Wednesday, 4 May 2016

You beautiful blue bastards

Leicester City are the Premier League Champions. Who’d have thought you could type that outside of some cruel joke. But it’s true. And it’s absolutely crazy.

No, I’m not Leicester born and bred. I grew up in Essex, not really having a club that I supported. I followed Liverpool, because they were the best team at the time, but I really fell out of love with football for quite a long time.

Fast-forward to 1998 and aged 18, and I moved to Leicester for University. At the time I was more excited by the prospect of a world class rugby club on my doorstep, having played throughout college, and the Tigers’ ongoing success was amazing to experience, first as a student, and then as an adult, setting myself up for a new life in the city.

At this time, it was the height of the Martin O’Neill era, and Matty Elliott had lifted the league cup twice. But as a Tigers fan (as I now classed myself) there was the distinct feeling that the best rugby team in the country were getting a raw deal from the press in favour of City.

You couldn’t ignore the new stadium being built, right on the edge of my old campus and just a stone’s throw from my house on Hinckley Road. But it came at the same time as relegation, and the hiring of Micky Adams, who I always liked. It was impossible not to feel sorry for the club as they then announced they were heading into administration.

I went to see them a few times around this period, watching the once proud club scraping out 1-0 wins against the likes of Gillingham and Burnley. I loved the humour. The "whoooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaa YOU'RE SHIT Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh...." after every opporsition goal kick in front of the Kop. And even this year, as we secured the Championship, the fans chanting "We are staying up". 

Because that was Leicester. The yoyo club. Up, down, then up, then down, then down even further, to the third tier. At this point we’d moved house, and our elderly neighbour Norman was a huge Leicester City fan, man and boy. We used to talk about the club over the fence, he’d swear about Milan Mandaric and the revolving managerial door which reached its nadir (so he said) with the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson. He died in 2011 and I do wish he'd have been able to see this.

At this point I was following the club more, and took a real interest in their trials and tribulations. The re-appointment of Pearson, the heart-breaking last minute loss to Watford in the play-off semi-finals, the joy of the Championship-winning season, then the unbelievable win against Man Utd. Then came the strangest season ever (or so I thought). Leicester should have won more than they did, but they couldn’t stop leaking goals, and they weren’t helped by Pearson’s ever more bizarre behaviour.

The recovery from being bottom of the league was something seriously amazing, and at this point they had truly captured my imagination and my heart. This club, in my adopted city, doing this. They were my team. I was a true blue Leicester City fan. I’m not the biggest die-hard fan, I have friends who go to every single match. But I live in the city, have done for 18 years, and my kids were born at the Royal, just a stone’s throw from the King Power.

And this season. I can’t write enough about this, and won’t. Many others have done so, and far better than me. I do however think that this team sums up what it is to be Leicester. A team full of unwanted and marginalized players. Players who were forgotten about, or passed over for bigger or more glamorous names. Very much like the city itself. You have Schmeichel, continuing the tradition of great Leicester keepers like Banks and Shilton. You have the solid central defence of Morgan and Huth and being a former centre back myself I can appreciate their discipline and positioning to not let anything past. You have a midfield made up of other clubs cast-offs (Albrighton and Drinkwater) and a couple of mercurial players, a magical Algerian Muslim and a hardworking French Malian. The diversity of Leicester shines through this team.

And then you have the main man, a rough and ready factory worker who’d missed out on his best chance years ago, but was given another. A real Cinderella story (but substitute the glass slipper for Reebok Classics).  And there’s Claudio. The Don. The Italian Uncle everyone wishes they had. He will go down in Leicester legend and deservedly so.

So three cheers for the unfancied 5000-1 shot, the team who no-one ever gave a chance to, the Fox among the roosters. Leicester City, you bloody beautiful blue bastards!
Celebrations in Leicester

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Greater Britain - reframing David Cameron's speech to the Conservative conference.

