It might be different this time

Watching England play international football is like competing badly in the Commonwealth Games – you know you’re there purely to make up the numbers. In the same way that being able to walk in a straight line without falling in a ditch gets you a place in the St Kitts & Nevis athletics squad, England always perform just well enough to make it to big tournaments. It’s a bit of a let-down, really. After all, we have the Premier League, a glitzy, orgiastic bonfire of money and talent, a rum illumination of what petulant twenty-something millionaires do at the pinnacle of club soccer. Then, come dark autumnal evenings, we are left to watch the dregs of Norwich City’s second XI poke a nervy singular goal beyond a despairing Macedonian goalkeeper, while a weather-hardened manager looks on in despair, ageing at fourteen times the natural rate.

The build up to big England games is a blood-letting, size 52 font, Capital Letter howl of demented anguish asking “WHY?” Why are we not good enough to compete against the likes of Brazil, Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina? Why can’t we string three passes together, let alone employ tiki-taka? Why is it that we created the game, codified it, professionalised it, took it round the world, only for street kids in Africa to end up beating us into submission while pasty-faced Liverpudlians conform to the school of football which dictates you run after the ball willy-nilly and tactical nous is a dirty concept? Why is it that we put so much pressure on our lads to perform when it matters, so that instead of playing with verve and dynamism, they play like a pub side on the piss? Why is it that we moan about this pressure, while also getting really bloody angry when things go even slightly awry, enacting a witch hunt to hound every player and manager that fails to meet the ludicrous expectations of fans who are wider than they are tall?

I’d like to think I’m a realistic England fan, which puts me in a select group of patriots that could easily fit inside a lift. I hear people – let’s not mince our words, morons – regularly regurgitate the roll-call of dishonour of recent tournaments. “Quarter-finals, lost on penalties, Last 16, Quarter-final, Semi-final, lost on penalties” they whine on, spitting in your face as they do so, while actually not understanding that getting to the quarter-final of a World Cup indicates that you are among the finest eight teams in the world. And are we any better than that, really? There are two-hundred nations on this planet. Fair enough, some of them are just a few trees and a confused looking primate. Some have been changed so often that a once vast geographical region (and damn tricky football side) like Yugoslavia is now separated into dozens of enclaves and sub-countries, due to a civil war or an argument about the correct way to make goulash.

But an unceremonial quarter-final dumping still puts us in the top 5% of footballing nations on the planet which isn’t bad going. I watch highlights of teams like Holland and Germany, who just bulldoze opponents with nary a thought for the opposition’s feelings or confidence. Sometimes I think the England squad have been pulled to one side and told in hushed tones that the other team have just been given some very bad news, so they should try and spare their feelings. There’s a supreme arrogance when the Dutch are lining up to sing their national anthem, proud and comfortable, as opposed to the English choirboys who look on the verge of vomiting.

For the first time since the 2012 European Championships I watched an England game last week. It was a crucial tie against Montenegro, and a defeat would condemn the Three Lions to a play-off spot. I chanced my arm (and most of my body parts) by watching the game at The King & Queen in Brighton, one of those watering holes with screens the size of planets and a mob of drunken men clutching Carlsberg, yelling at the telly. The sound you could hear more than any other, above the din of chatter and the twinkle of glasses, was the well-worn subdued moans of disappointment. Every time England gave the ball away – you rarely have to wait longer than a few seconds – the gathered supporters will emit a “gnahr” sound, sometimes accompanied by the thrashing of arms and spotty cries of “Oh for fuck sake Gerrard”.

Then there’s the people who shout advice at the telly, as if Roy Hodgson is likely to say at his next press conference: “I was going to play James Milner on the right but when Bobby, the fulminating pisshead in The Thumb & Forefinger, suggested he was the worst player to ever don the sacred kit, I recalibrated my formation to include the ‘hungry youngsters’ he babbles on about because talented youth players who can step up on an international stage grow on fucking trees. I chose to ignore Bobby’s assertion that I was a useless female body part and an embarrassment to the managerial profession. Despite what he says, his Nan, who’s apparently dead, could not do a better job”.

In recent years there has been a marked shift in the clothing choices of England’s fans. Where once the heaving masses would sport a good old-fashioned Umbro kit from the 90s (and this was before retro became cool), now people attend the pub in comfortable knitwear and Converse. I peered around The King & Queen and not a single Gazza-crying-into-his-shirt doppelgänger could be seen. I remember having a few England tops in my time but in 2013, I cannot envisage a time when wearing one would improve anything. When I see two-year-olds in prams wearing their first diddy England shirt, I don’t inwardly smile and think “how cute”. I think “you’ve got decades of misery to come, sonny. All of the disappointments and tragedies to come in your life will mean nothing compared to seeing the country you love lose on penalties. Your heart may be broken by some vuluptuous temptress, you might not get everything you want. It may be hard to make your way in the world but the England football team will always be there to clasp its grimy paws around your shoulder and deliver crushing lows like you’ve never experienced. They won’t win anything in your lifetime, let alone mine”.

Happily, England beat Montenegro 4-1 and turned in the kind of performance which, if it didn’t fill me with hope, at least avoided filling me with despair. Andros Townsend capped a great debut with a superb goal. Time will tell if he lives up to the hype and vacates the list of one-time star performers, but every dog has its day. This week, Poland were beaten to book our ticket to Brazil 2014. It was a standard nerve-shredder and as I listened to the remnants of the match on the radio with us 1-0 ahead, I could hear the “gnahr”s of the Wembley crowd and I was thankful that I didn’t have the visual accompaniment, or I’d be reduced to throwing my arms around and pulling my eyes down, as only an England fan knows how.

When the World Cup comes around, I’ll be excited. Some may even think it’s our year because we thrash a bunch of Tajikistani farmers in a friendly. But when you sign up to watch England, you know you’re on a rollercoaster ride – the uncomfortable lurches, the overwhelming nausea, the feeling you’re falling, falling, falling. It brings us back to sup from the bottomless well of hope.


It’s not grim oop North, I promise

“On a scale of zero to five plums” Damian began, supping generously from a double vodka with mixer and reclining on a Travelodge bed, looking at peace with the world and the contents of his plastic glass. “How plum on it are you?” Sam, a few miles away in Leeds city centre, shouted back: “SEVEN PLUMS!!!”

Back in the Travelodge, we fall about laughing, knowing full well that the night’s entertainment ahead would indeed be a seven plums sort of evening. Maybe even a few apricots. I was in Leeds for the snooker, an English Ranking Series event. It’s about time I started taking the game seriously and after an unforgettable weekend, spending time on the baize before ending the night in a drunken haze, I have definitely made the right choice.

Just as we were dozing off on Friday night in a Bradford Travelodge that looked like a retirement home, we heard the unmistakeable sound of drunk girls. Our ears pricked up and we sidled over to the window for a closer inspection. There were three young women standing by reception, presumably awaiting a taxi to town, cackling mischievously and looking like they were up for good times.

“Say something Chris” Zack whispered, as we witnessed one of the girls stumble forward and nearly skittle her mate.

“Why don’t you?” I retorted, fearing the musky stench of rejection. This to-ing and fro-ing continued for a few minutes until Jamie, bored of our cowardliness, leaned out of the window and hollered “Y’alright girls, where are you off to tonight?”

It was a brave move and I wasn’t prepared, so I did the manly thing and hid under the sofa bed. Immediately there was a gale of laughter and the trotting of high heels. One girl, Lauren, had come dashing over like Usain Bolt. She was nice enough, although her black dress failed to disguise she was packing some weight. General pleasantries were exchanged and we discovered our rooms were diagonally opposite each other. As she spoke through the now wide open window, she kept sinking slightly because of the grass and her high heels, so it was like talking to the captain of a sinking ship.

