Posts Tagged ‘england’

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Interview with Rhodri Marsden

February 7, 2012

I’ve known Rhodri Marsden for about six or seven years. I don’t remember how we met. He’s a journalist and ace keyboard player with bands including Scritti Politti. His new book, Crap Dates, is out now. He’s doing a Crap Dates Workshop at the Big Green Bookshop on February 9th.

Crap Dates by Rhodri Marsden.

Crap Dates by Rhodri Marsden.

Here’s my interview with Rhodri, done in the little text box at the bottom of Skype:

Greg Stekelman: Hello Rhodri.

Rhodri Marsden: Hello Greg. Are you OK?

GS: I am ok. Theoretically I am not drinking for a few weeks but I’ve just had a sip of Talisker and I’m quite pleased with it. How are you?

RM: I’m fine. I’m drinking some red wine called Palo Alto. It’s from Chile. I thought Palo Alto had something to do with Californian technology, which shows what I know about shit.

GS: Shall we do the interview? Just typing. I’ll bung it on my blog sometime soon.

RM: I thought we’d already started.

GS: We had. It was a trick question.

RM: I knew that. (I didn’t know that.)

GS: Most people will probably ask you about the crap dates you’ve been on. I’d like to try a different angle. How disappointed are you by England’s series whitewash against Pakistan?

RM: I’d be more disappointed if I’d actually bothered watching the humiliation. I pay god knows how much money each month for Sky Sports and then England go and ruin it all by making me turn off the TV in disgust.

GS: I was a bit disappointed but I didn’t really care. It seemed an odd series. In Dubai or somewhere. I like listening to the cricket on the radio but I don’t really care that much whether we win or not unless it’s against Australia.

RM: I care quite a lot.

GS: Like an English Faith No More.

RM: At one point I convinced myself that I could control the movement of the players using my mind. You must get that with Spurs.  I ended up writing a column about it. It comes out tomorrow. I mention Allah at the end and I’m worried about reprisals.

GS: Yes. I do get that a bit. I like fooling myself that I have control over the players, when in fact I am powerless. I do the opposite in life: I pretend I am powerless when in fact I could change things if I wanted to.

RM: You take your trousers off to affect the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur. I’ve seen you do it. I mean on Twitter.

GS: Yes. I do it. But now it’s more of a comedy conceit than anything else. I do it to please my followers rather than change the game. I’m a terrible whore.

Rhodri's new beard.

Rhodri's new beard.

GS: So, tell me about your new beard. What inspired it?

RM: The short answer is vanity. Do you want the long answer? Please say yes.

GS: Yes please.

RM: Thanks.

RM: Because I do gigs with Scritti Politti I invariably end up being sent photographs of myself on Flickr and so on, looking like a massive baldy potato head. That’s actually what made me start wearing a hat.

RM: Then just before Christmas we did two gigs in Dalston, and because of the angle I hold my head at when I play the keyboard, I just displayed a massive double chin.

GS: I’m also receding and somehow found myself growing a beard. We cling to hair, wherever it may appear.

RM: As we all know, beards cover up all MANNER of double chin issues. And so it has proved.

GS: Yes. Beards are good like that. I haven’t seen yours so I don’t know where the cut-off point is. Some men let their beards run all the way down their neck. I prefer a straight line just above my Adam’s Apple. You?

RM: I’ve kind of fashioned a graduated approach under the chin. It’s working quite well.

GS: Good.

RM: But the reason I did it now was because Simon & Schuster said that they might end up getting me on BBC Breakfast to promote the book. As far as I know that’s not happening, but were it to happen I wanted a beard to hide behind. Because I’d be terrible.

GS: I think you’d be good on TV. I’m always impressed by your poise when you’re on stage. You snap into Johnny Showbiz mode.

RM: I’m fine talking to rooms full of people, and I’m fine on the radio, because I can REFER TO NOTES. You can’t do that on the telly. You’re just there. I’d panic. I panic on the radio when I don’t have notes. It’s embarrassing. I just laugh nervously and say “Yes, well, there you are then.”

