Real Love

November 9th, 2014

breakfast-at-tiffanys

When I first went to New York, I went to have Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

I was in love with Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, and had been touched by the book and film, particularly was in love with the notion that there could be a place in the world where everything was alright, when the mean reds would disappear just by being there, and so bought a bagel and a coffee from a street vendor and found my way to 5th and West 57th and broke that fast in front of the elaborate window displays.

The world did feel better after that.

Years later, I went down on one knee atop the Empire State and we actually made it into Tiffany’s to look for engagement rings and the old adage that the man should spend three times his salary was blown out of the water by the prices in the ornate old jeweller’s. We went instead to the diamond district and Eddie did us proud whilst Reginald Dollar serenaded us with Beatles songs.
All of these lovely memories and more, came back to me this week, when the latest John Lewis advert was aired.

John Lewis and Waitrose are similarly places where, I think, everything will be ok.

We venture up to Waitrose in Formby once a month, get the magazines, get our free drinks in the café, B gets lots of attention off the elderly Formby set and the likes of David Fairclough or John Parrott and I waste lots of money on luxury items, but any time you go into there or John Lewis you are made to feel special and valued.

John Lewis as a brand has re-invented itself over recent years, here in Liverpool it was always George Henry Lee’s until a move dock wards and now has even more of an aura of being somewhere special. It’s not just the L1 version, mind, we had a nice trip to the Reading store recently and the consistency across the chain is highly impressive especially in terms of customer service.

Indeed, my good friend has fallen in love with the company too: he has started dating a JL merchandiser, and we discussed how the brand has become a monster over recent years, mainly due to
their Christmas campaigns.

Somewhere, someone is presumably locked in a room planning an advertising campaign for next Christmas. Already, they will be strategically designing a couple of minutes of TV that can bring the nation to a standstill, hog social media for days and raise millions of pounds for old JL.

It’s strange really that every year their advert should be such an event, given that it’s only three years ago that I can remember their entering my advent mindset. Perhaps it was the Smiths soundtrack, anything that uses La Moz as its vocal will gain attention, but nationally, the little boy with the box presumably got parents everywhere thinking about the true meaning of Christmas and giving.

A friend who was expecting at the time, explained how it got to her big time… Charlie Brooker changed its message forever when he suggested that the box actually contained a severed head, and if you watch it with that in mind it does lose its sentimentality a little.

The next year came the snowmen and Lisa even bought me the CD of “>Gabrielle Aplin singing what another friend calls ‘the greatest Christmas song ever’ (to reference the hooded claw) and again, childhood innocence akin to The (actual) Snowman which I guess is what John Lewis want to tap into amongst us thirtysomethings.

Last year, a year ago tonight infact, we were introduced to an animal who had never seen Christmas (nor indeed a Christmas advert) the bear and the hare were introduced to the world in the style of Watership Down / Brother Bear and a plethora of parodies were released online however the idea of giving remained central: that the department store somehow bridged troubles and solved problems and this is where the consumerism debate arrives, in that we probably shouldn’t embrace the commercialism of Christmas quite so much, we should turn our backs…

But that’s impossible when you become a father.

Because this year’s ad had me in floods of tears and I wasn’t alone, Jonathan Ross and Clint Boon were among many who tweeted their emotional response to watching Monty and Mabel.

What got me the most, though, was the similarities to B with her bear Cashew; the love of watching Pingu (nook nooook!) walks in the park, their constant hugs, the tears if they’re not around, the imaginative play, the feeding of fishfingers, even before the advert, we were looking for a partner / replacement for Christmas too… so much so I went to John Lewis yesterday.

The mission accomplished, then – get gullible parents to spend money, those cynics sneer – but I came away with a lovely baby grow and carrier bag and the knowledge that the authentic replicas cost £95 to show that it is a money making scheme after all, and I wasn’t quite ready to go that far just yet.

It’s a beautiful couple of minutes, and has very little to do with Christmas.

It’s all about childhood, friends, giving. Of love.

Yes…. It’s all about love, as Lennon sings.

