Wednesday, 24 June 2009

My first Glastonbury - my fears of the loos, the mud and the hippies

This weekend I am about to end my Glastonbury virginity at the tender age of just a tad over 40 (a tad obviously meaning roughly five years).

The fact I have waited so long to partake in the Glasto mud is not because I’m averse to music or indeed festivals - far from it.

As some people know I’m a complete music nut (and many think the word ‘nut’ is appropriate in that I’ve seen my favourite band The Stranglers more than 80 times) and in my younger days I actually organised rock festivals of my own for a number of years. And yet, for some reason, the charms of Glastonbury and the like have never particularly tempted me – until now.

I have been pondering a visit to Somerset’s most famous farm for a couple of years but it was only when I started hearing the mere hint of a two-word rumour – “Bruce Springsteen” – that I thought I simply could avoid the Glastonbury temptress no more.

I adore Springsteen and the thought of not seeing him practically in the backyard was unbearable. So, Glastonbury here I come.

The problem with going to the festival for the first time at a not-quite-as-youthful-as-I-was-before age is that so many other people have been and have told me all the potential problems.

I have been told of mud rising up to thigh level, six-hour car park queues, tents floating away down a hill and even more scarily, that the place is full of hippies. Frightening.

And then of course there are the toilets (pictured amidst the mud here).

Maybe it’s because I am that little bit older now but the thought of sharing what have been described to me as the ‘toilets from hell’ with 170,000 other people brings on a mild form of paruresis (that is shy bladder syndrome) and parcopresis (which is bashful bowel syndrome). I wouldn’t even be keen on using public toilets at somewhere like the Ritz so this . . .

And then, of course, there is this camping lark. I love the countryside but I’ve always believed it is better outside of the home rather than as part of it. It doesn’t help that I am, without any shadow of a doubt, the worst person in the world at DIY and the words “putting up a tent” give me the same fears as other people have about swimming with sharks.

I will be accompanied at my first Glasto by my 15-year-old son, Ollie, who’s far more practical than me, and when I foolishly told him of my tent fears, he looked at me, shook his head and uttered the wounding phrase: “When God invented man, I don’t think you were quite what he had in mind.” Cutting.

Thankfully, however, God has invented pop-up tents and that is how we will now be spending our forthcoming weekend. (If only he would also invent pop-up flushing toilets, we would all be laughing).

But despite the reservations about the mud, the loos, the queues and the total abandonment of personal hygiene, I am still very excited about opening my Glastonbury account. The musical line-up looks incredible (I'm especially looking forward to Broooooce, Glasvegas, The Gaslight Anhem, The Specials, Echo and The Bunnymen, Hugh Cornwell, Spinal Tap and more) and I’m looking forward to catching up with some great new bands, some great old bands and many others who have yet to reach my radar.

Hopefully, I might even see some of you at the event – I’ll be the one in a dodgy pop-up tent, wearing a faded Stranglers T-shirt and with a toilet roll in one hand and a ‘how to survive your first Glastonbury’ guide in the other.

Bring it on Glastonbury – do your worst!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Buying a hamster...or a snake...or a tiger

When was the last time you were stopped in the street and asked by a complete stranger if you would accompany them to a pet shop to buy a hamster?

My guess is this isn’t something many of you will be able to answer in the affirmative and nor could I – until last Saturday.

I happened to be in Trowbridge and was pottering along merrily when a somewhat forlorn looking teenager stopped me and politely asked if I had a spare five minutes. Sitting behind him on a bench was a female friend clutching what appeared to be a rodent’s cage full of rodenty-type toys. For some reason I thought they may be doing some kind of survey but instead, I was asked that hitherto unheard of question: “Could you help me to buy a hamster”?

It appeared that this couple had decided to buy a hamster and all its paraphernalia for a friend’s birthday and although the pet shop had been more than happy to supply them with all the items to make a hamster’s life a ball-spinning treat, it couldn’t actually provide the hamster itself. It is like being sold a football kit – but being refused a football.

