Jacky P confirmed for next series of Celebrity Big Brother

jacky p

“Yeah, I’m Jacky.” Those were the immortal words of Sylvester Stallone’s leather-clad – and, let’s face it, leather-skinned – mother as she casually strolled down the steps of Celebrity Big Brother. Now, some ten years later, another famous figure with the ‘J’ moniker will usher those words.

Jacky P, nee Jack Parker, has confirmed that he’ll be swapping the cultural Canaan of Digbeth for the rustic delights of the Big Brother house for Channel 5’s autumn series. The bald Brummie adonis has proven his credentials over the years, from hosting raucous gigs in his student halls, championing grassroots indie music and being a prominent figure on BBC WM Introducing.

In recent times, Parker has had numerous operations and quiff grafts to transition into Jacky P, a prominent YouTuber and rap promoter with a penchant for spitting bars and baking cakes. Fellow Brum legend Jim Parstall says: “It’s a natural fit. Jacky P is Birmingham – perhaps not literally, but certainly metaphorically. He has embraced the local culture and has done his stint. It’s all been leading to this.”

Jacky P has already been installed as the bookmakers’ favourite to win the forthcoming series, which will also include less famous figures such as the man who coined the phrase “Birmingham water” and the girl who claimed to sleep with Muggy Mike. It is unknown if P will walk into the house to ambient house or lo-fi grime.

 

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BarceWHOAna – Five Years On

sov life

With the Championship title almost in the bag, Sovereign FC’s golden generation blew off some steam with a whistle-stop tour of Spain. Five years on, former Sovereign starlet and masseuse Sam Lambeth recalls the bacchanalian banter of Barcelona.

A breezy February afternoon in Barcelona can be a breathtaking place. While a few health-conscious chicas take in a leisurely jog down the pristine pavements (however, ironically, they remain in total control of their breathing), occasionally accompanied by an equally athletic canine, the streets are beautifully unoccupied. The only noise is the faint footsteps of townsfolk as they bustle from shop to shop – it’s a near-silent oasis of almost ethereally quiet contemplation. As the city spreads beneath their feet, oblongs of mist are battered by beams of unobtrusive sunlight, just as the pavements are battered by another gang of toned runners. Heavy breeze, light breeze, more breeze.

Into this step the soporific disposition of Sovereign FC, the highly-regarded team of young upstarts rapidly ascending to the top of the football pyramid. The team have injected a mite of masterful maturity into the homely huff and puff of the Championship, not to mention the footballer lovers worldwide who adore an underdog. Their punishing but personable style of play has pounded pussy and mounted Mandem. As a treat for such terrorising performances, manager Neil Jackson – stocky, slovenly, the kind of man who would get mugged for his wallet and take them to his private safe – has treated us to a few days of warm weather training. After being up for 24 hours, though, not even the Vitamin D is helping us.

After a sleepy saunter around the local zoo, the only thing most of us are thinking about is crashing our heads for a long-overdue siesta. Ash Wiley, usually so friendly and forthcoming, has already called me an “upstart cunt”. Frazer Evans’ fatigued vision has gotten his Barca birds all mixed up, as he spends most of the zoo jaunt flirting with a flattered but uninterested peacock. Derrie Catton, the oldest one here by a considerable distance (except the zebu), has paired up with chairman Mitch Jackson – Neil’s pater, who shares the same burly build and distaste for foreigners.

The trip took several hours, but would have been well under one if it hadn’t been for Neil’s unquenchable zeal for zoos. Every time we thought we were heading for slumber, Neil would instead cajole us to another cage. If that trip proved to be meandering, the night was to be worse. As a treat for beating the Shifnal Shitmunchers in our previous game, Mitch was treating us to a delicious supper at a restaurant he fell in love with several years ago.

However, locating the place proved exceptionally difficult. As we plodded along, still a tad tired after a post-zoo power nap, we began to wonder if this elusive eatery was akin to Harry Potter’s Room of Requirements – we began visualising each other as food, Liam Dixon becoming a tough piece of greying gristle and Matt Palmer a plump slice of pork. Eventually, Mitch conceded this restaurant must have either closed or had been in Bridgnorth the whole time. We settled in at a fish joint but we were more interested in shots than sharks – Ash and the rest of the boys flooded the bar, Mitch’s motto “the more you drink, the more you save” echoing around our ears like post-flight poppage.

Ash has endured some dangerous and disastrous relationships over the years, but his blossoming pursuit of paella proved fatal. After disappearing to the toilet for an uncomfortably long time, we eventually found the midfield maestro face-down in his own filth, a frenzied brown stream of pints and Pollock. If that night was drunken, the following day would be sobering for Getafe – the Colonels weren’t in despot mode when they came to the Nou Camp, and we got to enjoy a 6-1 mauling from Neil’s favourite team. Well, we thought it was his favourite team…maybe he was overstimulated, maybe it was the seafood platter still circling his plentiful stomach, but the ‘chant’ he sang sounded like a Medieval war cry than the theme tune of a football team.

