Things I have learned from following sport (specifically from watching rally)

What that drink is in the rustic looking cup with the metal straw that they drink in Argentina.

See this video from Best Of Rally Live of shakedown for Rally Argentina 2013 – it opens with some atmosphere setting shots of a spectator pouring water onto some dried herbs in one of these cups, then we see shots of churro vendors, sausages and bread being sliced, and spectators drinking out of the distinctive cup through the distinctive metal straw.

So, what is that drink? It’s Yerba mate. Which is a hot caffeinated drink made from the dried leaves of a species of holly that grows in South America. The gourd cup is called a mate, and the metal straw is a bombilla. The bombilla has a filter at the bottom end, to keep out bits of leaf and twig. There is an appealing ritual to the preparation of Yerba mate, involving much careful shaking of the gourd to ensure the leaves settle properly. One cup of yerba mate is often passed around several people, with each person drinking the whole cup before pouring fresh hot water on the leaves for the next brew. Correctly settled leaves allow for the drink to be of consistent strength and flavour over several brews, and also prevent the bombilla from becoming clogged with the smallest powdery bits of leaf.

And that’s what the spectators were drinking on the stages as they waited for the cars to go past.

There is a German-speaking region of Belgium.

Originally, I thought that there were only two languages spoken in Belgium – French, and Flemish. I judged Flemish to be essentially the same as Dutch.

Turns out (turns out) that a small number of communities near the German border speak German.

I had wondered why, at stage ends, the rally radio reporters asked Belgian driver Thierry Neuville to give his answers in English and in German. I’d assumed that as a Belgian he spoke either French or Flemish as his native tongue, and from his accent when speaking English I further assumed it was Flemish (despite his given name being French). But recently, Mr Neuville posted a picture to his Instagram account of an essay/composition he’d done at school, unsurprisingly on the subject of rallying. Two things struck me at once. One, OMG would you just LOOK at the neat handwriting. Two, it’s in German. It’s in good, proper, mother-tongue German. Aha, so the world’s fastest hipster is indeed a German speaker. I took the time to look up where it is Mr Neuville comes from – it’s a place called Sankt Vith, which is in an official German speaking community of Belgium, where they all totally speak German. And I did not know that before.


Judging an app by its icon

I'm using this blogging app for the iPad, called Blogsy. It's functionally pretty damn good. Works with all kinds of blogging platforms, your WordPress, your Blogger, your SquareSpace, your Moveable Type, et cetera. Gives you a nice WYSIWYG posting area with a nice clean top menu bar for formatting.

But look at this app icon. It's a hipster typewriter. “Ooh, look at me, typing on my old fashioned typewriter. I like things from the olden days because they're so cool, look at my moustachio wax…”

Blogsy app icon of an old fashioned typewriter

And look at what's written on the keys. “Live Long And Prosper” – cos the geeky hipster boys and girls, they love Star Trek, right? Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not ragging on Star Trek. I like Star Trek. And I do kinda think the text on the keyboard and the eenie-weenie “Get back to work, you're wasting time” on the aged-effect paper in the typewriter is kinda cute. Kinda cute.

I'm just making a slight, slight face at the cutesy vintage typewriter (the hipsters LOVE it!) and the LLAP complete with a pipe and two slashes to make a Vulcan hand thing shape (the geeks LOVE it!) cos this is for YOUR style tribe, boys and girls!

If, by chance, you aren't a twee fauxthentic fetishiser of all that's “vintage”, nor a nouveau geek, if you do not currently live nor aspire to live in Portland, Austin, Williamsburg, Shoreditch or other hauts-lieux de l'hipster, if the cutesy-woo name “Blogsy” does not attract you much in the first place; you can still get the app because it is in fact Any Good.


Conversation chocolates and wanker hats

As a Christmas gift, I got a box of Green & Black’s Conversations
chocolates. The writing on the box proclaims “CHOCOLATE THAT REALLY GETS YOU TALKING” and promises “inspiration for fun conversations and enthusiastic debates”.

These are dinner party conversation enabling chocolates. Consider that for a moment. Golly gosheroo. Dinner party conversation.

