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Archive for July, 2021

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Edinburgh sensations

A few things this week have made me think of Edinburgh Fringe. One thing, strangely enough, was the EdFringe website itself. Odd, that. I had a look to see what shows were going ahead this year and seeing that website layout brought about rumbles of terror in the bowel area, along with a compulsion to check ticket sales and panic I’ve not done enough previews.

Despite my adamant predictions that Ed Fringe wouldn’t be going ahead this year due to Covid, it is proceeding all the same. I’m still convinced it’s not a good idea. But I have a few friends who are going up and I hope they have good runs. I’m just glad to be sitting this one out. Saying that, I said to Langton that I’m convinced that the versions of us from 2011 would insist on going up and nothing would stop them from doing so, not even a global pandemic. Audience apathy is much more potent and they could take that all day long.

The second thing that made me think of the Fringe was the weather today. After the heatwave, the temperature cooled dramatically today. And that combination of a cold wind blowing in warm air and a few specs of rain instantly take me back to the Scottish capital. It is a much cheaper way of doing it.

Then the third thing was also today. I had some posters printed for my show at Stroud Brewery on 9 September (tickets are available on their website, here endeth the plug) and took them to the venue to get some put up around the place. That was it. Nothing poetic or evocative, just posters.

In other news, I had my second jab of the Covid vaccine this week. Originally, it was booked for mid-August in Cirencester. No doubt I would then reminisce about my awful time as a reporter there. But I got an email from the NHS saying I could book an earlier appointment. And it turns out that there was a walk-in place two miles away in Stroud. So that’s what I did. From arrival to injection to exit, it only took barely 20 minutes. There wasn’t even much of a queue. Just one of many reasons why Stroud is better than Cirencester.

Anyway, I’ve not had any real side effects, other than it hurting when I raise my arm and the area around where the needle went in is a bit red. This also means I can now finally get a haircut. I had planned to not get one until the pandemic was over, but that doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon. I can’t control how long Covid will last, but I can control how long my long hair will – sort of.

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Loki

I will continue with my series in writing about MCU shows on Disney+. It’s not a review though, as I would then be a reviewer and thus everything I oppose when it comes to the creative industries.

Anyway, the first season Loki has just finished and it was great. It involved time travel and I’m almost always a sucker for anything that involves time travel. Just for the record, the mid-90s show Crime Traveller starring Chloe Annett was really good and deserved a second series.

But much of my time travel fix comes from Doctor Who. And there was a fair amount about Loki that reminded me of this, but more if the central character was The Master instead. The final few episodes of the Capaldi run also features male and female versions of the same character as they also did in Loki.

Also, meeting a character at the end of their life, when we’re going to see more of their past in future stories, is right out of the River Song playbook. That particular character in Loki reminded me of John Simm’s Master. i.e. just trying a bit too hard to be wacky and insane, with the writing jarring just a little. But these are small gripes.

My favourite MCU Disney+ series is still WandaVision, mainly because it was so unexpected and refreshingly unconventional. What Loki and Wandavision also share is keeping the audience guessing, letting them try to figure things out at the same time as the characters are. I always find this fun.

But when it came to the multiverse, Loki went full in with what WandaVision so cruelly and brilliantly teased us with. Come to think of it, Spider-Man: Far From Home also teased the multiverse, but WandaVision did it better.

And we’re now getting a multiverse. The way Loki ended also set up infinite possibilities for the future of the MCU, and that is very exciting indeed.

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Something about football

I think there’s something to do with football happening today, so I thought I would write about my relationship with the game.

Growing up in Stroud, I’m not from a football part of the world. We have Forest Green Rovers now – and did then – but I was barely even aware of them until they got to the FA Trophy final at Wembley in 1999. I planned to go to the final but would end up being in Northern Ireland visiting family at the time.

Anyway, the location is important here – also note the past tense for the next several paragraphs – because although I’m not from a football part of the world, I grew up loving the sport.

I collected cards at primary school and also stickers for my Merlin Premier League album, which I very nearly completed in 1995 – albeit having to use Warren Barton twice and also a picture of Michael Jackson, years before his statue appeared at Fulham. I even tried Panini for the 1994 World Cup, but it didn’t feel right. And it’s much easier to fill up a sticker album over a whole season, as opposed to a month-long tournament.

And my club was Manchester United, predictably as a 90s child. West Ham were my second team after my dad’s aunt gave me an old kit from the 1960s that once belonged to her son. My support was that easy to gain.

