Shrinking Violets

Disingenuous. They fill your head with artificial words and phrases designed to make you swell. Though, you’d better not believe them for one second. Don’t believe the hype. Always fear rejection. Never wear your heart on your sleeve. Bottle everything inside. Never speak a true word about your soul. No one wants to hear it. Hide yourself behind a wall of popular culture. Your façade will be other people’s creations that you will weave into a personality that you find to be aesthetically pleasing. That’s what it’s all about. Aesthetics. They won’t care about what’s behind it as long as it looks/sounds/feels nice.

You’re not shy, you’re a real people-pleaser. You worry far too much what other people think of you, wearing your heart on your sleeve, expecting too much from people and getting hurt too easily and frequently. You keep other people’s secrets like a champ, but tell your own all too quickly. You expect the world not to cheat you and you’re always surprised when it does.

You come out of your shell and people revel in it. They tell you how good it is to see you like this and how it actually makes them happy. That it’s somehow refreshing. Then you say something that someone will take offence to. Something that wasn’t manufactured to irk. You were just doing what you’ve always done, but now they want to beat you with this crutch that they’ve made for you. Shrink back and never say boo. Never say boo to Mother Goose lest she snap back and alleviate you of a finger or two.

You will go over happenings of the past which should be left there and forgotten about. Over and over again until it gnaws at you and starts to twist your character. Like the feeling of sand between your toes or constantly pressing on a problem tooth to feel the pain. You’ll keep making yourself remember what the pain feels like. You’ll beat yourself up about it. Always remember that this pain is your fault.

Repeat everything all over again because you’re a real idiot. But, make sure you get the first shots in at yourself. Don’t let anyone be the first to make you feel bad. Always be the first.

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It’s Hard To Be Engaging When The Things You Love Keep Changing

Everyone has a varying association with music. Whether we realise it or not we all have one; for some it is their life-blood, something that punctuates their very being, for others it is just something incidental that occurs when they turn the key in their car.
I am closer to being the former, though I’m not fully there. There are many parts that make me tick.

It is very rare that throughout the day I am not listening or, ill-advisedly, singing. iPod, radio or mumbling that Kee-Mo Ky-Mo song by Nat King Cole I’ve been unable to get out of my head for about three years now. I cannot live without music and thankfully everyday presents an untapped mine of aural delights which I can revel in. To be spellbound by something every day, even if only for a moment, is a beautiful thing.

I don’t listen to different music constantly, I don’t strive to constantly chop and change my devotions. I mean I do love finding new sounds to make me giddy but I have also listened to the same two albums on my bus journeys for the past two years (Tame Impala’s mesmerising debut, Innerspeaker and Two Door Cinema Club infectious first offering, Tourist History). Sometimes it feels like the only constant in my life. Sometimes I worry that I use music far too much to regulate my moods. That I require something that is produced so organically yet spurts forth from a device which feels so artificial to make me feel. Have I replaced a part of my brain with my iPod?

As with most things I obsess about they exist in my life in more than one facet. Naturally I go to gigs, I used to go to lots but now with work I find nipping out for a quicky near impossible, but, I also read a disgraceful amount about music. In fact one of my favourite pieces of bound paper is 1001 Albums to Listen to Before You Die…which is a touch morbid to say the least. I love reading about my favourite albums and then completely disagreeing with what the ‘respected’ journalist is spoon-feeding me. I know. I’m a gobshite. I even have gig tickets as book marks in these books and though I am quite vain I’m not so anal as to match up the gig tickets with the relevant subject matter.

The more I immerse myself in one particular genre or a particular area of a particular genre I sometimes find I shut myself off to other sounds. Just thinking about this distresses me. I want to be completely receptive to everything all the time and be able to form a judgement without the threat of a pause.

I despise that pause button. With its unapologetic abruptness. I usually snap at people when I am forced to press it. Though I suppose I do that anyway.

I’m often called a music snob due to my vaguely left field listening habits and my passion for it. But, is it wrong for me to enjoy the music I listen to and hate the music that you may listen to? I don’t hate everything that creeps into the saccharin sweet ‘pop-charts’. I mean I even have an Enrique Iglesias song on my iPod.

The majority of it is an abomination though, usually with a slippery quality that reminds me of phlegm (thanks Johnny Clarke) and the catchy qualities of chlamydia or your other STI of choice (go wild with you imagination, go on I dare you).