Inside the box are individually wrapped squares of Green & Black’s dark, milk, white, and butterscotch chocolate. The outer paper wrapping of the square has question fragments in a font mashup word cloud style. Once unwrapped, the inside of the paper wrapping has a question considered suitable for starting dinner party conversation. Indeed, the inside of the box lid says “open up each delicate chocolate square to reveal a different question; random, unpredictable, revealing, hilarious, even controversial…”

Let’s look at, and answer some of those questions! I’m going to answer each question three times, with the aid of two “wanker hats” – the deliberately contrarian wanker hat; and the try-hard status wanker hat.

I’ll answer as myself in my own (de facto, factory setting) personality in regular type, wearing the contrarian wanker hat in bold type, and as the the trying hard to impress status wanker in italic type. Let’s go!

What’s your favourite cuisine?

I dunno, I like Spanish food a lot, and I’ve always liked Punjabi food, and I like Greek and Turkish food.
Council teas. You know, chicken nuggets and potato waffles and beans.
I’m really inspired at the moment by the cuisine of the northern Caucasus.I’ve been trying to blend the perfect adjika.

If you could inhabit the world of a film, which one would it be?

Maybe a Studio Ghibli film, because they seem like my sort of make believe world. I’d say My Neighbor Totoro as an idealised reality, and Spirited Away for the make believe of my childhood. Or maybe the 1980s New York of Desperately Seeking Susan.
A Serbian Film.
Maybe a Studio Ghibli film, because they seem like my sort of make believe world. I’d say My Neighbour Totoro as an idealised reality, and Spirited Away for the make believe of my childhood. Or maybe the 1980s New York from Desperately Seeking Susan. (OMG, I am soooo busted!)

What’s your favourite season?

Arsenal’s unbeaten one.
Hahaha, actually, there’s a film called Ma saison préférée, My Favourite Season, with Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil.

What’s your favourite simple pleasure?

Eating, sleeping, shitting.
Shitting. (heh, stole the wind out of Contrarian Wanker’s sails)
Oh, gosh, kneading bread with my bare hands. Or watching my children playing in the sand on a blue-flag beach.

Where is your favourite place in the world and why?

The Northwest Highlands of Scotland. I love the individuality of the mountains that rise up out of the landscape there; Slioch, An Teallach, Stac Pollaidh, Suilven, Quinag, Foinaven. The coastline is beautiful, rocky cliffs, little islands, sandy beaches.
I’ve got two answers. Answer one. Airdrie. Because the whole fucking concept of favourite places is bourgeois. Answer two. My clitoris/penis (delete according to the bodily sex of Contrarian Wanker) because it’s mine and it’s a rude answer and I bet you didn’t think of a clever rude answer like this, so ha ha ha. Call me Brendan O’Nihilist and pay me in the morning.
Oh, maybe the wooded canyon of Asbyrgi in Iceland, or the amaaazing fortified hill villages of Svaneti in Georgia, oh gosh, it’s like Middle Earth or something from Game of Thrones. Or the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. I love the individuality of (oh shit it’s happening again)

What’s the first thing you would buy if you won the lottery?

Some really good shoes. And the best Rallytravel package to Rallye Sardegna or Neste Oil Rally Finland. And I’d help sponsor some rally drivers. Then I’d do some do-gooding.
Porn and drugs.
A whole jamon iberico. And some do-gooding.

What can’t you say no to?

I have a bit of a problem with chocolate biscuits, but there’s nothing that I definitely can’t say no to.
Dinner parties, evidently.
Any invitation to go on holiday. Especially somewhere warm, or somewhere off the beaten track!

What is your favourite ice cream?

I like Kelly’s Clotted Cream ice cream. It’s hell of a creamy.
Mr Whippy
Something with toasted macadamia nuts and cocoa nibs. Of course it would be“dished up in glass bowls as the sun beats down and the children splash about on blue-flag beaches.”

Only a fool will have failed to notice that the so called neutral, de facto, factory issue “me” personality contains big chunks of the Contrarian Wanker and the Try-Hard Wanker. Or vice versa. You can’t be surprised. I’m not. A hat can only do so much, you know.

