I've had my fair share of minor irritants, ailments and knacks, most of which have been described by my
girlfriend as 'man-flu', and occurred whilst under the influence of alcohol. I suppose it's a sign o' the times,
or of my age, that my most recent injuries have been DIY inflicted. We have a killer hedge outside our
house which keeps threatening to gobble it up. Every summer we manfully chop it back, only for the thing
to grow back more terrible, more powerful than ever before. Last year I decided to tackle it head-on, even borrowing my mate's leccy hedge-decapitators for the job. But the hedge won. By the end of the day, I'd managed to cut through the cord about ten times, and also had a small to medium sized branch sticking out of my eye. I managed to get rid of most of the branch but some remained wedged in my eyeball. Being a Mel Gibson type of fella (minus the racism, idiocy etc), I stuck it out and even tried watching the football that evening. Only when I realised I couldn't see the screen did I get my girlfriend to drive me to A and E. How's that for man flu?

Oh, and David Cameron is also an irritant.

I've run the full gamut of crap rented flats in my time; from the one I called Indiana Jones flat to the 
one we lovingly termed 'the mould flat' and the one where my bedroom window mysteriously fell out 
in the middle of the night (and I still maintain it wasn't me, drunk, smashing it. It was a ghost). 

I thought the Indiana Jones one was bad; in order to get to my basement 'bedroom' I had to roll the 
washing machine (boulder) out of its place in the kitchen and scramble through a small cupboard 
door while avoiding any poison arrows fired in my direction. And once I'd been through all that, no 
Narnia awaited. I had to share my room with slugs, whose trails across my clothes people probably 
believed to be wank stains. The mould house was worse, a health hazard. We moved in during the 
summer and everything looked fine, but as soon as winter came the whole place was alive with 
mould. My housemate and I kept each other awake at nights with the racking coughs we 
developed; hell, we probably had consumption or something.

But our first bought pad trumped the lot. Because, as soon as the paperwork was signed,
sealed and delivered and we'd moved in, I discovered we were the most popular people on the
block. In the whole of Leeds, in fact. People buzzed for us at every hour of the day. Always
men. Only after a few weeks, and a few strange requests over the intercom, did I finally twig the
reason for this. We'd moved in to what had formerly been a massage parlour. And judging from
the people who came, Field of Dreams style to our door, it had done a roaring trade. Dreamz, it
was called. With a 'z'. Looking past the regular johns and the intercom system we had to
disable, it was a pretty good flat. The showering, massage and bedroom facilities were
excellent. With a 'z'.

There can be no direct line to misery worse than travelling across the Pennines from Leeds to 
Manchester. Whether you take the train or the National Express 'fun-bus' or the M62 Motorway From 
Hell, you never collect your two hundred pounds for passing go. My mates and I make the journey 
regularly, we know every sheep at the side of the road (but not in a Yorkshire way), every conductor 
on every train (and where his weak-spots are with regard to getting away without having to pay for a 
ticket), and at what point the bog will start to stink on the fun-bus. So well-travelled are we, you'd 
think we could make the commute with our eyes closed.

Problem is, when the demon alcohol becomes involved, all rules go straight out the window. Only a
drunken man could explain how we end up in places which aren't on the train line; places we didn't
even know existed like South Milford (left) and Morley. Ghost towns. We've ended up in Wigan and
Blackpool (not even in the right direction), at Manchester Airport (a subconscious bid for freedom?),
and in York so many times, because it’s the end of the line. And we've had to wait five cold hours
until we can hide in the crapper on the first train back in the morning or suffer the Community Chest
card of a taxi. Then comes the real misery; having to try and explain the unexplainable to the
girlfriend when I get home... And using David Cameron as an excuse simply won't wash...

Looking back, it was probably the repeated warnings about stabbings being 'likely' that triggered my first worries about this 'romantic' trip to Rome. What had started as a crafty way of me managing to tie-in a European Cup match with a get-away-from-it-all city break had swiftly become a nightmare.

You see, on this trip I was 'football's ambassador', and therefore it had to go off without a hitch. I was 
taking my girlfriend... my girlfriend who pretty much hates football, who can't see why it enthrals me, 
dictates the majority of my spare time, and drags me all over the place. I wanted her to see what the 
bug was and maybe catch it too. 

