Friday, September 12, 2008

I Would Like Mussel Soup

As an A-Level Media Studies student and later, as a Journalism undergraduate, I quickly became aware that it was almost impossible to offer an incorrect theory when analysing texts. With a bit of confidence and the power of persuasion, I managed to convince my teachers that there were deep hidden meanings in everything from Hi-De-Hi to the Shake N Vac advertisements.

Before long, I was pulling all kinds of nonsense out of thin air, justifying it with lengthy paragraphs consisting of a large dose of bluffing and a side order of accepted media theory. By the time I got to work on the music video for Bohemian Rhapsody, my essays were like a cross between the cryptic clues on 3-2-1 and the impossibly hard Logic Problems that always got left until last in the Christmas Puzzle Compendium.

I once wrote three thousand words on the significant colour of Terry Scott's socks in an episode of Terry & June and received a standing ovation.

Teachers were amazed by my insights and enthralled by my class presentations. But I never believed a word that came out of my mouth. Or indeed, my pen. I was aware that a large amount of supposed subtext was almost certainly accidental and unintentional. I had simply mastered the art of reading anything into everything. Or everything into anything. Either way, it got me into university and my bluffing skills became even more elaborate.

Watching The Best Of Benny Hill recently, I was reminded of one of my favourite sketches. Surprisingly for me (and for Benny), it's not a scene involving large breasts and/or stockings. Instead, it's a brilliantly well-written and extremely well-timed piece that pokes fun at the world of the pretentious critic. It was written twenty years before I sat my A-Level Media Studies exam, and well over a decade has passed since, but I have never seen a better examination of the laughable theories I encountered and, in some cases, invented.

"It's a dog's life":

Television has always been my passion, but if Media Studies taught me anything, it's that the medium should be enjoyed first and analysed later. Much later.

I once knew somebody who refused to watch films with Media students. His enjoyment was ruined by their constant criticism and analysis. I had a similar experience with, of all things, an episode of Neighbours. I never made the mistake of watching it in the Sixth Form common room again.

Benny/Pierre's actions at the end of the sketch say it perfectly. When I'm watching, say, Coronation Street, I don't need to actively appreciate every small detail in each scene. Most of it is processed subconsciously anyway, and I'm usually too busy ogling Katherine Kelly's legs.

These days it's less talking, more watching and a far more enjoyable experience is had by all.

Friday, August 08, 2008

You Ain't Seen Me, Right?

At Redlands News, the exploits of my boss were not just reserved for the members of staff. Many customers were also peeved by the numerous rules that they needed to follow:

- No more than three customers in the shop at once between 8-10am.

- Please do not place greasy fingerprints on the glass.

- Please do not stand on the newspapers.

In addition to this, when he was in charge of the shop (my mother managed it the rest of the time and still does to this day) many customers felt that he had a real "them and us" mentality about him and felt that he was always looking down at them.

They were correct in this assumption.

As with any kind of social unrest, it was eventually decided by a select few customers that action needed to be taken. What they did next left a lasting impression on all those involved.

It was late October, 1998. For a few days I had noticed a small group of youths walking slowly past the shop. Earlier that month, the boss had decided to show off his new found philanthropic side and had installed a five-foot plastic bear outside the shop. This bear had a slot in his head into which coins and notes (and, over time, cigarette packets and chewing gum) could be placed. It was my opinion that these youths were just admiring the new feature with a feeling of awe.

I was incorrect in this assumption.

On the morning of November 1st, 1998 I arrived at work to find my boss sitting on the step near the shop entrance. It is fair to say that he was sobbing. I soon realised that he was sitting in a bear-sized space. I quickly realised what had happened, but he told me anyway.

"Somebody thought it would be a good Hallowe'en prank to steal Bertie!"

(This was the first that I had heard about any name being given to the bear, by the way).

"The worst part of it," he continued "is that they cut the chain that fastened him to the shop and they seem to have used it to carry him away. It was a very expensive chain."

At such times, it is often better to let the grief flow from the victim. I simply stood there, letting him get it all out.

"The one good thing is that I emptied the charitable donations yesterday afternoon."

It soon became clear what had happened. Those youths had not been admiring the bear with a feeling of awe. They were in fact waiting for emptying time, when they could steal it without being accused of taking from the needy. Pranksters with a conscience - the world needs more of them.

Dramatic Reconstruction

I thought nothing more of it, apart from the fact that I thought it was a superbly thought-out heist. It could really have formed the main plot line for any James Bond film. My boss on the other hand, in his typical style, took it as a personal insult and was not going to let them get away with it. Within days, a sign had been put up in the window asking for any information. A large advertisement had also been placed in the Penarth Times that read:


A charity bear has been stolen from Redlands News. No money was inside. Assistance required to secure his return. Modest reward offered.

I was quite amused that there was never any mention of the bear being plastic. I had visions of thousands of Penarthians making sure that all doors and windows were locked at night in case they received a visit from South Wales' answer to Gentle Ben.

I half expected to see a piece dedicated to the theft on ITV's Crimestoppers. I would have willingly participated in a reconstruction of the event. Instead, two weeks went by and no information had come forward. I believed that the matter was closed but things then took quite a sinister turn.

I was sitting alone one cold, dark November evening watching an edition of TOTP2 (this was in the days when it was still good - when they had the Recorded For Recall section and you didn't have to listen to Steve Wright's smug tone all over it). I was enjoying an archive performance of Marc Almond and Gene Pitney's duet of Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart.

As I read the trivia at the bottom of the screen (apparently Gene got so excited in the recording studio that he decided to take his shirt off and record his vocal topless), I was interrupted by my doorbell.

Not expecting any visitors, I gingerly opened the door to find the same gang of youths from Hallowe'en week standing in a huddle on my step.

"Oh God, they've come to kidnap me now," I thought.

However, I showed no fear.

"Hello," said I.

"Listen. We've come to you because you're one of us" said the ringleader. "We know you're alright. Not like that bloke who owns the shop. We took the bear, but we can't keep it hidden much longer. If you want it back, it's waiting for you down at Cogan playing field."

And off they ran. I was most disappointed that he chose not to follow up his sentence with the words, "you ain't seen me, right?" as he ran away. But perhaps that would have been a little too contrived.

Cogan field is reasonably close to my home. However, there was no way that I was going to walk down there alone on a freezing November night. After all, it could have been a cunning trap.

So I did the next best thing. I got on the phone to my step-father and asked him to drive me there. He may only be 5'7" but he played cricket and table tennis to a county level, so I figured that he would be pretty handy with a bat if we encountered any trouble.

Please Don't Have Nightmares

It wasn't that I particularly wanted the bear back, more curiosity. Having said that, the shop had become an even more unbearable place to work since Bertie went AWOL, so maybe I had some incentive to help. Plus it was quite an ego boost that the gang had chosen to make their confession in my presence.

We arrived in Cogan approximately ten minutes later and pulled over in Penarth Leisure Centre's car park. Nobody else was about. We also couldn't see the bear. We decided to take a walk along the footpath and it was then that we found him.

Bertie was at the top of an embankment, lying on his side next to the Cardiff to Barry railway line, with a chain around his neck and one eye missing. He also seemed rather charred, as if he had been included in some of the Guy Fawkes festivities earlier in the month. We climbed up the embankment to his resting place and managed to push him back down the slope.

As he was too heavy to carry, we had to roll him all the way back to the car. I hate to think what anybody would have thought if they had seen us. When we got to the car we realised that, at five feet, Bertie was too big to fit in the boot of my step-father's Rover. One of us came up with the idea of putting the bear on the back seat. Again, because of its height, the bear's head would have been poking out of the sunroof.

Finally it was decided to heave him on to the back seat in some kind of bear recovery position.