GS: Ok. I thought I might use some the old “dating” questions I came up with last year.

RM: I think you should.

GS: What is your favourite pair of shoes?

RM: Maybe you should explain where these questions originated. Or maybe you can interpolate that into the NARRATIVE.

RM: Anyway, I’ll just answer the bloody question.

GS: Ok. I’ll quickly do the narrative. “Rhodri and I were in a pub full of people and I started randomly interviewing people, asking them silly questions. Rhodri liked the idea of it, and asked me to send him a list of silly questions. I did it. The end.”

RM: My favourite shoes are plimsolls from ASOS. They are £12 each. They last approximately one month of pounding the streets ofLondon. I bought six pairs just before Christmas and I’ve just got through the first pair. Slung them in the bin yesterday, and put on a nice fresh pair.

RM: The reason I bought six pairs is because they were reduced to £6 each.

GS: That’s very good. Romantically, I thought everyone should have a much-loved, well-worn pair of brogues. But you’ve shattered that and shown me that shoes, like memories or love letters, are disposable.

RM: I’m a chucker. I don’t hang on to anything.

GS: I’m a clinger. Like the guy in MASH.

RM: I recently shredded a big folder full of letters I exchanged with my wife in 1995, before we got married.

GS: Golly.

RM: I hung onto them 10 years after we divorced, which is pretty good going for me.

GS: Theoretically, you’re right. It’s good to let go of things. I just find it very hard to do.

RM: Can I tell you why I shredded them?

RM: It’s interesting.

GS: Yes. Of course. I’ll tell no one except the people who read this.

RM: Well, she was (and is) Hungarian. And while her English was perfect, when I was writing to her it was kind of important that the meaning was explicit, you know? I couldn’t slather on layers of stupid irony because she’d have written back saying “Not sure what you mean on page 4.”

RM: So I was reading these letters back, and it just didn’t sound like me. And I got to a bit in one of the letters where we were talking about having to get married, for visa reasons. And I said “I think this is the best chance for our love.” And at that point I decided to shred them. I was wincing more than I was reminiscing. I can never spell reminiscing.

GS: You got the spelling right. That’s quite a sad story… onto the next question: Do you have a nickname?

RM: Not really. A lot of people call me Rhodders. I can handle that. My ex-girlfriend calls me “bobble”, but that sprung out of our mutual loathing for baby-talk and pet names. So of course we ended up doing it.

GS: I have on occasion called you Rhodders, but I feel bad because it reminds me of Rodney from Only Fools and Horses and no one wants to be compared to Nicholas Lyndhurst.

GS: What was the first single you bought?

RM: “Club Tropicana” by Wham!

RM: It meant a lot to a 12-year old boy, this depiction of excess in some sun-drenched holiday resort.

GS: Does the song still mean something to you? Sometimes a song hits you at just the right age and despite not being a particularly great song, it owns you for the rest of your life.

RM: Of course it does, yes. I love it. I can’t think of anything I used to like that I disown now.

RM: There’s stuff I like LESS. But nothing I’m embarrassed about. Guilty Pleasures my ARSE.

GS: I think the first single I bought was The War Song by Culture Club. Or rather, I pointed at it and my mum bought it for me. I don’t think I’ve listened to it since I was 10. But enough about me.

RM: War is stupid. People are stupid. Love means nothing in some strange quarters.

RM: Or something like that.

GS: It’s simultaneously quite profound and fairly shit. Like a lot of art.

RM: Hahah

GS: Have you ever vomited on someone?

RM: No. I had a 21-year vomiting drought, which lasted from 1990 until just before Christmas when I got that bloody norovirus.

RM: I was very proud of not having vomited for 21 years, and now I can’t say that any more.

GS: Still, that’s a very long period. I’m impressed. Most of my vomiting has been through drunkenness. Are you a good drunk? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you properly pissed. Only slightly tipsy.

RM: I’m careful to only drink not-very-strong beer and limited amounts of stronger stuff. I know my limits quite well. I’m quite a jolly drunk, but in bad times I get very weepy. Bawling my eyes out on the tube and all that. Sheesh.