Another email to David Robey

Still confident you made the right decision?

Of course it’s better to ditch a cheap team who aren’t on contracts than to look at places where BBC radio could save big money. Of course.

Listeners think you’re an incompetent cloth-eared fool. But that’s OK! You didn’t need to do any tricky HR procedures, just say “contract’s over”. Nobody needs heart and soul stories of London and true life (I hope Gilda From Limehouse haunts you from beyond the grave). You’ve combined some cost centres.

Doesn’t matter about the backlash, does it? Doesn’t matter what people think. All of us from Stephen Fry to the bloke who commentates on bobsleigh and touring cars for Eurosport think you’re a damned fool, but that’s OK! You can be confident you made the right decision and sleep the sleep of the just. Can’t you?

An email to David Robey

Dear Mr Robey,

The Danny Baker show is the best show on radio. Yet you are axing it. As a listener, I find this unacceptable. Please reverse your bizarre and perverse decision.

Yours with deep disappointment,

Gemma Hallam

Top Ten Gingers

Top Ten Gingers: featuring red-headed old lady fashionistas, orange cats and SPORT, SPORT, SPORT. The top three in this festival of the flame-haired are all rally-related. What a tremendous shock.

10. Paul Collingwood. Now who doesn’t love Colly? As I thought. We love his tenacious batting, and we love his fielding. Durham’s finest ginger.

9. Street Cat Bob, known for his smart little knitted scarves and his busker companion. Like all self-identifying cat people, I claim to be able to read the mindset of a cat through facial expressions and body language. The way Bob carries himself clearly shows his stout and stalwart pride in looking after his man. Bob is a gentleman.

8. Anthony Davidson, racing driver and analyst. If you only see him on Sky Sports at the “SkyPad” you are missing out. His practice session commentary and repartee with David Croft are tip top, as listeners to their pre-2012 BBC Radio commentary will attest. Ant is also fascinated (I stop short of the term “obsessed”) with radio masts, which is a point strongly in his favour. And let’s not forget he’s DAMN quick in a Le Mans prototype.

7. Andy Murray. Not technically a ginger? Aw, come on! Dark auburn counts.
Used to be, you could easily spot a person without much grasp of human nature and humour. They’d be the ones saying “Ugh, Andy Murray is so grumpy”. He ain’t grumpy. He has a dry sense of humour, something entirely occult to these ludicrous people. Once Murray shed a few tears after defeat in the 2012 Wimbledon final, those fools came round pretty damn quick.

6. My friend Sarah’s daughter Sophie. She’s two. She’s very funny. She loves disco and funk – you know I want to go down in history as the person who introduced this smallest among the top ten gingers to the works of the CHIC organisation. I hear that Sophie is currently interested in and concerned by “the people”. When Sarah makes gingerbread men, gotta be one for Sophie, one for Mummy, one for Daddy and one for “the people”. A leetle teeny weeny socialist!

5. Miguel Ángel Jiménez. His ginger ponytail! His beard! His biiiig ol’ cigar! His belly! Miguel Ángel will bring the Rioja AND the good time, and you know it.

4. Ilona Royce Smithkin, artist, performer, and one of the muses of the Advanced Style blog. She’s 92 (the video below is two years old) and just fucking splendiferous. Lady makes her own long ginger false eyelashes. Now this next part is important. Ilona says that for a long time she didn’t have much self-confidence. She was very insecure, But now, in old age, she has self-confidence. Let this be a lesson to you. It isn’t too late. You aren’t too old.

3. Kris Meeke – the rally driver currently without a seat who most deserves a seat. Fast, very fast. Technically astute. Intelligent. Honest. Witty. This man must have a drive as soon as possible. I demand it.

2. Becs Williams, the flame-haired Duchess of rally. A splendid lady, indefatigable at the microphone (so long as there is enough coffee and perhaps a little something to eat), Ms Williams has anchored the live internet radio broadcasts of the World Rally Championship, and hosted the official press conferences since, ooh, a long time. I wouldn’t dare to say how long, for surely nobody lies about their age with such insouciant alacrity as Ms Williams. A lady who is capable of wrangling not one, but two Clark brothers, while simultaneously arranging deliveries of coffee and cake by sheer force of will alone, is to be respected and lauded from Norway to New Zealand. And she is.

