First Seveno match report of the season: vs. Queensbury

•May 18, 2011 • 4 Comments

A new captain, a new era for Seveno

One of the delights of playing for Seveno CC is the opportunity it gives to visit areas of
London one would never otherwise see. Preston – I think we were in Preston – was once
a small hamlet which suffered terribly during the Black Death. More recently, a local
nobleman sheltered a plotter against Elizabeth 1 and consequently had his land seized.
For a long while, not much happened. Then came Seveno. And then again.

Our team was very different to the one that bashed Queensbury by 52 runs at the start of
last season. With Woz being exiled back to the antipodean colonies for being too intense,
and with Gautam still fine-tuning his ‘commuting to cricket from Spain’ plan and Clive
Kirk AWOL, we had a hatful of debutants and a glorious new captain, Randolph Rann.
Those wondering how the new regime would differ from Rez’s long and arduous reign of
terror had an early clue in the dressing room, when Randy announced that the man of the
match* would win a porn DVD. Latin Cum Queens, I believe. A fine troupe.

The second point of difference was that Randy won the toss (this sentence is unrelated to
the last paragraph). He set an attacking field, with two slips in place, and unleashed a
double Paul opening bowling partnership. Paul Harker soon found an excellent line and
length, tying their openers in knots and barely leaking a run. At the other end Paul Briant
started well, but lost his radar and suffered at the hands of Queensbury opener Adil, who
smote some mighty, uncomplicated blows. Suddenly other-opener Paul was
bellowing “That’s the 50 up”. He had contributed about 2 of them.

Finally Paul H got the breakthrough he deserved and had Paul plumb LBW; this started a
collapse. Young debutant Callum replaced Paul B and found a superb line, just clipping
the top of off stump. Three Queensburians were bowled in this fashion, and with fellow
newbie Stewart causing trouble at the other end, his hair catching the breeze like a young
Ryan Sidebottom, the wickets came in a flurry. He had Captain Randy to thank for a
superb low catch at silly mid-off, and Harx for bucket hands at cover point. His third
wicket came courtesy of a pea roller of a delivery, which did for danger man
Ryan. “Sorry”, said Stew to the departing batsman. How English.

Things were going so well that Harxy was getting tired from running in from the
boundary to celebrate wickets. “Who needs CK?”, he remarked after the fourth or fifth
went down. This was to prove premature.

First, we were held up by a stubborn last couple of partnerships, which dragged
Queensbury from an iffy 100 for 8 to a more respectable 178 all out, thanks to some
clean hitting, a dodgy LBW decision and a dropped catch (hi!). Matty B bowled
economically for no reward, Callum ended with an excellent, McGrath-like five for.
Second, we had to bat.

The fact that a) Paul Harker was promoted to number three and b) there was serious
consideration given to the idea of me opening tells you all you need to know about our
batting strength. By the end of the first over we were already 2 down, with Rann and

Harker back in the pavilion. Queensbury dangerman Ryan was bowling at a decent
pace, but not much in the way of resistance was offered. In a blink of an eye we were 20
for 7, and it was only thanks to Sean, Callum’s dad, coming in at 11 scoring a solid 25
not out that we reached our total of 48, with the match coming to an end courtesy of a
comedy run-out and a despairing dive from Stewart and a ‘I guess I can’t get away with
not giving this’ decision by square leg umpire Rann. Ryan, incidentally, ended with the
faintly unlikely figures of 5-2-6-6. Oh well. We have our chance for revenge later in the

*Never announced, so presumably still up for grabs. Hopefully didn’t go to the 14 year
old Callum.


Best Old Man Watching The Match From The Boundary

This award goes to the old man watching from the boundary, who turned up for the latter
stages of the Seveno innings to offer his words of wisdom:

On Stewart’s batting: “I wonder how he’d cope with someone tossing them up. He’s only
got that forward prod.”

On Seveno batsmen’s betwixt-over fist bumps: “What’s all this fist bumping? You
haven’t achieved anything”.

On the observation that things weren’t going well: “You could say that. It would be a
masterpiece of understatement.”

Best captaining

“Great stuff Seveno, this is great stuff” – Randy… shortly after he himself had taken a
spectacular low catch.

Best run

Denny, the D-Train, whose well-placed hoik up in the air resulted in his FIRST RUN for

Best super-sub fielding while technically at work

“Hang on control, I’ve just been called to the field of play’. Paul’s mate Ian takes leave of
his BBC radio van to field in tight jeans and loafers.