It was no secret at the time that Palmer and I were looking for love (I hasten to add not with each other, although years later Palm would become attached to a member of our team). After failing to charm a succession of Spanish fillies, I settled upon a busty but basic casino worker. With junk in the trunk and ex-husbands on the payroll she seemed the ideal type of woman to educate me. I had a few one-liners ready but Palm’s persistence paid off, his complimentary cry of ‘DAYUMMMM’ filling the room and her womanly heart. They married but I believe Palm struggled to raise children that were not his own. I wish them well, respectively, although the marriage and divorce had a devastating effect on the photos he’d taken.

Alcohol proved to be the drink of choice while on the tour, and once we’d finish passing drills we’d move straight on to the shots. Ash, Liam and Frazer never seemed to be shotless but always seemed to be shitfaced, their intake so uncontrollable they even felt cunted on Kaliber. My own flirtations with the Devil’s dew drops resulted in me insulting a vast array of tourists from the top of an open-top bus, as well as gyrating furiously in the face of a clearly terrified and aroused Neil. Even our chairman didn’t behave, Mitch bluntly and brusquely telling a Romanian peasant to “piss off” as she dared offer him custody of her goat.

There were some notable absences from the trip – Jon Giddings refused to board after a transfer request from Legia Warsaw was denied, while Chris Caddick missed the flight and Austins spent the three days in a Spanish jail minding a bull beater – but the boys in Barca stole babes, balls and a whole load of beers.

Frasier reviews – ‘The Good Son’

frasier

Our pilot episode introduces the central characters in swift fashion, but also announces another prevalent plot – the relationship between Frasier and his father.

I should begin by giving a little personal background onto my relationship with Frasier. It has been an institution in my house for as long as I can remember, and there were many Friday nights where I was allowed to stay up late and watch it on Channel 4. Although I was too young to take in The Good Son, being around one-and-a-half at the time of its 1994 airing, I have grown up with the show, with my mother frequently comparing me to Niles (owe it to my svelte build, sandy hair and slightly persnickety demeanour).

What I always remember about Frasier, though, was that it was an arc that, over time, focused on each character’s journey. However, the characters that are arguably given the most airtime are Frasier and Martin. Over time, Roz, Daphne and Niles would each be given room to develop and evolve, but from the very start it’s clear that Martin’s role is just as integral as the titular character’s. If anything, Martin’s is more vital, seeing him grow from a bitter curmudgeon to a content father happy with his lot in life.

In The Good Son, it’s strange to see Martin quite so belligerent, but it starts an emotional heft that would propel a lot of the early shows. His relationship with both his sons is, politely, strained – Niles and Frasier are haughty and obsessed with high culture, while Martin enjoys nothing more than a sports game, a beer and a hot dog. On Frasier‘s opening episode, it’s those differences that form the show’s catalyst.

Before that, though, we see Frasier at the start of the show wrapping up his radio programme, something that would introduce most episodes. Here, he helps push the story along by providing an adrift caller of his reasons for relocating, getting in a classic quip about ex-wife Lilith (“my wife left me, which was painful. Then she came back to me, which was excruciating”). Roz, his bolshy but brilliant producer, is introduced, showing her wisecracking fearlessness by informing Frasier of his on-air blunders. Her character, though, is yet to be truly fleshed out, and while the Lupe Valez reference wraps up our story, I never really found it particularly inspiring.

We segue from one Frasier institution/character to another, as the immortal title card announces the arrival of Niles. Of course, originally the writers didn’t intend for Frasier to have a brother, but upon seeing David Hyde Pierce perform in a play, they realised there was a likeness to Kelsey Grammar that had a certain sibling similarity. Throughout the show, Hyde Pierce is a tour de force as Niles, exaggerating his elitism with farcical overtones, physical flair and some exquisite line delivery. His relationship with his brother is the perfect mix of co-dependence and sneaky superiority, and in our first glimpse of their Cafe Nervosa sessions it’s almost there, the back-and-forth banter foreshadowing the sharpness that would come (the choice cut being Frasier remarking “since when do you have an unexpressed thought?”, to which Niles responds “I’m having one now”).

Martin and Frasier’s relationship, unsurprisingly, does not get off to a smooth start. Martin’s two prized possessions, a repulsively retro armchair and his terrier Eddie (who freaks Frasier out with his incredibly focused staring), are enough to drive Frasier to fury, but the last straw comes when Martin favours hiring an eccentric English woman, Daphne, to be his physical therapist. Realising Daphne needs somewhere to stay, Frasier erupts when it means he could lose his study. “You want me to give up the place where I do my most profound thinking?” Frasier asks, incredulously. “Oh, just use the can like the rest of the world,” Martin retorts, and within this riposte is a neat representation of their father-son dynamic – Frasier views his father as being unintelligent and blue-collar, while Martin considers Frasier to be stuffy and superior.

