Author Archive for Peter Charles

06
Feb
12

How I learned to stop whinging and love the superbowl

No-one in England cares about the Superbowl Final, right? The most popular British sports are so inexorably linked to our history and woven so tightly into our national psyche that there is simply no room for a sport where the participants wear body armour, paint their faces and thump each other for making a decisive tackle or holding a pass, right?

So, why exactly did 1 in 12 of us tune into BBC1 last night to watch it? Many of those people will of course be genuine fans who have followed American Football for long enough to have a firm grasp of the rules. The rest, like myself, have absolutely no grasp of the rules, but for some bizarre voyeuristic reason, tuned in anyway.

As with most things, it’s easy to mock what you don’t understand, so I sat for an hour with a pad and pen making notes on every technical term that was alien to me. Phrases such as ‘illegal huddle’ filled me with mirth, as I imagined a bunch of naughty school kids gathered round, secretly plotting their next prank. And how I guffawed when, after trying for the best part of the hour to decipher the commentator’s report that the Giants’ ‘tight end’ Travis Beckum had ‘done torn his ACL’, I realised she meant he’d torn his anterior cruciate ligament.

New York Giants' Travis Beckum: "he done torn his ACL".

After a while, I gave up trying to understand the rules and just watched the first half in a semi-hypnotic state. Then, as Madonna came riding out on a chariot accompanied by M.I.A, Cee Lo Green and an army of staggeringly muscular Roman centurions, I couldn’t help but be impressed. The knowledge that my prior definition of ‘half-time entertainment’ had been a lukewarm pasty and my Facebook news feed made me feel like a pathetic, sneering Englishman.

The comments on Twitter reflected the perceived level of interest among the British public: a mixture of sincerity and cruelty. BBC Presenter Mark Chapman conveyed some of the messages to his American pundits, who responded with good grace to the more inane ones (‘why do they have little towels?’, etc). I felt huge sympathy for them. How would we like it, I thought, if we had our own national sport ripped to pieces on national television by cynical American tweeters:

“But why do you sing songs insulting players’ wives? That’s just mean!”

“Shut it. You wouldn’t understand.”

For those few hours, I resigned myself to the lure of the Superbowl Final. I couldn’t care less who won or lost, but found myself hopelessly fascinated by the bravado, razzamatazz and sheer Amurkin-ness of it all.

USA, USA, USA!

05
Feb
12

John Terry trial: the ultimate manipulation of justice?

John Terry’s days in an England shirt are surely numbered. Stripped of the captaincy for the second time in his career and rapidly losing the respect of his peers, the 31-year-old will go to the Euros in June knowing that the tournament could be his last at international level.

Considering everything John Terry has been through – the cash-for-tours accusations, the alleged affair, the cover-up, the public shunning by Wayne Bridge, the loss of the armband, the racism charge, the loss of the armband (again), the dressing room mutiny – he should be out on his ear. It seems only his particularly muscular legal and PR teams are keeping his head above water now.

Terry will be going to court to answer a racially-aggravated public order charge. But the only reason the courts are dealing with it is because an anonymous member of the public made a complaint to police. The consequences of this are curious.

With the trial subsequently adjourned until 9th July and the media banned under section 8 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 from reporting the reason for the adjournment, Terry will be available for selection for the Euros.

Aside from the fact that this has forced the FA to strip Terry of the captaincy, avoiding a media backlash, but at the acceptable expense of pissing off Fabio Capello, it raises an interesting point.

Had no criminal prosecution been brought by this ‘anonymous member of the public’, the FA would have been forced to begin lengthy disciplinary proceedings against Terry. If found guilty, he would surely face a fate similar to that of Luis Suarez – an eight-match ban. His position as England captain would be untenable, and relations with his England teammates irreparably soured. Not a good situation going into a major tournament.

As things stand, all that remains for Terry to do is to ride out the media storm. The debate over who will replace him at the helm is already trending more fervently on Twitter than the murky events that preceded it, and with five months till the Euros, the Anton Ferdinand incident will soon be yesterday’s news.

So perhaps John Terry should be thanking this mysterious ‘anonymous member of the public’, whose complaint has brought about a trial, which is now adjourned until after the Euros and which will see Terry, if convicted, having to pay a maximum fine of just £2,500 (the equivalent of three hours work)?

Whoever could it be?

02
Jan
12

Who you gonna call? Not these guys…

A deathly hush envelopes the room as the words left her lips: “tonight we are going to prove to you that there is life after death.” It’s Psychic Night at The Pilgrim, and yours truly has come along, not necessarily with any intention of speaking to the dead, but more out of a belief that one should always strive to have new experiences, no matter how ridiculous they might seem.

“Are there any sceptics in the room?” asks Deana, who seems to be the boss of the seven-strong team of ghosthunters. My hand shoots up and I immediately regret it. Deana throws me a look, which says, for the briefest of moments “we’re going to get you, lad.” My fear is that even if they fail to fully convince me of the existence of the afterlife, they will at least spend the next five hours pulling enough confidence tricks to make sure I leave the pub a quivering, gibbering wreck.