Best filial loyalty

Matty B, for giving his brother out LBW

New House / New Bike

•February 9, 2011 • 4 Comments


It’s sunny today so I thought I’d do a blog post that shines and shimmers with optimism and Good Things.

We’ve moved in to the new house and it’s great. Admittedly our stuff is still scattered to the four corners of the East, but soon we’ll have all of our things in one place and we can begin to work out what we need to keep and what we need to burn as a sacrificial offering to our favourite pagan gods. Or give to the charity shop.

We live in the top floor of the house. Our bedroom is up in the eaves, has wooden floors and a nice skylight from which we can see the stars. Canary Wharf twinkles in the mid-distance like a crap Manhattan. We bought a nice new bed and the previous owners left us a large clothes * of the kind I’ve only seen in the houses of fashion students, where they would be festooned with feather boas, fancy dress, and paper mache horses heads. We’ve used it to hang up our jumpers. Running along the side of the room behind some doors is enough storage space for at least seven dwarves.

Down some stairs is the next bit of our quarters: a little WC, and a study. Mogran got a desk and chair from a website where Japanese people flog off their belongings cheap before they leave the country forever. So we have that. There is enough room for a sofa, and bookshelves, and other things, should we find ourselves in possession of them.

Downstairs are our two housemates’ rooms, and a bathroom with a freestanding bath and the most riduculous power shower I have ever experienced. It is mighty. It washes away all dirt and doubt.

Downstairs again, is the living room, with enormous TV and our assorted video game systems already connected, and a dining room table surrounded by bikes, some of which belong to me. Downstairs again is a massive kitchen with five-ring hob – I have never seen the like, this goes against everything I have come to understand about hobs – and a kitchen table. Outside is a garden which, I am told, features the occasional hedgehog.

Downstairs again is a cellar, featuring lots of storage space and a nice picture of a dog.

The housemates are really lovely: friendly, and both more than willing to come to the pub and almost win the quiz. Winningly, they display no obvious signs of imminent mental or psychological breakdown. I’ve been cycling into work every morning with one, who knows a pretty, twisting back-streets route that I still can’t quite get the hang of.

Finally, I love the area. It’s easy to cycle, and there are lots of interesting cafes, pubs and restaurants. Also, for the first time since people started fleeing New Malden I’ve started bumping into people I know, which does wonders for one’s sense of community and well-being. Whenever I move to a new area my brain does a complicated geographical calculation of where I now am in comparison to the people I know and like to hang out with, and what the most likely route to those places and people is. Now I’m going to have people nearby. On Saturday I went for a cup of tea and a chat with someone on the high street. I even had a cheeky scone. It was amazing.

And finally again, I love my new bike. When you get a bike the mental map of London entirely changes, because you’re no longer thinking about tubes or buses, but how it only takes, say, half an hour to get to the river. Your range increases. It’s nice.

I got the bike last Saturday from London Fields Cycles, in amusing fashion. I’d rung up the day before asking after a particular bike, the only one I could find that suited my requirements: not a fixie, not a boring mountain bike, not a fancy racer, not a fold-up, good for bimbling around town and probably fine for a country amble, green. The shop had one – one! – left in stock from last year’s models. It was hanging from the ceiling and they put a tag with my name on it.

When I walked in on Saturday lunchtime, I was faced with a young, tall Italian woman trying out my bike while her hipster boyfriend looked on. The member of staff was enthusing about how well the bike suited her. I circled awkwardly, fumbling for my glasses and trying to get close enough to read the tag on the handlebars.

Sure enough. There was my name. So I interrupted:

“Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, but I think that’s my bike.”

Cue extreme awkwardness. What made the whole thing worse is the couple were RIDICULOUSLY NICE about it. We had a fairly long conversation about how great the bike was. The bike that I was going to have and that they weren’t. Then I took it out for a test spin while the shop showed them some pictures of a bike in a brochure. When I got back, the couple had gone – thwarted – and the assistant was apologetic.

“Really sorry about that – I saw the tag but assumed it was out of date,” he said. How we laughed. The shop, and the staff, were both brilliant with a pathologically-fearful-of-shops-especially-bike-shops person such as myself, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

And out I cycled, back up to my new hood, giggling to myself as I went. It felt like Christmas morning.

