Posted by: ralphmexico | September 30, 2012

AND SO, FAREWELL…

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, listeners?  It’s been three years.  It’s been (count ‘em) two hundred posts.  It’s been (don’t bother counting) 198,461* words.  It was definitely, defiantly no pictures.  It is defiantly, definitely time to move along.  “All that remains is the music of their names”.  So it goes.
 
(*As if I’d be sad enough to do a word count on every post.  As if…)
 
What began on October 3rd, 2009 (“when the future lay before me like an empty sheet of paper, all I had to do was make my mark on it”) with “By all accounts” and an evisceration of a lame Pixies gig, is ending with “indeed” and a “Thank You” of sorts to the listeners who’ve remained on board for part, if not all, of the trip.  “Thank you friends, Wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you”. 
 
It is somewhat fitting, I suppose, that the title of this final post should be a line from a play by a depressed, drug-fuelled alcoholic (Tennessee Williams), and the sign-off is a quote from a suicide note (Andrea Feldman’s).  Between depression and death – Yeah, that kinda’ sums up the vapid scribblings of the past 36 months fairly well.
 
So listeners, this is the last post, the one you’ve waited three years for.  The blog will remain open for viewings in its faded glamour; but no new words will be added to the pyre.  What was always overwrought, eternally over-written, and forever overblown is now simply over.  Over and out. 
 
Thank you once more for tuning in.  Sometimes 1,094 days can seem like a very short time indeed…
  
 
Goodbye, I’m Going For The Big Time!!
Ralph Mexico
Posted by: ralphmexico | September 24, 2012

SHOOTING PINK ELEPHANTS IN THE SAHARA

Bill, Bed, Books, Bye
 
 
Bill
 
The person I would most like to meet in the entire world is Bill Drummond.  Precisely because Bill Drummond is the person I would most like to meet in the entire world, I really, really hope I never meet Bill Drummond. 
 
Here’s a crash course for the ravers who are unaware of the “who-when-why-what-how much have you got” regarding Bill Drummond:- A proud Scot; re-located to Liverpool in the 70’s; managed The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen to the brink of global domination; formed The KLF; sold millions of records; achieved global domination; burned a million quid in the name of art; befuddled Gay Byrne on “The Late Late Show” in the name of art; wrote some books; made some soup in the name of art; swept some streets in the name of art; still living; still kicking against the pricks; still Bill. 
 
Bed
 
On July 8th this year, when the world and his wife was watching Roger Federer do the world and his mother a favour by beating Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final, I spent fourteen hours listening to Bill make a bed on the radio.  Fourteen hours of bliss.  Oh, yes.
 
The premise of the broadcast on Resonance FM was that Bill would play his favourite record from each of the 59 years he had been alive.  He would talk about the music, talk about his life, talk about music, talk about life.  All of that while making a bed live in the studio. 
 
The finished bed would then be raffled off.  There would be a thousand raffle tickets sold.  Bill would personally deliver the bed to the winner.  If the lucky sod lived within the M25 around London they’d have the bed within 24 hours.  If they lived in Britain they’d have it within the week.  If they lived anywhere else in the world they’d have the bed delivered to their door by Bill within 12 months.  Bill repeated “Anywhere” a good few times and you knew he was hoping that a KLF fan from downtown Bairiki would be the winner.
 
I bought a ticket.  A “situation” on the funds front prevented me purchasing all one thousand, but… (please refer to paragraph one).
 
So, Bill played his song choices such as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”, “Marquee Moon”, “Strings Of Life” and “Common People”.  Sweetly, he adored some songs so much he spun them a few times while he continued whittling, sanding, crocheting, embroidering – whatever one does when making a bed.  We heard “Push The Button” by The Sugababes (his 2001 choice) four times.  Which was nice.
 
When he needed a break he’d go out, leaving the studio mic on, and tell us to listen to the (almost) silence.  The distant sound of traffic and everyday people could be faintly heard, but this was what silence looked like.  The rest was noise.
 
After midnight the bed was ready.  There was no live studio-cam thingy, so we were taking Honest Bill’s word for it that there was a bed.  The winning raffle ticket was drawn.  Some chancer named Sally Joffe won.  No address was mentioned; however it’s safe to speculate that Bill didn’t have to travel to Kiribati to find lucky little Sally-girl.  So it goes.
 
Books
 
Brill Bill has authored a few books in his lifetime… 
 
The best parts of “Bad Wisdom” (the story of Bill and a couple of friends’ road trip to the arctic circle involving zen sticks, Voice Of The Beehive, and the lost chord) is the quote from Jarvis Cocker on the front cover and Bill’s own description of the book on the back.  Jarvis: “The truth, no matter how uncomfortable, cannot help but be beautiful – this is a very beautiful book”.  Bill: “We had a plan: we were going to save the world – the whales, the dolphins, the rainforests, Bambi, the whole damn Walt Disney bunch, babe; we were gonna free Willy, f*** chicks and slay dragons.  We are Zen masters and know what the f*** we are talking about”.  Savage.  The book itself is tripe.   
 
Being a music freak Bill had released a solo album, “The Man”, in 1986 when he was 33 and a third years old (my keyboard doesn’t do fractions).  When he was 45 he wrote a series of stories about his life.  The resultant “45” is probably his best book.  In the book’s introduction he says “I will read them (the stories) again if I get to the age of 78″.  The back cover declares “At the age of 45, Bill Drummond is less concerned with setting the record straight as making sure it revolves at the correct speed”.
 
33 and a third, 45, and 78 have special (here’s that word again) resonance for music lovers of a certain age.  Ask your weird uncle Sylvie who has a record player and a Filipino mail order bride.
 
The outstanding piece in “45” is about Bill buying a large black and white photo of a stone circle in the vast empty wilderness of central Iceland.  The photo, by Richard Long, was called “A Smell Of Sulphur In The Wind”.  Bill paid $20,000 for it.  He hung it on his bedroom wall.
 
The story ends with Bill saying he intended to re-sell the photo for $20,000.  He will then travel to Iceland with the money and bury the cash under the stone circle (if he can find it).  He’ll take a photo of the enriched stone circle; blow it up big; frame it; and hang it on a wall.  He’ll name the new piece: “A Smell Of Money Underground”.  Quite.
 
Two more things about “45” before I skip daintily to another of Bill’s books.  When I re-read it recently I was reminded of Bill’s love for The Residents, a group from San Francisco who made pretty dodgy records, but could very well be the greatest band in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.  Again, ask your weird uncle Sylvie who’ll tell you everything if you bring him some methylated spirits and a curling thongs.
 
Anyway, after reading Bill’s story about The Residents (“Now That’s What I Call Disillusionment, 1″) I logged onto the official Residents web-site and bought three Residents coasters for $20.  I shall never put a glass or cup on these coasters.  I did however put them on my turntable and the noise they made was better than six or seven of the albums by The Residents.  Ho-hum.
 
“45” also contains what is today my favourite line to ever feature in a book.  Bill was managing The Teardrop Explodes.  He believed that if he could get them to play a gig in Papua New Guinea at the same time as Echo & The Bunnymen played a gig in Iceland, while Bill himself stood on a particular man-hole cover on Matthew Street in Liverpool, he would be “able to harness the powers of the interstellar ley-line for my personal gratification”.  As you do.
 
Convincing Teardrops’ singer Julian Cope to go along with the idea was proving a trifle awkward.  Cope was taking mondo quantities of acid at the time and believing he was the reincarnation of Pan or something.  Cue Bill’s immortal zinger of a line: “Great stuff, and I loved it all, but how was I to persuade him he should do a concert in the highland jungles of New Guinea when I couldn’t even tell him to take a bath?”  Don’t ever change, Bill.
 
