Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Once More Into The Breach

Relegation, that ice cream lolly away kit, the likes of Stoke and Hull becoming attractive destinations for your few half-decent players, Calderwood and Hughton taking Joey Barton for pre-season training. I thought at least things might finally have reached rock-bottom.

Then the Shepherd family consortium rides to the rescue.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Letter in the Paper II

Stalin, Malenkov, Krushchev, Brehznev et al must be spinning in their graves with joy when they see how Britain's once fiercely protected democracy has slid effortlessly into the old Soviet way of doing things and, sometimes, even eclipsing it.
The recent expenses revelations showed how very similar to the old Soviet elite this current crop of MPs' way of life had become.

Not that the right-wing are paranoid or anything, designating second gulags being all the rage among opposition MPs. And when they weren't overseeing forced deportations, catastrophic grain shortages or having people drive icepicks into the necks of political opponents, the masters of the Kremlin apparently liked nothing better than to splash out on big TVs and unusual garden accessories.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Michael Owen

His belief in the potential Management capabilities of his long time friend Alan Shearer meant that he would probably have taken up the offer on the table to extend his contract at St James' Park had the Club stayed in the top flight.

All thirty-two pages, glossy, full-colour, laugh out loud funny.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Letter in the Paper

"No one can condone the racist attacks on Romanian refugees in Northern Ireland which are forcing them back to their homeland but if the Government had any sense, it would feel the heat and see the anger of the local people...As for the PC brigade which trumpets 'jobs for all', there is nothing egalitarian about fly-by-night foreigners taking our jobs...much of the money they earn they take back home...our taxes are used to pay their welfare benefits both here and to their families back in Romania".

I'm not racist, but...

Some of my best friends are black...

They're just not like us though, are they?

Coming over here, taking our jobs...

I'm not racist...

...not racist...


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Every Little Helps

George Osborne, £47 for two DVDs of a speech he made on Value for Taxpayers' Money, Ed Balls, £58.75 on a sponsored match ball for Ossett Town (how very generous of him), Graham Brady, £70.50 for a locksmith after locking himself out, Nick Clegg, £1.59 for a pineapple from Sainsbury's.

Is there anything this bunch of shysters didn't think they were entitled to bill us for? Jeremy Hunt, 1p for a 12 second phone call. Apparently not.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Fixture List

It wasn't until this morning that I realised what we'd lost. While Sunderland open with a game-of-the-day at Bolton Wanderers, we face the long, unfamiliar trudge to West Bromwich Albion. They play Blackburn, we play Palace. They get to visit Stoke, we get Leicester at home. Hack out eight defeats and several extortionately priced away ends and the only gulf between the two divisions is on the balance sheet.
Unfortunately, between a holiday in Croatia and a job in Japan I won't get to see as much of this as I'd hoped. Leicester at home, definitely. Plymouth too. Maybe even Cardiff away.

What little remaining interest I have in the Premier League rests with the Mackems and Manchester City. "I hope they break into the top four," a Sunderland fan said at the weekend. "Yeah, watch Liverpool go bankrupt," agreed his Newcastle-supporting mate. There isn't much that Newcastle and Sunderland fans ever agree on, but watching the Big Four squeal is a universal pleasure these days.

Monday, June 15, 2009


After eight days, my first run. I concentrated on distance not speed, measuring physical condition against the familiar route to the fire station and back. The pace was slow, by halfway I'd managed to get a stitch in my right shoulder, turning for home I cursed myself for not staying in shape, having to do the hardest part all over again.

Things got easier on the way back but my legs hit a wall on the hill before the crematorium. I pushed through, out of breath, inhaling bus fumes and traffic noise. The first time back is always the hardest, I thought, flopping on to a chair in the middle of the garden.

Stockholm - Home

The first thing you notice about Stockholm is how expensive everything is: eighty pence for a piss at the train station, four quid to store your bags in a locker, three pounds for a twenty-minute bus journey. Rain blew across the capital like waves out at sea, the luggage weighed us down and our money was fast disappearing. We decided to head straight for the hostel, a converted Jumbo Jet parked opposite the Radisson Hotel three minutes from Arlanda Airport.

I woke up next morning with a head still swimming in vodka, two flights and twelve hours left before arriving in Newcastle. The London flight was almost full, the men next to me carrying on a conversation about rugby and motorways. "I haven't been up the M1 since we played the Tigers last year." "Really?" "Yeah, the M40 is a much better run." "It's not a relaxing journey the M1, is it?" After three hours in Heathrow's Terminal Five I finally made it to the last leg. At half past ten I was sitting on the Metro at Newcastle, out of change, pondering how many organs I'd need to sell in order to buy a return ticket.

