1. I went to the London Bike Show

    With kindling eye and a fluttering heart I skipped throughout the entirety of the journey to the ExCel Centre. What excitement awaited! Bikes, free samples, caps, LOADS OF SHIT TO BUY THAT I CAN’T AFFORD AND DON’T NEED. 

    But no. It was, as I should have expected, a massive trade show. There wasn’t anything worth buying, unless you’d popped along to drop £4,000 on a Titanium frame. I did get a free cap from Rose, but since I ride a Rose I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to wear that delightful piece of kit. 

    Anyway, I took some photos of the stuff I saw that was relatively neat. They’re here. Whatever.

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    Movistar’s ridiculously good looking team issue Canyon Ultimate CL SLX 9.0 with Campag Super Record

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    Planet X’s ridiculously ugly but well priced TT bike with wiggly chain stays and SRAM Rival

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    This beautiful Singular track bike

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    The Rapha broom wagon. It is impossible to photograph this thing from any angle without a kid or fat guy walking into shot. Absolutely out of the question.

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    BILF

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    Trek Factory Racing’s Speedconcept TT bike replete with Dura Ace and loads of go faster stripes

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    Never seen one of these before, the Passoni Nero XL Dura Ace. 

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    See?

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    S-Works Shiv, photos of which are soon to be banned under Cameron’s new pornography laws.

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    There was an indoor crit, which frankly was more depressing than anything else. Like an Eastern European circus.

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    This is a steel Starley, which was very, very nice. Assembled in Cheshire as well, which means…erm…nothing

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    A new line from Australian brand Creux, this being made from Merino. Great quality, snazzy looking, alas it was £65 for one t-shirt, and that’s daft. Also it’s ‘directeur’. 

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    Obligatory ‘made a bell end of myself on something made for kids’ snap.

    Not shown:

    • All the free Clif Bar samples I pilfered whilst a-wandering. Avoid Builders’ Bars. The almond chocolate Clif were delightful. 
    • The free samples of alcohol free Erdinger, which claimed to be Isotonic
    • The stationary swimming pools, in which triathletes swam on the spot. These were hilarious. 
    • The French woman who told me I wasn’t allowed a medium jersey and had to buy extra large, thus denting my feelings. I didn’t buy anything in the end, save for a kilo of nougat to cry into on the way home
  2. Rejected article

    When you’re portfolio building, you write an awful lot of rubbish for an awful lot of people for an awful lot of zero pay. There’s also something tingly about seeing your name next to an article on a website, no matter how flimsy the (written to brief) article is. 

    Obviously not everything can be accepted, sometimes an article is too flimsy to register a flicker on the give-a-fuck scale of even the people with the most fucks-given-per-minute ratios on the entire internet. 

    This is one such piece. I’ve left my notes in. I remind you this was written to brief, it wasn’t my idea. 

    Being a Mancunian Red in ‘That London’

    Like a lot of the growing Mancunian diaspora in London, when the going got tough up North, I got going down south. As a lifelong Manchester United supporter moving to a bustling city packed with supporters from every corner of the world, I was in for something of a culture shock when I arrived, and had to learn a few things on the fly. If you’re a young Manc reading this and planning your own dash to the Smoke, here’s a few of the things you should know. 

    Hardly anyone likes us

    INSERT HILARIOUS AND VAGUELY RELATED GIF HERE, POSSIBLY JENNIFER LAWRENCE OR EMMA STONE DOING ONE OF THOSE FACES THEY DO ON A CHAT WHEN IT’S LIKE ‘SAY WHAAAT’ THAT SOMEONE HAS INEXPLICABLY SUBTITLED

    I know, right? The club that gave English football the greatest manager it has ever seen, the infinitely inspiring tale of the Busby Babes and a bona fide Mancunian calypso, are not very popular. That is, other than amongst Southern Reds, but we’ll come to them later. 

