What a pair!

One indication that football may be dominated by men is that the Football Association has 2 women out of 101 on their voting committee – and even then they only make the tea. If institutional sexism wasn’t enough, the public faces of the beautiful game are also remarkably at home with lazy gender stereotypes.

Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Sky football pundits, have been caught making derogatory remarks off-air about a female linesman during Liverpool’s game with Wolves. In effect they said that having a human being with a labia minora running up and down a bit of grass, occasionally holding a flag up, is enough to send the game into terminal tailspin.

There are many things it may be considered important for a woman to understand in this modern age: the internet and how to drink enough alcohol at the Christmas party to appear happy-go-lucky without ending up locked in a filing cabinet with Steve from Human Resources to name but two. The offside rule shouldn’t come very high on that list, or so Keys & Gray would have you believe.

It could be argued that these remarks were made off-air so it should not matter what they think inside their heads as long as they don’t bring their prejudices with them into the studio – which would make them the world’s first part-time sexists. They could walk into the pub and say “I told them to take down the Page 3 calendar at work today because objectifying women damages their self-esteem and furthers the belief that women are to be gawked at instead of respected as equals. When we finally get some service, the barmaid in here has a cracking pair of jugs”.

Karen Brady, one of the disapproving pair of judgement-providing sleuths that sit either side of Alan Sugar’s permanently perplexed face on The Apprentice, wrote about sexism in football for her column in The Sun on the day the story broke. How did Richard Keys respond? “See charming Karen Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love”. Other than the fact this brings up a horrible mental image of Richard Keys being favoured by Karen Brady, sexually or otherwise, it poses another question. Is he just joking? Having listened to the tape, he doesn’t giggle afterwards in the way that might indicate irony. In fact, he says it in the same register a newsreader would adopt to deliver details of a horrific plane crash in Lebanon. His tone was grave enough to make a doctor in charge of telling patients they have cancer partake in an acting class to improve sincerity.

Kenny Dalglish, the man charged with the unenviable task of making Liverpool play football like they aren’t on crutches, quipped during a press conference whether the Sky Sports representative objected to a female journalist being in the room. His daughter Kelly Tweeted: “Phew am exhausted. Just read about something called ‘The Offside Rule’. Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes”.

Ultimately, what is sexism? It is the belief that one gender is superior to the other. So having Andy Gray assert his superiority over women is a bit of a cheek. He’s not exactly the master race is he? I have yet to watch him commentate on a football match and not felt the pressing need to rearrange his face.

As the furore reached fever-pitch, Andy Gray was sacked and Richard Keys resigned, not without taking a pop at everyone first. Perhaps the most laughable was his insistence that their sexist banter was to make a new guest feel at home. “One of the reasons we were in overdrive was we had a fresh guest, Matt Murray. We wanted to make him feel relaxed and comfortable”. Yeah, sexist remarks always calm me right down. Whenever I have an important presentation, I always watch a few Roy Chubby Brown videos to leave me feeling relaxed.

As more videos and clips emerged, the most excruciating involved Jamie Redknapp being asked if he “smashed that” in reference to his ex-girlfriend. Then he said Jamie was “hanging out the back” of her, with his legs crossed on the table like a private-school prefect particularly smug about the fart he just let rip. The Sun continued its heralded campaign for sexual equality by placing a saucy picture of Sian Massey, the referee in question, beside the headline “Get ‘em off!” which went on to plead Keys and Gray be sacked.

In summary, a pair of sexists are caught making sexist remarks which are leaked to the media who question why sexism is still so prominent, before the biggest-selling newspaper in the country displays more sexism in one front page than a Sky Sports studio could do in a lifetime, and somehow The Sun appear to be taking a moral high-road. My head hurts.

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8% for nothing

Any business that can get away with performing their job adequately less than 60% of the time is not likely to be a business I deal with on a regular basis. However, in a bored moment on a train platform in a dreary outpost of nowhere – the sign said Shoreham but I am certain it was the Devil’s depot – I was confronted with a bald and uncomfortable fact.

Southern, the train company I use most often and which controls the tracks from Southampton to Ashford and up to London, have registered a 58% success rate during the month of December.

What does this success rate entail you may ask. Well, a ‘success’ is described as a train which arrives at its destination within five minutes of its advertised arrival time. For the area ‘South Coast’ this statistic is rather depressing: there are a number of journeys which take under half an hour to complete and some which last a paltry sixteen minutes – a Lewes to Brighton service runs once an hour. It must take Herculean levels of incompetency to make a sixteen minute journey more than five minutes late.

I was more discomfited when I saw the text written underneath the bar chart depicting the 58% statistic. It said: “Train punctuality; 58%… Discount to Season Ticket holders; None”. Before I am accused of massaging the figures like a civil servant with an important deadline looming and an irate MP on their back, there is something else that ought to be noted.

