment of the consciousness. Oh sure, you can choose your own camera angles and listen to the commentary team in Swahili, but it's still nothing at all like being there is Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV. It's better than some dandruff-ridden 70s satelite transmission of a game from the soviet bloc, but in the end you just endure a different kind of tyranny; one of pizzazz and hyperbole not that of static, snow and a rolling drum of a picture.

I suppose this is the kind of problem you can expect though, when you write about the popular or common experience in the age of the globalized media. We all think we know more than those who play the game or the men who pick the teams. The stodgy-faced Man Utd fan sat in the corner rails at the screen "you have to do better than that" as Ryan Giggs' instinctive reaction shot at the end of a cross he's not expecting to reach him pings just wide. It's as if there's a suggestion that Giggs might somehow prefer to miss than score a goal. We all know - or think we know - the game inside out; a global panel of pundits and experts strtching from Beijing to Nova Scotia. So what can I say that might add anything at all of worth to our understanding of the beautiful game?

I could tell you about the soft Irish-flavoured lilt of the home-shirted Liverpool fan stood beside me at the bar, I suppose. I coulod try to describe the way his spectacles did that goldfish bowl thing that makes the wearer look like Joe 90 or one of the Tracey brothers from Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds. Or I could pass on to the gentle reader that this lad's seat was in the end where all the goals were scored iun Istanbul that night in May 2005 when Liverpool came back from three goals behind to snatch the European Cup from AC Milan. Or I could tell you how we hugged - two perfect strangers united in antipathy towards Man U - when William Gallas' late goal levelled the scores. But then, a billion others would have watched as we did, theie eyes like ours refusing to believe the referees unarguable point back to the centre circle, only losing any doubt the goal was good once we had born witness to the gentle dropping down of that levelling two in place of a loser's one, as slow as a day clicking over on the counter of a wristwatch, on the Sky scoreboard. Gallas' goal thus legitimised, only then could our festivities begin.

But then you will all have your own stories; the billion others of you out there who either leaped for joy as we did or hung your head in despair at that late, two point-stealing goal. Or maybe you were a neutral, just happy to enjoy the game? Perhaps it's you I'm writing for; the uncommitted, the one who likes but does not love, applauds rather than cheers. But how do you describe in words a passion to those who do not share it? How could In describe that joyous leap, the ....of fists raised up towards the ceiling; pink-faced, our hearts pounding laughing at the outrageousness of it all. Substitute the elation they felt and the doom in our hearts when Ronaldo scored their second, and perhaps that's why a game we only drew had more of the feeling you'd expect from a victory.

Or maybe I'm writing for someone else entirely. Someone not yet born; someone who may never know a game called football who may wonder what they used to do in that crumbling wreck called Emirates. Someone to whom our loafers and trainers, polo shirts and tracky bottoms will seem as antiquated as a Roman tunic or a gladiator's sandals or that once great Colloseum do to us. You write for time, I suppose; to tell the billions yet to come what it was like to be among the billion who were once here.

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bobcasts now available at iTunes!!

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Sunday, 4 November 2007

Bob & Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Club...

See? Aren't we good to you?

Just when you thought Radio 2 had been *completely* overrun by young hooligans like Ross and Lamarr and you were starting to think the good old days of Jimmy Young were all but over...



Subscribe in i-Tunes.

L.U.V. on y'all,

Bob & Stray

Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

Bobcasts now available at iTunes!!

Bob and Stray's Crackly Saturday Record Clubcasts now available at Jellycast!!

The Black Sea...

I've been having a bit of a think (don't worry, it doesn't happen very often) and I've decided to stop posting the 'Road to Moscow' up here. It seems silly merely to replicate the posts here when, as my poorly maintained (and probably inaccurate) statistics seem to suggest, more people are listening to the podcasted version than are reading here (...unless of course there's just one very sad and obsessional Swipester out there who spent most of October downloading the same episode 950 times....which is a possibility I'm afraid I can't discount which case, please stop it Spinster.) So if that's OK with you guys, I will try to post up the story of the season as it unfolds every week or so via the ploddingcasts and get back to blogging...

All of which, allows me to use this space to indulge my other passion in life (well, it would if you were allowed to upload images of donkey-based pornography involving dwarves and Haagen das ice cream) so I suppose it'll have to be records...

And here is an example of the very same that I was fortunate enough to come across in the Cancer Research Shop yesterday (how they haven't found a fucking cure yet after all the dosh I've been putting their way over the last few years, I do not know!) I thought this might interest Istvanski, if no one else, anyroad...