“Why ain’t you coming out tonight?” she pleaded in her violently Essex accent. “You come all this way from Brighton and you wanna stay in together and bum each other off”.

“Make sure you knock on our door when you get in” Zack implored, half-jokingly, as we were all due to play at silly o’clock the next morning.

“OK we will” Lauren said, with a little too much certainty.

Sure thing, come 3am, I’m awoken by a barrage of knocks and slurred voices, camped outside our door. We left them to it for a while, thinking the receptionist would surely scoot along soon and pack them off to their rooms with a cup of Horlicks and a night cap. When no one came to save us, Jamie rolled out of bed and opened the door a fraction of an inch. Lauren, Rachel and Chloe then performed the greatest tactical invasion this side of Poland and barged their way into our room. Rachel passed out on the sofa, Chloe, the good looking blonde who was just humouring her mates, sat at the table, bemused. Lauren meanwhile, had planted herself on the bed between Zack and Jamie, legs spread akimbo, detailing her sexual preferences.

“I do like a good paaaaaanding” she giggled, subtly convulsing her body with her legs writhing in the air in case we thought she meant she enjoyed a few rounds of boxing.

“I will shag one of you lot tomorrow night” she continued, before adding, “But I don’t want you to think I’m a slut”. Not at all. Girl chats jovially outside hotel window for ten minutes, trollops off into town and returns four hours later promising one of three strangers the opportunity to paaaaand her rigid. Definitely not a slut. In an effort to get them moving, we promised we’d be on it – seven plums on it, in fact – the next day, so they finally left us in peace and we got a precious few hours more sleep.

The snooker didn’t go too well and I lost to a bloody tweeny. He looked about eight but he beat me in the decider. Zack, Sam, Damian and Jamie didn’t fare better either, so we went on a booze cruise and returned to our digs. We turned the lock of our room and I noticed a tatty envelope on the floor, which I bent over to pick up. Inside was an invitation written on scrap paper.

“Dear contestants” it began, and the scribbled message formalised the arrangements made the previous night – one of us would ride her like a bucking bronco. “Please look your best so I can make a final decision” she ended. Unfortunately, she didn’t practise what she preached. We caught sight of her in the hallway and she was wearing an unflattering layered pink dress which made her look like a tacky wedding cake. Instead of spending half an hour in front of the mirror pulling every hair into place, I was tempted to shave off my eyebrows and smear my jeans with excrement so I didn’t win the competition. Still, there was more to come.

An application form was shoved under our doors, asking for personal details such as “size of cock” and “favourite position” to which I answered “practically non-existent” and “left-back”. Jamie entered under the alias ‘Jermaine’ because “Jermaines always have big dicks”. With a little fire in our belly – Smirnoff – we knocked on their door and ‘hanged out’, an expression taken a little too literally by Lauren, who was coming on stronger than a mature lump of stilton.

Drinks were shared and the party was heating up. Lauren was panicking about her hair – she didn’t know whether to have it up or down. Either way she still looked like a giant raspberry with a haircut. “I just wouldn’t bother going out” I said, deadpan, and my sliver of a chance of winning the competition was snuffed out with a line of banter that would be considered innocuous by most standards. When Damian asked aloud whether he should ‘Confirm’ Lauren as a friend on Facebook or press ‘Not Now’, I asked if there was a “Not Now, Not Ever” button. She loved that too. We were practically BFFs.

Unbeknownst to me, Jamie was thoroughly rotted by the time we were getting the taxi to Leeds. He was doing that thing where you repeat things four times, getting louder each time. “And then, and then, and then, AND THEN!!!”

Jamie joined the cashpoint queue, hips swinging like a chorus line of ‘New York, New York’, looking one request away from performing his famous breakdancing moves. The bloke behind him, built like a brick shithouse, was just shaking his head and saying “dick”. Ten minutes later in Players, he’s causing an entire bar to disperse. He was even trying it on with a granny. I don’t mean that she was a bit older, so looked out of place. I mean granny. A generous soul would say she had just hit retirement age, but Jamie was there, throwing his arms around like an over-familiar octopus, leading to a mass exodus of any female within three hectares of land.

A messy night ensued. Me and Damian lost the others and ended up necking shots in the disco room and trying it on with a couple of face-painted army girls. They seemed to be smiling and having a laugh with us until they realised we were straight, then they gave each other meaningful looks and departed without a backwards glance.

The hours sped by and I got off with Sophie Ellis Bextor’s fat cousin and Lauren appeared to have made her decision with regards to the competition. I returned to the main group to find Jamie, still pissed enough to think Lauren didn’t look like a Bertie Bassett’s Allsorts, dancing and snogging her. Even when she proudly announced she shagged her way through eight boys in eight night on a girl’s holiday, Jamie was still ready and willing, even if she’s had more dicks inside her than the Big Brother house.

During the taxi ride back to the Travelodge we encountered the surliest taxi driver I’d ever met. He ordered us to get some more money, so he stopped at a petrol station and practically kicked Damian out of the passenger seat. For three hilarious minutes, Damian was scouring the perimeter of the BP garage for a link machine, until he returns to the cab, exhausted, and the driver says he forgot this garage didn’t have one. Safely home, without giving the driver so much as a penny for a tip, I conked out in my room, while the others began paaanding away like good’uns.

Sex, sin and snooker, we give in to your pleasures once more.

Gabby Logan-led patriotism is the worst

Poor, innocent, uncorrupted, little me. I was living such a happy existence, a worthwhile, meaningful life with a promising future. I had a new job, a new house, a new fuckbuddy (well, I say ‘new’, there was never an ‘old’ one) and all was coming up roses. Then one night two weeks ago, I took a fateful decision, the ramifications of which are still being played out, fated to end with my brain shredded into millions of little pieces, left to gather dust in the corner of the mausoleum that is my dignity.

I pressed the button and waited for it to start. Jaunty music, a forced sing-along, a studio audience that’s far too cheerful to be drunk on the elixir of life alone, and there we have it, ‘I Love My Country’ – a new BBC light entertainment crapfest which ironically has become the biggest factor in my belief that I would be better off in an Albanian forest, chasing wild bores and growing my beard so long I trip over it.

Some television is so bad it’s good. For example, the Eurovision Song Contest is a riot of poor taste and shit music, like Chris Moyles’ old Radio 1 breakfast show but with more sequins and compulsory French translations. Eurovision is utter toilet, undoubtedly ruined by the debacle of block voting. When Montenegro were fighting for independence a few years back, I can’t have been the only person to wonder whether the freedom fighters of Podgorica were secretly battling for the right to give another Eastern European shitehouse douze points. Then there’s the hosts that would make lobotomised chimpanzees look like the height of professionalism.

But it’s engagingly daft, off-beat and bonkers. It’s knowingly cheesy and it brings everyone together. Russia’s worrying recent moves to criminalise and suppress homosexuality would surely be remedied if it were hosting more Eurovisions, as the event is so unapologetically camp it could make Vladimir Putin shout “ooh matron!” while scores of chest-baring hunks breakdance behind an Icelandic siren to a catchy yet vacuous Euro-disco beat.

