Friday, 30 October 2015

Making A Mocha-ry Of Chocolate

Just a quickie tonight. I realise I have overloaded your brains with blogs this week, not all of which you have liked, but I couldn't let this one pass without comment. I can't let much pass without comment, truth be told.

Why don’t companies selling alternative flavours of popular products use different coloured packaging? I’ve just erroneously eaten a Kit-Kat Mocha and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I hate anything coffee flavoured. I can’t drink coffee. This actually disappoints me more than anything. Every morning on the drive to work I marvel at how much the general public must spend on unnecessarily huge cartons of coffee from Costa, Starbucks or Nero and think that I’m missing out on something. If everyone is drinking it in such large quantities on the way to work, and spending so much to do so, then it must have a positive effect on them. It could all be in their minds, but even a placebo is better than nothing.

I have tried coffee numerous times, naively thinking that I can conquer my distaste of it. It didn’t seem unreasonable. I wouldn’t eat pizza until I was about 20 because of the amount of tomato on it. That was until I was very drunk and hungry one night and someone gave me a slice to try. Rather like when I first tried beer properly, I haven’t stopped eating pizza since. Except for that one time when I threw my pizza at a bloke in a taxi rank. I’d offered him a slice and he sniffed it and gave it back to me. How rude. I was in a transitional period that night. Which means I was drunk.

So anyway back to bloody Kit-Kat. I know I asked the question about why companies disguise their flavoured alternatives but I know the answer. It’s because they know that if they didn’t then nobody would buy the bloody things. Who in their right mind buys vanilla Coke, or Coke Lime or whatever the feck it is called? Every single can of this shite has been bought by someone who didn’t have time to look properly at the can and just picked up a red can thinking it was the real deal. It’s how Brendan Rodgers must have felt when he signed Mario Balotelli.

It’s been suggested to me that this incident was a clear case of ‘user error’ but I would dispute this. We’re all busy people. We can’t be expected to carefully study Kit-Kat packaging to look for the minutest label in the corner that reads ‘Mocha’. It’s like smallprint on a contract. Nobody reads it but everybody gets in a lather when they get royally shafted by some small detail that they missed. Often these details are hidden in 97 pages of terms and conditions which nobody will live long enough to justify reading. So it is with Kit-Kats. We don’t have time for your shit, chocolate manufacturers, so start playing fairly. You don’t get this with milk. If you want a different type of milk from the standard, full-fat stuff you look for a different coloured bottle top. Simple. Kit-Kat Mocha should come in a light brown packet and, in keeping with other coffee-related products, should be seventeen times more expensive than it has any right to be. If the woman serving me had asked me for £4.00 for it I would have recognised it as a coffee product, thus realising my mistake straight away and exchanging it for something that is not so far up its own arse.

I ate it anyway, by the way.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Mistaken Identity

I need to lift my game. I have been looking through these pages and it is fair to say that I'm not impressed. I'm sick of myself, in fact. If I keep using the same old clunking phraseology then pretty soon someone is going to figure out what percentage of the contents of these pages is brazenly lifted from other people's work. And we can't have that. I just thought I'd tell you that, just to reassure you that I am aware of the deficiencies in this column and I am trying to address them. But it probably won't happen overnight. Ask Jurgen Klopp. By the way, did you hear the one about the German Liverpool football manager who said that two years ago Roberto Firmino was the best player in the Bundesliga? The same Bundesliga that contains Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Thomas Muller? Keep cracking those gags, Jurgen, you'll go down well in Liverpool.

Thrillingly, I have got two more mistaken identity tales for you today. Two for the price of one. You must feel like Lembit Opik did when he met The Cheeky Girls. The first of these happened a month or so ago, the day before Emma and I were due to fly out to Rhodes for our holidays. Being the last minute sort of person I am we had to go into Liverpool after work to get our Euros for the trip. Emma's birthday was coming up during the holiday so I took the opportunity to go and buy her card before I met up with her to get the Euros. I was just getting served when the woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder. That could start a whole new column in itself about the able bodied invading the personal space of the disabled, except when we want them to. But we don't have time for that right now so I'll crack on if I may. The woman tapped me on the shoulder and said;

"You're a Kirkbyite aren't you?"

Yes, that does say Kirkbyite, and that is the exact word she used. Kirkbyite as in kopite, meteorite, Thatcherite but not pie shite. That would have stretched the boundaries of how far I am prepared to tolerate being insulted.

Naively, I hoped that a quick response in the negative would be enough to convince her so I just said 'no' and smiled that 'you must be mistaken' smile that people with Spina Bifida are born with. We get that and hydrocephalus and I know which is more useful. Yet the woman, let's pander to lazy scouse stereotypes and call her Mad Margi, wasn't having it.

