First Flight of the Canyon


As a shit bike aficionado of little standing, there is a strong possibility that any kind of good bike would be wasted on me. But if I didn’t go around spending my disposable income on material objects, I’d be able to save for a house and that would mean I couldn’t spend the rest of my life moaning about how the Babyboomers stole our future.

Therefore, it was vital for me to buy a proper bicycle for the first time. So here it is, a Canyon CF SL DISC 8.0 – in stealth black instead storm green, obviously. It is fucking unbelievably good.

 

First up, there’s no escaping the fact that it is one very good looking bicycle. The lines and the colours – a special nod here to the Germanic perfectionism that has the yellow Mavic labels symmetrically aligned in the website photo – are so very pleasing on the eye. It’s minimalism cuddling brutalism, for a laugh.

Next, there’s the ease of assembly. Not only am I a Luddite, I’m also the product of a combined sciences education. This means I’m very, very good at gobbing off but terrible at doing anything useful (except cooking, gambling on politics, and counting out darts finishes). The fact the bike arrives so tuned that I had it up and running in ten minutes is testament to just how idiot-proof Canyon have made this process. The only pause for extra internet-based clarity was to do with the clamp-free seat post. I just couldn’t believe that the intuitive answer was correct. It was, the seat post really does stay in place by tightening a bolt that doesn’t appear to go near it. Magic.
For reasons work, medical, stag party, and wedding preparation, I’m in the UK this month – mostly in the cycling heaven that is Shropshire. How I’d under appreciated the roads of my homeland as a child. 20% inclines of calf-burning agony leading to glorious sights across to Wales and back down into Middle-England. Terrifying descents, greased by ‘mush’. Squirrels, field mice and pheasants darting across the road. Sunlight-rain-overcast-gale-breeze all in the space of five minutes. I’d be overtaken only once every five minutes.

It was these conditions, more than the 2008-infrastructure-your-way-out-of-trouble smooth tarmac of Beijing that influenced the final choice of an endurance bike. The slightly thicker tyres, the discs, the tad more weight.

The slightly thicker tyres, the discs, the tad more weight are all worth it. So very worth it. Away from the 2008-crash-infrastructure-investment-project-smooth tarmac of northern Beijing and back in the no-on-gives-afuck-about-you-you-rural-backwater-fucks-you-barely-deserve-air-let-alone-roads tarmac of forgotten England and Wales the extra kilo of weight and millimetres of tread bought their room at the inn and then some.


This is a do everything bike. More than that it’s a do everything brilliantly – except climbing, which it does admirably.

It descends faster than I’m willing to let it, it sprints almost as quickly but it does struggle going upwards. It just doesn’t want to do it as much as it wants to go fast. It’s very much a child that wants daddy to lift it up the slide than climb the steps.

Anyway, this is but a first take by somebody who knows nothing.


 

 

 

Myanmar: Everything that’s right with the world and everything that’s wrong with it.

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I’ve just spent the first week of February in Myanmar over the Chinese New Year holiday. It goes straight into my top five holidays without even really trying.

UN report details ‘devastating cruelty’ against Rohingya population in Myanmar’s Rakhine province.

In Yangon, the capital, where almost all foreigners have to pass through if arriving by air, I worked remotely from the artisan coffee shops and impeccably good Union Bar and Grill. Where I stayed on into the evening for a wood-fired pizza of Italian quality and returned ahead of our return flight for the best Bloody Mary I’ve had in four years of Sundays in Asia.

3 February 2017 – In a report issued today, the United Nations human rights arm said that the widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya population by Myanmar’s security forces in the country’s northern Rakhine state indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.

In Bagan, we cycled amongst spectacular relics and clambered up them like the monkeys who adorn their superior rival, Angkor Wat. At sunset, obviously, to watch the sun set on a peaceful country amongst the chatter of French, English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German and Burmese.

The flash report – released today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) based on its interviews with people who fled Myanmar after attacks on a border post in early October, the ensuing counter military operations and a lockdown in north Maungdaw – documents mass gang-rape, killings, including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country’s security forces.

At Inle Lake, we ate delicious curries, fell in love with Shan food – and even didn’t mind the monumental levels of gas a diet of spices, peanuts, onions and garlic guarantees. Here too, even if the local vineyard was a travesty, the Old Owl Grill gave us cheeseburgers that would make even Shoreditch self-aware.

As we cycled amongst lush green farmland, small children would run up to us from their woven homes just to say hello, with intrigue triumphing over fear.

The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable – what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother’s milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“What kind of ‘clearance operation’ is this? What national security goals could possibly be served by this?”