“The Manual” is a small book Bill wrote about how to get a number one single in the UK charts.  Remember “Doctorin’ The Tardis” by The Timelords, listeners?  That was Bill, that was.  “The Manual” is a step-by-step guide to following “The Tardis” to the top of the charts.  If you do everything Bill says in the book and fail to score a number one, you’ll “get your money back”.
 
“The Manual” was the second book I read in 2005.  Soon afterwards I lent my copy to a friend who was just starting out in the business they call “music”.  I don’t know if he ever worked his way through the book, but here’s where his music is at in 2012: http://danieljones.bandcamp.com/ 
 
“The Manual” has never been returned to me by said musician.  No big deal in the greater scheme of things except that copies of the rare, little gem are fetching upwards of $400 on e-bay at present.  $400 – I sure could buy a lot of coasters with that…
 
If you’re still wide awake and dreaming, let me take you down the corridors of my mind as I tell you about “17”, the most important Bill Drummond book I’ve read.  And maybe the most important book I’ve read.  It certainly is the only book to confirm that I’m making the right decision by ending this blog forever next Sunday, September 30th.
 
I bought “17” in Liverpool in February 2009 when I was there for a weekend with a girl who I subsequently hurt.  She hurt me back in return, and I spitefully re-hurt her just to prove I’m always capable of being a prat.
 
I only got around to reading “17” this year.  Somehow the book told me that making stupid mistakes, as with the girl described above, is what happens in life.  You can continue to cut yourself up over needless cruelty displayed in a fit of pique, or you can apologise and aim not to be such a plug in the future.
 
I don’t suppose too many other people got a similar message from what is essentially a book about Bill’s efforts to wage war on recorded music armed with only dreams, seventeen strangers singing in a choir, and made-up Finnish heavy metal bands.
 
“17” is Bill’s most humane book.  He talks about his fears, weaknesses, mistakes.  He also wrote a sentence that I copied to the inside cover of the notebook I’m writing this on right now: “Getting wasted seemed so boring compared to getting up early in the morning and doing something that had never been done before”.
 
What a line; perhaps “As beautiful as the chance encounter between a sewing-machine and an umbrella on an operating table”.
 
I have made my mistakes.  I have made my apologies.
 
Bye
 
Bye.
 
 
An Act Of Thought Is An Act Of Art!!
Ralph Mexico
 
ps.  Bill eventually cut up “A Smell Of Sulphur In The Wind” into 20,000 pieces, and is presently attempting to sell each fragment on his website.  The next sentence writes itself…  I bought a fragment.
 
Bill is aiming to raise $20,000 with a view to burying the cash in Iceland as described earlier.  When shipping, administration and currency exchange were factored in, my itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny shard (1/20,000th fraction of the artwork) cost me 10euro.  Hmmm.
 
My purchase arrived with a warranty signed by Bill Drummond giving his “Bury cash at stone circle” spiel.  There is also an accompanying grid reference so buyers can track the exact location of their fragment on the www.penkiln-burn.com website.  My all-white fragment is not even from the main picture – it’s from the white border surrounding “A Smell Of Sulphur In The Wind”.  
 
There remains a “situation” on the funds front.  Coughing up ten euro for a tiny splinter of an artwork felt good though, like taking a razor to my mind’s eye.  “A Smell Of Sticking It To The Man”, indeed.
Posted by: ralphmexico | September 18, 2012

ASTRAL DAYS WITH OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH

1999: The year I ran the Belfast marathon on my only previous visit to the city
999: The price in cents of a one-way train ticket from Dublin to Belfast
99: The type of ice-cream I devoured when I stepped off the train
9: The number of reasons I’m about to give as to why everyone should visit Belfast
 
(1) The Duke Of York Pub
Paintings of John Peel and Salvador Dali along the alley-way leading into the pub.  Inside, football programmes from a Brentford trial game in 1946 and a 1947 Dalymount benefit match featuring Stanley Matthews, on the walls alongside the text of “He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven”.  Gerry Adams used to work as a barman in the pub, which is surprising in view of the name of the gaff.  I don’t think Ian Paisley ever pulled porter in “The Randy Leprechaun”.  Get chatting with Paul and Kathleen.  Paul is the biggest Michael Collins fan in the universe.  He believes that my Clonakilty connections warrant a steady flow of Sambuca down my plug-hole.  Kathleen went through a messy marriage break-up, losing custody of her daughter along the way.  The couple are relentless talkers.  Hemmed in like a boar between arches, I’ve got “Beal na Blath Revisited” in one ear and “Eastenders Omnibus” in the other.  Bit of a head-wreck on the night, but a great pub nonetheless.
 
(2) The Shops
A record shop called “Head” delivered “Fed” by Plush for a pound.  I was going to buy a copy for all my dedicated listeners, alas I didn’t have a spare pound.  Plush are an American band led by a maverick genius called Liam Hayes.  He may share a name with a delinquent former Meath footballer, but this Liam Hayes is a wonderful, gifted person.  As I said: “Fed” in “Head” for tiny bread was incred – ible…  I was still grinning like a loon when I sauntered into a second hand book-shop.  Some abstract expressionist had placed “The Van” by Roddy Doyle in the Travel Section.  Using the same exalted logic I checked if there was a book about “The Shankhill Butchers” in with the cookery tomes, or a biography of Minnie Driver in the Motoring Section.  As you do.
 
(3) The Murals
Being a paint salesman in Belfast must be a cushy number.  Banksy wouldn’t get a look in with all the memorials, slogans, eulogies and portraits on the walls of the city.  It was surprising to see how close the Falls Road is to the Shankhill Road.  As an equal opportunity bigot I checked out both sides.  Grim.  Interesting, but very grim.
 
(4) The Crown Bar
Fabulously ornate, with lovely snugs.  Extremely welcoming and friendly.  Gorgeous.  That’s enough about the barmaid who served me.  Belfast’s most famous boozer is a treasure for sure.  Well deserving of all the accolades going.        
 
(5) Queen’s University
This hallowed centre of learning has a touch of the U.C.C’s about its facade.  Impressive grounds, and the Botanic Gardens on its doorstep.  The Lagan flows gently past.  I might return here to do my Doctorate in “How To Concoct A Devilishly Entertaining Blog”.  I already have a Master’s Degree in the subject.  Obviously.   
 
(6) The Surrounding Mountains
No other Irish city offers such a tranquil setting, as the sleepy Black and Divis Mountains lazily gaze down on the streets below.  I was informed that taking a run up to “Napoleon’s Nose” on Cave Hill would lead to a staggering view all the way to Scotland.  “Sambuca Overload With Michael Collins Maniac” (as featured in Point No. 1) put the tin hat on that particular idea.  So it goes.
 
(7) The John Hewitt Bar
A bar that is owned by The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre.  Named after a nature-loving, Socialist poet; not the match-winner for Aberdeen in the 1983 Cup Winners Cup Final.  “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet” – “Shooby-Doo-Bop” Dixieland jazz was on the menu from some ancient cats who could have been the band on the Titanic except they were deemed “too old” in 1912.  A “refreshed” local with the social graces of a syringe showed me the live lobster she was cooking for dinner that night, before a lady who saw Bob Dylan and Ella Fitzgerald play in the same early 60’s week in the Belfast Opera House sat down beside me.  The locally brewed cider packed a fair ol’ punch.  The jazz remained smokin’, daddy-o.  Charity never tasted so good.
 
