Category Archives: published

The Goose Fair

LeftLion 43 cover. Drawing of left lion with a hoody covered in graffiti.

I hereby announce the retirement of the word ‘chav’ from CINB. In an effort to be a better person – don’t laugh – I am going to try to stop saying it, and to certainly stop writing it down. It may be a lazy word and borderline racist, but that won’t stop me from missing it terribly; I defy anyone to find a better accompaniment to the word ‘bastard’.

‘Chav’ does need to go out with a bang, however, and what better subject to give it a proper send-off with than an account of my first visit to Goose Fair? LeftLion had been bugging me to do a Goose Fair piece for years, but I could never bring myself to go. Goose Fair? Are you nuts? That’s the belly of the beast, man! Chav HQ. Trackie Central, Hoodie Ground Zero.

Here’s the thing; in my home town, we have a little thing called the Calgary Stampede. Maybe you’ve heard of it? The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth, dahling. We know our fairgrounds, yeah? And ours are almost completely chav-free. OK, so the redneck count is a tad high, but what are you gonna do? It’s a giant rodeo. In comparison to that, Goose Fair was bound to be awful. Hordes of little chavlettes, tweaking their tits off on mini-doughnuts and smacking the crap out of each other with plastic LED swords. Fat mom-chavs using their eighteen-kid prams as battering rams. Young hoodies knifing each other over 50p candy apples.

Bottom line: Goose Fair was going to make me hate fairgrounds, and I didn’t want that to happen. I love the Calgary Stampede; I didn’t want anything to tarnish the warm memories of scoffing watered-down beer and puking through the metal cage of the Sizzler. But it was time. I’d managed to wiggle my way out of it for four years, and I could wiggle no longer. I was to come face-to-face with my biggest Nottingham nightmare whether I liked it or not.

Drawing of an hooded geese by Rob White.

Sure enough, I encountered my first chav family as soon as I stepped foot off the bus. There were about twenty of them, pushing each other and dropping c-bombs like it was going out of style. Six teeth between the lot of them. After a few minutes of playing Guess The Dad, I leaned across to my longsuffering CINB excursion mate, Owen, and said;
‘Christ, here we go.’ In fact, that should be Goose Fair’s slogan. Goose Fair: Christ, Here We Go.

The first thing to greet us at the gate was the freakshow. Dead animals with two heads,
a half crow-half rabbit and, naturally, Mr Big Mouth from Hull. I scoffed at Owen. ‘Oh yeah, we used have these back home. Like in 1926. HA. HA. HA.’ each ‘ha’ followed by a sarcastic clap. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, the freak trailer is a basically a line of things in glass boxes so blanketed in dust as to render them unrecognisable. And it stinks. Cost to view the freakshow: £1.50. Admission to Nottingham Contemporary: £0. This is the world in which we live. One could also point out that the real freakshow was the Chavpocalypse happening in the men’s toilets, but that would be mean.

We walked a bit further and saw an enormous sign advertising ‘COCKS ON STICKS’. “HA. HA. HA. Bra-vo!” I scoffed again (more sarcastic clapping). “You see that, Owen? Do you see that? What else would a chav buy? A candy rooster on a stick so they can say ‘Suck my cock’ and not get in trouble. So typical. So utterly predictable”. But that’s where the food predictability ended. Mushy peas with mint sauce? On its own? The noodle bar seemed about as rational at a fairground as a Megadeth poster at Anne Frank’s house, but even bowls of Yaki Udon made more sense than the whole coconuts for sale. I’m sorry, Nottingham, but there only three states of fairground food: 1) deep fried 2) candied or 3) flossed. You can’t argue with that, it’s science. A couple of goes on the Crazy Shake and it will be moving in the reverse direction anyway. If you can’t throw a wooden ball at it, a coconut has no business at a fairground. Health Schmelth – it’s the one day of the year it’s OK to be bulimic, you may as well go for it. Spend the other 364 days of the year worrying about your BMI.

(And I’m sorry to go on, but how in God’s name are you supposed to eat a coconut, anyway? I picked one up thinking it must be some sort of trick – like maybe it was a chocolate coconut filled with nougat dipped in batter. Nope, it was real. A real, whole coconut. It wasn’t even cracked – you were somehow expected to open it yourself. The coconut proprietor and I stared at each other for a few awkward moments before I put it back on the pile and walked on without a word.)

I will give Goose Fair one thing: health and safety is happily lacking. The Calgary Stampede has always prided itself on being lawless, unhinged and non-PC. Cowboy hats, animal abuse, Wrangler ball-huggers… this is the Wild West we’re talking about! Two things you will not see at the Calgary Stampede fairground, however, are children barely old enough to walk brandishing full-sized bow and arrows, and grown men throwing baseballs at beer bottles. The guy manning the beer bottle smash game looked positively bored as shards of broken glass rained down on him. I’ve never seen a man face a sliced jugular so calmly; he should be in MI6. He looked entirely capable of yawning his way through a waterboarding session.

Not only that, but once you made your way into Goose Fair proper, you could see that it had some serious rides. Stargate, The Turbo Booster, the inverted bungee jump…and the fact that the bungee looked like it could snap at any minute only added to the appeal. And I know that moaning about the prices of rides at Goose Fair is the national pastime of Nottingham, but believe it or not, they’re actually cheap. The inverted bungee at the Calgary Stampede costs fifty dollars to ride. Fifty bucks!