"You are, you're a Kirbyite." she insisted.

"No, no I'm not." I replied, using the best, broadest St Helens accent that I could muster. Which is broad. I made Johnny Vegas sound like The Duke Of Cambridge. Not that it put her off any.

"You are a Kirkbyite. I've seen you."

No, you have seen a man using a wheelchair in Kirkby, which believe it or not is not beyond the realms of possibility without that man being me. If I was perplexed by this claim and her borderline psychotic insistence on its validity, her next snippet of insight into my life was nothing short of sensational.

"Yeah, I know you." she said.

"You lost your mother recently."

What? I only came out for a fucking birthday card and a few Euros and a complete stranger is telling me that my mum died recently?

I told Mad Margi that as far as I knew (and I'd seen her a day or two before if memory serves me correctly) that my mum is alive and well and not living in Kirkby. There was no relief on Mad Margi's face, only confusion. She looked almost offended that I hadn't lost my mother or, more specifically, that I was in some sort of manic denial about it. It was a good job I was leaving the country the next day. Surely nobody in Rhodes would recognise me. Erroneously.

I may write about Rhodes at some point but for now we will jump forward to a week or so after my return. There's a café just over the road from work which I frequent at lunchtimes. It's expensive but for that reason it is also quiet so it offers a good opportunity to get out of the madness for an hour. On the first or second day back at work following my holiday I was in the café ordering my lunch when another Mad Margi came up to me at the counter and asked;

"Excuse me, are you Dennis?"


My granddad is called Dennis. I have this on good authority from my parents but Dennis has never officially verified it because I haven't seen Dennis for over 30 years, except for a couple of funerals. He and my nan divorced some time in the 1970's and he decided that he wasn't going to have a relationship with his grandchildren. He lives fairly nearby I believe, but he might just as well live in Malta. Or he might just as well be a Kirkbyite. Maybe then he could at least have a rapport with my non-doppleganger in that part of the world. He is, I think, the only Dennis I know. There was a Dennis I used to play basketball with at Sheffield but his name wasn't really Dennis, and we only called him Dennis because his surname was Lillee. Get it? I know, pure bloody Oscar Wilde.

So in the same way I wasn't a Kirkbyite, I wasn't going to be Dennis either. This Mad Margi was far more willing to accept the concept of the existence of more than one man in Merseyside using a wheelchair so the exchange was not as laborious and painful as the Kirkbyite one had been. However, she did go on to explain that Dennis was a friend of her nephew.

Who is dead.

The nephew that is. As sad as that is, the fact that he was called Stephen (or Steven, she didn't stipulate the spelling) is I'm sure you will agree a cruel but marvellous irony. I am Stephen, but I can't be every person called Stephen just like I can't be every man who uses a wheelchair. I feel a little guilty about it actually. I could have just admitted to being Dennis and kept a little part of Stephen alive for her. She probably would not have known the difference.

I've been Daniel, Phil, Paul, Lee and Martin. Why couldn't I just be Dennis?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Shrewsbury Theatre And Honest Betty

A little access tip for you, since that is allegedly one of the functions of this column. If you turn up at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool with a wheelchair under your behind you are not going to be sitting next to the person you go in with. You will be sat behind them. Possibly in front of them. I can’t remember which. But certainly not next to them. You might aswell go by yourself. It’s reminiscent of two very strange young men who used to go into the Springy together on a Thursday night for the karaoke, buy their pints together at the bar, and then go and sit in completely different places as if they didn’t know each other at all. No, I don’t know either….

I mention this because Emma and I like the theatre. You can suggest that is because I have become middle class if you like but then I’m not the one drinking Pimms and watching fat hairy men shout ‘heave’ at each other at the Rugby World Cup. So anyway to get to the theatre we had to take the slightly drastic measure of travelling to Shrewsbury. When we were last in Shrewsbury we visited the Severn Theatre just to have a nose around, but there was nothing much on. We resolved to come back one day, especially given the access limitations closer to home, and so when a Sherlock Holmes-related play hit the stage we thought we would take the opportunity.

With the doors opening at 7.30pm an early evening meal was required. We had been out earlier for a couple of relaxants to watch Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge at Liverpool, a catatonia-inducing 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. Even that presented a dilemma with Emma’s Sheffield Wednesday playing Hull City on half of the television sets in The Salopian, reminding us again of our friends from the Springy karaoke. The Salopian is a dinge-hole of a bar but one which is sufficiently 21st century to know that subscribing to BT Sport will be a profitable exercise. One or two others in the town had failed to realise this.