(8) “Solitude” & “The Bone” (not the title of a 1978 b-side from The Fall)
The area known as “The Bone” in North Belfast is a catholic enclave sandwiched between the meat of two hardcore protestant strongholds.  The view over the city from The Marrowbone Park is spectacular.  “Solitude” is Cliftonville’s ground near “The Bone”, beside another lovely park.  The stadium was ramshackle in places and pristine in parts.  I had a walk on the artificial pitch.  Which was nice.
 
(9) The Europa Hotel 
Sipped a drink in the Europa bar on the Friday night after Munster played Ulster in Ravenhill.  Mick Galwey stood alongside me at the counter.  The hotel was infamous as the most bombed hotel in the world a few decades ago.  Mr. Galwey was making a fair claim to be the most bombed Munster man on the premises.  He certainly wasn’t standing back from getting his round in.  Assorted egg-chasers were putting in the hard yards with a bevvy of TV3 beauties who were up for the match.  The brave men of Munster were defeated.  They also lost the rugby game.
 
Nine reasons to visit Belfast.  None of them of the Big-Ship-That-Sank variety.  I’ll admit to having a snoop around the Titanic Quarter, however.  No big deal.  You don’t see Liverpool erecting mementos to Andy Carroll, another big, lumbering, expensive, failure that sank at the first sign of strife.  Why does Belfast make such a fuss about something that ultimately was more trouble than it was worth, especially when the place has so much more to offer?  Answers on a postcard please.  You can address it to me c/o Queen’s University… or The Duke Of York… or The Crown… or The John Hewitt… or the Eur (OK, we get the picture – A lone dedicated listener).
 
 
Squeeze The Flask Of Life To The Dregs!!
Ralph Mexico
“The Moon Looked Down And Laughed?”
 
Sunday, September 2nd, Electric Picnic 2012 finished up.  That same day, half a world away, Sun Myung Moon (founder of The Moonies) died.
 
A cult-like quasi-religion, with a legion of devotees who swear that theirs is the one true path to happiness, enlightenment and fulfilment were in a state of shock, mourning an incalculable loss.  How could life go on knowing it would be another year before we’d all be together again in Electric Dreams?  I’m sure The Moonies weren’t too chuffed with events either.
 
Listeners, I won’t sit on the bush or beat around the fence: Electric Picnic 2012 was the best Picnic ever.  There’s been nine Picnics.  I’ve been at eight.  This year the crowd was smaller than usual.  The weather was better than ever.  The music was nothing less than brilliant.  And more fun was had than is strictly legal in Enda Kenny’s nanny state.  Let’s hear it for Electric Picnic 2012…
 
“Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”
 
Friday evening, after the driving, parking, camping, meeting side of things went smoothly, all roads led to Grandaddy in the Electric Arena.  They didn’t disappoint.  They didn’t enthrall either.  A patchy set, still a million times better than the ensuing Grizzly Bear who stank the place out.
 
Eight o’clock found (we learned later) Gavin Friday dedicating “Angel” on the main stage to Bono and Ali who were in the wings and celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary.  An infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters couldn’t possibly come up with suitable words to describe the ghastliness of such an event.  Thankfully at that time we were acres away, enjoying the melodic sunshine, lolling on the grass, revelling in a Gavin-free Friday.
 
The Casa Bacardi open area was a great meeting point in the centre of the Picnic site and it was here that we convened for a rump-shakingly fab set from Francois K.  We then skipped across to the main stage for some sonic sculptures of the Sigur Ros kind.  Which was nice.
 
Richie Hawtin’s peerless slabs of dirty techno, in a Little Big Tent so rammed it was like World War 1 in a phone-box, brought things up ’til 1am, which allowed plenty of time for galooting in the Body & Soul area, ape-acting at the Rave in the Woods, and general horse-play in other dark corners within the vast Picnic environs.  As the sun came up the night was still young.  The Picnic was off to a flyer.
 
“Today I’m Going To Soar”
 
“Dark Side Of The Moon” was getting the full Trinity Orchestra treatment on the main stage at 1pm on Saturday as we (in honour of the orchestra) “conducted” interviews with random punters seated at the food benches at the back of the huge field.  Good food.  Good times.  “Good Day Sunshine” yet again.
 
A wander into Mindfield saw the start of a David McWilliams helmed debate on “Does Ireland Need A Second Republic?” featuring such intellectual heavyweights as Fintan O’Toole and a frightfully bald Eamon McCann.
 
A stroll into Body & Soul saw a stint in a trad music tent making unreciprocated, lascivious eyes at a bewitching fiddle player who’d had the ill-luck to sit near us at the food stalls earlier.  Ho-hum.
 
4pm arrived and it was time for Dexys, the band I was looking forward to seeing more than any other at the Picnic.
 
Mention Dexys to the man in the street and he’ll think of dungarees, “Come On Eileen”, and fiddles.  I’m with Sid Vicious on this one: “I’ve met the man in the street.  He’s a c***”. 
 
Dexys singer, Kevin Rowland, is one of the music’s great survivors.  Thirty-five years of multiple band sackings, million-selling chart topping hits, cocaine meltdowns, rank bad luck, cross-dressing weirdness, health problems, dungarees, “Come On Eileen”, and fiddles – Kevin has survived it all, to arrive at Electric Picnic 2012 looking frail, yet dapper in a beret and braces.
 
The band struck up a tune.  Rowland started to sing.  “I’m in heaven when you smile/sing”, indeed.  That arresting bleat of a voice still amazed after all these years.  The new album is called “One Day I’m Going To Soar”, and we got a few soul-stirring numbers from that.  The sound was all over the shop, but the passion dripped from the stage.  And passion never goes out of fashion, listeners.
 
Then the famous intro that is the cue for mass invasions of wedding dance-floors the world over began.  And the greatest opening line since “You can bump and grind, It’s good for your mind” was sung: “Poor old Johnny Ray, Sounded sad upon the radio”.  “Come On Eileen”.  Jesus.
 
To be in that tent as Rowland led his troupe through this ageless, joyous song that has been hijacked by the squares and is now heinously viewed as a bit of a novelty, was one of the greatest moments in the history of civilisation.  Oh, yes.
 
The version was staggering.  It wasn’t a crass, epic singalong.  It was far deeper than that.  It was triumphant yet dignified.  It was as if Dexys were following the advice of oddball genius producer Martin Hannett who told A Certain Ratio while recording: “I want you to play that again.  Only this time make it faster, but slower”.  “Come On Eileen” was stately, immortal, divine.  It brought tears to my eyes.
 
I sniffled back the waterworks, but as the final chorus hovered into view I tapped one of the crew on the shoulder and pointed to my tear-filled eyes.  He smiled and said “I’m crying too”.  Grown men crying like babies.  Kevin Rowland, “Thank You” from the bottom of my heart.
 
A brief diversion was made to see some David Kitt fumblings on the Crawdaddy Stage, before hot-footing it to the Poetry Tent for an hour of family entertainment from John Cooper Clarke.  I gave “The Bard of Salford” a slap on the back as he made his way through the crowd onto the stage.  I’m writing this with the hand that hit that stick-thin back.  Evidently, some of his sharp wit has rubbed off on me, eh listeners?
 
Johnny Clarke was hilarious.  Some of the gags had been aired before, however when delivered in his rapid-fire, scatter-gun style you just had to laugh.  He wrapped things up with “the one from “The Sopranos” with all the bleeping” “Evidently Chickentown” and the always astonishing “Beasley Street”.  An hour in the presence of indefatigable greatness.  A treasure.
 