    It is for this reason I’ve found it useful to have a ‘second team’. You don’t have to support them, or even know very much about them, but a lower league team will get you out of all sorts of predicaments. Mine are Stockport County, and they come in handy when confronted by the maniacal gaze of a drunken Chelsea fan whose line of enquiry will invariably run as follows: 1) place of birth 2) red or blue. My beloved County have escorted me out of innumerable scrapes, as I extol the virtues of a front line that contains Phil Jevons to a late night train filled with suddenly bewildered and crestfallen fight fans. 

    Everyone has one or more uncles from Manchester

    INSERT GIF THAT SOMEHOW CONVEYS THE IDEA OF SOMEONE HAVING A LOT OF UNCLES. MORMONS?

    It is a fact that lots and lots of Manchester United supporters come from that dark and mysterious place known only to you as ‘Outside Manchester’. It is also a fact that lots of these supporters are from the south of England. Now, I wouldn’t like to cast aspersions on the veracity of a non regional fan’s support. Mostly because life genuinely is too short to worry about it. However, state in a public place that you are a Mancunian, and do in fact belong to the red half of the city and then stand back as countless Cockney Reds emerge from every corner, feverishly justifying their support based on the fact that their Mum’s neighbour, so basically their uncle, visited Salford Quays when he was in the merchant navy, and so their support is completely acceptable. 

    In order to accommodate the sheer number of these uncles, aunties, parents, cousins and other ancestors, Manchester has to at some point in history have been the size of Russia. Why is no one’s uncle ever from Huddersfield?

    You will hear the same joke, a lot

    THAT GIF OF KANYE WEST WHERE HE’S ALL LIKE ‘HAHAHA’ BUT THEN HIS FACE CHANGES REALLY QUICKLY AND HE JUST LOOKS ANNOYED. OR THE ONE FROM FATHER TED WHERE HE DOES THE SAME BUT THE RESULTANT LOOK IS CONFUSION. 

    Other Mancunian exiles already know of which joke I speak. They’re inwardly mouthing the words right now, preempting the absolute hilarity you’re about to experience for the first time. This is how the scene plays out. You’re in a social situation. The conversation turns to football, as it often does. Someone asks you which team you support, and you answer honestly. Eyes will widen in the group, the tension will be palpable, and then some complete card will say - possibly for the first time that day - ”And you’re from Manchester? You must be the only one!” 

    Rapturous applause and hilarity ensue as all agree this to be the finest jape this side of the West End. If (when) you find yourself in this situation, don’t try and argue your point. Your point isn’t important here, you’re a punchline to a joke that is older than serfdom.

  3. Christmas gifts for cyclists

    When I’m not engaging in shitty book challenges that make no sense even to myself, I can often be found riding a bike. I’m a member of a cycling club, and a sizeable chunk of my ‘disposable’ income is frittered away with alarming regularity on a wealth of objects I convince myself that I need. 

    In trawling the internet for the best prices for these definitely useful, definitely necessary, definitely not too expensive things I’ve noticed that not many people are dishing out advice on what frivolous shit people should buy for the cyclist in their lives. Well, I’m addressing that here. It’s about to be addressed. Look at the title, you knew what you were getting into. 

    The issue, of course, is that only people who ride bikes understand what people who ride bikes actually need. It’s a different world, and one that takes too much work to comprehend. If you buy mudguards, will they fit? What’s a hub, and why are those orange ones so expensive? Is it bad luck to buy someone wheels? Why does he go through so much chamois cream? Don’t buy technical stuff, buy something from the list below, I’m giving you consumer advice. Good christ that was a long introduction. 

    Stuff to buy cyclists for Christmas which, lamentably, isn’t that far away now. 

    Magazine Subscriptions

    If there’s one thing cyclists like almost as much as the physical act of bike riding, it’s reading about others doing the same thing. It’s like the relationship between sex and pornography, however for the cyclist the act of indulging in ‘solo time’ can frequently end up costing a lot of money. 

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    The most ‘coffee table’, nice gift magazines you can get are, in my opinion, Cyclist Magazine and the inimitable Rouleur. They’re wonderful, visual and feel like nice things to own. Other magazines are available, they’re just not really as good. 

    Mugs

    Seems like a boring suggestion, granted. However, the relationship between cycling and coffee is long established, and what better way to look like you knew that than the purchasing of a coffee delivery system?