I was looking at David Cameron's speech to the Conservative conference, and his out-of-context attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. Then I thought just how easy it is to misrepresent someone when you take their words out of context.

So here, for the first time, is David Cameron's Greater Britain speech. Shocking, I'm sure you'll agree.

“I am so proud to be standing here in front of you today – back in government...

…and not just any government – a majority Conservative Government. 

To the people in this hall, I want to say thank you.

When you put your cross in the Conservative box, you were putting your faith in us.


What happened that night?

The Conservatives, winning across Wales; on the march in the Midlands. Bolton West, Derby North, Berwick, Wells – Conservative once more… …Gower for the first time ever.

The North, more Tory; the South, the East, almost a clean sweep… …and Cornwall – that wonderful county – 100 per cent Conservative.

They didn’t understand the people who make up our country.

For me, that has a very literal meaning. I am not going to fight another election as your leader. We cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.


In all the challenges we face, we will be guided by our Conservative values.

  • The scourge of poverty.
  • The brick wall of blocked opportunity.
  • The shadow of extremism

Delivering this social reform is entirely fitting with the great history of the Conservative Party

To save Britain from the danger of … A Greater Britain – that is our goal


Thousands of words have been written about the new Labour leader.

But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a “tragedy”.

In the coming years, we’ll be launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history…

…a new class of Hunter Killer submarines…

…new Joint Strike Fighter jets; improved Apache helicopters; a new fleet of drones…

We will never be safe here in Britain until we eradicate that death cult.

Believe me, I have no romantic attachment to the European Union and its institutions.

I’m only interested in two things

America and China

We still need to

Print more money


You know what makes me most angry about Labour?

No – not the rich…

…it’s poor people, working people.

If you want something done about it, come to us, the Conservatives.

But for me, there’s one big piece of unfinished business in our economy

A more prosperous Britain.

that means entering those no-go zones, where politicians often don’t dare to venture.


Homes where no-one works; children growing up in chaos; addiction, mental health problems, abuse, family breakdown

Nearly two-thirds of children in poverty have parents who are in jobs. For them, work hasn’t worked.

So let the message go out: if you work hard, want to get on, want more money at the end of the month

“Improve or be taken over”

When it’s serious enough, that punishment must mean prison.


The system is still not working.

Britain has the lowest social mobility in the developed world.
Here, the salary you earn is more linked to what your father got paid than in any other major country.

Our reforms are already working.

This movement is sweeping across our country. 

For too many people, even a good education isn’t enough.

When I read what some young people born and brought up in this country are doing, it makes me feel sick to my stomach.

More children studying maths and science. More learning coding and engineering. More doing the extra-curricular activities that teach confidence and build character.

That is why I’m so passionate about academies and free schools.

We have to stop it at the start

So I can announce this today:

If an institution is teaching children intensively, then whatever its religion, we will, like any other school, make it register so it can be inspected.

This is passive tolerance. And I’ll tell you where it leads

Freedom. Democracy. Equality.

We shouldn’t just be saying what’s wrong with these practices; we should be saying what’s right with Britain. 

Our way, the Conservative way, the only way to greater days.


So big battles. Big arguments.  A Greater Britain.

So I have a message for those who voted for us and those who never have.

We can be that Greater Britain.

Because we know this: nothing is written.

We’ve proved it in schools across our country…

A Greater Britain…

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Confessions of a Harry Potter virgin: The Philosopher's Stone, or Flight of the Gryffindor

As Bilbo said, I have put this off for far too long, but I'm at a stage to start finally. So, as promised, a Harry Potter newbie's thoughts on the world of Potter and friends.

So, we kick off with an Owl. Quite apt really. 

The owl is in the middle of leafy suburbia, and heralds the arrival of a biker from hell. Well, Hogwarts. Hagrid is bringing baby Harry to his Aunt and Uncle, who are really quite monstrous. They keep him in a cupboard under the stairs to be mistreated by their spoilt little boy, who is exactly the sort of precocious little dick who you'd quite happily slap silly (more of them later).