In the hill fort town of Kalaw, we fed and washed elephants saved from the tyranny of logging and having fat tourists ride them around for no reason whatsoever. We also went on a day-long hike amongst jungle, pine forests, orange farms, tea farms and stopped to meet a great grandma, who was only 65 and had a photo of a Grandson around my age wearing the 2001/02 Liverpool kit that for one reason or another I can only imagine Titi Camara wearing, despite him leaving the season before. We, along with three other Westerners dressed in hiking gear (them, not us), were led around this hike by a flip-flopped girl of no more than twenty. She was beautiful, polite and unobtrusive – the very best kind of guide who answers questions rather than describes each identikit crop for fear of being sacked. Conservatively dressed, the slightest variation of dark brown in her ponytail the only hint at anything so much as dressing up.

OHCHR noted that more than half of the women its human rights team interviewed reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence. Many other interviewees reported witnessing killings, including of family members and having family who were missing.

Indulgence followed with pizza and ravioli. Sage and butter ravioli no less. The best ravioli. Available at the outstanding  Red House, an Italian restaurant run by a man with a passing resemblance to Aldo Zilli (Bald, Italian). The smoke and smells from the wood fire oven, giving the front courtyard some much-needed warmth and fragrances to mask the dirty petrol of the road.

“Numerous testimonies collected from people from different village tracts…confirmed that the army deliberately set fire to houses with families inside, and in other cases pushed Rohingyas into already burning houses,”

To the beach next. Ngapali Beach, Rhakine State. Soft golden sands, blue sea, the best barbecue seafood I’ve ever had at a restaurant named after my maternal grandfather’s favourite bird Seagull, where, for six post-Brexit pounds per-head, a share of two large beers, Shan tomato salad, aubergine salad, two tuna steaks, 10 huge prawns and satay grilled squid is all yours. All under a starlit sky once the bright red sun has headed east onto Bangladesh and beyond.

“Testimonies were collected of several cases where the army or Rakhine villagers locked an entire family, including elderly and disabled people, inside a house and set it on fire, killing them all.” 

Many witnesses and victims also described being taunted while they were being beaten, raped or rounded up, such as being told “you are Bangladeshis and you should go back” or “What can your Allah do for you? See what we can do?”

Amongst the flittering away of French and German Baby-Boomer pensions, we would eat breakfast, taking it in turns to sigh at the latest daft-twat idea from the White House, before forgetting it all under the sun and in the sea. The only news of the country, indeed state, we were in was available on select accounts on twitter but elsewhere was as good as buried. A good time to bury horrific news, I guess?

Perpetrators and those who ordered them must be held accountable – UN rights chief

Calling on the international community for robust reaction given the gravity and scale of the allegations, High Commissioner Zeid stressed: 

“The Government of Myanmar must immediately halt these grave human rights violations against its own people, instead of continuing to deny they have occurred, and accepts the responsibility to ensure that victims have access to justice, reparations and safety.” 

“The killing of people as they prayed, fished to feed their families or slept in their homes, the brutal beating of children as young as two and an elderly woman aged 80 – the perpetrators of these violations, and those who ordered them, must be held accountable.”

Like I said, top-five holiday.

In a former life, a very wise, formerly very senior person I know returned after meeting The Acronym, ASSK. He was unequivocal – ‘she’s a politician first’.

Perhaps it’s unfair on The Acronym. What her wiggle room on this really is, will be causing analysts in intelligence agencies with access to her e-mails and tapped phone calls enough trouble.

But The Acronym has a Nobel Peace Prize and my top-five holiday is happening whilst she’s in charge.

The Worst Review

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After the good-natured back and forth around the review by China’s Dave Clifton, Arthur Meursault, I had a look at some of the other reviews of Last Flight of the Pigeon floating around. I sent electronic copies to a number of bike blogs and websites in the autumn and then temporarily forgot about them thanks to work and Santa Claus. In general, they’re pretty kind. Probably too kind. As are the Amazon and Goodreads reviews. Don’t ask me why these don’t overlap – I don’t understand that either.

One, however, gave it a bit of a hiding. Before I sent it to Meursault I made sure to caveat it as not a book for China experts, I didn’t do the same with cycling or travel focussed blogs. Though I hadn’t realised quite how Partridgian some of it was, I had hoped that it was obviously self-deprecating to the point of self-parody rather than dissent.

The Podium Cafe review takes the self-deprecation as an affront to readers, rather than towards its intended victim, me, to the extent that the book’s weakness is listed, simply, as “The Narrator”.

Ouch.

Other than accusing me of being a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra) when I was a 31-year-old in Uniqlo chinos and shorts that covered the necessary cycling shorts underneath and a selection of loose fitting t-shirts, for the purpose of defining the book as a Mamilogue, the review is pretty fair from a road cycling focussed blog. I knew I should have mentioned more than one gear ratio.