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    The internet is stacked with cycle-specific muggery, there’s a collection on the Rouleur store that includes the Eddy Merckx mug above. Chapeau have a nice gift bundle that offers mug, coffee and chamois cream for £20. Rapha have a small range. Cycling Souvenirs have a few with the profiles of famous races, such as this Paris-Roubaix number, as well as this outrageously cool collection of vintage team branded espresso cups. Super cool bike cafe Look Mum No Hands do nice ones as well, but if you’re not in London this probably won’t mean much to you.

    They do sell nice cake though, if you’re ever in the area. 

    Prints

    Someone comes round to a cyclist’s house, how do they know they’re a cyclist? Yes, there’s a bike in the lounge, but it has to somehow be made clearer. If only there were some sort of sign. 

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    Luckily, cycling as a sport has inspired artists for decades, and pieces have been produced that a) don’t look like you ripped them from a magazine and b) don’t make you look like some nerdish shut-in feverishly rewatching a poor quality VHS of Liege-Bastogne-Liege 1988 over and over again.

    Neil Stevens does good work, as the Anquetil print above shows.  You can grab some frankly gorgeous prints up from Handmade Cyclist. As much as I hate to keep bringing them up, the newly launched Rouleur print shop also has a few good examples. 

    Books

    If the cyclist in your life has caught the cycling bug, there’s a very strong chance they enjoy reading about cycling, then boring the absolute living shite out of you talking about all of the things they’ve learned whilst reading a book in which you have no interest whatsoever. 

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    Become a book enabler, load them down with so many books they don’t have time to tell you the story of how Greg LeMond soiled himself during a stage of the Tour. William Fotheringham is the Guardian’s resident cycling expert, and has written excellent biographies of Laurent Fignon, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi. David Millar’s Racing Through The Dark is a bit by the numbers, but a good account of one man’s journey through doping. The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton is an excellent glimpse into how much of a dick Lance Armstrong has been over the years. Also worth reading are Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage, The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell and Boy Racer by Mark Cavendish. 

    Rapha Gear

    Rapha is a byword for quality and the uniform of the MAMIL. The gear is good, it’s a bit overpriced, it’s a bit exclusive and a lot of the people who wear it have bought it not because of its quality or its innovative design, but because it says Rapha on it. And Rapha are good. So there. 

    Buy your cyclist something they would never, ever buy themselves. The following are things I personally would love to own, can more or less afford, but would cringe at how unnecessary the expenditure would be. When it’s a gift, that’s a non issue. 

    First, this delightful essentials case to keep your stuff warm and dry whilst on a ride. Yours for 40 quid. 

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    What’s that? You don’t need a £30 notebook with ‘race notes’ written on the front? Shut up. 

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    This is probably the most ridiculous of all. It’s an espresso tamper made in collaboration with legendary hub builder Chris King. And it costs £95.

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    Another list will be forthcoming nearer to Christmas, during the season when I wish to deliver hints via the means of one of these articles. Also, the wait will give me chance to buy a coffee machine so I can use some of this stuff. 

  4. The Olympic World European Championship Cup of Books - Lebanon

    I see you, sitting there, reading this, knowing full well that the reason this is only the third review in 8 months is because I bit off far more than I could chew, and that adhering to a prescribed reading list over a 12 month period would not only be boring, it would make me despise my book shelf, giving it subtle digs when I walk past so my girlfriend doesn’t notice what’s happening to me. 

    Anyway, as the challenge drags on, my demeanour becomes more and more that of one who has physically survived a harrowing tragedy but is yet to discover the full mental effects of what I’ve witnessed. I’m still here. Reading books I decided on 8 months ago in a fit of pique. 

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    So, The Rock of Tanios by Amin Maalouf, winner of the 1993 Prix Goncourt, France’s equivalent to the X Factor. This is the Lebanese entry to this godawful, tear drenched marathon I’ve signed up for. 