When the draw was made, my stomach lurched with excitement; ROME! I'd always wanted to go 
there (how sad that it takes a football game to make it happen, I hear you say). But what better 
way of seeing a city and its citizens than in the theatre that is football? The home of the Colosseum, 
the Vatican City, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain. An unbeatable combo-deal. So I rushed on the internet and booked our flights. 

Then the phone call: "Darling, you know that city break we've talked about for a while now?", "Yes?", "Well, it's on. Rome!", "Wow.", "But there's something I need to tell you... there’s football's involved...", "Oh." Frosty silence. In the end, we came to an agreement: football on the Wednesday, Opera on the Thursday AND shopping. Sorted. Four days in Rome ahoy!

And then, with the match tickets came the warning letter from Manchester United FC: 'Toilets,
particularly female (at the Stadio Olimpico - left) do not contain the usual toilet pan.' (What the hell
do they have then? We later found out it was a hole in the ground. Nice.) And then: 'there is a real
danger of being attacked by the 'Ultra' fans.'  According to the letter, hoards of Romans would be
waiting to pick us off with their flick knives. Apparently, they had a penchant for ripping the knife
'across the buttock cheeks.' Ace.
And so to the game. Despite my worries, everything seemed to be going well. The Stadio Olimpico
was a sight to behold, alive with noise and colours and smells. We got there in time, despite a bit of
a commotion outside, and settled back to watch the game. 

Then the first wave of bottles hit us. Thrown by the Roma fans. The massed ranks of police and stewards did nothing. A few bottles were launched back into the Italian end. Things were starting to get moody. In front of us, the police began to move in aggressively, but on the other side of the fence, no moves were made to stop the Roma fans. The bottles continued to rain down on us and we soon discovered they were filled with piss.

Then came the spark. Scholes was sent off for one of his customary bad tackles and all 
hell broke loose. Luckily for my girlfriend and I, we were well away from the 'action' but had 
an almost unbroken view of things. Many of the Roma fans ran en masse at the plastic 
barrier separating the two sets of supporters. They charged it, stampeding. United fans 
responded. The fence wobbled alarmingly. More missiles were thrown. Instead of trying to 
defuse the situation, the police launched themselves into the United end wielding their 
batons... We saw old men trampled to the ground, girls had their cameras smashed out 
of their hands, and I started to believe this was in danger of lurching from a horrible 
situation to a potential disaster. Later, we discovered that the pictures were all over the 
TV and newspapers across Europe. And there, in the middle of it all, were my girlfriend 
and I, having our own little argument about why football had to intrude into everything... 

We were okay, everyone was okay, save cuts and bruises, but it was a quiet second half, and not just because Roma grabbed a winner. I think everyone was a bit sickened by what had happened. I wanted the match to be the focus of a wonderful four-day journey into the heart of Roma - the start of a happy, whistlestop, Italian jaunt and I felt guilty about it all. The next day, when we visited the Trevi Fountain, my girlfriend didn't even throw in a coin (it's tradition; those who throw a coin into the water are guaranteed to return.) And she's certainly never gone back to a football ground. Oh dear.

Cameron. Where were you?

Despite being a football fan, I like to think I'm as exceedingly cultured as Mr. Kipling. I read difficult books, watch foreign films, buy loads of albums (although nothing made since 1999 according to my record and CD collection.) I'll sit through almost any crap just to see what meaning, if any, can be wrung from it. But in the case of the following selections, I would rather watch, listen to or read 'shit on a stick' as Valdano famously said of Liverpool FC.

Peter Kay, Saturday Night Peter. There is an alarming trend of people becoming famous because 
they are from Bolton and like pies (see also Paddy McGuinness and Vernon Kay). This began with 
Peter Kay. At the beginning, Peter was funny, but this book is a bloated, arrogant, nasty, poorly 
written piece of work which should be judged by its awful cover.