The only real defence I’d put up is that the penis content, at 5/287 pages, isn’t quite at the Freudian levels suggested. It did go numb, it did get steamed by the oven and there was a day my fingers and it were so cold I had to look to find it. Finally, if you don’t think a man advertising another man to an Empress by having him parade his cock around by hanging it through a cart-wheel is at least noteworthy if not snigger-inducing, then this was never the book for you. (The first man can be seen embracing the Empress in motorboat-format in a modern imagining of their romance in the picture above).

Then again, defending the penis content in response to a review is probably incredibly Freudian.

And, after my fiancee left the instruction “show him a good time” to a group of friends when she had to go on a business trip on my birthday, by a score of 15-1 my friends voted to buy me an inflatable penis outfit as a gift.

All the other boys in the same friendship group got Beijing Guoan football shirts.

The Best Review

 

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If anything, I’m obviously more of a Michael. (Photo stolen from Buzzfeed who stole it from someone else)

 

Just before Christmas, I asked Arthur Meursault – author of my Chinese New Year holiday reading Party Members, a delicious novel about Chinese politics and the holes it enters – to review Last Flight of the Pigeon.

The results were brilliant. You can read the review here. In short, Meursault didn’t really like it.

His three star review on Goodreads is the most generous yet because, unlike other reviewers he isn’t my Godmother or, as he freely admits, someone who understands why anyone would ride a bicycle across China. He also delighted in finding out that I’m basically a poor man’s Alan Partridge.

The sadness in all this was this, not only is the book I’m reading in tandem with Party Members, Nomad by Alan Partridge, but the first draft of Last Flight of the Pigeon started out as a satire of the travel book genre. I bottled it on this approach because, honestly, I’m nowhere near good enough. However, as Meursault notes I’m basically a shandy-ratio Partridge anyway, so lucky readers get the worth of boast worlds.

He also reminded me that my girlfriend is about to be 33. Devastating.

So here is my not-entirely-serious defence to some of his specific comments.

Though I have never slept with a genuine red head, not only have I eaten a triple-decker cheeseburger, I have finished a quadruple-decker cheeseburger on two occasions. I like both mundane and primal challenges. And women with all hair-colours, including bald.

Last Flight of the Pigeon very nearly did become Riding on the Shoulder of Giants but I’d already paid for www.lastflightofthepigeon.com – so I sacked off any kind of honesty in the title for financial reasons ($49.99). It wasn’t a case of not wanting to sell out, though, so if the world’s largest bike manufacturer wants to give me a call about a book, which has been described as “A fantastic read from a truly talented writer” – not my words Michael, the words of someone I’m assuming I went to school with – then they are encouraged to get in touch. As a suggestion, I’d love an all expenses-paid month cycling around Taiwan on one of their best bicycles and a new Lexus but I’ll do it for shop-soiled chocolate oranges from Rawlinsons or anywhere else.

The book would have included, as Mr Meursault suggests it should, a reference to John Shuttleworth’s  Pigeons in Flight, had I not made the keen-eyed editorial decision to not include every Google result for last “flight of the pigeon” at a surprisingly late stage in the publishing process.

I talk about pot noodles too much. That much is fair. I haven’t had one since my third-final day of that journey. I’m 20-months clean but still have flashbacks to eating them in my bare feet.

The project manager accusation is pretty much spot on. Obviously, I’m above being a mere project manager, I’ve got a six-figure salary*. Sadly I was never given enough responsibility in the public sector to use an excel sheet, in my new job I spend a good four hours a day on excel. I’m thankful to Meursault for making the comedy references slice of the pie chart quite so large. I would, however, like to analyse that data in close proximity to some tissues and making-do suncream.

If the ‘Lazy liberal side-swipers’ were a political party, I’m sure I’d vote for them. If Meursault had access to my Facebook he’d understand why I found it much easier to dig out my own brethren (they don’t stray far from the farm, those big eared boys) than attack the fundamentally much worse CCP and their disciples. He’d also do well to take the time to scroll down to one particular red head’s gap year photos from 2006. I think he’d enjoy himself in the way I enjoy numbers and charts.

As Meursault notes, I don’t explain a lot about me or why I’m in China, the reasons for this are partly because I self-censored on behalf of others – for a protracted and dull reason that boils down to saving people I like and/or love (in a way) from the possibility of wasting their working day sorting out mess I’ve caused but also because those reasons are irrelevant to the book. I’m not a sinophile, or a sinophobe, I’m here because of my fiancee’s job and a pact we made with the devil about moving abroad.