‘I Love My Country’ is so bad it’s bad. It has zero redeeming features. Mind-numbingly mundane and stupid, it rolls around drunkenly in a Union Jack flag and then vomits down itself while trying to remember the words to ‘Jerusalem’. What terrifies me is that a BBC programme developer obviously sat down with a bigwig at Television Centre and pitched the following idea for a comedy-cum-entertainment Saturday night hoedown:

“We need Gabby Logan, an undeniably steadfast sports presenter but one without a funny bone in sight. If she could look like a worried school teacher dancing at a school disco because the boys and girls are on opposite sides of the hall, nervously tapping their phones and pretending they can’t see each other, more the better. When the house band plays the introductory music, Gabby needs to awkwardly shift her body from side to side, in what could be considered ‘dancing’ by pasty uncool white boys in a hip nightclub.

“Then we need captains, because the rules of the universe governing entertainment shows dictate ‘funeth cannot be haveth without thy teams in suppos’d conflictation’. For such a vital role, we need versatile characters, two Machiavellian chancers who will bring the giggles and good times, making up for Gabby Logan’s matchstick man routine. Both captains should be distinct in all ways possible with the single exception of their species, to allow for the increased hilarity of having two diametrically opposed people engaging in jokey conflict for the benefit of viewers. They will be decreed as Frank Skinner and the unthinking man’s Frank Skinner, Mickey Flanagan. Both will adopt ‘banter’ as their modus operandi, preferably upmarket japes, such as a run of gags in the opening episode about a panellist whose surname is ‘Salt’.

“You may be thinking, “Ah, this appears to be a titular variation on your average game show” but this is not so. We are not pitching ‘Have I Got A Question Of Would I Lie To 8 Out Of 10 Cats?’. This show has a difference, a unique selling point which makes up for the various rounds and aspects we stole from celebrity panel shows down the years. Are you ready for this? This is going to blow your mind to the outer reaches of The Milky Way and probably beyond. Take a seat right there. Here we go. The panellists – ooh, I can’t wait to spill the beans – will all be STANDING UP. Yes!! None of this get-comfy-and-‘ave-a-cuppa nonsense. Audiences have got tired of chests and heads, we want to see LEGS. Lovely lovely legs. Especially the legs of fruity actresses who contribute nothing to the show aside from their olive-tanned pins. PHWOAR!

“To top off the surrealism, we would like Jamelia to head the ‘house band’ which plays off-colour renditions of famous songs, like an instrumental version of Vic and Bob’s ‘Club Singer’ round on Shooting Stars. You might be wondering why we can’t afford a more respectable singer, especially when the budget for chairs has been slashed to nothing. But I promise you that she will join the spirit of things and occasionally lean over a white fence to deliver bon mots to the delight of all present.

“Another aspect of the show is the way points are distributed. Tired formats generally reward skill or intelligence with points or prizes. Not us. We prefer to scatter perfectly good points on Z-listers that can locate Peterborough on a map with a Yorkshire pudding. Or, I kid you not, if they win a glorified game of pass the parcel. A massive, Saturday night, celebrity game of pass the parcel! The trailers must practically write themselves.

“The show will be jacked up on its own spirit, with a yelling, whooping, hysterical crowd presumably rescued from a damp basement after an earthquake, as that’s the only thing less preferable than playing along. The team captains, Messrs Skinner and Flanagan, shall wonder up and down their team to infuse a collective atmosphere of harmony and communal spirit, mainly by describing how gorgeous the token blonde bombshell is and gesturing rudely to the opposing team.

“Lest anyone be confused that the country we’re supposed to be proud of it Britain, the set shall be decorated lovingly with giant Big Bens, a steam train set, more red telephone boxes than even exist anymore, random meadows of bluebells and a recreation of Stonehenge. If you’re thinking “That sounds like a monumental sack of wank”, you will have to see the real thing to appreciate the awe-inspiring vulgarity of it.

“So please, find it within your hearts to allow this show a place on your network. The advantages are manifold, but the most important one is that it will make everything else on your schedules shine like a beacon of hope and glory. Any dodgy new drama with a few windswept moors and a sinister-looking farmhand shall be forgiven on the basis that it is not ‘I Love My Country’. The next time Ben Elton decides we need anything written or produced by him to be broadcast to the nation, we can be safe in the knowledge that whatever plume of cack blossoms from his quill, it will never come close to replicating the bile-flecked, disgusting terrorism that has been wreaked across the airwaves with ‘I Love My Country’. I rest my case”.

Pensions ‘n’ loans ‘n’ detergent

I write this prose from my new abode, my new home, my crib, my blessed plot of land. From here there shall be no stopping me as I claim my rightful place in this frightful world. Or I shall do what I have done for the past four nights in a row and play computer simulation games, followed up by the latest episode of ‘Pointless’ on BBC iPlayer. After several worrying viewings of sewers masquerading as ‘student housing’ in the city of Brighton, I have finally managed to bag a new headquarters.

It’s quite nice too. There are four walls, which may not seem like a big deal but some of the places I viewed looked one tap on the windowsill away from crumbling like a rich tea biscuit in a mug of hot chocolate. There are appliances of differing working order, not to mention a wine rack which is currently filled with empty bottles of Weston’s organic cider to give off the impression we have enough money and sophistication to warrant one.

The washing machine is the most useless piece of junk in the history of kitchenware, bleating whenever you ask it to do anything beyond rotate at a leisurely pace for half an hour. Not that I would know whether this was what a washing machine should do. Three days in to my house share I had to sheepishly ask my fellow tenants how it worked. Of the many things I learnt while living at home, how to wash clothes was definitely not one of them.

On the advice of my housemates I had to buy fabric conditioner. Who knew that something so simple should present so much choice? I was standing in the washing aisle at Sainsbury’s and felt like I was in a laundry-themed version of The Matrix. Do I want my shirts to smell like raspberry or citrus? Persil or Bold? Should I use a capsule or a tablet? This is where capitalism has gone wrong. Give me a plain plastic bottle which says “DETERGENT” in size 24 Times New Roman font and I can lead a fulfilled life, albeit with clothes that don’t smell like raspberry, citrus or fomented banana peelings. Why do we have to walk round smelling like a fucking fruit bowl all of a sudden?

A long time ago, when I first mooted the idea of leaving home, I remember Mum mentioning something about learning life’s essentials.

“What do you mean ‘essentials’?” I asked, as all I could picture was the fruit and veg aisle in Waitrose.

“You know, changing a light-bulb, reading the gas meter…”

“Mum, I need to stop you there. I’ve got a real actual job now. A proper one. If I need anything doing like that, I’ll get the man in. I’m too lazy and potentially middle class to understand the ins and outs of a boiler. If anything goes wrong, I will unplug it or kick it, as is the custom. What will all my thick mates do if they can’t attend to the electrical and plumbing woes of dwellings like mine? By staying blissfully unaware of these so-called ‘essentials’ I am merely providing employment to the labourers who must put in a decent shift for a day’s pay. My ignorance is feeding the virtuous circle”.

Obviously, that’s what I should have said, but I think I mumbled “whatever” and went upstairs to weep over Morrissey b-sides. Besides, I take my cues for modern life from Friends and Frasier, a glitzy, fabulous world in which you never see the characters washing up or hanging the clothes out to dry ‘cos it’s so tedious. Realistically, I remember thinking, when would I ever need to de-scale a kettle? To make life easier, I’d probably just buy a kettle without scales in the first place.

Now that I’m here and entirely self-reliant, I have travelled further along the winding road to adulthood than I ever expected. There I was, cocooned in my child-like shell, playing Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 and trying to get the fictitious little people who only walk diagonally to ride my helter skelter (not a euphemism). Now I’m getting a bill for council tax.