Real love.

OKTOBERFEST

October 31st, 2014

Last weekend was the date on which all the action in the Back to the Future movies took place.

As if by magic, we all turned our clocks back, and it also signalled the end of a rather difficult few weeks, for now at least, and brought faces from the past together at a very happy occasion and felt something of a seminal moment, coming as it did exactly one year before the supposed time of the hover boards and Nikes, the pizza rehydration and flying cars, of Back to the Future 2, perhaps my favourite film of all time.

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It could still happen…

In the mean time, though, let’s step into the DeLorean and go back a couple of months, to where Dr Emmett Brown left off last time…

So for those of you who had never read my rubbish before, I threw ten bottles into the sea. That’s the short version, the longer one involved several hours of research and painstaking recreations of the cockle pickers’ portraits.

Which I then threw into the sea.

I was hoping for replies from around the world, the bottles travelling far and wide, so that the story would spread and the faces might appear to people in far off places.

I dreamed that some of them might even make their way home.

What I got instead is that, so far, only one of the bottles has been recovered.

By an illustrator.

From Bradford, who was holidaying in Morecambe Bay that week and found one of the bottles just up the coast.

It was nice to hear from him, and nicer to think there are still nine somewhere else in the world just waiting to be found.

But that idea of waiting, disappointment, a slight anti-climax brought to mind a song by Green Day. Wake me up when September ends was the song playing in my head for a good while, struggling as I was with the demands of a one year old, a new house, little things going wrong seemingly every day, pressures at work, lack of sleep, world health crises and terrible defending by the Everton back line.

All seemed a little lost, as I approached my thirty fifth.

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“It’s my birthday, and I’ll deny all knowledge of the derby scoreline if I want to.”
Turning thirty five was going to be rubbish, I thought, so chose to go out to our favourite neighbourhood tapas place for lunch and once again, not watch the match. Arriving at the bar, imagine my incredulity when we walked in and realised that they had installed a plasma specifically for this game and, aside from a middle aged oddball supping San Miguel, for the first time perhaps in my life I was being forced to watch the match when for once, I actually didn’t really want to…

The street was eerily quiet, walking home, we were losing with a few minutes left and for some reason my twitter feed wouldn’t load so when we got in I decided to add to my misery and check how many they’d scored and how long was left.

About thirty seconds later I screamed louder than I think I ever had and my little girl stood motionless, not with tears in her eyes, I actually think this was her first moment as an Evertonian and therefore, her and Jagielka combined gave me the best birthday gift ever. She had also bought me some new lucky socks for my birthday, and as we went to a wedding that night to celebrate, I put them on. Whilst there, I bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen for five years (I used to have a season ticket next to him) and lo and behold he was wearing the same socks.

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Things started to look up, once September ended.

One minor personal highlight of the month was the fantasy of Oktoberfest, the Germanic ritual of drinking beer from large steins in big halls which hold thousands of people, came to mind. Not something I will be doing anytime soon, of course, because of the little one, the lack of finances, and the still somewhat low tolerance of alcohol after all the late nights – but I dream of one day joining these cool customers:

Usain Bolt even attended this year, and you’re always seeing Bayern players there replete with lederhosen:

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Anyway, the nearest I came this year was my local wine shop (which does a great line in bespoke recommendations and ordering of specialist rums) as it is apparently the only store on Merseyside to stock the Oktoberfest beers. After seeing the sign on the shop window, in a fit of pique / ennui / desperation, I splashed out on a selection, then went back the following week for the rest, enjoying not just the taste and effects of stronger alcohol content but also the beautiful labels.

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Another positive of this month came pretty much every tea time, when I was learning Makaton with Mr Tumble whilst she ate her fishfingers and vegetables.

Now, Justin Fletcher has grown into a hero of mine, and not just because his very existence in the world makes my daughter’s life so much better and in turn, our own, because as soon as he appears on screen.