Meursault is so polite and kind about our differences, namely that he is much more a degenerate than I but therein lies the true sadness of all this. In real life, I am a semi-reformed but still occassionally lapsed degenerate of some quite low-depths. I’m at my happiest when something terrible is causing the fun, I have to fight this in order to retain enough brain cells to function as a human the rest of the time. Unfortunately, by using my real name everywhere and retaining an interest in maintaining my six-figure* salary and the aforementioned hassle it causes friends and loved ones, I’m not writing that shit down yet.

I just didn’t realise this effort at reform had left me 75% Partridge. But the evidence presented by Meursault on this is water-tight.

Even the self-deprecating comment about tossers who think North London is Utopoia, reads like one of Alan’s diatribes about the capital he so wants to be part of but that keeps rejecting him.

As thanks to Meursault and in recognition of his charater assessment I shall reward him with this truth about my past. If we hadn’t been total degenerates at the time and too lazy to put together a highlights package with one of the many technical types who all hated us, then Simon and Ollie’s Charisma Offensive, would have almost certainly come in the top three at the 2004 UK Student Radio Awards. From where a career in local radio  surely beckoned. In fact, our second producer (technically fourth after one stormed off and one left for sex reasons) is now managing director at whatever XFM is called now or some other wildly senior role. Ollie is now a corporate lawyer in America.

Needless to say, I haven’t had the last laugh.

*In RMB and a number of other currencies that are worth less than the pound.

Read what it would be like if Alan Partridge cycled across China (Lynn, write down “Cultural Revolutions”) here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Chapter: Last Flight of the Pigeon

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This is a sample chapter from my book, Last Flight of the Pigeon, which is available as a paperback for £10 and ebook for £2.99 here.

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8. Banishment

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I was now halfway into the journey. Jiayuguan marked the distinction between the half of my trip that was ostensibly a holiday with miserable characteristics and the half that was dangerously close to being an actual adventure.

In preparation for this change of experience, I decimated what would be my last hotel breakfast for three days. Almost immediately outside of Jiayuguan the G312 reverted back to being a G30 service road rather than the village meandering vein of life it was at its best. This baron wasteland is where China’s historical naughty boys were sent and it felt as though the G312 was on a mission to recreate some of that historic hostility.

With my eyes facing west, only the road…

View original post 4,608 more words

Shoot! 21 January 1984

Three years ago, my sister gave me the edition of Shoot that was published in the week I was born as a 30th birthday present. I had an enjoyable flick through at the time but with my move to China impending, I placed it in a drawer at my parent’s house and forgot all about it. I’m grateful like that.

This Christmas, I stumbled upon it again and brought it back to China with me to enjoy in its full glory. And what glory there is. There’s Mick McCarthy being trailed by Man City; there’s Jimmy Greaves opining on the filthy quick-buck-capitalism of Robert Maxwell; Tommy Smith calls Keggy an “absent-minded livewire”; and a column by Bryan Robson about “Why Big Ron is Angry” that doesn’t go down the dark path that you worry it might.

This was intended to be a short blast to celebrate my 33rd birthday but it is such a rich seam to mine that it’s got a little bit out of control on the word count.

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Let’s start up-front where we are immediately rewarded with Keggy. Whether he’s hoofing the ball skywards or missing it completely isn’t clear but just sit back and admire how he uses his left-hand to balance out the weight of that perm. We can also win tickets to the Milk Cup, spend ages wondering just how and on what planet Shoot will beat Coventry City, wonder who O’Donnell the original recipient was (hope it wasn’t the lank-haired boss out of This Life) and ponder how Malaysia was one of the five export markets priced up on the front cover.

We can also enjoy that Shoot! cost 33p. According to moneysorter.co.uk that’s now worth 74p in 2017, which is definitely wrong but let’s go with it. WE were all hoping for £27 or something ludicrous right?

Into the meat of it. No editor’s note here! No siree, just something far more self-indulgent, though, unbelievably creative. Shoot! versus Coventry City. In response to Coventry’s strong season despite having a summer firesale and rebuilding the squad with lower league players, Shoot! set themselves the task of picking a lower league team to take on Bobby Gould’s men.

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Yup, that Bobby Gould the Crazy Gang FA Cup winner and manager of Wales who was mad enough to challenge John Hartson to a fight. A decent player in his day, Gould’s coaching career began in the best way – as a player-coach who picked himself 40+ times and rewarded his own faith with 13 goals. His next job in management requires one of Shoot!’s preferred punctuation marks. He was assistant at Chelsea to Sir Geoff Hurst!

But how to judge the winner in this fictional game? Shoot! find famously impartial Jimmy Armfield to pick a winner.

Anyway, the teams and a few select comments from Captain Objective Armfield.