Soon after, we were driving back through Penarth with a five-foot plastic bear lying on the back seat of the car, wearing two seat belts and his head hanging out of the right-rear window. We truly felt like heroes. As we turned on the radio, Benny Hill's theme tune began to play. Nothing could have sounded sweeter at that moment.

We let Bertie sleep off the effects of his ordeal on the back seat overnight. The next morning we drove him to the shop to be met with open arms by my boss. I felt like a returning football manager with the cup. What a morning!

Despite the state that Bertie had found himself in, my boss bought a new chain and tightly secured him in his rightful home.

We never did get our "modest reward" but standing there charred with one eye, Bertie actually received more charitable donations than ever before. That's good enough for me.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Say What You See

I suppose, in many ways, Catchphrase could be described as a high-tech version of Win, Lose Or Draw. Certainly, whenever a game of Pictionary got a bit boring when I was a youngster, I’d often put on a bad Irish accent and pretend to be Roy Walker.

You know, just to spice things up a little.

Catchphrase used computer graphics and a little character called Mr Chips to cryptically act out well-known phrases (later, when they had run out of sayings, they included film and song titles). Two contestants then had to buzz in with their correct answer and the person with the most points went through to the final. This was called Super Catchphrase - a word search format which required them to move across an alphabet board in a straight line, guessing all the catchphrases behind each letter. I suppose it owed a lot to A Question Of Sport’s Picture Board round or Blockbusters.

The real pleasure in watching Catchphrase came from the contestants. They often took Roy Walker’s advice a little too literally when he said “say what you see!” For example, if Mr Chips was illustrating the phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, the contestant might buzz in and say “er, man with two baskets, er, sharing out some eggs” to which Roy would reply “Ooooh, that’s good….but not quite right!” (in later series, he developed a very annoying habit of excitedly shouting their answer back to them which implied that they were correct, only to say “you’re wrong” in a deflated tone).

However, there is one episode that earns the show a place in the television vaults.

Words don’t actually do it justice. Just watch this:

I particularly like the way in which the innuendo went straight over the head of the female contestant, Marita. Although having said that, she also had one thousand pounds less than the male contestant so she obviously wasn’t the greatest catchphrase-spotter either.

By the end of the nineties, Roy Walker decided that he would step down as Catchphrase host. He has rarely been seen on television since, bar some appearances on Phoenix Nights and all those talking head shows about classic television (usually just to talk about that clip).

The show was never the same with the new presenter Nick Weir (although he did manage to fall down the stairs at the beginning of his very first episode, breaking his leg in the process. He seemed to confuse Catchphrase with You’ve Been Framed, and ended up presenting the rest of the series on crutches). They tried to revive it again more recently with ex-Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry.

However, it was quite clear that the show had enjoyed its peak a long time ago and I preferred not to spoil my memory of what was a genuinely entertaining programme.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Picturesque Matchstickable Album Covers

The artwork for last year's Status Quo album - In Search Of The Fourth Chord - inspired me to compile a list of - in my opinion - the greatest Quo album covers of all-time. They all have something in their favour of course, so I had a tough job. However, after digesting, deliberating and cogitating the evidence (as Loyd Grosman used to say on Masterchef), I came up with the final ten (and a couple of leftovers). Here they are in chronological order:

Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From The Status Quo (1968)

This is where it all began. Let's face it, there's no better way to signal your arrival onto the music scene than by sitting on top of a giant pile of Swan matches. We've also got a rare appearance from Roy Lynes before he got off the train at Crewe and never returned, plus John Coghlan in the first of a long series of photoshoots where he looks thoroughly pissed off. As if that wasn't enough, Francis Rossi is wearing the brightest pair of red trousers I've ever seen and there's an opportunity to see Baby Alan Lancaster - the hard rock sound hadn't arrived yet, so he couldn't possibly call himself manly at this point. As an added bonus, there's a black and white photograph on the reverse that looks like it was taken in Victorian times (Rossi's moustache makes him look like some sort of railroad tycoon) and Ronnie Scott even lends a hand by speculating that "this will be the first in a long line of international hits for The Status Quo." He must have been basing his (absolutely correct) opinion on this spectacular piece of artwork because Paradise Flat was never going to take the world by storm. It's way too creepy for starters.

Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon (1970)

Now you're talking. The arrival of the classic Quo sound is signalled by an old woman sitting at a desk and smoking a fag. She obviously attended the John Coghlan school of modelling because she looks thoroughly pissed off. But then she's got every right to be, I suppose. This was Britain in 1970. The Beatles had just split up and Quo's second album Spare Parts had been a flop. Plus her cup of tea had gone cold because the photographer was obsessed with getting the lighting just right. Cheer up love! This album's got Shy Fly and (April) Spring, Summer And Wednesdays on it - Alan Lancaster can finally face his family!

Dog Of Two Head (1971)

Any album that begins with a masterpiece like Umleitung needs to have a special cover. This more than lives up to it. It's a bulldog with two heads (with a painting of Windsor Castle in the background). Could Quo BE any more British? You'd be correct in thinking that this is the reason I'm now scared of dogs, although I do like the way that all four members of the band seem to be heading in the dog's direction like some sort of four-pronged meteor attack. I believe that the drug-taking may have begun by this point.

Piledriver (1972)

Genuinely one of the greatest rock album covers of all time. Quo had found their style and had a pose to go with it - side by side, legs apart, heads down, it really doesn't get better than that. Actually it does. Turn the gatefold over and you're faced with a picture of a gorilla sitting on a rocket. A gorilla on a rocket?! Nothing says hard rock better than that (except the fantastic solo from Big Fat Mama).

Quo (1974)

"Help me, mother!" I cried, as I studied this album cover on the way home from a record fair. "Alan Lancaster's head is growing out of a tree!" She offered little comfort and I was traumatised for life. Even now, I'm still creeped out by the way that the roots spell "Quo." I take some solace from the fact that Rick and Francis don't look too convinced and, in comparison to previous shoots, Coghlan is positively grinning. It's a blinder of an album though, kicking off with Backwater and ending with Slow Train - just a shame it lasts little more than half an hour.

On The Level (1975)

It might not be very manly for me to say so (sorry Alan), but Francis Rossi's hair has never looked better. Who would have thought that it would all fall out within thirty years while Rick stands by saying "haha, I've still got my curly blonde locks and I've had quadruple heart bypass surgery!" I always wanted hair like Francis when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, when I tried to grow it, I ended up looking more like Ruth Madoc from Hi-De-Hi. I can laugh about it now but at the time it was terrible. Anyway, this is probably just my favourite Status Quo album. It's got all the classics - Down Down, Little Lady, Bye Bye Johnny - plus a football crowd singing You'll Never Walk Alone in the run-out groove. No wonder John Coghlan is looking a bit awkward - he obviously knew that it would be a tough act to follow. But more importantly, what is Alan Lancaster hiding in his clasped hands?!

Live! (1977)

"Is there anybody out there who wants to rock?!" shouts the MC. "Is there anybody out there who wants to roll?" he repeats. "Is there anybody out there who wants to BOOGIE?" he yells. That's all well and good (the answer is "yes" to all three, by the way) but I've got some questions: "Is there anybody out there who wants to see John Coghlan wearing some kind of tooth around his neck (and looking pissed off) on the inner sleeve?", "Is there anybody out there who wants to see Alan Lancaster (gasp) smiling?!" and finally "Is there anybody out there who wants an album where the sleeve is half live footage, half photoshoot and you can't actually tell what the bloody thing is called?!" All those questions were asked at the actual show, but they had to edit them out in order to fit a fourteen minute version of Roadhouse Blues onto side two. It's a great concert though, especially when Rossi starts mumbling something about the balcony starting to collapse - I do hope everybody made it home safely.