The thing I should probably bring to your attention is the “average punctuality” which accounts for an apparently randomly decided number of months previous to the current one. The “average” for Southern remained steadfastly in the 90% bracket.

I am not keen on excuses but a few could be provided in their defence. After all, it was very snowy for half the month and you couldn’t walk more than a few paces without being reminded that there were “adverse weather conditions” which were causing trains any number of difficulties. Yet it wasn’t snowing the whole time. For long periods, there was no snow, no ice, no leaves on the track, no adverse weather conditions (unless being “chilly” now counts as adverse) but Southern still managed to butcher the whole operation like a poorly-paid Captain Hook performing a liver transplant.

How low must the threshold for Season Ticket discounts be if less than 60% of trains arriving on time for four entire weeks doesn’t result in an instant rebate? It appears to be a case of the asylum regulating itself with disastrous consequences.

At the beginning of this year I bought my new Season Tickets and reacted with shock to their inflation-busting prices. I hadn’t seen so many zeros since Brighton hosted a Star Trek convention. My tickets have leapt from £250 to £270 and from £132 to £150. Coming after a month of Southern failing every standards test like a teenage girl in South London at a sexual health clinic, this seems a bit rich.

Not that it is my job to tell Southern how to do their job but may I suggest they buy a decent set of watches with the extra £38 they have fleeced from me? I haven’t felt this cheated since a sincere-sounding Angolan sent me an email promising me I had inherited a large sum of money from his father.

Imagine a restaurant being run in any similar vein. When customers complain vociferously about the quality of the service and enquire why the Maitre D gives off the impression that he would rather be scooping his eyeballs out with a toothpick than busying himself with the concerns of his customers, the owners would instantly wallop an extra 8% on the prices and say that as the waitress delivered 75% of her piping hot drinks without spilling them into someone’s crotch, there is no reason for any reduction in the surcharge.

The toilets would be constantly closed due to a ‘malfunction’ and desperate customers would have to urinate in their wine bottles. At busy times, the restaurant would force patrons to stand for their meals, snugly cocooned in the armpit of a stranger. Any important information about starters or availability of dishes would be relayed over a tannoy in the corner of the room, which only people within seven yards can hear, and even then, it just sounds like a distant crackling.

In short, train companies occupy an area of incredible ineptness that only banks and the government could ever hope to fill sufficiently.

And that is the worst insult of all.

Lemonade in my wine

I’m an easily pleased human being, none more so than when I am within thirty yards of free booze. This very thing occurred at my snooker club’s Christmas Party a few days ago when the Chairman manhandled two boxes of wine into the kitchen area and gestured that we should get busy helping ourselves, a duty we performed with rigour.

Dylan Moran, the celebrated stand-up comedian, noted that there are three types of wine… one makes you wrinkle your nose in disgust and breathe “what is this?” whilst fuming at the ears.

One makes you sip merrily from the glass and say “that’s lovely”, sending someone into the night for another seven bottles. The third is a cheeky type which makes you do both actions, first wrinkling your nose and giving the wine a distasteful look, before changing your expression to accommodate the new-found pleasant aftertaste.

For me, wine has two distinct unmoving flavours of metallic Ribena for red wine or flat champagne for white wine. I’ve never been a big drinker of the stuff as I believe most wines are purely made to give my taste buds occasion to scream.

Whenever I have accepted it on a night out, usually well past the point I am coherent (admittedly, this doesn’t take much, in fact incoherency is one of my finest qualities, even when sober), the resultant mess is so hazardous it has to be bought to the attention of the UN so that someone can receive a fine for dumping toxic waste.

There are ways around drinking wine and the simpler the better. My favourite is mixing it half and half with lemonade, which means I have to drink twice as much to get pissed but I enjoy doing it. Another technique I have perfected is the ‘sling-it-back’, which involves drinking huge gulps at long intervals, meaning the taste dissipates quickly and I don’t have to remind myself of the wine’s aroma every three minutes by taking another measly sip.

Wine is an extremely popular drink for people who arrive home late at night after a long slog at the office and just want to sit in front of the television to watch Have I Got News for You repeats on Dave, trying to forget the workplace politics of the dreary 9-til-5 slog. If I had a long day at work, the last thing I would want to accompany me in a spot of late-night comedy is a glass of something that will make me pull a face like I have just inhaled a beaker-full of hydraulic acid.

Stereotypes around drinking also inhibit the drinking of wine. Go into any pub in Brighton and order a glass of ‘Chateau de Shite’ and everyone in the vicinity will shift uncomfortably in their seat, presume you are waiting for a rent boy called Flavio and that given half a chance, you would play Pet Shop Boys, Eurhythmics and Frankie Goes to Hollywood on the jukebox for the rest of the night.