Goose Fair wasn’t the chav hellhole I expected. Don’t get me wrong, they were there in numbers, but there were also other people there. Non-chavs. Kids dressed head-to-toe in Baby Gap with balloons and some sort of (hopefully) food-based substance on their faces, their mothers sipping cappuccinos. And they seemed to be having fun. ‘What the hell is this?’ I asked Owen. ‘What do you mean?’ he replied. ‘This!’ I said, pointing. “Middle class people! What the hell are they doing here?’

But it wasn’t just the middle class people and the chavs; everyone was there. St Ann’s thugs, West Bridgford preps, Games Workshop dorks, townie drunks, Market Square goths. What I assumed would be a big outdoor borstal was actually nothing short of the perfect cross-section of the Nottingham populace, all getting along with each other. By ‘getting along’ I mean ‘giving each other as wide a berth as possible while being wedged into a field’, but still.

All I need to do now is work out the ‘Goose’ element. I imagine, like everything else in this country, it’s some sort of horrifying myth that has to do with the Plague; some evil, diseased goose waddled from house to house infecting the town’s residents by crapping into their sleeping mouths, and the only way to appease it was to have a fair in its honour. Who knows? Whatever it is, it seems to unite the residents of Nottingham in a way nothing else in this town does, and that can only be a good thing. So this year, don’t ignore it – embrace it. Just don’t embrace anyone while you’re there – they’re probably covered in sticky chunks of candied cock, broken glass and coconut milk.

Limey journos

LeftLion 42 cover. Celebs bask on the Nottingham Riviera.

I am officially bored of news. When I turn on the TV, news. On the radio, more news. It’s around the corner, it’s under my bed, it’s in my ice cube trays and in between my toes.

When I started writing this column on the phone-hacking scandal, it was just going to be a little piss-take about how the sight of Rupert Murdoch in the back of a limo in short pants, legs akimbo made me physically choke on my left lung and how Rebekah Brooks looks a bit like a pasty, pissed-off ginger she-squirrel. But news just kept on happening. They’re hacking dead soldiers phones! They’re hacking 9/11 families phones! They’re paying off cops! Whistleblowers are dying! They hacked a dead girl’s phone? I mean…come on. It stopped being funny pretty quick. This is not a political column; my articles are puff pieces, cutesy pie pokes at British life through the eyes of a whinging expat. How am I supposed to write with all this news hanging about?

I always knew news in this country was nuts. One of my very first experiences with British “newspapers” happened just before my first visit to ol’ Blighty. I was working my last day before setting off to visit my English girlfriend (now wife) when a co-worker said, “Dude, make sure you pick up a copy of the Daily Sport while you’re over there.” He didn’t say “Make sure you see Big Ben” or “Westminster Abbey is pretty cool” – no, his one piece of British travel advice was to pick up a newspaper on British sport. We’d known each other for years and he knew I cared as much about British sport as I do about the eating habits of the Australian brush-turkey (I care about sport slightly more now, but even as a half-Brit, the thought of thumbing through an entire paper devoted to cricket and snooker literally makes my balls whimper, but anyway). He answered my perplexed look with a laugh. “Just buy one. It’s amazing”.

Wandering around Nottingham in a haze of jet-lag and culture shock (their potatoes wear jackets over here?), my girlfriend (now wife) and I passed a newsagents and I told her that I had to pick up some sports magazine thing for my buddy back home. Scanning the racks full of news, the first thing I noticed was the tits. Tits everywhere. Tits on the front covers, tits on the back covers, tits in the middle, tits, tits, tits. And that was just the newspapers. There was another shelf above it with magazines (more tits) and another shelf above that with magazines wrapped in foil so you couldn’t see the covers. If they were displaying all these tits so frivolously on the fronts of newspapers, how freaky did something have to be to get wrapped in foil? Llamas in bondage peeing on each other? Who knows.

Moving past the tits, I spotted the sport magazine section. Ah yes, it must be over here; the covers of these ones have football guys on; FourFourTwo, When Saturday Comes, World Soccer…ah yes, here it is! The Daily Sport. I picked it up triumphantly and declared to my girlfriend (now wife), Aha! This is the one!

Guess what? Tits on the front cover, tits on the back cover, tits in the middle and tits on every page. Tits, tits, tits. I think there were some footy scores in there somewhere near the back, but I could be mistaken. This can’t be it, I said nervously, my buddy’s laughter ringing in my ears. This is just full of tits. Flick flick, look here, more tits. And here! Flick flick. My girlfriend watched me with a look that one would give a dog who’d just dragged his shitting dog-bum across the carpet; one part disappointment and two parts pity.

My second clue that perhaps the British media wasn’t brilliant was in the last election when The Sun declared its support for the Tories on its front page. I thought, “Hang on – can they actually do that?” All newspapers have their political slant, but I’d never seen one declare its party affiliation so blatantly. It wasn’t just the crazy papers like the Sun and the Mail, either; the Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph all unabashedly declared their party support. I’d never seen anything like it. Even Murdoch’s deranged tabloid news channel on the other side of the pond pretends it’s impartial.