So Harry finds funny things happening to him, before letters start arriving marked Hogwarts. His Uncle Monty... No, sorry, Vernon (Richard Griffiths is deliciously wicked here) does everything possible to stop Harry getting his letter, taking the family off to a tiny rocky island (little explanation here, I'm guessing the book does more).

Back comes Hagrid, who has the most delicious turn of phrase and the greatest use of the word 'Codswallop'. He's also a bit of a liability, but more on that later. Hagrid scares the family silly, and tells Harry about his past, before whisking him off to London. 

So far it seems like a series of vignettes. Others have said it's very faithful to the book, and possibly it's turned into more of a series of sketches of some of the key scenes as an intro. It starts to fall together a little more once Harry's with Hagrid. He heads into the murkiest pub in the history of film, to step through a magic wall and into a street right out of Dickens to buy all the magic essentials. A lovely cameo by John Hurt sees Harry find his wand, and is told it's the twin of Voldemort's (I thought he should not be named?)

Tooled up and ready to go, Harry heads to a pre-renovation St Pancras to find platform 9 3/4 and the train to Hogwarts where he meets ginger lad Ron Weasley. What I hadn't realised before starting was that everyone already knows Harry, and he's the famous kid around wizard world. It's a nice touch that he knows nothing about this place and already has all these ludicrous expectations on his shoulders, nicely illustrated in the scene where Snape mockingly questions him in front of a room of sniggering students and an 'oh Miss I know the answer so much my arm's going to come off' Hermione Granger.

The world of Hogwarts is beautifully realised, and we get some talking head exposition from goody two shoes Granger and meet the four houses, of whom I'm guessing we really only need to worry about Gryffyndor, home to Harry, Ron and Hermione (yay!) and nasty Slytherin (BOO!) home to another precocious little shit, Lucius Malfoy.

We learn dastardly things are afoot, and our trio of heroes meet a three headed dog called Fluffy, who guards the Philosopher's Stone, a source of Ancient Magic (capitalised on purpose). They also inadvertently stumble upon a wandering troll, who Ron manages to defeat in an act of sheer coolness that belies his stumbling efforts in classes.

Then Quidditch. Which in the grand tradition of sport is almost completely incomprehensible. Lucky then that the vast majority of people on the field are completely redundant, all you need to do is catch the Golden Snitch to win. Kind of like the yellow marble in Hungry Hungry Hippos. Of course Harry catches the Snitch, by falling off his broomstick and swallowing it. Is that in the rules? Given the lengths someone was going to make him lose, you'd expect a steward's enquiry at the very least...

Darstardly things are afoot and it seems Professor Snape (Alan Rickman channelling Hans Gruber in full-on sneer mode) is behind it all. There's also a mirror where Harry whiles away his hours looking at his dead parents. Dumbledore admonishes him saying it's possible to get addicted to the mirror. Well, at least it's healthier than online porn, or writing slash about Dumbledore and Hagrid. What?

So, after snitching little shit Malfoy gets them into trouble, our pals have to head into the haunted forest where Harry is almost attacked by a ringwraith. No, sorry, Voldemort, who is drinking unicorn blood. As you do. Then Hagrid, who is the worst spy in the world, reveals he's given away the secret of how to get to the Philosopher's Stone to a bloke in the pub. Nice one Hagrid.

So we conclude. Slytherin win the house competition, our heroes have lost. But wait. In a quite flagrant case of Deus Ex Dumbledoria, the head wizard awards just enough points that Gryffindor scrape a narrow victory. 

Now... Isn't this all a little too neat? Now, I'm not saying it was a conspiracy, but it seems that Dumbledore was at the heart of this all. And all of a sudden his favourite house have just enough points to allow them to win. So. Isn't this whole Philosopher's Stone, Voldemort business just an elaborate ruse so that Gryffindor win the house competition?