This unfailingly polite youngster explained to me that the excellent pet shop had a policy (which is based in law) of not selling hamsters to anyone under the age of 18It all seemed a bit bizarre to me (although several friends have since given me all kinds of uncomfortable reasons why a live hamster shouldn’t be let loose in the hands of a teenager!), but he seemed such a nice chap that I happily visited the shop with him and helped him choose a very handsome little chap to go in his cage.

(I can only assume, incidentally, that those working in the shop thought I was his elder brother as clearly I’m far too young to have teenage children.)

This did get me thinking later as to how weird it is that there are different ages when you can do things.

It has always struck me as strange, for example, that you can legally have sex at the age of 16 but you can’t rent out a video to show you how to do it until two years later. Equally strangely (and more frighteningly) you can join the army (with parental consent) at 16 and in theory be sent to an armed conflict and risk your life for a war you’re not considered old enough to even vote for until you are 18.

All these questions were swirling around in my mind so I decided to do a bit of internet research about the age of (various) consents but as so often happens when you go web surfing, your mouse wanders away from your, err, hamster.

I wanted, for example, to see at what age you could legally buy my least favourite animal – a snake. I never found the answer to this but I did find plenty of sites that were seemingly willing to sell them to me at surprisingly low figures. Fancy an African Rock Python which can grow up to 25 feet? Yours for just £70.

If your mad enough to want it that is.

I then got into the “so can you buy anything online”? mode and found pretty much that yes, you can. I hate snakes but I absolutely adore tigers and guess what (and you can see this yourself), there is a site where you can buy pet tigers online.

The package comes to $13,000 and includes, would you believe, three tiger toys (by which I imagine they mean small mammals). I am sure they are doing a roaring trade.
A tiger, snake or hamster still not enough for you? Well, I also found a site where you could buy . . . a tank.

An accompanying feature came up with the wonderful phrase: “Purchasing a war machine in central Europe is fairly simple. Getting it home is the problem”.

So it’s official, the world is NUTS. But at least one happy Trowbridge teenager now owns a hamster...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Cantona - a definition of 'le cool'

For me, when I was growing up, I thought the ultimate in cool was Marlon Brando. He’s been my favourite actor for most of my life after I saw him in one particular film and realised he had so much magnetism that I wasn’t watching the movie I was just watching him.Whatever “it” is, he had it.

When I checked one particular website (called Rate It All) where people were asked to nominate their coolest person in the world, sadly Mr Brando did not even make the top ten. The winner according to this particular poll was Jesus followed by Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Lee. Several other people in the top 100 certainly deserved their place – David Bowie, JFK, Mohammed Ali, Bob Marley and Barack Obama – although the survey somewhat lost its credibility by making Bugs Bunny the seventh coolest ‘person’ on earth with Chewbacca also quite high up!

Incidentally, the highest woman (Audrey Hepburn) was....62nd. Is coolness a purely male trait???

Anyway, the reality is I will never get to meet many of those ultra-cool people’ (for fairly obvious reasons!) but on Saturday I truly did look into the eyes of what I see as cool.

And it was right here in the heart of Bath.

For last Saturday the huge sporting icon that is Eric Cantona descended on the city –and I use the word descended because that’s just how lofty and grand it felt.

He was here to promote his new movie, Looking For Eric, which has been directed by Bath’s own Ken Loach. As is well known, Ken is a massive fan of our fantastic local football team, Bath City, and so when he wanted Eric to promote the new film, he took him to all the obvious places (Manchester, London and the Jonathan Ross show) – and to Bath.

The King (for that is Cantona’s very apt nickname) spent three unforgettable hours at Twerton Park with Bath City players, officials and fans before going to the Little Theatre for a screening of the movie and a subsequent question and answer session.

I didn’t make the movie (although I will be catching it this weekend), but I was there for every minute of the Bath City experience and I truly felt I was touched by stardust.