At the show’s end I made a wasp-line for Fintan O’Toole and Roddy Doyle who’d been sitting on the floor five yards to our left.  My questions for the esteemed authors were obvious enough.  “Fintan, what is your favourite Dylan song?”  “Idiot Wind” he replied.  I asked Roddy what was his favourite REM song as (I breathlessly explained to him) I’d stood beside him at one of those five nights REM did at the Olympia in 2007.  He took a while before answering “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”.  So now you know.
 
Things got weird from then on.  SBTRKT were enjoyed for a short spell, and I chose to spend the two hours after that watching puddings being made by feted Kanturk butchers in the Cooking Tent instead of checking out Patti Smith and Richard Hawley.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.
 
I re-aligned myself with some of the entourage in the Biergarten in the Spiegeltent.  Who knew that dancing around tables with random stragglers to “Teardrops” by Womack & Womack at 10 o’clock on Saturday night at Electric Picnic could be such a blast?
 
A stonking show from The Roots; a failure to get into the jointed tent for Caribou vs. Four Tet; a snatch of The Cure that offered up a massaging of “Boys Don’t Cry” and a murdering of “Killing An Arab”; a smidgen of Grimes: and a dull set from Orbital brought Saturday night/Sunday morning to a close.  Quite a day. 
 
 Long Day’s Journey Into The Heart Of Sunday Night
 
And on the third day we rose again… 
The yanks used to disparagingly refer to Seve as “The Car-park Champion” for his tendency to take the scenic route around a golf course.  On Electric Picnic Sunday we staked a claim to be “Camp-site Champions” by soaking up suds and sun from early morning through to mid-afternoon with a background charivari of The Dublin Gospel Choir and Lee “Scratch” Perry seeping from the Main Stage.  Check out my liver spots and sunburn if you don’t believe me.
 
Eventually a move was made and the last half of House Don John Talabot’s gig was savoured.  The enormous last tune was much sought the following week.  After hours of searching, on Citibank’s time and dime, one sound surgeon located “Cheaters Never Win” by Teengirl Fantasy.  It’s a monster.  Have a listen sometime- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEMoC-sOqyw

As the cool kids cut a rug at Casa Bacardi, I looked to a 69 year old man to put my maracas in a twist.  As you do.  Van Dyke Parks, one-time song-writing partner of Brian Wilson, full-time camp, eccentric old coot, was a poptastic treat.  Sickly sweet vignettes of jellyfish, marshmallows, rainbows and sunflowers – VDP was pop confection perfection.

 
Light-headed from the sheer splendidness of it all, I replied to one of the weekend’s innumerable “Where u?” texts with: “Cosby stage, centre-stage, wearing shades, all the rage”.  What.  A.  Tool.
 
That pearler loses out in the quality text stakes though to the following exchange between friends: “I’m in Body & Soul, beside the complicated onion to the left”.  “I can’t see u.  I’m near two simple onions close to the entrance”.  These people have children.  And jobs.  The mind boggles.
 
New ground was broken on Sunday evening with an unplanned foray into the record-selling tent.  The much-lauded musical youths The Strypes were there splurging their pocket money on Sixties British blues singles.  I showed I wasn’t Losing My Edge by buying a pair of Joni Mitchell albums and Van’s “It’s Too Late To Stop Now” from 1974.  Oh what fun I had hoicking the heavy vinyl around in a tatty plastic bag for the rest of the night.  So it goes.
 
Complete disinterest and juice-less mobile phones led to me being up-front alone for Paul Buchanan’s 9.30 show in the Body & Soul hollow.  The ex-Blue Nile man made me cry.  And these weren’t quiet, dignified tears like at Dexys.  For this one I gushed like Old Faithful.
 
Buchanan sang solo with very under-stated piano backing.  He gave us “Easter Parade” and “A Walk Across The Rooftops” from his Blue Nile days, and a half dozen songs from his new “Mid Air” album.  It was…..  I’m out of superlatives.  There are no worthy words left.  I’ll have to invent some.  It was splenbrillsome, astoundivazing.  I give up.  I cried shamelessly, and you’re all a shower of tone deaf ignoramuses ‘cos you weren’t there to cry too.  Peasants.
 
Still smothered in goosepimples and tears I took a punt that the missing revellers would be disgracing themselves in Casa Bacardi.  Sure enough it was Todd Terje tunes that were providing the answers at that time on Sunday night.
 
We all shuffled over for Hot Chip’s performance in the Electric Arena.  “Over & Over” got the biggest cheer.  Closely followed by loud approval for the weightlifting feats of a pint-sized girl beside us who thought it was great gas throwing some of us up on her surreally strong shoulders.  How bizarre.
 
There was still time for a final wander in Body & Soul where and idle hour was passed listening to the bells and wind-chimes in a wooden teepee.  I may now collect my prize for writing the most Electric Picnic defining sentence ever.
 
Leaving Body & Soul we happened upon a converted ice-cream van that was blasting out a few songs to satisfy the dance-lust of the masses.  Marcia Griffith’s reggae take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” was the platter that mattered.  And is as good a place as any to end The Book of Evidence supporting the claim that Electric Picnic 2012 was the greatest ever.  My case is closed.  My case is packed (for next year, already).
 
The Correct Use Of Hope
 
Phew.  The music is over and the dust has sorta’ settled.  Lest we get too comfy, here’s twenty heritage acts to dream of for Electric Picnic 2013, beginning with a pair who should take very little persuading to perform in a big field in rural Laois:-
David Bowie, Kate Bush, Ray Davies, Smokey Robinson, Randy Newman, Bobby Womack, Joni Mitchell, Al Green, Julian Cope, Femi Kuti, Kool & The Gang, Prefab Sprout, XTC, Durutti Column, Felt, Johnny & The Go-Gos, Orange Juice, The Congos, Earth, Wind & Fire, Wire. 
 
How’d you like them apples?
 
 
Joe Meek Shall Inherit The Hearth!!
Ralph Mexico
Posted by: ralphmexico | September 6, 2012

BORN CYCLING DEVOTIONAL: 18 CARAT, 2 WHEEL LOVE AFFAIR

A dedicated listener I just invented wrote to me last week asking have I been on any good cycling trips in recent months.  Well, fictional dedicated listener, there has been some partaking of pedal action.  Three jaunts in particular spring to mind:
 
(1) COULDN’T BEAR(A) TO BE SPECIAL
 
Its May 19th, and the eyes of Europe are on Munich as Chelsea end their long quest for Champions League glory.  There is much prattle after the game about “The Journey” Chelsea had taken to reach their promised land.  I’d a journey to get to where I was that same Saturday night.  The Chelsea lads ended up Champions of Europe, swigging champagne, and frolicking with scantily-clad super-models.  I ended up in a flimsy tent in a wet, bumpy field in Allihies.  Neither the footballers nor I got much sleep.  So it goes.
 
The cycle from Bonane (outside Kenmare) to Allihies was an education for this North Cork geographical dunce.  KC was on direction-duty.  He serves The Man in the Beara Peninsula, so he knew the roads like the palm of his hand.
 
Mars Bars were devoured at Laragh crossroads.  Tea and cake were demolished at the restaurant in Ardgroom (where attempts to chat to a few southern hemisphere tourists was met with the kind of Australian resistance that Ned Kelly specialised in).  Huge “catch of the day” dinners were dealt with in Allihies.  Between food stops, some cycling took place.  The plan to get the cable car across to Dursey Island was shelved once the first pints were ordered.  That was at 4pm.  Which was nice.
 