The final conflict – and its subsequent resolution – are delivered wonderfully. As Frasier, Grammar has always seemed somewhat ill-fitting. A visible beefcake of sorts, Grammar yet plays someone with a fragility and prissiness that betrays such a strong build. Yet despite this, we always believe when we hear and see tales of him being bullied or ridiculed. It’s testament to Grammar’s stellar performance that he can admit him accepting his own father into his house is an act of guilt and we, as an audience, only gain more sympathy for him.

John Mahoney, as Martin, would be the pinnacle for some of the show’s most brutal moments of pathos, and their explosive argument is perfectly done. Frasier, on the verge of tears, begs for just “one lousy thank you” from his repressed father, but Martin – his face sombre and listless – can’t bring himself to show any sign of vulnerability. When he eventually does, through the medium of Frasier’s radio show, it’s all the more rewarding and true to Martin’s character, one that is incredibly loving and sweet, but buttoned up in blue-collar manliness.

The two of them will endure further fraught discussions as the show continues, but The Good Son is the perfect introduction to characters who, just when they think they’ve found contentment, are thrown life-changing curveballs.

Stray observations

  • So, settle in! I hope that as many Frasier fans as possible will join me in this episodic quest throughout the seasons. We’ve got so many remarks to review, so many characters to cover and so many dramatic shifts to suffer, but as Frasier paraphrases somewhere in Season Eight, “I think we can.”
  • The two Cafe Nervosa scenes here are there simply to drive the plot along, but it’s a great introduction to what will become a staple of the series – sometimes I could just watch a whole episode of Frasier and Niles exchanging witty remarks and discussing their various pretensions (oh…wait…they do! Can’t wait for Episode 24).
  • Frasier’s overcompensating gets the better of him when he tries to dazzle Martin with the view. “Oh, see, Dad, that’s the Space Needle right there.” “Oh, thanks for pointing that out, being born and raised here, I’d have never have known.”
  • Not sure when Martin’s ubiquitous armchair stopped vibrating, but here it’s in full flow and, in Frasier’s words, “the crowning touch.”
  • While a few of his eccentricities and snobby demeanour are already well-set, some of Niles’ characteristics seem slightly off throughout. By this point, Frasier had been back for six months, but their relationship isn’t as close as it is portrayed in later episodes. Here, they go to the opera separately and Niles vetoes a hug.
  • Martin is unimpressed with the first care worker, despite her illustrious resume. “She worked with Mother Theresa!” “Well, if I was Mother Theresa, I’d check her jewellery box.”
  • I love Daphne, after potentially blotting her copybook with her admission of being physic, makes light of the situation by joking to Eddie – “you’re a dog, aren’t you?” and laughing. It’s a sweet, innocent moment that many of us, certainly myself, do to try and remedy a situation. Even better is Frasier’s sly dig upon Daphne’s exit: “We’ll be in contact, Miss Moon, if not by telephone…through the toaster.”
  • Speaking of Daphne, her belief she is psychic is an early character trait that would, as time progressed, fall by the wayside. Ditto Niles and his rigorous hygienic crusade, as he meticulously wipes down his seat before offering Frasier a go.
  • Another integral character introduced – although not seen, natch – is Niles’ surgery-obsessed socialite wife, Maris. “I thought you liked my Maris,” enquires Niles, defensively. “I do, I like her from a distance,” Frasier responds. “Maris is like the sun…except without the warmth.” I’m pretty sure at this point she was going to be an onscreen character, before the writers’ exaggerated descriptions deemed it impossible.
  • The next episode, Space Quest, continues Frasier and Martin’s bickering. If memory serves, it’s a good one.

Why Toby Young’s ‘reign’ is another groan from a dying Government

The Tory party’s continued lack of touch and grace has once again been highlighted by the appointment of Toby Young to a prominent education board, despite a vast history of sexist tweets and ill-advised egomania. Now out of the frame after just eight days, this farcical folly is yet another product of a Government falling on its own slimy sword.

Let’s get the case for the defence out of the way first. Toby Young – egocentric malcontent, deliberately divisive journalist and Conservative companion – has found himself stymied into resignation from the newly-formed board of Office of Students a mere eight days after being anointed, largely down to a series of sophomoric, sexist and contemptuous Twitter remarks. While he has stepped down, he has still refused to acknowledge he was hoisted by his own profane petard, and simply said he is being judged for things he said “before he got into education…when I was a journalistic provocateur.”

That statement rings slightly true, of course. Furthermore, from St Augustine of Hippo to Liam Gallagher, God and the public love a repentant celebrity. For example, in school, I once dropped someone’s choc ice. It was ill-advised, foolish and downright out-of-line with the behaviour expected of an eight-year-old. I had been tasked with holding the treat, and I failed in that duty. While there’s always been a fear at the back of my mind that such a perilous product of my past would come back to haunt me, must I then spend my life in the frozen section weeping for consideration? Would I not be entitled to a second chance?