Council tax!? How did that happen! What have they ever done for me? I have concluded that the only thing the council do to improve my well-being is plonk two massive skips for rubbish at either end of my road and recycle a few tin cans and glass bottles every fortnight. And I’m paying £100 a month for this nonsense? For that fee I expect the mayor to personally come round, make me herbal tea and ask how my day at work has been. If he’s not available, I would be willing to accept a councillor, although not a Green as they will criticise my lifestyle and berate me for not recycling my used toilet paper or stocking up on Quorn.

They might organise the heist of my £100 with astonishing haste – barely had I stepped over the threshold of my new residence when the bill was pushed through the letterbox – but they can’t get a carer for our psychopathic neighbour, Brian, a well-known celebrity (in the utterly-batshit-Tom-Cruise sense of the word) on the Brighton scene.

He’s a harmless old biddy but he wanders up and down my narrow street from dawn til dusk, raging against the injustices of the world, such as sweet wrappers on the floor and people wearing sunglasses – “how the hell do you see out of them?” Some days he’s ‘with it’ and can hold a civilised conversation, or at least as close to a civilised conversation as you can get with an unkempt septuagenarian wearing waist-high jogging bottoms who talks to himself. On other occasions, when the pills are running low, he’s incomprehensible, a jabbering mess and the bane of our existence.

Then there’s the guy next door who spends a large proportion of his day skipping in the garden to cheesy noughties pop. I know its 2pm when I hear S Club 7’s ‘Reach’ followed by the crack of a continually rotating whip. So when Alex, one of the two guys I’m sharing with, Skyped his Dad in America, he gave a not-entirely-convincing response when asked “Is the neighbourhood good?” After several minutes of looking for a response which wouldn’t elicit a panicked visit from his folks back home in Maine, he said “It’s interesting” and left it there.

What’s weird about moving out is that it doesn’t feel weird at all. Despite all the signifiers that I’m growing up, it still feels like a natural progression rather than being dropped in at the deep end. I may change my tune in a couple of weeks when I’m on the dog and bone to home, begging for a simpler time when the only bill I had to worry about was at the end of a date. Now I’m getting three a month (utility bills, not dates, in the unlikely event that you misunderstood) and my robbing bastard employers have started taking money for my pension and student loan repayments! But I’ve flown the nest and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A shithole that’s yours for £475 pcm

“Hello mate” he burped, greeting me on the doorstep of a 7-bedroom house in Brighton, smelling of Carling and looking like a Harry Enfield caricature of a cowboy builder. His clothes were splattered in paint and his smile indicated he had been visited by the Tooth Fairy so often he was probably having that cheeky pint of Carling with her. I didn’t know whether to smile back or offer to play ‘Candle In The Wind’ on his gnashers.

This was, potentially, my new landlord. He could have been the person entrusted with my sumo-sized deposit, in charge of making my tenancy a happy and agreeable term. You know something’s up when the first three things that a landlord tells you are accompanied with the words “sorry” and “it’s not usually like this”. The first was fair comment, as Brighton’s binmen have reacted unkindly to having a £4k wage cut. Brighton is approaching a sort of seaside dystopia, with rubbish piling up in the streets. One creative type taped a bin shit with cardboard notices asking “please take your trash home!” A passing pedant was seen stuffing a crisp packet in the tiny gap between duct tape and bin, saying they’ve got “rubbish!” not vulgar, Americanized “trash!”

I was willing to let the mounds of rubbish go. The interior however, was another matter. It was a proper, old-fashioned Victorian terraced house but one which has clearly suffered decades of student abuse. If distressed houses had a helpline, you’d need the most experienced member of staff dealing with the call. Even then, there would probably be no stopping it jumping off the nearest cliff. Cracks ran up and down the wall, making it look like an Underground map made entirely of Jubilee lines.

There was a musty smell emanating from the very walls themselves and the threadbare carpet looked like a decade’s old welcome mat. The six current occupants seemed to be oblivious to my presence. From each room, the faint tinkle of music was seeping under the rattling doors. Clearly, this was an extremely social house. As I entered the kitchen, which would struggle to accommodate a family of friendly bacteria let alone six adults, I finally came across one of my potential housemates.

“Chris, this is Ryan” the landlord wheezed and Ryan gave me a cursory nod before disappearing behind a fridge door, emerging ten seconds later wiping his upper lip of milk. As the fridge door slammed shut I saw the semi-skimmed cow juice he had been slurping. There was no identifying markers or other cartons. He was drinking from the communal milk while a guest eyed up a double bedroom upstairs.

Ryan cut the most pale figure. I wasn’t even sure if he was standing in front of me, such was his ghostly white pallor. As he headed back to his room he told his landlord he was “going out tonight” for Pablo’s leaving party. Ryan said this with all the excitement of a parish clerk reading the minutes from a previous meeting. He couldn’t have made it clearer that he would rather be eating enchiladas off the perma-stained flooring than seeing Pablo off.

“Who’s Pablo then?” I asked.

“Pablo’s great mate” he began, flicking globules of warm beer spit in my direction. “Yeah, he’s a real livewire. Actually he’s my longest tenant”.

“How long has he been with you then?” At this point I expected the answer to pre-date the Millennium, alongside a blow-by-blow analysis of his upbringing in the grimy house, the first room he came across in 1993 after boarding a plane from Madrid in search of a new life. But no.

“About eighteen months mate” he casually replied, with a confidence that he clearly hoped would be encouraging, as if having the tenant turnover of a geriatric ward is the sign of a happy living community. With Ryan’s marble white complexion, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was an imprint on the mortal world, having left the confines of his hellish house days after arriving in favour of somewhere more convivial, like an abattoir.

We climbed the stairs to the second floor and he pointed me into the bathroom, an assortment of random colours and styles with a healthy dose of damp in the far corner, an unpleasant shade of teal.

“I will be putting an extractor fan in shortly” the landlord said, clearly not finding time in his busy schedule in the past ten years of his ownership of the house to do that very thing. At this point I knew for certain I wouldn’t be living there. If I wasn’t put off by the abundant fruit flies buzzing around the rubbish in the garden, or the kitchen which would have made a coffin feel spacious, or the walls which seemed to be solely supported by a thin layer of wallpaper, not architectural security, I was certainly put off by the fact I didn’t like the landlord. He was a shyster, a charlatan, a bleedin’ rogue. If he was recast in classic literature, he’d be a knave from a Dickens novel, made successful from his exploitation of others. He wouldn’t ask for “more porridge, Sir”, he’d steal it off the other orphans, add a kilo of sawdust and pass on the result at a ludicrously inflated rate.

If I was being polite, I’d call the bedroom ‘poky’. It was a loft conversion, so the ceiling was heavily sloped, meaning that taking one step inside necessitates a bowing of the neck: given six months I’d be walking around as if I was facing a permanent gale-force wind. There was a double bed manoeuvred into the far side of the room (I say ‘far side’… When the far side is within arm’s reach, it surely cannot be described thusly) but it was cosy in the extreme.

Happily, I’m not too naïve. The location was perfect so if I was a little less cynical I might have chewed off, if not a limb, then at least an appendage to live there. Just for giggles, I asked which deposit scheme he made use of. I was met with a predictable barrage of sighs and tuts. “It’s more hassle for you and it’s more hassle for me” he opined, preferring a system of mutual trust and a bit of paperwork which his “best mate” could rustle up if he was feeling generous. You really couldn’t make it up.

Admittedly I am a newbie to the world of deposits, landlords and rent but I’m trying not to get taken for a ride. During my student years I stayed at home, spending the couple of thousand pounds saved on those essential amenities of modern life: records and premium cider. I suppose witnessing the dire pits of sub-‘Young Ones’ revoltery prepares me well because everything I see from now will seem like paradise. A linen closet which is colder than an Arctic tundra, surrounded by cohabitants who make Norman Bates look like a Balamory character, would be a marked improvement. The search continues.