It's a copy of XTC's rather excellent 1980 LP, The Black Sea, complete with customised XTC, The Black Sea wrapping paper. Oh, but that's not all. A closer inspection reveals that the label of this fine original pressing of the album is somewhat of an oddity. The Virgin logo and track listing and so on appears to have been stamped over a Robert Stigwood Organisation label, as would have been more befitting an offering by stablemates of that label such as the Bee Gees or Eric Clapton....

Fascinating, eh? Obviously, being the lazy sod I am, I've made no attempt whatsoever to do any research, so I can't shed any light on the reason for this bizarre label/logo mash up in a ragga-stylee, but can only join the curious reader in speculation. Perhaps Richard Branson, finding himself overstretched financially by the twin demands of running a record company and starting up a budget airline had simply run out of the wherewithal to provide proper annotation to his vinyl product. Shamefaced and apologetic, the bearded elfin-faced entrepreneur sidled up to fellow impressario Stigwood to beg a few blank labels. All of which begs the question, are there a few hundred copies of Spirits Having Flown floating about with bare black centres? We'll probably never know. But do drop me a line if you ever come across one, won't you....

I also found this...

To my shame, I'd never owned this LP until yesterday. I'm not as obsessive a collector of bands' back catalogues as some of my mates, even when I really like them. Laziness again, I guess. I suppose I saw them as a singles band too; they really did pick such strong material for release in the 7 inch format - 'Strange Town', 'Eton Rifles', 'Going Underground' and, from this LP, 'Down in the Tube Station', 'David Watts, and 'A-Bomb in Wardour Street'. I always had a strong affinity with this album's darker, bleaker follow-up, 'Setting Sons'. It's a beauty though, even when you come to it belatedly as I have (I knew most of the tracks, I've just never had a copy of it.)

There's barely a mark on it, so it's an absolute joy to listen to. The boat whistles and horn and effects that usher in the unlisted (on the sleeve, at least) 'English Rose' play about the stereo soundscape quite magically; you really have been transported even before Weller's delicately finger picked guitar starts up. It's a lovely tune and, if the idea of it being used as the backing track for an advertisement raises the hackles, then that ire is slightly pacified by the appropriateness of the English Tourist Board benefitting from the song's bittersweet and haunting evocation of the loved and loathed place of one's birth.

I should have put a picture of the back of the sleeve up too, there's a photo of Weller's Rickenbacker guitar which bears a sticker for a band called The Boys - about whom, more later...

I'm not sure how many out there share this fascination with old records - one feels a bit like those old neighbours from one's own youth who clung obstinately (how English, how Orwell is that?) to their swing 78s while 45 and 33 1/3 rpm discs were then the state of the art preference of most. The smell of urine on one's clothes and an eternity spent trying to remember what you got up from the settee to go into the kitchen for can't be far away, you feel. But I quite like that feeling of being out of step and, who knows, perhaps even a little eccentric now. If an eccentric is what you are when you are true to yourself in the face of ridicule from others, then I suppose that I can live with that. And for any one who hasn't had the pleasure of listening to a really good pressing of a favourite pre-digital era album or single on a reasonably good turntable, it really does open your ears to what you've been missing out to by succumbing to the autocracy of the compact disc and MP3.

It opens your eyes too - in the broader, consciousness expanding sense. You are actively involved in the production of the sound, for a start rather than being a passive listener as you become once you hit that forward pointing triangle on the tiny keyboard in your hand. The stylus has to be maintained, cherished before being lowered onto the disc; no remotes, no remoteness here. Similarly, the surface of the record has to be nurtured and protected - perhaps that's what all this is; child substitution? I hadn't thought of that. De-ionised water or a pant of breath can help to lift those grubby paw prints off the playing surface; they're worse than scratches even, ruining the listening experience and the stylus at the same time. Velvet and fine cloth massage the grooves; this is another appealing aspect of the record playing experience as opposed to the act of bunging a CD on; it's very tactile. In fact, there's a whole dimension of listening to music that has been excised by the rush to digital. I could go on, but I'm sure I'll return to this subject, so I won't (and please excuse the choice of such an obvious metaphor here) start sounding like a stuck record just yet...

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

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Wednesday, 31 October 2007


Saturday 26th April, 1930 ; FA Cup Final: Arsenal 2 (James, Lambert), Huddersfield Town 0

We glide through misty blue. Wisps of cloud play around our bulbous prow. No ack-ack this time as we survey the hazy maquette of tidy suburbs down below. Then, out of nowhere, Wembley Stadium looms, a lime sherbet set like a rhinestone in plastic and concrete; the oval rim quite dull and grey besides the glinting jewel, but somehow the whole remaining mystical. I squeeze my father's hand as we peer down through the glass that stands between us and a freefall through the air outside. We're safe here in this chrome-lined basket, clinging like a barnacle to the underside of our blau gas bloated whale of a balloon. 92,488 watched the 1930 FA Cup final, but few could say they saw it quite like me.