Yes, with a but. And, of course, in Toby Young’s case, it is a completely different kettle of fish (or should that be barrel of baps?). I’m not now on a board promoting free, academically rigorous and seemingly exclusive schools for choc ices. I am not indulging in the sugary treat after blasting them for being ugly and inappropriate, as Young had done regarding ramps at schools. I had not branded choc ices “troglodytes”, as Young had done with grammar school pupils. Furthermore, I have not – to my knowledge – repeatedly and repugnantly aired my admiration for choc ices’ breasts. As Young frequently has.

Things we say in the past will always come back to haunt us, but if we acknowledge them and move on, perhaps there can be forgiveness. In Young’s case, however, it was not a mere one-off – it must have taken him the eight days he was in office removing all the incriminating tweets had he posted regarding an MP’s cleavage, Claudia Winkleman’s breasts and the mammary glands of a fellow television judge. Young had frequently posted such vulgar remarks with little care or interest in what others had to think, a frequent pitfall throughout the journalist’s highly controversial career. That he blames it on merely being a product of his past is not good enough – his eerily long and very open degradation and objectifying of women, from through Twitter or his escapades as a New York journo, is not a mistake or the folly of youth, it’s a full-blown character trait that will not stop just because his blogs have.

Young’s appointment casts further calamity on the Conservative party. By its very definition, the Tory party are out of touch, but this appointment is a further groan in the dying body that is our Government. Hiring a boorish sexist and insensitive braggart in such a public-facing role shows a Government complete devoid and dumb of what the public would actually want. While Young has dipped his toe into the world of education, his appointment – over anyone representing the NUS, for that matter – showed disregard for the education sector as a whole, and leaning on the “we need outside opinions” aphorism quite rightly did little to dissuade those signing “Young out” petitions.

The fact he even got into office in the first place is largely down to his Tory chumminess with the Johnson dynasty, who defended him to the hilt and promised he would bring “caustic wit” to the cause. Was he ever fact checked? Did no one consider the perils of hiring a figure second only to Piers Morgan in the hated media figure stakes? No. Worse, he was flung on his own sword just 24 hours after being publicly defended. Theresa May could only yammer while sitting on the fence, promising that if he made one more naughty remark there would be repercussions. Again, like many of May’s soundbites, it felt empty, haughty and completely devoid of any real promise.

The good thing is that the public have spoken and have been rewarded. Young resigning will hopefully allow the Office of Students to try and produce good work without such a negative spotlight (even if the subject of free schools continues to divide opinion in its own right). For Young, it is hopefully a lesson learnt that cruel comments on inclusion and perverted remarks on “baps” will not grant you a serious career in the political sphere…yet.

 

 

 

 

Father? Christmas

Mum had always said the same thing. “He was a crook,” she would sneer, a drool of brandy butter coating her drunken lips. “He was belligerent. He used me for one night and then never even calls. Never wanted to meet you. Hasn’t paid any child support. I’ve got half a mind to take him to court, but what’s the point? No one would ever believe me.”

It was the same every Christmas. Any other time of the year, she would never bring it up. Heck, she never even seemed hurt. She was proud that she’d raised me all on her own. But as soon as December came and I flicked open the first window of my advent calendar, a festive fury took hold of my mother. If she lived alone, she wouldn’t have put up a single thread of tinsel. There’d be no Bonsai tree, let alone a Christmas one. She put bread knives in the chimney.

“God, I can’t stand this time of year,” she’d rage. As soon as ‘Last Christmas’ began blaring out during our Monday shop, she made our next door neighbour go to Tesco for her.

I knew the reason, but I didn’t believe it. She was right – who would believe it? Mum had to get drunk just to tell me. “Have you ever wondered, Natalie, why you’ve never had a father around?” she’d ask. It was the same introductory quiz every Christmas.

“I’ve never really questioned it,” I would reply. And I meant it. Some families had dogs, some had cats. Some had other siblings, some were only children. It never really meant anything to me that I didn’t have a dad. Sometimes I had fantasised about him, thinking he’d left my mother to sacrifice himself in trying to solve world hunger, or he was teaching two tribes in deepest Africa that perhaps religion wasn’t the real reason they were arguing. But, in reality, I just thought he was probably some shady one-night stand.

“Don’t your friends ask you?” would come the response.

“Not really, it’s never bothered them,” I’d respond. I always tried to not give my mother fodder for more questions. She’d prepped them anyway, of course.

“It was Christmas Eve and I was still living with your grandparents,” she’d begin, the swigs of Bailey’s becoming more frequent and frenzied as each memory was unlocked. “It could have even been Christmas morning. I just remember seeing a figure bumbling around in the dark. I’d been out with Karen, Kev and Stu, and I was still feeling pretty buzzed. But before I could reach for the Neurofen I saw him.”

“Go on…”

“Santa Claus.”

That’s when my eyes would begin rolling. Nonetheless, she would continue.

“They should call him that ‘cos he sunk his bloody claws into me,” Mum spat. “He was charming, glowing and incredibly kind. He sat down next to me and started telling me about all the places he’d seen. He loved travelling.”