When 1 vote in 20 is good enough

It’s hard to think of a more pointless folly than supporting the Labour Party in East Sussex. Excepting Hastings, which according to one unkind friend looks like “Croydon-by-sea” and has been relentlessly poor for decades no matter how many cathedral-sized shopping centres they erect to cover the baseline poverty, East Sussex is a no-go for red rosettes and ex-Trade Union members looking for paid employment in the House of Commons.

Despite numerous requests and invites to events, I am hesitant to meet my fellow Eastbourne members because as far as I can tell, they would comfortably fit in a Ford Mondeo. The ‘Eastbourne Labour Party’ Facebook group has fewer members than the ‘Jimmy Saville for sainthood’ group and makes only marginally more sense. Every year I’m sent details of the constituency party’s Annual General Meeting and they’re always begging for people to take up more responsibility. The current chairman has been in position forever, and I doubt whether death would impede his bid to win re-election, especially as his wife seems to make up 50% of the voting members.

I have not become embroiled in local politics in the years since but in 2010 I was full-heartedly attempting the impossible; getting Labour elected in Lewes, county town of East Sussex. You see, I was going through one of my rare phases of direct political involvement. I’ve always been politically aware but I sway violently between two positions. One side of me wants to get out there in people’s faces, thrusting leaflets through letter boxes and making speeches to Trade Union conferences, coming across like a left-wing version of William Hague’s Tory address when he was a wheezy teen. I am now a recidivist of this kind of high-level involvement, wincing whenever I see it being practised. I have adopted more tokenistic gestures such as the time the BNP were handing out leaflets in my local town centre. I walked by, took a leaflet with feigned interest, then ripped the thing to shreds and threw it in the nearest bin, making sure the boot boy who was dispensing the vile literature could see me clearly.

As much as I despise the likes of the BNP and English Defence League, I am torn when I see anti-fascist demonstrators quarrelling in the street with these hoo-ligans, as they come across as rather snobby and elitist. One chant adopted by the anti-fascists goes “read some books”, an appallingly vague command. No wannabe Nazi is going to be turned to the good side by a Jona-than Franzen thriller. Besides, I’m fairly sure the most committed of eugenicists will have read at least one book. I would start a protest to protest against these protesters but then I would be heading the anti-anti-fascists, which would invite a collective shrug of the shoulders from the population at large.

But back then I was right in the thick of it, albeit with fewer scuffles than your average protest march. By default, I became the Lewes candidate’s campaign writer. This was down to a mixture of good luck and an entirely unbiased piece in an online journal which sug-gested that given half a chance, Hratche Koundarjian would become Prime Minister in about three years. He took this endorsement in his stride and co-opted me to his team, surmising that if I can churn out a thousand words about how marvellous he was, I should be ideal to type endless waffle about why the residents of Lewes and Newhaven should vote Labour.

And that was one of his key campaigning points. The seat is called ‘Lewes’ and Hratche proposed changing it to ‘Lewes and Newhaven’, which would doubtless surpass the Magna Carta as a landmark moment in modern British history. Problem was this alienated the half of our electorate that lived in Lewes, diminishing our already tiny core vote due to Gordon Brown’s leadership, which in retrospect proved as people-friendly as asbestos. The policies were made so ad hoc that if a farmer in a tiny village said he was considering vote Labour, Hratche might have changed his pledge to make the seat ‘Lewes, Newhaven and Piddinghoe’.

It was a classic campaign run by people who had no chance of winning. Anything remotely controversial that sitting Lib Dem MP Norman Baker had voted for would be turned in to a Lewes Labour policy. Hratche was a decent man but it was his first campaign and it felt like a jigsaw made of molten wax. Nothing really fitted together. If Norman Baker sneezed, Hratche would have pledged to set up a task force to investigate the whereabouts and condition of the dropsicules of phlegm that escaped Baker’s nose. We also faced an insurmountable problem: Norman Baker was a rea-sonably popular MP. Alright, he looks like a vole but that never stopped anyone from being successful. Just ask Michael Winner.

The most memorable moment of the campaign came as the results were being announced. To stop any old loony challenging for a seat (well, Lembit Opik still gave it a shot so the system’s not perfect) the Electoral Commission require you slap down a £500 deposit. To get this dollar back, you need to poll at least 5% of all votes cast. While the Lib Dems and Conservatives were locked in a relatively tight race, all we were fighting for was our £500 and tattered pride.

When you’re enmeshed in the hub of a campaign, you do allow yourself a few moments to picture a mythical outcome, where Hratche’s heroic traipsing around the dodgier areas of Newhaven might pay off and the electorate finally comes round to your way of thinking, rewarding you with the biggest shock of election night. You imagine David Dimbleby turning to his panel of talking heads and saying “Well, we have a shock result coming in from the south coast”. As the campaign writer, my ego whispered seductively in my ear, I would be sure to be catapulted to the top table of Labour speech writers, like a real life Sam and Josh from The West Wing. Reality soon hit when we were asked by a Brighton candidate to help his campaign because – and he said this so matter-of-factly – “I actually have a chance of winning”.

Knowing that victory for us was impossible, we watched anxiously as the returning officer stepped to the podium, clipboard in hand. After various mathematical algorithms were entered in a highly complex machine (Hratche’s Nokia mobile) we knew that 2,807 votes would see us pass the 5% mark.

“Hratche Koundarjian, the Labour Party…” she began, and we fell silent, hopeful but fearing the worst.

“Two thousand…”

“Come on” we collectively thought, clenching fists and closing eyes.

“Eight hundred…”

“Seven more” we pleaded.

“And seven”.

You’d think we’d have won the World Cup. A mighty cheer arose from our corner and we all high fived each other with grins spreading ear to ear.

“We did it!”

Yes, we did it. We won 5%. No more, thankfully no less. Victory was ours, even if the seat is still called Lewes, I’m writing this for nothing and Hratche Koundarjian is still not Prime Minister.

It’s gone and it ain’t coming back

During a frank and lurid discussion, Derek & Clive (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s hilariously foul-mouthed drunken creations) pondered the nature of their masturbation habits. “I was having me Wednesday, 9-in-the-evening wank” Derek begins, describing in exhaustive detail how he went berserk, pulling down all the furniture and fittings and being sick in the ashtray. When his wife walks in, he tells her there are fourteen Russian spies disguised as wallpaper threatening to shoot unless he fingered his private parts.

I bring this up for two reasons. One, any excuse to talk about masturbation is not one I will pass up lightly, especially as I heed the advice of my dear mother, who told me “write about what you know”. This as opposed to writing about Crimean War battleplans, old Canon photocopiers or being popular at school. Two, Derek & Clive went from male bravado regarding solo sexual encounters (scrap that… I don’t think self-pleasure can ever be an ‘encounter’, unless perhaps you are bi-polar) to bragging about the severity of their respective cancers in a manner which forcefully reminds me of the assorted miseries of Facebook.

“I’ve got cancer of the mortgage, I’ve got cancer of the garden”.

“I’ve got cancer of everything”.

“I’ve got cancer of the universe”.

“I’ve got cancer of the cosmos”.

“I’ve got cancer of never having existed in my fucking life”.

“I’ve got cancer so enormous people can’t even see it”.