Rockin' All Over The World (1977)

By this point, Quo are such hard rockers that they've caused an earthquake which reverberates around the world. Honestly, this cover has the proof. According to the readout at the bottom of the picture, Quo measured 7.5 on the Richter Scale. That's nearly twice as strong as the tremor that hit Kent last year. That's what happens when Lancaster starts pounding away at You Don't Own Me. It's not global warming causing the world's freak weather - it's Quo! I've heard that the government are trying to force everybody to offset their Quo emissions. Every time you play Rockin' All Over The World, you have to cancel it out with James Blunt. Hmm, I think I'd rather take my chances.

If You Can't Stand The Heat (1978)

Do you see what they've done? They've taken the well known phrase "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" and turned an electric hob into a long playing record! Ingenious! Plus, when you open the gatefold, it looks like a giant book of matches! Wowzers.

Under The Influence (1999)

Fast forward twenty years and the Quo have settled into middle age in the time-honoured tradition - they've opened a pub. At least, that's what this album cover implies. "I'm just popping down the Under The Influence for a swift half, love - don't wait up, they've got Jeff Rich on bar duty and he insists on doing a ten minute drum solo between each customer!"

Almost But Not Quite There

A selection of Quo album covers that didn't quite make the cut:

Blue For You (1975)

Talk about taking things literally. You need to look at this through filtered glasses to stop yourself going blue-blind. All four members of the Quo are dressed head to toe in denim. I think they may have been sponsoring a well-known jeans company by this point.

Famous In The Last Century (2000)

Or, Quo attempt a tribute to the Sgt. Pepper cover but give up halfway through. Still, you have to applaud the effort - there's Elvis, Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe and Her Majesty The Queen (but we all know that she prefers The Who). You'll notice Rick laughing and pointing at somebody down below - that's the same reaction that LH's father received when he attempted to buy the cassette version of this album at his local Asda. Kids today, eh?

Heavy Traffic (2002)

What the hell is going on here?! Quo being chased down a London street by an elephant that is bigger than any of the buildings?! No wonder Rick had a heart attack! It's good to see that Rossi's waistcoat remains in pristine condition throughout though, but I'm a little worried that John "Rhino" Edwards is about to trip over some police tape and (surely not) Andy Bown is about to get squished like a bug. Who's going to play the intro to Rockin' All Over The World now?! They clearly didn't think this through. One of the better albums in recent years though. They say that fear inspires you and there's surely no greater example than a thirty-foot elephant.

XS All Areas - Greatest Hits (2004)

There aren't many album covers where one guitarist looks constipated and the other looks like the scary mask from the Scream movies, but Francis and Rick pull it off in style. Yes, Quo have still got it in abundance.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jesus Christ, Mo!

My love of fly-on-the-wall documentaries would have dictated my viewing of Driving School anyway, but the fact that it featured a local woman from nearby Grangetown made it must-see television.

There were actually many learner drivers (and their teachers) on the show, but it says a lot about the legacy of Maureen Rees that I hardly remember anything about them (apart from a woman who had a very annoying ringtone on her mobile phone and a boy who used to roller-skate to the nearby phone box in order to speak to his long-distance girlfriend).

Maureen Rees was a natural star. A cleaner at the local police station, Maureen’s dream was to set up her own cleaning business. The one thing stopping her was her inability to drive. She had tried to learn, oh yes. But she had failed on every attempt. As the underdog, she was therefore the ideal candidate for reality television. But who could have predicted just how memorable she would become?

Dave Rees was Maureen’s long-suffering but devoted husband. He was a driver for Cardiff Bus. Anybody who has travelled on one of Cardiff’s buses will testify that their drivers would usually be considered the most unsuitable teacher for a learner driver. But Dave was alright. He only reversed the buses into their parking slots at the Sloper Road depot, so he hadn’t been tarnished by the freedom of Cardiff’s bumpy roads.

Strapping himself into the passenger seat of Maureen’s blue Lada, he looked like a picture of serenity. He spoke calmly to Maureen, politely reminding her to check her mirrors while she fussed around with her seatbelt, grinning insanely at the dashboard-mounted camera. So far, so good.

Five minutes later, Dave was screaming like a mad man and holding his face in his hands as Maureen careered across both lanes of a dual-carriageway into the path of an oncoming truck.

This was not to be a one-off. During a parking lesson in the local multi-storey, Dave quickly got out of the car to check Maureen’s clearance. Within seconds, Maureen was reversing into a tight empty space. Unfortunately, she gave it a little too much gas and ended up running over Dave’s left foot. If Dave was a cartoon character, he would have turned bright red and smoke would have started pouring out of his ears. He stood in silence for a moment, before clutching his leg and yelling “JESUS CHRIST, MO!” at the top of his voice.

In subsequent episodes, Dave was seen hobbling around with a bandaged foot. To give him credit, he continued with Maureen’s lessons and eventually (after numerous attempts) she passed her test.

Some years later, I passed Maureen and Dave’s home on a daily basis as I made my way to university. Parked outside (in a haphazard, half on the pavement/half on the road manner) was a small yellow van. Emblazoned on the side were the words Top Banana.

I can’t think of a better description for such a memorable character.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The S Files (Part Three)

Part One
Part Two

A month or so after the disastrous Pool tournament, S decided that the reason it had failed was because "not many people like Pool." He soon came to the conclusion that he couldn't go wrong with a bit of Football. Trying to keep his costs low, S decided that he would organise a Five-A-Side tournament in his home town of Torquay during the Christmas holidays.

The fact that S struggled to organise a Pool competition within a one-mile radius of his Cardiff home should have told him that he might have a bit of a problem trying to organise something a little more long distance. He was not deterred however, and began sending letters and posters to his friends and family back home so that they could organise the event while he continued with his studies.

The one thing that he really wanted was somebody special to open the competition. Even S knew that he wouldn't be able to afford somebody like David Beckham, and when he telephoned Torquay United to ask if they could send somebody over, they unfortunately had to decline because they had a match on the same weekend.

As a last resort, he found himself trying to have a mobile phone conversation with somebody from a look-alikes agency (not, I'm sorry to say, Derek's Doubles) in the pouring rain one December day.

"How much is your David Beckham?" S asked, grimacing as he received the reply.

"How much?! I could get the real one for that price!"

He continued making a face as the agency replied.

"I think you'll find I could" he said.

He then shook his phone for some reason and put it back to his ear.

"I said...I.THINK.YOU'LL.FIND.I.COULD!" he yelled.

"How much for Michael Owen?" he asked, after much head shaking.

"That's more like it!"

He gave me the thumbs up.

"He's what?" he asked, unable to hear the agency. "I didn't hear you. He's a what?"

He covered the mouthpiece and looked at me.

"I can't hear what they're saying. I just want to book Michael Owen!"

He then returned the phone to his ear.

"Could I just book him please? No, no...I'm sure that will be fine." he said, still shaking his head.

S then gave the agency his details and I didn't see him again until after the Christmas holidays.

"How was your tournament?" I asked.

"The competition was good" he replied. "Eight teams signed up."

"That's not bad" I replied, genuinely quite impressed considering what had happened at the Pool tournament.

"The look-alike was a joke though" he moaned. "He was forty if he was a day and must have weighed about twenty stone"

I struggled not to laugh.

"Didn't you say anything to the agency?" I asked.

"I tried to get a refund but they told me that they had warned me when I phoned them."

He then went on to explain that the agency had tried to inform him that Michael Owen was a comedy look-alike. He was nothing more than a middle-aged man in an England shirt who still managed to open S' tournament to rapturous applause.

In his constant quest for female attention, S had developed a rather impressive party piece. It was this that earned him the moniker "Disco S."

Whenever we attended a large public gathering, there would come a point during the event when he would announce "right, I'm ready!" This was the cue for all members of the crowd to create a makeshift gangway down the middle of the room.

