Trump, trainers and tribulations

There have been many times over the past 18 months when I’ve been tempted to write about a certain Mr. Donald J. Trump.

I’ve managed to resist, partly because I didn’t believe there was a realistic chance that he could triumph (*embarrassed face emoji*), and partly because I didn’t feel there was anything original I could say.

And then people started burning their trainers.

nb

American sportswear manufacturer New Balance has been on the receiving end of widespread condemnation from consumers following a comment from one of its vice presidents that appeared to welcome Trump’s stunning election success:

“The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.”
– Matthew LeBretton, vice president of public affairs at New Balance.

The perceived endorsement provoked outrage among those upset by Trump’s accession to the oval office, with many swearing to never wear New Balance again, and some going as far as to set their trainers alight:

https://twitter.com/milftears/status/796557820829175808?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Seeing New Balance’s name dragged through the social media mangle hasn’t been easy for this bleeding heart liberal. Not only am I rarely seen without a pair of the brand’s shoes on my feet, but (full disclosure) I once worked for its PR agency in the UK and Ireland.

My view of the company, having worked closely alongside it for almost three years, could not be more positive. It’s a firm that cherishes craftsmanship, values its heritage and, importantly, has decency and fairness running through its core.

The notion that it’s an organisation that supports any form of bigotry is entirely at odds with my experience. But then, that’s not surprising given the magnitude of the leap it would take to come to that conclusion based purely on LeBretton’s comment.

And yet, if you search the #NeverNewBalance hashtag on Twitter, scores of people are doing just that. It’s bewildering. 

To give LeBretton’s  point some context, New Balance is one of the very few remaining sportswear companies that still hangs its hat on domestic manufacturing. Here in the UK, it’s the only major athletic footwear brand to produce shoes in a British factory. In the US, it operates five manufacturing facilities.

While many brands have taken their production lines overseas in order to cut costs, it has maintained this commitment to domestic product and the preservation of jobs. This laudable philosophy is the reason why the brand is more vocal about American trade regulation than many of its competitors.

Essentially, the very thing that makes New Balance a company worthy of praise is now the catalyst behind the scorn being poured upon it.

The controversy revolves around the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP as it’s widely known. While I’m far from an expert when it comes to understanding the finer points of the agreement, I understand it’s a trade partnership between nine countries, championed by the Obama administration, which reduces import fees on products sourced from participating countries.

To put it into this specific context, TPP ultimately gives importers (such as Nike) a competitive edge on domestic manufacturers (such as New Balance) by further reducing their overheads. Therefore it’s loathed by many ‘Made in the USA’ firms, not to mention their employees.

Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to abandon TPP, and New Balance’s decision to welcome this fact now has them wrongly labelled as wholeheartedly endorsing the President-elect, even on issues that aren’t directly linked to trade.

Here’s the kicker, though: Hillary Clinton was also against TPP. Guess who else? Only the darling of the left himself, Bernie Sanders. I assume they’re also good-for-nothing bigots for agreeing with Trump?!

It only serves to underline the astounding lack of logic that’s driven the anti-New Balance movement that has formed over the last week.

It’s akin to finding out Trump once ate at McDonalds, then accusing your mates of being racist and sexist when you find out they like Big Macs too.

It’s also symptomatic of the main problem with modern leftism, in that we don’t bother to debate any more, or to properly articulate our views. We just angrily condemn those who disagree with us, often without bothering to discover the thought process behind their opinion. I’m guilty of it myself.

  • When people voice concerns about immigration, we label them racist.
  • When people support Brexit, or Donald Trump, we accuse them of being stupid.
  • When people, often reluctantly, vote for the option that they believe will better enable them to feed their families, we accuse them of being selfish and narrow-minded.
  • And now, apparently, when a company opposes a trade agreement, we post photographs of ourselves burning its products on Twitter.

But we never bother to find out what brought them to that view, or to discover the context behind it. It’s something that was articulated quite brilliantly in Jonathan Pie’s piece last week. And, for that matter, by Michael Moore before the US election.

How on earth do we expect people to come around to our world view when we’re seen as sneering and dismissive rather than approachable and persuasive? The likes of Trump and Farage have seized upon the resentment that has been bred by this attitude. Yet still, on we go.

How, exactly, do you believe that burning a pair of trainers contributes to a better, fairer world? Why not do something meaningful?