On and on they rattle. This exchange struck a chord with me, as it mimics the post-weekend comedown statuses that people post on Facebook to celebrate their hangover, as if feeling like a downright sack of turd on a Sunday morning is somehow vindicating the smell of Red Bull on their breath and their pitiable little lives. Equally annoying are the endless pictures taken during a night out and uploaded a day or two later, with the insecure and vulnerable taking snaps of each other pulling goofy faces just to prove they were BANG ON IT. Most nightclubs nowadays are turning in to a tourist hotspot because you have to keep ducking and diving in order not to spoil other people’s snapshots of merriment.

As a young adult I cringe over most of this. Whenever I see a batch of freshly delivered morning-after-the-night-before updates in which the letter ‘g’ is assaulted with a menace usually associated with Green Street, I contemplate whether Doctor Who is doing us a disservice by saving the planet time after time. “Hangingggggg” they declare, overjoyed with their onomatopoeic wordplay, thinking in their deluded minds that they are Oscar Wilde minus the gay. Here’s my three point plan if you do this yourself. Step away from your mobile phone, go for a jog and stop Instagramming pictures of your gelatinous full English brekkie to demonstrate to the online world that you had one too many Bacardi Breezers last night, and now you’re paying the price for it in saturated fat and an increased chance of bowel cancer.

All that said, I am a terrible drunk. I don’t suddenly become a Millwall fan, kyboshing anything in sight. I am usually quite a cheerful drunk – excepting the time I sobbed outside a nightclub, blubbing “I wish I was good looking”. But I rarely remember anything that happens once I move past my fourth pint and as soon as spirits get thrown into the equation, I go all Ringo Starr and it’s goodnight Vienna. Only last month, on our regular bender to Sheffield, I woke up on the corridor floor of a hotel, miles away from the Travelodge I was staying in, splayed in a heap on the floor opposite a lift. I awoke at 6.30am and exited via a keypad-guarded door, offering a passing taxi driver my remaining £6 to cruise me home. It was in the taxi, endeavouring to piece together the slideshow of my drunken oblivion, that I realised I had a sock missing. My shoes were on, but I only had one sock. Don’t. Ask.

So, more than most, I probably warrant a good Facebook hangover status, perhaps something about checking whether the condom in my wallet had been used, because you just never know. However, I am not the biggest fucktard in the universe, so I keep these anecdotes to share with friends when conversation runs a bit thin and everyone needs cheering up with tales of my humiliation. (I will ignore the fact that I’m writing about this on a publicly available blog because it’s an entirely different medium of communication and because no-one reads this bloody thing anyway.)

A couple of weeks ago, events came to a peak. I actually quit Facebook. No longer shall I get irritated by the needy scrawlings of identity-less bozos, looking to fill an interesting person-shaped hole in their life by letting six-hundred hangers-on know every thought that runs through their head, often amounting to three posts a day, one about reality television, another offering a link to a shit pop video and some coded message to an ex, punctuated with dozens of exclamation marks, when the comment is neither funny nor shocking!!!!!!

So I took my Facebook profile and ran away to a cave, existing day-to-day by licking walls for moisture and stewing moss. Almost. What scares me is that I don’t miss it in the slightest. Facebook warned me that I would never be able to retrieve my photos or activity ever again if I quit and didn’t return within two weeks. I wondered whether I could cope without my regular dose of unhinged egomania filling the gaps between deciding how I won’t find a girlfriend this month. That fortnight has passed and I have not pined for it once.

Some people leave the site for noble reasons, usually to do with the privacy settings, complaining that companies can manipulate unknowing users. Unfortunately, my lone exodus of the social networking site can be attributed to a fateful night in a Brighton nightclub, in which photographic evidence emerged of me tonguing a fat girl so roughly you’d think I was trying to suck the plaque off her wisdom tooth. Singularly, this might not be an issue, merely an ill-advised bit of harpooning that would enrage Greenpeace were I to engage in the same activity in Japan. However, twenty-four hours later another set of photos were uploaded, this time even less coy.

There I am, flipping two fingers to a camera. There she is, bending over, holding a conversation with my dangly bits. Of course, the camera angle makes it look raunchier but that cannot be helped. Comrades told me I was a hero and that receiving head having a girl talk at your privates in a club was a Herculean affair. Yet it left me little choice but to seek an exit from the mileage that photograph offered to friends and potential employers.

I’m not trying to be cool and mysterious by logging out of the one great cross-generational site of my generation. Problem is, Facebook’s a way of life now. People will ask me to add them and I’ll have to look like a luddite or a socially inept arsehole. The fact I’m both should be of no meaning. In keeping with the traditions of one-upmanship and hyperbole employed by the website’s millions of users, I’ll just have to tell them I’ve got cancer of the Facebook.

Shout at the devil

You know that feeling of being out of control? That knowing, ebbing thought-bubble that things may not be within your jurisdiction, when the future lies ahead of you but you don’t know whether you will be greeted at life’s next junction by a coffin or the winning EuroMillions numbers. I feel like that when I play snooker and, though the link may seem tenuous, Motley Crue certainly were out of control too. Indeed, snooker and Motley Crue have a lot more in common than silly outfits (I’m thinking the bow ties and waistcoats) and being at their most popular in the 80s. Let me explain.

Motley Crue – they have an umlaut in their name but being technology’s answer to fourteenth-century druids I cannot find it on my word processor – were mental. Proper nuts. The details are all laid bare in ‘The Dirt’, the band’s autobiography, and it’s the most disgusting but engrossing book I have ever read. Much of the time, their outrageous tendencies were confined to drug-fuelled bonhomie and standard rock star excess cliché.

One chapter, however, stands above the rest as a testament to things getting out of hand. Two of the group bring a pair of groupies back to their hotel for general lights-off frolics. On this occasion, Nikki Syxx decides, for reasons best kept to himself, that one of the girls should have a toothbrush and toothpaste tube inserted into her vagina. I suppose that’s one way of solving the age-old conundrum of post-coital bad breath.

Not yet finished, Nikki also inserts the hotel room’s phone receiver up there as well, which makes me wonder if we’re talking about a vagina or a filing cabinet. The other groupie, whose thoughts on the events unfolding before her eyes would doubtless be fascinating, is then asked for her parents’ phone number. Said digits are hammered on the phone and the scene is complete.  One girl is talking at another’s crotch, answering her mother’s muffled questions saying “yes, we’ll be home soon”. Nikki admitted that he lost all respect for himself as well as womankind that day and I cannot entirely blame him. Rumour has it that film rights have been bought for ‘The Dirt’, which makes me wonder how such a scene will fit on the big screen without being placed beyond a paywall or on YouPorn.

So we have established that Motley Crue simmered on the borderline of insanity. Well, surprisingly, snooker is much the same. It’s the most psychologically demanding pastime out there. If you think snooker is sedate, the indoor equivalent of a game of cricket on a gentrified village lawn, think again. I have finished a best of five match more exhausted than when I ran a half-marathon.

Many people play snooker to get away from the fripperies of modern life and take a break from the constant nagging of ‘er indoors. Quite often I hear people say they play the game to relax but half an hour later they can be found hyperventilating in the corner of a leaky hut, cursing a missed opportunity and muttering swear words of increasing intensity under their breath. It is the only game, as far as I’m aware, that makes perfectly ordinary people shout “Fuck. Tits. Wank. Prick” in quick succession, and that’s when you’re playing decent.

It must mean something that an outburst like that would be considered a perfectly reasonable response to missing an easy black. I am a docile creature, rarely awoken from my slumbersome attitude to things going Pete Tong. In recent months I have vested anger in print towards Manchester United fans, Christmas radio, prostitutes in Magaluf, the coalition government and landlords. But this is all exaggerated and my shackles in real life aren’t nearly as easily raised as they are when I’m writing. Nonetheless, if truth be told, snooker has occasionally made me hold a single-word conversation in my head, which involves the worst swear word repeated endlessly. I’m playing a sport I profess to love, yet at intermittent moments, all I can think is “C**t, c**t, c**t, c**t”. It’s not even directed at my opponent, usually just the fuckpig of a game itself.