P.S. Am thinking of setting up yet another new blog, specifically about my local area, as that’s how I started blogging and that’s the kind of blogging I feel most comfortable with. I like it to have a geographical hook. Dear reader(s), what do you think?


•February 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Moving’s rubbish. I’ve done it far too much lately (the past five years). I understand why people* buy dwellings, then spend all their time and money making them exactly how they want it, then sit in it watching box sets and drinking wine. It terrifies me, but I understand it.

Moving’s about possessions. If you didn’t have any possessions moving would be a piece of cake. You could just turn up cheerily at the new house with just a handkerchief tied to a stick. The handkerchief wouldn’t contain anything, because you’d have no possessions. The handkerchief would be symbolic.

Replace ‘handkerchief’ with ‘staggering array of modern gizmos’ and this crazy vision is the actual truth for some people. Late last year there was a spate of effortlessly smug articles going “Now I have my ipad and my iphone and my kindle and my laptop I have no need for DVDs, CDs, books, clothes, frying pans or friends, and spend all my time living in boutique hotels because it’s cheaper than renting”. When I say spate I mean one, and it was probably in the Evening Standard, an odd publication which persists in its belief that the exploits of the children of the aristocracy is of interest to anyone.

But it made me think about my own possessions, and how useless I’ve been with them. Lots of stuff is still in New Malden, and is slowly rotting in a shed. Love letters, photographs, 1980s computer games: all gradually becoming mulch. Should probably do something about that.

And then there is the great online archive which is likely to be transitory. Emails (some lost already, many impossible to collate), blogs (half gone), pictures (existant on flickr and across assorted old computers and hard drives), music (lost, partially digitised, given away, forgotten, not in the right cases…). If we’re at least partially defined by what we have then I am not much in particular. I have some books, at least. And a ukulele.

So, both on and offline, my possessions are in a mess. I made a start at a photo album in spring 1998, writing dates and sarcastic captions and using too much prit stick. All my diaries are lost, embarrassing, or incomplete. If I ever accidentally write the next great American novel, my biographers aren’t gong to have much to go on.

I think about possessions a lot because I’m basically a hoarder, albeit a very inefficient one. I keep things and I can’t remember why and then I lose them. Moving around a lot has probably been good for me in that I’ve lost all concept of the worth of stuff, which is good for the soul, but then I worry that one day I’ll wake up and find I’m the sort of person that cares about that kind of thing.

Anyway. Back to packing the things I’d forgotten I owned.

* with the means

Chips And Cheese, Pint Of Wine

•February 1, 2011 • 2 Comments


It’s nearly February already and I’ve failed in my new year’s resolution to blog more. Or I would have had ‘blogging more’ been a resolution. I don’t do resolutions. I’m not the UN. I do vague hope. Much like the UN.

I’ve been very busy since Christmas & New Year, due to settling in to a new job and largely failing to find somewhere to live. I’ve been staying in emergency accommodation – a friend’s flat, while she goes gallivanting around South America – while I did my failing. But then, with all hope almost gone, I found a lovely place and unless something disastrous happens I’ll be moving there in a few days. Then my year can begin.

One thing I have told myself is that if I do blog I want it to be back to the stream-of-consciousness nonsense that I associate with blogging. Sometimes I get a bit too conscious of the people who might be reading, then meld the style of my writing into an approximation of what I think they might, collectively, like. So from now on I’m going to pretend that no-one’s reading, and that any comments left under entries are merely a coincidence.

I’ve just recorded a cover of an MJ Hibbett song. The song – Chips & Cheese, Pint Of Wine – is about him & his friends meeting up at weddings and such and reliving the crazy dancing days of their youth. It’s about growing old and staying young. I’m at the age of going to far too many weddings (which is, of course, better than going to too many funerals. Or Christenings. Or cross burnings) so the song strikes some chords. Also I was reminded of it when I was DJing at our club night on Saturday. There was a miss-mash-mangle of people there. Some were loyal and wonderful people who have been coming to nights I’ve been DJing since the heroic days of London Loves, the only Soho-based accidental Britpop revival night in the early to mid noughties. But London Loves is dead now, its venue knocked down to make way for the Crossrail project, which may or may not get built.

And some were new and young and inexplicable. And I was caught in two minds whether to play the shameless songs from our own youths – the Stone Roses, Nirvana, and Vanilla ice of people a few years younger than Hibbett – or to try to introduce people to some new songs. In the end I played REM far too early and got caught in a whirlwind of populism. Once you’ve played REM there’s no going back to Veronica Falls.