My dissertation for my English degree revolved around man’s relationship with music and how it differed from the female of the species and how men use music and associate with it. Probably the main inspiration for this is Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity, my favourite book and one of my favourite films. I knew in my heart of hearts that this dissertation topic was of no real academic worth and that I would not uncover anything ‘real’. Indeed I found very little to back up my own thoughts so had to wing it by either going it alone as the unmoved mover or by getting creative with the truth. I waved goodbye to a first (well, by doing this and by doing very little work in the other three years of my course) in writing about something I loved. I don’t regret my decision for a second. Mainly because I believe my qualification to be useless. Getting a first would only have added to my job application rejection anger.

As I write this tripe I am, indeed, listening to music. I listen to music when I read, when I write, when I walk to the shops, get on the bus, go to the gym, when I am nodding off to sleep, when I am just sitting, being I am usually listening to music. Right now I have The Lumineers eponymous debut effort playing at my desk. I recommend it. Like with most of my recommendations, if you don’t take due care to pay attention I will end up despising you. You’ve been warned. But, you probably won’t care. Which is the right way to go on this occasion.

Despite my love of music I have found myself constantly frustrated with the lack of anything ‘incendiary’ happening right now. Sure, there have been a lot of decent releases over the last decade or so but I bet you can count the great ones on one or two hands. Certainly not three though. We were only given two hands. Hence all of those sayings.

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On Losing Someone

We all find out we can no longer play the children’s game. Some find out at 16 some find out at 50. But, sooner or later, we all find out.

Sometimes an end can be sweet but more often than not it is a bitter affair. So bitter that it hurts, that it causes you emotional pain and suffering you never thought that something would bring. It is hard. Remembering the good times is key to moving on and lessening the hurt.

The hurt will always be there though. We always miss what we have lost.

62 years after coming into existence this last season has been Singlehurst Cricket Club’s last. And it was with a whimper rather than a roar that Singlehurst went out.

A rain affected season has seen us play only a handful of games when really we should have had a rich, full campaign as we mounted a challenge for glory. When we have played we’ve been unable to field a full complement of players. The team is disbanding and there is no one to replace those we have lost. It’s not just about playing strength though. These are friends we are losing. It seems that life is getting in the way. Some have had to move away from the city to grow professionally, some are beginning to experience the joys that a young family can bring, some are worn to the point of collapse and others have just ‘drifted’ out of the picture all together.

On a personal note this has been a terrible season for me. Poor form mixed with abandoned games and the need to secure a wage have left me being involved in only a snippet of the last hurrah. It’s been miserable and I yearn for more. This is my fifth year at the club and it will be my last, as it is for everyone, right from the beginning I felt welcomed and valued even if my performances haven’t always merited it. There are times when I wonder if they ever have. Cricket is just a game. It is great to challenge yourself on a weekly basis in a competitive environment but it’s the feeling of camaraderie that I will miss the most. Sure I can go and play for a different team and chances are I probably will. But, I don’t want to.

I want my Singlehurst back.

Things have come to an abrupt end. Only two seasons ago we were able to enjoy and thoroughly compete two or three times a week. Suddenly we found ourselves without the man power to defeat even the most pathetic of opponents.

As I mentioned before, this is more about the loss of what became a family. These people have helped shape who I am. In the same way that everyone you meet in your life. You are made up of pieces of everyone you’ve ever met with varying degrees of size. Even those you have known only briefly can leave a profound and lasting effect on your life. Sometimes the flame may flicker and disappear as quickly as it lived.

My team mates have coped with the pending doom of the implosion of the club by reminiscing of great teams past. It rankled and upset me slightly every time someone was mentioned that I had never heard of. The club runs deep and I am but a mere drop in its ocean. But, that was a ridiculous way to feel.

I’ll do my best to move on, to walk away and to try to keep in touch with people. I know this won’t happen though. It’s only a matter of time before all of this is an almost insignificant memory. We all find out sooner or later that we can no longer play the children’s game so we must relish every opportunity we are given. Who knows, tomorrow could be the end.

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Requiem for A Dreamer

Like grains of sand slipping through your fingers when you start to lose something that has been a part of you for a long time you feel it. It is a feeling of utter helplessness. The tighter you grasp the quicker it slips.

For the last two months or so I have felt my power to use the English language leaving me. I have even found it a struggle to speak coherently. What I have wanted to get across to people has become unintelligible drivel. That sentence is an example. In my head I know I can communicate my thoughts and feelings better than that, I can articulate myself in a much more attractive and beguiling way.