On our travels we had noticed a nice looking pub restaurant type place on the river close to the theatre. In the event it looked far nicer from the outside than it did on the inside. It was far more pub than restaurant. There were some booths (inaccessible unless you are able and inclined to vacate your wheelchair) and just one large round table in one half of the room. There was another rectangular table or two on the other side of the room but one was full and the other had a notice on it indicating that it had been reserved. Not that this stopped the customers on the full table from stealing the empty chairs from the reserved table. We were left with the large round table, so we settled in and picked up a menu.

It was not exactly a rip-roaring success. We only ordered sandwiches with a side order of chips but Emma complained that the chips were not cooked properly on the inside. She got a fiver back for her troubles, which is first of all an admission of guilt on their part and secondly the value of two portions of chips in this place. It is not my local chippy. I didn’t even like my ham sandwich, which Emma said was because it was ‘proper ham’. I ate it anyway but it wasn’t to my tastes. Still, good job I was eating ‘proper ham’ now that other types of ham apparently give you cancer. Aswell as sausages and bacon of course. I read somewhere that these things pose the same risk of cancer as cigarettes, which strikes me as slightly hysterical. I haven’t done the stats, but I’m almost certain that the percentage of bacon, ham and sausage eaters who have developed cancer is much lower than the percentage of smokers who have. Otherwise there would be government health warnings on packets of bacon, wouldn’t there? Who knows, perhaps that’s next. All in all I’m reminded of a scene from The Young Ones in which Rik complains that Neil had kept him awake all night ‘pacing up and down and ringing bells’ to which Neil replies ‘sleep gives you cancer man, everyone knows that’. Everything gives you something and you will die. This is not news.

There was time for some liquid refreshment before the show but predictably this meant fighting through the queues at the bar. In a brilliant initiative geared towards saving time they were taking orders for interval drinks aswell, so we blatantly pushed our way to the front and did the deal. The barman assured us, after scanning our tickets, that we would be able to take our drinks into the theatre. We had to make sure of this before we bought them as it was getting a little close to performance time. The last thing you want to be doing if you have a hiatus hernia is downing a bottle of Budweiser in 10 seconds before you settle down to watch anything as lengthy as a stage play. I’d be thrown out once the wretching started so it was important to know that we would be able to take our time.

Having scrambled around for a few minutes trying to find the right theatre (there are at least three in the building, probably more) we arrived at the door to be advised by the lady on the door that we would not be able to take our drinks in after all. A sense of panic began to take hold at this point, as I faced the prospect of either not drinking a hugely expensive Budweiser (imagine!) or forcing it down and exposing myself to my ailments and subsequent ejection from the premises. We argued that we had been told that we would definitely be able to take our drinks in by the barman but the lady on the door was not budging. The best she could do, she said, was to get the manager up to speak to us about it. We waited a few minutes more before the manager appeared. But all she did was confirm that we would not be taking any drinks into this auditorium any time that night. She mumbled something about accessibility which I didn’t fully understand, probably because I was so focused on the fact that I’d apparently been conned by the barman downstairs.

I was just about to go into a rant about how the only accessible theatre was the one which customers were not allowed to take drinks into. The injustice of it all was sure to fill these pages with months of rants just like this one. And then Emma said;

‘Is this ‘The Game’s Afoot’?’

It wasn’t.

We were in the wrong place. This was Abba or something. I quickly apologised and then pushed away towards the other auditorium at the end of the corner as fast as possible. In mitigation, shit like this always happens to us so it was a natural conclusion to jump to. The idea that we would be misinformed by a barman and that an accessible theatre would turn out to be an alcohol free zone seemed, and still seems completely realistic. But perhaps it would have been prudent of us to ask if we were in the right place before we got into a debate about rules around alcohol. You live and you learn.

‘The Game’s Afoot’ is not strictly a Sherlock Holmes story. It’s about an actor who plays Sherlock Holmes on stage. During one performance he is shot in the arm by a mystery member of the audience. Subsequently the action switches to his large house on Christmas Eve where he and his actor friends contemplate the riddle of who tried to take him out. When of course there is another murder. But all of this bloodshed is done in the right spirit, if that is possible. The deaths are funny and meant to be. There are running jokes, knob gags, slapstick and general silliness aplenty. And the interval drinks thing even worked out well. It was a hugely enjoyable evening from the moment I stopped blushing about the wrong auditorium scenario.