The first thing you notice about Britain is how expensive everything is...

Good Riddance

Thirty-four pages of information about Michael Owen? Like every other Newcastle fan I could tell a prospective buyer everything they need to know in just three words:

He is finished.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rock Stars

The first backyard barbecue of the summer. Eight people, crates of Carslberg Export on offer from Iceland, twenty sausages for a quid thirty-five, half an hour of hot sun that turned quickly into clouds and sudden, torrential rain, grey charcoal blocks giving off just not quite enough heat.

Inside the house someone had brought two plastic guitars with buttons on the handle, a microphone and a drum kit, stuck on top of a handtowel to stop it sliding away. "Who's singing next?" "I'm not doing bass guitar." "These drums are giving me shin splints." "Fuck's sake, Fleetwood Mac again?"

"He was shit last time he was here," hitting red then yellow then blue. "Aye, he's a music teacher though, isn't he? I think he uses it in class."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lead Balloon

No more cash until an owner is found, Chris Hughton on standby if Shearer walks away. Mike Ashley, successful businessman, running the club into the ground.

Whoever buys this mess - and with only nineteen days left before pre-season training it really needs to be soon - it'll take an Old Testament-style clearout just to get us back on our feet.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jarrow, June 2009

Half the town centre had been turned into building site for the new Tyne Tunnel: bare earth and missing trees, red plastic signs and metal fences. Pedestrian this way said a sign by the post office, as if I was the only person stupid enough to walk. There was an empty shop with Woolworths written above and stickers on a window saying No Deposit, Pay Weekly, Take Home Today, though the only person inside was the one behind the till. Women with cooking-oil complexions dragged canvas shopping trolleys and pushchairs. Men hung around metal benches, dead-eyed, smoking cigarettes.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Riga to Stockholm

It rained non-stop the whole of my last two days in Riga, the only time in the Baltics I ever felt I needed an umbrella. "It's crying because you're leaving," a student told me, a more novel end-of-year platitude than You're the best teacher I've ever had.

I watched Riga recede slowly with two cans of beer and Martin, my now ex-flatmate, who had somehow managed to accrue 31 kilos of clothing despite appearing to wear exactly the same two t-shirts ever since January. The bridges and spires of the Old Town gave way to half-ruined warehouses and underused port buildings. Waves had overwhelmed the pier at the mouth of the Daugava. For the next two hours Latvia remained a flat mark on the horizon, no darker than the clouds above it.

We stayed up until two, dancing with a group of Latvian girls who were moving to Stockholm in search of work. At eight I was out on deck watching the hundreds-and-thousands coastline, islands no bigger than the boat with red-painted houses and streamer-like flags blowing in the wind. A chimney the size of Riga's TV Tower announced our arrival into port. Thirty minutes later we were dragging our cases down the gangplank.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Practise What You Preach

"The players have to take a long, hard look at themelves," says the self-appointed spokesman for the Geordie Nation. They're not alone. It wasn't Alan Smith who flogged his shareholding to a man who hadn't even bothered to check the books, and even on £120,000 a week Michael Owen is still a long way off taking the club for the kind of cash the Hall family managed.

If he really cared about the club, he'd be putting his money where his big mouth is.

Devaluation Fever

"Latvia's property market was world's worst performing," "Latvia faces fears of currency fall," "Latvian crisis deepens as Europe debates aid". With the Lat on the brink of devaluation, the EU demanding more tax rises in return for financial aid and salary cuts extending to the private sector - my replacement next year will be on eighty quid a month less than I was - it looks like now really was a good time to leave.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Final Day

For my last class with the teenagers I had three girls and one younger brother, who drew pictures on graph paper for an hour and a half while the rest of us did a lesson based around an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth.

The official end-of-the-year party was scheduled for midway through the afternoon. After an Oscar-length series of speeches (“They'll be thanking God next,” muttered the Spanish teacher standing next to me) during which the native speakers were called out one-by-one to receive booze, chocolates and a yellow rose, the food and wine were finally opened, the Russian women pretended they weren't really all that hungry after all and the British men loaded their plates as if it was an all-you-can-eat buffet with a twenty-minute cut off.

“No topics today,” asked my final adult class, four hours and one or two glasses of wine later. “Let's talk about life. Where are you going next?”

Good question, I thought to myself.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Last Crop

A week a of warm weather caused my rocket plants to bolt, leaving me with just enough leaves to cover a couple of plates of pasta. I'm saving the rest of the radishes for tomorrow, as an accompaniment to pork chops and whatever else is left at the back of the fridge.