S would then walk to the end of the human corridor and take ten paces backwards. He would then begin running. As he reached the line of people, he would drop to his knees and slide the rest of the distance with his arms outstretched. This later became known as "Doing The S."

For those who may be inspired to attempt a similar move themselves, the main rule to bear in mind when Doing The S is to always make sure that the floor is uber-slippery. As S warned us on many an occasion: “Never attempt to Do The S on any sort of carpet surface or you WILL suffer INJURY!"

Soon after leaving university - very soon actually, it was the same day - I lost touch with S. I would see him around Cardiff from time to time and would always have a brief conversation. Usually, however, he was too busy running somewhere to be able to stop.

During my disastrous and ill-advised stint working at the Cardiff branch of Stationery Box (that’s another story), S came in one day to buy three packs of printer paper, a set of yellow highlighter pens and a Pokemon mouse mat. I can only imagine what he was planning, but unfortunately/thankfully he was in a rush, so I was unable to question him further.

Years later, I received a text message from R one Saturday night. The contents were hugely exciting:

You'll never guess who is on Blind Date? S!

At first I thought that he was joking or playing another instalment of The Look-alikes Game. But no, there on the television screen with his trademark blonde hair and dressed in a lemon-print shirt was S. He had finally managed to get himself on television for the first time since his Jim'll Fix It appearance. Fame at last!

Unfortunately, S' answers to his three questions were not quite cheesy enough and he was not picked by the lovely lady that evening. To be honest, it would have been asking a bit too much for his luck to last out quite that long. However, it was a perfect example of what must surely be S' life motto: Almost....But Not Quite There.

Although he had his strange ways and mannerisms, it was impossible not to like S. He was very ambitious and always had a plan, but there was never any arrogance. Well, alright, maybe a little when he Did The S, but it was so impressive that he can be forgiven for that.

Since his television appearance, S has not been seen or heard from since. His Blind Date episode hasn't even been repeated on Challenge (and believe me, I've checked often). I like to picture him dashing around Torquay, sticking up some posters and maybe organising an Olympic-themed party.

Come to think of it, he could be organising London 2012 itself!

Good luck to him!


Friday, April 11, 2008

The S Files (Part Two)

Part One

Just before Easter 1999, we were informed by Cardiff University's Cultural Criticism department that we were to take a compulsory field trip to Llancaiach Fawr Manor near Caerphilly. It's a living museum where they re-enact the Civil War period. It wasn't until we had paid our non-refundable fee of £5 that S realised the trip coincided with the wedding of his brother in his home town of Torquay.

Rather than cancel his trip to Llancaiach Fawr, S decided that he would be able to make it back to Devon as long as the field trip ran perfectly to schedule. It also relied on the condition that the coach driver would drop him off at Cardiff Central on the way home, allow him to make his train with ample time to spare.

On the day of the trip, I arrived early at the Humanities building to find S lugging a huge suitcase through the gates of the car park where our coach was waiting.

"I thought if I got here early, I could claim a seat for my suitcase," he explained. "I've got my brother's wedding present inside and it's quite delicate. I don't want it to get damaged."

As he was struggling somewhat, I helped him with his case to the bus. When we got to the door, the driver took one look at S and one look at the case.

"You can't bring that on here son," he said. "It'll have to go in the luggage compartment"

"But there's some delicate content in there!" cried S.

"It's OK son," said the driver. "It'll be a smooth journey."

Reluctantly, S handed over the case and we climbed aboard the bus. There was a loud thud as the driver threw the case into the bottom of the coach.

Once the remaining students were on the bus, we headed off in the direction of Llancaiach Fawr. It was quite a stressful journey, mainly because everybody had to put up with S shouting "my suitcase!" every time the bus went around the slightest of corners. A bit like Piggy from Lord Of The Flies .

As we got closer to our destination, the driver had to navigate a particularly tight turn - rather like the hairpin half way around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. The panic on S' face was clear for all to see.

"My good man!" yelled S from the back of the bus, sounding like Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances. "Can I just remind you that there is a very delicate object in my suitcase?!"

By this time I was beginning to wonder if I had warped into a scene from the movie Speed. I had visions of S crawling into the luggage compartment in order to diffuse some kind of explosive device that would detonate if the coach tilted beyond a certain angle.

The driver had no such concerns. He simply looked into the rear-view mirror, rolled his eyes and turned on the radio.

When we arrived at the manor, it was suggested to S that he should leave his suitcase on the bus as the same vehicle would be taking us home.

"No, I can't risk it," said S. "If we fall behind schedule, I intend to make my own way back to Cardiff."

The driver looked quite pleased about this. He didn't even try to make S change his mind. He simply climbed into the luggage compartment and the next thing we knew, a suitcase was flying out in S' direction.

We soon found ourselves walking through the grounds of a manor, with actors recreating scenes from 1645 and S dragging along a suitcase with an I Love Torquay sticker on the side.

With each new room that we entered, S looked more and more flustered. He would look anxiously at his watch every thirty seconds or so and did not want to join in with any of the activities, instead choosing to sigh deeply, getting louder each time.

It was unfortunate therefore, when he was chosen by one of the Civil War characters, Mistress Sweet, to demonstrate how comfortable a seventeenth-century bed could be.

"Oh no, no, no...I really can't leave my case," he protested.

"Nonsense! Come on!" instructed Mistress Sweet.

I felt an urge to heckle.

"Come on S! This is the best offer you've had from a woman all year!"

But I managed to restrain myself.

Eventually, S surrendered and climbed upon the bed. He then dragged the suitcase up with both hands and laid it beside him.

When Mistress Sweet climbed onto the bed and started bouncing up and down, I honestly thought that S was going to have a heart attack.

"Please! I'd like to get off now" he whimpered.

Of course, after all that, we had now fallen behind schedule. It was predicted that we would now be arriving in Cardiff an hour later than originally planned. That was the final straw.

"Right, I'm off!" snapped S, as another character from 1645 started showing us around the garden. He walked off and nobody attempted to stop him.

On the way home, we kept our eyes open for any sign of S but he was nowhere to be seen. We tried sending him text messages but he didn't reply. When we called his phone it went straight to voice mail. Back in Cardiff, there was still no sign of S anywhere and it was not until the following Monday that we finally saw that he was alive and well.

When I asked him what had happened, he explained that he had found the nearest bus stop and waited for the first one to come along. Unfortunately, he was unfamiliar with many of the Welsh names listed on the timetable and had to guess which one to catch. As time went by, he realised that he was not going to get back to Cardiff in time.

As it turned out, if he had stayed at Llancaiach Fawr with us, the coach would have dropped him off at the train station with minutes to spare. However, luckily for him he managed to eventually get a bus to Newport and was able to board his train from there.

He got home to Devon in perfect time for his brother's wedding, but we never did get an update on the status of the delicate item or whether his brother appreciated the effort that S had put in to protect it.

Weeks later, S had more than made a name for himself in the Cultural Criticism department. We had been told to bring an item which could be regarded as being post-modern to our final seminar of the year. Nice and vague, then. The majority of us had opted for something small and simple. Indeed, I had taken a brightly coloured vinyl record which went down better than expected with my tutor.

As I approached the main entrance of the Humanities building, I spotted S pacing up and down in the reception area.

"Oh good, I'm glad it's you," he said, as he spotted me trying to skulk around to the side entrance. "Could you help me carry my post-modern item upstairs?"

"Of course," I replied. "Where is it?"

"I had to bring it in a taxi. I unloaded it into the secretary's office."

As we walked into the room, I was greeted by four huge boxes.

"It's my A-Level Art project," he explained. "I recreated a Roy Lichtenstein piece on a grand scale."