The tents were pitched in the humpy field with the permission of the local shop (and field) owner.  The trio of Allihies pubs were visited.  The match was watched.  The living was easy.  Wish I could have said the same for the sleeping.
 
Sunday morning, Castletownbere got lucky and had the pleasure of being our breakfast provider.  In rare and wondrous sunshine we made good time to Glengarriff, stopping briefly en route to soak up the life-enhancing solitude of a desolate pier outside Adrigole.
 
Ice-cream to revive our drooping spirits in Glengarriff, and back to Bonane over the beautiful, but tough, Caha Pass.  Who needs the Baha Peninsula when you’ve got the Beara Peninsula, indeed?
 
(2)  I DIDN’T SEE A RED SKY THAT NIGHT, BUT THE SHEEPSHEAD PENINSULA WOULD BE ANY SHEPHERD’S DELIGHT
 
Its the end of May and the eyes of Europe are on Ireland as we vote on whether to allow Europe take another little piece of our heart.  The day before voting on Ireland’s future, another cycle trip is undertaken.  From Bonane, again across the Caha Pass to Glengarriff, along the N71 to Bantry.  At 8pm KC and I sit on a wall in the town near the cinema.  We have our bikes beside us.  We are eating bananas.  Two girls walk past.  We politely enquire if they would like to join us in the cinema to watch “The Dictator”.  The girls burst out laughing and stride past us at speed.  Tough audience.
 
We turn off the main road and head down into the Sheepshead Peninsula.  As darkness falls we finish up in Kilcrohane, near Dunmanus Bay.  Toasted sandwiches and creamy pints while talking to a local about the price of sheep.  If this ain’t living it’ll do ’til the real thing comes along.
 
Enquiries are made about where to camp.  There’s a class of a hostel down the road.  We’re told the owner might let us pitch there for a few euro.  We stop in the other pub in the village before making any rash decisions.  Again we’re told about the hostel.  We like to camp.  We don’t like to pay.  Hmmm.
 
We leave the pub.  Go around the corner.  See a lovely lush meadow in the moonlight.  Open the gate.  Pitch the tents.  Hide the bikes against the ditch.  Back into the pub.  We’re asked did we get sorted?  We reply, “We put them up alright”.  No lie there.
 
The following morning we spot the largest “No Camping Allowed” sign in Ireland on the entrance to the field.  It was an honest mistake.  It was a great nights sleep.  Sometimes, as Dylan sang “To live outside the law, You must be honest”.
 
Next up, a marvellous woman from Co. Down, who runs the shop in the village, gives us steaming cups of tea and a plethora of Penguin bars, then refuses payment.  She’s a tonic.  “How could anyone say “Yes” to more austerity?” she eloquently enquires.  Such a pity that more people in Ireland weren’t singing from a similar hymn sheet.
 
After heavy overnight rain we unzip numerous puddles cycling down to the Sheepshead Lighthouse.  Fog that you couldn’t cut with a machete envelopes us.  The last two kms on foot are treacherous.  It’s all great gas.  It feels like we are at the lighthouse at the end of the world.  Dense, clammy fog coming in from across the water smothers the whole countryside.  A metaphor for that day’s referendum, perhaps?
 
From Kilcrohane we pass through Ahakista and Durrus on the road to Bantry.  We snare some bargains in a treasure trove of a book shop and KC fronts up by packing the weighty tomes into his panniers.  I sell it to him as “character-building”, before racing up the road out of ear-shot and out of book-shot.
 
Ice-cream to revive our drooping spirits in Glengarriff, and back to Bonane over the beautiful, but tough, Caha Pass.  Who needs the Shetland Islands when you’ve got the Sheepshead Peninsula, indeed?
 
(3)  NOT SEARCHING FOR THE FINEST TOILET IN IRELAND, YET SOMEHOW LOCATING THE FACILITY VOTED “SECOND BEST OVERALL” IN 2002
 
Its mid-August and the eyes of Europe are closing with boredom as another cycle trip is described.  Sensing that even my fictional listener is losing interest, this one will be like a pelican – brief.
 
Bonane to Kenmare to Parknasilla on the Ring of Kerry.  Lunch in the swank Parknasilla hotel that was a favourite of George Bernard Shaw’s is a trial as a boorish mother monopolises the whole room while loudly dictating to her gormless kids, and her hen-pecked cuckold looks on forlorn.  “My Fair Lady” she is not.
 
In smatterings of sunshine we pass through Sneem, Caherdaniel, and stop at the Chaplin and Micko statues in Waterville.  We take a left for Valentia off the Ring route.  Throw up the tents in a field in Portmagee close to the public toilets proudly declaring themselves to be “Second Best Overall in Ireland in 2002″.  Check out the two bars in the village ’til the wee small hours of the morning.  All quiet on the South-Western Kerry front.
 
Driving rain on Sunday.  Take shelter in the prize-winning public conveniences.  Then take the pain (and the rain) as we cycle in gales onto Valentia Island.  Get the ferry to Cahersiveen from Knightstown.  Swallow unpalatable breakfast rolls in the town.  Turn off for Glencar as the ferocious wind and rain buffet us around the road.  Labour over the Ballaghisheen and Ballaghbeama Passes.  Meet an abandoned ickle pussy cat in the wilderness.  I carry her in my coat, and then my pannier, until she springs for freedom.  Her loss.
 
Back to Bonane, cat-less and cold.  No stop for ice-cream.  No escaping the fact that this was an appalling effort at being brief.  Hopefully my dedicated, fictional editor will save the day. 
 
Who needs Valencia when you’ve got Valentia?  Who needs Portugal when you’ve got Portmagee?  Who needs a break (or even a brake) from cycling blogs?
 
 
Read William Boyd, Get Your T-shirts Tie-dyed!!
Ralph Mexico
The London culture bunker remained open for business as the Olympic battles raged.  A Yoko Ono exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery.  A Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern.  An Andy Warhol exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  An Etchings of Picasso exhibition at the British Museum.  Is this list fooling any of you listeners into thinking I have the foggiest notion about art?  ‘Cos I sure ain’t fooling myself.  Today, art is my MacGuffin.  Or something.
 
Yoko placed a “Wishing Tree” outside the Serpentine Gallery, encouraging punters to write down a wish on a piece of paper and attach it to the tree.  The message the tree said to the world was “Dreams can come true”.  The message the tree said to me was “Never trust a hippy”.
 
Inside, things improved a shade.  The show, “To The Light”, was a multi-media retrospective of the batty Jap’s career.  Having put in the hours with The Beatles’ books there was one exhibit that I craved to see more than any other – the first piece of art from Yoko that grabbed John Lennon’s attention in the 1960’s. 
 
And sure enough, there it was.  A step-ladder, a large magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling, and a tiny bit of writing on a white wall in the distance.  I climbed the ladder.  I looked through the magnifying glass.  I read the writing on the wall.  It said (as it said 45 years ago) “Yes”.  
 
Lennon had his mind blown by the piece, and by the artist.  He divorced his wife, married Yoko, broke up The Beatles, wrote “Imagine”, and got popped by a nutter in New York.  I wasn’t that impressed.  But I’ll steer clear of The Big Apple for a while anyway.
 
The Damien Hirst exhibition was another “Best Of” career overview.  Hirst has had a financially rewarding time, however his artistic legacy is slight if not wholly insignificant.  Cutting up a few cows, drawing some dots, giving a name to a dud U2 album is not exactly chopping off your own ear, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or coming up with “Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express”.
 
The Warhol stuff on show was the same old, lame old silk-screens of famous heads we’ve all seen before.  The best part of that day was the journey to and from the gallery in Dulwich, a part of South London I’d never been to before.  Brixton was the nearest tube station so I got to walk down Coldharbour Lane and Electric Avenue, off Brixton High Street.
 