“He’d make a great Tinder bio.” That was my response last year.

“Of course, I was entranced. I mean, I’d stopped believing in Santa years ago,” Mum would continue. “But here he was, in the flesh. He told me how he and Mrs Claus were not really seeing eye to eye. She was the more stay-at-home type. He told me I’d been good that year and deserved a special present, and that’s when I looked above and saw the mistletoe. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe he’d planted it there himself. I think he wanted out of that marriage.”

“Right, Mum, well this is all well and good, but…”

“We ended up kissing and, well, one thing led to another,” Mum explained tactfully. By the time I turned 16, she’d joke that Santa didn’t have any suitable “stockings” upon his person.

So that was my Christmas. Every bloody year. At first, I chuckled heartily. I thought she was just trying to make me smile, even if it was a little seedy. But as I grew older, the story would always be told. It was always the same. Little details would be added – the size of his carrot, the feel of his silk, the tickle of his beard – but she was adamant that it wasn’t some drunken dream.

The older I got, the more cynical I became. My main concern was that this ‘Santa’ could have been Uncle Paul and she’d ended up fumbling around with her own brother (he was always a bit incestuous, especially when he’d offer me a ‘giddy-up’). My other fear was it was a randy burglar who couldn’t believe his luck. When I fooled myself into believing Mum’s theory, even then I had doubts – Santa was on his busiest shift. His only shift. In between taking gifts to Greece and Gabon how would he have the time to get his coals off? I’d heard some crazy theories about Santa having the power to slow down time in order to circumnavigate the globe, and that he could do everything he wanted in seconds. But surely if he was visiting a girl’s grotto he’d want to spend hours in there?

“I wrote to him every week after I found out I was pregnant,” Mum sighed. The brandy bottle was about to be unscrewed. “There had been no one else. I let Kev have a feel of my tights in the pub but sperm can’t threw laddered cotton.”

“And did he respond?” I asked. This segment of the conversation must have happened when I’d reached a more quizzical age – I think I was 14 when I began wondering if Santa used his fingers.

“Nope, just the standard Christmas boilerplate,” Mum said. “And then when you were born, I sent him photos and begged him to come and meet you. I knew that he was probably in hibernation, but I thought he’d make the effort to see his newborn daughter.”

“Did you see him again at Christmas?”

“Nope, he made it pretty clear he didn’t wanna see me,” Mum said. “I got vouchers that year.”

“So he didn’t slide down the chimney?”

“No one did that year,” Mum said. “But no, he didn’t even take a sip of the whiskey I left out for him. I thought that would remind him of our time together. Whiskey seemed to pop his belt, if you get me.”

“I don’t need to hear this,” I said. “Mum, are you absolutely sure? You told me to stop believing in Santa when I turned 10.”

“Yes, because I don’t want you supporting your father,” Mum replied. “He’s never supported you. I have to buy and wrap your presents. I have to cook Christmas dinner. I was the one fighting the other mums down at Toys-R-Us. Where was he? Probably burning my letters on his fire, the fat shit.”

“I mean, wasn’t he a bit old for you?”

“He had the gift of the gab,” Mum said. “I wouldn’t usually go for a guy like that but I felt wanted. The way he scooped me up in his arms. I felt safe. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t all gentle, but…”

Mum tried her best. I had a pretty good upbringing. She worked as a supervisor at a hardware store, although had no knowledge of what a hammer did. Her boss, Reggie, had been in love with her since the day she started, and continued to keep her on and promote her despite her thinking an L-pipe meant a dodgy uterus. My nan and granddad always helped out with babysitting, but eleven months a year my mum was working until 6, picking me up, cooking tea, reading my bedtime stories and making sure I never needed a dad. It was only on the last month of the year where things would go a little haywire. The only time where I would have actually favoured having another person in the house.

There had been times when I thought about tracking down my dad myself. On my 30th birthday, I felt a sudden yearning to know. It was like an alarm clock had gone off in my head, that all this time I had been incomplete. That there had been a paternal piece missing. What if I died the next day and I’d never even seen my father? Never even knew his name? Mum had done amazingly well in bringing me up, and ensured that I got a good education and had loads of fun, but I was old enough now to know what happened.

“I’ve told you what happened,” Mum snapped.

“Mum, this isn’t Christmas Day, you can drop that story.”

“Are you implying I’ve been making this story up? For thirty years?!”

“I don’t know what I’m implying, but…”

“Yes?”

“I just think I deserve the truth.”

“You’re drunk, Natalie. Just enjoy the party and we’ll talk about this tomorrow.”

“No, not tomorrow, now,” I said, grabbing her by the arm. A droplet of wine escaped from her glass and Mum gave me a look as if I’d just shot her in the kneecap. “I have to spend every Christmas listening to your tale of unrequited romance with Saint Nick, and every year I have to smile and sympathise. Well, I think I’m old enough now for you to tell me that you didn’t actually shag Santa.”