Having said that, I still didn’t think British news was as low-rent as Fox News. Fox News darlings Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck have made gaybashing xenophobia the must-have personality trait for the discerning American conservative. No amount of tits or celebrity goss would out-evil that. But then the News of the World/Milly Dowler thing was revealed. Not even wacky old Bill O’Reilly would hack a dead girl’s phone. The dead girl could have been a lesbian, Obama-supporting Greenpeace hippy and Bill would’ve probably left her alone for the most part. Andy Coulson makes Bill O’Reilly look like a little fluffy bunny who blows candy kisses and farts rainbows.

What exactly is Rupert Murdoch’s modus operandi? What goes on in a News Corp meeting? Is “Destroying Every Living Human Being’s Life On Planet Earth” part of the agenda? I’ve never been to a News Corp meeting, but I think I can say with certainty that it involves beating children to death with bats and drowning kittens.

Drawing of an evil Rupert Murdoch as an octopus by Rob White.

Now anyone with half a brain already hated News of the World because, frankly, it was crap. I don’t like to judge, but if you were a regular News of the World reader, you are a moron. I hate to break it to you, but your parents are brother and sister. Or at least first cousins. The only people who miss the News of the World are the ones who you see around town in velour tracksuits eating chips for breakfast and chewing gum with open mouths. I’m surprised these people could turn the pages without taking their eye out.

But it’s not just the crap Murdoch papers that have screwed up royally; no, the lefty papers are junk as well. The Guardian, drunk on the blood of its now defunct rivals, published a story stating that the NOTW had obtained information that Gordon Brown’s kid had cystic fibrosis illegally when in fact it didn’t. Even my favourite paper The Independent was proved to be bent when it was discovered that their preachy little doughball columnist Johann Hari was madly plagiarising quotes in his interviews. But that kind of just went away, didn’t it? I bet little Johann is sitting in a quiet London suburb somewhere drinking milkshakes and thanking his dark lord Satan that the whole NOTW schmozzle happened when it did.

The British media are like a pack of hyperactive goldfish Jimmy Swaggarts (Google him, youngsters). Zero short term memory, banging their heads against the bowl, pointing their fins angrily one minute, crying and asking for forgiveness the next. I didn’t mean it baby, really I didn’t. Hey look over there! Someone else is doing something dodgy, and THEY’VE GOT THEIR TITS OUT.

Forget it, I’ve had it with the lot of em. I’m throwing my TV in the bin, chucking my radio in a skip and burning down my local CostCutter. From now on, I’m getting my news strictly from twitter. It’s so free and untainted. It helped wikileaks break their stories and was first to show us Wayne Rooney’s hair plugs. That’s all I need really, why, according to the twitter news today #whitepeoplehobbies include “Falling down running in horror movies” and “Walking they kids with leashes”. Hahaha, it’s so true.

Shit British barbecues

LeftLion 41 cover. Photo of a puppet show in front of Whitworth house.

Ah, it’s that time of year again, British Summertime. Or as people in other countries call it, ‘spring’.

British summertime is the three weeks or so in this country when short pants, patios and white beer suddenly make sense. You never see a convertible all year, and then April comes around and they’re everywhere – usually driven by some penis in a pair of aviators with his collar up. Yeah mate, you’re super-cool with your top down (to show everyone you like to party) and windows up (because it’s still nippy, and you need to protect your pretty bouffant – you don’t want to look like you’re having too much fun).

Summer – like everything else in this country – is all about being careful. You drive your convertible with its windows up to the beach, then you erect a weird little canvas fort to keep the sand away. Then you put out some sandwiches on a picnic table (no open flames to cook on, of course), and play a game of ‘spin the family around the table so the sun isn’t on anyone’s neck for too long’. Preparation for the outdoors in the British summertime is an afternoon’s activity in itself; it usually entails a two-hour conversation on what to bring. “Shorts? Check. Jeans? Check. Hat? Check. Fleece? Check. Should we take a bottle of wine? Have you seen my Mac? Should I make an egg salad? Sun cream? Have we got enough sun cream? It’s only factor 15? Are you crazy? We’ll be killed! Oh, what’s the point?”

Drawing of a penis driving a convertible  by Rob White.

And then there is the British barbecue. I’m actually surprised that barbecues are even allowed over here, to be honest. Fire and coal? Outside? You could burn someone’s face off! It’s only a matter of time before the health and safety people force a luminescent vest on the barbecuer and have the grill itself surrounded by traffic cones and police tape.

Because it only happens once or twice a year, you Brits don’t know what to do; you get all giddy and throw just about anything on there. Sausages. Chicken. Courgettes? Cheese? Sliced courgette on a barbecue is bad enough, but cheese has as much place on a barbecue as chocolate does on a harmonica. It’s not even nice cheese you put on there either, like maybe a slice of Stilton on top of a burger; no, it’s that horrible halloumi stuff, and you put it right on the grill. That horrible squeaking it does on your teeth – yargh! I’m rubbing my own teeth right now just thinking about it. It’s like eating salty styrofoam.