    The book itself is a modern(ish) retelling of a tale that influenced life in the narrator’s village for a century, charting the tumultuous upbringing of its eponymous hero and erstwhile protagonist. There’s deceit, murder, adultery, prostitution and war, but somehow the almost folksy style of narration gives you the sense that these things happened so far in the past that they’re a part of history, not something to get upset about. They all exist as a necessary part of the story, not as shocking as if they were in the first person, but significant nonetheless. 

    Tanios is born under a cloud of uncertainty as to his parentage - either the Sheikh or his major domo fathered the child - but unaware that such a cloud existed. When he discovers it, the story unravels in a rich, beautiful fashion. Maalouf writes poetically, seamlessly weaving together historical anecdotes with written evidence expressed via his narrator. Nothing feels out of place, it’s wonderfully constructed and conceived, drawing you in and immersing you in a world of sticky dates, sand, feudal rule and colonial stuffiness. 

    This book is genuinely beautiful, an absolute privilege to have read. If I hadn’t elected to include it in this challenge, I probably never would have come across it, which is conflicting. It’s like falling out of a plane, passing the hostess trolly with your mouth open on the way down and accidentally discovering your favourite new cocktail. 

    Lebanon, you have done yourself proud. A slow start followed by a flurry of late goals. The surprise package of the tournament so far. 

    3 (three) goals

  5. Huzzah For Nutcases!

    On June 6th, the Manchester United Official Fanpage on Facebook posted a picture of the home kit for the 2013/14 season. Those of you familiar with the shirt will know that it has a ridiculous button down collar, for the benefit of rotund Essex-ites who wish to look that little bit smarter in nightclubs. 

    I commented on the picture - it was a rush of blood to the head, I don’t really care that much - expressing my disappointment at the collar, suggesting that without it, the kit would have been essentially perfect. 

    A wave of anger flooded my way. Comments from Scandinavians, Malaysians, Indians, a veritable Bennetton of ire, insulting me personally on my appearance and so forth. 22 friend requests came from various corners of the earth. Manchester United are a global club, it’s to be expected (though perhaps not the vitriol). 

    What I’ve just discovered in my ‘other’ inbox on Facebook, however, is gaspingly pathetic. I pop into that inbox maybe once a month to clear away all of the fabulous offers of a happier life between a Latvian’s thighs. On looking today, I had a delightful message from June 6th, simply saying ‘GIMP’

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    The time of the message syncs perfectly to when the deluge of REALLY IMPORTANT anger was heading my way. This chap was so INCREDIBLY ANGRY at the sartorial taste of another that he messaged him privately to let him know. Ah Adam, you are a treat. 

    Oh, and what’s that, Adam?

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    You’re Welsh! Amazing. A man has insulted the team you arbitrarily chose to support and dear God in heaven, you’ll make sure he eventually notices how angry you are if it’s the last thing you do. 

  6. Got the idea from rich kids of Instagram. Photograph your flash watch whilst driving your fast car. Pretty much nailed it.

  7. The Olympic World European Championship Cup of Books - ECUADOR VS GERMANY PART 2

    When I concocted the Olympic World European Championship of Books, I had in mind a whimsical journey through literature, an enlightening process that would give me a greater understanding of cultural nuances, an appreciation of intercontinental writing styles and would eventually spit me out the other side of its polished innards a better, more rounded person.


    Then, Huasipungo happened. It happened hard.

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    We’re currently 5 (five) months into the challenge. By this stage, I should be through 14 and ¼ books. I have just finished my second. My second book. In 5 months. Fuck you, Jorge Icaza.

    I can only imagine that the reams of positive reviews on Good Reads for this book are by Ecuadorean people instigating some sort of cultural sabotage, ensuring more people go through the unbelievable ball ache of sourcing a book with ONE translation, of which maybe 40 copies are in the UK. This book cost me £14, and in every sense other than the literal, I was mugged for it.

    To give a brief synopsis of the book; fuck you, Jorge Icaza, for wasting my sweet time. It’s a tale of subjugation of a simplistic indigenous people, who live in villages called Huasipungos. Everyone who isn’t an Indian in this book is a complete dick, and at some point will rape, accidentally kill or just be incredibly rude to someone who is an Indian. That’s the book. There’s some other bullshit about a road that seemed significant, but by this stage I wanted to call Jorge Icaza’s remaining family and give them a piece of my mind, so I wasn’t concentrating.