“I can’t believe you’re bringing this up now,” Mum said. “This is your birthday. Stop embarrassing yourself.”

“You embarrass yourself every Christmas Day!” I said. There was no going back now. Kev looked across, anxiously hiding his hands. “Didn’t you ever think I wanted a normal Christmas? With all the family around? With loads of presents? With my mother sober?”

“Enough! I’m not discussing this anymore. Why would I lie to my own daughter? I’ve spent every bloody Christmas telling everyone what that man did to me. But of course it’s me that’s ridiculed. I’m the one that looks crazy, while he gets to go and see the world and probably impregnate a lonely mother in Moscow.”

With experienced precision, Mum gulped the remains of her glass and strode off into the night.

 

As Mum walked off broken, I realised maybe I’d gone too far. I just wanted to put a stop to it all. To end the nonsense. But it’s been 30 years – how can anyone keep a lie going for so long? Maybe it had happened. Maybe she needed me on her side. She needed someone to believe in her and I shunned her.

“Hope you’ve had a great birthday, sweetie,” Kev said, noticing me deep in thought. “Is your mum okay?”

“Thanks, Kev. Oh…I think so.”

“Look, nothing happened that night,” he said, a panicked sweat protruding from his forehead. “I went to grab my own knee and accidentally grabbed hers. Twice.”

The next day, I left my apartment early and made my way over to Mum’s house. I knew she wouldn’t be expecting me – she thought I was a drunken mess and was blissfully hoping I’d be spending all day vomiting over my cat.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“Can we talk about last night?” I asked, trying to remain calm and controlled.

“Yes, of course we can,” Mum replied. “It was a fantastic party, all the right friends showed up, Paul tried to pull the coat-check girl. Everyone had fun. How’s that?”

“Mum, you know what I want to talk about,” I replied.

“You want to make me look a fool once again, do you?”

“No, I want to help,” I said. “Are you gonna let me in? I bet you’ve still got that Neurofen from that night, yeah?”

We sat down and Mum began Irish-ing up her coffee. I gave her a flat refusal and nursed a glass of water.

“So let’s say Santa is my dad,” I began.

“There’s no ‘say’ about it. He is your dad,” Mum said.

I grimaced as her interjection shattered my skull. “Okay, sorry. So he’s my dad. Is there no way I can get in touch with him?”

“Maybe you could take a two-week vacation to the North Pole. Or Lapland. He’s got properties everywhere.”

“Actually, Santa was born in Turkey,” I said. “He might have a villa out there.”

“Istanbullshit! He didn’t even have a tan when I saw him!” Mum said. “He was as pale as snow.”

“He probably doesn’t spend much time there,” I said. “But I guess it means I’m part Turkish.”

“You’re not much of a delight, though.”

“Haha.”
“I don’t know what to suggest other than wait until Christmas. It’s only a few months away. It seems to come quicker every year.”

“But how would we even see him?”

“We could stay up.”

“He’s probably still avoiding me. He knows what he did,” Mum said.

“Well, I’ll write him a letter,” I said. “And I’ll implore him to see me. I won’t ask for money or weekly visits to Greenland. I’ll just ask that I can meet him one time, just so I can say I have spoken with my father.”

“You can try, but I don’t think it’ll work,” Mum said.

“We owe it ourselves to try it.”

As I began scribbling, I tried to remember who exactly I was doing this for. Was it actually for me? Was it to get the closure I’d wanted for all of one day? Or was it to give my mother some kind of comfort, a kind of reassurance that there was someone else on the planet that actually believed her story. By the time I signed my name, it didn’t really matter.

The next few months segued into December before I even knew it. I was never a big fan of Christmas, mostly down to my mother’s annual outbursts, and at work they were all very aware of it.

“Why don’t you like Christmas, Nat?” Dwayne asked me one day.”

“I just don’t,” I replied.

“Come on, you can tell me. Are you Jewish?”

“No!”

“So you’re just tight.”

“Dwayne!”

He laughed cockily and flashed me a pout. “Sorry, babe. Look try and get in the spirit this year, yeah?”

“Alright,” I said. Before he could swagger over to the photocopier, I grabbed his hand. “Dwayne, can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

“Come closer.”

“Babe, not here.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Dwayne. Look it’s a secret,” I said. “I am a little excited this year. I’m actually gonna meet my dad.”

“Oh, that’s swell, Nat,” he said. “I mean, I’ve asked for a new tie, myself, but…”

“You don’t understand,” I whispered. “My dad is…Santa Claus.”

Dwayne burst out laughing. “Oh, Natalie, you’ve got such a dry wit,” he said. “I can see why you hate Christmas now. Your daddy always buying other kids’ presents and not spending any time with you. My mum’s the tooth fairy and she never once gave me a pound coin.”

“Dwayne, I’m being serious,” I said. “Mum tells me every Christmas that Santa is my dad and I always laughed at her. But maybe she’s telling the truth? I mean, she’s told me this every Christmas since I was born.”