Quite madly, some of the players I used to watch on the telly now play in the same tournaments I enter. A few months back, David Gray, a one-time world Top 16 player, popped along for a tournament in Brighton. Usually I’m rubbish when I meet anyone famous. On the razz, after one too many glasses of shandy, I chanced upon Paul Weller – the Paul Weller – and told him he looked like a Paul Weller lookalike. His mates laughed and said “you could make some money out of that Paul”. David Gray may not be on the same level of fame as the Modfather but he’s well known in the game so I was apprehensive about  saying anything. I finally plucked up the courage when he sat down beside me.

“I used to watch you on the box when I was little” I said, noting as I did so that things have changed drastically in the world of snooker in the past decade. Back in 2000, Ronnie O’Sullivan had a full plume of hair and John Virgo made sense. Now the Rocket is a crazed recluse who only comes out of hibernation for the World Championships after farming for six months (I kid ye not) and John Virgo is the king of the nonsensical aside. Asked by Ken Doherty what Mark Williams should do to improve in a match he was losing heavily, Virgo harrumphed and said “he needs to start playing better”. Oh mighty oracle! Such insight!

David Gray nodded solemnly. “Time flies dunnit” he wistfully said, bearing the unmistakeable scars of a man who plugged away on the circuit for years, never quite making it. It didn’t help that he was off his rocker most of the time. In 2009 he was found unconscious in his underpants on a Thailand high street following a bender with his mates. Yet here he was, sitting beside me, wearing a hangdog expression and competing for £100 and a mention in the local newspaper. He still didn’t win.

Alcohol consumption is undoubtedly a common theme between the Crue and the boys on the baize. When we used to enter competitions in Prestatyn, a number of pros would turn up and spend the weekend nursing a pint of cider and blackcurrant beside the bar, getting royally smashed. Of course, I did the same. Hell, I was in such a state the last time I went, I forgot my own name. But these people were the best in their field, indicating that heavy boozing is what life on the road must entail, whether you’re Steve Davis or celebrating a number one record.

One big difference is that snooker is not a sexy sport, unlike the untethered promiscuity of a band on the run. It originates from pubs and working men’s clubs, not exactly a hotbed of sexiness – although darts gets a pair of dolly birds to walk the players to the stage, an ingenious ruse which only manages to make the players seem fatter and uglier than their already fugly appearances. God help a sport when Judd bloody Trump is its pin-up. He might be a stunning player but he looks like a poor man’s poor man’s Justin Bieber and has the charisma of wet pavement. His interviews come from the Steven Gerrard school of looking mildly ill-at-ease while dispensing pointless platitudes. Definitely not sexy.

There you have it. In many ways, snooker is similar to Motley Crue. The feeling of spinning totally out of control. A host of mad and bad characters. And the loneliness of touring, although in snooker there’s not even an easily manipulated groupie to use as a toiletries bag to stave off the boredom.

Staring idly out of windows

If there’s one group it’s easy to scapegoat, it’s the unemployed. You know the ones, littering every street corner with bottles of Boost and permeating the air with the slavering drawls of an army of attack dogs; the feckless, lazy scroungers who know every nook and cranny of ‘Halo 3’ yet adopt a look similar to a giraffe asked to hop-scotch when you mention the term ‘National Insurance’.

Satellite dishes hang from their roofs to beam trash TV direct to their living rooms, which are cluttered with empty vodka bottles, used needles and a thin layer of grime that covers everything, including the seventeen children being raised on Jobseeker’s Allowance who flit between school, jail and crime like a space hopper with ADHD. They are the losers, the undeserved, the morally vacant scrotums of a society they don’t deserve to play a part in. These people should be punished and ordinary working people should rise up and rebel against these scumbags, carrying them aloft to a burning pyre where they can die, agonisingly, in full public view.

This is the dire picture much of the media like to present. Barely a week passes by without some slum Mum plastered over the front page of The Sun, surrounded by destitute sprogs posing for the camera rather awkwardly. Two of the kids will be wearing NHS specs, while the teenage girl will invariably be massaging a baby bump. “Smile! You’re going to be national hate figures!”

I swear blind they recycle these families, especially as the quotes seem identical. The mother will usually bleat that having enough children to set up a primary school in her loft conversion is an inalienable “human right” while the father – often a cider lout wearing Lonsdale tracky bottoms – arrogantly declares he has no need to find a job as state benefits are generous enough to fund a cigarette habit, a few lock-ins down The Basketmaker’s Inn and the occasional night with a Lithuanian hooker.

All of this directly contradicts reality. Of course, saying that the tabloid press contradicts reality is not a huge revelation: forever it has been so. These are the same newspapers that put stunning topless women on page 3 for millions of readers to ogle, but Hayley, 22, from Morecambe, would never give me a private viewing in a million years without the aid of Rohypnol. These are the same organs that seem to care who Harry Styles (of One Direction fame; ask your twelve-year-old daughter) takes home after a night partying with assorted beauties and paparazzi, when in a straw poll conducted with myself, I would sooner fall asleep in an operating cement mixer than read extraneous details about who a millionaire teenage brat was poking. These are the same outlets that thought the best way to illustrate the tragic death of a young woman at the hands of her famous athlete husband, Oscar Pistorius, was by printing huge front-page pictures of the dead woman in a bikini, looking hot. Nothing says “I’m sorry for your loss” better than a wank-friendly lingerie snap.

The reality of unemployment, however, is far darker and murkier than any tabloid hack dares make it. It’s all very well printing so-called gossipy ‘stories’ about boyband heartthrobs which may promote nothing other than an amnesty for Superdry clothing, but the lies and propaganda served up to denigrate the unemployed affect people’s quality of life. And these people don’t have enough money to go on lavish holidays or hire a bodyguard, unlike the tweeny-boppers who infest showbiz columns in The Daily Mirror.

This is best demonstrated by the latest news from the good ship Costa Coffee – the tax-paying, decent employers as opposed to Starbucks, who just days after being hauled before Parliament for barely paying enough tax to subsidise three municipal water fountains, decided to slash employee benefits like holiday pay, winning the Chris Huhne Award For Rubbish PR – is that 1,701 people applied to work in one of their new chains. Just eight positions were available in the Nottingham branch and a Costa spokesperson said that applicants included recent graduates and former managers.

David Cameron and George Osborne love to paint the unemployed as a homogenous lump of needy blighters, sucking on hashish pipes and staring idly out of windows, but when appointment rates at a high street coffee shop are running at 200:1, that’s a much more pressing issue than the odd human gumball machine with zilch self-respect or self-reliance. Let’s not forget, this was for a job in which the most mentally demanding task would be to memorise the ingredients of a Caramel Frappuccino and understand those permanent marker hieroglyphics that barristers make on the outside of their cups. This wasn’t for General Secretary of the United Nations. It was to mop up the gooey brown spillages of clumsy patrons and 1,693 people will fail to even get that gig.

Presumably the bulk of those applications were made by people without a job, unless you’re in the unlucky position of seeing the £6.10 an hour wage as a promotion. Therefore, the broad brush painting of unemployed people as worthless scum is inaccurate and misleading. Application forms aren’t the easiest things to fill out, so it shows how desperate people are for paid employment that they trawl through acres of forms and answer eye-popping questions like “Is your gender the same as the one you were assigned at birth?” I’ve often thought that if you think you have a good chance of winning a role at an interview stage, it must be very tempting to tick lots of equal opportunities boxes because you will fulfil all sorts of quotas if you’re a half-Filipino, half-Bulgarian, post-operation transsexual with mobility issues.