And so there we were, and as the lights metaphorically went up we were singing along to Tonight We Fly. Because when we die, will we be that disappointed or sad? If heaven doesn’t exist what will we have missed? This life is the best we’ve ever had. Chips and cheese, pint of wine.

I’ve also been writing some songs of my own. Writing songs is an interesting experience because I’m not very good at it. My talent is for writing blog posts or – if I really excel myself –  inconsequental travel books that appeal to the mid-brow who find stuff written by Dave Gorman really profound. Which is a bit heartbreakingly tragic but still better than my other talent, which is for Streetfighter 2.

Songwriting I am not so good at. I am the Dhalsim of songwriting. I really enjoy the process though, particularly the melody bit. When it comes to the lyrics I mainly embarrass myself. Nevertheless I am looking forward to playing live and seeing what other people think. I’ve already talked to Sean Fortuna Pop! and he seems more than happy** to give us a recording contract, provided we change the name. We started off being called The Leytonstone Shitkickers. Then for a few minutes we were Fukurou, which is the Japanese for owl. Our guitarist said it was too twee (though bits of us are quite twee) and too Japanese. So then we went for Future Corpses Of America, which is a Cat & Girl reference. Unfortunately, as Sean and several others have pointed out, this is far too emo. So it’s back to the start. The Fukurou Shitkickers?

Finally, I’ve been reading a book about the seventies: specifically, the paranoia and madness of the seventies, from Nixon to Uri Geller to the CIA to Harold Wilson to Idi Amin to Baader Meinhof to Mao to Wilson. One thing I didn’t realise about the seventies was quite how prevalent establishment fear of Commie revolution there was at that time. Strange Days Indeed is a hatful of suspicion, imagination, hallucination, gin, whisky and terrible pompous fantasy. But without the magnificent shiny distracting power of the internet and modern tat, I don’t think the current climate would be much different.

Right, I’ve rambled enough for one entry. Until next time,


* A woman with a stand at Whitechapel IDEAS STORE (library) who worked for the project reassured me that it was in fact going ahead, and in fact was so excited that someone had taken notice of her plans and crude scale model of the havoc the building work would wreak on the local area that I got stuck with her for 20 minutes. I know too much about the Crossrail and specifically how it is likely to affect Whitechapel, a place I no longer live.

** This is probably a lie

Lost Property

•January 21, 2011 • 4 Comments

Just paid a visit to TFL’s Lost Property Office in Baker Street. I left my bag on a bus, but it was picked up at a bus depot. But not before someone had gone through to see if anything was worth nicking. My phone charger (a fiver from a shop on Essex Road) and my 2011 diary were both missing, but the Bike To Work scheme certificate that would have allowed the brandisher to get a free £500 bike which I would then have had to pay for over the next six months out of my salary was mercifully intact. Phew.

I also now have last year’s diary back, which is good. I use old diaries to remember what I did and didn’t do.

They were very nice and old-school at the office, and I enjoyed sitting and waiting for my item and listening in on the other inquiries. Lots of men with(out) lost wallets, lots of women with(out) lost bags. Most were polite and contrite. One however got quite angry that their bag wasn’t waiting for them. “I rang the depot and they said they didn’t have it,” shouted one. “Did you email or phone us before coming in?” “No.” I felt a little sickly glimmer of following-the-rules pride.

North Downs Way: From Dorking to Merstham

•December 1, 2010 • 3 Comments

It’s been weeks since we completed the second part of our great North Downs Way adventure (or “you and James’ ministry of silly walks,” as Morgan calls them*) – from Dorking to Merstham – and I still haven’t got around to posting about it. It’s been a busy month, and in the interim I’ve drunk lots of tea, got a new job and written about bike theft and venue closure.

If I don’t write about it now I never will, so here goes. Gaps in memory will be filled in with creative lying, or magic realism. Whichever is more suitable.

With the clocks going back it was important we got down to Dorking fairly early, so it was with some surprise that we managed to meet at Waterloo at the crazy hour of half past nine in the morning. After the purchase of healthy sustinence such as tea and bacon sandwiches, we got the train, which was mainly populated by mountain bikists escaping to the Surrey Hills (NB: not mountains) to churn up some mud. One got on at Stoneleigh and was already soaked in brown. He looked as happy as a pig in shit, and his friends excitedly discussed how muddy he was, and how muddy they expected to get.