We come in peace this time, but still the tracers come; flat caps, infinitessimally tiny dots tossed up towards us by a few among the ninety or so thousand other ever-so-slightly larger dots our dark hull looms above. Twenty or so ants scamper about the green stone kernel of the ring below our grey speech-bubble craft. They hug the white rectangles, cut diagonally across in such strange, beguiling stop-start patterns. Our engines' hum blots out the roar that accompanies all their frantic scurrying and scuttling.

When we are both a little older, my father will sit me down upon his knee and reminisce about that day and our exhalted, bird's-eye view. He tells me details of the game we saw, provides a concrete casing of facts and figures to support the emerald of memory. He croons a plodding, comic dirge of a song,

And when they've had a few they shout 'Is Ars'nal going to win?'
They think it's Alec James, instead of poor old Ann Boleyn

I'll sing the same song to Hannah when she is young as she fidgets on my knee, my accent turning Ws into Vs and THs into esses. Then, when I've sung my song I tell her how the pilot dipped the nose of the famous airship the Graf Zeppelin into a stiff Germanic curtsey before King George V.

And Hannah has come to visit me now, to fit some earphones to her father's wisp-haired head; another set of wires to join the myriad of tubes and cables all around me. I hear that chocolate-gobbling voice once more, preserved somehow amid the fizzing of the shellac, somehow aqueezed into a fist-sized gizmo. "With her head tucked underneath her arm", I mouth and nod along once once more and beam back at her as the day comes back entire. She'll see me smile, will Hannah, see her father's tired fingers dance a sprightly jig upon the sleeve of my pyjamas. She'll look back and realise that it's not her who's given something precious to her Dad, but her papa who's secreted something wonderful and special for the daughter that he loves. A present left for her to find and to unwrap in her own time.

For what better gift is there than a smile to leave behind me as I sail into the blue?

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

You can now subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' (it's free!!!) in iTunes!!

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The Road to Moscow - part 10...

... is now available to listen to and download....

Subscribe here and get the lot - gra-tis!...

Subscribe to 'The Road to Moscow' in i-Tunes

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

Bobcasts now available at iTunes!!

Bobcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Monday, 29 October 2007


Sunday 28th October, 2007: Liverpool 1 (Gerrard), Arsenal 1 (Fabregas)

Sunday starts badly. I read two rejection emails:

Dear Robert Swipe

Thank you for contacting **** **** Associates through our website and for posting an extract from your novel there. We were pleased to read and consider this but have decided to pass on the opportunity of reading more material or representing this to UK publishers. I'm sorry to be negative but we did not connect with the narrative voice as much as we'd need to in order to feel confident pitching this to publishers, with their already crowded lists.

All the best for finding an agent who feels differently.

With best wishes...

I know you're not meant to take it personally and all that, but when you're writing as I am, you can't help but take things like that a little to heart. After all, that "narrative voice" they "did not connect with" is actually *my* voice. In fact, this voice you're hearing in your ears or realising in your head is not the figment of somebody's overactive imagination; it's actually *me*. Oh, and one last thing: *IT'S NOT A BLOODY NOVEL!* I start composing a righteously indignant, B.S. Johnson style rejoinder in which I quote T.S. Eliot ("...human kind cannot bear very much reality...") and point out to them in no uncertain terms the artistic validity of what I'm doing but, really, what's the point? Writing, for them, is something that gets sold in books and to me it's something more than that. So why waste the mental energy?

Already disheartened, I read the next one:

Thank you for your submission to join Litopia Writers’ Colony. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept your application at the present time. Please understand that we cannot accept all submissions for membership on the first attempt, and you are free to re-apply after a three-month period. This thread and your submission will be deleted shortly.

With all good wishes:

Litopia Writers’ Colony

No problem. I'll just be sticking that banner of theirs I put up on the website somewhere the sun doesn't shine...And pillocks to your effing Colony.

And so it goes on; a bitter, bitty day when nothing seems to click. I don't do any writing because I'm shattered by a week of trying to squeeze in being creative and thoughtful around gaps in the everyday routine at work and at home. The only time I get that's entirely my own is on the mini-bus, with all the other fruit pickers, jotting down the day's efforts as I'm pitched up in the air, tossed around like a single-handed yachtsman by pothole and sleeping policeman alike. No wonder this thing is so fragmented; it's a wonder I can read my handwriting at all at times. Instead of working, I spend hours looking for an old demo tape I could swear I had in my hand three or four weeks ago, but now can I find it anywhere? I'm starting to get that feeling you get when you know this just isn't going to be your day. So it's with trepidation that I head off to the Prisoner of War ("Special screenings of Escape to Victory, whist drive and finger buffet every third Wednesday) to watch the game.