I know the cheese is on there to appease the veggies in the crowd, but seriously: what is a veggie doing at a barbecue in the first place? Can’t they have their own, I dunno… casserole party or something? My wife is one of these veggies. She’s not a real veggie, thank God; she at least eats fish. Fake veggies like her annoy the proper ones even more than us animal murderers do. At a barbecue once, a Real Veggie gave my wife grief for eating fish and calling herself a vegetarian, “People who eat fish and call themselves vegetarians make it hard for us proper vegetarians when we eat out!” I was going to remind her that she was at a freakin’ BARBECUE and not an Animal Liberation Front rally, but I resisted. I’m too passive-aggressive for that sort of thing. So I just squeezed some sausage juice on her halloumi kebab when she wasn’t looking.

I didn’t realise barbecuing was a big Canadian stereotype until I moved over here. There aren’t many proper Canadian stereotypes that apply to me; I’ve never chopped a tree down, I’ve never met Michael Bublé and there are few things I despise more than maple syrup. Maybe it’s because people here assume that Canadians don’t actually have kitchens in their log cabins, but no matter; they think I know what I’m talking about (unless an Aussie is around, of course; then I’m pretty much ignored). I’ve been to a few British barbecues and been given a pre-emptive apology that it will not be up to ‘Canadian standards’. I have absolutely no idea what ‘Canadian standards’ are, but Leonard Cohen wouldn’t tolerate frigging squeaky cheese on his grill, I can tell you that.

British barbecue activities are interesting as well. This is the only country where I’ve seen outdoor badminton played with a racquet in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Not for the rain of course, but for the sun. Sunbrellas! Jesus. When I was a kid in Canada, we played lawn darts. ‘Dart’ is a tad misleading; ‘mini-javelin’ would be more apt. It’s basically a foot-long, heavy metal projectile that you toss into the air (underhand) toward a circle in the grass about twenty feet away. Of course, Grandma would want a go after a couple sherries and take the dog’s eye out, but that’s the price you pay for a little Canadian fun. At the last British barbecue I was at, people rolled some balls on the grass and played a game called ‘Pulse’ which basically consisted of sitting down quietly and holding hands. How you people won all those wars, I will never know.

So, in conclusion, it’s safe to say the sun makes you people a bit like me when the cricket’s on – all smiley, yet massively confused. Roll on July, I say, so we can all go back to hiding in pubs out of the drizzle, eating heavy Sunday lunches and drinking even heavier beers. After all, that’s what the British summer is really all about.

The Royal Wedding

LeftLion 40 cover. Drawing of Wills and Kate on their stag and hen dos, both of them are naked.

Have you got your Kate and Wills party planned? Ooh, what are you going to do to celebrate it? I’ve bought bunting and streamers and some “Let them eat cake” cake toppers! Get it? It’s just so exciting isn’t it? We’re finally going to get a new Diana! I could just burst!

I am having a dilly of a time trying to decide what I’m going to do for my party; it’s so difficult to decide how to celebrate such an important event. I’ve got my party plan ideas narrowed down (from literally thousands) to the following three: 1) A Henry VIII themed one man show inviting a random woman on stage to be impregnated. Then, if she fails to produce a male heir from my defective seed, she is beheaded. Or 2) Burn some protestants in homage to Mary I or 3) Just wander the town centre bored and drunk on sherry shouting profanities at brown people, you know, just like… well… take your pick really.

I know it’s cliché for an unkempt colonial commoner such as me to have a go at the royal family, but gee whiz, they just make it so darn easy! I mean just look at them, I could do a whole column on the size of their teeth.

I suppose I have a very Canadian view of the whole royalty thing. I’ll bemoan the fact that they’re privileged and have done absolutely nothing to deserve that privilege, but if one of them parades down my street, I’ll probably stick my head out and have a look, and if I’m completely honest, if I was invited to the wedding I’d be there in a shot. If for no other reason than to catch a glimpse of a coked out and frothing 300lb Sarah Ferguson clinging to the gates, an army of Queen’s Guard soldiers lying dazed in her wake, stomped half to death, their stupid bearskin hats ripped to shreds; “The tasers! They do nothing!”

Drawing of Prince Andrew's helicopter landing on the cake by Rob White.

Just imagine the potential for schadenfreude. Watching the backseat royals close up squirming and grinning through their teeth while the proper royals are fawned over would be delicious. Especially Prince Harry. Seriously, how bad will it suck to be Harry to have to sit through that whole thing? I know what it is like to have successful brothers, I have two of them; one of them travels all over the world with the oil industry making more money in a few months than I do in a year and the other is annoyingly bright with an engineering degree, an MBA and prospects out the ying yang. When your brothers kick your ass at life, it’s a right pain in the ass, but at least my own family will be there to remind me of my own tiny successes. “You’re just as good as your brothers! Sure, they’re minted and important, but you wrote that thing in Grade 11 social studies that got an A, remember?” Oh yeah! In your face bro!

You can’t really blame Harry for getting doped up and dressing like a Nazi. You’d do the same thing if your family constantly reminded you that no matter what you do, you’ll never be as good as your older sibling. “But Daddy, I went to Afghanistan and killed many undesirables… I’m a tank commander and everything!” “Oh, that’s very nice, Son, too bad you weren’t born first eh? Hahahaha.” God, if I was Harry, I’d be hopped up on Vicodin and nail polish remover every day, covered in hookers, my own spew and unicorn tatts.