We arrived at Dorking to find some kind of mountain biking convention, but we soon left them behind as we walked past Denbies Wine Estate and towards the helpful sign pointing us on our North Downs Way.

Having looked at a few other descriptions of the trip I knew that the journey started with crossing the River Mole on STEPPING STONES, which was enormously exciting as stepping stones basically = childhood to me. Particularly those in the Isabella Plantation in Ricmond Park and those at Dovedale in the Peak District. I was coming back from Dovedale once when I heard that Forest had lost the post-Hillsborough 1989 FA Cup Semi Final replay against Liverpool. I still haven’t got over that.

Unfortunately due to the Mole being angry, the stepping stones were nowhere to be seen. They were either submerged by her mighty torrent, or had been stolen by some enterprising locals. We took the bridge instead, and made our way up Box Hill.
I’d been to Box Hill once before, with an enterprising ex-girlfriend who had an unlimited free rail pass due to her dad being a train driver. She was able to travel anywhere in the country, using any service available (except the West Highland Ferries, the ticket solemly pointed out. Though I don’t know why they needed to – from what I remember, ferries aren’t trains). I’d receive letters from all sorts of unlikely places. I think an unlimited rail pass would be my dream present, if anyone out there is wondering what to get me for Christmas.

Anyway, back from wondering to wandering: half way up the hill we met some extremely fit lycra types bounding down. Despite my mockery of the mountain bikers earlier, I do love seeing these fit and healthy people pursuing their hobbies that are perfectly decent and understandable and not to the detriment of society at large like watching X Factor is. I just marvel at their energy. Further up we met some dog walking types, and I gave their dog 8/10.

As we walked up the hill we could hear parents shouting at their children during the traditional Saturday morning matches being played on some pitches on the outskirts of Dorking. Someone should go up and down the country, record the kind of things these parents say (FACKING GET RID OF IT! HOOF IT, HOOF IT!), properly collate and contextualise it, and hand it in as evidence as to why England will never again win the football World Cup. We shouldn’t be allowed to host it either, by the way. Why on earth should we be handed the right to host football’s flagship tournament when we’ve spent the past two decades selling our sport wholesale to Rupert Murdoch?

At the top, we saw the usual daytrippers who only see the countryside that’s a few yards from a car park, and stopped at the viewpoint. Slightly further along we spotted the evidence of a fireworks party and also the deritus the curse of out-of-control teenage drinking. Although I remember one of us noting that it was a much nicer spot to flirt, drink cider and be sick in the bushes than our local municipal park.

One of the firework boxes was labelled “The End Of The World,” which seemed ambitious.

As we headed down the other side of the hill, leaving the car park crowd behind us, we noted we were heading into an abandoned quarry, old-school Dr Who style. We got a bit lost and went on a detour through the quarry itself, which was very impressive but would have been even more impressive had it been crawling with monsters made out of tinfoil. The remnants of the old pit were most interesting, however. Abandoned mines are classic Enid Blyton territory, so we quickly attempted to find out way back to the path before we ended up having to waste our afternoon thwarting a sinister plot concerning scar-faced villains and (probably) The Nazis.

After trapsing up an unnecessary hill we found our way back to the path, and headed along by Leigh Hill and lots of woodland. We had a map this time, but this served only to confuse us, and I think we got more lost this time than we did when we just had a bit of paper.

We eventually emerged on Colley Hill, which was most satisfying as it opened up satisfyingly onto downland and we got a chance to look back at the chain of hills we’d CONQUERED since leaving Dorking. This gave us a sense of achievement and made us feel we weren’t totally wasting our time.

On Colley Hill sits a wonderful pavillion, a gift from Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Inglis to the good people of Reigate. I like to think that he bequeathed it to them in apology for his having deflowered a series of gentleman pig farmers’ daughters. I have no evidence to support my theory, but it seems the most likely explanation.

Further on, we came across a fort. “Ah, this is probably Roman,” said my companion. He was only 1,800 years out – Reigate Fort was built in the late nineteenth century in order to defend against a possible attack by the dastardly French. This was interesting – the first part of our walk was peppered by defences against the Germans. Further along I expect to see defences in preparation for invasion by the Danes, Swedes, and Belgians. And possibly some on the other side of the hill, to protect from Londoners.