Volunteer. Join a political party. Campaign. At the very least, actually do some research before lurching into immediate condemnation or individuals, organisations or groups. Just do something.

And if you really don’t need those shoes, there’s plenty of people who do. Give them to charity, FFS. It might not get as many Facebook likes as a pair of sizzling sneakers, but you’ll be doing something good whilst not looking quite so daft.

What a bloody mess. Grow up, the lot of you.

You know you should. You really should.

RIP Dalian Atkinson

Like all Aston Villa fans, I was stunned today to hear of the tragic death of our former striker, Dalian Atkinson.

Having been a mainstay of the Villa team in the earliest years of my support of the club, Dalian played in an era when, as a child who was quickly falling in love with the beautiful game, I viewed Villa players with an almost mystical aura.

Dalian

Put simply, Dalian Atkinson was a hero to me in the truest sense of the word.

Villa supporters are today, rightly, sharing their favourite memories of Dalian. From his equaliser in the 1994 Coca-Cola Cup semi-final, his opener in the final, as well as his goal of the season winner against Wimbledon in 92/93, there’s no shortage of candidates.

However, my favourite moment occurred not in a packed stadium, but in the rain soaked confines of Villa’s training ground.

Back then, Bodymoor Heath was much more open to the public than it is today, and my dad often used to take me there on a Sunday morning to enjoy a glimpse of my idols up-close and personal.

Invariably, I’d take along my own football, and dribble along the sidelines, daydreaming of one day being part of the claret and blue first team myself.

It was on one such morning that I was lost in this fantasy when I heard a shout behind me. “Mate! Give us a kick!”.

And out from the players’ gym strode Dalian Atkinson.

Dalian took control of my ball, dribbling around me while I, starstruck, tried to take the ball off his toe. Frustrated by my fruitless attempts to dispossess the mercurial forward, my tackles became more wild, prompting fears from my dad that I was about to injure our star striker.

There was no danger of that. Dalian was just too good. After about 10 minutes, our scrimmage was over. He shook my dad’s hand, ruffled my hair, and shuffled off back indoors. I recall my dad seemed even more euphoric than I did. “Never forget this day”, he told me. And I never have.

It’s only now, when I think about it, that I understand what an incredible experience it truly was. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario today where an eight-year-old kid can enjoy a kickabout with his football hero. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.

The tributes today from those who knew him best only serve to reinforce his public persona. A happy-go-lucky, likeable guy, who didn’t take life too seriously. Perhaps not seriously enough at times.

With that in mind, its really difficult to come to terms with the manner in which he died in the early hours of this morning. He’s one of the last people I would anticipate could end up in such a situation, and with little information in the open, it’s impossible to make sense of what happened.

For now, though, I’m going to remember him as a man who went out of his way to make a young boy’s day. I will sing his name loudly and proudly in the 10th minute at Villa Park tomorrow night.

You know I will. I really will.

2nd Stand-Up Gig CONFIRMED

If nothing else, I’m a man who strikes while the iron is hot. This is why, just 15 months after my first foray into stand-up comedy, I’ve already arranged my second gig.

I’ll be doing a brief but perfectly formed* spot at The Hollybush in Cradley Heath on Thursday 24th March. It kicks off at 8.30, and I’ll be one of up to 12 people doing their damnedest to elicit mirth for around five minutes apiece. Which is good, because it means that even if I’m rubbish, someone else might be good.

It’s the night before Good Friday, so the ideal excuse for a bank holiday night out. Oh… and it’s FREE (I think…)

standup

In the interests of full disclosure, it’ll largely consist of the content I debuted with back in 2014, with a little bit of jiggery-pokery/new bits here and there just to refine it. So basically, don’t watch this YouTube video if you’re planning on coming, because you might ruin it.

It would be splendid to see you all there.

You know it would. It really would.

 

*may not be perfectly formed.

 

 

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore

This is the first blog I’ve written in ages, and I’m afraid I have nothing better to offer than an incoherent rant.

You see, the thing is, I’m at home on my own, and I’ve just seen a photograph that has absolutely enraged me. And I have nobody to listen to me talk angrily about it. So I’m writing this in the hope that you may share my exasperation.

Here is the offending image:

gove

I mean… what is this… I cannot even… what the… who do they… WHY? Just… why?!