The weekend I mentioned earlier was spent in Reading, a lovely place with a fascinating history, which is in fact the birthplace of Mr Trouser Fumble (his actual original name) and we bought there a Mr Tumble doll, which went down well…

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It’s funny I find these links with Justin / Tumble because one of the people who nominated him for his OBE explained their choice by saying that he ‘is a communication genius. He both entertains and educates our children and does this with intelligence and panache ‘without patronising’, which I kind of hope someone might one day say about me (although I would turn down the knighthood in honour of Morrissey) although teaching is definitely becoming more difficult as I find less and less time to create and to write this sort of thing.

Talking of art…

I’d recently been invited to join a group of artists working towards a brief on the theme of duende, loosely described as ‘irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical… The duende is an earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding them that “ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head” which is good because a lot of my work, as I start to think of ‘that space in between’ and pigeons in particular, is along similar lines.

October 25th, like I said, was the day featured in Back to the Future.

The dark space in between time. In which people become more aware of their own mortality, their past and their future.

I also chose this week to achieve a rather obscure life ambition, and visit the grave of Stu Sutcliffe.

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Who is he? Many of you might ask.

He should have concentrated on a career in art. Maybe then everyone would know him.

If you have seen the film Backbeat you might have an idea about him, basically a hugely gifted and very cool young man who apparently named the Beetles and was taken far too soon in somewhat dubious circumstances that may or may not have involved his best mate John Lennon (whose partner Yoko said John had described him as “[My] alter ego … a spirit in his world … a guiding force”) when he had a fantastic career ahead of him as a painter as well as a guitarist.

Hardly anyone knows that he is buried in Huyton-with-Roby, quietly tucked away with his dad in the overspill St Michael’s graveyard and it took a while finding his headstone but me and Betsy had a quite powerful few minutes searching for his resting place and when we did it was a cathartic moment years in the making not unlike my visit to Edith Piaf’s grave in Pere Lachaise only without the rose or the cemetery map.

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And this time it was with someone who hadn’t a clue what was going on, one day I hope she will.

All this talk of getting old, it’s getting me down my love.

Let’s think about the cemetery gates, and have a musical interlude

Time travel remained in the psyche throughout the past month and I bought myself a turntable so as to refind my love of vinyl. I took B out for a day of charity shopping, and we managed to pick up a few classic albums to listen to when time allows.

Many of them take me back to my childhood, and make me realise how much I took for granted back then.

Not just in turns of music.

But last weekend the clocks went back and the flux capacitor worked its magic so we go back to the future…

Even if it looks a little uncertain right now, if music be the food of love, play on.

The Poem

August 30th, 2014

The Chinese Cockling Tragedy In Morecambe Bay

Beauty surrounds and health abounds
But Death lurks in those cockling grounds
Care is needed as your` eyes feast
For beauty can become the beast

On February fifth two thousand and four
A human tragedy came to our shore.
At twenty one twenty that winter`s night
a phone call told of the cockler`s plight.
Beginning a story of greed and shame,
that allowed the sea their lives to claim
and created a link thought never could be
`tween Morecambe and China far over the sea.

Morecambe`s cocklers take no chance
of being caught by the tides advance.
The cockling grounds where they make their pay,
they leave, to pick another day.
They know the channels, they know the tides,
they know the quicksands where danger hides.
But cockles were making a princely sum
tempting all manner of men to come.

Young people from China came to our shore,
their loved ones at home exceedingly poor.
They came to provide a better life
for parent, child, husband, wife.
Gangs could see the profits to make
If Morecambe`s cockles they were to take.
Harvest the crop every day,
using these people for trifling pay.

Morecambe`s cockles in demand
brought cocklers from across our land,
thinking they alone should be
the ones to take them from the sea,
and no intent to have a share
with the Chinese already there.
At the cockling beds they ran amuck
threats were made, blows were struck

In daylight hours with sea at rest
the local cocklers did their best,
to warn them of the dangers when
the ebbing tide comes back again.
A common language was not shared,
they could not understand a word.
If masters heard, they did not say
just sent them on their fateful way.