GS: Which tube was it? Do you remember? I bet it was the Northern Line.

RM: Of course it was. I’ve lived in Tooting for 15 years. I’ve spent most of my life on the Northern Line.

GS: Paul Simon wrote a song called The Northern Line, but I don’t think it’s very well known. You should write one. Hang on, I’ve just realised that Barnet to Tooting song of yours is about the Northern Line. I’m a bit thick.

RM: That’s not really about the Northern Line. It’s more about going out with someone that you’re in total awe of. A dangerous business.

GS: Yes. But let’s pretend it’s about the Northern Line.

RM: When I wrote it my girlfriend at the time said to me “Er, that’s not about me, is it?”

RM: I said “No.”

GS: As a writer or songwriter you obviously draw from the people around you and it can be a bit awkward. Both when you’re saying good things and bad things.

RM: Yeah. I do this weekly thing in the Indy about MY LIFE and it’s difficult. I can’t write about the things I want to write about because I know there’ll be a knock on effect. Not because everyone’s reading it – just cos it’s indiscreet and rude.

GS: You’re quite established as a journalist these days. Do you ever yearn to write a novel or a play?

RM: I can’t do it, Greg. I’ve not no imagination. The Indy asked me the other day to write a 200 word fictional scenario to illustrate the concept of online behavioural advertising. I couldn’t do it. I just froze.

GS: I ask that out of misguided snobbery. People sometimes think I’m a journalist and I’m at pains to point out that I’m a writer – as though I’m a tortured artist. Also, I’d be a terrible journalist.

RM: I’m good at observation. And being coherent. That’s about it.

GS: Those are excellent skills. And anyway, a lot of fiction is just observing things and changing people’s names.

RM: I’m totally envious of your imagination, without wishing for this to descend into mutual masturbation.

GS: No. Because we’d have to be in the same room to do that.

RM: And have our willies out.

GS: I think everyone is jealous of what other people can do. Skills that other people have – music, maths etc – seem like magic to me. When I see someone play a musical instrument it’s as impressive to me as them levitating or mind-reading.

RM: DRAWING. People who can draw. I faint. Oh, that’s you again. We should probably just get married.

GS: Yes. They have a place for us these days.San Francisco.

GS: Your mention of the word “willies” made me think. What do men call their penises these days? Have new words evolved since we were children?

RM: I know a woman who went out with a man who referred to it as his “ziggurat”.

GS: Wow. What a twat.

RM: I’ve just looked up a picture of a ziggurat, and all I can say is that I’m glad my cock doesn’t look like that.

GS: It’s like that early stage of a relationship when you and a lady are trying to work out the best words for your bits. Because you can’t whisper sexily “I’m going to put it inside your womblehole.”

RM: That would be difficult to pull off, I agree. Avoid all childish words while engaged in the act of love. That’s my hastily constructed motto.

RM: “Guffed” is another word best banned from the bedroom.

GS: Yes. There’s normally a good six months when farting isn’t mentioned at all. A wonderful period in any relationship.

GS: So, about the book. Shall we talk about the book?

RM: Might be a good way to round off, yes.

GS: Yes. Have you had a good response to it from the people quoted in the book?

RM: Well, I asked everyone if I could use their tweets, and all but three said yes.

RM: 300 yes, 3 no. Not a bad result.

RM: And I’ve written more words for the book than other people have, which makes me feel marginally better about piggybacking on their wit.

GS: Yes, but the whole point of the book is that it’s wide… it’s lots of people’s experience of crap dates, rather than just your own experiences.

GS: After reading it all, who do you think comes off worse in the dating game? Men or women?

RM: Men, by about 3000 nautical miles. Arseholes.

GS: Yes, that was my impression

RM: Oh, maybe I misunderstood the question.

GS: No. You understood it perfectly.

RM: Men are arseholes and women have a great deal of misery to bear.

GS: Yes. That’s probably one of life’s lessons. I wouldn’t patronise women by claiming they can’t be as monstrous as men, but men do seem to me more consistently insensitive and monstrous than women.