Much is made of the ‘easy life’ the unemployed live but it’s rubbish. On occasion, my parents have been jobless so I have seen firsthand the demoralising effect of being without work. Waking up at silly o’clock and cow-towing to a belligerent boss and making small talk in lifts with Kevin from Accounts may not seem like paradise on earth. But it’s a whole lot more enjoyable than feeding your sensory system a junk diet of pound shop David Dickinsons, Sarah Beeny rip-offs and 25% extra free packets of custard creams. Even channel controllers are in on the hatchet job, making the least fortunate feel worthless. During the day – a peak time for curtain twitchers – terrestrial television broadcasts programmes where Jospeh and Hayley, a hip twentysomething couple from Islington, are looking to buy their first holiday home in Bratislava. Meanwhile the only people tuning in are sitting on a hire purchase couch and jotting down the phone number for during the ad breaks.

There are, without doubt, some people who abuse the system, wringing every penny they’re owed from a state which can at times be over-weaning. By focusing on the extremes of these abuses, harder and deeper benefits cuts are being targeted at the poorest. At one stage on the dole, my whole family were expected to live on £94 a week. Utilities, clothes, groceries, school uniforms. £94 a week. If you apply for a job at Costa Coffee, you’ll have a 1 in 200 chance of digging yourself out of that bloody great hole. Good luck.

The privatised machine

Worrying developments, people. I find myself on the side of The Man over the little people, albeit not through choice and not with any ideological fervour. A few weeks back, a horde of angry students, many shouting “Ra ra ra!”, started occupying Bramber House, a conference centre opposite where I work which usually hosts cosmically dull events about paperclips. They stormed the barricades (well, a revolving door) and announced they would not be leaving any time soon.

Initially, there was a policy of containment. No-one was being allowed in and once you left, you were gone. Private security firms, somewhat  ironically considering the nature of the event – ‘Sussex Against Privatisation’ – were drafted in to stand by the exits with badges on their arms and emit a general aura of menace, thus proving that private sector contractors give off the humanitarian warmth of a sharp ground frost. After a few days, presumably because the pong of dozens of unwashed students became unbearable, arrangements became much more relaxed and now students swan up and down, apparently taking on ‘shifts’ so they can never be chucked out.

The reasons for the occupation are sound. The University, with all the wisdom and foresight we expect from a leading Higher Education provider, have decided to outsource a swathe of jobs. Clearly, all the evidence, especially that coming from the beef burger industry, suggests that privatisation is always the answer to life’s manifold crises. These proposed changes happen to affect the lowest-paid, hardest-working manual workers on campus and daren’t touch the Vice-Chancellor or the important bods who sit in roomy offices counting post-it notes and holding meetings about meetings.

Apparently, outsourcing these people’s jobs will not result in redundancies, or so management have argued, not entirely convincingly. Quite how they can guarantee this when their actions are explicitly handing control to private enterprise who will then dictate terms and conditions, is never spelt out. The feeble arguments perpetuated by the authorities did not appease the occupiers, and neither did the University Vice-Chancellor’s long-awaited response to the situation. He waited ages before making any kind of public pronouncement over the matter, meaning he probably had more to say about the lack of toilet paper in the staff loos than the occupation for a long while. According to The Guardian “Michael Farthing responded to the protesters by asking them to leave the building in return for a meeting with the registrar, John Duffy”. ‘Cos obviously nothing gets the pulse racing of a lefty, lentil soup-slurping, never-seen-9am student like a meeting with a Registrar. Better crack open the Xanax for that high octane thrill ride.

Mr. Farthing can’t have been serious. The presumption that a protesting student will be satisfied with a meeting – with agendas, minutes and more AOB than you can shake a stick at – beggars belief. There’s no reason for a civilized discussion about the pros and cons of the University’s stance when something glamorous and visible and daring like an occupation is taking place. Instead of fighting over the last chocolate bourbon in the biscuit box and making small talk with people they will be arguing against in a few minutes, they could be swinging from the ceiling, playing party songs and camping in a conference centre commune with dozens of fellow long-haired denizens of the politically active world.

Celebrities like Mark Steel and Josie Long have made their support known, alongside world-famous, all-round excellent person Noam Chomsky. It’s uncertain whether Sussex alumni Frankie Boyle supports the students, although considering his description of Sussex’s brethren as a bunch of “boring cunts” in his autobiography, I suspect he may not speak in glowing terms. Furthermore, ITV and BBC have run news reports about the demonstration which has only served to increase the self-importance of those involved.

All of this fuels the lie that these students are making a difference. It’s quite sweet, really. Only the other day, one of the occupiers shouted from the rooftops that they were “making history” with all the exuberance and unalloyed naivety that you expect from someone who has never participated in Real World Shit. Such is the history-shaping profundity of what is occurring, surely the common question “Where were you when JFK died?” will be replaced with “Where were you when you heard that forty-two students and a boom box invaded a 200-seat auditorium, proceeding to drape flags out of the window and engage in terrace chants?”

Sorry to be so cynical. I sort of wish I was like them, all head-in-the-clouds, idealistic and certain of their convictions. To the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine’ they shout “We all live in a privatised machine!” and wonder why people roll their eyes. I work with some of the people protesting and they may read this and be disgusted by my bourgeoisie outlook (I would never use the term ‘bourgeoisie’ but it’s often deployed when you’re left-wing and you’re arguing with a normal person so I’m isolating that line of attack), especially as a couple of them wanted me to sign a petition in blood and jettison my job to join in.

I said earlier I was on the side of The Man. Not quite. On the one hand, I doubt whether this action will make the slightest bit of difference in the end and that’s what stops me from doing anything more pro-active. On the other hand, I admire the spirit of resistance and am partial to a bit of aggro to keep us on our toes. It’s true that I am being inconvenienced by their ploy but not to the extent that I’ll dash into Bramber House with a fire extinguisher and clop every man, woman and child unconscious. I am too amused by the protest to care that it gives me an administrative headache. We have a number of events booked for the conference centre and the protesters don’t look like budging, so I have been busy booking other rooms. It’s a mild hassle to be honest and one that I have no problem putting up with when I see hapless political romantics swooning over the occupation and declaring it the greatest thing they have ever seen.

I despise some of the bullshit jargon that emanates from the University, which argues that there has been an extensive consultation process. The protesters argue that this has been thoroughly non-existent and could not have been less productive unless Michael Farthing shook a Magic 8-ball, asking “Shall I attempt to push through this significant alteration to life at Sussex with reasonable discussion and a mandate?” Clearly he received ‘fat chance’ in response.

Plowing ahead with the plans, the University announced it was involved in “competitive dialogue” with potential companies for outsourced contracts. Competitive dialogue? How does that work? “I see your line about ‘savings’ and I raise you ‘costs and efficiencies’”? On a YouTube video made by UniTV detailing the movement and its aims, some wag in the comments section bellows “SUSSEX WILL NOT BE HIJACKED BY A SIX FIGURE SALARIED SADO-MONETARIST CABAL”, surely a perfect example of competitive dialogue if ever there was one. I’m intrigued about what constitutes a sado-monetarist though. George Osborne in a BDSM nightclub?

Anyway, there it is, I’m caught in too many minds and I don’t feel fully committed to any particular emotion. Admiration, mild annoyance, respect and frustration all play a part in this mad game.