4x4x4x4

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

Shi bèi cǎn’àn

July 15th, 2014

Drawing the twenty three was a strange experience.

Before I explain why, I must state that I am indebted to Andrew Wilson and his Hannah Festival as it gave me the platform to explore this tragic circumstance. The foundation is named after Hannah Mitchell, who was suffragette and rebel. How funny I should be writing about her on the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst.

Hannah (1872–1956) was a lifelong fighter for democracy and fairness, put in Strangeways prison in 1906 during the campaign for votes for women. She believed that “we have enough imagination to visualise the greater possibilities for beauty and culture in a more justly ordered state.”

I also must thank Michelle Blade and the team of journalists at the Morecambe Visitor, whose dedication to reporting the incident fully was impressive plus they produced a comprehensive supplement in February on the ten year anniversary, which was a vital research tool to help me understand what happened and who the victims were.

After planning the submission, I spent over a month reading up on what happened, and most importantly, looking at the photographs of the twenty three again and again. I realised that I couldn’t ever do them justice with large scale paintings so kept it simple, not just the information I shared about them, but also to keep the portraits small (each one is passport photo sized) and in biro.

This was me going back a step; I had collected passport photographs for a decade, before and after Nino Quincampoix did it much better for Amelie, and gained an art A Level near to Morecambe Bay having developed a skill for detailed Bic faces.

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Whilst the “23 works of art and life” (thanks for that great description, Fran) improved over time, some of this group are not the best drawings I could have produced, I admit, but I found it strangely emotional to spend too long looking at the twenty three. Weirdly I felt like I got to know them a bit, and this empathy developed further when I knew their ages and their family situations. The fact that some were around my age when they died and had young children, and I was drawing them posthumously whilst listening to my daughter on the monitor, was at times particularly upsetting, especially as many were taken to the hospital I was born in.

Those who left orphans or were never recovered, particularly harrowing. The case of the victim whose face we will never know, desperate. The stories of the two younger men, one of whom had gone away to get money to build his family a home, just awful.

The fact these were often passport photographs, a moment many feel excited about and dress their best for, makes the whole thing all the sadder. These images should literally have been their ticket to a brighter future, instead they are almost like a death mask. What made it worse was further research uncovering that government officials put some of the coffins out in the street ‘to teach them a lesson’ plus gangleaders still hounded them, pursuing the money owed to them for helping transport them to their death.

One can only imagine the knock on effect on the devastated families, children, whole villages, and what they must make of the UK, Liverpool and most specifically Morecambe, a far away place for them that offered hope and now only tragedy, a local attraction for us that brought us sunshine, Frontierland, fortune tellers, fish and chips.

Normally, a project like this would have been something to enjoy, especially given that I hadn’t been able to do much drawing over the past year.

I’ve been away, I’ve been working, but now I’m back and I needed to know you were still there…

I should have found it cathartic, exciting, literally going back to the drawing board and learning new information on a place I love. I might even have noted lookalikes amongst them, and some do look like people I know, film stars or footballers, yet no joy could be found and I didn’t want to make light of their loss. For this wasn’t about me, it was about the lives of others, on the other side of the world, whose loss their loved ones might never come to terms with yet I for one only acknowledge now, ten years after the event, and for that – and for them – I am truly sorry.

The twenty three will be released back into the sea from Red Bank over the summer.

Zhang Xiu Hua

July 14th, 2014

Zhang Xiu Hua

Zhang Xiu Hua was forty five. He was married and had two children, a fifteen year old daughter and a twenty two year old son.

There is no photograph of Zhang Xiu Hua.

Lin Li Sui

July 14th, 2014

Lin Li Sui

Lin Li Sui was thirty three. He was married and had a son.

Wu Jia Zhen

July 14th, 2014

Wu Jia Zhen

Married, and with a son and daughter aged fourteen and fifteen, Wu Jia Zhen was thirty six.