1. Jari-Matti Latvala, future world rally champion. Not technically a ginger? Aw, come on! Pale auburn counts.

The most adorable creature who ever threw a car sideways around a corner. Unfailingly honest. Funny. Determined, but with an emotional openness that can be perceived as vulnerability. This week’s Motorsport News (24/10/12) has an interview with Volkswagen’s Jost Capito, Latvala’s new boss, with the quote “Seb (Ogier) can stand on his own and doesn’t give a shit, but Jari-Matti needs to be loved.” Some say this is a terrible weakness, and that no sportsperson should need this kind of bolstering. On the other hand, some of the greatest man-managers in sport, such as Martin O’Neill, have specialised in getting the most out of those very talented people who need a little love. It’s also never worth forcing someone with a strong personality of his own to adhere to some narrow idea of sporting masculinity. Let me quote the runner-up in this list, Ms Becs Williams, on Twitter just a few moments ago as I type : “JML once told me he tried to do ‘aggression’. He didn’t like it and it didn’t work!”.
I am in full agreement with Colin Clark’s stated view that Latvala is the fastest driver currently in the World Rally championship, including Sébastien Loeb. We’ve all seen and heard Loeb at stage ends looking a little concerned and saying “Latvala is very fast”. So he’s the fastest and the nicest, and will not be shifting from top position on this gingers list. That’s that and if you don’t like it, you can fight me.

The best Brian ever

My favourite Brian ever, ever, EVER, is Brian Wilson.

Brian Wilson has written and arranged music of sublime beauty. He is a genius. It’s an overused word, but I don’t misuse it here.

If you don’t understand or appreciate the Beach Boys, it’s probably because you haven’t really listened to the Beach Boys. Once you do, you will appreciate Brian Wilson.

I am listening to “I Get Around”, a 2 minute pop song from 1964. Harmonies; Brian’s clear falsetto; the guitar arrangement and those crisp, crisp handclaps. It’s an evocation of a vacation; of a teenage summer driving the car down to the beach. It ends, drifting into the xylophone opening of All Summer Long.

It’s a foretaste of the compositions and arrangements Brian would go on to do with The Wrecking Crew on Pet Sounds and the long dormant SMiLE. Just listen to “Heroes and Villains” from the remastered SMiLE project. Such complexity, such beauty.

It’s well known that Brian had his troubles; he spent much of the 1970 and 1980s quite ill, with disordered eating and sleeping, depression and auditory hallucinations which he self-medicated with alcohol and cocaine. Brian Wilson didn’t “overcome mental illness”, as the cliche goes. He lived through it, as the reality goes. These symptoms and disorders weren’t a result of taking too much acid, and had actually been around for quite a while.

Remember too (particularly when you see all the ridiculous “drug casualty” post SMiLE stories), that Brian was checked in (possibly at his own volition) to a psychiatric hospital in 1968 to treat his mental illness (and possibly try to help deal with long standing problems relating to his childhood abuse). This is a mental illness that is pretty much referred to directly in the hit single “Break Away”…

the aTantalus blog An Artist And A Machine from July 2012

Finishing SMiLE in 2004 in collaboration with Darian Sahanaja and original lyricist Van Dyke Parks was a fantastic achievement. To have seen your work as a failure for 37 years, and then to be able to listen to it, appreciate it, and work with it is a beautiful human achievement.

Some people retire at the end of their lives. Brian Wilson retired in the middle of his life, and then came back. I’m so glad he did.

Recommended reading and watching:
Catch a wave: the rise, fall and redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin.
Brian Wilson presents Smile (2004) double DVD featuring the “Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the story of Smile” documentary, concert footage, interviews, backstage footage.

Top ten Brians part 2

5. Brian Johnston, “Johnners”, cricket commentating legend. Co-creator of one of the funniest moments in all sporting commentary.

