Proof of Patriotism

I don’t follow football, but I know the World Cup is almost upon us; I only have to look at the cars. Here in England, every early-model, locally-made car sporting a twin set of fluttering, St George flags. It looks like the world’s poorest diplomatic corps are out in force, on a £3 budget. The best thing about the flags? They were free in a newspaper… one with tits in it.

In fact, the newspapers here represent a wonderful trick that England’s managed to pull on the planet. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, England is like The Times: conservative, quiet, reasonable and always within arm’s reach of a cup of tea. But the reality of England is The Sun: Big print, offensive words and a massive pair of bangers on page 3 (just so the act of reading doesn’t make you gay).

England's Ambassador to South Africa
You can even gauge the mood of the country by the location of the breasts in the paper. I only realised the gravity of the recent shooting in Cumbria when I noticed that the baps had been bumped to page 15. I gather this was out of respect for the dead; one page further into the paper for each of the victims.

But back to the flags; they make me laugh.

There’s a wonderful irony in the fact that these flags, which are so proudly declaring support for England, came free with a newspaper, which in order to be financially viable, means the flags were in all likelihood, made in another country. Probably a country that England would be furious about losing the World Cup to.

But what I really wonder is, why put the flags up at all? Why bother to declare your support for a team that the rest of the country is already supporting by default? If you’re going to put up redundant flags now, then why not all year round declaring “I breath oxygen”, “I’m a bi-ped” or “I’m my own worst enemy”.

But then I realised that not everyone in the country is supporting England. There are hundreds of thousands filthy foreigners, like me, living in England, barracking for our homelands, that we love enough to cheer for, but not enough to live in.

The flags must be for us. To remind us interlopers that we’re a blight on this country, an insult to her queen and a drain on her resources. To make us realise that if we had any self-respect, or even a shred of decency, we’d either put up a flag ourselves or fuck off home.

I don’t really care about the World Cup, but I do care about not being beaten up by a roving pack of “patriots” who pronounce England with three syllables, and so to that end, I’m leaving the country for a few weeks and heading somewhere with the good sense to not care about soccer.

I’d say “good luck”, but the only thing that would be more insufferable than England moaning about how they were robbed of the World Cup, would be England gloating about how they won it. So in that case, “Deutschland wünsche ich Ihnen viel Glück”.

Where Have All The Gentlemen Gone?

The only memorable impression I have of Stockport, is a result of the toilets at the train station; perhaps not the most glamourous of beginnings, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Last week I was travelling to Buxton to perform at the Fringe Festival, or more accurately, to cancel shows at the Fringe Festival due to a distinct lack of audience, and had to change trains in Stockport where I was caught short. I normally try to avoid the toilets at train stations as I’m not a fan of hepatitis and generally don’t need to buy heroin, but on this day both my bladder and circumstance were conspiring against me so I had to make the dash.

A station with open and operational toilets seems to be a rarity in these dangerous times. It seems the risk of fundamentalist insurgents hiding high-explosives in a large unflushable shit and depositing them in a train station loo is great enough to warrant keeping the toilets in a permanent state of bladder taunting closure. In Stockport however, sanity has prevailed, the station operators no doubt realising that the presence of terrorism in the world and the basic human requirement to urinate on a semi-regular basis are not mutually exclusive.

I found a station attendant, politely asked him for directions to the toilet and was directed to platform three where I braced myself for, at the very least, a rancid smorgasbord for the senses. Thanks to some spot-on directions, I found the toilets without issue and scoffed audibly when I noticed that the sign on the door read “gentlemen”. Considering some of the whopping specimens of humanity banging around Stockport station I thought that this was perhaps the most ironic sign in the world. It must be a joke, because if you took it at face value, it was at best a misrepresentation, and at worst, a lie.

When was the last time a “gentleman” had stopped in for a piss at Stockport toilets? When was the last time a Gentleman called for his driver to halt the carriage on the way to the opera, apologised to his beloved sitting across from him, stepped into the street, trotted up the station steps, leapt over the ticket barrier, strode to platform three, found the conveniences, avoided being blown-up by a shit-covered bomb, unbuttoned coat & breeches and managed to relieve himself? Never; that’s when.