Coventry City

GK: Raddy Avramovic “it’s a plus that he isn’t as histrionic as some continental goalkeepers”

2. Brian Roberts

5. Trevor Peake

6. Sam Allardyce “he makes up for some lack of finesse by his determined approach”

3. Stuart Pearce – yup, that one.

4. Micky Gynn“rubs off on those around him.”

8. Nicky Platnauer

11. Steve Hunt

7. Dave Bennett

9. Dave Bamber

10. Terry Gibson

Shoot! XI – quite possibly the most 80s-footballer-name-filled team ever.

GK: David Felgate

2. Gordon Nisbet

5. Paul Stancliffe

6. Malcolm Shotton

3. Bobby McDonald “I don’t know the ins-and-outs (hint, hint, wink, wink) of the trouble he had at Manchester City, but their loss is Oxford’s gain”

4. Andy Thomas

8. Paul Lodge

11. Mike Barratt

7. Colin Morris

9. Billy Hamilton

10. Keith Edwards

Jimmy Armfield decides the score will be 90v90. Then backtracks to 3v2 to Coventry, the team that actually exists.

For those cynics of modern football always complaining that all United and Liverpool cup games are televised, Shoot! has two star writers, one from Liverpool and one from United. First up is United captain Bryan Robson telling us “Why Big Ron is Angry”. Big Ron, it transpires, is angry because United keep losing.

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1984 Bryan Robson makes a fleeting reference to his injury hoodoo he’s going to learn a lot more about in the coming years, before pointing the finger at the defence for United’s poor form. “I’m not pointing an accusing finger” he says pointing the finger “at Kevin Moran and Gordon McQueen.” “I’m blaming the entire team” He isn’t.

Then we get a couple of real treats. “Garth Crooks” – guess where this is going – “was pleased to be part of our set-up on loan. He seemed to enjoy himself….I wish Garth all the best in the future, whatever happens with his football career. He’s one of the most friendly fellows in the game” – “fellows” is a word Bryan’s never used and I think we can all tell the real meaning of this passage is that Garth is a bit odd.

Bryan lets us know he’s over Jesper Olsen, who visited ahead of his move to Old Trafford the following summer – “I was impressed with his mastery (another word Bryan has never used) of the English language, and now I’ve forgotten about him.”

And now we forget about Bryan.

Devastatingly, I learn next that if I’d be born a week later I would have received a free Panini album and six stickers with the next issue. This issue also includes a crazy premonition about the noughties where “Glenn Roeder rides again with Newcastle”.

Tony Morely, a man who set up the winning goal for Villa against Bayern Munich in a European Cup final is our next feature. Things have gone downhill for old Tony, but nobody has told his ego. In an interview blissfully untainted by West Brom’s media officer, who is yet to be born, Tony tells us how good he is at football and how he alone might bankrupt the Baggies.

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“The £70,000 they paid to bring me from Villa Park has left Albion broke. Now is it up to me contribute towards an era of success that gets the turnstiles clicking faster” He remarked, whilst pulling a screwdriver from his tool belt and tweaking the turnstile.

There seems to be some kind of Brexit advert up next “Italian worker ends up in cement” but it’s actually a pun-free and confusing advert from little known Japanese tech firm Nintendo. The advert is promoting the hero of Donkey Kong, some plumber called Mario, in a new adventure, which takes place in a cement factory. The inventively named ‘Mario’s Cement Factory’ features two skill levels, the second of these is aimed at “super ace show-offs”.

Competition time now! Where Linsey Rintoul, a girl of 17 wins a Braun electric shaver for being Fan of the Week! Obviously, she’s too old to be winning that kind of prize but it’s not her fault. Her younger sister nominated her for her devotion to Dundee United, specifically her desire to paint her room orange and black – a bad idea that was rightfully stopped by her parents. Linsey can console herself with a pair of boots and the best football ever – the Adidas Tango.

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Sharing the page with Linsey is notorious cookie monster impresario Diego Armando Iannucci Maradona. The great man teaches us to mug off keepers and defenders and smash a ball under a bench. There’s no guidance on tax avoidance or contraception avoidance.

Overleaf, soon to be unknown Norwich manager Ken Brown admits his high-flying team “haven’t got the pedigree nor the money”. Answering questions about his libido, Brown retorts that he “can still be hard” before grimly expanding “I insist on enjoyment but not sloppiness.”

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This week’s page 10 stunner is pin-up Forest and England man Steve Hodge. Hodge looks resplendent in one of the era’s finest kits. If you can take your eyes off Hodge’s muscular thighs your eyes can address the first of nine million football school adverts the magazine contains on the adjacent page. In light of recent events, I’m not keen to Google the coaches leading these courses.

Then it’s time for a global news round-up in a two-page spread that reminds you Shoot! really was excellent and those seeds of football hipster were sewn many years ago from an office in SE1. Tony Roche Goes World Wide!