“But Santa doesn’t even exist,” Dwayne said. “Who ordered his morning Uber, one of the elves?”

“I knew I shouldn’t have said anything,” I said. “You just think I’m crazy.”

“No, Nat, I don’t,” he said. Even Dwayne realised his jokes were going too far. “But if he is your daddy, what are you going to do about it?”

“Well, for a start, can you please stop referring to him as ‘Daddy’,” I said. “And secondly, I wrote him a letter a few months back and begged him to meet me. I don’t even care if he brings me any presents or not. I just want to meet him, and I want him to talk to my mum.”

“But it was a dick and dash,” Dwayne said. “He won’t wanna carve the turkey now he’s cooked it.”

“Charming,” I said. “It’s more for my mum than me. I want him to see what he’s missed out on.”

“Well, good luck,” Dwayne said, although I could tell he was still sceptical. “Tell you what, I’ll even guard your front door that night. We can have walkie talkies and I’ll let you know when he goes down the chimney.”

“It’s an apartment building so I presume he’ll inform the doorman,” I said. “But that would be very nice of you.”

“But look if he’s a deadbeat I’m not punching him for you, I just had a manicure.”

“Man being the operative word.”

“See you later, Santa lady.”

On Christmas Eve, Mum and I lay quietly in bed together. She squeezed my hand and flashed me a grin. She looked vindicated. Loved. It had been a long time since I saw her smile at Christmas.

“Do you think he’ll even show up?” Mum asked.

“I’m confident he will,” I replied. “Why don’t you have a nap and I’ll let you know if I hear anything?”

Mum cuddled up and closed her eyes. I lay still, my mind racing. One moment I was cursing myself for entertaining Mum’s crackpot theory, but the next I was pleased I finally took a step back and considered her story viable.

The hours passed. Mum’s nap had turned into fully-fledged slumber and I wasn’t far from joining her. All I could hear was the gentle tick of the clock and Mum’s occasional throaty snore. Suddenly, I was woken up by a loud crash. I tried to stir Mum but the drool trail from her mouth suggested she was done for the night. I hurriedly got out of bed and checked through the curtains, hoping I’d see him. Even if he turned and gave me a cheery wink. But there was nothing but two cats giving each other ‘gifts’ by the bins.

I checked my watch. It was nearly 4am. The entire complex was quiet. No movement. It was strange, but part of me thought he’d actually show. That he really was my father. Maybe he is and he’s scared I’ll ask him to teach me to ride a bike or give my ex-boyfriends a sound beating. I guess it would have to wait for another year. I went out into the living room and saw the tree, bereft of presents. When I was younger it was never particularly full. I don’t think Mum could really bare going out Christmas shopping, getting bombarded with Band Aid, tinsel and mulled wine. I decided to give up and hit the hay.

“Natalie, are you okay?” she murmured, before rising suddenly. “Has he been?!”

I sat on the edge of the bed. “Yeah, Mum, he’s been.”

“You’re kidding me?! Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“I…He said seeing you would be too painful.”

“Yeah, well, once I’d kicked him in the balls I guess it would be.”

“He did say he was sorry.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.” I lay down next to her. “He said he was sorry but he could never raise a child when he’s technically looking after billions across the world. He said he was proud of me, though.”

“And is he going to give me some money? Is he going to be at your wedding?”

“Mum, let’s forget about all of that,” I said. “I don’t need that. I don’t need him. I stopped needing him when I turned 10.”

“I guess so, darling. Well I hope he told you this month’s been a bit tight and you might only get a jumper.”

I laughed. “As long as the jumper’s not tight.”

She went back to sleep and I poked my head through the bedroom curtains. Maybe I’d never meet him, but I’d gone through Christmas Eves believing in him and not believing. This would be the first one where I was caught in between.

Steven Patrick Mugabe – Impeach Morrissey!

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It didn’t begin, it blossomed. It was a sign of positivity, of unity. He was a spokesman. But something went wrong…very wrong. Now an outcast, even the most devoted of fans are turning their backs on him. As Mugabe and Morrissey’s reigns come to an end, we investigate the parallels between the Mancunian miserablist and the Zimbabwean despot…panic on the streets of ‘Babwe?

“Presidents come, Presidents go,” sighs Morrissey on his new album, “and oh, the damage they do.” It’s a swipe at Trump, but it could also be pilfered as a neat summary of Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe. For the 93-year-old despot has caused almost irreparable damage to a once fertile land, turning a thriving nation into the second poorest country in the world.

Four decades after his reign began, his time is now at an end, with his impending impeachment removing him from his role as leader. On the music side of things, maybe an impeachment of Morrissey would not be such a bad idea.

When once you would bristle at the odd questionable remark, you would show leeway when listening. It’s, after all, well established that Morrissey is a twat, but his music was enough to make us forget such frivolity. In fact, when he made a two-fisted comeback in 2004 with the striking You Are The Quarry, we greeted him like an old friend. Now we look at his Twitter and remember why we stopped hanging out with him in the first place.