Further music landmarks were ticked off apres-exhibition by catching a bus to Portobello Road, visiting the original Rough Trade record shop, walking “Under The Westway”, before hiking across town and up to the top of Primrose Hill where (in Damon Albarn’s words) “the view’s so nice”.  I paused a while atop o’ the hill, looking out over the city.  “I have conversed with the spiritual sun.  I saw him on Primrose Hill” wrote William Blake.  I saw no spiritual sun.  I talked to nobody.  So it goes.   
 
The Picasso etchings were Pablo’s trademark “Woman with six breasts, five eyes and no left arm” fare.  I went to school with girls from Meelin so there was nothing new in those sketches for me.  I didn’t dally.  Ho-hum.
 
OK listeners, forget art let’s dance.  It’s time to add a little music to my stay.  Billy Bragg was giving a free song-writing class in the Southbank Centre.  I turned up.  Everyone else had an acoustic guitar and looked earnest.  I was instrument-less and chancing my arm.  Captain Clipboard at the door wanted to know what my angle was.  I said I played the piano and could hardly bring one with me.  This kind of awkwardness did not compute in his square brain.  He started nervously looking around for help.  I bailed him out by confessing I was only twisting his melon, “I actually play the bodhran, but its at the shop being tuned”.
 
So, no song-writing class for me.  I did watch Billy doing his “Big Busk” thing by the banks of the Thames later that day though.  “Daydream Believer”, “Alright” by Supergrass, “Eighteen” by Ed Sheeran, and a unique take on the theme from “Chariots Of Fire”, complete with a clarinet sole from a ten year old boy, were the highlights of a fun-filled hour.
 
On the last day of the Olympics, a massive closing ceremony gig in Hyde Park featured some of the finest British bands of the last forty years.  And Blur.
 
New Order served up a short greatest hits package.  The Specials dished up the same set as they played in the driving rain at Oxegen 2009, except this time they omitted “Ghostown”.  That would have been too stark a portrait of Britain for the happy-clappy hordes.
 
The big screen was showing Madness playing at the official closing ceremony across London when Blur arrived on-stage and launched into “Girls & Boys”.  By accident of design, this merely illustrated what Blur truly are: a minor Madness. 
 
When they played it dark and heavy they were sublime.  Slow planes passed overhead towards Heathrow as flawless renditions of “Out Of Time” and “Beetlebum” thrilled.  The problems arose when the “‘Ow’s about a knees-up then?” factor kicked in.  “Sunday Sunday”, “Country House”, and “Parklife” (especially “Parklife”) were monstrous, music-hall tat.  Chas & Dave drinking weak lager in a Camden boozer with The Wurzels.  Grim. 
 
I didn’t stay to the end, or even for “To The End”.  Instead I left, and got confused on the tube (it had been a long, hot day after all).  I ended up doing a couple of circuits of the Circle Line.  “This Is A Low”, indeed.
 
And there you have it.  The Olympics were over.  So was what could very easily be my final visit to London for quite some time.  The day before I flew home I stood on Waterloo Bridge, looking up the Thames with “Waterloo Sunset” playing in my headphones.  It was a poignant moment.  Ray Davies was singing about “Waterloo Station”, “the river” and “Paradise”.  I was unsure when I would ever see London again.  A braver man would have shed a tear.
 
 
“Ralph” Is A Tribute To The Residents, Obviously!!
Ralph Mexico
 
 

 

Heaven Knows Mr. Morrissey was miserable when he said “I am unable to watch the Olympics due to the blustering jingoism that drenches the event.  Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism?”  He went on to liken Olympic-crazed Albion to Nazi Germany.  Hmmm.
 
To paraphrase Joe Strummer: “London 2012, Yes I was there too, And you know what Moz said, Well some of it was true”.  But mostly I have got to disagree with Morrissey’s statement.  The jingoism displayed at London 2012 was much, much worse than Nazi Germany.
 
The Union-jackulating was sickening in its relentlessness.  Ye olde colonial power gloried in its Olympic success in a way that was utterly vile.  We are used to British sports fans having to endure defeat, so now seeing them celebrate in victory was a chance to see if they were good winners.
 
They weren’t.  Team GB gave me the hee-bee gee-bees.  So it goes.
 
And this is no tawdry, mean-spirited anti-British rant.  The conclusion was arrived at after living amongst the triumphalist flag-ulation for three weeks.  The bloated solipsism and self-regard was harrowing and so, so tedious.  “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, indeed.  These were Scoundrel Days (A-ha!)  Grim.
 
What made it even worse was the dullards realised they were being unspeakably offensive with their self-congratulation, yet it continued unabated.  Numerous newspaper articles referred to the “understandable jingoism”.  On radio, a Five Live presenter read out a listener’s complaint castigating the myopic. xenophobic coverage.  The presenter finished reading out the comment, said nothing, then launched into another “Rule Britannia” spiel. 
 
When the British mens football team ended up in the obligatory penalty shoot-out, every South Korean kick was greeted by a cacophony of boos.  Again, the commentator opted to ignore the racket, as going off-message from “ra-ra what a great sporting nation are we” would have been breaking the despicable brit code.  Oswald Mosley must have been pumping his cold, dead fists with joy at all the carry-on.
 
In fairness, some medal winners seemed like decent sorts.  Mo Farah came across as a good egg, and I’m not on about the shape of his head.  However, any joy at his glorious achievements were diluted by the preening crassness of the conceited, smug cheerleading of the BBC and other old empire forces.  Once a bullying coloniser, always a bullying coloniser.  The brainless subjects of the laughable House of Windsor were braying “More, More, More”.  No One Shouted “Stop”.  A little humility goes a long way, y’know…
 
Fed up to the gills with the nauseating little englanders, I found refuge in an Irish bar to watch Cork play Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final.  More by blind luck than cunning judgement, I ended up in The Dolphin in King’s Cross.  It was Heavenly.  Back amidst my people.  Back among my swans.  Back with sophisticates who were saddened by the death of Con Houlihan the previous week.  Back (almost) home. 
 
Now, calling an implement used for digging “a spade”, I’ll concede that The Dolphin was not a classy joint.  The landlord, from Mullinahone Co. Tipperary, was a dour, crotchety, old misanthrope.  In no way, shape or form were the clientele in any sense hip or cool.  The pub’s interior decor consisted of a pool table, a picture of Richard Stakelum hoisting a cup in 1987, and a clapped out jukebox.  Still, I needed a port in a storm.  The Dolphin gave me shelter.  And strong cider.  And fed my soul.  Which was nice.
 
Once my Cork and G.A.A credentials had been established I was in like Liam og O’Flynn.  A man from Athy, who’d spent forty years living in London, sat beside me and it turned out he knew people from Churchtown (outside Athy) whose wedding I was at in 2006.  A fitter, originally from Dublin, said he’d heard as fact that they had to dig up a section of the Olympic Stadium after neglecting to install a gas-line for the Olympic Flame.  We all laughed.  Everyone stood when the National Anthem was played in Croke Park.  Rounds of drink were bought.  Good times.
 
The sole english accent belonged to a Del-Boy-type young fella who worked with the Dublin fitter.  He was trying to stir things by raving on about the glorious gold medals won by the brits.  He was asking the landlord had he been watching Mo Farah’s win in the 10,000 metres the night before, “or was there some big hurling game on the tv?”  “Actually”, Moody from Mullinahone replied, “we were watching Mayo versus Down and Dublin against Laois in the football championship.  The only Mo I know is Mo Mowlam”.  Not a squeak more was heard from Del-Boy-lite.
 