It is this ‘knowing’ that has driven me crazy. In the past when I have found myself unable to write creatively, even knock out a rudimentary review, I have powered through by talking about it with likeminded individuals, I have sought out inspirational material; literature, art or song. At times I have simply written till I have smoothed out the creases and filed down unattractive edges of my work. This time feels all the more distressing.

I am under no pretence. I’m not a writer. I am an unimaginable distance away from even being considered one. That is what I want though and nothing worth having ever came easy. But, what do you do when your drive is like an oscillating wave? Here one hour gone the very next. Constantly stopping and starting. Losing your train of thought only to go back to the beginning and lose it all over again and go back to the beginning and lose it all over again. Ad infinitum till I go to make a cup of tea and absent mindedly pour milk into the sugar bowl and put the cup back in the fridge.

That’s where I’m at right now. I’m not quite a mess. I’m still a vain, arrogant man-child. I’m just sliding closer and closer to a full cognitive stop. I envisage it being like a television breaking. There will be a little ‘bloop’ and then the picture will shrink in on itself. Though I’ll probably be too stupid to notice anything by that point.

I was supposed to have knocked out a gig review a couple of months ago now. Something that used to be pretty routine. Go to the gig, make some notes on my phone, get hassled by angry gig-goers for constantly being on my phone and not paying any attention and for being alone, then return home after a ‘swift half’ and type up the travesty I witnessed, slag off everyone and then file it. Easy, just make sure you don’t cock up on the song names. People hate that shit.

It still hasn’t been written. I can’t piece it together and make it readable let alone enticing. This whole thing has come along at a difficult period in my life. This happens to everyone. It’s how we persevere that makes us. If you don’t try then what is the point in existence. I am trying though believe me and though I am tempted to draw a line under that piece and move on I can’t. I am ultra-competitive and don’t like losing, so to have not even brought anything to the party makes me incandescent with rage. That’s a lie, I don’t feel that enraged it just sticks with me and irks like a splinter underneath your finger nail, like a pubic hair on the back of your tongue and a rogue grain of sand in your sock though you know you haven’t been anywhere near a beach leading you to think that someone is stealing your socks, wearing them and then washing and replacing said garment.

This is more of a mental exercise for me. A task I have set to see if I can get beyond 300/400 words without stopping and shouting at the wall. Thus far I have managed it though it has taken a fair bit with some pauses. If you have come this far with me then thank you and I won’t hold it against you if you slate me, call this self-indulgent tripe and label me a wannabe gobshite with no ‘real’ talent. That’s okay. I hate you all equally anyway.

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There is a point…

There is a point from which I look out.

It is quite possibly my favourite point in the whole of Liverpool and therefore the world. Or of my world at least.

As you walk down Penny Lane, past the Wine Bar, the wig shop, The Dovedale Towers and the little row of shops the road starts to go uphill and then subsequently downhill. As all things must do eventually.

Now, on the crest of this concrete wave is the point. On top of what is a bridge over a railway track you can look down and follow the path that has been cut. This clearing for the mechanical snake lets you look out northwards and southwards.

I have lived in this part of the world for 20 odd years now. It is very much a part of me and I take it wherever I go; whether it be in accent, attitude or outlook. It is something that shall never leave. No matter what may happen.

It can be seen as a safety blanket. Something to always have inside. This isn’t just a point.

Made animate by my very being.

I have walked up and down Penny Lane thousands of times. Many people have. For some it sticks in them for others it is just another thoroughfare and fades like mist. I know exactly what this point looks like at any time of day in any sort of weather condition at any time of year.

As you look north at night you can see a blue light which used to blink as the wind swayed trees in front of its beam. There was a reassuring quality to it. Without fail I would stop for a few minutes just to watch and take stock. Usually in a grand state of inebriation. Always alone.

During the day you can see the old Littlewoods building on Edge Lane sticking out like a white church of this city’s economic progress, but now it decays and slowly the paint is stripped away by the elements. The clock no longer ticks.

Looking south towards the suburbs and the end of the old stretch of dockland is a sight of green and red and of cold steel. Housing thrown into the ocular mixing pot with parkland and with rusting metal work.

For me this symbolises my Liverpool and is an extension of who I am.

There is a point upon which I look out over my city of heart and of steel, of water and brick which swells with pride. Fit to burst yet never will. Full of knowing, almost ironic mawkish nostalgia. Never self-conscious. Always there at each end of the spectrum. Never shrinking.

