Wednesday, 27 May 2015

One Red Night - Part 1

“You get down here,” the taxi driver growled, in his best English.

My co-occupant and I looked at each other mysteriously. Was this a weird Turkish joke specially designed to wind up all football fans on this special day or was the serious look on the driver’s face, a valid clue to our predicament?

As we grudgingly exited the taxi, my cultural instincts kicked in. The co-occupant I refer to is slightly older than myself and also had the special status of having been my senior at both secondary school and university levels. As in we went to the same educational institutions. It was only courteous I suppressed my rising irritation, do the Nigerian thing and give way to his ‘superior’ knowledge.

“Baba Barry, can you believe this toe rag,” I asked, my emotions betraying my intent.

“It’s okay Kanmi, just let’s get to the game without any hassle,” he replied justifying my belief that he had to be in charge of all decision-making on this trip.

My nerves had clearly been frayed by the preparation for this football match. As we stood listening to a group of Liverpool fans, who had been equally dumped at the hurriedly assembled roadblock, the economic ramifications of the trip had finally caught up with me. I reached for the comfort of my Marlboro Lights and commenced to puff my nervousness away.

Barry, noticing my Tyson-like head movements, winked at me. I nodded back reassuringly, wincing as the cigarette alerted me to the fact I had held on to it for too long. A sudden burst of noise diverted me from the pain.

“We are Liverpool,” bellowed the now self-chosen leader. His ruby face, full of Scouse pride broke into a big grin as he ushered us forward - flags in hand and scarves on shoulders - into what can only be described as a march. We stomped the freshly laid tar proudly and seemed to be literally walking through a valley of hope, bordered by newly created mounds of sand, enforced, to pave way for the road to the brand spanking stadium.

Twenty minutes into the walk and with several blacked-out Mercedes whizzing past, it slowly began to dawn on us. We had not only drawn the short straws, but there was now the distinct possibility we may need them to aid our liquid consumption, on what was turning out to be more of an endurance event. 

To make things worse, we had begun to attract spectators, as the local people had walked up the mounds and used them as a vantage point, to view what must have looked like the Great Red Walk. Of course, in typical friendly Liverpool style, we waved at our audience and soaked in their reciprocal applause.

Another fifteen minutes down the never-ending trail, and we had started to ignore the gathering lines of the crowd. There was only a finite amount of time, that one’s niceness could last in such searing heat and besides, we had started to notice small groups of the Rossoneri. That special nervous energy, driven by sports rivalry, had taken over the air, as the evening began to give way to the dark.

Everyone in our group had a different reaction. Most let out odd noises, whilst others increased their pace for what we now knew was the last leg of a torturous walk. Barry cracked his knuckles noisily, as I reached into my pocket and bizarrely stroked my match ticket for comfort.

Now hot, clearly bothered and wet as rain, a few bottles of water began to surface. Incredibly, as we began to quench our thirst, it turned out the weather was not the only thing we had to douse. Bizarrely, maybe due to just sheer tiredness, we had somehow ended up at the entrance for the Milan fans! Never mind being wet as rain, right now, it was pouring Ultras.

All bedecked in Brigate black t-shirts and menacing stares, ensuring the wisdom of this Turkish journey began to drain from our faces. A few expletives and a coordinated gingerly taken U-turn through the tiny path they had now created for us, we found our way past the drama.

An awkward silence enveloped us for the next few minutes, as we wearily found the Liverpool entrance. A warm and frenzied embrace of the Scouse Army was waiting for us, with Chorus after chorus of ‘You Will Never Walk Alone’ ringing into the sweaty night.

Finally, we sighted the bowl of the stadium.

Emerging out of the dark, and emitting a radiant blue light towards the sky, it felt as if we had finally arrived at a long-lost spaceship. A spaceship designed just to take us home. Simultaneously, the much-loved UEFA Champions League anthem launched triumphantly and welcomed us to the arena.

Our group, now bonded by an hour of sweat, aches and fears, huddled and bounced in anticipation. It was on……

This piece is to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League victory in Istanbul. WATCH OUT FOR PART 2.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Unquenchable Fire in the Belly...

It can be difficult…this writing palaver. Like an unfulfilled childhood ambition, it pokes continually at one’s resigned frame, asking the same questions on repeat.

This in turn, births an all-consuming belief most writers possess. A self-assuredness which convinces you, sitting behind your desk and tapping away at your keyboard, that you will eventually somehow, someday, make a difference.

All this, achieved without any political authority, economic influence or a warfare arsenal.

Just you and your chosen weapons of words, getting ready against all hope, to touch base with the implacable dictator, the unfeeling elite or the ordinary person on the street, who has completely tuned out, traumatised by a desperate bid to survive their overbearing conditions.

Staring at a blank piece of paper and urging your scrambled thoughts, to line up in an eloquent format and obey your quest to make some sort of contact. For if what one writes, had no impact on one’s intended audience, could one then still confidently call oneself a writer?