Gangmasters with orders to fill
sent their teams when all was still.
No matter if by day or night,
no matter if it wrong or right.
The only thing they cared about
was profit, and without a doubt
no thought at all for fellow men,
whom they may never see again.

The workers went without a care
giving no thought to the dangers there.
No one told them of the speeding tide
that soon would give no place to hide.
The darkness fell, the tide came near
they thought it safe they had no fear,
their trust placed in the people who
cared only for the easy sou.

The racing tide came to the fore
a sign for them to leave the shore
they turned around with time to spare
but found the sea already there.
It came around with silent tread
whilst they had watched the tide ahead.
Marooned they were in a raging sea
on a sandbank with nowhere to flee.

Some swam safely to the shore
others there would live no more,
most to meet a wasteful end
far from family and friend.
In the whirling surf, life getting shorter
a call was heard of ‘sinking water! ‘
The wind blew strong, the sea was high
many there were soon to die.

Teams arrived from far and wide
and tried to starve that hungry tide.
The lifeboat with its local crew
searched the waters through and through,
just one surviver found for sure
a young man, name of Li Hua.
Such sacrifice made to meet the need
of gangs whose lives are filled with greed.

From Leconfield, Valley and Kinloss
came members of the Royal Air Force.
The police and coastguards were as well
searching in that Dantes hell.
The sea had won, the tide was fed,
from now they only found the dead.
These brave mens duty now would be
to take with dignity from the sea.

Fire and ambulance scanned the shore
to help those who could swim no more.
They pulled them from the ice cold sea
and saved them for their family
in China many miles away
who`d never heard of Morecambe bay.
But since that night the bay will be
forever in their memory.

Gangmasters tried to flee the scene
telling police they had never been
the ones who used those poor lost souls
and left them to the sea and shoals.
The man in charge of bringing them
to justice, let the courts condemn!
Inspector Gradwell was his name,
of Lancashire policing fame.

There now will always be a tie
with families who still ask, why?
and Morecambe`s bay of sheer delight,
though not so on that fateful night!
Whilst looking `cross our peaceful shore
we shan`t forget those Chinese poor,
forever in our minds they`ll stay
a reminder of this deadly bay.

Though in this land illegaly
that was no reason they should be
robbed of their chance to live their life
with laughing children, loving wife,
of growing old with childhood friends
and walking where the river bends.
The green of grass, the blue of sky
that we take for granted you and I.

A plaque now lies on a Morecambe wall
to make sure we remember all
the young Chinese who died one night,
victims of that deadly blight!
The greed of men without a care
who sent them out and left them there.
Their names engraved for all to see
from now until eternity.

Stand and watch at end of day
the Westward sun set on the bay,
it`s rays refracted by the clouds
gathered round like waiting shrouds
as if to join its Eastward way
creating soon another day.
Taking home those poor lost souls
away from Morecambes sea and shoals

Mazu, Chinas godess of the sea,
please to hear our fervent plea!
These souls that in your` hands you hold
guide them to their homeland fold.
Taken by the setting sun,
the star from which all life begun
To rise up in the early morn
back in the land where they were born.

Beauty surrounded and health abounded
But Death lurked in those cockling grounds.

Copyright B Hough 2004

With kind permission of George Bernard Hough

SUMMER

August 30th, 2014

I’ve been away I’ve been working… but now I’m back and I need to know that you’re still there, I need to know that you still care.

A holiday of cardboard and empty beer bottles ended, appropriately, with cardboard and empty beer bottles.

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It started off on an epic scale: the giant spectacular came to town and like thousands of others, we went to see them. Some of the negativity and snobbery around the event was laughable, for me anyway, it was a third moment of almost sublime awe that started with a giant mechanical spider and never ceases to amaze with its beauty: however, the impact this time around was lessened somewhat by the stress of public transport with a nearly one year old.

B seemed to enjoy it despite the look on her face.

Fighting through the crowds, squeezing on a train next to a drunk who insisted I speak on the phone to his mate Jan, queuing to just get into the train station: Thankfully, we didn’t have hours to wait to get home – though on the way, we did get the call that would change our lives forever.