Have the station staff no pride in the accuracy of their signage? It starts with mis-labelling the bathroom clientele as “gentlemen” but you know that the madness will continue until all the notices are lies and the electric rail is labelled as “Child’s toy, please touch”.

Perhaps they are in the process of changing the signs to something more accurate – based on the station’s male patrons, I’d say “fuck-knuckle” would have been pretty apt – but that it’s a highly skilled job requiring diplomacy, intellect, grace, aplomb and a deft hand with a soft touch. Perhaps there are only one or two people in the country qualified to replace “gentlemen” with their modern day equivalent and they’re up to their eyeballs, trying to update every train station toilet sign in the UK.

Personally, I hope that “gentlemen” is intentional, left there in the hope of inspiring the men of Stockport to perhaps become Gentlemen, as least for a few brief minutes while they empty their bladders and/or bowels. What a wonderfully optimistic strategy for a noble goal that would be, improving the calibre of the men in the world with inspirational signage. Optimistic, because it’s unlikely to succeed and noble because if there’s one thing this world could do with, it’s more gentlemen.

We’ve got man’s men, ladies’ men, hard men, tough men, metrosexuals, homosexuals, transexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals. We’ve got go-getters, trend-setters, junkies, tramps and thieves, but where oh where have the gentlemen gone? Where are the men that will open doors and shake hands, offer seats and handkerchiefs? Men who are quick to act, but slow to fight, keen to enquire and willing to assist? If the signs are to be believed, then they’re in the toilets at Stockport station.

Perhaps that’s where they’re hunkering down. Maybe they saw a world too callous and cruel to embrace their placid, giving nature and decided to wait for the current climate of selfishness and suspicion to blow over, before striding out to make their way in a world that was ready to accept a polite man that refuses to fight.

I push on the door and enter into a surprisingly quite, clean, almost pleasant room. Expecting a typical piss-drenched tile-nightmare, I quicly glance back out the door to ensure that I haven’t stumbled through some Narnia-esque portal, but my eyes confirm what my brain won’t believe, I am in fact standing in a public toilet and I’m not dry retching. Neither am I surrounded by a cadre of gentlemen cowering from a unforgiving world. Despite only requiring the facilities for the briefest of moments, the experience is so shockingly pleasant that I’m tempted to put down my bag and soak up the atmosphere on the bench provided. Reluctantly I leave the toilets to catch my connecting train from the station’s mysteriously named “platform 0” (which I can only assume is Stockport’s homage to both Harry Potter and Being John Malkovich).

On my way to the train I pass a teenage boy-man-idiot, smoking on the platform and swearing into his mobile phone. He’s ignoring his girlfriend who is calling out to him for help as she tries to drag their twin kids in a double pram up the steps to the platform. Seeing a young woman in obvious distress, an old man at the bottom of the stairs drops his bags and lifts up the bottom edge of the pram, helping the woman carry it to the top of the stairs. While the woman thanks the old man for his help, her partner, Smokey McFucktrain, throws his cigarette onto the tracks and yells “Fuck off away from my kids you old paedo!” before returning to berating whoever is on the other end of his phone. The old man ignores the insult, offers the young woman a little bow and returned to his bags at the bottom of the stairs.

I quickly hustle past the pram scene and made my way down the stairs towards platform 0. As I pass the old man in the underpass, I nod hello to him, whereupon he stops me and asks if I know where the toilets are. I smile. “Head to the end of platform 3, they’re well sign-posted, you won’t miss them.”

As I climb aboard my platform zero train from Stockport to Buxton I think about the toilets again. There might not be many gentlemen left in the world and considering the scene I’d just witnessed you can understand why. Who wants to go out of their way to be nice when it’s only going to earn you a bollocking from a fuck-tard on a train platform? But, despite this, gentlemen exist, chipping away at the callousness of the world. They might not have our gratitude, they might not have our support, but at least they have a public toilet bearing their name on a train platform in Stockport.