How does one avoid the cardinal sins of; using several words when one would do or indulging in verboseness, when succinctness will suffice? You see what I did there?

Should a writer’s emotions be dripping from their paragraphs, or is restraint a key driver in conveying a message the audience can relate to? Why even bother about relating to one’s audience?

Is engaging with the audience, a requisite for a serious writer? Is it in fact, just a form of lazy pandering or an indispensable trait for any wordsmith true to his or her craft?

Must all writers be serious? Even the ones who satirise for a living? Is a deadpan delivery more effective than parody, when the issues at hand, are of a - shall we say - more sombre nature?

Why all these questions?

Well, it’s a lonely task….writing, that is. But one, that is guided by a certain amount of nobility, so it’s always necessary to contemplate on the ethics, as well as techniques of the art.

Very few writers for instance, write for no reason. They are always trying to change something and the wind in their sails, though abating intermittently, never stops blowing.

The fire never leaves the belly.

Writers must persevere and keep dropping their nuggets (golden or otherwise), because in the end, all it takes is a few lines to make contact. Yes, it could be a long, arduous road, but once contact is made, a shift occurs and hopefully, a new day is born or at least a new consciousness triggered.

I think James Baldwin; the late, great American writer captured it best when he wrote:

“You write in order to change the world ... if you alter, even by a millimetre, the way people look at reality, then, you can change it.” 

And that could be the hope keeping most writers going. Still hoping that; truly, one day, the pen will indeed be mightier than the sword and it would have all been worth it.

Friday, 1 May 2015

It's the Wooing Game, Silly!

"We are your servants......"

May come across like a sound-bite from a group wooing session gone wrong, but this was one of the many quotes dropped on the BBC's Question Time podium in Leeds, by the political triumvirate begging for our votes, for next Thursday. It was Nick Clegg who came out with this gem actually and it is only appropriate this piece begins with him.

Of the three men, he appears to be the one seen by most (especially the female demographic), as lazy on the eye. His meteoric rise before the last elections, owned more to this factor, than the content of his message. He stood in the middle of Cameron and Brown on that podium, looking like the youngest and most handsome brother in a very average family line-up. It was only inevitable he was to then go on and play a vital role. That was the type of society we had become at the time. Watching America vote in a cool, suave and debonair individual, guaranteed some of the lust for that golden dust, rubbed off on us.

Five years later, having been Deputy Prime Minister for all his troubles, Mr Clegg is on his last legs politically. His recent efforts in Leeds, revealed a man determined to ensure his Order of Songs is predetermined by no one, but himself. At least he would leave a good-looking political corpse.

Next on the list, is Ed Miliband. Looking more confident than ever and seeming to be the only leader who recognised the significance and danger of the size of the "undecided vote". His strategy was simple: I will listen to your question; ask for your name; answer your question by prefacing my response with: "and this is why I believe that".

It looked like it worked for a while, until the banana skin of the "over-spending" question. Worse still, at the end of his allotted 30 minutes, somehow the banana skin had morphed from its literal state into a physical one. If the bacon pictures could garner so much steam, just imagine what the images of a sprawled Miliband would have done for social media and the poor man's political future.

The red tops would have had fun too: 

"Ed falls at the last hurdle".
"Red Ed spills blood on the political dancefloor".
"Floored by the public's questions".

I could go on, but it wouldn't leave me any room to acknowledge Mr Cameron. After all, he is the current Prime Minister and the first man to occupy the floor.

The issue with Mr Cameron is simple; no one outside the Tory confraternity believes anything he says. His swerve, on the NHS issue relating to where the requisite money would be generated was in line with educated expectations. His modus operandi during this election has revealed what most of his detractors like myself, have always highlighted. 

In brief, here is a man who has been raised to believe he was born to rule, but clearly lacks the charisma, instinct and gravitas required to do the job. He has been the lottery winner in a pool of very unlucky Conservative MPs. For me, this is the problem with the Tories and it is an issue which will haunt them for a while. Of the next generation identified as potential leaders, only Boris has what the electorate want and even he, is one inappropriate joke away from a political scandal. A flaw, that being the leader, is bound to bring to the fore.

So, put yourself in the position of the unfortunate electorate, whom, like a pretty woman being wooed, has to make a decision she has to live with for the next five years and maybe even beyond.

Nick, dashing, but prone to making false promises...Dave, decent chap, but with grand delusions of being the chosen one...or Ed, not an oil painting, but utterly devoted to you, albeit, prone to the odd stumble. 

Hmmm....most women I know would probably ask for the real Nicholas, David and Edward, to please stand up. This has been the true tragedy of these elections. Most of us are literally planning to vote according to allegiances and the rest, leant on by a sense of fear. All because we cannot say we really know any of these guys. 

My guess is, as the Lady has to make a choice come next Thursday, she will go for the decent guy with the huge ego. One snag though, he will not be allowed to consummate the relationship.

Interpretation: Tory Minority government.