Later, we were in the nearby Wetherspoons having a few to finish the night off. We noticed a bag had been left unattended. It was hanging from a chair at a table which, until a few minutes previously, had been occupied by a large gang of women. We weren’t sure whether they were coming back or not but working on the assumption that only some kind of crazy woman leaves her handbag unattended like that, we told the bar staff about it and they put it behind the bar. Just a few minutes later a panic-stricken woman wandered in and started looking around for something. When we told her that the bag was behind the bar because we weren’t sure who it belonged to and whether they were coming back she wore the look of a woman who had recently won a large sum of money on a hugely unlikely outcome. She must have had a bit of money as it happened because she insisted on giving us some of it for making sure the bag was safe. She had somehow forgotten about it, which I didn’t think women were capable of given that they seem to keep their entire lives inside their handbags. Or maybe that just shows what I know about women. Anyway, despite our protestations she would not take the money back. So we spent it on more beer.

That incident brings me nicely on to the story of how I spent my lunch hour today. I say hour, it was more like two and a half hours in the end. I’d been out of cash for a few days. Not because I’m skint but because I’m lazy. It’s too easy to wave my card at the man who works in the cafe over the road, even if he does charge an extra 75p for admin on card transactions. Today I decided that since it was one of the less freezing days of the week enough was enough and I was going to finally get out there, get some cash and get my hair cut. It was going through that awful bog brush phase that it gets in when it hasn’t been shaved for more than a month. Think John Terry without the mysterious ability to attract women. The whole thing was a bad idea, as it turned out.

I stopped at Sayers to buy my lunch and somewhere between there, failing to find a space in the canteen and getting back up to the office I managed to drop both my wallet and my phone from the bag underneath my chair. This was no doubt largely due to the fact that in the first place I had forgotten to zip up said bag, and in the second place I was playing my MP3 player (which won’t play three quarters of its content in the car but that is another story) at a volume that no sensible hearing specialist would recommend. If all you can hear is Ed Sheeran, you are not going to hear your phone drop on the floor, concrete or not. So I didn’t.

I didn’t realise this until I got up to the office and reached into my bag for my wallet, which contains my staff card which opens the door. Regular readers will know all about what fun I can have with the doors at work, but we won’t go over all that again. There were more pressing matters at hand, like the whereabouts of my wallet and phone, and consequently my cash card and the £85 or so that remained from what I had withdrawn earlier after spending some of it on my hair cut and my lunch. Only slightly panicking I went back down exactly the same path I had travelled between Sayers and the office (including a lap of the canteen after remembering my failed attempt to get a table there). Along the way I asked everyone in the canteen and all the security staff if anything had been handed in and nothing had. I asked the staff at the cafe just on the off chance because they seem to know me there (three visits a week on average will do that for you) and I asked at Sayers. I even asked at the bookmakers next door. Nothing.

So I rolled down towards the bank resigned to the fact that I needed to cancel my card and that I could pretty much kiss goodbye to the money in the wallet. On the way down the hill an extra dimension to my sorry predicament was added when a total arse of a man decided to walk right in front of me on the pavement. Stopping suddenly, I over balanced and hit a crack in the pavement, throwing me forward and on to the ground. If I had taken stock at that particular moment I might have concluded that since I had lost my wallet and my phone and fallen out of my chair I might just aswell stay there on the floor and give up on the whole day. But that would have been embarrassing and potentially expensive since the card had not been cancelled at this point. I got up, brushing away the attempts to help me of a well-meaning passer by. Incidentally the actual culprit merely glanced in my direction and walked on as if the whole thing were my fault. The man was a total, total Jeremy Hunt.

You have to cancel your cards on the phones in the bank. I didn’t know this, and it took quite a long time for anyone to answer. I had considered that the staff there were winding me up and that whoever does Jeremy Beadle’s job these days would soon come bouncing around the corner giggling uncontrollably at the hilarity of it all. Finally I got through and did the necessary, before trudging back up the hill to the office. Whereupon I discovered from my friends and colleagues that the wallet had been found. Now you might think a wave of relief would have swept through me at this point. Yes it is an inconvenience to have to cancel the card and wait up to five days for a replacement but at least I would be getting my money back. But it was just the beginning of another absurd saga in the longest lunchtime on record.

I spoke to security downstairs. They said that actually they did not have the wallet, that a woman called Betty had it. Betty doesn’t work for the same company that I do (you know the one that does a lot for charity and saves puppies from drowning but who unfortunately we can’t name?) but she did leave a number for me to contact her on. But she also left instructions that she must be texted and not phoned, because they are not allowed to receive phone calls where she works, a place called Armstrong’s Solicitors just off Dale Street in the city centre. Am I allowed to mention them? Fuck it, I just have. I couldn’t text Betty, because I had lost my phone, so there then ensued a quite ridiculous three-way communication between myself, Betty and the lady who works on the reception desk downstairs in our building. In the end I decided to just have a stroll down there and just ask for Betty. Waiting for the three-way communication via the receptionists phone was going to see us all off.