Apparently, ‘Clean for the Queen’ is an actual real thing, something that has been backed by the Government. For clarity, it is NOT a storyline from ‘The Thick Of It’, or the subject of a newly resurrected ‘Brass Eye’. Believe me, I’ve checked.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sort of behind the spirit of the campaign. I hate littering, and I like the thought of people working together for the betterment of their community.

The problem is, that by calling it ‘Clean For The Queen’, they seem to have entirely removed all sense of empowering social action, and instead turned it into a call for the peasants to clean up their shit so Her Majesty does not have to cast her eyes upon it.

I repeat, this is an actual 21st century initiative which has been backed by Government, and not the suggestion of some hysterical fruitcake posting a comment on the Daily Mail website.

But aside from the dreadfully patronising campaign it promotes, look at that picture. Just look at it!

You’ve got Michael Gove looking like a butch lesbian ventriloquist’s dummy that’s about to take its cycling proficiency test.

The allusion to the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ crap that everyone got bored of in 2002, and now stands as the primary hallmark of a complete lack of imagination.

The bewildering notion that the best way to clean up a village is to roll out HENRY THE FECKING HOOVER.

The entirely superfluous exclamation marks after their stupid straplines.

The even more superfluous spaces between said stupid straplines and exclamation marks.

The more I look at it, the more apoplectic I become. I have things to do today, but I am absolutely seething. It has ruined my Sunday. I wish I was exaggerating.

‘Clean For The Queen’ day is on April 21st, by the way. I am planning to mark it by travelling to London and emptying a wheelie bin on the floor outside Buckingham Palace.

Then I’ll head to Westminster and kick Michael Gove square in the bollocks. The sniveling little prick.

You know I will. I really will*.

 

*I probably won’t.

The Morning After The Night Before

As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I’d long earmarked May 7th as a potentially difficult day. However with most opinion polls having concurred that the party was set to retain up to 31 of its parliamentary seats after a positive campaign, it was in a fairly relaxed mood that I settled down to watch the results roll in.

Then came the shocking moment when the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll put forth the view that the Liberal Democrats would go on to win in just ten constituencies, an eventuality that not even the most pessimistic of doom-mongers could have predicted.

The initial reaction, of course, was to dismiss this result as an anomaly. The venerable Paddy Ashdown soon took to the airwaves to dismiss it as claptrap, even offering to ‘eat his hat’ should it come to pass.

And yet, despite having stocked up on highly-caffeinated drinks to see me through the night, they were wholly unnecessary as the massacre unfolded, and I was left wide-eyed with amazement as what looked to be a nonsensical forecast quickly turned into reality.

clegg

Giants of our party tumbled at every turn. A shell-shocked Simon Hughes was ousted after 30 years. Ed Davey, who did so much to promote that the environmental agenda within the coalition, followed suit.

The towering Jo Swinson, whose compelling brand of progressive feminism provided a refreshing antidote to the Westminster status quo also fell by the wayside. And perhaps most shockingly of all, the hugely popular Vince Cable, whose astute ideas and policies did so much to help businesses drive the economic recovery, was sensationally ejected from his Twickenham seat.

It was with some irony that the intended recipient of much of the electorate’s ire, Nick Clegg, was among the handful of Lib Dems to cling on to their seats. But, as his speech clearly indicated, there was no cause for celebration, no reason for optimism.

For the party, this was a disaster on a quite colossal, not to mention wholly unpredictable scale.

And so here I am, on the back of two hours sleep (yet feeling wide awake), trying to turn a head full of thoughts into something coherent in the half-hour I have before I’m due to begin my day’s work.

It may seem strange, but I’m certainly not regretting the decision to go into Government five years ago. Many of our detractors dismiss Clegg as a spineless character who sold his soul for a whiff of power.

What I see is a man who had such conviction in his party’s philosophies that he simply felt that the opportunity to implement them was one that could not be missed. Far from being spineless, it was brave, a calculated risk that was worth taking, but one which, ultimately, backfired.

By and large, I think the party can be proud of what it achieved and, in time, I think history will look back kindly on the Lib Dems in Government. To those who have knocked our contribution, I’ve always said “You’ll miss us when we’re gone”, and I’m sure that will bear out in the months and years to come, with the true nastiness of Conservative policy now certain to be allowed to go unchallenged by a coalition partner.

That said, I can certainly understand much of the anger shown towards the Lib Dems. The tuition fees saga was excruciating for all involved, while issues such as food banks and the bedroom tax can’t be a source of pride for any liberally minded person. Indeed, this explains why, for much of the five years we spent in Government, I allowed my party membership to lapse.