Unsurprisingly and with grinding inevitability it takes Liverpool a mere 5 minutes to score. Fabregas attempts to play the ball out from defence after a good passage of play from the home side that's already forced a full stretch save from Manuel Almunia. Cesc's attempt to cushion the ball with his thigh is too heavy and he clips the toe of Alonso's boot just outside the box in his attempt to retrieve the runaway ball. Almunia calls for one more man in the wall to defend the resulting free kick and Cesc duly obliges. But in his eagerness to charge down the ball as Gerrard shapes to shoot, he leaves a gaping hole for Stevie G. to aim at. His strike is so venomous though that you could almost imagine it cannonballing through regardless, Hannah Barbera style, leaving a smouldering Acme football-sized hole in the midrift of the Arsenal defender who was foolish enough to have stood in its way before scorching a similar shaped void into the net.

It's just my luck that this usually quiet local dotted with a handful of diehard regulars who appear to have been rooted to the spot since the last time you were there several weeks ago seems miraculously to have been chosen as this year's venue for the Liverpool Southern Supporters Annual Dinner Dance. That's the only explanation I can find for the sudden eruption of joy that surrounds me as the pub leaps in the air as one, expressing their fervour in a variety of south of Watford accents that run the gamut from plummy Received Pronunciation to Estuary tang. Away from their adopted home, back up north in Liverpool, Gerrard does one of those finger running along the keyboard, qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm slides along the grass on his knees to the touchline in celebration before being mobbed by jubilant reds. Here we go, you think. This is where it all comes crashing down.

Liverpool seem well up for this game in the wake of their European defeat midweek. Gerrard, in particular, is tackling ferociously and there are several audible crunches as he, Carragher and Voronin go crashing in. The Wolfish Sammi Hypia runs a lupine tongue around his lips as he leaves Adebayor pinioned to the ground writhing around in an even more carnally tormented than usual Jens Lehmann warm-up routine. But this is no place for Lambsy and, miraculously, the young Arsenal players hold there nerve. And then they start to play. Clichy, a preternaturally cool customer for one of so few years, as he has been so often this season, is the architect of many of these audacious, nonus shittus passages in which stout defence elides into attack through a sequence of calm and measured passes. For a lengthy spell in this first period, you could be forgiven the belief that the team with the one in the column beside their name is the one wearing white shirts and not red. Liverpool still manage to tee up Gerrard with another potent shot which Almunia manages to claw over the bar, but Arsenal's pressing and passing is looking more likely to bear fruit.

As Alex Ferguson looks on, blue nosed and looking rather glum, from somewhere deep in the Anfield stands, the game resumes. It's frantic, passionate stuff. Liverpool manage to prevent Arsenal from passing themselves into dangerous areas and when Eboue, suddenly starting to look plausible in his new position as an attacking midfielder, tiptoes into the Liverpool box and sees a well-struck low shot cannon back off the upright, it really does seem to be turning into one of those days. This feeling has compound interest added to it when the rebound lands invitingly at the feet of the one player on the pitch any Arsenal fan would most like it to fall. Sadly, Cesc can't adjust quite quickly enough to get his reaction shot on target.

I turn to H., who's joined me for the second half and ask, "how do Liverpool do it? They manage to do virtually nothing and win." With a quarter of an hour to play, I can't see Arsenal scoring. Wenger has made all the changes he can; Gilberto, Bendtner and Walcott have been brought on as Arsenal chase the game. Walcott gets jeered by the Liverpool faithful every time he loses his footing on what seems a very slippery pitch. They get to jeer a lot. Gallas, leading by example, goes on a daring dribble that runs out of steam just inside the Liverpool box. I start to worry that the team has tired. Oh me of little faith!

Alex has kept toiling quietly away without too much drama until eventually, like a master of mystery waiting for the perfect moment to apply a twist to the plot, he's where we want him to be; running at the Liverpool defence. The wily old Belarussian coyote decides that it's time for that old claw on the ball of wool trick again. He waits and waits and waits a little bit more, sensing something special in the air. Or maybe he can hear the galloping of Fabregas as he charges towards the box. Finally Hleb puts an end to the suspense. He clips a ball beyond the Liverpool line and Fabregas is Speedy Gonzalez, racing onto it to stab the ball just inside Reyna's near post. This time it's Fab's turn to qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm on his knees towards the corner flag in emulation of his hero, Stevie G. He lingers there a second before punching an arm in the air at the Arsenal fans who are dancing in delight in the Michael Thomas end. He and Alex have set us up for a fabulous finale.