There is no place like home…but, I can assure you, there’s no place like my home. No place like my Liverpool.

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A Rainy Night In Gdansk

It was with a tedious inevitability that Giovanni Trapattoni’s Irish side were torn apart by the immensely technically-gifted Spain. No one really had any hope that this would go any other way. In fact, many had envisaged a heavier defeat.

This Spanish side could well be the most technically-gifted, tactically astute team the football world has ever seen. Pep Guardiola and his Barca team have a lot to thank for this. With a midfield of Duff, McGeady, Whelan and Andrews Ireland had absolutely no chance. Spain could have kept the ball for the entire 90 minutes if they wanted.

So, if when playing a team as great as Spain, why not give your team the best chance of competing? Why not play your best players? On the bench sat Darron Gibson. A failure at Manchester United but now enjoying a purple patch at Everton, before him lies a real chance of revitalising his career, Gibson is most definitely Ireland’s most technically gifted player. Which while not saying much for the current crop of players it seems staggering that Trapattoni would not play his squad’s best passer of the ball and someone who can create game changing moments of brilliance? Upon seeing the midfield unchanged from Sunday’s embarrassment against Croatia I vomited in my own mouth…and it wasn’t anything to do with the microwave paella I had just eaten. Then I saw that Simon Cox was starting with Robbie Keane and the paella sprung forth like a geyser.

With the exception of Duff, who has been a staple winger in the Premier League for some years now but whose effectiveness is now dwindling as the ravages of age take a hold of him, the midfield is thoroughly pedestrian. It isn’t enough to be workmanlike. There has to be certain intelligence about how to play against certain teams. When you have the ball you can’t give it away with ease.  You can’t spend the entire game running after the ball as by the time you have possession you’re too tired to do anything with it. A banal and obvious statement but a truth nevertheless.

In all seriousness there is nothing that Ireland could have done last night. It could be the case that Ireland did not disgrace themselves and it would be a fair argument. Shay Given pulled off a string of fantastic saves as his defence in front of him may as well have not been there. Robbie Keane was a figure of industry, as he has always been and will be sorely missed when he retires which can’t be all that far away in the mists of time. There was little else of note. Chances are there won’t be for some time to come.

The possession stats could practically tell the tale of the game with the BBC calculating Spain having 78% of the ball. Staggering. And then having 22 shots on goal. This must have felt like a training session. A training session in which the Spanish were pitted against a bunch of competition winning twelve-year-olds. Who had leukaemia. And were amputees. And blind. And…well you get the idea.

Irish figure head of anger, bitterness and dog walking Roy Keane appeared incandescent with rage when players talked of the fans passion in interviews at the end of the game. The travelling Irish army had sung The Fields of Athenry for eight minutes solid as the game drew to a close. Letting the players and the world know that they were not embarrassed by what they had seen before their eyes as Ireland became the first team officially incapable of progressing to the next round. Showing solidarity, standing shoulder to shoulder and recognising that whilst success was never truly on the cards the commitment and hard work from the players was noticed and appreciated.

What Keane is getting at though is that there should be an attitude shift in Irish football. A shift from being the plucky outsiders who ‘could’ do something but when they fall short don’t feel too downhearted to something akin to his own ruthless, uncompromising attitude. This was ok for Keane as a player. A man who was one of the best central midfielders the Premier League may ever see who was able to combine work rate, talent and being a hard-nosed unforgiving bastard. There is no current Irish player that is fit to tie his shoe laces. So is it right for Keane to be so damning and demanding?

In some cases yes there is an argument that they should want it more and perhaps not accept failure so readily. However, there is also the case that, or rather the fact that, Ireland just do not have the players or the infrastructure to be able to compete on many levels with the majority of nations at these European Championships. This is something that probably will not change for a vast number of years. So to react angrily and with bitterness, whilst being understandable, is not wholly acceptable. The fans deserve a lot more credit than he gave them as he practically accused them of patriotic blindness (which is what it means to follow your national team anyway, it’s a given, let’s be honest). As do the players. They know that they were not good enough. So does the manager. To come out and criticise, pulling no punches as Keane would do, would be the wrong way to go about things.