Great Expectations

Of course, if anyone English had asked me about the cricket this morning, I’d have said “there’s a game on at the moment? I didn’t know”; but the truth is, I spent the morning bouncing nervously on the red swiss-ball I use for an office chair, completely unable to type anything of value as I listened to the commentary slowly eek itself, ball-by-agonising-ball over the radio.

We lost of course, and it was hugely disappointing, not because it looked like we would win (it never did), but because it looked like we could win, which is even worse.
A win when you “should have”, is no fun; in fact, it’s been the problem with Australian cricket for the last 15 years.

There’s no point celebrating when your world class-team absolutely thrashes some third world squad where the wicket-keeper can’t even afford gloves (I’m looking at you New Zealand), and why should there be? If there’s no contest, there’s no fun.

I don’t want to see Mike Tyson punch his opponent’s head clean-off the body in the first round because the best person they could find to fight him was a blind, four-year-old kid in a wheel chair (although if televised, that would rate well), I want to see a fight between two, evenly matched, equally reprehensible, human killing-machines.

Thankfully the departure of “Fingers” Warne, “Angry” McGrath and the big-hitting human-wingnut that is Adam Gilchrist, allowed the Australian cricket team to atrophy (it/s easier to accept than the fact that England may have improved). That, and a disastrous first-innings, resulted in an almighty second-innings run chase that looked impossible from the outset, and didn’t look any better after the English bowlers went through our top order like dysentery.

Our only hope for avoiding embarrassment and disgrace came in the form of the valiant, Clarke (and his squire Haddin) who not only showed that we weren’t going down without a fight, but at one stage looked like he might win he game, slay the dragon, save the princess and bang her in the car home, all at the same afternoon.

Unfortunately, a little bit of hope is a dangerous thing, and once Clarkey let Graeme Swann rip out his off stump, it was all-over, red-rover.

I’m sure Australians the world over are feeling not only disappointed, but also anxious at the verbal drubbing they’re going to get at the hands of every Englishmen they know (I’m in London and shitting myself). I think however, that we Aussies should all take heart: we may not win every single game that we play from now on, but at least we can actually celebrate a win when it comes, with all the sledging and bragging it deserves. We can shout and drink and swear and sing, content that the match was won fair and square, not in some one-sided, smash-fest against an opponent too incompetent to even realise they were playing (I’m still looking at you New Zealand).

In for a £ing

I’m not sure whether it’s malnutrition, a lack of self-confidence or maybe it wasn’t breast-fed as a child, but there is something horribly wrong with the Australian dollar. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and suddenly the AUD is face-down on the canvas, losing blood and spitting out teeth. I don’t care if our dollar can’t throw a punch, but it should at least try to occasionally kick the Pound in the balls.

It would even be O.K. if all the other currencies were failing, but they’re all standing tall, leering at our dollar as it lies hog-tied on the floor, whimpering through a gimp mask. I’d like to think that it’s going to get up, but the Deutsche Mark has a boot at its throat and the Danish Kroner is fetching the Vasoline. I think it’s going to be a long recession.

The weird thing is, Australia would never accept this kind of pounding if it happened in any other area. If we were thrashed to within an inch of our life on the world sporting stage, then there would be a nation-wide uproar, a royal commission and lots of angry men in pubs. But when the Aussie Dollar goes down 5-0 to Paraguay, suddenly we pretend that don’t understand and we blame it on the finance boffins.

Well I think it’s time to take a stand, because it’s getting embarrassing, and I think I know why it’s happening. I think that our dollar likes to be punished. Here we were, all this time, assuming that our dollar hates being humiliated on the global markets, sneered at and pissed on by the other currencies, but I think that’s exactly what it’s into. We’ve got a dollar with masochistic tendencies, it likes the humiliation and pain.

Now I’m not presuming to know what’s right and wrong in the area of global economics, but I’d really prefer to have a less-kinky currency. Can swap this dollar out for a new one that doesn’t enjoy getting a regular pounding? If not, can we at least make sure that it knows what the safety word is?