It's end to end in the last 10 minutes and you feel both sides want to win the game right up until the final whistle blows. Gallas' despairing dive foils a Gerrard shot from a tight angle and Fabregas combines with Bendtner to recreate Eboue's earlier effort to dismantle the Liverpool goal. This time it's Fab's shot that strikes the woodwork. Bendtner snatches at his shot when the ball bounces favourably in front of him, blasting over when he had time to take a touch and pick his spot. Fabregas runs away with his palms tapping his crown in agonised disbelief. For a while, you share young Fabregas' frustration. But then, there's enough post-match purring from the pundits as it is. This draw has made a few people reconsider this young Arsenal side's credentials. How unbearable would they have been had we won?

So there you go; lessons learned. Never give up - especially not on this young Arsenal side. let's hope Sir Alex's nose is even bluer and his expression just as glum at the Emirates in just under a week.


So it goes on; the daily battle between your consciousness and the competing clamour of the world of work. Sometimes you feel it's drowning you, but you *must* persist, you must prevail. Keep its fire burning, cherish it and nurture it. Because in the end, it's all you've got.

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

Bobcasts now available at iTunes!!

Bobcasts now available at Jellycast!!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The Wizards of Twiddly...

Pier Head, Liverpool; just after sunrise. The glare of the light is rapidly spreading over the still misty, muddy water as the wind whips in from the Irish Sea. The Beatles once stood where you now stand, with a piece-of-string-strapped acoustic guitar between you; the new John and Paul. Caspar is there too, now studying at C.S. Mott College over in Prescott. We've accompanied him back on the cramped and dingy overnight coach after whichever vacation it was that had just come to an end, in 1984 - or was it 1985? We crane our necks at the Liver Building and squint up at the distant Liver birds.

Caspar is our guide on this magical mystery tour. In Mathew Street you have the record shop where Pete Burns used to work and the car park where the Cavern used to stand a few steps up from the new (and rather tacky) Cavern Walks. What was once Eric's (now - or rather, then - Brady's, if Wikipedia is to be believed) is opposite. You can peer up at the the photos of all those heads it's had the pleasure to know that run up the staircAse walls. The Grapes, Ye Crack, Penny Lane and even Knotty Ash you get to see them all and take that cliched ferry across the Mersey too. Then, at night, the club - I can't remember the name of it - where they filmed an early Frankie 'Relax' video and a couple of scenes from Letter to Brezhnev. You move on from there to the Casablanca; a cosy drinking room in the once-smart Georgian terrace opposite the Anglican Cathedral. There beneath the vast, looming Bogart and Bacall whose painted, parting clinch takes up most of a wall, you drink your Newcy browns and gobble down a bowl of chilli. It's been generously ladled from the huge vat of the stuff and is all this late night 'restaurant' ever serves. Who cares? It gives them a late license.

On one of our visits - I couldn't find a record of it to verify the date - we go to see a gig at (I think) the Liverpool University Academy. Caspar's mates, Andys Delamere and Frizzell, have a band called Perfect and they're the support act for the up and coming Woodentops. These same two Andys will go on to form the wonderfully named Wizards of Twiddly a few years later and between them build up an impressive portfolio of collaborations with some very well known artists; Kevin Ayers, The Coral and - this is *really* impressive - the late Vivian Stanshall. To give you some idea of the level they're on, they develop a sideline tribute band called The Muffin Men. The artist whose repertoire they're reviving? Frank Zappa.

I don't remember much about that evening except that there was a very large red and black banner draped behind the stage. It was most likely something to do with Militant Tendency. Militant had a strong presence on Liverpool Council and for most of 1984 and 1985, the time in which I'd make my visits to the city, there was a stand off between local and central government over the Tories attempts to curb the rates. In 1984, Liverpool threatened to ignore the proposed cap (in effect, a council spending cut) and continue to provide the services they'd been elected to by running at something like a £35 million deficit.

There's broad support initially for the council's programme of public works and house building and, with the government having somewhat bigger fish to fry in the form of the National Union of Minerworkers, a compromise is reached. However, this only defers the confrontation until the following year. Emboldened, perhaps, by the apparent success of their stand in '84, the council, led by former fireman Derek Hatton, once again refuses to comply with the Thatcher government's financial restraints. With the council workers poised to come out on strike and the Miners' dispute raging elsewhere, it appears to be a critical point in the decade. Factor in the romanticism of youth and it's a very heady time. With all the banners waving and the spirit of defiance in the air it felt as I imagine Barcelona must have done when Orwell joined the anarchist militia there during the Spanish Civil War.