But it was always England that got me the most excited, possibly as they didn’t play every week and it felt like more of an occasion. There was something special about watching them playing at the old Wembley. The white shirts with the dark blue shorts and white socks, plus a strange-looking big badge. I couldn’t quite work out what was on it, but it certainly didn’t look like lions to me.

Tournaments were my favourite part, before the inevitable exit. As a six-year-old, I remember crying when Italia 90 finished. Not when England went out, just when the coverage ended. I didn’t enjoy Euro 92 so much, other than getting bought an England home shirt pyjamas set. Still, Euro 92 failed to diminish my excitement for England, even after the failure to qualify for USA 94 – that possibly remains my favourite World Cup as it was the first one I properly remember.

Things went up another notch with Euro 96. After a lacklustre start, England suddenly became really good. The game against The Netherlands was my highlight. I remember running around the living room and jumping onto and off the chairs and sofa. England were really good.

They won the penalty shoot-out against Spain. Although quite how much they owe to Uri Gellar, we will never truly know. At the time, I was down in North Devon at a farm park called The Milky Way, where I milked a goat – thus living up to the hype. The penalty shoot-out was on in one of the rooms there and I kept running to watch it and would then run back to tell my dad what was happening.

Then came the ill-fated semi-final against Germany and it really felt like England could do it, especially when they scored first. I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch it the whole of extra time and the infamous penalty kick, but saw it on GMTV the next morning. I often wonder what became of the poor man who had his kick saved. Anyway, it made me so upset that I defaced my German exercise book with swastikas. Yeah. That’ll teach them. Looking back on it, I was quite nationalistic for much of my pre-teens and teens – and football was almost solely responsible – mainly as I didn’t know any better and lacked vital life experience.

I may have even thought Brexit was a good idea when I was 12 years old. As much as I love the song, there is even an argument that the essence of the anthem Three Lions laid the foundations for that horrendous political event 20 years later. i.e. “We used to be good. Now we’re not, but we might be good again based on historical events we had nothing to do with.” MEGA, anyone? The Leave campaign even recorded an appalling cover. It is abysmal and you’re better off not watching it.

Anyway, the excitement (and nationalism) continued at France 98, with a new generation of England players that included Michael Owen, who I thought I looked a bit like if I ran fast enough and people squinted. Inevitably, England went out on penalties to Argentina after Beckham got sent off. But I was convinced that the real reason they lost was that I sat on the wrong side of the bus to school on the day after I sat on the other side for previous victories. The next day at home, I printed out something I made on Word with a picture of the World Cup and the words “English and proud” on it, or something similar. As it was on A4 and my upstairs bedroom window, I doubt anyone would have actually been to read it outside.

After Glenn Hoddle lost the England job for saying some horrendous things about disabled people, it was the turn of Kevin Keegan and the end of my fanaticism would soon come crashing down. It wasn’t immediate, I continued to closely follow all things England throughout 1999 and into 2000.

Then came Euro 2000. I was perhaps more hyped than any other tournament, as it was the summer I was doing my GCSEs and I had more time to follow the coverage – mainly as I wasn’t doing any work. I even sent my tactical suggestions through to Teletext. My suggestion was 4-4-2 but with a diamond midfield with Nick Barmby on the left and Gareth Barry at left-back for balance, as he was that formerly rare beast of a left-footed Englishman.

Anyway, Kevin Keegan clearly can’t have been reading Teletext for ideas on tactics – or arguably from anywhere else, for that matter. And England went out to at the group stages after Phil Neville gave away a late penalty against Romania.

I was genuinely distraught and spent the following couple of hours with my head in my hands. Then I realised that I’d had enough of the torment and severed my emotional ties with football. I didn’t think it was worth it as England will always let you down.

Not being from a football part of the world, this detachment was actually pretty easy. There are some cities and towns where you step out of your door and there’s a flow of people walking to the stadium on match day. I didn’t have that. And there are some families where football is a big event that everyone goes to together. I also didn’t have that.

Rugby was now officially my only sport, where I had also achieved more success on the pitch at school. And by “more success”, I mean that I was a permanent starter in the school team for a few years. We didn’t win that often, but it far exceeded my record in the school football team of being a substitute twice and only getting on the pitch on one of those occasions. Still, I did get a medal for a final I didn’t play in. The very early 2000s was also around that magical time in rugby when England were well on their way to becoming the best team in the world, something that seemed forever out of reach in football.