4. BRIAN BLESSED. When I worked in a college bar which was not equipped with a bell to ring for last orders, I used to shout last orders. I’d take a few breaths, loosen my shoulders and get my diaphragm into shape, then I’d take a great big breath and BELLOW “LAST ORDERS AT THE BAR PLEASE” – right from the depth of my belly. I felt just an inkling of the stupendous joy that Brian Blessed must derive simple from being Brian Blessed. I felt… blessed.

3. Professor Brian Cox. I like him because he has a similar haircut to me. And because he’s a great science educator and communicator. And his wife, producer and presenter Gia Milinovich is ace. There will sadly be no “top ten Gias” list until I know of nine more splendid women named Gia.

2. Lord Justice Brian Leveson. Or “Judge Brian” as I like to refer to him.Head shot of Lord Justice Leveson from the Leveson Inquiry website
During the hearings of the inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press which bears his name, many people became fans of Judge Brian. But the blood in my veins is tinged hipster, and so I must say I was there before you. Since the beginning of the inquiry, I mean. I’m not going to make out I was a fan since he was counsel for the prosecution in the Rosemary West murder case. That would be peculiar.

So, why Judge Brian? His interjections are always good. They are incisive and analytic, as here, discussing with Brian Paddick (who would be in my top 20) propriety in relations between the press and the police (p28 line 15 and on); and throughout this session with Colin Myler, picking through the events leading to the out of court settlement paid to Gordon Taylor in relation to phone hacking.

His humour is wry and dry. After a witness referred to “the black cloud hanging over the industry with the phone hacking and the News of the World, Lord Justice Leveson interjects with “I’ve been described in many ways. I’ve never previously been described as a ‘black cloud’,” with a delightful Merseyside dryness. Possibly my favourite Judge Brian quip is from the application from government counsel for cabinet ministers as individuals and the government as a body to be granted core participant status. “I’m sorry to be tediously legal about it, but, er, that’s my touchstone.” (watch from 6min 30 sec on the video. Do note the expressive eyebrows.)

The number one Brian, the Brian in chief, il Brian di tutti Briani, will be revealed in the next post. If I remember to post it.

Nokia and the WRC: the end

An update to my previous post on Nokia’s woes, and the ill-fortune of the World Rally Championship in having a doomed sponsor.

Last weekend’s (May 24-27) Acropolis Rally of Greece was the last rally for Nokia as sponsor.

We have still heard nothing at all from the FIA regarding new sponsors, new funding, a new promoter, TV coverage, or much of anything. The situation is not the one that manufacturers signed up to.

Now would really be the time for Mr Mahonen or Mme Mouton to say something. Even a short placeholder statement of “we’re working on it” would be better than nothing at all.

Top ten Brians part 1

10. Brian the Snail from TV’s The Magic Roundabout. Annoying, people say. But the right kind of annoying. The endearing kind of annoying.

9. Brian from “Monty Pythons Life Of Brian”. He isn’t the Messiah. And neither are you, just in case you were suffering from that popular delusion. Brian is, however, a very naughty boy. I can’t help you out on that count.

8. Either Brian May or Brian Eno, depending on whether you like lots of hair, a home made guitar, and concern for the welfare of wild animals, including hedgehogs; or very little hair at all, synthesisers, Apple, tech wossnames and concern for matters environmental in a wider sense. Yes, I’m leaving you a choice. Deal with it. Some days you’ll choose May, others Eno.

7. Brian Clough, football genius. That’s all there is to be said.

6. Brian Johnson. The Geordie singer feller with the hat from AC/DC. Brian Johnson with AC/DC live in 2008, St Paul, MN, photo Matt Becker
His CV is very nearly as impressive as Bruce Dickinson’s: he is writing a musical based on the legend of Helen of Troy; he competed in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona (endurance racing at the age of 64? HATS OFF TO YOU, SIR!); he set joint second fastest time in the Chevrolet Lacetti on Top Gear’s Star In a Reasonably Priced Car feature. A greater achievement yet has been his success in replacing the much-loved Bon Scott in AC/DC after Scott’s sudden death in 1980 – there is no expectation heavier than that which comes from stepping into the shoes of a dead hero. A canny aul’ gadgie, like.