We then did our best impression of the Chuckle Brothers as we heaved each individual box up three flights of stairs, chanting "to you, to me" as we went.

When we finally got the last of the boxes into the seminar room, our tutor looked at them with her mouth agape.

"S! You didn't need to go to all this trouble," she cried.

"Well, that's just me!" he replied.

Yes S, that was exactly you. Always going one step further than everyone else. In fact, you were a pretty good example of a post-modern object yourself, with even more surprises to come.

Part Three

Friday, March 07, 2008

Reasons To Be Cheerful

I know it makes me sound as if I should be in an advert for Werther's Originals, but I don't mind admitting that there are many things about the modern world that annoy me greatly. I could probably fill a thousand blogs with rants about everything from geek chic to Dancing On Ice and the amount of times that Phillip Schofield mentions his Twitter account on This Morning. But what's the point? Sometimes it's too easy to get bogged down and depressed by it all. Instead, I like to remind myself of the good things in life. What better way to do that than with a mixtape, just like Select magazine used to do in the nineties. Except I can't find anywhere that sells C90s anymore, so it'll have to be an iTunes playlist.

Yes, without a hint of sarcasm or general piss-taking - this isn't ITV2 or E4, you know - I am proud to present a collection of songs full of genuine magical musical moments that can never fail to inspire, or at least bring on a big affectionate grin. It's a playlist that I like to call Now...I'm The Grandad. As with all good compilations, it's not available in any shops. But it should be.

Throughout this list I've included the song title, artist, an album that contains the track and a reason for its inclusion. Sometimes though, the lyrics just speak for themselves. Enjoy, and feel free to skip at any time. But I don't think you'll want to.

Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do) (Wham!/Fantastic/1983)

"I'm a soul boy/I'm a dole boy"

Junior's Wailing (Live) (Status Quo/Live!/1977)

"Is there anybody out there who wants to rock? Is there anybody out there who wants to roll? And is there anybody out there who wants to BOOGIE?! Tonight - LIVE - from the Apollo - Glasgow. We have the number one rock 'n' roll band in the land. Will you welcome - the magnificent - Status - QUO!" Jackie Lynton introduces the band before Francis Rossi greets the crowd with the most chilled-out "how are you, alright?" ever released on record, then gets straight down to business.

Time For Truth (The Jam/In The City/1977)

"Whatever happened to the great empire?/You bastards have turned it into manure"

Jump (Van Halen/1984/1984)

For many years, it has been impossible for me to watch the video for Jump without thinking that David Lee Roth looks like Steve McDonald from Coronation Street in a wig. This, plus the fact that it's Mark Webster's walk-on music and therefore conjures up memories of the Lakeside Darts, makes it an essential track.

Here I Go Again (Whitesnake/Saints & Sinners/1982)

Similarly, I've never been able to watch the video for this without thinking that David Coverdale looks like Frank Skinner in a wig.

Walls Come Tumbling Down (The Style Council/Our Favourite Shop/1985)

"And dangle jobs like the donkey's carrot"

Steppin' Out (Joe Jackson/Night And Day/1982)
5:15 (The Who/Quadrophenia/1973)

These two tracks go together because I can never hear one without thinking of the other. I used to have terrible insomnia when I was younger. In the days before you could switch on UK Gold at three in the morning and watch an episode of Keeping Up Appearances, I had few choices available to me while waiting for the morning light to arrive. Basically, I could either flick through an issue of Your Sinclair or switch on the radio. Unfortunately, even the radio stations weren't necessarily on a twenty-four service back then, but Radio 1 did at least provide some warm-up music before switching on properly at 5.30am, and this was a definite improvement on listening to Gyles Brandreth's Radio 2 trivia quiz. Amongst others, the songs played were abridged instrumental versions of Steppin' Out and 5:15. Laugh if you like, but I've only recently twigged the significance between the title of the latter and the time of the morning it was played. Ever since, the two songs have an added eerie, middle-of-the-night feel usually only experienced when watching Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer in Into The Night, the Ironside Hallowe'en special or the punk rock episode of Quincy.

Here Comes The Weekend (The Jam/This Is The Modern World/1977)

"If they tell you that you've got two days to live/then don't complain 'cos it's one more than you'd get in Zaire"

Charge (The Divine Comedy/Casanova/1996)

When we started dating, L and I found ourselves having sex to The Divine Comedy's Casanova album. I'm still not entirely sure how it happened, but there was obviously something about Neil Hannon's voice that got us right in the mood. Anyway, to cut a long, embarrassing story very short, the crucial moment arrived just as Neil yelled "Charge!" towards the end of the song and we've never been able to listen to it in quite the same way ever since.

The Girl Is Mine (Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney/Thriller/1982)

For the way in which Paul McCartney casually decides to call Michael Jackson "Mike", in that awkward, matey, thumbs-aloft manner that Macca has made his own over the years. Suddenly, Jackson isn't a pop superstar, he's a plumber from down the road who has just popped round to Paul's to give him a quote on that overflowing toilet cistern and to clear up that little misunderstanding about who'll be shagging the girl they both like. It's my boss at Redlands News all over again - so desperate to be down with the council estate kids that he started calling M "Steve", despite the fact that his name was, well, M.

Water (The Who/Who's Next (Re-Issue)/1971)

"And I'm sure there ain't one of us here who'd say "no" to somebody's daughter"

Good Thing Going (Sid Owen/Good Thing Going (single)/2000)

Sid "Ricky Butcher" Owen's criminally under-rated reggae cover version of Good Thing Going is one of the greatest soap-star-turned-pop-star moments in history. Even better than Stefan Dennis' Don't It Make You Feel Good and Life On The Street by Deuce & Sherrie Hewson put together. When Sid returned to Eastenders last year, there was a scene which involved Ricky telling Tiffany and Whitney that he was good friends with "the boys" from East 17. Seriously, I almost soiled myself at the prospect of him bursting into song and bogling around Albert Square. It never happened though, which was a shame.

Perfect 10 (The Beautiful South/Quench/1998)

"If he's extra large/That's me/Then I'm in charge"

Summer Nights (John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John/Grease OST/1978)

John Travolta's completely exaggerated "OH!" towards the end of this duet is so amazing and inspiring that I once disrupted a twentieth-anniversary screening of Grease by doing it on his behalf before he had the opportunity. The audience just presumed that Cardiff's Capital Odeon had installed a new 3D sound system and cheered loudly. It was a good day.

Rabbit (Chas & Dave/Greatest Hits/2005)

"Rabbit, Rabbit, Yap Yap, Jabber Jabber, Bunny, RABBIT!"

I Believe (Robson & Jerome/Robson & Jerome/1995)

Isn't Robson Green brilliant? He's an extreme fisherman, the king of ITV Christmas specials and has the best middle name ever (Golightly). However, his greatest achievement must surely be the triumphant way he delivers the "or touch a leaf" line in I Believe. It's done with such enthusiasm that you actually believe he's just walked outside and touched a leaf for the first time - "my God, a leaf!" Just don't get him started on new-born babies crying, glowing candles, drops of rain or, indeed, fish - you'll be there all day.

Bully Boy (Shed Seven/A Maximum High/1996)

Particularly the bit on the Shed Seven video compilation Stuffed, when the guy from the Bully Boy video comes running up to the screen shouting, "do you want some? I'm handy!"

The Living Years (Mike & The Mechanics/The Living Years/1988)

A great song made even better by the memory of Rolf Harris bursting into tears on TV-AM because it reminded him of his father. Mike Morris didn't know what to do with himself. It was a moving moment. They don't make songs like that anymore. Or breakfast television.