Al already had Kasabian for this last month, so I had to think of someone else, which wasn't hard. 
Take the Arctic Monkeys. Go on, take them (stolen from Peter Kay that line). Coolest band on the 
planet? Doesn't say much for the planet. Or for bands. Or for Sheffield. Or for music in general. Sure, the lyrics are good, but you make me wanna listen to bloody Keane, you mugs.

Gerry, a 2002 Gus Van Sant film starring the usually excellent Casey Affleck and someone else (written
by Matt Damon, need I say more?) Two friends hike across the desert without water or food or anything to
talk about (the only dialogue is a supposedly humorous discussion about the meaning of the word
'barreling') or any meaningful action. Watching this made me want to be frazzled alive in the desert heat.
Or to be on what Van Sant was on when he made it. Needless to say, I watched it right to the end after
falling asleep a record nine times. (The previous record was achieved whilst watching David Cameron
in the live leader's debate the other week.)

Having said all that, I think the thing I'm angriest about is the fact I'm not in my twenties any more. If I was, 
I could have (and did) put up with the crap flats and the idiotic films and the ill-advised dates in war-zones 
and I wouldn't have been planning imaginary dinner parties, I'd have been buzzing my tits off at a proper 
party. As it is, I have my imagination... In it, no puffin-faced chancers would intrude on my 1990s themed 

It used to be I could get by on beans on toast for a week. Now, being in my thirties, I seem to have lurched into a budding amateur chef (who judging by my rapidly increasing waist size enjoys my own food a bit too much). So you'd think I'd be an ace dinner party host; once you got past the problem of my house having no dining room and our fold-out table only having enough room for three people, tops. You'd be wrong. I am very good at making any dish I chance my arm at taste like rocket-fuel chilli, whether it be
Shepherd's Pie, Pizza or Ice Cream. And I downright refuse to follow the Come Dine With Me route of plumping for bloody 
monkfish or parma ham or tuna steaks. So I'd have to get a take-away in, most likely, so as not to 
offend the bowels, nostrils and sensitive palates of my guests.  In case you're wondering, my guest-list
would be:

- Eric (the King) Cantona – apparently he was brought up in a cave so won't worry too much about eating
dinner in our windowless basement.

- Eric (fatter than me) Cartman – actively loves takeaway, especially fried chicken. Good compliment to
Cantona when it comes to existential debates.

- Eric (George Orwell) Blair  – will know all the best cuts of meat due to his research for Animal Farm.

- Eric (lazier than me) Idle – to sing 'Always look on the Bright Side of Life' at the end, as we all stand and
salute Eric the King while David Cameron does the dishes.

from an original idea by Mark Piggott

Home Defence UK
A Symptom of a Greater Malaise
Your complainant today: Renaissance Man and Grant Mortar's only confidant, Andy Kirby
This month’s melancholy image:
I used to think really old people were the best at grumbling. Old people can 
moan about anything from the weather to the, uh, weather, to the, uh, 
weather. They can wax lyrical for hours about 'occasional showers' or 
'volcanic dust clouds forming above Britain', but I've come to realise they 
don't have the full scope of things to moan about. Not really. 

Thirtysomethings are where it's at as far as grumbling is concerned. We've finally realised we're 
mortal (our bodies are becoming uncontrollable and our minds turning to mush), we've realised 
we'll never make it as Premier League footballers and our temporary stop-gap jobs are actually jobs for life (that's if we're lucky.) We've started to say things were better in our day and are opting for sensible shoes rather than the ones we'd secretly like. The world is our oyster but we're too bloody tired to bother seeing any of it.

And then there's popular culture, all around us like volcanic ash. When I were a lad Mark and Lard used to have a Mustn't Grumble feature on their radio show; now, in their place, we are forced to listen to the antics of the residents of the bloody creche that Radio One has become. (Apart from Chris Moyles, who as we all know is the antichrist in whale form. And I don't like his teeth.) TV is for those who are recovering from a heavy bout of trepanning and the adverts are just too loud. You can vote on everything, and yet your vote counts for nothing. 

And then there's David Cameron. Only in a world as shit as this, where flats can be as bad as this and commutes as hellish as this, could David Cameron, the snub-nosed, puffin-faced Etonian chancer even be entertained as someone who could lead the country.

Yeah, a lot of things get up my nose. Let's get started.

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