Armstrong’s Solicitors (sue me) is set back from Dale Street a little so it is not the easiest to find. I had to ask someone, but when I eventually got there Betty came bounding out all smiles. She handed me my wallet and, it turned out, my phone (which I was half hoping had gone missing forever if I’m honest) and told me that the former had been at one end of Dale Street and the latter at the other. It was all very embarrassing, particularly since it wasn’t just me and Betty in the reception at Armstrong’s but two of her co-workers. I thanked her endlessly for her trouble and tried to offer her some cash for her honesty. She wouldn’t accept any money of course. I can’t even buy a round of drinks for people I have known all my life. I’ve got fuck all chance of convincing a total stranger to take any of my money. All of which led to an amusing discussion in the office during which the girls tried to think of the many, varied and most expensive ways I could thank Betty for her good deed. They concluded that I should send flowers or chocolates but not cakes that are unwrapped because then I could be trying to poison her.

I may yet do this. There aren’t many people left in the world it seems who would find a wallet and return it to its owner with the contents untouched. Good on you Betty, then. You have restored some of my faith in humanity at the end of what has been a total and utter disaster of a day. So thanks Betty, wherever you are tonight.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Trouble With Football

Watching Liverpool has been a big part of my life for a very long time. On the telly, mind. I’m not rich enough to be paying £50 a throw to actually go to Anfield. Plus whatever it costs these days for some track-suited youngster to ‘watch your car’ while you’re at the game. As anyone who has visited any of my pages before knows, Saints is my match-going guilty pleasure. But Liverpool FC is a much older passion. I only started really watching Saints seriously in about 1989, right after Michael Thomas ruined football with his last minute goal for Arsenal at Anfield which won the Gooners their first title in forever and taught me the harsh lesson that actually it was possible for someone other than Liverpool or Everton to win the league.

I explain my passion merely as a way of justifying the presence of an article about Liverpool FC and its ailing fortunes on these pages. It might not be a subject which is strictly concerned with ‘my life’ and certainly not with the laughable access issues that represent the rare diamonds herein, but it is a part of my life. And this is about my life. And anyway it is my bloody blog and if you don’t want to read about the worst Liverpool team in living memory (if your living memory only stretches as far back as Paul Konchesky’s hay-day) then bugger off and read another meme about love, peace, religion or some such other figment of your imagination. Football is real.

The truth is I can only take so much of watching Liverpool these days before I have to bash my keyboard manically in a forlorn attempt at some sort of catharsis. During the summer I had to have my say on the Raheem Sterling transfer saga which, while threatening to place us all into a coma with the sheer daily tedium of it all, also raised my ire on account of Liverpool FC managing to avoid any blame for his eventual sale to Manchester City. It was all greed on the part of Sterling and his agent, everyone said, with nobody prepared to point out that actually Liverpool FC has long since declared itself a selling club whose policy now is to sell its best player at the end of every season and re-invest the small fortune it makes in several piles of shit. And so it came to pass again as Sterling departed and in came James Milner (that noise you can hear is Bill Shankly turning in his grave).

The result of all of this manifested itself clearly but unattractively with the recent dismissal of Brendan Rodgers. His Liverpool sides had been stumbling around to little effect long before he was finally given his marching orders by the owners. It all begs the not unreasonable question about why he wasn’t invited to clear his desk in the summer, rather than being allowed to bring in seven or eight new signings in as he had done a year earlier. For all their underwhelming football they had only lost twice under his tutelage in 2015-16 when the axe fell. There was no further evidence to suggest that he was not going to turn things around than there had been say…..after they took a 6-1 pummelling at Stoke on the last day of last season…or when they lost 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace a week or so previously in one of the most lethargic and pointless performances in the club’s storied history. The only explanation is that Rodgers’ dismissal was timed to ‘coincide’ exactly with the availability after a short break of Jurgen Klopp.

So we are three games in to the Klopp reign and the best you can say about it is that the German is undefeated. He hasn’t won either, but don’t let that spoil the mood. League games against Tottenham at White Hart Lane and at home to Southampton aswell as the home Europa League clash with Rubin Kazan have all ended level. It was while watching the Southampton game yesterday that I suddenly became compelled to have my say on the current state of play at Anfield. In the now time honoured fashion, Christian Benteke’s dreamy second half header was not enough to take all three points as the clowns at the back contrived to allow Sadio Mane to equalise from around three centimetres. One day soon someone will remove the nine inch nails from the feet of Simon Mignolet to enable him to come off his line to claim something in his area. Until then we can look forward to more of Mahmadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel trying to outdo each other in the field of slap-dash defending. Sakho was described by the Guardian last week as Liverpool’s best defender, which may be true but is the very definition of being damned with faint praise. It’s like being my favourite member of Union J or Little Mix.