We got the keys the next day.

There were so many things about the house that had felt right, from the start. The previous owner was Ev, her son-in-law a Blue, kids went to our church / school, a building with the huge E on the brickwork at the end of the road, our next door neighbour being a childhood friend of the Mrs. The emotions of moving were something of a surprise: loss, change, maturity, the unknown, grown up problems of mortgage rates and electrical faults and all the other things I should have been worrying about years earlier, instead of passport photos and transfer deadlines.

I miss the dishwasher. The view of the park. Two bathrooms. I don’t miss the stomping of the witchy neighbour, communal bins. A horror film esque creepy caretaker. The drunken stumbles home.

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Still, saying good bye was hard, yet exciting, because what was there instead means so much more.

B turned one the day after we moved out, the day we moved in.

Her first birthday was full of coincidences given that the season started with a 2-2 draw for the Blues, a lucky victory for the Reds, a City win over Newcastle. But it was a seminal moment – our baby became a toddler, her first steps taken a few days later, a trip to Clarks for her first proper shoes, babbling conversations started, and again we were overwhelmed by people’s kindness as a big little girl reached many a milestone.

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Twelve months has passed quite quickly, with so much adaptation people can’t really prepare for, you just have to jump in. It’s been largely enjoyable! Things are slowly starting to settle down in a variety of ways and the birthday felt like a transition point.

Unfortunately there also soon came tragedy and a death in the family. A great man, a good blue too, who left behind a brave and remarkable family. He will be watching the match from above.

Thankfully, Macmillan who helped him, and Motor Neurone Disease charities, have benefitted from the new fad of pouring ice over one’s self. I was thrice nominated but politely declined as it wasn’t really possible plus both charities had been close to my heart for several years so I’d been raising awareness and money in ways other than social media. I admire so many of the efforts I’ve seen, but just hope people see the bigger picture rather than the instant gratification.

I cavorted at the Courteeners whose album was the soundtrack to our move alongside a return to form for Steven Patrick. Prouder moments included a trip to the zoo, stroking a plethora of chicks, guinea pigs and snakes, revisiting where we got married to show B, first dips in the local swimming pool, first bits of DIY in the house doing things I never thought I would, powerful performances of West Side Story and games of snooker and adapting to our new surroundings including the kitchen, making pork scratchings and brawn whilst looking out onto the garden and beyond, the trains whizzing by every few minutes. The weather remained inconsistent: sunshine and showers, just as we had had on July 15th St Swithin’s Day, reminding me of summer projects of yore.

In terms of my art, though, my thoughts predominantly stayed with the unfortunate twenty three throughout this summer.

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The bottles and loom bands were stored, biding my time until it was possible to release them back into the water. Finally the chance came on the last day of the holiday and I felt so lucky to be doing it with my wife, with my daughter watching on from the warmth of the car, given that so many of the victims had left their loved ones behind.

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We had had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch at the Midland beforehand, featuring a famous ceiling image which summarised the whole event quite well. We went to the memorial, a touching though understated tribute of twenty three rose bushes and a plaque. On the way to Red Bank, we passed Gypsy Sarah’s: five years ago that place was essential, today it had shut down, presumably she’d not seen it coming.

It was a windy day so the poem, kindly signposted to me by its author, was read out and the Tsingtao bottles, filled with the faces and a message, were released. The tide wasn’t helping – as if it knew.

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Lisa filmed it but the poem was obscured by the gale. Fate that the elements were against us, much less than they were ten years ago.

(I was reading excerpts of a poem by a local author who got in touch after reading about my project in the newspaper. It’s by George Bernard Hough and I’ll re-post it later.)

So the bottles floundered, might not get anywhere. So I threw them further into the sea, like the end of This is England when Shaun sits, accompanied by a beautiful version of Please Please Please, and I realised I’d got what I wanted.

Not a relaxing holiday, no sunshine, but something more. Closure, a decent ending to one of the most personal projects I’ve ever undertaken; I wasn’t expecting such a cathartic release when I embarked upon it.