But at least Harry is young and third in line to the throne; all he’s got to do is kill his brother and eventually he’ll be the big boss. Andrew and Edward missed their chance, which is why they hang out with paedos and make rubbish TV game shows to get attention. Whenever I feel like I’ve done something stupid, I just play Edward’s “What’d you think?” moment to the press after his Royal Knockout quiz show and I feel better about myself. The YouTube version mixing the moment his dreams are shattered with keyboard cat is particularly good.

You just know that every time news of the Queen prolonging her reign comes out, Andrew and Edward share a quiet high five at their brother’s expense. Probably over the back of one of their cousins while in the midst of a royal threeway.

William has picked the perfect time to marry. It is only a matter of time before the royal ugly gene takes over completely. The Hot Diana gene put up a valiant fight, William was almost good looking there for awhile, but hotness is recessive—the butt-ugly gene is dominant, especially where the royal family is concerned. Royal family men are like the Emperor from Star Wars; the older and more powerful they get, the more they look like the lovechildren of Sloth from The Goonies and Mr Ed. As the years pass, they grow paler and sicklier and their hair just sort of melts away. Like a fog. And the jowls… dear god the jowls.

I suppose it’s at this point I should explain that most of the stuff above is unfounded rubbish. I’m sure the royals do good work and earn all that money we give to them. I bet Prince Andrew pumps tons of money out of his paedo mates for the country (yes, I know I already did that joke) and Charles… well, you know… sorry, what does he do again? Oh well, at least I got through the entire column on the royal family without calling Prince Philip a racist.

Raunchy royal banner, Kate with her tits out

As much as I take pot shots at the royal family, it is quite difficult to be peed off at someone who gives you a day off work. And to be totally fair, they’ve chosen a wonderful time of year to do it. They could’ve been real dicks and done it in February. Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine anything better than a beer on a sunny, spring patio on a workday; hell, I might even watch a bit of the wedding on TV. Oh, that’s right, no I won’t.

I hate Nick Clegg

LeftLion 39 cover. Funky photo of curved mirror
I hate Nick Clegg.

I hate his stupid side parting and his beady eyes. I hate his over-elaborate hand gestures and that horrible voice – you know, the one that sounds like a geography teacher talking through a trumpet mute. I hate his guts. I hate Nick Clegg more than I hate David Cameron. Turning the Tory logo into a happy little tree and spouting that buildingstrong-communities BS didn’t fool anyone; we knew before the election that he’d send thousands of people to the breadline and leave grannies out in the cold, because that’s what his people do. No-one was surprised when David Cameron proved to be an out-of-touch, banker-loving, public schoolboy dickhead. The man wears his out-of-touch banker-loving, public schoolboy dickheadedness on his sleeve.

Nick Clegg, on the other hand, was supposed to be different. He was new and exciting; he was saying new and exciting things! He’ll vote against tuition rises! He’ll make taxes fair! He’ll break up the banks and make sure that they pay for the damages they caused! He’ll keep his promises!

Since he’s become Deputy Prime Minister, he’s tripled the tuition cap, he’s let Vodafone and a number of other corporations get away with avoiding paying billions in tax, and he’s allowed the banks (including the ones now part-owned by us) to pay their executives millions of pounds in bonuses.

Drawing of human centipede by Rob White.

Most politicians are liars and all are guilty of straying from election promises, but it takes a special kind of prick to do the exact opposite of what you said you’d do. I’d almost be impressed at his cojones if it wasn’t so tragic. OK, I suppose I’m being a bit unfair, there is one promise he did keep, the promise that he’d make ‘Real Changes’. We just didn’t realise he was talking about his own policies. In a few short months, the coalition has managed to turn the nation into a giant human centipede with the bankers and CEOs at the front, then Cameron, then Clegg, then the rest of us, only somehow our mouths are stitched to everyone’s backsides.

There are many reasons to hate Nick Clegg, but I suppose the raising of the tuition cap winds me up the most. If there is one thing I’ve always loved about Britain, it’s the way people are educated in this country. Indulge me for a moment, while I tell you why I don’t have a university degree, because this is a little peek into the future for many kids in this country.

University in Canada is expensive and has been for ages – although not as expensive as it is in the UK now, mind – and most Canadian students need to get loans to pay for it. When I was accepted into uni, the government had pawned off their student loan services to the banks and they doled out money based on ‘financial need’. Despite the fact that my family didn’t have much money, the bank decided that they would only provide about half the money it would take to cover my tuition and books.

This meant my father had to pay for a large chunk (more than he could afford) and I had to work while I took classes. Not to mention the fact that I was now on my way to acquiring a massive amount of debt; debt that I would have to start paying back the minute I graduated.

What this does is change the question “What do I want to do with my life?” to “Which degree is going to give me the best chance of getting a job after I graduate?” The two things I was remotely good at (Fine Art and English) don’t pay very well, so I chose Commerce. Of course I’ll make money with a Commerce degree, it’s got money right in the name.