One of our number, Sicky Vicky, has a valid reason to be here, namely, to contact her dead grandmother. She has arrived in a wheelchair and although I’m happy to see her, I can’t help but consider a cartoon-like scenario where I run a-shriekin’ with fright from the Pilgrim to leave my disabled friend to face the ghosties alone.

After a ‘protection ritual’ we’re led into a dark, dusty loft where we huddle round a ouija board and various members of the group take turns invoking their dead relatives who have conveniently popped in from another spiritual plain to have a natter. The only two who appear to be ‘in contact’ turn out to be roaring drunk (it’s an alcohol-free event, and it’s starting to become clear why).

By midnight, it is soberingly evident that nothing which can accurately be termed ‘paranormal’ has happened or is going to happen. There have been only two incidents of note: one lady claiming to have been clobbered by an unseen force during the protection ritual, and a man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Show Me Your Orbs’ who was the target of an evil spirit’s potty-mouthed tirade. We suspect both to have been planted among us.

With two hours left till the end of the séance, the group has more than halved, and we can’t conceal our mirth when one punter scoffs on her way out: “the only spirits in here are behind the bar.” So there are a number of options for the ghost-hunting team, the most sensible of which would be to cut their losses and apologise that they have been unsuccessful in making any meaningful contact with the dead tonight. Instead, they begin to act out a bizarre piece of improv theatre to try and fool their remaining customers into believing they are for real.

One medium is pacing the floor with her finger to her lips, another has his head between his legs and is moaning while the rest argue about the best way to banish the evil spirit that has followed them upstairs from the basement. For an hour.

Hilariously, this has the opposite effect; as they slowly run out of ideas, their acting gradually becomes more laboured until we find ourselves in the most farcical of situations where:

a) we know we’ve been conned

b) they know we know we’ve been conned

c) they are too afraid to admit it

d) we are too polite to call them on it

Sicky Vicky, sensing the fun to be had out of this preposterous stand-off, decides to indulge the exhausted ghost-hunters by begging them to help her grandmother pass over into the light. Perhaps mindful of the consequences of denying the grandmother of a wheelchair-bound customer eternal rest, the team dutifully agree to help. Having lost patience with the whole charade by 1am, I was not there to witness it, but apparently Sicky Vicky stayed and made them finish their ridiculous pantomime.

So, my first Psychic Night was nothing but a bad joke. Do I regret going? Of course not. The Sheffield ghost-hunters made a fast buck, Sicky Vicky had her fun with them and I had a hilarious story to tell. The only people who lost out are the ones who came in the belief that they were paying £4 for the answers to questions that have baffled us since the dawn of time, and left with a good mind to call Trading Standards in the morning.

29
Nov
11

Bunnyman’s Artwork goes on display in Penny Lane

The guitarist of an iconic Liverpool band has launched a collection of his artwork.

Will Sergeant, of post-punk stalwarts Echo and the Bunnymen, opened the exhibition at a new gallery in Penny Lane last Thursday.

The Penny Lane Gallery will display Sergeant’s abstract works as well as a special collection called ‘Postcards From Cairo’ which were created around old photos of his father taken during the Second World War.

Will explains the significance of this: “I was born in 1958, so when I was growing up, people were still talking about the war. It had only finished 12 years ago, so it was still on people’s minds.”

He goes on to cite a number of post-war American artists as his influences. Gene Davis, Franz Kline and Barnett Newman were all abstract-expressionist painters who were at the peak of their careers during this time.

He says he has already sold a few paintings, but admits it was hard to see them go. At the launch night, most people seem drawn to a piece called ‘Miracles Are Possible’, which depicts a grainy image of Chairman Mao on what appears to be a striped football shirt.

But there is no suggestion of deliberate sedition in his work and Will is not keen to discuss whatever underlying meaning exists in his paintings:

Art admirers with Will Sergeant (far right)

“I don’t like to explain my artwork too much. As with music, it’s important to retain an element of mystery!”

Owner Christine Colvin is enthusiastic about the gallery’s unique appeal in championing the natural creative progression of musicians to the canvas medium, saying:

“We want to start attracting musicians who have an artistic side!”

Will Sergeant is the only constant member of Echo and the Bunnymen and has played with them for over 30 years. During this time, he has maintained a healthy involvement in various art projects and in 2002 was a Visiting Fellow at Liverpool John Moores University School of Art and Design.

The exhibition is at Penny Lane Gallery, 38 Penny Lane, L18 and runs from Friday 25th November 2011 – Wednesday 29th February 2012.

02
Nov
11

Back from the Brink

Liverpool’s first ‘dry bar’ has opened its doors.

The Brink café on Parr Street, is unique in that 80% of the workforce are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Funded by London-based charity Action on Addiction, The Brink acts as a social hub for the city’s recovery community. As well as providing facilities for support meetings, it will also host musical performances and film nights and even the ‘Bikers’ Breakfast’, at which cyclists can come and get their bike fixed for free, perhaps sampling the food while they wait.

Any profits from the café are ploughed back into providing support for recovering addicts.

Opening The Brink (L-R): Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, Peter Spanton (of Spanton Beverages) and manager Carl Alderdice

Community Engagement Worker Damien Kelly explains the idea behind the project:

“When we started, we realised that people in recovery didn’t have anywhere to go after meetings that didn’t sell booze. This gives them a place to call home.”