I enjoyed its large iron gates.

From here, we made our way into Gatton Park, and from there into the grounds of Gatton Park School. It was odd walking through the school grounds and then through the golf course that followed – the commuter belt was most certainly intruding now. Then we saw the biggest intrusion of all – as we marched across the fairway, the M25 roared away in a cutting to our left, taking cars from the country to the city, from the city to the country, and from the city to other cities. It was a bit of a shock – there are LOADS of cars, you know? I had no idea.

Our walk ended just past the grounds of Merstham cricket club. For completism sake, we followed the path over a pedestrian bridge over the motorway – there were signs to report vandalism, but none for the samaritans, which I found interesting – before heading back over the road bridge to the first Merstham pub that looked suitable for our needs.

* James has since done a much more silly walk – all the way from the outskirts of London to Canterbury. It took him six days. Pics are here.



My Letter To Ed Davey

•November 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I wrote to my old mate Ed Davey, MP for Kingston & Surbiton and now Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs. I tried to keep it polite. There were various other things I wanted to mention, but I decided to keep it brief and to the point.

Dear Mr Davey,

Given the Liberal Democrats appear to be enjoying their supporting role in the ideological cuts that are reshaping Britain yet further away from a social democracy and towards a US style ‘trickle down’ economics basket case, I’m afraid I will not vote for you or your party in any future elections. I’ve voted for you since 2001 and find you to be an excellent local MP, but given your proud collusion on extreme policies not voted for by the country at large, propping up a government of spectacular cruelty and short-sightedness, I’m afraid I never can again. And yes, the massive U-turn on the funding of education and the kettling of children who protest about it was the final straw.

I would also like to apologise and admit that this is partly my fault. I never thought for a million years that the Liberal Democrats would be insane enough to get into bed with the Tories, and so at least by voting for you I would be keeping them out. This was naive of me – I didn’t realise you were one of the ‘Orange Book’ privatation-crazy Lib Dems, but now I do. And now it’s too late.

For all that, I wish you luck in your role of government minister, and apologise for those disappointed in you who are not able to express themselves politely to you as I have. It’s just a lot of us are very, very angry, you see; and those who are not angry are collapsing into apathy and despair.

Oh, and on a more local note, I would be interested to hear if there is any progress on the rezoning of Surbiton and Kingston stations, given that your website still lists this as one of your ‘achievements’. Given the coalition has decided to allow massive season ticket increases from now on, I’m sure this mooted rezoning would be a big help to those who live near those stations.

All the best,


Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy

•November 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hullo there. Over the last few days I’ve been reading a book about Hollywood and how it reflects and bolsters US cultural and military hegemony. I reviewed it for the Morning Star, but I’m sure they won’t mind if I post the rambling, non-edited version here on my blog.

Reel Power – Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy
Matthew Alford

The villains came from outer space, rather than Russia or the Middle East. Their monument-destroying lasers act without compunction or mercy, quickly knocking out The White House, The Empire State Building, and Big Ben. The rest of the world acted as it is supposed to: it waits for America to come up with a solution; which it inevitably does, thanks to its heroic fighter-pilot President and brave citizens and military. Cue cheering, whooping, and, at the film’s conclusion, Independence Day being adopted by the entire world.

You can’t help but admire the chutzpah. Despite the bleatings of the American right over the alleged “liberal bias” of Hollywood, it is clear that most blockbusters are, as Alford suggests, “at ease with the spectacle of US high-tech violence against villainous foreigners”. Hollywood’s role in maintaining America’s ‘soft power’ – its cultural and ideological hegemony – is impossible to deny, regardless of the left-leaning nature of certain individual actors, screenwriters or directors.

The book’s revelations that the makers of the gung-ho likes of Top Gun, True Lies and the aforementioned Independence Day all colluded with the Department of Defense are unsurprising. Some of the details, however, are fascinating: The Pentagon suggested the makers of the latter “eliminate ‘any government connection’ to Roswell and Area 51”, which should send conspiracy theorists a-quiver.

More subtly, in the CIA thriller Clear and Present Danger’s original script, the President, despairing at Columbian drug lords, says: “Those sons-of-bitches… I swear, sometimes I would like to level that whole damn country – and Peru and Ecuador while we’re at it”. Thanks to Pentagon pressure the offending line was removed – but more importantly, as the author states, no version of the script ever mentioned the real-life web of weapons and money that underpin the US-Columbian relationship. In the movie, there are a few bad eggs, but the system will catch them. The system works.