Perhaps the emotions of everything else that has happened, moving, celebrating, grieving, heightened what I was feeling, but as the ten green bottles ebbed away, I felt sad and then happy again, much more fortunate than the twenty three and with a sense of optimism for the next chapter, feeling ever so grateful for every single second of this stupid little life.

A holiday of cardboard and empty beer bottles ended, appropriately, with cardboard and empty beer bottles.

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July 17th, 2014

The fact that it took me a month to create those twenty three small portraits was caused by a variety of factors: not just my daughter, nor school work and the dreaded FAC Health Check, not even the world cup 2014 Brasil…

Which, I must add, was hugely enjoyable.

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It ended four days ago, after four weeks of excitement that happen every four years and of which, I believe there are always four main elements.

This of course was Betsy’s first tournament. Granted, she didn’t see many games or take much notice really, so maybe 2018 will be even more memorable.

You see, everyone remembers their first world cup ‘proper’.

Mine was Mexico ’86 and it made me fall in love with football. That feeling has been repeated on a cycle ever since, whatever happened in between: yes, it waned a bit during my teens and informative student years but some seminal moments in my life have played out with a world cup game on in the background so, every four years, no matter where the tournament is being held or who wins it, I let it consume me and for me at least, there are four main elements of every world cup.

Which I’ll share with you now.

RE-RECORD, DON’T FADE AWAY

I actually saw a discarded Scotch video cassette box on the ground the other and remembered this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZCtQlnDYZE

It linked nicely to the first staple of my world cup experience, also a lifetime guarantee, of the process of recording and watching on a loop (this year, during B’s early morning wake ups or during a few days off sick following a bout of sinusitis) all the official FIFA films from the past few tournaments.

It’s all there in those movies – strange camera angles, Zidane-esque close-ups and strange acoustics, electric soundtracks synthesised by Rick Wakeman, dramatic narration by esteemed actors, and fascinating footage of fans or players off the pitch.

For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsQB_KIbS2o

Some of them play out like Fascist propaganda, a surreal mix of nostalgia and rewritten history. My favourite is obviously HERO from Mexico ’86, narrated by Sir Michael Caine, one of the more dramatic offerings, although this time around really enjoyed the offerings that documented Mexico ’70 and West Germany ’74 due to the Mexican child / time travelling storylines respectively (the former starts with a kid hitch hiking across Mexico to see his idols play, the latter footage of Johan Cruyff with his wife on the team coach after the final)

I’M STICKING WITH YOU

This year, I have mostly been collecting the stickers.

The modern trend of giving the album away free with some stickers stapled inside is the equivalent of drug dealers offering free tasters to new clients because Panini must know that for some of us, it’s like an addiction.

For the past few years I have picked up the album but never carried on with the stickers, scared of the costs involved plus having nobody else sad enough to share the commitment with. Becoming a father, even to an eleven month old daughter who will possibly hate football, was the perfect excuse to get sticking this time around, it’s her first world cup after all, and thankfully I had male colleagues around my age who are also collecting on the premise it’s for their young sons. There’s females, too, who have got really into it and we regularly held swap clubs over lunchtimes.

Watching the matches, someone described as the album coming to life, which has come true as random players’ faces look familiar because I’ve ‘got’ them five times. Ten pence per sticker was admittedly steep, especially when you’re in the process of buying a house, they never used to be that expensive I think in my first album which was also, funnily enough, Mexico ’86.

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But then this time, it was different. And, if she’s not interested in the album it might always be worth something to her on ebay in years to come. Anyone collecting the Brazil 2014 collection will have found the Panini app essential, calculating as it does my needs, swaps and percentage filled.

It all started with Xavi. I found him under a table outside Costa, and took this as a sign.

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There’ve been hashtags, dedicated websites, swapping sessions at the Camp & Furnace for the hipsters and their painful coolness which I couldn’t ever attend. I even found a use for those horrendous loom bands the Chinese guy patented, which for a few days filled the floors at school as bored teenagers who weren’t collecting Panini stickers flicked them at each other and at us, then we picked them up to keep our swaps piles together.