At some stage in the Kerry/Donegal match a Mayo lad got a text with the result of the Olympic tennis final.  He informed the bar “The bollocks Murray has won”.  There were a few curses muttered; then a Kerryman roared at the tv “Come on The Gooch”, and someone (who may have had a Cork accent) shouted “Gooch me arse, Come on Donegal”.  All was good with the world. 
 
The hypocritical brits had the temerity to lambast the U.S ladies football team for a lack of class when wearing ill-judged Nike t-shirts after securing gold.  My own take on it was that the slogan on display was not a reference to the winning of a tournament, rather a shout out to a certain Irish bar with a sea animal name.  The controversial t-shirts read “Greatness Has Been Found”.  It sure has – across the road and down a lane from King’s Cross railway station.  Truly, a pub to “Inspire A Generation”.
 
 
They Put Up The Posters Saying “We’ve Got More Than You!!”
Ralph Mexico

Before London 2012 wrapped up with the pretty lame finale, and the Olympic Flame was put into cold storage, there were two more events to attend, namely ladies diving and gents wrestling.  Not quite the golden tickets I aspired to but still a helluva’ lot better than dressage, sailing or nothing.  Especially dressage or sailing.

Conveniently, the diving was on the Sunday evening a few hours before the men’s 100 metres final so there was an almighty buzz in the Olympic Park.  We arrived early and mooched around the various venues, enjoying the sunshine, throwing wry glances at the big screen where that odious toad Murray was losing his mixed doubles tennis final.

Of course it was all corporate advertising overkill in the park, yet everyone’s mood was so unremittingly upbeat you couldn’t help but feel good about the place.  The eyes of the world were going to be glued to the Olympic Stadium in a few hours when Usain Bolt took 9.63 seconds out of his busy partying schedule to take 41 strides; before that we were going into the Aquatics Centre which was about 60 strides west of Bolt’s running track.

So, ladies 3 metres springboard diving was the competition.  £90.00 was the price of the ticket.  Twelve competitors had five dives each.  Sixty dives.  £90.00.  At £1.50 a dive, this was expensive splashing.  So it goes.

The electronic scoreboard would give us the name of the diver and a description of the dive she was about to attempt.  The obligatory “berk with microphone” would read this out to us in between encouraging us to “make some noise”.  The diver would step up on the board, get some spring going, launch herself into the air, throw a few shapes, and swoosh into the drink causing as little of a splash as possible.  The seven judges would quickly throw their marks out of ten onto the scoreboard, and we were ready for the next diver.  Bounce-spin-splash-applause-score.  Sixty times.  Hmmm.

It was graceful, somewhat balletic, quite interesting.  You’d have your work cut out though convincing me to ahem, spring for another diving contest.  Still, it was the Olympics, Once in a lifetime, Blah-blah-blah.  Just a pity that each “Blah” cost £30.00.

In the end a Chinese girl won, another Chinese took silver, and a Mexican held off the noisily-supported Italian girl for the bronze.  “With all the will in the world, Diving for dear gold, When they could be diving for pearls”, indeed.  Then we had the medal ceremony pool-side.  The flags were hoisted, the jaunty Chinese anthem was played, and we all filed happily out of the Aquatics Centre to go home to watch Bolt prove again that it’s his world – we are merely lucky to live in it.

If its Friday morning, then it must be men’s wrestling.  55kg (a small weight for a wrestler, a huge weight for a chicken) and 74kg (big, bad and dangerous to know in any form) were the categories.  The action was taking place in the ExCel Arena down in the Docklands.  The previous day Katie Taylor knocked Fifty Shades Of Bray out of a repressed Russian in the ExCel, and the huge complex was miraculously still intact after all the buck-lepping and whooping the celebrating Irish did.  Which was nice.

Whereas the diving suffered from an excessive price tag and a lack of activity, the wrestling scored a knockout on both fronts.  £20.00 for over two hours entertainment?  No need to “take the change outta’ that”.

There were three mats laid out, so there was three bouts played out at the same time.  The competitors marched on to the beat of “Whoo-ooo-ooo-oo-ooo Barbra Streisand”.  They climbed onto their mat, bowed to the ref, assumed the position, and tore bald-headed into each other without any of this “Crouch, touch, pause, take steroids, engage” pussyfooting.

They grappled with gusto, jousted with joie de vivre, attacked with abandon.  It was marvellous entertainment.  I got chatting to a former wrestler, now a referee, from Pennsylvania who gave me the inside scoop on the scoring, the skills, and the moves.  The close combat occasionally resembled two duffel coat-wearing drunks wrestling over a fallen chip in the laneway outside Joan’s Cafe, but when we got down to the quarter-finals and only one mat was in use it was easier to appreciate the nuances of two men wearing man-kinis trying to horse each other out of a circle marked on a platform of rubber.

The arena announcer was hollering it up a storm and kept referring to wrestling as “the oldest sport in the world”.  And there I was thinking Luis Suarez getting “the bird” from opposition fans was the only sport that had been going around since time began…

It was obvious that the geographical strongholds for wrestling are east of Greece, especially in the former Soviet republics and in Iran.  It was the presence of so many Iranian competitors that led to the most welcome attraction of an olive-skinned beauty a couple of rows to my left frequently hopping up and shaking it to “Barbra Streisand” in a manner that would most definitely have the brothers in the Islamic Republic in a hot funk.  I’d wager that there’s nowhere in the Koran where supporting “the oldest sport in the world” while dressed and dancing like someone from “the oldest profession in the world” is given a free pass.

(Train)ing In Vain!!
Ralph Mexico

The Olympic flame is burning bright at Olympic HQ, Stratford; there’s friendly fires at a host of other venues scattered around London and beyond.  So it came to pass that at 8 o’clock on the morning after the Opening Ceremony I was seated in a grandstand in Horse Guards Parade, right next to Downing Street, a hundred yards from Buckingham Palace.  I was watching the first round games in the beach volleyball.  Me.  The Olympics.  Beach volleyball.  How Green Is My Valley, eh?

The transformation of this very British corridor of power into an Olympic venue was startling.  There were 17,000 seats in the stands, and there were 5,000 tonnes of sand, shipped in from Surrey, in use as the playing surface for this most idiosyncratic of Olympic sports.  That’s 1,679 billion grains of sand in case you were wondering.  Blimey.

It was early morning.  It was Saturday.  It was the Olympics.  It was beach volleyball.   Everyone was ahem, up for it.  Even the sun had risen early to cast a warm eye on proceedings.  Which was nice.

The actual four games played (two women’s, two men’s) were kinda’ incidental.  It was all about the accompanying razzmatazz.  The loudmouth on the loud-speaker was giving it the whole “Lets wake up David Cameron with a roar from the Downing Street Stand” schtick.  He was orchestrating Mexican Waves in the crowd.  He was introducing The Horse Guards Parade Dancers who strutted, gyrated, conga’d around the sand in their bikinis between points.  He screamed approval when the Benny Hill theme tune was played as the team of rakers (“Lets hear it for the Horse Guard Parade Rakers”) ran on to sweep the sand.  He wanted our attention, our applause, our love.  He got on my wick.

Still, the whole spectacle was a good laugh.  Was it sport?  Was it Even Better Than The Real Thing?  I’ll get back to you on that.  First, I’ll have a closer study of the photos I took of the Russian and Chinese ladies teams before deciding.  I may well be a while…

Onwards to Wembley on Tuesday night to be one of over 70,000 people in the crowd for the Britain v. Brazil ladies football game.  Walking up Wembley Way towards the hallowed stadium, newly kitted out with its’ attention-grabbing arch, is surely one of the great sporting strolls.