However, I came back into the fold a year ago as I was seeing a growing tendency for the noble virtue of liberalism to be cast aside and marginalised in favour of nationalism, which in my view is the smallest form of politics.

The American talk-show host, Conan O’Brien, once said “there is nothing more liberating than having your worst fear realised”, whilst discussing how even the most unexpected of setbacks can be the catalyst for profound reinvention.

And reinvention will be key in terms of preserving a credible Liberal presence in British politics as we move forward in this ever changing landscape. For the Liberal Democrats, there will inevitably be a new leader and new structure, I certainly hope there will be a new attitude, and there could even prove to be a new identity for the party altogether.

The most important thing, now, is to ensure, despite our presence being smaller than it has been in generations, that our voice remains strong, and that we remain unshakable in endeavouring to ensure that our society is built on fairness.

A Government which panders to the powerful and marginalises the weak cannot be tolerated. And the emphasis, now, is on us to ensure that this cannot happen. Despite the disappointment of last night, I’m somehow feeling more fired-up for the fight than ever before.

And with that, seeing as it’s 9.15, I’d better do some work.

You know I should. I really should.

MOVIE REVIEW: Big Game

There are some feats of cinema so incredible that you feel compelled to produce a review almost immediately after leaving the multiplex.

That’s certainly the case with ‘Big Game’, starring Samuel L. Jackson as a US President fighting for survival after Air Force One is shot from the sky.

Unfortunately, though, this is a film that’s got me fired up for all the wrong reasons.

That the hideous miscasting of cuddly old Jim Broadbent as a hard-nosed Pentagon-based American defence expert ISN’T the most mind-boggling thing about this film says everything you need to know about its quality.

88930

Big Game is, essentially, an 80-minute throwback to the big action movies of the 80s and 90s, albeit lacking any merit whatsoever. The dialogue is hackneyed and stilted, often with long, nonsensical scenes crowbarred in simply to set-up a cringe-inducing one-liner.

And yes, Samuel L. Jackson does call somebody a ‘muthafucka’ before shooting them. Obviously.

The use of these cliched phrases, together with an overly-dramatic music score and the liberal use of super slo-mo led me to question on more than one occasion if this was a parody that I’d been taken in by. But I honestly don’t think it was.

The most impressive thing about this film was that despite its ludicrous premise, which required too big a suspension of disbelief even judging by Hollywood standards to be in anyway plausible, was that it still, somehow, remained utterly predictable at every turn. Quite a feat, in my opinion.

And yet, I am writing this review without referring too heavily to the plot, or giving away any spoilers, because as much as I feel that NOBODY should watch this film, at the same time I’m thinking EVERYONE should, simply because I don’t feel these mere words are doing justice to quite how bizarre it truly is.

In summary: Absolute complete and utter crap. Five stars.

You know it is. It really is.

Stand-up for what you believe in

I turned 30 last year, and while I’m not generally one to get too bothered about growing older, there was something about this one particular landmark which led me, almost subconsciously, to take stock of life.

As much as I despise it when people take to social media to pen a lengthy self-mythologising review of their year, there’s no doubting that 2014 was marked a period of seismic change for me. I met a girl. Started a new, brilliant career. And biggest of all, I finally moved out from the home of my relieved parents, and into a house with said girl. Whirlwind.

And yet, amid the new responsibilities of paying bills whilst maintaining a relationship and a home, there was still an itch that needed to be scratched. I wanted to do something I’ve never done before. I wanted to scare myself.

For some, this might mean something like a sky dive, or a bungee jump. Not me. I’m far too over-cautious for all that. A triathlon, or a marathon? Nope, far too lazy.

Instead, I decided to have a crack at stand-up comedy.

standup

I first met Birmingham comedian, James Cook, in the studios of Trent FM in Nottingham in about 2007 or 2008. Which was unusual, given I worked for their biggest rivals, Heart 106 at the time.

As seemed to be the done thing in those early, heady days of Facebook whenever you became even faintly acquainted with somebody, a friend request was fired off, and despite not meeting again in the years that followed, we remained connected via the social media platform.

James’s Facebook posts always seemed to grab my attention, whether it was one of his sharp one-liners, a piece of spot-on political analysis, or merely just a grumble about the fortunes of Aston Villa. One post, however, that stood out, was an article that he wrote about the merits of a stand-up comedy course he was teaching. Initially, I thought this was posted about a year ago, although a quick Google search tells me it was actually in 2010. Time flies, I guess.