But looking back, with time behind me and all the further cynicism that's accrued, there was something else you picked up on. It was there in the voices of the busdrivers and the Chinese lady who served us chips, taking our orders in her thoroughly assimilated scouse; something older and wiser with an air of 'seen-it-all'. This time would be no different, the quiet resignation of those sing-song lilts was telling you; and life would still go on.


The double decker pauses for an age outside a desolate parade. Boarded shops fester on the facade of a characterless single storey block of soviet starkness. Someone's aerosoled a line through the first word on the orange hoarding of the Labour Exchange. The one they've sprayed above it appears to be a better fit; at least it must feel that way, the hundredth or the thousandth time you trudge down to the Joke Centre to find there is no work.

Up ahead and to the right of the front of the bus where you sit, as you used to as a kid, pretending that you were the driver of the bus, you can see Anfield. "This is Anfield" it says at the end of the tunnel, on the sign above the players as they run out onto the pitch. It's meant to scare you; back then, most likely it did. The place certainly seemed to scare the Arsenal. They lose 2-1 on 11th February, 1984; 3-0 on the 12th February 1985; 2-0 on 17th August that same year. This is not Anfield, but even so you are scared. Because everything is broken down here and you can only hope that does not extend to the bus you're sitting on right now.


Life would still go on. And so it went. The council ballsed it up. They lost the support of their employees when they gave them the impression they were prepared to sack them without any guarantees that those staff would get their jobs back after this legal formality had been observed. Or maybe something else had started to sink in, taken the fight out of the city as it tottered on the brink. There's no doubt in my mind that Hatton favoured the grand gesture over the pragmatic. But the bus drivers still drive and the chip lady from the orient continues to batter away. Heseltine came up here, as local band (and Tory supporters, as it goes) The Icicle Works observed, and flowers started sprouting everywhere. Liverpool still beat Arsenal when they made the trip to Anfield, so what had really changed?


One of Caspar's friends is Caroline Aherne (or 'Titch' as she seems to be more widely known back then) who will go on to write The Royle Family. But you don't get to meet her on any of the occasions you come up here. Another friend is a guy called John Dunbavin (Eddie Izzard with Tom Selleck's moustache - no, strike that; he's Tom Selleck with Tom Selleck's moustache...) whose room is a little down the corridor in Caspar's hall of residence. He has a tube of 'sun-in'. It reacts to the sun when you put it on your hair and gives you 'natural' highlights. You try some, hoping to emulate the honeyed tones of his smooth 1980's quiff.

You sit there, in the Prince Albert pub on Lark (or was it Linnet?) Lane where one night Paul handed a Shimmy Shimmy demo tape to Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen. He did the same at Guildford Civic Hall, handing a copy of the same tape to the soundman when we went to see the Smiths on 28th February, 1985. We still haven't heard back from either of them. He's huge is Mac; a rugby number eight under that baggy jumper and bulky miserablist's overcoat. His hair is so majestically dishevelled. No one has any money. You're each despondently nursing your last pint when Caspar tries to sip the last few mouthfuls of his beer without using either of his hands. The glass lifts slowly and just as the beer is about to trickle down towards his throat, the pint pot snaps and an anarchy of glass and Guinness is rained upon the table. We take one look at Caspar, a pathetic beak of glass protruding from his mouth, and collapse hysterically. Spirits bouyed by this insanity, Dunbavin seeks a cash point and, wedged up once more, we grab a cab to Casablanca to have ourselves a good time, with no money, at someone else's credit card's expense.


I'm looking through the box of papers, notebooks and assorted scraps I brought back from the old family home, trying to find a scrap from Liverpool that might help me out with places, names or dates. There's nothing from that period that I can see, but I do find this - no doubt intended to be a lyric but one that reads more like a poem - a brief recollection of that time penned a couple of years later. I'd called it 'Satori [sic] in Liverpool':

A salty misty port at 6 in the morning,
Strong arms release the ferry as the day is dawning.
The smell of fish and chips.
Rings are only made for pawning.

A blue knapsack on my shoulder,
Caspar showing me around.
Sprawled on the floor of the flat
Alert to every sound.

Even the taxi drivers have a sense of humour.
The world is a sweet shop
And I am the consumer.
Toxteth looks like 'Citizen Kane';
Limping, limping, limping along with its tumour.

I've included it here merely because it was written closer to the time I'm writing about now than I am to it today. I certainly don't make any literary claims for it. Indeed, there's a lot that I don't like about it; "the smell of fish and chips" isn't ringing any bells, neither is the bit about Toxteth and Citizen Kane. I would immediately excise that bullshitty and only-in-there-for-the-rhyme tumour too, were this not a purely documentary exercise. In fact, the whole thing has the feel of all of the poetry I write - most of it in jest whenever things get too pretentious on the Guardian Unlimited and I send in something in blank verse and knocked up on the spot that usually ends with the in-joke line "as if culled from Utopia" that Caspar and I always laugh about. It come from a poem I wrote about seal culling in much the same jocular spirit during a third year English class.