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This section deserves a real detailed review. First up we’re in innuendo city with the title ‘Stoned!’ about an incident involving Anderlecht. The incident is brilliant. An Anderlecht fan managed to divert the ball goalwards by throwing a stone at it and the ref let it stand.

There’s some more Maradona. This time his move to Barcelona being in jeopardy because of a clause to include 7 exhibition games with Boca. What is this? 1930?

Marcel Raducanu, is referred to as a Rumanian rather than a Romanian. And being from Rumania. Anyway, Marcel is in the middle of his own cold war drama where he’s playing for Dortmund but refusing to play for the national team unless his family can join him in the west. He went on to train a 10-year-old Mario Goetze.

There’s even news of a Czech referee retiring with ligament damage. Take that The Blizzard.

Next up it’s the Keggy special. Another one for the modern cynics who think the game only recently became infected with greed.

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We’re treated to some lovely quotes from current and former colleagues of Kevin.

Chris Waddle “His best mate is Terry McDermot and they spend quite a lot of time together.” “He now commutes from his Hampshire home, arriving on Wednesday and leaving on Saturday evening. When he’s up here I believe he does a lot of promotional work for a local brewery”. I wonder which one that was!?

Keith Burkinshaw “he never worried about his lack of inches”

Steve Williams “The one annoying thing about Kevin was that he liked to play scrabble on the team bus….the only consolation was that he was usually beaten.”

Dave Watson (not that one) “If there was a silly hat about, Kevin would put it on his head.”

Tommy Smith “We used to call him Andy MCDaft because he had so much on his mind that he tended to be absent minded.”

Take a deep breath for this next one.

Star of a racist joke one of the assistant dads told me as an Under-11 footballer, Karl-Heiz Rummenigge says the following of Kevin “A lot of the experts are hailing Diego Maradona as the best in the world but he has nothing on Kevin for all-round skills”.

Then we get into a load of Scottish football news. Remember when Scotland did the football too? This issue is probably 40% Scottish football news.

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Spot the difference involves a stereotypical boardroom at Christmas, presumably an admin error in the hazy drunk weeks of December led to a spare Christmas spot the difference being kicked over into January. I’m not going to do the spot the difference, like a wordsearch or Celebrity Big Brother, I’m well above all that.

Likewise, I can’t be bothered reading the Subbuteo competition results.

Linsey from fan of the week’s favourite player Paul Sturrock, turns out to be a Star Writer like Bryan Robson and Kenny Dalglish. Stop laughing at the back. This week Archie Knox has become manager of local rivals Dundee and Sturrock is worried in a ghost-written sort of way.

Nobby, Shoot!’s cartoon, is rubbish.

Want to win two tickets to the Milk Cup final? Then answer five questions about early 80’s football that I’ can’t be bothered to write out. THIS IS A REPEAT, PLEASE DO NOT CALL, YOU MAY STILL BE CHARGED.

 

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Time for King Kenny to do his stint as a star writer. “I am well aware that of how Imre Varadi is finding the net with admirable consistency” he didn’t even say down a phone to some graduate intern oik. “Dalglish’s” article is something of an essay. It’s incredibly boring.

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The centrefold spread is a full-colour festival of the best team in Europe’s tilt to win the Milk Cup for the fourth successive year. The highlight here is a journo who has clearly asked Graeme Souness something daft “Souness, quietly-spoken but quick to pounce on daft comments….”

Bloody hell, over the page there’s more Liverpool. I’m a Liverpool fan and I’m bored of this. Bored until Grobbelar reminds me just how old I am that is. “I was a corporal in a tracking team during the war in Rhodesia”. Yikes.

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The other seven teams left in the Milk Cup get to share a page of coverage. There’s an all third-division tie between Rotherham and Walsall, which we’ll call the outskirt of better places derby. A third third-tier team, Oxford play Everton. Wednesday host Shoot!, sorry Liverpool and finally Norwich face Villa.

Remember when VHS cost the same as it did 15 years later? That’s right for £15.95 (the average weekly wage in Shropshire then) and £1.50 P&P you can Enjoy Better Soccer.

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Ask the expert is lost on my post-Google mind but has some lovely facts, including:

Harold Bell of Tranmere played in 401 consecutive league games between 1946 and 1955.

Mustaza Mustaffa, one of Shoot’s many Malaysian readers learns that George Camsell scored nine hat-tricks in one season, for Middlesborough in Division 2 in 1926-27 season. Just about 1 hat-trick every four games. Crazy.

Another of Shoot!’s Malaysian readership – Chia Yao Hwa – gets told who England’s leading scorers are in a subsection of Ask the expert, delightfully titled, Short Passes.