I Feel Love (Donna Summer/I Remember Yesterday/1977)
Baba O'Riley (The Who/Who's Next/1971)

Regular readers will know that I'm something of a sensitive soul, which may go some way to explaining why these two songs absolutely freak me out. It's something about the frequencies used in the electronic introductions I think, but whatever it is, I'm getting scared just thinking about them. Unfortunately, they're both great songs so it's not as if I can just erase them from my memory. Best follow them up with something impossibly cheerful, I think.

I Could Be So Good For You (Dennis Waterman/I Could Be So Good For You (single)/1980)

Ah, that's better.

Mince Showercap (Part 1) (Idlewild/A Film For The Future (single)/1998)

"Stop! Stop! I've got a recipe for hummus!"

Dyslexic Heart (Paul Westerberg/Singles OST/1992)

Picture the scene: It's 1993, I'm 13 and I've got a crush on an 18-year-old, Eddie Vedder-obsessed redhead. And I love redheads. Knowing that Pearl Jam appeared in the movie Singles and in need of a conversation starter, I marched up to the Penarth branch of Woolworths (R.I.P) and handed over fifteen quid for a just-released VHS copy of the film. It wasn't until I got outside that I realised the movie had a "15" certificate and - ha! - the sales assistant hadn't even asked for ID. Yes sir (or ma'am), I truly felt like a man! It didn't matter that the redhead still wasn't aware of my existence, I just went home and fell in love with the film (and Bridget Fonda) instead.

Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me (George Michael & Elton John/Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best Of George Michael/1998)

"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John!" Not only a great introduction, it also brings back memories of that episode of The Lookalikes Agency when Ray the Elton John lookalike battled his way through some really thick smoke to get to the stage.

Glamorous (Fergie/The Dutchess/2006)

I don't care if Fergie is actually saying "reminiscing about the days when I had a Mustang," it'll always be "moustache" to me.

You've Lost That Loving Feeling (Live On Pebble Mill At One) (Paul Shane/Unreleased, but recorded off the telly by holding a cassette recorder up to the speaker/1996)

"Baby, BABY!"

Alright (Cast/All Change/1995)

I got a lot of stick for liking Cast back in the day, but say what you like, John Power provided me with some great memories. He nodded at me when they supported The Beautiful South in Huddersfield, for God's sake. Nodded! However, it's Alright that brings back the nostalgia, thanks to a performance of the song at - I think - Glastonbury 1996 when John followed up the line "tell me what we came here for" with a brilliantly timed, heavily scouse-accented and completely deadpan, "Glaston-bury." I always add that little bit in my head whenever I hear it. See also: Rick Witter's ad-libbed grunt whenever Shed Seven did Chasing Rainbows live, or a moan of - possibly - pleasure from Martin Rossitter whenever Gene did Olympian. It's the little things that matter, isn't it?

Haunted By You (Live) (Gene/To See The Lights/1996)

"I feel like a returning football manager with the cup. Thank you."

Be The One (The Ting Tings/We Started Nothing/2008)

For the adorable way in which Katie White says "hey!" halfway through.

You Are My World (The Communards/Communards/1985)

The note that Jimmy Somerville hits, and maintains, towards the end of this song is absolutely incredible. Even by Jimmy's standards, it's amazingly high and long. And yes, I'm still talking about his singing.

You Surround Me (Erasure/Wild!/1989)

From one extreme to the other, Andy Bell's opening lyrics are so unexpectedly deep, it feels like he's trying to penetrate your skull. Play this side by side with The Communards and you'll feel thoroughly violated. In a good way.

Kimbaley (My Ma-Mama Say) (The London Boys/The Twelve Commandments Of Dance/1988)

I was a camp little boy, wasn't I? These days, you only hear African rhythms if you're watching Wild At Heart and Du Plessis has just fallen down a hole. Back in the eighties, The London Boys took those drums and infused them into a Eurodisco beat. I bloody loved that song, and the accompanying, brilliantly-titled album. R.I.P boys.

Margate (Chas & Dave/Greatest Hits/2005)

Apart from the fact that this song always reminds me of Only Fools & Horses and The Jolly Boys Outing, it's got a great bit of harmony in the chorus that is so nostalgic, it makes you want to pack a bucket and spade, hire a bus and head down to Margate. And I've never even been there! That's the power of Chas & Dave.

Deeply Dippy (Right Said Fred/Up/1992)

Notice how I tried to break up the campness with a manly, East End knees-up. It didn't work, did it? I love this song, particularly when the horns kick in and Richard Fairbrass does the "see those legs, man" ad-lib. I'm a sucker for a good ad-lib. That came out wrong, didn't it?

Girl On The Phone (The Jam/Setting Sons/1979)

"She knows where I get my trousers/where I get my socks/my leg measurement and the size of my cock"

Cheaper To Keep Her (The Blues Brothers/Blues Brothers 2000/1998)

I'm no Bobby Davro when it comes to impressions, but L says that when I sing the "if you decide to roam" bit of this song, it's like Dan Aykroyd is in the room. Or Morrissey. Either way, it's a result.

Ask (Live) (The Smiths/Rank/1988)

Speaking of Morrissey, he makes a lot of strange noises throughout the live Rank album. However, it's his introduction to Ask - what can only be described as an orgasmic grunt/yelp - that sits near the top of my personal list of Morrissey moments. It's only rivalled by his reply to a heckler at his Liverpool concert in 1999: "you wouldn't say that to Sir Harry Secombe!"

Dancing In The Street (Mick Jagger & David Bowie/Dancing In The Street (single)/1985)

One of the first singles I ever owned, along with Madonna's True Blue, I thought the video for this was the coolest thing ever made. I was only five, but I could fully appreciate the sight of two men standing back to back outside a deserted warehouse. I always wanted Bowie's white raincoat from the video. I never got it. The same thing happened with the white shoes that Shakin' Stevens wore on the cover on his 1984 Greatest Hits. Looking back, it was probably for the best.

Place Your Hands (Reef/Glow/1997)

Picture the scene: It's 1997, Friday night. I'm drunk on a packed bus from Cardiff to Penarth. In Grangetown, M starts singing Place Your Hands. For the next twenty minutes, I help him out with the "alright, now!" bits. For some reason I do this in a Jamaican accent. When we got off the bus at the Cefn Mably pub, the other passengers applauded. I've never been entirely sure whether this was out of enjoyment or relief, but at least it's better than the time I started taking my shirt off while singing You Sexy Thing after watching The Full Monty.

Informer (Snow/Twelve Inches Of Snow/1993)

"People dem say you come from Jamaica/but me born an' raised in the ghetto/me born in the one in Toronto"

AIDS Warning (Apache Indian/No Reservations/1993)

Seeing Mr. Apache performing this on the back of a jeep during the Apache Goes Indian series was one of the highlights of my teenage years. Certainly, it's up there with K7 performing Come Baby Come on The Word. It was like a cross between that bit in Good Morning Vietnam where Forest Whitaker drives Robin Williams around the town, and Status Quo's video for The Wanderer. Magical.

Mercy (Duffy/Rockferry/2008)

For the high-pitched squeak Duffy emits near the end of the track, which sounds like somebody has come up from behind and surprised her. Like Shaggy said, "it wasn't me."

The Boys Are Back In Town (Thin Lizzy/Jailbreak/1976)

For the way it reminds me of Oasis' Be Here Now tour in 1997 and, therefore, my first proper date with L. When the band walked on accompanied by the Thin Lizzy classic, the entire arena went ballistic. When they played Cigarettes & Alcohol and the crowd started jumping, you knew what Dan Aykroyd was talking about in Blues Brothers 2000 when he said; "you can never equal the rush you get when the band hits that groove." Except Blues Brothers 2000 hadn't been made in 1997. Oh well, you get the point.