But it's not all hateful. The blue knapsack I quite like - if only as an aide memoir that means I can see the very one that I was carrying when it would otherwise have stayed forgotten. It could even be the Tory's touristy blue one, perhaps? And I trust the "salty misty port" better than I do the paragraph that starts this section at Pier Head. Maybe in a poet's hands, that sweet shop/consumer thing might have had some proper legs rather than 'limping, limping, limping' Toxteth-like as it does. Who knows? That same poet might even have been able to make the taxi driver joke work too.

As I'm rooting through the pile that washed this fragment up, I come across an airmail letter sent from Israel. It's from Paul; the owner of that string-strapped acoustic guitar we heard the distant strum of back at Pier Head as the dawn broke way back when. It dates back to his stint on a Kibbutz in the late 1980s. Deep, wise and unusually unguarded, it's another of those unexpected intrusions from the past that leave you feeling rather strange:

Fiction is a release for the imagination. A release for the imagination is probably as crucial to human beings as food and sex. No, really. Kurt Vonnegut has a nice theory about fiction - here it is. Novels organise the world into leading and minor parts, plots and storys [sic], important parts and unimportant parts, a beginning a middle and an end. Ponder for a minute how close this is to the way people see themselves and wether [sic] they consider themselves leading or minor characters ...

... I couldn't agree more, Paul. Why else do you think I'm giving fiction such a wide berth? He goes on:

War, starvation and sex are meaningless until you have experienced them. Absolutely meaningless.

The desert looks like a bald man. It is the world without any face paint or hairstyle...

Music has been floating about in the air for all time. Some bright spark organised it into tones and intervals and what not. But a guitar is only to music what a clock is to time.

A musician puts something in the air that makes you feel good.

Hope you liked it.

I did Paul, very much. We always did share that view of music; perhaps even now we still do? That is was more about the magic it conveyed; the stuff of wizards yes, but all those twiddly bits, we felt, were not always necessary. For a while there was music in the air that made us both feel good.

I peer back across another desert, bleaker, vaster even than the Middle Eastern one you gave a bald man's pate, and that touched something deep in your nomad's heart. We've long since let it be and, like that other Paul and John, are now probably also "worlds apart". Perhaps that's why I can't help reading that airmailed letter from the desert as some kind of goodbye.


Another bald man, another desert. The Tottenham board tell Martin Jol he's sacked then send him out to watch his team struggle for the final time. No wizard, he never quite got the hang of all those twiddly football bits. A wounded animal finally exhasted by the inhospitable terrain, he comes to rest and barely twitches as those ninety vulture minutes pick him right down to the carcass.

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

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Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Heavens Must be Running Out of Flowers...

Tuesday 23rd October, 2007: Arsenal 7 (Fabregas 2, Hubacek [o.g.], Walcott 2, Hleb, Bendtner), Slavia Prague 0

Your evening starts out fractured and disjointed. You have a heavy heart and there's been a fire on a train at Hounslow Central so the Piccadilly line's suspended. Re-routed via Isleworth, you finally connect with the comforting azure of the Victoria line at Vauxhall.

Pools of sorrow...

Newsprint is flickering; like sunlight bouncing off ripples on a river it strobes across your work-numbed consciousness. It's as if you have been written into some modernist novella or updated 'Revolution #9'. Amy drinks because she's insecure ... Nike buys out Umbro for £285 million ... record levels of bare breasts on the box ... it's thanks to Graham Greene I am an addict ... Wenger sticks to his all-conquering guns...

And then you remember; you're going to see the Arsenal at the Emirates.

You buy your programme and stop for a very swift pint at the Auld Triangle, then join the murmuring throng of voices heading off towards the ground. How's the enemy? ... No, John went up there last week ... get your scarves, five pound your scarves ... No, I quite liked it because it was kind of brown ... We're on our way, we're on our way ...

There's no such fragmentation on the pitch though. Within minutes, Alex Hleb is teasing the Slavia defence by the corner flag below where you are sat in the upper tier, 'Clock end' Emirates. The football at his feet is like a ball of wool caught on a cat's claw. Once, twice, three times he drags it back, delaying the easy pass back to the waiting Clichy in the hope that something more exciting might come up. It does; an almost square ball out of nowhere to Fabregas just inside the opposition box. The pass is so good it would be downright disrespectful not to score. He's a well-mannered young man is Cesc so, politely and with due appreciation of the quality of this assist, he curls a sumptuous dipping shot inside the far post.