More to come...

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Confessions of a Harry Potter virgin

I've managed to avoid Harry Potter until now. Not intentionally you know, it just has never crossed my path. Now there are many (in geekdom and further) who find that incredible. How on earth could I have not seen Harry Potter.

Well, I haven't. Actually, let me clarify, I've seen bits of the films on TV occasionally, usually as the wallpaper to a skull-splitting hangover or a family christmas gathering, but I've never seen the first film, and never sat down to watch any in their entirety.

So here we go. I've got the Blu Ray boxset and will be watching them all, from the outset, and posting my thoughts here, because it helps to talk about this, and why I've utterly failed as a geek. Well, not failed, but while Potter was busy becoming a globe-spanning behemoth, I was obsessed with the Lord of the Rings films, and re-reading the books. I had been waiting for them since I was little. Then children came, and they were too little for the wee wizard. 

So... Greetings to Harry, and Hermione, and Ron, and the rest. Now to find out more about all these half-heard, little understood concepts that keep invading my consciousness. Muggles, hufflepuff, Tom Riddle, Horcruxes.

I'll chart my thoughts about the films, (this may take some time, as I have two young children, and that does not afford much time for watching!) and what I think about the world. I may even read the books. We'll see. Until then...

Monday, 13 May 2013

Can you hear me Mr Gove?

Michael Gove, the nations favourite know-nothing Government Minister has been out opining in public about subjects he knows nothing about.

Well, I say public, I mean the Daily Mail. The non-thinking man’s daily newspaper.

Plus ca change plus ca la meme chose. And again he’s criticising stuff that he seriously knows nothing about. It’s all to do with a history exercise, in which students have to take the knowledge they have about the rise of Hitler and assimilate it into a ‘Mr Men’ style book.

Now Gove is holding this up as evidence of the infantalising of children and the dumbing down of education. Yet again, he so spectacularly misses the point that it’s almost comical. In fact, speaking of comics, there’s a particularly good cartoon, drawn by Steven Collins, reimagining Gove as the hero of Independence Day… It doesn’t end well, and with every public pronouncement, becomes more and more true.

At the same time as this is happening, Commander Chris Hadfield of the International Space Station tweeted a link to a video he’s recorded while on the station. It’s him singing Bowie’s Space Oddity, and it really is rather beautiful.

I defy any ten year old to watch that video and not want to become an astronaut. And in many ways this is what this is all about. The distillation of knowledge, which allows someone to communicate with others in an elegant way and invoke a sense of wonder is a very rare gift.

Chris Hadfield has spent his time on the space station engaging with people on social media, and communicating his research findings in a very simple, yet effective way. This study into the way water behaves when you squeeze a flannel is enthralling.

The students who’ve created their Mr Men books have taken an incredibly complex subject, learnt about it, and taken all that information, and communicated it in a simple way. That isn’t infantilizing. It’s actually incredibly hard.

To take a complex subject, like the rise of national socialism, or the behaviour of water in zero gravity and make it engaging to kids is what teachers across the country do every single day. It is this that Gove seems to want to replace with the dry, by-rote learning that he treasures so much from his schooldays.

The simple fact is times move on. Things get better, people learn when given examples that they can relate to. For example, the use of a Mr Men format can be used to make a point quite beautifully, quite elegantly, and far more effectively than a long key-point referenced piece. See?

Research and by-rote learning has impact. When people can see that impact, they are more likely to support the things that cause those effects. Meaning more money being put into sciences, or universities, or the NHS. When people see those effects, they (hopefully) won't then vote for short-term policies like the reduction of funding to schools, hospitals and universities across the country. This may save the country money in the short term, but an investment in the minds and futures of the young people of this country is an investment in the future of this country.