It was memorable because I’d never contemplated that comedy could be taught. I think I always imagined that it was a natural gift. That  funny people just somehow found themselves, organically, taking to the stage without a second’s thought or a leap of faith.

I’ve always loved comedy, in all its guises, and I’d be particularly in awe of stand-ups because, to my mind, it seemed like one of the bravest endeavours I could possibly imagine. The thought of public speaking in any form is enough to strike fear into the hearts of many people, that’s without taking into account the pressure of having to be funny, or to offer value for money to a paying audience.

It was something I’d never even contemplated doing, that I never imagined I had the skillset or the sheer balls to attempt. But then, at the back of my mind, was the knowledge of James’ comedy course. And despite having no desire to subject myself to what I was sure would be a humiliating experience should I ever attempt stand-up, I was intrigued by the idea of it.

It was my growing fascination with American late night TV which prompted me to take the plunge, as I became captivated by the process of putting together a one-hour long daily topical show, and by the perceived glamour of the writers’ room.

My fixation with this genre of TV led me to read The Late Shift, the story recounting the 1993 tug-of-war between chat show greats David Letterman and Jay Leno, which recounted the importance of stand-up comedy clubs in honing the skills of the late night personalities.

With that, and my newfound desire to test myself, the calling became too strong. Fear be damned, I was signing up to the course.

Arriving on night one was surreal. From walking up to the reception desk at the Midlands Arts Centre and sheepishly telling them I was here for the stand up comedy course, barely wanting to say it out loud as it sounded so ridiculous. As I strolled up to the small room that would be our comedy dojo for the next twelve weeks, I found not the unbearably wacky bunch I’d been bracing myself for, but rather a group of people standing, silently, in a corridor, not daring to make eye contact, let alone talk to one another. Well, of course… they MUST be the funny people!

Slowly, with James’ guidance, we emerged from our shells. Although, in many ways, I wasn’t sure at all what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised at just how structured and useful the course was. I suppose I’d expected nothing more formal than to be sitting in a room with a group of people and trying to make up jokes, but found myself fact taking part in properly planned out lessons aimed at helping us to develop the writing and performance skills required, in readiness for the gig before a paying audience that would mark the culmination of the course.

Ah, yes. The gig. At the start of the course, it seemed so far away that it was almost as though it would never happen. And then, as these things tend to, it crept up on us, and before I knew it, I was standing in a dingy little staircase at the side of the stage at the Mac’s Pentagon theatre, my heart almost bursting out of my chest, and with one question bouncing around my head repeatedly. “What are you doing? What in the ACTUAL F*** are you doing?”

And then, my name was announced, and as soon as I walked onto the stage, something changed. I went from nervous wreck, questioning his own sanity, to feeling superhuman. I’d imagined that the performance would be a blur, but I have incredibly vivid memories of my set.

I remember spotting my colleagues, who had graciously given a night of their time to support me. I remember the face of the man in the front row, with whom I found myself making eye contact, and whose laughter was reassuring me that my stuff might actually be slightly funny. I remember looking in the crowd for Anna and not being able to spot her (she was sitting at the back on the left hand side). And I remember the wave of relief and excitement at the end, tempered by disappointment that it was all over.

The feeling of exhilaration, the rush of performing was like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I came off stage, and felt like I was floating through the venue. I stopped for petrol on the drive home, and simply wanted to tell the surly man behind the counter about the night I’d had. Then I lay awake all night long, unable to quell the excitement that was coursing through my veins.

A new term of James’ course has begun this week, and I’m incredibly jealous of the period of self-discovery and new found belief that his new students are about to embark on. Of the feeling of accomplishment they’ll no doubt feel after their showcase, their first live performance. Of how they, too, will progress from being a nervous soul standing in a corridor.

From doing the course as a one-off means of testing myself, from being certain that my first stand-up gig would undoubtedly be my last, I feel like I’ve awakened a new passion. I’m keen to perform other gigs in the near future, and I’m also set to continue learning the craft of comedy by taking an improv class, starting on January 22nd.

It’s an experience that I can’t recommend highly enough. So, if you’re thinking it might be interesting, I’d just say don’t overthink it. Don’t put it off. Just do it. I believe there’s a couple of spots left on the Tuesday session…

You know there is. There really is.