Although The Brink will attract a very specific clientele – people who “have been to the brink and come back,” Damien says that anyone is welcome:

“I can’t stress that enough: the Brink is for everyone to enjoy. People are going to want to come and sit for two or three hours and enjoy a coffee or a nice meal here, only without the hostility that can be associated with alcohol.”

The promotion of health and well-being is top of The Brink’s agenda, especially where food is concerned. Damien explains that the chef turned down a number of other jobs when he heard about the premise of the cafe.

Damning figures released in August by Liverpool John Moores University revealed that the city tops the league tables for alcohol-related hospital visits, with 3,114 admissions for every 100,000 people.

But Damien is quick to set the record straight:

“There is a growing and burgeoning recovery community in Liverpool. This will increase awareness of that community and show that it’s not just people with brown paper bags.”

31
Oct
11

Smart-arses need not apply

Having returned to college at the ripe old age of 29, I am once again burdened with the tiresome subject of student finance. Being too ineligible for state benefits, too jaded to approach the loans company and too goddamn unlucky to resort to crime, I am faced with the realisation that I will have to find a part-time job for which not only am I vastly over-qualified, but which fits around my busy college schedule and which requires me to perform the most basic of tasks for the most paltry of reward. In short, I need a bar job.

I feel like Lester Burnham, Kevin Spacey’s slightly unhinged anti-hero in American Beauty, whole-heartedly launching himself into the ridiculous circus that passes for menial employment, where humans are stripped of all that makes them unique and paraded as examples of what can be achieved when the stupid are given just enough power to preside over the, well, slightly more stupid.

Lester Burnham: just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose

Except I am not stupid. Having been in gainful employment now for around seven years, I have fairly good idea of how I can expect to be treated, not necessarily as an employee, but as a human being. I have the luxury of experience and the wherewithal to spot some of the uglier elements of the workplace environment: a power trip, an unfair dismissal, discrimination, bigotry, harassment, slave labour.

I telephoned a bar about a job last week, intending to ask questions about the hours, the responsibilities and the pay. But could I get this information? Could I hell. Instead, the receptionist’s semi-automatic tongue fired off questions asking me for my name, full address, date of birth, previous experience and national insurance number, before I’d even managed a splutter of objection. Someone, I was told, would call me back. “Why?” I felt like asking “they won’t even know what I want.”

What is going on here!? Have we regressed as a nation to the point where nobody actually listens anymore, where basic communication skills have been smothered by a constant thirst for information?

I eventually managed to find a job, but lasted only two days after taking issue with pay conditions which were not explained to me from the outset. A blazing row with the bar owner was the longest and last conversation I had with her, my only regret being that I did not have the foresight to accidentally trip and fall through a glass table on my way out, severing my carotid artery just enough to make her shit money through my letterbox till Christmas 2013.

How many people on minimum wage simply put up with being treated badly by an employer, simply because it is the status quo? These are just two examples of how, during the past month, I have been exposed to some utterly shoddy treatment from prospective employers, treatment that I would not have received had I been applying for a job with a five-figure salary.

But of course, nobody likes a smart arse. Lester’s wife – and indeed everyone else in his sad little world – bloody hated him for finally standing up for himself. Oh, but we loved him for it. Who cared if he was throwing away his career and marriage for a fast car, a skunk habit, a body-building obsession and a bit of teenage skirt?

He showed us how to stick it to the man with style and that no matter how much of a fuck-up you are, the rest of humanity will always, always trump you.

21
Oct
11

Arts Collective Go For Top Award

As the recession continues to hold the country in a vice-like grip, fledgling arts ventures up and down the country are feeling the pinch. With the government having announced Arts Council funding cuts of 30% over the next four years, many arts groups find themselves with a financial mountain to climb.

Urban Strawberry Lunch is one such group. Based out of the ‘bombed-out church’ on Berry Street, they officially became ‘artists in residence’ in 2007, hosting concerts, exhibitions and film nights. Originally existing as a music collective that specialised in making musical instruments out of bits of old junk, USL has blossomed not only into a creative hub but also a community outreach initiative.

Hollywood Homeless is a project they started which was aimed at helping homeless people to engage with their community. The idea was to send them out into the streets with digital cameras and take photographs of anything that interested them. They also learnt design and photo-editing techniques, skills that would stay with them as they re-integrated into society.

It is projects such as this that could be stifled when USL’s funding dries up in April 2012. With this ominous blotch on their calendar, Urban Strawberry Lunch has entered Natwest’s Community Force competition, in which social enterprises around the country enter a public ballot for a chance of winning £6,000.

Liz Carlisle of USL explained the impact of the cuts:

“100% of our core funding comes from the Arts Council. The rest comes from small grants or is income-generated. Although we entered the competition under Arts and Culture, if we do win, part of that money will be used for the Hollywood Homeless project.”

The idea that art can be created and enjoyed by people from all walks of life, not just a privileged elite, seems to be at the heart of USL’s bid.

They’ve got my vote. Have they got yours?




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