As at the beach volleyball, it was airport-type security at the entrance gates.  The people doing the checking were unfailingly good-humoured and polite – a pleasant change from the grumpy little Hitlers you meet at most airports.

My sister and I were seated slightly to the right, behind one of the goals.  Insert your own chauvinistic gag about the danger of being in seats to the side of the goals at a ladies football match.  Again, we were (ill)treated to a stadium announcer who really, really wanted to hear us “Make Some Noise”, and whose world would have been incomplete if he failed to orchestrate a Mexican Wave every three minutes.  So it goes.  (By the way, how old skool is it to refer to The Wave as The Mexican Wave??)

There was a fair clutch of Brazilians in the stadium giving it some Samba-action.  However, they were out-numbered by the butchers apron-wavers who got to shout a little louder when their side scored (in the goals right in front of us) after 90 seconds.  Ho-hum.

The Brazilian team featured Marta in their ranks.  She has been named World Player of the Year five times.  She was wearing number 10, of course.  Had she and her svelte team-mates won the game I was ready to roll out the searingly obvious “Marta & The Muffins” headline.  Alas, the Brits hung on to win 1-0.  Well, you would expect a good performance from Britain – after all they had home advantage and the pick of not one but three countries…

The standard of play was more than reasonable, if not quite West Germany v. France in the 1982 World Cup (we’d have to wait for the Canada/USA semi-final for that).  Both sides tried to pass the ball around and use the wings as much as possible.  There was little or no play-acting or haranguing of the referee.  And most controversially – the players actually seemed to be enjoying playing football, in contrast to those vile Premiership creatures with their foul language, horrible cheating, and vicious snarls at the camera.  Ladies, take a bow.

Admittedly there were lapses that brought a smile.  The Brazilian left-back took a throw-in early doors that was such a foul throw she could easily have been booked for it.  The ref said “play on”.  Later, Britain were taking a corner when a second ball was thrown onto the pitch by an over-enthusiastic ball-girl.  The ref saw the second ball, decided it was inconvenient to stop the corner being taken, so play resumed with two balls on the pitch.  Howard Webb, please take note.

The very evident enjoyment that the players were getting from the game on the pitch was reciprocated in the stands.  The atmosphere (in spite of the incessant grating chants of “GB, GB, GB”) was top-notch.  It was a sweet relief to, for once, attend a game of ball played in a non-poisonous, non-hate-filled environment.  A beautiful way to watch “The Beautiful Game”.  Respect.

Sport being played with honesty and honour – wasn’t this the ideal of the original Olympic Movement?  Wasn’t it the dream of beach volleyball that occupied the minds of Herakles, Pierre De Coubertin, and Dr. Pat O’Callaghan at their inaugural meeting in Hayes Hotel, Thurles in 1884?

Knees Up Shun Fujimoto!!
Ralph Mexico

Posted by: ralphmexico | August 6, 2012

COE BLIMEY – ITS THE LAHN-DAHN OLYMPICS, INNIT?

Listeners, you may have heard a rumour that the Olympic Games are taking place in London right now.  For want of something better to do, I flew from Farranfore to Stansted on the Monday before the Opening Ceremony (which was taking place on the Friday) – plenty of time to see how our noisy neighbours were getting their ducks in line…

Stansted was my first encounter with the wine and orange-clad volunteers who were everywhere in the city helping visitors around the great metropolis.  Their politeness was unnerving.  The Irish default setting – “Beware of friendly Brits” – was thrown awry.  The volunteers were genuinely courteous and helpful.  And they were everywhere.  Which was… nice?

The Blimp was the next sign that something mega was taking place.  From miles away, on the bus in from Stansted, you could see The Blimp hovering over East London.  The capital hadn’t seen such a brightly-coloured, jumbo-sized, expanse of puffed-up air since Neil Ruddock donned one of those garish Crystal Palace away shirts in the 2000/01 season.

Upon arrival in Stratford you had to be impressed with how the the Olympic Park looked.  When I was there a year ago some stuff was in place, but it still looked like a huge building site.  Now however, the vast area containing the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics centre, the athletes village, the velodrome etc. looked resplendent.  Those Irish and Polish builders sure are good at meeting deadlines.

Stratford was heaving in the days leading up to the start of the games.  The Westfield Shopping Complex, beside the Olympic Park, is ginormous.  They should run the marathon around its’ miles of aisles instead of on mundane roads.  Westfield occupies more land mass than eighteen of the countries competing at the Olympics.  It has a higher GDP than 194 of the countries.  It is notoriously B.I.G.

The shopping wonderland was rammed on my one visit.  Competitors and officials, sporting tracksuits and laminates, abounded.  A shop called “Victoria’s Secret” was operating a “one in, one out” policy at the door, and the queue stretched for half a mile down the corridor outside.  Whatever secret Victoria had, a helluva’ lot of people seemed curious to find it out.

I had a notion to join the female-heavy line, but opted instead to go to Primark to buy myself a pair of slippers.  Now this was more my kinda’ hang-out.  There were gluttonous hordes streaming towards the tills weighed down with jeans, t-shirts and all manner of booty.  “Primark, Get Set, Go” seemed to be the order of the day.  And before you ask – no, I didn’t get the slippers I craved.  Ho-Hum.

Now, if you drew a Venn diagram of Boris Johnson and me, the intersection would be miniscule, but I gotta’ applaud the right wing buffoon for the way the transport in the city was nowhere near as chaotic as expected.  Opting to walk on a few occasions though was rewarding enough too.  A trio of Malaysian cyclists whizzed past me on the Lea Bridge Road; the owner of the eel and pie shop in Leytonstone was being interviewed by a Japanese tv crew when I ambled by; some South African mountain bikers asked me for directions on the Greenway near the Oympic Park.  Everyone was feeling “Very Olympic”.

Speaking of “feeling Olympic” – I walked by the little cafe across the road from Stratford police station which featured on “Have I Got News For You” a few weeks ago.  The cafe had traded for years under the name “Olympic Cafe”.  Alas, as the Olympics is now a shameless, bullying, greedy, corporate, big business, whore of capitalism its owners were warned they had to change the name or else some angry Lithuanian shot-putters would call around to do a spot of er, re-decorating.

The cafe owners changed the name.  The sign above the door, as shown on “H.I.G.N.F.Y”, now reads “LYMPIC CAFE” with a dash of paint doing a so-so job covering the “O”.  Alright, seeing this sign wasn’t exactly sharing a box of chicken nuggets with Maria Sharapova or relaxing in a sauna with Usain Bolt, but it gave me a little thrill anyway.  So it goes.

Suitably Olympified, it was time for the opening ceremony.  And in fairness that was OK too; not quite “Anarchy In The UK” nor “Pretty Vacant” either.  It was entertaining, unexpected, bewildering and joyous, even if the “Bond” and “Bean” segments weren’t deserving of such gushing praise.  It was so mad-cap and mad-“Tap” in parts, I expected a miniature, replica Stonehenge to make an appearance.  At the end of the day, you gotta’ say “Jolly Good Show, Chaps”.  It was time to let the games begin.

Being Boyled!!
Ralph Mexico

ps.  Quite a cull of literary heavy-weights in the past week or so.  Vidal, Binchy and Houlihan all suffered the cruellest editorial cut.  No prizes for guessing who will be most sorely missed- the final whistle has blown on The Greatest Ever Sportswriter.  R.I.P.

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