If you look further up the field to the midfield the reasons for Klopptimism are hardly any greater. My dad hates Adam Lallana. Every time he gets within a five-mile radius of the ball my dad slaughters him. He’s just got it in for him in the way I have for Milner, or the way I did for Dirk Kuyt when he was somehow deemed good enough for Liverpool all those years ago. The definition of the phrase ‘good enough for Liverpool’ has changed dramatically down the years and not for the better. Anyway, in the case of Lallana I actually think he is one of the few of the current crop who actually possess something approaching a footballing technique. His touch is assured and he can beat a man. The trouble is he can’t beat seven, which he often tries to do as if he is some latter day Diego Maradona. He cannot or will not pass the ball. It might be because he deems it impossible for a team mate to be in a better position than him, given that none of them have any ability on the ball. If you want something doing, do it yourself. Cloning this foolishness on the other side of the field is an increasingly grumpy-looking Phillipe Coutinho, on whom most bookmakers have no doubt stopped taking bets to be the next superstar out of the Anfield door. Barcelona have shown interest, or at least his mate Naymar has, and FSG have probably already spent the money on another Serbian winger.

Milner’s cross for Benteke’s goal was top class, but in many ways the fact that Liverpool have come to rely on a man deemed only a squad player at Manchester City shows the level of ambition at the moment. Klopp’s appointment seems to signal an improvement in this department but how much he can do at the helm of a club run by baseball enthusiasts whose hobbies include penny pinching but not football is questionable. Has anyone considered the possibility that Klopp has been appointed by FSG precisely because he didn’t seem to mind having his Borussia Dortmund squad routinely asset stripped by the likes of Bayern Munich? He’ll put up with it, and they expect him to challenge for major honours regardless. It’s a little easier in Germany, however. Finish above an occasionally off-the-boil Bayern Munich and you are probably going to be Bundesliga champions. In England you have to contend with spend happy LVG at Manchester United before you even start to worry about the dual billionaire threat of Manchester City and Chelsea. Then there’s Arsenal, about whom there might well be some unwritten Premier League law that says they must finish in the top four otherwise there’ll be some point-docking going on.

Where Klopp was able to over-perform in the face of stifling transfer policies was in Europe. Yet the Rubin Kazan game did not suggest that he has particularly prioritised getting out of the Europa League group and going on to consider putting actual silverware in the cabinet. It’s another of my bug-bears on the modern game unfortunately, and Liverpool are among the worst culprits. You spend all season concentrating on the Premier League because it is important to get into Europe. Then you get into Europe and immediately do everything in your power to get yourself out of Europe because it is interfering with your Premier League form which is important because you want to get into Europe. Rodgers’ decision to play what was basically a reserve side against Real Madrid in the Champions League last season was unfathomable and nigh on unforgivable. At what point is one of Europe’s most famous clubs going to think about the glory of the game above the pounds and pence in the bank? A lot of people moaned about the recent international break, calling the lack of Premier League football ‘boring’. Those people haven’t watched Liverpool recently nor must they have seen yesterday’s tedium-fest between Manchester United and Manchester City. International football is just about the only form of top class football left in which winning things is more important than financial power. The stories involving Wales, Northern Ireland, Albania and company in European Championship qualifying have been uplifting amid the daily diet of Mourinho moaning and experts queuing up to try to convince me that Harry Kane is anything but a bloody pub player. By contrast, Holland’s failure to qualify from a group that included Iceland, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Sidac Social Club offers a far more interesting Dutch-related narrative than waiting to hear what song LVG will sing at his next overly rehearsed barm-pot fest in front of the salivating journos on a Friday afternoon.

Oh, do you see what has happened here? This started off as a piece about what is wrong with Liverpool and has just grown legs. Unlike its author. Well, not legs that work, at any rate. This has now become a withering critique of modern day football, a cautionary tale, and a compelling argument on why you should probably pick up the phone right now and buy yourself a season ticket at Saints instead of that BT Sport subscription.

At least Martin Skrtel won’t be involved.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

(Car) Park Life

I do this far less often that I intend to. Stuff gets in the way. There’s probably a certain irony, or a certain something if not irony, about life getting in the way of writing a blog which is essentially about life. Or my life in particular. But there it is. You get up, you go to work, you have a shit day, you come home, you eat, you watch 5% of the programmes you naively recorded thinking you would have time to watch, you go to bed. Life, right there.