    If I was a completely fair and rational person, I’d say that this book isn’t badly written (though the translation was apparently a very difficult task). I’d say it’s packed with pathos and strong emotions and - credit where it’s due - it does have a beginning, a middle and an end. It is a very worthy book, and it’s an incredibly significant piece of art in Ecuador’s history.

    However, I am not a fair and rational person, I am an idiot who conceives of badly named book challenges. When I was on the tube with this book, I opted for reading adverts about supplements for pregnant women and emergency payday loans. It took me THREE MONTHS to read this book. It’s about 215 pages long. I have never experienced less compelling fiction.

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    (Better than Huasipungo despite not even technically being a book)

    I would literally rather read the instructions for a Baxi Duo-tec 28 HE Combi boiler over and over again for the rest of my natural life and throughout the afterlife than read another page of Huasipungo. Huasipungo may be an incredibly significant piece, historically, however I hated it so much I have plans to dropkick it into the ocean next time I’m near the coast.

    To stick to the football theme of this challenge, this book gave an insipid, Spain-esque performance where - though undoubtedly impressive - they bored the living shit out of millions of people globally. Final score, Germany 3-1 Ecuador.


    Next, Switzerland vs Lebanon ffs

     

  8. Dear J

    This is a letter I wrote to Sainsbury’s at some point in 2010 with all the responses from Sainsbury’s below. I’m reposting it here as the other blog I wrote it for is a dickwad

    This letter is for the attention of J, proprietor of J Sainsbury’s, Sloane Avenue, South Kensington, London, SW3. 

    Dear J,

    I hope this letter finds you well.

    I’ve never seen you on the shop floor of your branch near my work on Sloane Avenue, so I assume you’re more of a hands off manager, however I have an issue which I would like to bring to your attention in the hope of righting the grievous wrong that you do me on a daily basis. 

    I am a frequent visitor to your grocery emporium on Sloane Avenue. I work across the road, and a dearth of local sandwich shops often drives me to your doors in a low level, sidekick-less quest for nourishment. I find the shop to be clean and tidy at all times, and the staff pleasant and often fragrant (there have been the odd occasions when they’ve been unable to understand my northern dialect, however I take this as an occupational hazard working in Kensington. It’s possible that the only other northerners your staff have heard have been on popular cops and robbers show Police Camera Action!).

    My complaint, J (if I may call you J), isn’t about your staff, nor the cleanliness of your store, nor the fact that I often forget which aisle houmous is on. My complaint is of a far darker, more sinister nature. My complaint, J, concerns your undeniably lackadaisical attitude towards the provision of lunchtime baguettes. 

    J, I’m going to come clean with you, since we’re on first name terms and lying to a friend would feel somehow wrong - I am a vegetarian. No meat passes my lips. If you raised an eyebrow at that, J, I suggest you raise your mind from the gutter, or our friendship will not be a lasting one. Not a morsel of animal based meat will be ingested by me (to the best of my knowledge, anyway. Ham can be quite sneaky). I made this decision some years ago in the face of the relentlessly smug Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who suggested I should eat goat anus out of respect for the animal. This is my recollection, however time may have fogged my memory. Whatever the cause, I am a non meat eater. No meat do I eat. I am a meat free man. 

    And so it is, J, that we come to the nub of my point. I realise sometimes that I ramble on. This is a remnant of a state education system that prized vocabulary over knowledge. I once spoke to a Jehova’s Witness for such a long time they asked to be excused, subsequently climbing out of a bathroom window and making good their escape. It takes me a while to come to a point, J, however a point we have now reached. Not just any point, either - the entire point of this letter. 