It's one of those goals that doesn't finish when the ball is sat there gently spinning in the net. A buzz of satisfaction hums around the Emirates for at least a minute in its wake. You sense that something special may unfold tonight when red and white petals start to float down from the heavens. There is sartori in the air.

The young lad next to you gnaws at something battered and wrapped up in newspaper facsimile. Someone who looks very much like Lawrie Sanchez strides along the crimson cinder track behind the opposition goal. The Slavia Ultras continue to cavort like Czech Ronald MacDonalds in their luminous red and white wigs. They shout Sla-vee-yay Pra-hah and some chant that sounds like Ah-lee Boom-bye-yay from the Rumble in the Jungle. Matthieu Flamini is booked.

Theo Walcott starts the game tonight. He's playing as a central striker not out on the wing. He looks sharp and is doing OK, but the ball isn't quite running for him and it's beginning to frustrate. At one point he gesticulates like a Frenchman at a moodily grimacing Adebayor. Around the 20 minute mark, the ball comes to Hleb from a defensive clearance and he slams it home by way of a heavy deflection off a Prague defender. Alex's face melts into a soppy smile. Fabregas finds Theo in space on the right. He floats a lovely ball in for Adebayor whose powerful downward header hits the boot of the Slavia 'keeper, Vaniak, on the line. Eboue conjures a shooting opportunity from an outrageous position on the right flank, blasting just wide of the upright after a glorious flick and shuffle past his man.

There's a lot of space for Theo and Adebayor to run into whenever Slavia press forward, so it's understandable that the Chechs' defencus is becoming less and less non shittus. The panic spreads to Vaniak in the Slavia goal. He miskicks a looping back pass horribly to hand a scoring chance to Walcott on a plate. It's just the stroke of fortune the young striker needs and he finishes emphatically.

More petals, more bliss.

At one point Arsenal pass the ball around amongst themselves in their own half and you get the feeling that Slavia might be more than happy if they were to continue to do just that for the remainder of the game. The half time whistle comes, to Czech relief.

The jumbotron behind us shows Hleb leaving the field. He looks like a Heroes-era Bowie and his play tonight has matched that album all the way; icy cool and pertinent, radical and brave. Someone should write a book about him, you know...

There's no letting up when the game resumes. Arsenal work the ball from left to right from their defence then right to left in their opponents' half. Hleb runs on to Cesc's diagonal ball, cuts inside and scores with a low drive. The heavens must be running out of flowers.

Waves of joy...

Hleb, Flamini and Fabregas play an oddly squashed triangle of one-touch passes between themselves. The ball comes back to Alex and his perfectly weighted pass is taken in his stride by the now vibrant and electric Walcott. There's something uncharacteristically dismissive, almost arrogant, in the cool flick of the boot with which Theo scores his second goal tonight. The despairing blast of the defender's boot at a ball that's already crossed the line merely emphasises the precision of the finish and you're reminded of the poise of Robert Pires and that other ghost of Arsenal past, Henry.

Before you can catch your breath, Hleb is off again, motoring down the left flank. He slots the ball into the feet of Adebayor who manages to wriggle it into space on his right. He finds Walcott just inside the box and his cute first time pass into the path of Fabregas is clinically despatched. Cesc lies down on the Emirates turf, arms outsretched and laughing. He looks for all the world like a kid who's starring in his favourite dream.

Hleb finally reacts to the latest in the series of provocations - digs, pokes, prods, nudges and clatterings - he's been subjected to all night and he is shown the yellow card. Wisely, Arsene takes this opportunity to rest some legs ahead of Sunday's trip to Liverpool. Flamini and Hleb, both already booked, and Adebayor are replaced by Gilberto, Rosicky and Bendtner. We wait almost half an hour for the young Danish striker to complete the scoring with a goal that combines power, persistence and fleet-footedness. But it's in the nature of us fans to be greedy; the Emirates is singing "we want eight".

The Slavia ultras and the Red Action wedge twirl red and white scarves at one another from their opposing corners of the ground. Their team has been well beaten tonight but still the Ultras from Praha can bring themselves to stomp and bob and sing. The PA plays the Jam - 'A Town Called Malice' - but there's not been all that much rancour tonight. Just those frequent showers of petals in this footballing nirvana.

Outside the ground, the evening has an air of bonfire night about it. There's a chill without but you've been warmed inside and the embers of tonight will see you through to Anfield. The red lights on the cranes around the site of the old stadium could be the glowing tips of burnt out sparklers as you approach them on your way home from this awesome firework display. We're on our way. we're on our way...

There are no disruptions on the journey home. Everything is easier now; even the writing.

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

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