Major Tom vs Mr Gove. I know who I’d choose.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

555%: The future's bright, the future's Ginger

If you were around in the 90s and had your ear to the alternative scene, you may well be aware of a band called The Wildhearts. You may also be aware that the man behind them was called Ginger.

Well, if this was the NME, this would be a where are they now feature, but as I’m a fan of most of Ginger’s work I can tell you that he’s actually one of the most prolific and talented UK songwriters of the past 20 years.

Eight albums with the Wildhearts, three or four solo albums (depending on who’s counting) and an unerring ear for melody and crunch, which takes in ABBA, Cheap Trick, Sparks, Metallica and everything in between.

He’s also very available to his fans, being a big fan of Twitter, and running a Formspring question and answer forum where he’s answered thousands of questions from his fans. Anyway, disillusioned with the rock lifestyle last year, he was close to quitting, before someone told him about Pledge music.

Pledge is a crowd-sourced album funding model. Ginger, never the biggest fan of record companies, gave it a go, setting a modest target to be reached in around six weeks so that he could realise his dream of recording a triple album.

The record was fully funded within six hours, and a couple of months down the line stood at 555% of the total. Which is what he decided to call the album.

Now some ‘rock stars’ may choose to take the money and just bang out an album. Not Ginger. He roped in musicians he’d worked with throughout his career, from CJ and Ritch of WIldhearts fame, Willie Dowling of Whatever and Meg and Mog fame, Jon Poole of random (and Cardiacs) fame, and the relatively unknown Chris Catalyst, Rich Jones and Victoria Liedtke.

The album runs the gamut of styles from Simon and Garfunkel style folk, to Rush inspired intrumentals, a punk blast or two, and the pop genius that Ginger has become rightly famous for.

The sheer variety on offer here is almost ridiculous. Westward Ho! (A New Reputation) is an off-kilter pop tune, with big choruses and a African-inspired mid section, which takes it to a whole other level.

Of course there are the standard Ginger rockers, with I-N-T-E-R-N-A-L-R-adio, The Other Side, Baby Skies and Beautifully, Blissfully Unsettled being tunes you’d expect of mid-90s Wildhearts, but it’s on the tracks where he cuts loose from his past that the album really shines.

Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow (surely a candidate for best song title of the year) begins with a squelchy bassline, mutates into a Stevie Wonder funk riff, and end up with a country-inspired chorus. And Taste Aversion is a big showtune of a metal blast, with the radio baiting chorus “Fucked from behind”. Not one to play with the kids around!

Ginger also shows himself as a superb ballad writer. On each disc of the album there’s a track which gives the album an extra lift. Incidental Noises is a funk-lite ballad about the annoying things your other half does, Illuminating Times a beautiful soft tune, and Sleeping in the Light an inspiring track featuring full orchestration and sky-high choruses.

The real stand-outs though are a track that pushes the limits of his band, a simple and sweet tune, and an 80s inspired rocker. We’ve Been Expecting You is a 60s-esque campfire tune about the birth of a child and is one of the sweetest, most heartfelt things I’ve heard Ginger do. Lover It’ll All Work Out is possibly the best straight-ahead rock tune Ginger has ever written, with inspiring lyrics referencing his near-retirement from music.

And the final stand-out is the closer to disc one. Time begins with a stately Big Ben guitar refrain. Timing changes throughout, and chorus that owes a lot to the Beatles, before hitting a proggy middle section which takes the song into the stratosphere. There’s hints of Pink Floyd in there, and a bit more Rush. It’s truly spectacular.

It’s a crowning moment on an album with many highs, and very few lows (Very Very Slow, a real filler track). But the fact that 30 tracks, written by one man in a very short period, can be so consistently brilliantly is truly astounding.

Not only is this a highlight in Ginger’s career, it’s also testament to what musicians can achieve outside the traditional confines of the record industry. It’s difficult to imagine a record label giving him this freedom to record whatever his creative impulse wanted to, and I hope to see more artists take these kind of risks.