Occasionally Alford falls into the trap of po-faced statements of the obvious. “Few would deny that the politics of the James Bond or Mission Impossible films are anything other than in the camp of Western government,” he notes. But few would deny that the films are anything other than pure camp either.

And he has a more general problem with irony. The beauty and satire of Team America: World Police, by the makers of South Park, lies in its mastery of the absurd. “Don’t worry, everything is bon”, says a member of the Team to stunned Parisians, who have just seen their city reduced to collateral rubble in the process of killing some Arab terrorists. Yet to Alford, the film’s closing “dicks fuck assholes” ‘justification’ speech for US military misadventures “ignores the fact… the US provides support to assholes… including Saudi Arabia, Angola, Chad, Colombia…”. But the makers of Team America revel in equal-opportunity profanity and offensiveness. They probably just found the speech funny.

The book is most convincing when it deals with films traditionally thought of as nuanced, or critical of US foreign policy, such as Three Kings or Hotel Rwanda; he highlights their adherence to the idea that US military intervention is generally correct, the problem being when and for how long to implement it. Also, the argument that only big budget films made by eccentric mavericks such as Paul Verhoeven (responsible for Total Recall’s futureworld of corporations owning the very air we breathe) are able to escape tacit censorship rings true.

Alford’s conclusions – that Hollywood wishes to entertain and not to upset the powers that be – are hardly earth-shattering, but his book is an engaging look at the innards of the dream factory process. It’s easy to see why a film like Independence Day was made, and why it received these words of recommendation from none other than former Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole: “We won, the end. Leadership. America. Good over evil. It’s a good movie. Bring your family, too.”

Trapped In A Richmond Pub

•November 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Prince Charles approved pseudo-Georgian Richmond* riverside floods at high tide from time to time. It did this Sunday, and I was cut off by the rising waters in the White Cross pub. This is a perfectly acceptable place to be marooned on a sunny autumnal afternoon, but in case you do wish to escape the pub has some wellington boots available if you wish to wade your way back to civilisation. We didn’t.

The last time I was in Richmond at a notably high tide, a guy had parked his posh sports car on the slipway, only to return to find it mostly underwater and surrounded by hundreds of revellers, waiting for him to come back so they could point and laugh at him. To the guy’s credit, he took it in good humour, even as he fetched his sodden top-of-the-range laptop from the back seat. He raised it above his head like a trophy, the crowd roared, and the insurers presumably paid up.

It was much quieter this time.

*Richmond-Upon-Thames, London. Not Richmond, Yorkshire, Richmond, Virginia, or Richmond, Kentucky.

Guildford – Dorking: The North Downs Way

•November 1, 2010 • 7 Comments

On Saturday I finally did what I’d been threatening to for many moons, and got out of London and went on a bit of a walk. The idea I had was to walk part of the North Downs’ Way*, from Guildford to Dorking in Surrey. It’s the kind of thing that other people would do without much thought, but for me getting out of bed on a Saturday morning and getting out of the city is extremely difficult. London has a very strong gravity and if you stop to faff you find your plan has been reduced to popping to the local shops to buy some cheese. You need to achieve escape velocity.

This achieved, I met my companion at Waterloo station and stocked up on middle class walking foodstuffs such as samosas and stuffed vine leaves. He stuck to the more traditional chocolate bars. We were both wearing sensible footwear, but we hadn’t done anything so ostentatious as buying a map. Instead I had a print-out of the route in finest 1980s text based adventure game tradition: “You are in Guildford station. To your left are dragons. You move forward and find yourself surrounded by dwarves…”.

Oh alright, it wasn’t like that at all. But it was a set of instructions and not a map, so we were expecting to get lost, bewildered and possibly savaged by a bunch of stockbrokers who had ‘gone native’ in the Surrey Hills. It was nearly Halloween, after all.

Our first task was to leave Guildford without being lured into any pubs, and to find out way to the North Downs Way.We made it to the river Wey without incident, and followed it past an inviting pub, a lively collection of ducks, and some slightly confusing statues from Alice in Wonderland. After crossing the wrong bridge and going on an engaging diversion across a meadow, we finally made it to the first acorn-branded route sign that would be our reassuring companion for the rest of the journey.