Last week was a particular doozy. Outstanding in the field of Shit Weeks. If there is such a field. There is such a field and it is covered, I can tell you, in shit. It all started the previous weekend when Emma went out to the car only to find that the glass was missing from the passenger side wing mirror. We have had this car for less than three weeks. Ordinarily it might be quite difficult to get the glass out of a wing mirror without someone noticing that you are needlessly stealing it, so there is either a thief with a lot of time and patience doing the rounds or it simply fell out. A friend of mine told me that this once happened to his dad’s Ford Focus so it’s possible. Yet this is my second Ford Focus and the first occasion I have been left deficient in the glass department.

So the upshot of all this is that I had to take the car into St Helens Ford on Monday morning when I should have been in work. I had been quoted £46 for a piece of glass over the phone (this includes VAT you’ll be relieved to learn) but in the event they only charged me £33. I don’t know why and I didn’t ask. It’s best not to lest you get a patronising answer. I’m lucky I wasn’t sent on my way with a lollipop and a Mr Bump plaster to boot.

So anyway off I went then to work, arriving in the car park at around 10.45am. I’m normally in around 8.30 so as you can imagine by this time the car park was heavily populated. Handily, there was one disabled space left. I couldn’t believe my luck, truth be told. Normally if I go in late there are no disabled spaces left and I either have to find two free spaces to give myself enough room to get my chair out (Emma’s already caught the train into Liverpool at this point) or, as is more common, I end up driving around and around the one-way system around Tithebarn Street contemplating whether or not I should re-mortgage the house in order to be able to afford to leave it in one of the public car parks nearby. So a free space was a gift, a lollipop and a Mr Bump plaster all rolled into one.

The problem was that there was someone blocking the space. Helpfully, a man working for a Fire and Security firm had parked his car facing the space, but just close enough to it so that I couldn’t get my car past to be able to move into the space. Clearly he was not concerned with all aspects of health & safety. Just those he was paid to worry about. Mortified at the prospect of spending what remained of the morning driving around the one way system I tried anyway. I like to play my music loud enough for people in Hemel Hempstead to hear, so I’m not sure at exactly what point I made contact with a small concrete post just next to the space, but I was first alerted to it by the fact that the car would not roll forward any further. There was almost certainly some damage, which was most infuriating given the positively embryonic stage of life at which the car sat.

I phoned the security desk, which is what I should have done in the first place, and asked them if they would kindly locate the considerate Fire and Security man and get him to shift his heap of shit. Ten minutes or so later he came from behind me (the nearest exit is right in front of where I was parked) and nonchalantly got into his car and moved it without a word of apology. That would come later. I got out of the car to find that, predictably, the car had sustained a small scratch on the driver’s side. Wearily, I consoled myself in the knowledge that Motability have changed the rules so that anything short of setting fire to your car and rolling it over a cliff is now considered to be fair wear and tear, so I’m banking on them not charging me for it. Just like they didn’t with the last one after I suffered a similar incident in a multi-storey car park. I’m not good with car parks, especially when berks park in places which appear to have been carefully designed to prevent the disabled from gaining proper access.

This was the second such incident in the space of a few days by the way, as previously I had been stuck in the very same car park for 45 minutes waiting for someone who had parked illegally and thus blocked me in to move his heap of shit. There’s a lot of shit in this story, you’ll note. He had left a note in the window with both his mobile and his office number on it which would have been most helpful had he been inclined to answer either of them. As it turned out he never did show up until the next morning when it transpired that the car belonged to a colleague that I know quite well and get on perfectly well with. He was at pains to apologise. He apologised so much that I am now able to crow-bar the word ‘profusely’ into this blog, a word which much like ‘aplomb’ is never used in any other context. So anyway…What do you say? You just force a smile and forget about it, don’t you? If I hadn’t been guided out by the security staff (having gone back inside the building to try and get a message to the driver of the offending vehicle) then I might have been there all night and might not have been so good at accepting the apology.

Which I had to do again, as we hurtle forward through time again to end this sorry tale. Having got out of the scratched car following the removal of the Fire and Security van I trundled up to the office. I was about to regale my colleagues (loudly and irritably, no doubt) about the ordeal I had suffered when the driver of the Fire and Security van poked his head out of a door he had been crouched behind and apologised for his errant motoring ways. Turns out he had spent the morning working on the fire alarms in the very office in which I carry out my own mundane contribution to society.

It was awkward. Like David Cameron turning up for the Cabinet’s annual ball to find the main course on a spit amid the distinct whiff of pork.

Saturday, 10 October 2015


It’s been a strange week. I was sick for the first part of it. Riddled with infection. Ecoli, the medical report from my last visit to the consultant said. That makes it sound like the World Health Organisation should form a perimeter around my house and keep me there in my own private little quarantine lest I spread this deadly bug all over England. It’s really just a water infection, which for someone with Spina Bifida is hardly unusual. Not life threatening, but not exactly pleasant either. I threw up violently at lunchtime on my first day back at work on Wednesday and again on Thursday. That was after I’d had to take half a day’s flexi having comically forgotten to take my catheter to work with me. It was half a day’s flexi or piss your pants. What are you going to do?