    Your sandwiches, J, are (by prepackaged standards) top drawer. Correct filling to bread ratios, adequately chilled, well presented. I imagine them to be packed by aged artisans in some foothills somewhere, the cardboard woven by exquisite boys. I am a fan of your sandwiches. Or, should I say, I was a fan of your sandwiches. For 3 days. For it is at the 3 day mark that I had exhausted your woeful supply of meat free sandwiches. I’d had the houmous and crunchy vegetable wrap. I’d feasted on the goats cheese and red pepper (which is a bit soft altogether, if we’re being as honest as friends should be, J) and I’d made short work of the mature cheddar club (the plastic tray that accompanies this sandwich is a nice - if unnecessarily lavish - touch). 

    I had eaten these sandwiches, and I had become bored and resentful of the meat eaters that surrounded me. Oh J, the joys they had to choose from. Bacon, beef, chicken, salmon, ham (the sneakiest of meats) they had the world at their feet, J! Whichever direction their culinary whims may have taken them, your staff were ready to provide the travel costs. While I gummed my way (not literally, I still have all of my teeth. People often ask me if this is the case, which I find odd and minorly insulting, given that I am only 25 years old) through the same sandwiches on a daily basis, they feasted on a cornucopia of delights, tears brimming in their eyes, wild grins spreading crumbs onto their meat greased cheeks.

    I was a broken man. Dejectedly I tried new lunch combinations. Salads, soups - I even tried nachos and salsa for lunch. Crisps and dip for lunch, J, can you imagine? I had given up trying to find a food delivery system as convenient and effective as the humble sandwich. And then, one day, she arrived. 

    I say ‘she’ as I like to anthropomorphise my food. I once had a brief but meaningful affair with some cress. She was a slender, well formed, supple mistress. She had brie, leaves, tomato and unidentifiable but not unpleasant sauce. She was a brie, leaf, tomato and mystery sauce baguette, and I loved her. I gorged on her curves, lost myself in her fillings, cut the roof of my mouth a bit on the top of the baguette (that’s another letter for another time). I was a man possessed with happiness. And then, J, then you committed the foulest deed of them all. You took her away from me. Upon returning to your store, I found no brie, leaf, tomato and mystery sauce baguettes. There were only meat baguettes. Day after day I returned, hoping to catch a glimpse of her proud, bready visage. Day after day I was disappointed. I arrived at different times, hoping to catch her off guard. I stayed up all night like Humphrey Bogart, but to no avail. She had left me, and you, J - my old friend - had helped her escape into the night. 

    So, J, it is with heavy heart and crumbless lap that I implore you to improve your vegetarian selection of prepackaged sandwiches, for we are technically people too, and we need to eat, J. Improve the selection and make a fully toothed 25 year old man happy. Improve the selection and cease the relentless smuggery of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. You have the power, J. It’s in your hands. 

    Yours hopefully,

    Jim

    PS - someone I work with says your bananas are always green. How is this possible?

    SANDWICH UPDATE

    J, proprietor of J Sainsbury’s has engaged one of his friendly and helpful minions to deal with my weekday saga in hot pursuit of tasty, meat free sandwiches. 

    Now, while Mark’s response is friendly (bordering on flippant, if we’re being honest with each other. We should be honest with each other, since we’re all in this together), I am unsure as to whether he holds enough clout to make any serious changes. 

    I do not mean to insult you, Mark. I am sure - beyond sure, in fact - that your sandwich knowledge is beyond reproach. I am sure you are well presented. I imagine your hair to smell like a meadow, or a fragrance from the Lenor range or fabric softeners. However I am unsure as to your commitment to this undeniably noble cause. 

    I will ruminate on this, Mark. You are a noble adversary, and one I intend to respect. Let’s not allow this grumble to come between us. Perhaps one day, when this is all over, we can watch sports together, or run with the deer in Richmond Park (I use deer as the plural as I’m unsure as to the collective noun. I’m not just referring to one deer, I don’t know any of them that well). Who knows, perhaps we can be friends one day. The ball, Mark, is in your court. 

    Yours suspiciously, 

    Jim

    PS - any word on the banana situation?

    SAINSBURY’S PLAY HARD BALL!!!!!!!

    The hardest, in fact. J, proprietor of J Sainsbury’s has sent his finest, most aromatic of minions - Mark, of previous blog fame - into the breach once more, calming the righteous flames of my rage with the soothing Gaviscon of kindness. 