Unfortunately for me, I have the maths skills of a laboratory chimp and promptly started failing all my courses. Did you know that they sneak maths into every course in the first year of a Commerce degree? I knew Math 210 was going to have some maths in it, and I thought maybe Micro Economics 101 would have a touch, but even a course called Policy and Environment was crammed to the gills with maths. That’s false advertising, that is.

But it was too late to change – we’d already started paying all this money. I worked my night job, sat in lectures that might as well have been in Chinese, and took courses without the books I needed, because I was waiting for payday to get the money for them. I watched my savings disappear and my debt skyrocket.

I maxed out a credit card so I didn’t have to ask my parents for more money. I hid my grades from them. I spent most of my time feeling guilty and ashamed that they were wasting all of their money on their idiot son. It was the most depressing time of my life. When I finally did flunk out, it came as a relief for me and for them.

After that, I worked for a number of years on an assembly line, went to night school and ended up with a couple of college diplomas, but it’s not the same. No matter what Clegg tells you, there is nothing like a university degree. Not having one has been a hindrance to me my whole life; I will always wonder what it would’ve been like to have a degree and to do something that I truly loved rather than simply working to pay the bills.

Would I have a degree now had money not been a part of the equation at the start like it used to be in this country? Who knows. One thing’s for sure, I would have had a much better shot at it if I’d enrolled in something I enjoyed and wasn’t always worried about money. Post-secondary education is one of the few things left that the UK does better than anywhere else on the planet. Why would anyone want to mess with that?

New Years

LeftLion 38 cover. pic of Left Lion in front of council house.
I have been in exactly three proper fights in my life. I know that probably sounds like a lot to you, the average Nottinghamian, but I’m from a small Southern Alberta town and there’s not a lot to do out there. Caving each others faces in is outranked only by ‘designing beer bongs’ and ‘burning stuff’ in the list of top ten prairie pastimes. Growing up in Brooks and only being involved in three fights makes me a bit of a pantywaist by Albertan standards

My first fight was a result of a junior high intramural floor hockey kerfuffle with a kid named Mike. This is exactly how the fight went:

  1. Mike put me in a headlock, threw me to the ground, sat on top of me and asked; “Do you give up?”
  2. I said; “No!”
  3. He punched me in the face
  4. I said; “Yes!”
  5. He got off me and went back to his floor hockey game while I had a bit of a cry.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: I am truly crap at fighting. I swore I would never put myself through that again. It took a little thing called ‘New Year’s Eve’ to make me break that promise. Twice. I’ve never been much of a scrapper, even when I’ve had a few. On a normal night out when my body has decided I’ve had too much to drink, my stomach sends a signal to my brain that says, “Screw being social – fried chicken and bed are now more important than breathing.”

Thirty minutes later, I am tucked up in bed covered head-to-toe in the Colonel’s spices while my mates (and often my wife) are back at the bar wondering where I’ve gotten to. People who know me back home have long gotten used to my disappearing act and dubbed the phenomenon my ‘Robbie Auto-pilot’. Robbie Auto-pilot usually kicks in sometime around the fourth or fifth pint, which has saved me from making a dickhead of myself many times. I love Robbie Auto-pilot.

New Year’s Eve is Robbie Auto-pilot poison. Robbie Auto-pilot doesn’t understand why it’s so important to drink J-Bombs and champagne at midnight, or why no one will let him go home. What these people don’t understand is that if Robbie Auto-pilot is stopped from leaving and forced to carry on drinking past his limit, he becomes Robbie-Asshole. And the only way to get Robbie-Asshole back into his box is to punch him back in.

My second fight started at the end of the night on New Year’s Eve 1999. Robbie Auto-pilot had a foot out the door, but was stopped by my best mate, who turned him back in and bought him a bottle of champagne. Robbie-Asshole repaid him for his generosity by calling his girlfriend a whore. I have no recollection of what happened next; I do know that I woke up the next morning with a sore face and a distinct absence of fried chicken. My third fight happened two New Year’s Eve’s later; different guy, same insult, same result. (Who even says ‘whore’ anyway? It’s a ridiculous word. I don’t know where Robbie-asshole has picked this up; only 70s porn stars and saloon owners in spaghetti westerns say ‘whore’).

It goes without saying that NYE – like most things which involve copious amounts of alcohol – is taken more serious over here than it is back in Canada. For starters, my pals back home have learned that if Robbie Auto-pilot wants to go home – even if it’s ten to midnight on New Year’s Eve – it’s best to let him go. My English mates aren’t quite as enlightened; previous attempts to at that time were met with utter contempt. Also, you people have this horrible ritual called ‘rounds’, and on 31 December, these rounds are expensive. If I’ve bought a round of champagne for everyone, I can’t leave before I get my own back, because while Robbie Autopilot has my personal safety at heart, he’s not an idiot.

New Year’s Eve is celebrated in this city the same cack-handed way that every other holiday outside of Christmas is celebrated. It always starts with good intentions; Bands are booked, tickets are printed, champagne is chilled, party poppers are bought. But by half ten the champagne’s been quaffed, the poppers popped and the bar is a sweaty, steaming mass of shouting, slobbering faces, gyrating arms and legs and flying sparkly bits; Frankly, you’re lucky to get out alive. In my first New Year’s Eve over here, I was rugby-tackled by a massive guy dressed as Dennis the Menace. I escaped a severe humping by said man, but only just.