That’s not to say I stopped watching football entirely. When England were on, I pretended I wasn’t really watching and didn’t really care. But somehow, the games always seemed to be on in my house by some strange coincidence.

Sven Goran Eriksson’s era started off brightly enough before that sense of entitlement from the underachieving “Golden Generation” kicked in. They became a petulant bunch who grew more unlikeable with each year that passed – and didn’t seem to like each other very much either. Then there was playing Fifa at uni, which became an integral part of everyday life.

I continued to follow the team on the sly throughout the brief Steve McClaren tenure, and into Capello’s, but still didn’t like a lot of the players. Along with a lack of likeability, underachievement was the other recurring theme. I followed it a bit when Roy Hodgson was in charge, but not that intently.

And then 2018 happened. There were no expectations, which is always the best way. And somehow, the team managed to get through to the World Cup semi-finals, which I had never witnessed before as in 1990, I was six years old and asleep at the time. I got into it and my heart was beating fast during that game. To alleviate this, I had to go out and buy a bottle of red wine from the Co-op on Burton Road and proceeded to drink it all. I even managed to fit into the England shirt I got for my 14th birthday, which was the same colour as my wine.

But the team didn’t seem arrogant and entitled like the previous bunch. In fact, a lot of this may well be down to the current team having to go through the lower leagues. A few were also released from clubs when they were teenagers and had to find their own way, away from the security of an academy. The 2018 campaign was built on set pieces and they looked shaky at the back. But that’s all changed in 2021. They look much better prepared and can now even score in open play.

I hope England win tonight. If anyone has earned his success, it’s Gareth Southgate. Regardless of what happens tonight, he’s certainly put some of those penalty demons from 1996 to rest and England are in a major tournament final for the first time in 55 long years.

I also hope England win tonight for the 12-year-old me, whose hopes and expectations won’t end up being for nothing permanently. But he has a long wait ahead of him and will first have to get over his nationalism. And if they don’t, then it won’t break my heart this time. One way or another, life will go on.

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Reinstalled

This past month, I have been reinstalling apps like it’s 2016. This post has nothing to do about certain public votes that year.

I am talking specifically about two apps on my phone that I first started using in 2016, then uninstalled at various points between then and now. The reason I’ve reinstalled both is largely down to Covid-related boredom, which I am well aware may also result in a boring post. But it’s my birthday and I can post a boring post if I want to. Admittedly, that’s not the best birthday perk.

Anyway, the first app is Duolingo. I originally installed it in about December 2016, when I was in Gran Canaria and quickly realised how it was much more Spanish than I originally thought. Unable to speak a word when I arrived and feeling stupid for not knowing any basic phrases, I started learning Spanish in my hotel room. And within no time, I could order a glass of wine, a beer, and a table for one.

I used the app daily for the next year before having actual Spanish lessons and realising that the language was far harder than Duolingo led me to believe. Due to subsequent travels, I’ve used the app to learn basic Portuguese, where I achieved 7% fluency. And I also tried to rekindle my aptitude from school for German – before I stopped doing any work in Years 10 and 11 – when I went on a work trip to Cologne and again, found myself unable to say much other than: “Ich habe schlect durchfall.” Google translate that.

I actually continued using the app regularly until 2020, when I decided one day that I’d had enough of the constant threats of relegation from the leagues and the passive-aggressive emails from “Duo” trying to persuade me to use it more.

This time, I’ve opted out of the pressures of the leagues and have started learning French. I already know quite a few words and phrases from a combination of two years of lessons at school and going to France on family holidays for about 15 years pretty much straight between the ages of four and 19.

The other app I’ve reinstalled is Pokemon Go. I originally installed it when it launched in 2016 and would use it on the commute when I was working in Manchester and built up quite the Pokedex (collection).

I’ve written on here before about why I no longer play computer games due to how easily I get addicted. And it’s true again in this case. This game used to be a lot easier to switch off when you’re not moving about. But now, there’s loads of stuff you can do when staying in one place and those signs of addiction are kicking in, with battles being the main cause. Not the ones with the most powerful Pokemon though. There’s a new one where power the limit is very low. I think it’s actually a lot more fun this way, similar to how I always enjoyed being put in the bottom groups for sports at school as it made me feel like I was more skilful than I actually was. So far, my growing addiction has resulted in me spending £1.58 on additional pokeballs. If I can just get a Charizard, then I will quit again for another year or so. Definitely appropriate behaviour for a now 37 year old.

Appy birthday to me. Ahem…