There is still one more match to go, against Italy who have hardly wowed this tournament but have been fairly steady, there is still a chance to restore some pride by putting in a credible performance. This will not happen if players start picking apart the team in public. Team spirit is key in this situation. If you can no longer look into the eyes of the man beside you and know that you trust him and that he trusts you alike then there is very little point in playing at all. If you cannot count on one another then success in any facet of the game will be incredibly hard to come by.

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Here’s To Not-So-Warm Summer Days Indoors

We’ve had a week of glorious sunshine which saw nobbled knees and pasty shoulders thrust into the nation’s eyes. Seemingly that is it for the summer then and with the cricket season beckoning you can count on there being plenty of rain for the forseeable future. It seems ridiculous to say that this happens on purpose. But there must be a conspiracy somewhere. I hate weather-men. Especially John Kettley, Michael Fish, Billy Giles and Ian McCaskill.

Yes I’ve mentioned cricket again.

Boring.

So now I’ve lost those that don’t matter, those whose lives lack magnificence and whose being is pointless, I shall continue. The British Summertime is a peculiar thing; either too hot or too miserable with tedious days of indecision in abundance. So lets choose to play a sport which requires it not to have lashed down for nine hours the night before. Why do we bother? It seems impossible that we ever get anything done.

Of course club cricket is different from the professional circuit. We will play in pretty much any weather condition much to everyone’s chagrin. I remember days when I haven’t been able to see ten yards in front of me due to driving rain (think of the rain scene in Forrest Gump and you’re almost there) or when I’ve had to wear five layers of sweater and stash hand warmers in my pockets/spray my palms with Deep Heat. Again, why do we bother?

I think it’s a case of ‘there’s nothing else to do’. The golf course will be full, the football season is over, no one likes rugby and the other alternative of getting stuck in B & Q or Homebase for hours doesn’t bear thinking about. It certainly is an enduring love we have for the game. Grasping at those opportunities when we will be bathed in a golden light, the tea will be half-decent and the beer will be chilled. Of course you’ll forget to pack sun cream in that straining kit bag which will result in terrible sun burn and heat stroke. Not to mention you then throwing up the highly questionable ‘cold curry’ and the luke-warm cans of Carling which have some rust colouration on the bottom. Why do we bother?

That is in fact many clubs mottos, written in Latin on the crest of their unwashed, stretched shirt.

We will see a day like the above maybe three times this season (I always pack sun cream though and never drink the Carling). For the rest of the season we will spend the day languishing round a musty, mud ridden dressing room. Doling out verbal abuse like it was going out of fashion and arguing about who will be going out to the middle to check if it’s still raining.

Then when we do play you’ll never get handed a well worked ball with a noticeable seam. It’ll slap your hand with a squelch and you’ll mark your run up with the leathery, red mulch gripped firmly in your hand for fear of dropping it and making it even more unusable. Or at least this is my excuse for bowling poorly. I am forever living off those hand full of balls that went ‘straight’.

You get on with it though. Knowing there isn’t any other sport you can play competitively so you stick it out. The big factor is that playing as part of a team is better than not being a part of a team.

Golf is ok, but you have no one to share your moments with. You are essentially all alone. And the clobber is horrendous. Except when Seve wore it. Tennis is for girls. Snooker/Pool/Darts is played after several pints and are therefore not sports. THEY ARE NOT SPORTS. In a game of footy you have to move about far too much. I’m incredibly lazy. Cricket is just for me…and you get to stop for tea. Which is usually served in dusty mugs, made with dubious milk and stirred with rusty spoons. Still beats the hell out of the legendary orange slice though.

I am of course being hyperbolic. The weather will be fairly average. The teas will be below average. The standard of play will be even worse. There will be one near ‘fight’ which we will refer to for the rest of the season. There will be numerous turning points. The words zenith and nadir will be used many times and many will be unsure what they mean. And my batting average will plumb new depths. That last one is a safe bet.

None of this matters of course. We play in order to escape. Play being the key word. Sport and being part of a team allows us to be something different to our everyday selves. For a brief few hours we can place ourselves in a different world. We do what many of us aspired to do when we were very young. There are no pressures nor any real expectations. To put any real ‘meaning’ into what we do on any given Saturday is a hopeless thing. We are amateurs. We play for the love of the game.

Whilst what we do is for enjoyment it is also an integral part of society, or at least what is good about society. At the bottom of the pyramid. If we didn’t exist or played for very different reasons the very top would exist in a very alien manner. What we do is frivolous, relatively inconsequential, tedious to outsiders, viewed as a waste of time. Yet it is essential.

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