    Read these from the bottom to the top. This caught me out, the topsy turvy minx. 

    But where is J? Where is the shadowy figure behind this exceptional marionette performance? Will he ever show his face? What are the remaining characters of his forename? No one is just called J. Even Jay Kay was called Jay Kay. 

    For now, J, the actions of your noble pawn Mark have saved you from my scorn and ire. For in Mark you have a kind soul. The sort of man who allows wasps to sting him rather than risk harming them. The sort of man who, when confronted by one of those toilets that has a big flush and a small flush, always presses the correct flush.

    As for you, Mark, your performance has been exemplary. I put it to you, sir, that you are wasted in your task of doing J’s diabolical bidding. Your talents at diffusing tricky situations and negotiating happiness would suggest to me that you are more suited to a career as a market stall owner or psychiatric nurse. 

    And so, for the time being, I am thwarted. However, barring a marked (not you Mark, a different one) improvement in the quality of meat free sandwiches, I will return. I do not tire or get bored (making me an excellent chess partner, Mark, if you’re free at any point), and I will not deviate from my cause. 

    I’m watching you, J. Figuratively. I’ve never actually seen you. 

    Yours temporarily satisfied,

    Jim

    PS - apparently the bananas were ok today. You act quickly, J. Almost too quickly. 

  9. Drinking in pubs alone, a guide

    It’s a weeknight, and your office malaise mixed with your permanent background hum of disquiet is urging you to stalk and kill a tall, cool, foaming pint of non-specific European beer. You’ve contacted all of your friends and each of them has come back with an excuse that is just ‘you can’t come’ enough to not hurt your feelings but leave no questions as to whether you can join in with their plans. Your friends have deserted you, but the pint lust hasn’t. What do you do?

    You go to the pub alone.

    For a lot of people, this is anathema. The pub is a social experience, to not share it with someone negates the entire point, but do you know what those people are having when they’re alone? Zero pints of beer. Well, that’s not happening to you. Not on our watch.

    If you’re too intimidated to make the step into ale house solipsism then we’ve created a handy guide of dos and don’ts for the noble solo pub adventurer. Read on and be fortified, you are doing the right thing.

    (This guy gets his own spotlight, no one else is getting that)

    DO

    Choose your reading material wisely

    You may feel obliged to bring along Proust, Voltaire or some other ‘look at me’ lit no one ever reads for pleasure to convey an image of a deep thinker just trying to get some peace. Do not do this. You are already drinking alone in a pub on a weeknight, no one in that pub is judging you based on what you’re reading, trust us. Take something you enjoy, and think logistically; might you want food? In which case take a book and a magazine, holding a book open whilst eating a meal is difficult, and if you’re not reading while you’re eating you’re just…looking at shit, which unsettles the natives.

    Take cash

    You’re not buying rounds, genius, and won’t breach the £10 minimum card spend that too many pubs arbitrarily impose. The barmaid will laugh with you as she takes your pint away so you can run to a cashpoint, but she hates everything about you.

    Relax

    Rather than thinking of yourself as the benign growth on your friendship circle’s neck, the relationship-less pariah forced to drink alone, think of yourself as the guy who’s confident enough in his own company to sit in a social environment alone and read Viz. You’re that guy. You’re the King. Or Queen. Most likely King though, let’s be honest.

    DON’T

    Whine

    You chose this, no one else. Don’t tweet about being alone in a pub because you have no friends. Just read the last sentence back to yourself and imagine the judgements you’d make seeing that tweet.

    Tell your colleagues

    If you have the kind of colleagues who ask about your life and what goes on in it, lie. They’re not interested in the real answer and they will judge you. Say you watched Grand Designs, they like that.

    Make conversation

    Who wants to talk to the guy drinking on his own in a pub? Do you want to talk to that guy? No, you do not. Solitude and mystery are your friends, not the loud teenagers fucking up the wall around the dart board.

    Break the three pint barrier

    You’re having a pint, not getting drunk. Getting drunk on your own in a pub is the line. Cross the line and before long you’re in Wetherspoon’s for a pint and a full English breakfast before work because it ‘represents value for money,’ and soiling yourself noisily on buses within five years.