RM: Yep. I’d be interested in stats about whether more men dump women than women dump men. But regardless of that, men would do it in a more annoying way.

GS: This is true.

GS: Do you have any last words before we both go to our (separate) beds? Any statement you’d like to leave us with?

RM: I’ve just spent 20 seconds trying to think of something profound, and have failed completely, so the answer is probably “No.”

GS: No. That’s a good way to end.

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Don’t cry for me, Argentina

July 6, 2010

The last couple of days I’ve been “getting in touch” with my Argentine roots. On Friday evening I went to an nice event/talk about Argentine comics and then on Saturday I went to a bar where 200-300 Argentines watched the national team getting trounced 4-0 by Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals. That was fairly disastrous. Still, I got to practise my Spanish and pretend I knew the chants everyone else was singing.

My dad is from Argentina. Born in Buenos Aires, he lived in London between 1969 and 1989, when he moved back to the city of his childhood. He visits Europe when he can.

I was born in London, England. I am English. Growing up, we didn’t speak Spanish at home, except for a couple of words. I remember feeling very English throughout my childhood, even if my name is Gregorio and my father is Juan Carlos. Nowadays I speak pretty fluent Spanish, but that’s thanks to years at university and recent trips to Argentina. My Spanish accent is still a mess of English, Argentine and Castillian Spanish (and American, according to one person).

When we were little kids it was too expensive (and probably too painful for my father) to visit Buenos Aires. I made my first trip there with my parents and sisters, when I was about 12 and from then on I visisted there every 2-3 years to visit my father and see family. There was a period between 1993 and 2000 when I avoided going. I’m not quite sure why. I’ll ask a shrink.

I call myself half-Argentine, but the reality is that I don’t know Argentina, I only know Buenos Aires and of that, mainly the barrio around my father’s place and microcentro. When I am in Buenos Aires I am there to see my father, not be a tourist. There are friends who spend 2 months doing the whole of South America who have seen more of Argentina than I have in my countless visits. They know Cordoba and Mendoza and Iguacu and Bariloche. I know the Linea A subway line. As a teenager my Buenos Aires was wandering the streets of Corrientes and Callao in my leather jacket, smoking cheap cigarettes and hunting through the book and magazine stores for comics and pornography. I loved it.

When I was young, Argentina was an impossibly distant, exotic place. There were few Argentines in London. There was no internet, so contact with my father was limited to occasional letters and phone calls. No-one went on holiday to Argentina. And I liked it like that. Buenos Aires was my playground. It was my Narnia. My secret world.

Now things have changed. I know countless friends who have visited Buenos Aires. It’s a staple part of the middle-class-traveller-seeing-the-world route. I know English people who have fallen in love in Buenos Aires and stayed here. And since the economic crisis of 2001, there are an increasing number of Argentines in London (as evidenced in the bar for the World Cup match). The barriers between England and Argentina have crumbled. I should be happy, but I’m not. It’s like the gates of Narnia have been flung open, and what was once my secret refuge (my secret identity) is now just another place in the world. The world is getting smaller.

Sometimes I’ll be chatting to a stranger and I’ll mention that my dad is Argentine and they’ll say: “Oh, I’ve been to Buenos Aires. It’s amazing, isn’t it?” and I’ll nod and agree, but part of me – a selfish part of me, admittedly – resents them walking through the streets that were once mine alone.

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English football: a realistic review

June 29, 2010

With England now out of the World Cup, I can breathe a sigh of relief and blog about football.

The shocking thing about England wasn’t their humiliation against Germany; it wasn’t even the poor performances. It was the deluded expectation that we would win it. I consider myself a fairly measured, cautious kind of fellow, so I wasn’t expecting too much, but the press (and massive corporate sponsors) get people worked up with their “THIS IS OUR YEAR” bullshit.

Let me be clear: England don’t have a terrible team. We have an ok team. We did better than Italy. We did better than France. And games turn on tiny things – we were woeful against Germany but had Lampard’s goal been given, who knows what might have been. That’s not to gloss over the fact that we were crap, merely to point our the possibilities that always exist in a game as frantic as football.