The government is bringing in legislation which will force pubs to offer smaller glasses than the traditional 175ml or 250ml varieties, with glasses as small as 50ml set to be introduced. Again, if ordering a large glass of wine (that technically contains more alcohol than all the pints of weak lager that the burly men at the bar are supping put together) makes you look like a friend of Dorothy’s, then ordering 50ml of the stuff would make Gok Wan look like the height of masculinity.

So all in all, the measures are being introduced to stop the fairer sex getting pissed, which upon reflection is a crying shame, because none of them will have lost enough inhibitions to get off with us drunken, paralytic, shambolic disgraces to the XY chromosome.

Anyway, it turns out that the boxed wine was as disgusting as I had expected. Furthermore, it wasn’t helped by the fact it was boxed. After centuries of drinking wine from bottles why do we now need the invention of boxed wine? What idiot from Dragon’s Den took an interest in this invention?

It’s not like we were all standing around helplessly with our unopened bottles, wondering how to guzzle the delicious contents within, taking to smashing the bottles with our skulls to access the rich liquid.

As far as I can tell, we are quite competent at opening and emptying bottles of wine, so placing the entire thing in a cardboard box appears to be hampering progression in the constant evolution of our drinking demands. Still, thanks to the good people of Schweppes’s; at least when I have wine it’s fizzy.

2010 in review

That was the year that was. 2010 has hurried past and come New Year’s Eve, the preceding twelve months are just a blur as you wobble precariously on someone else’s armchair and count down the seconds to a New Year. Personally, I find New Year’s Eve parties highly amusing due to the sheer pointlessness of the fireworks display.

To celebrate the big moment, everyone heads inside to watch the television, upon which various idiots can be seen huddling beside the Thames, not letting on that their hands are so cold they have been melded to the railings they are leaning on. The reason everyone watches the frivolity on BBC1 is because you can’t stand in the garden waiting for fireworks, or a posh chap with a Rolex will declare that it is midnight thirty two seconds early and the whole thing will be a shocking anti-climax. This develops into a full blown argument about the correct time, as someone shouts “My watch is set to Ceefax!”

To avoid such argy-bargy the guests stay indoors and watch the fireworks on the telly, before trooping out into the garden for £50 worth of pyrotechnics which do nothing but rise twenty feet in the air, burn brightly for two seconds, then disappear beyond next door’s shed. Yet just seconds before you saw the grandest display of them all, in the warm, for free. It’s like going to a brothel to admire the architecture.

To most people, New Year is a chance to cop off with someone who you thoroughly despise and not feel guilty about it the following morning. Naturally, I’ve never copped off with anyone at a New Year’s Eve party so I’m left with the other option; to reflect, often miserably, upon the events of the past year.

I believe that the overall theme of 2010 was of heroes becoming villains and vica versa. BP went from being one of the most successful oil companies in the world to being the most hated after eleven workers were killed in an explosion of America’s Gulf Coast, polluting the seas for miles.

Nick Clegg suffered the biggest rise and fall, going through three phases in just a few months. First he was the ‘other guy’ who was often invited to voice his opinion but was completely insubstantial. Second he was the most sought after politician on the British Isles as it appeared his support could determine who governed the country. Then he gained notoriety after entering a coalition with the Tories and submitting to some of their more ideological causes, like NHS privatisation and cutting welfare.

The poor lamb went from being so indistinguishable that he wouldn’t be spotted in a line-up of other species (let alone human beings), to the other extreme in a matter of days.

Ed Milliband became Labour leader and spent the following months trying to be as inconsequential as he possibly could – and succeeding. Cameron and Clegg decided to go after students, who they thought were an easy target, trebling tuition fees at a stroke. And fair enough, most of the protests didn’t start until late afternoon when the students eventually got out of bed, but they still caused havoc. On one march Prince Charles and Camilla’s car was attacked, but let it not be forgotten that the angry rioters did some bad stuff as well.

In Chile, a gang of men stuck down a mine gave us one of the most uplifting stories in years. Of course, it is easy to be cynical about the story. The Chilean billionaire President appeared to use the event as a photo opportunity. Miners stuck elsewhere around the world were ignored. Companies jumped on the bandwagon by offering the miners free products when they escaped. See, I told you it was easy to be cynical.

Take That got back together. A Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton was confirmed. You wouldn’t believe the size of the fuck I don’t give about this non-event, but we do get two extra bank holidays in April, so that’s a bonus. An Icelandic volcano halted all flights in and out of Britain for days, although two regular EasyJet customers said they didn’t notice any difference to the level of the airline’s service. The Commonwealth Games in India (a competition only held to make the Queen feel like she’s in charge of something) produced average results, while England took home the Ashes Down Under. Finally, snow blanketed the country in late November once more. There hadn’t been that much white powder around since Pete Doherty’s flat was raided.

2010 has gone, 2011 is here. If you want evidence that this year will be an improvement on the last, look no further than the news that Big Brother will not be invading our screens once more. Still, it’s not like Channel 4 will put on anything decent to replace it. Happy New Year!