My second limey New Year’s Eve started with tequila shots and ended in me dislocating my shoulder wrestling a mate on the sidewalk. We actually counted down to 1am that night; everyone was so paralytic that no one noticed that midnight had passed. Oh, and last year my brother-in-law pulled me away from the bar before Robbie-Asshole got my face pounded in for calling a woman at the bar a, quote, “Whoring she-chav”.

Drunken Pudsey image by Rob White

This year, the idea of going to a New Years party in fancy dress is being bandied about. Ordinarily, I despise fancy dress, but it might be a good idea for my own protection. I’ve decided to go either as Pudsey Bear or as George Osborne, the thinking being that no one can get angry at a giant Pudsey bear, no matter how sweary it gets, while if I go dressed as George Osborne, people would half expect me to call them ‘whores’. I could walk the streets kicking pensioners and disabled people in the balls with boots made from gold bullion and people would think it was part of the act. Oh, look at that crazy George Osborne; he’s set that guy in the wheelchair on fire, what a nut!

I will try to make sure Robbie Auto-pilot remains intact this year, but if you do happen to see a
bloodied Pudsey on the street this New Year’s Eve walking around aimlessly, don’t speak to him – just point him into the nearest SFC. He’ll take it from there.

The lovely British summer

Leftlion cover image issue 36

Writers note:  This column was written last July in preparation for the August issue of LeftLion.  Obviously, the beautiful hosepipe-ban-inducing weather we were having had (in true British fashion) gone to shit shortly after this article was written. Some day I will learn that writing about current events in a column that comes out bi-monthly is a stupid idea.  Just pretend you’re reading this last July. In fact, I’d recommend closing the curtains and reading it in front of a 1000 watt bulb.

Ah, Summertime. Jumping fish, high cotton, rich daddies and good-looking mommas. It’s been wonderful, hasn’t it? This summer has been so good that I can hardly believe I’m in England. Isn’t that cause to celebrate? Of course not, dummy – that just gives Brits more to moan about.

Just this minute, I have had a British woman complain to me about the heat. It is 25 degrees outside. Twenty five. How have you people survived this long? In other countries, if the temperature dips below fifteen, people put on a jacket. If it rises above 23, they wear shorts. In England, if the temperature rises or falls out of that range, people die.

A discussion on which factor sunscreen one should wear is a twenty-minute conversation in this country. Balancing ‘acquiring a tan’ with ‘not dying of skin cancer’ is a tricky business when you’re born with that pale blue British skin. It wouldn’t be so difficult to choose the right sunscreen if the weather forecasters could actually predict the weather more than fifteen minutes in advance.

I don’t know why they bother with a three-day forecast; they’d be more accurate if, from March to August, they said “sunny breaks, low to mid twenties with a chance of showers” every single day. They’d get it right more often than they do now with all their fancy weather-detecting equipment. Cameron should forget canning thousands of public sector workers to save some cash; he could just sell off a couple of BBC Doppler radars.

This summer has also changed my mind about chavs. They aren’t a pinheaded menace at all. They’re actually more evolved than the rest of us; higher beings who’ve developed a gene that makes them impervious to the heat. In June when we had that really hot spell (it actually got to twenty eight one day), I saw a chav standing at the train station dressed in heavy grey sweatpants, a massive grey hoodie and a black nylon jacket. He didn’t seem bothered at all – he just stood, cool as a cucumber, poking at his stolen mobile. I was in a t-shirt and shorts and was sweating like I had just ingested the Sun.

Drunken chav image by Rob White (

But it’s not just the young chavs; the old, tubby, bald-headed chavs who walk around town wearing nothing but pimp shades, England shorts and a pint of Carlsberg don’t feel the heat either. They don’t bother with sunscreen at all, and yet their bald heads and man-tits are both perfectly bronzed, without a hint of sunburn or melanoma. Aside from the slight leathery-ness of the man-tits and the beach ball paunches, you’d almost say they look healthy. Glowing, even.

Unfortunately for me, I seem to have adopted the (non-chav) British sensitivity to the heat. I actually caught myself on a particularly hot day saying to my wife; “Man, it’s hot outside, I think I prefer cycling in the rain than in this bloody heat”. Yes, I moaned about having to cycle on a sunny day. How good is my life that cycling on a sunny day is my biggest worry? It could have only been a more British move if I did it sporting a mitt full of sovs and scoffing a chip cob. After I said it, my wife and I stared at each other in silence for a few awkward moments before turning and walking away, pretending it had never happened.

The most important thing about Summer, however, it that it absolutely sucks if you’re a British sports fan. It’s not brilliant at any time of the year, really, but it’s especially crap between June and August. I’m not even going to get into the football – my God that was awful, but at least that pain is only inflicted on us every four years – but Wimbledon does it to us every year.

Sun image by Rob White (

Watching Wimbledon is like having a delicious steak dangled high over your head that’s lowered slightly every time Murray advances. At first the steak is so high that you can barely see it. You say to yourself; “Sure, steak would be fantastic, but there’s no point in even dreaming about it, just look how high it is; I’ll just have river trout and runner beans instead.” But then Murray beats some shmo in straight sets, the steak is lowered a bit and you think; “Hmm, I still don’t think I’m going to get that steak, but it does look pretty good”. Murray then beats someone you’ve actually heard of and the steak is lowered again. It wasn’t Federer he beat, mind, but it was someone with a number beside his name.