Soon enough, we began to leave the middle class dwellings behind and instead were surrounded by confusing things like trees, fresh air, fields and horses, as this picture indicates. I took a big breath. The air tasted unusually clean. This was truly God’s own country. In the first outbreak of woodland, other James located himself a walking stick, which was large and knobbly and make him look like a wizard striding across middle earth. All he needed was the beard, enormous hat, and magical powers.

Moving on, we talked of this and that while Surrey revealed its secrets to us, like a shy maiden in the first flush of randy adventure. We found a thatched cottage that looked like the kind of place you’d find a retired rock star; We came across (but not upon – that would be sacrilegious) a wonderful old Norman church on a hill called St Martha’s, from which we gawped at the first gorgeous vista. I was going to sit down and eat my middle class snackfoods, but a threatening-looking cloud intervened. We pushed on. 

Next up was Albury Downs, and from there Newslands Corner, which was one of those ‘scenic viewpoint’ spots. You know the kind of thing – a car park, where you can sit and stare out at the view while eating your lunchtime sandwiches, a visitor centre, and a kiosk selling burgers and tea. There was a merry throng of car-bound old people, leathered-up bikers, lycra-ed-up cyclists, and families. It reminded me that England is a nation of hobbyists and day-trippers still.

We stopped for a cup of tea in a cafe across the road, where we enjoyed a local newsletter which was full of interesting things, such as an interview with an apparently-famous psychic (Princess Diana used her to tell her which Parisian underpasses to avoid) and an advert for a book about “The Wasps of Surrey”. We learnt that Surrey has many kinds of wasps; Surrey wasp honey is one of nature’s finest bounties.

Leaving the fine people of Surrey to their fry-ups and lasagnes, we headed onwards. The next bit of the journey was quite heavily wooded, and at one stage we passed a posh farm which comprised sports cars and spoilt ponies. We also passed a mysterious and sinister headlesss statue. We took a downhill detour to visit the silent pool, which is Surrey’s answer to the Spooky Caves.  It’s a beautiful spot, which wonderfully clear water due to (so the internet tells me) filtration through the Downs’ chalk bed. On the way down we passed the first of many pillboxes, which were defensive posts built as part of the ‘Stop’ line to repel the mooted Nazi invasion of Britain. It never happened, and the pill boxes still scatter the countryside, as sombre reminders of what might have been. It’s nice to climb inside them, and peer out over the rolling hills and imagine the German Army rolling towards you. And then shit yourself. These days they’re mainly used as dens by cider drinking local teens, and good luck to them.

The prettiest bit of the whole walk came next – Blatchford Down, which you can see looking awesome here. We took a bit of a wrong turn at this point, and I briefly lost my non-map, having to run back up a hill to find it. We went up a path and made it back to the friendly acorns of the North Downs Way, and carried on, past several more WW2 pillboxes.

Darkness was threatening to gather, and the other James cursed his forgetting to bring a torch. The existence of torches hadn’t even occured to me. He recently walked from Canterbury to Dover, and darkness fell as he was walking along the cliffs. Fortunately he found his way without going for an accidental bungee jump without the cord. Our route didn’t contain such perils, but the woods were becoming increasingly spooky. Our first sighting of Dorking came just before dusk, and our first sighting of bats came soon after. We had a chance to leave the route and head down into Dorking for our much-deserved pint, but we felt we needed to do things properly so continued on our way through a Blair Witch forest. The darkness was upon us now, and it was a relief to exit the wood at the other side and witness Dorking’s lights twinkling below us. In front of us was Box Hill, looming in the gloom, our original target but long since abandoned for Dorking’s pubs.

We went through a gate and found ourselves in an enormous vineyard – Denbies Wine Estate –  which I’ve since discovered is the largest in England, responsible for a good 10% of the stuff that we dare to call wine. Walking between the vines, in England, in October was a very odd experience. It was like being in a Pork Pie factory in the south of France on midsummer’s eve.

Finally we made it to the first street lamp of civilisation, and other James’ stick was symbolically abandoned at its base. We wandered into town, and stopped in the first civilised-looking pub – appropriately enough, named the Surrey Yeoman. We drank our ale, and from our armchairs we could see the local Wimpy winking at us from across the road.

*Which goes all the way from Farnham in Surrey to Dover in Kent. It’s been used by pilgrims and travellers who can’t be arsed driving for thousands of years