Bloody hell, more Scottish Football next, this time in Edinburgh as we check in with pun-friendly Hearts. Hearts are delighted to have signed one-day-management-failure Craig Levein. There’s also some waffle on Roddy MacDonald, who is the most Scottish named man ever.

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Nephew of John Charles, Jeremy, who also could play centre-back and centre-forward. He’s just moved to QPR and is scoring goals, despite their plastic pitch. The 80s weirdest contribution to football, seeing pros playing in trainers.

The adjacent page contains a similarly bemusing throwback, where Spurs forward Mark Falco dreams up a situation where a 15-point gap to leaders Liverpool isn’t too daunting.

WARNING TO READERS – the only way to guarantee your free Panini album with next week’s Shoot! is to order it from your newsagent. Ah, those crazy days where people made what was needed and not a needlessly large amount of everything.

Advert time again now. A soccer school you can trust with Bobby Charlton offers young hopefuls the chance to learn and impress scouts. It’s also sponsored by Lada, which is bonkers for 1984.

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More Scotland now with Aberdeen and their bright young manager, Alex Ferguson. Fresh from winning the European Super Cup, Mr. Fergusson is targeting the European Cup. Only 15 years to wait Alex. Some colour photos of the Super Cup win follow.

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I’ll leave the quiz and crossword for your enjoyment.

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Oh hello, who’s that looking like a porn star playing a low-ranking police office? Why it’s Mick McCarthy, who is being trailed by Man City who are looking for a top-class centre-half. We also learn of his first come and get me for the Republic due to his father’s nationality. If only young Mick knew this would all add up to being told to shove it up his bollocks.

2017 news now. Charlton are in dire financial difficulty with their ground nicknamed ‘Death Valley’.

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Four further cartoons with punchlines I can’t fathom.

Completing the shameless big team news is something on Arsenal that I cannot be bothered to read.

Finally, some real news! Previews of the weeks game, transfers, rumours and George Best blaming other people for him not still being a United player at 38. In genuinely interesting news, the first case of a professional successfully settling a case against another for ending his career through a dangerous tackle is documented. Dunfermline’s Jim Brown accepted £20,000 from St.Johnston winger John Pelosi for ending his career.

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In more crazy old time news Gordon Milne speaks out in favour of the ‘playing on Sunday experiment’. “The atmosphere seems much more relaxed than on a Saturday….there is less traffic on the roads to the grounds a little less fraught.” Remember when Sundays were rubbish?

Ray Kennedy has moved (nearly) home to Hartlepool because China and the Qatar hadn’t built their carehomes for old footballers yet.

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Save the best til last. It’s time for Greavesy, who answers your letters. This means opinions and a lot of pink font. First up Greaves goes full David Conn and goes after the quick buck capitalism of keen night-swimmer and full-time arsehole Robert Maxwell, despite him owning half of ITV. Didn’t see Keys and the other one going after Murdoch did you?

Less cool is this answer to the abuse United fans aimed at Ossie Ardilles. “Whilst I don’t condone the Stretford End’s behaviour – he’s about to condone it – I don’t think Ossie should be singled out for sympathy. All crowds try to upset the opposition, and when we’re technically at war with Argentia it was hardly surprising Ardilles was going to come in for some stick.”

Pre-Beckham and Owen, Greavesy highlights why footballers never win Sports Personality of the Year. “This award is presented to the outstanding individual, which makes it hard for any footballer to shine” He doesn’t think Steve Cram should have won 1983 SPOTY though. Torville and Dean got his backing.

In yet more nothing-ever-fucking-changes news he opines on FIFA shunting world cup qualifying places from Oceania to Asia “It all comes down to the politics of FIFA. Their first consideration is to make money from the tournament, so there is a great temptation to fix and fiddle the draw”.

David Swindlehurst is profiled on the back and it’s classic 80’s footballer throughout, until the final answer “I don’t want to stay in the game when I retire. In fact I’ve already decided to become a partner with my father-in-law, who runs a funeral parlour.”

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He didn’t get to live his dream, instead he moved in to coaching, eventually becoming Palace’s reserve team coach.

So that’s it, the world in the week I was born through the eyes of Shoot! Magazine.

If you made it through this, you might be able to stand my book about cycling across China, available here.

Tasting Notes: Lone Wolf V1 Prototype

I have a love-dislike relationship with BrewDog. When Punk IPA first came into my life, nearly a decade ago, I was incredibly excited. A level of excitement that has remained constant to this day. In October when I saw my local 7/11 in Beijing had started stocking it, I was as excited as when I first tried the drink at a beer festival in Exeter. I have also invested a small amount of money in them; partly because I love their beer but mostly because 6%+ returns on short-term bonds in a booming company at a time when bank interest rates don’t exist was too good to ignore (you also get 20% off online orders and 10% off in bars).