Before this small oversight I became the owner, or at least joint owner, of a cat. His name is Mowinkle (I think that is how you spell it but I very much doubt whether you can prove otherwise in any case) and he is three and a half years old. He is named after a Norwegian skier. I don’t even remember her first name but Emma and I were watching the skiing during the Winter Olympics in Sochi last year when she came gliding into view with her name emblazoned on the screen. And then I said, sarcastically as I say everything else sarcastically like that character Robert Newman used to do on the telly, that Mowinkle would be a good name for a cat. We were always getting a cat after we had finished the rebuild of the bathroom and extension this summer, so the name stuck and now he is stuck with it too. He doesn’t seem to mind. He doesn’t seem to know.

I haven’t exactly bonded with him yet. He spent all of his first day with us hiding behind the sofa. As I write he is still hiding behind the sofa but thankfully he has done some other stuff in between. He seems to like Emma. He’ll go to her but only if she is on the floor. He also likes to smell her hair. This preference might be down to the fact that she has been feeding him because I couldn’t stand the smell of his food during my illness. But the one time I did put his bowl down for him he looked up at me and ran away.

I can only conclude that Mowinkel has a problem with disability. The only time he has ever come anywhere near me until today is when I have been sat on the sofa, away from my chair. Even then he couldn’t walk past me on the back of the sofa without drooling on me from a great height. Who would have thought I’d need an umbrella to sit on my own sofa watching Only Connect. That’s the best quiz show on telly isn’t it? If only because it’s so bloody hard and because it is presented by Victoria Coren-Mitchell who is the funniest woman on television. But then if you are up against Miranda…..

If I get in my wheelchair Mowinkle stares at me intently and if I move he runs away. If he is eating in the kitchen and I go in there he leaves abruptly. He has a real problem with the way I move around the house, but at least he is honest and open enough to admit it. That’s half the battle with overcoming these things, isn’t it? I should send him on some sort of disability awareness course.

Back to Thursday. Not only did I experience an equipment failure I also managed to turn 40 years old that day. I have mixed feelings about this. It doesn’t seem much different from being 39 in all honesty, but then you sit and think that you were only 21 five minutes ago so what happened? It doesn’t help that work is making me feel particularly miserable at the moment but we can’t talk about that. Then there is another part of me that wants to celebrate because firstly that will involve seeing my friends and drinking lots of beer, but secondly because it is something of an achievement to reach 40 when you have kidneys like mashed potatoes. There’s a distinct feeling of victory at having not let the bastards get me yet. That may sound negative, but I have seen far more of my friends with similar disabilities to mine leave this world than is comfortable for anyone. This life shit is a dangerous business and so my main reflection upon reaching 40 is that I’m sick of the fact that for eight hours of every day five days a week I bloody hate it. Something has to change. I should start by refusing point blank to get stressed by it, but that is much easier to say than it is to do. I realise I am not alone in feeling like this by the way, but turning 40 makes you think. Like I said, dangerous…

To celebrate on the night I just went out for a meal with Emma, my mum and dad, Helen and Patrick. Joe is 16 now and so understandably has a myriad of better things to do than visit his local Flaming Grill. My mum told a story about how she got an email advising her about re-training to be a plumber. She’s not that far away from retiring but perhaps it is one of Jeremy Hunt’s new policies aimed at getting people to work harder. Did you see that in the news? If I were a doctor in particular I would refuse to treat Jeremy Hunt if he came into my hospital with his appendage stuck inside a farmyard animal. Or I’d separate them using a chainsaw. Years from now, Jeremy Hunt will pass into the lexicon as a valid and accepted form of rhyming slang. If it hasn’t already.

The final act of a mixed but mostly turgid week was when Emma went outside to the car this morning only to find that someone had taken the glass out of the passenger side wing mirror. Not the wing mirror itself, just the glass. We have had this new car for three weeks and already it has been violated by some screv with a steady hand and light fingers. My world was rocked when Motability presented me with a £250 cheque for keeping my last car in good condition (imagine? LOL, as the cool kids say) but life giveth and it taketh away. A new piece of glass for the wing mirror will cost £46 to be fitted and this is the best bit…they do not have any in stock. So I have to rock up there on Monday morning at 9.00 and see if they have arrived after they were ordered today. If not I am either leaving my car there and getting on the bone shaker to work, or I am driving to Liverpool deficient in the wing mirror department to the tune of one.

The girl was very polite on the phone though.