Let's Get It On Tonight (MC Momo/Metropolis Street Racer OST/2000)

For a song written solely for inclusion on a video game soundtrack, it's a fine piece of craftsmanship. A Fresh Prince-style rap with the immortal lines; "the only thing that I could think about was expansion" and "that feels good/please continue"

I Wanna Sex You Up (Color Me Badd/CMD/1991)

Picture the scene: It's Christmas Day, I'm 11 and I'm watching Top Of The Pops. As Color Me Badd perform, my mother shouts from the kitchen; "oooh, you like this one! Why don't you perform it for your Auntie D?!" I accidentally stepped on the cat, it jumped up and dug its claws into my thigh, I knocked a cabinet over and nobody said a word during the turkey dinner. Not since I played the theme tune from Highway To Heaven on a Casio keyboard had I achieved such a reaction.

Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners/Too-Rye-Ay/1982)

How can you not include Dexys in a playlist? This will always remind me of my cousin N's wedding. Picture the scene: It's 1996, Penarth Conservative Club. I'm 16 and getting drunk in front of my mother for the first time. As I enter the gents - without my mother, I hasten to add - I hear my Uncle T responding to somebody's praise of the party: "yeah mate, too true, too FUCKING true!" I'm in so much shock at his candid reply, I ignore Auntie D telling me that she has requested some Quo and start having a conversation about the poetry of William Blake with my cousin T. The increasing tempo at the end of Come On Eileen did not help my state of mind.

Try A Little Tenderness (Otis Redding/Dictionary Of Soul/1966)

For the live version during the Stax-Volt tour of Europe in 1967 which saw Otis Redding return to the stage five times for increasingly energetic encores of this one song. It's worth the price of the DVD alone.

One Step Beyond (Madness/One Step Beyond.../1979)

You haven't lived until you've witnessed Darryl Fitton, Tony O'Shea and Brian "Pecker" Woods doing the nutty boys dance at the end of a darts championship. If I could only see one moving image for the rest of my life, that would be it. Failing that, it would have to be something involving Suranne Jones' breasts. Preferably to a Madness soundtrack. As Paul Weller once said, "yes, I think I would like that."

Carnation (The Jam/The Gift/1982)

For the best bassline that Bruce Foxton has ever played.

Ol' Rag Blues (Status Quo/Back To Back/1983)

Well, I had to finish with the Quo, didn't I? I could probably write an entire blog cataloguing the manly moments in Alan Lancaster's life, but if I had to choose just one, it would be the video for Ol' Rag Blues. Manly Al just looks so happy to be there, surrounded by sweaty men assembling scaffolding and two busty beauties. Wham, Bam, I am a man! And with that said, we've come full circle.

Don't you feel better about the world now?

The S Files (Part One)

You would be forgiven for thinking that the exploits of Eghosa 'Jose Muffy' Aimufha were more than enough to keep me entertained during my time as an undergraduate. However, I was blessed during this period to have yet another object of ridicule. That "object" was S. Or "Disco S" as he became known, for reasons which will become apparent later.

S was one of those students who can probably be found on every campus at every university in Britain. In fact no, make that the world. S had ambition, but this was not enough for him. He saw himself as an entrepreneur and wanted to make a name for himself in the world of student showbusiness. He would stop at nothing to get himself recognised. Unfortunately, this was also his downfall. Very often, the higher he set his sights, the further he had to fall.

I originally met S during my very first day of enrolment at Cardiff University. I had initially exchanged some polite conversation with him in the queue to have our photograph taken for our identity cards, but presumed that I would not see him again - I didn't even know that he was on my course. Later that day, I strolled over to the Humanities building to enrol on my extra module - Cultural Criticism - when I suddenly heard a very breathless voice behind me.

"G! G! Wait up, man!"

Not thinking that anybody would know my name at this point, I continued walking and presumed that they were calling a different G. It is, after all, a very popular name in Cardiff. However, the voice persisted.

"G! G! G! Wait up!"

Being of a nervous disposition, and feeling like a small prawn in a vast ocean, I must admit that I felt quite unnerved at this point. As the voice got closer, I braced myself for the moment of impact. Then I felt a hand slap me hard on the back.

"Man!" (and no, it wasn't Eghosa) "I've been chasing you all the way from the New Theatre"

I was now at the top of Park Place, a good ten minute walk from the New Theatre, which already shows the level of commitment for which S would became famous. The fact that I hadn't heard him until this point already shows the lack of planning that would also become his modus operandi.

I didn't have time to wonder why he hadn't called me previously, because he started babbling.

"I'm going to enrol for Sociology. Somebody told me that only girls take it, so I'm guaranteed to pull! I'm interested in the links it has to Journalism too, of course. I'm no sexist. What are you signing up for?"

"Cultural Criticism" I replied, hoping that he would take a deep breath before speaking again.

"I didn't see that on the list. Oh, oh, sounds good....oh, but the girls in Sociology....oh, do you think girls will take Cultural Criticism?"

"I'm sure there will be some" I answered, by now breathing on his behalf.

"I'm changing my mind. Oh, I'm so glad I chased you. I would never have known."

He then alarmed me by assuming a pose not unlike the one Bruce Forsyth did at the start of The Generation Game. From this position he then stood with his legs apart and his arms in the air.

"I'm gonna take CULT....URAL.....CRIT.....ICISM!" he shouted, attracting some attention from a group of attractive girls who were probably on their way to enrol for Sociology. He then stood normally, unaware of the strange looks now aimed in our direction.

"Man, I'm so glad I met you. Let me make dinner for you tonight!"

"Oh no, I couldn't....umm....I...umm...I...."

Think of an excuse, quick!

"I won't take no for an answer" he insisted "I make a mean pasta dish!"

"Great" I replied, deflated.

Two hours later, the smell of burning spaghetti filled the room in S' flat in Talybont.

"Twenty-five pounds!" S yelled from the kitchen, as he held his hand under a cold tap after burning it on the molten saucepan.

"Twenty-five bastard pounds for a book of photocopies!"

He was referring to a book that we had been forced to buy in the Cultural Criticism department. It contained every single piece of reading that we would require for the entire year and meant that we didn’t have to buy the individual books.

"S-Boy is gonna be one poor student by the end of this week......shit, the bacon's on fire!"

S' flatmate looked up from his copy of Cardiff University - Rules And Regulations and didn't have to say a word. His face spoke volumes. Clearly, this was a regular occurrence at Chez S.

As we chewed on rock-hard bacon and tried to suck up spaghetti that looked as if it had been in a forest fire, S regaled me with a story about the time he appeared on Jim'll Fix It as a child.

"I've still got the badge!" he proclaimed, sounding a lot like Jed, Alan Partridge‘s crazed fan. "I'll show it to you later. I brought it to Cardiff to show off to the ladi-eeees!"

His flatmate gave me a look as if to say "not again", but before I could give further reaction S had already changed the subject and was informing me about a money-making scheme that he was mulling over in his mind.

The Talybont complex was one of Cardiff University's main housing areas. As such it had many communal buildings such as a sports hall and social club. It was at the latter venue that S planned to hold The Inter-Hall Pool Tournament 1998.

I learnt quickly that the three things which S craved most were girls, money and popularity. So far, I had seen little evidence that he had made any headway in either category. However, his pool tournament was designed in a way that would hopefully bring all three.

"As the organiser" S explained, "girls will love my leadership skills."

Again, his flatmate looked up from his book and just stared at him.

"Secondly, the players in the tournament will be so pleased to have something to aim for that they will all want to be my friend."

I have to admit, I wasn't convinced at all by this stage.

"Finally, if I charge each player to enter the competition, I can make a profit."

As I had only known S for less than half a dozen hours, I kept my reservations to myself.

I didn't see him again until ten days later, at our first Cultural Criticism lecture. I was already sitting at the back of the lecture theatre when he arrived with seconds to spare. He sat down next to me and began rummaging in his bag.

