Friday, February 25, 2011

Don Draper sunglasses, Harris tweed overcoats and other things I like at the moment

The glasses are from a company called American Optical. You can get them on ebay for £20, though you’ll have to pay custom charges of about £15 on them. The jacket is John Rocha at Debenhams, and the other two bits speak for themselves.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Life In Liverpool Matches 6
Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2, May 26, 1989

The ball is bobbling around somewhere in the Liverpool half, but with other fans, goalposts and players in front of me, I can’t quite make it out. Then, suddenly, a figure – I’ll later learn it’s Michael Thomas – breaks free and bares down on goal with the ball at his feet. My heart should be in my mouth. I should be saying “No, no, no…” like I normally do when the Liverpool goal’s under threat, but instead I’m thinking that it would be mad if he did score, if Arsenal did win the League here. I don’t want it to happen, but the sheer drama if they did…

Thomas looks up, pulls his foot back and dinks the ball, almost gently, over the advancing Bruce Grobbelaar. The ball bounces into the net. To my left there’s an eruption. A sea of hands and faces (some with the St George Cross painted on, oddly) burst up from the confines of the away enclosure, a swaying mass of human joy – grabbing, punching, screaming. It’s a release of emotion like I’ve never seen before. The impossible has just happened.

The final whistle goes. My mate and I stay behind, along with, it seems, most of the Kop, to watch the celebrations and, once the shock has subsided, to applaud the new champions. Winning this means so much more to them than losing it does to us. I should be devastated. I’m not.

Because how can you be devastated when in the last few weeks you’ve seen your fellow fans die all around you on a football terrace in South Yorkshire? When you’ve stared at a crush barrier, torn in two by the sheer weight of people suffocated against it and placed your precious pin badge on the scarf that now decorates this piece of mangled cast iron? When you’ve queued up outside a funeral home just to make a call to tell your parents that you’re OK? When you’ve laid flowers in the back of the most famous goal in English football?

How can you get annoyed about Liverpool’s sudden defensive frailty when West Midlands police has been knocking on your door, all false smiles and burgundy shirts, asking you what you were doing in the lead up to the game, and how many people you saw that were drunk? What is the point of waiting around near the Arkles for Arsenal’s mob when you don’t really care whether Liverpool win or not? Does it really matter? ? No.

Though I don’t know it yet, they’ll talk about tonight’s match as the greatest climax to a League Championship ever. In the future, TV companies and football clubs will try and engineer similar occasions, skewing fixtures in a vain attempt at recreating this evening’s events. They will fail. The match tonight is a one-off, the final League game of the season played after Liverpool’s FA Cup Final victory because of the Hillsborough disaster. Usually, the Cup closes the curtain on the season. This evening, the League will take prominence – and from now on this will increasingly be the case. Something, perhaps everything, has changed.

We finally leave our seats and make our way to Kirkdale station as normal. I see a lad I run into at most away games.
“Fucking sickener, eh?” he says. “Gonna find the Arsenal now. Up for it?”
“Nah, just going to get off.”
“Alright, lad, sound. See you about.”

I nod, and start on the familiar walk back to the station. I should be thinking about renewing my season ticket – next year will be my last watching the Reds before I go to university. But my mind’s made up: I won’t be bothering with the game any more. It’s not just the disaster that’s changed me, it’s other things too: like women, like Saturday nights dancing to house music and the Stones at Macmillan’s off Bold Street or searching for raves around the industrial estates of Lancashire. There’s talk of a party coming up called ‘Biology’ in Essex. I want to go to it.

I don’t need football any more – not after Hillsborough. No more crowded terraces, no more long coach journeys for 90 minutes of watching other people perform while I just stand there and lap it up – a happy, clapping Scouser, all funny songs and ready wit. Someone else can have my season ticket. I have other plans.

This article appears in the brilliant Liverpool magazine, Well Red

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Secret passages of Covent Garden

Covent Garden’s a corner of the capital that everyone knows. If you’ve ever come down here for a booze-up you’ll have no doubt started your session at the Punch & Judy and ended it somewhere near the Strand in search of a post-11pm watering hole.

Londoners know it better, though like Oxford St, it’s one of those places which we tend to leave to the tourists – a shame because it’s actually one of the capital’s most mysteriously enticing quarters.

Up until the 1974, it was the site of London’s biggest fruit and veg market, a five-a-day version of the bloody, sickly-smelling killing fields of Smithfield, the latter the last remaining wholesale market in central London. When the veg market moved to south London, the place went into disrepair before it was restored in 1980 to a chi-chi version of its earlier Georgian glory.

It was also once the site of Lundenwic, the Anglo-Saxon settlement that sprouted a mile west of the original city of Londinium sometime around the fifth and sixth Centuries. Perhaps too scared to inhabit the overgrown Roman town, these immigrants from Saxony set up a village here until gradually they moved back into the city, prompted, it seems by their king, Alfred the Great.

Away from the main piazza, this bit of London WC2 starts getting really interesting, particularly around St Martin‘s Lane, New Row and the ancient-sounding Bedfordbury (the area was owned by the Duke of Bedford). Tucked away behind the book shops and restaurants of Charing Cross Road, the visitor will find a network of passages and alleys, a remnant of old London preserved for sharp-eyed travellers and knowing locals. A secret way into our past.

Behind the Marquis and Harp pubs, you’ll find Brydges Place, a winding passage that acts as an impromptu outdoor lounge, a shared space that respects neither the licensing laws nor the strict boundaries of the individual pubs. There are others, like Rose Lane, Lazenby Court and the best of all, Goodwin’s Court, a facsimile of the shopping street in the first Harry Potter film (without the wizards and stage school brats). Since 1690, people have been escaping the noise and bustle of the city by popping down this beautifully preserved short-cut on their way to somewhere else.

London never ceases to amaze and intrigue those of us who love to find the unexpected, and here in Covent Garden that’s most certainly the case. We may work in the modern world, but the alleys let us know that our stay here is temporary, whereas they are here for the long haul.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Alps, shot and processed in-flight on an iPhone

Well, there wasn’t much else to do…

And one of London too…