    Leave your table for any reason whatsoever

    Imagine this: you get up to go to the toilet but don’t want to leave your coat and belongings at the table. You run to the toilets and run back out to your table and BAM! Three men in Stone Island jumpers are all up in what used to be your shit. Now what? You can’t stand on your own in a pub, that’s the most uncomfortable situation on earth. Do not surrender your position for anything other than hometime.

    The rest is up to you. Make us proud.

     

  10. The Olympic World European Championship Cup of Books - Germany vs Ecuador

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    Let me begin this by saying that this matchup has taken me three months to complete so far, meaning I’m approximately nine weeks behind schedule. Now this is, in part, due to the anti-Ecuadorean sentiment that is obviously inherent in literature - finding an Ecuadorean novel for less than 20 English pounds has been next to impossible, and if I was to place the blame for that on one person, it would be permanently upset Ecuador and Manchester United right winger Antonio Valencia. I hope you read this, Antonio, and your infini-frown deepens.

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    Now, on with the match. The Germans fielded a strong side for this opener, represented as they were by Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s tale of derring do and danger on the high seas, or low seas or whatever, Das Boot. Characteristically German both in its industry and stamina, Das Boot is a meaty tome that charts one mission of the crew of U-Boat U96 during World War II.

    Buchheim sets the scene wonderfully in the opening minutes, packing a book’s worth of character development into a chaotic chapter set in the naval officers’ mess. Furniture is destroyed, politically questionable views are aired, a superhuman quantity of alcohol imbibed and a sense of impending dread around the next morning’s mission expertly conveyed by the author, himself a veteran of the U-Boats - of the 30,000 Germans who served on U-Boat, only 10,000 survived, so he himself is of a rare breed.

    The party ends and so comes the morning after. The sailors strut around with affected bravado, complete the final checks on the boat, talk voluminously about the prostitutes they encountered whilst on land and, finally, are played out to see by a brass band while people above throw flowers onto the deck. The story is underway.

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    Except…it wasn’t. What followed was hundreds of pages of description of the minutest of details. How the engines worked, what each sailor was meant to be doing, the dimensions of the cabins and page after page of the colour of the sky. While this is all obviously necessary to convey the boredom and nervousness of war, it’s reminiscent to an extent of Moby Dick, which seemed to alternate between the excitement of the quest and the tedious minutiae of whaling. Like a book written simultaneously by Dave Lister and Arnold Rimmer. I am aware this identifies me as a simpleton. What makes that fact even more obvious is the raucous laughter when I discovered that Das Boot has not one, but two chapters entitled ‘Frigging Around.’

    But then, frigging around is what these men were doing. Sailing around the Atlantic in a tiny tin can, following the instincts of the ‘Old Man,’ a commander in his early 30’s. It is during this period of endless description that you really begin to feel a love for the characters - you endure their boredom and routine. Buchheim puts you through purgatory so you can understand hell. When, later in the book, the inevitable action begins you want each of their foibles to continue to the end. There are Nazis on the boat, of course, however the vast majority are career sailors, as indifferent to Hitler as they were to Bismarck.

    The Chief, the Navigator, the Old Man - all the very best at what they do. The British Destroyers hunting them are regarded with deference and respect rather than hatred. Perhaps the greatest enemy of those on board is central command, who favour increased tonnage of Allied ships sank over the welfare of their submariners.

    This is a very, very good book. A slog at times, granted, but well worth the drudgery of the opening for the rewards of the second half (obviously others will disagree with the ‘drudgery’ label, but I’m sticking with it).

    To review this book in terms of football - as is inexplicably necessary - the Germans would have had a lacklustre first half, placed a few wayward passes but generally kept possession well. The manager got it right at half time here, applied the hairdryer technique in the dressing room before his side came out and knocked in a couple of worldies and a six yard tap in.

    Ecuador have a lot to do, represented as they are by Jorge Icaza’s (probable) classic Huasipungo.

    Germany 3 - 0 Ecuador