"I've got something to show you" he said excitedly.

He then pulled out a pile of low-quality A4 paper that had an even lower-quality advertisement printed on one side.

Inter-House Pool Tournament

Please sign your name at the bottom of this form if you would like to take part in a pool tournament.

Winner will receive an engraved trophy and £100 cash prize.

Entrance Fee £3.00

Phone S for details

"That should get them rolling in!" he said. "I'm going to buy the trophy this afternoon. I'll easily be able to afford the cash prize and still make a profit. There is one snag though."

He then explained that the Talybont social club would not allow him to hire the venue for the night. In addition to this, they also wouldn't let him hire the pool tables. This meant that the tournament would have to be played on a normal night, when people who were not signed up for the competition may also want to play a game.

His solution was to make all competitors bring 50p in addition to their entrance fee. This coin would be placed on any pool table to reserve it. This would apparently guarantee that all games would be played to schedule.

I still wasn't convinced, but supported S enthusiastically and wished him good luck.

At the end of the lecture, he ran out of the theatre (he ran a lot) and began pinning his posters to every available message board. During that time, wherever you looked in the Cathays area, you'd be sure to see a pool tournament poster. Usually crumpled up, or covered in footprints, or thrown in the bin.

A week later, S arrived at the next Cultural Criticism lecture looking rather disheartened.

"Do you want the good news or the bad news?" he asked.

"Bad news" I replied.

"I've only had five people sign up for the tournament"

I tried to keep a straight face.

"I'm not going to be able to organise a tournament with an odd number of players!"

"I'm sure it'll pick up" I lied. "What's the good news?"

"Ooh! I bought the trophy! It cost me sixty quid but it'll look great."

I didn't like to point out that so far only £15 worth of competitors had signed up and he still needed to get the trophy engraved, so I was glad when the lecturer took to the stage and silence descended upon the room.

Another week went by before I saw S again. This time the look on his face was even worse.

"I've got seven competitors, I found out that I'm not allowed to charge for entry, and when I asked Brain's Brewery if they would sponsor the event, they laughed in my face!"

I struggled not to do the same.

"Are you still going ahead with the tournament?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, I can't let my fans down. I'm going to have to enter it myself to make up the numbers though."

I'm sure that if he had taken the tournament plan to the British Pool Organisation, it would have been frowned upon immensely. I had to admire him for his persistence though, no matter how foolish I believed it to be.

"I've drawn up a tournament schedule anyway" he said. "The winner should be decided by the coming weekend. We only have seven games to play in total because of the small numbers."

Two weeks later, the tournament had still not been completed. Each time the players went to the Talybont social club, all the tables were busy. The 50p reservation technique was frowned upon and games were delayed for days at a time.

Eventually, six weeks after he organised it, the pool tournament came to a close. S was knocked out in the first round by a first-year Sociology student (even worse for him, a male Sociology student). It was eventually won by a Pharmacy third-year called Brian.

True to his word, S got the trophy engraved and paid the prize money out of his Student Loan. After refunding the tournament registration fees, he was a grand total of £191 out of pocket. At that rate, S-Boy really was going to be one poor student.

A sensible person would have put it all down to experience and admitted defeat, but not S. He never did anything sensibly and there was still a lot more to come...

Part Two
Part Three

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Could Be So Good For You

In Minder, Dennis Waterman played Terry, a boxer who had done some time in prison. George Cole played Arthur Daley, a used car salesman and importer/exporter who employed Terry as a bodyguard. Together they made up one of the best on-screen partnerships of the '80s and spent almost every episode wheeling and dealing or, in Terry's case, ducking and diving like all good stereotypical East End chaps.

Like many of my favourite programmes, one of the best things about Minder was the theme tune. If a list of the greatest television theme tunes of all time, Minder would be at number one (or possibly number two, behind Grandstand. But hang on, there's the Diff'rent Strokes theme too. I clearly didn't think this through).

As a child, my bedtime was nine o'clock. Unfortunately, this also happened to be the exact time that Minder started. Through my bedroom floor, I would hear the muffled strains of the piano kicking in, followed by some funky bass, a horn section and a nice bit of pub singing. I Could Be So Good For You. Oh, how I loved that song.

Finally, the time came when I was considered old enough to watch Minder. The first time I actually heard the theme tune in all its glory was simply wonderful. I felt like one of those elderly people who get a new hearing aid and walk around saying, "it's amazing! I could hear a pin drop!" I was inspired to learn every word and can still do a good rendition today. But I'll restrain myself for now.

Nothing else particularly happened in the opening sequence. The two characters just walked around a car, glaring menacingly at each other. With a song like that, the producers correctly decided that nothing else was needed (although I did love the motion-stop method later on in the sequence that just screamed early era Only Fools And Horses - clearly, they don't make them like that anymore).

I had previously only seen George Cole in the St. Trinian's films that Channel Four always used to broadcast during holiday afternoons. He played Flash Harry in those movies, a character not unlike Arthur Daley. I was therefore quite confused when I first watched Minder, because I couldn't understand why he wasn't being chased around by a gang of feisty girls in school uniform. However, I soon came to appreciate the comedy of Arthur Daley and it was not long before I was addicted.

My obsession for all things Minder grew even more over the years. Thankfully, there was a lot of merchandise to satisfy me. Firstly, I received the Minder computer game for my ZX Spectrum one Christmas.

In those days, almost every television show had a computer game spin-off (and was usually made by DK Tronics too). To be honest, the Minder game wasn't a patch on something like Bullseye (which used a primitive light gun to fire the darts) or Yogi Bear And The Greed Monster (full use of all seven colours), but it did have two things in its favour.

Firstly, a simply fantastic loading screen. The game, like all Spectrum games, loaded from a cassette tape and usually took around ten minutes to complete the process. Game developers attempted different ways to make the loading process more interesting. Some were more successful than others. Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix, for example, simply put a stopwatch on screen. Minder was way better than that. During the loading sequence, the title gradually turned red until it looked like this:

Then, the second amusement kicked in once the game had fully loaded. A very basic (worse than a mono ringtone) rendition of I Could Be So Good For You. I could have cried.

In fact, I think I did.

Unfortunately, the game itself could not live up to expectation (either that or I was just unable to play it properly) and it was soon retired to the shelf, then later a box under the stairs where it still remains today.

My next piece of merchandise was the Arthur Daley book:

However, there was not enough Dennis Waterman in it for my liking so it was soon placed on top of the cupboard next to my mother's hefty Farmhouse Kitchen tome (although I did re-discover it years later and found that it made highly enjoyable toilet reading).

Of course, no Minder completist's collection was complete without the two 7" singles released by Waterman and Cole. The first (and most famous) was the full vocal mix of I Could Be So Good For You. The second was a Christmas single called What Are We Gonna Get For 'Er Indoors? It was a superbly crafted two-way duet about the difficulties in deciding what to buy for your wife at Christmas. They even performed it on a Christmas special of Top Of The Pops. The lyrics were performed entirely in character too:

Arthur: I've got a lovely furry coat.
I could tell 'er it's mink.
Terry: Nah, she'll suss it's skunk,
'cos it don't half pen and ink.
Arthur: It doesn't
Terry: It does.
Arthur: Who'd know
Terry: I would.

Simply wonderful.

I was mortified when Dennis Waterman quit the show in the early '90s. His replacement, Gary Webster (later of Family Affairs and a film about a group of gamblers who play high-stakes Monopoly with real houses and money), was good enough but not up to the high-standard previously set. Plus, they turned the theme tune into a hard rocking riff. However, the new opening sequence did contain one of my favourite visual jokes - Webster getting distracted by a couple of attractive ladies in short skirts.

That was enough to keep me watching until the show was finally cancelled in 1994.

Prawn Cufflinks on eBay

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