At last I reached the magic fifty and have ordered the rest online. They are on their way, not quite in time for Gotze’s wondrous volley but hopefully before the season starts. This year you could even personalise the stickers:

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It was fun whilst it lasted.

STRIP TEASE

The third of my four World Cup things I wanted to share with you, was the kits.

Nowadays, pretty much every country launches new strips for the occasion with elaborate advertising campaigns and themes. About a month before the ‘big kick off’ a visit to Sports Direct or a flick through FourFourTwo magazine brings excitement like a child looking through the Christmas catalogue every four years, still now.

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The obsession with international kits all started not with Mexico ’86 but the West Germany shirt and, as previously described, Italy in 1990. I took some flak for wearing the former to play out in but then I was only ten. Fast forward to the last world cup and I bought a retro Argentina ’86 t-shirt with Maradona 10 on the back. Only last year a bloke broke off a phone call in the street to loudly boo me. Thank God I never bought one of the USA ’94 Jorge Campos kits or something equally offensive.

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This year my object of desire was the France home, one of the most stylish kits I believe I have ever seen let alone worn, and with a link to my Maghrebin roots and those negro Nicois gums, it just had to be.

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But still I wasn’t allowed to buy the baby version.

LUCKY MASCOT

World Cup matches also often involve the odd drink. Watching random matches playing quids in, or supporting England (or at least pretending to) in dodgy bars at strange times of the evening… all part of the world cup experience.

And not just for me.

You see, on one of those nights out, I discovered a group of strange individuals out there who apparently meet up every four years to reminisce, swap stories, compare outfits and drink beer. They might not shout about it, in fact they’d rather keep a low profile.

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The oldest of the group is Willie, a hairy old thing in a battered waistcoat with huge shoulders and the nose of a heavy drinker. He mainly sits at the bar keeping an eye on the others with pride but also some envy. He started the club. There’s a few Hispanics amongst the group, too: Juan, Gauchito and the perma-tanned orange one Naranjito. They speak Spanish to each other and try to avoid the outcast of the group, poor Pique.

That little guy with a big moustache and always wearing a huge hat, he downs tequila with a melancholia that belies him being my favourite of the group, not least for his own association with my favourite tournament. His only real friend is inanimate though, an angular Italian-speaker who looks like he was constructed by an eight year old and all he can say is Ciao.

They meet up every four years without fail in different venues, and with each rendezvous the story is
the same: at first the ever-growing group treat new members with distrust and a series of questions about where they are from, what their intentions are, all directed by Willie who of course has his favourites in the group, Zak and Goleo.

Meanwhile, Tip and Tap are the oddballs amongst them, drinking their steins with a constant smile on their face until their rosy cheeks turn pale and they stop babbling on about the way things used to be.

But the ones I feel really sorry for are the pets they keep, the eager-to-please dog and the multi-coloured bird, and those bizarre creatures from the east, the Spheriks who nobody understands and everyone just leaves in the corner to sip the sake, secretly wishing this was all a bad dream.

This time around, the newest recruit bends the ears of anyone who will listen, about ecology and life in the Brazilian favelas and what those demonstrations are really all about, but the others don’t listen, they don’t care, to be honest they’ve heard it all before and they’re only there for the drink and the money and the reminiscing of better times.

Roll on four years, to do it all again!

POST SCRIPT

There were many great moments of the tournament, some sad – I wanted Messi to win it so badly – and some more surreal: the BBC is always good at montages so here’s one of their finest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/28289129

That insect was definitely my favourite moment.

Actually, after writing this, now I realise the wonderful World Cup has left a legacy not just in Brazil I wish it was more frequent than it is: you see, it has brought me even more good fortune this week, what with Gove being reshuffled, the end of the term being nigh, Betsy’s baptism to look forward to and Morrissey’s excellent new album being released, things are looking to be on the up and up.

Here’s a taster!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUKRVnTCXRg

With a house move next on the horizon, I hope so…

Until next time x