While Mugabe was given accolades such as an honorary knighthood in 1994. Mozzer, meanwhile, was voted the second greatest living Briton in 2006 (coming as close runner-up to David Attenborough, no less). Several years later, Mugabe has been stripped of his honour while Morrissey would probably lie somewhere in between Jeremy Clarkson’s hairhole and Katie Hopkins’ salacious jaw. Both Mugabe and Morrissey’s reputations lie in tatters, both of their achievements are almost long forgotten and both face 2017 as worthless peons, bygones of an era no one wishes to remember.

Mugabe’s downfall, of course, is long-awaited and for obvious reasons. Morrissey has fallen on his own puffed-up petard. He’s often been forthcoming with a contrary comment, from blasting the “blustery jingoism” of the 2012 London Olympics to calling Brexit “magnificent”, but in 2017 he seems to enjoy being deliberately divisive. The Pope of Mope’s PR company must be pulling their quiffs out as he defends Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, claims a UKIP election was rigged and bestows Berlin the title of “rape capital.”

Yes, the Spacey interview was translated. Yes, maybe he did, deep down, have some kind of relevant point. But why bring it up? Why indulge an interviewer? And this is me giving Morrissey compassion, when in actuality we know that he probably meant every word. He has become a man living in his own bequiffed bubble, and just like Mugabe, has become almost invulnerable to criticism, to anger and rage. Everyone else is wrong, Mugabe and Morrissey are always right.

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Things started so well for both Mugabe and Morrissey. Both came to prominence in the 1980s, and both came as welcome relief to movements that had long grown stale. As racist Rhodesia became independent, Mugabe was a progressive leader, aligning two warring races and promising a brighter future. Morrissey, meanwhile, was a leader for the wistful, a knitted anachronism singing with Wildean wit and kitchen-sink despair. As time lapsed on, though, so did their good points. Mugabe’s stranglehold over Zimbabwe choked it of its economic stability; Morrissey’s post-Smiths output became highly politicised, polemic and polarising.

In 2017, even the most devoted of fans of Morrissey – myself included – are tired of fighting. We’re tired of defending him. We’re tired of saying “just listen to music, not the man.” We want the beloved, deadpan spinster back to make remarks like “I’m a humasexual…interested in humans, though of course, not many.” That comment was made in 2013 and was probably the last humorous thing Mozzer uttered.

As for Mugabe, Zimbabwe may, one day, breathe a much-needed sigh of relief. Robert, it really was nothing.

Man-free festivals – Segregation that the Gender Deserves

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There has been great progress made in improving the safety, most of all sexually, in festivals across the UK and beyond. More than that, there has been much more awareness – in terms of social media blackouts and, in Glastonbury’s case, the Sisterhood – in creating gender-specific spaces.

However, the issue in Sweden is, at least on a reported scale, spiralling out of control. Bravalla Festival may have hosted some of music’s globe-gobbling anthem makers (this year saw The Killers amongst the headliners), but beneath its commerciality lies sordid tales of sexual violence that stretch back to the beginning of the noughties. Over the past two festivals, a combined total of nine rapes and 34 sexual assaults have taken place. And they are the ones police are aware of.

The shocking numbers have resulted in an announcement from the festival’s organisers cancelling next year’s festivals, blaming the fact “certain men don’t know how to behave.” Even in context, it’s a statement that is not only odd and clunky, but clumsily understated – on the surface, men misbehaving is tantamount to accidentally spilling a beer or smoking a spliff – rape is far, far away from bad behaviour.

The only positive to come out of the situation is Sweden’s first exclusively non-male festival, which will take place instead of Bravalla in 2018. While festivals in the US have previously hosted successful ‘man ban’ festivals, this action throws into raw reality that despite technological advancements and added security at festivals, sexual abuse remains a disgustingly potent, and prolific, risk.

The news of this has, of course, sparked mixed reviews. The traditional war cry of ‘not all men’ has reared its head, as has the victim-blaming boilerplate of ‘segregation’. Yes, this is segregation. But this is a necessary move. If men are, as the statement deemed it, unable to ‘behave’, then a blanket ban is the only way forward. Alcohol or substance abuse can turn even the staunchest ‘not all men’ chanter into an altogether different beast, and by offering only a segmented segregation, surely the purpose of this festival is thwarted? This is a chance to show that men need to take action and behave in an uniform manner – it is not a case of nice guys finishing last.

It is also not about pinning the blame of one gender. Men, of course, are also victims and can be victims of sexual abuse, but this is a reaction of sexual abuse within a specific, and confined, space. The sheer volume of rape that occurred in Sweden alone warrants such a ban; I’m sure if the genders had been switched and it was men who had been subjected to such staggering statistics, we would have a man-only festival.

Whether or not England will follow suit in the future remains to be seen, and hopefully Sweden will also provide bands that have at least one female member in them, but the threat of sexual abuse continues to be all too real prospect.