Eric, traditionally a private and shy man, was open, friendly and patient with everyone and he showed none of the “Billy Big Boots” attitude that makes many of us very angry about the modern footballer. His humility, his grace and his kindness shone out in every autograph he signed, every award he handed out to a Bath City Youth player and every raffle ticket he plucked out of the chest to raise funds for Ken Loach’s favourite football club. Oh and as an aside if Ronaldo is worth £80m - which of course he isn't - how much would the superior Cantona have been worth at his peak???

Reading this you may feel I sound as if I was a little bit star struck – and you would be right. The wonderful Mr Loach introduced me to Eric at one point and I stood there like a lemon, and just shook his hand and mumbled a few nonsense words. Eric in return was generous and respectful and made me feel ten foot tall. And that is because he has that mystery something – ‘cool’ perhaps?

A few months ago I had the honour and pleasure to meet our current Prime Minister and although he is an incredibly powerful man, he didn’t have the same impact on me because the charisma that people like Mr Cantona have are incredibly rare.

If they could bottle this charisma it would sell in the millions – but even then, it wouldn’t work for some people because you’ve either got it or you haven’t.

And Eric has it. Beaucoup.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Here comes the sun.....Zzzzzzzzz

At the risk of people shouting ‘baah-humbug’ at me can I be the first (?) to complain about the sun?

And no, I don’t mean the paper of that name but that ‘burning ball of gas’ that was much in evidence earlier this week.

Now I realise straight away that criticising the sun is a dangerous game – indeed it is somewhat blasphemous to many. I often think that it is virtually a criminal offence in the UK to say you don’t like The Beatles or Shakespeare and for many people not enjoying a full-on heat wave is considered equally unacceptable. Indeed, I can imagine pseudo-orange people tutting away as we speak . . .

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the theory of the sun. When you’re driving home from work in the pouring rain on a November evening, you dream of days such as we experienced this week but, just as you occasionally desire a cream cake and then feel sick five minutes after eating it, I often feel let down when it all really hots up.

Maybe it’s because I’m a pasty-faced Englishman who would need six months in the Caribbean to even go a tiny bit Caramac-coloured but I just don’t get other people’s obsession with wanting to be as baked as possible.

It is a bit like going into an Indian restaurant and hearing macho people say “I want the hottest thing on the menu”. I’m the kind of guy that just looks at them, shakes my head and asks for a Korma (left).

The main problem is that when it is really hot, I find I can’t bear to be inside but then I can’t bear to be outside either.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of nice exotic holidays abroad in the past and for me, the real luxury is to have my face covered in a book, my body covered in cream and preferably an umbrella covering me completely. As I sit there on my safe and secure perch, I look at men and women sizzling and just think: why, oh why?

Personally, if I was ever asked the question by Mother Nature, I would on your behalf (although I suspect you wouldn’t thank me) gladly exchange a pleasant, warm climate throughout the whole year for our crazy weather with its occasional heatwave which we saw at the weekend (and which apparently is coming back in burn-making spades in the summer).

However, as I’m a glass half-full type of person I admit I can see some advantages that the sun brings.

Firstly, it seems to be the only weather that allows you to be as lazy as you want at home because, frankly, no-one can be bothered to do anything and so they can’t even be bothered to moan at you for not lifting a sweaty finger either.

Secondly, and this is not a sexist point (honest), I really liked what Paul Merton said last week on Have I Got News For You that it seems that the women of Britain are ‘solar powered’ because when the sun comes out, they all look far more attractive. And to prove it’s not sexist, I think the same could be said of many men (although frankly some of those who happily take off their shirts at the first opportunity could do with some advice about that).

The sun makes the beautiful people (male and female) look even more beautiful and wandering round the streets of Bath on Tuesday looked like an open air audition for Britain’s Next Top Model.

So yes, the sun does have some advantages but on balance I think am one of those Brits who just don’t cope with the extremes very well.

I’m moaning on here about being too hot but fear not, I’m sure in December I’ll moan about being far too cold as well.

It’s called being British. And in my case pasty-faced British.