That said, every so often they can be incredibly irritating. Saying you’re punk, whilst using Muse as the backing track for an IPO promotional video, could be the single least punk thing to ever happen. The BrewDog book – Business for Punks – is the worst thing I’ve read 70% of. Finally, their response to the “fake BrewDog in China” was genius PR but completely missed the point and was hugely patronising to a market they didn’t understand. If they copied the Red Bull model of sending enough free merch to let anyone who wanted to brand their shop/bar as a “fake” BrewDog they’d sell a fuck-tonne more beer here.

But, fundamentally, they make excellent beer and that is all that really matters. So I was excited to try the Lone Wolf Gin and Vodka they’re testing out as part of their really very punk, obviously diversification of the business.

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I opted for the 2-pack of Lone Wolf Vodka and Gin V1 Prototype.

Gin:

Nobody should drink gin straight but in the interests of science, I had a sip. Tragically this comes with a stylish stopper in a lovely bottle and not a lid to use as a tasting vessel, so I had 1/3 of a shot to taste the gin in its raw glory.

Too boozy to really tell, the overwhelming flavour is potency. It’s not offensive though. But, that’s not what you’re buying gin for anyway, right?

Gin (and Tonic):

This is what you buy gin for. 90% of this bottle will go into G&Ts. So this is what matters. The environment we tested it in was prime G&T territory; 7pm, New Year’s Eve, jet-lagged, preparing for spicy food, beers and hoping to stay awake until 1.30am when Liverpool v Man City kicked off. To add too many atmospheric details from the civilised pre-gaming of a couple staring down the barrel of 33; it was the only pre-gaming drink we consumed and we did so with the overwhelming stench of glittery nail polish being applied in an otherwise air-purified room of a mere 85 PM2.5. We also used Watson’s tonic, which tastes much better than Schweppes in mainland China but don’t ask me how or why.

We had ours with lime but overwhelmingly this tastes like a gin, which – like an extended, tasteless metaphor involving a webcam show – is gagging for cucumber. It’s herbs rather than spices, it’s bullshit phrases about cricket and freshly mown lawns. It’s Midsummer Murders, it tastes of a Britain that never really existed. It’s really good. It goes down too quickly, it’s got dragging auntie away from the imaginary handsome vicar at the imaginary village fete running right through it.

It’s dangerously good.

Holly’s one-word review “delicious”.

Gin (Martini – with a twist): I’ll always favour a vodka martini but in the interests of science, I gave V1 a whirl in the cocktail shaker too. The Lone Wolf gin was just a bit too subtle for such a strong drink.

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Vodka:

The vodka had an interesting introduction to life. By the time I arrived at my parents it had already been opened. My parents are not big drinkers and I’ve never seen either of them drink vodka, so it was a bit of a surprise. Apparently, in desperation, it had been reached for to set fire to the Christmas pudding. I’m reliably informed it did a 10/10 job of this.

By contrast to gin, everybody should drink vodka straight. Though not too much. I like mine chilled because I’m a wuss. It’s OK, I didn’t gag and I didn’t cry. That pretty much passes as good vodka right?

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Vodka (Martini – Dirty): Like the gin, it’s pretty pure. The overwhelming taste is of smooth booze. This lends itself well to the world’s best cocktail as it’s not overbearing. This gives the vodka a purpose in life.

Combo? The Vesper Martini is the most dangerous drink in the world. It’s an absolutely floor-magnet of a refreshment. It is to be enjoyed responsibly but leads to irresponsible enjoyment. I locked myself in the house to try this one – and only one – out.

I could still see afterwards and was upright. Not sure if that’s 10/10 or 0/10.

Magical Medicine?

One of the legacy issues I have from cycling across China is a strange hole in my head. I’ve tried steroid based creams, skin-healing gel and in the most desperate act some homoeopathic cream given to me by my (hyphen-heavy) mother-in-law-to-be. None of them worked, though not as desperate as turning to homoeopathy or some kind of spiritual healing, I started rubbing V1 Vodka on it and it cleared up.

I’m not a doctor and I’m not recommending it, I’m just saying it worked.

Overall – beyond it’s supplementary uses as a flammable liquid for festive foods and antidote to weird Chinese skin diseases the V1 pairing is good. The gin is perfect for gin and tonics and the vodka does what any decent vodka does. Two 500ml bottles for £50 is a bit steep, especially given how simple all vodka is, but if I consider it £35 for the gin and £15 for the vodka, I feel that’s an OK price. if they were sold separately I can’t see me going after the vodka but the gin, especially if it was only £25, would be very tempting.