There’s a kind of collective hysteria in England about our football team. Every four years the usual suspects (Hansen, Shearer, Venables, Redknapp) trot out the same lines about how we’ve got world-class players and how there’s 5 or 6 teams who could win the World Cup and how England are one of them. And this hysteria totally and utterly contradicts the overwhelming body of evidence that shows that England aren’t very good at international football.

Let’s take a look at how England have historically done in World Cups:

Our first World Cup was in 1950. We got knocked out in the first round. In 1954 we got to the quarter-finals. In 1958 we got knocked out in the first round. In 1962 we got to the quarter-finals. In 1966, playing at home, we won the World Cup! Hooray! In 1970 we made it to the quarter-finals. In 1974 and 1978 we didn’t qualify for the World Cup. In 1982 we made it to the 2nd round. In 1986 we made it to the quarter-finals. In 1990 we made it to the semi-finals. In 1994 we didn’t qualify. In 1998 we made it to the last 16. In 2002 and 2006 we made it to the quarter-finals and in 2010 we made it to the last 16.

Show those statistics to a neutral (I don’t know. Someone from India or Belize) and they’d think: “Oh, so England have an ok team. They consistently qualify for the World Cup and then they mostly make it out of the group stages, but they rarely get to the latter stages of the competiton.”

And they would be right. In the 44 years since we won the World Cup, we’ve managed to get to one semi-final. Other teams to have made at least one semi-final appearance since 1966 include those footballing titans South Korea, Turkey, Croatia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belgium and Poland.  In other words, plenty of other teams have matched England’s acheivements.

In contrast, if you look at teams like Italy, France, Brazil, Germany and Argentina, these teams have, over the last 30 years, fairly regularly gotten to the latter stages of the World Cup. Since England won the trophy in 1966, Brazil have won it 3 times. Germany, Argentina and Italy have all won it twice.

In domestic terms, England are probably about the same as a team like Aston Villa in the FA Cup. We can expect to beat a few of the lower teams and on our day, none of the big teams will relish playing against us, but very few people would put money on us actually winning the competition. But with Aston Villa, I’d imagine that the fans are more realistic about their chances: they probably don’t believe they’ve got the best team in the competition, or that they are likely to win. They know that the likes of Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal and others all have better squads and a better track record. So they do their best but don’t get massive delusions of grandeur.

None of this is to say that England are shit; we’re not. We’re quite a good team – in the top 20 or so teams in the world. But that’s it. Of course we have some very good players, but so do most teams. The difference being that most foreign players aren’t as incredibly overhyped as the England superstars. Is Wayne Rooney a good player? Yes, he is. But aside from a good showing at Euro 2004, he has done nothing for England on a big stage. Compare him to someone like Germany’s Miroslave Klose, who hardly gets a mention as a “world-class” player, but consistently scores hatfuls of goals in World Cups and European championships. The idiot pundits on the BBC were saying that only one or two of the German players would get into the England side. Yes. The German team who got to the final of the last European championship, the semi-final of the last World Cup and the final of the World Cup before it – they’re not as good as the plucky English players who failed to even qualify for the last European championship. It’s an astonishing level of delusion.

Part of the hysteria stems from the mistaken assumption that playing well in the Premier League (or the Spanish La Liga or Serie A) is a guarantee of international success. In commercial terms, the Premier League is a massive success, but everyone involved has started to believe their own hype. The media bias towards the Premier League  and the Champions League has become unstoppable. The commentators on many games seem to be unaware that football exists beyond Europe – that players from Chile, Algeria, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Paraguay can trap and control a football despite never having played in The Champions League. It was pitiful watching an Algerian team of anonymous journeymen with better technical skills than the English players. Just because Glen Johnson earns 50 grand a week, it doesn’t make him a world-class player.

I suppose that’s really what sickens me: the money and the hype. The Nike adverts, the Umbro adverts, the beer adverts, the patriotic crap in the tabloids. It’s the blind assumption that because we’ve thrown billions of pounds at a group of overhyped players, they are world-beaters. Being the best paid team in the world doesn’t make you the best team in the world. Don’t believe the hype.