Murray wins a couple more times and the steak is lowered again and again until it’s at a level where you can smell it, and – if you stand on your tiptoes – you can just about touch it with your fingertips. The peppercorn sauce drips down onto your face, and it drives you mad. “Yes! I’m going to get that steak this time, and oh my God, just look at it, it’s more beautiful and succulent than I could have ever imagined!” And then, just as you’re about to bathe yourself in its delicious steaky goodness, it morphs into a giant turd and falls directly into your salivating, gaping mouth.

If that’s not horrible enough, there actually was a good sports story in this country over the summer – but because it happened at the same time as the World Cup, no one cared. England smoked the Aussies in their one day series, beating them in three straight matches. You just know that next summer when the Ashes have the British viewing public all to themselves, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood will double team Andrew Strauss’s missus the night before the First test, Shane Warne will come out of retirement six stones lighter with a new bionic arm and he’ll bowl the greatest match in the history of cricket knocking out the entire English side in the first over.

But there I’ll be, mouth agape, ready for another massive turd to be shovelled in, for by then I will be like the rest of you losers and have developed a taste for it.

Watching the World Cup in Engerland

Leftlion cover issue 35

When I worked at a petrol station in high school back home, we had a number of Maple Leaf flags dotted all around the forecourt. One day, an old fella came in, pointed at one of the flags and sneered, “That flag is a disgrace!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, thinking he must be some flag-hating, anti-government nut.

“What I mean is that young men died for that flag and you don’t have the decency to fly it properly. Just look at the state of it!”

You would’ve thought we’d lit the flag on fire and put it out by projectile vomiting on it. If you lowered the Hubble Telescope to gas pump level and pointed it straight at that flag, you’d only just make out the three threads flapping awry at the corner.

No matter how many times we replaced them, we always got complaints about the state of our flags. So I can only imagine what one of those geriatric Canuckian flag-spotters would say if we’d ever written ‘World Cup Special! Fish, Chips & Mushy Peas for £2.99!’ in scratchy black felt tip across the flag, like they do at my local chippy.

No true patriotic English footy fan is happy with the national flag as it is. It needs additions; accompaniments, if you will. The English flag is the tapas of national flags; the more added bits, the better. ‘Nottingham Forest Football Club’ is four words and there are four white rectangles on the English flag. Frankly, it would be an insult to maths not to fill them in.

Russell Brand shitting on the flag

Along with vandalising flags, people who love England grow potbellies and shave their heads. I assume this is homage to Churchill; He was morbidly obese, bald as a bean, and he really loved England, I hear. Obviously, tall, skinny, hairy people must hate England, like, say, Russell Brand. Just look at him – I bet he doesn’t even own a top hat. Kate Moss is obviously another rabid Blighty-despiser – not once have I ever seen her work a monocle into her ensemble. Osama Bin Laden, Jesus, Shaggy from Scooby Doo…the list of skinny, hairy anti-Anglos goes on and on.

Personally, I find most blatant displays of patriotism gag-inducing, especially during the World Cup, but it can be a good thing in small measures. The people I really don’t understand are the ones who don’t care about the England team at all. People who avoid watching the World Cup and who actually whinge about it taking up so much TV time – What is wrong with you? I don’t care if you’re depressed that England lose every time, or hooliganism makes you cringe, or if you hate Frank Lampard (who doesn’t?) – there is simply no excuse for not supporting your national side. Forget this community-volunteering BS Cameron keeps parping on about; watching England play in the World Cup with your mates should be required by law.

I actually had a mate of mine, a Manchester United fan, say to me, “I hope England lose.” He was more concerned about Rooney getting injured than England winning the biggest trophy on earth. Colonials will never understand this. You will never hear an American say; “Daggummit, what dang fool put all this dang track and field on my ding-dang picture box?” If the US had a decent Jai Alai team, Jai Alai fever would sweep the nation. Have you ever heard an Aussie sniveling about all the swimming on TV during the Olympics?

Take me, for example; I am not what one would call sporty. I’m a stumpy Canadian geek with the athleticism of a Teletubby and the coordination of a three-toed sloth on meow meow. I avoid playing sport like the plague, but that doesn’t stop me from watching Canada compete. In fact, when Canada won the ice hockey gold at the Winter games last February, I actually cried. Cried!

But perhaps it’s not that you don’t like watching England. Maybe you want to participate in the World Cup revelry and drunken pub conversations, but can’t, simply because know nothing of the England team. Let me give you a few pre-World Cup tips that will help get you up to speed:

  1. Peter Crouch is aptly named, as he’s the only player who needs to crouch down to head balls in. He’s the guy that disappears when he turns sideways, which is why he is able to sneak into the box without being seen by the defenders.
  2. David Beckham is the guy attending the World Cup in place of the WAGs. To keep the players from missing their wives too much, David’s going to orange his face up and stagger around the dressing room in high heels, pausing from his cocaine and G&T sessions just long enough to give John Terry a half-time hand-job.
  3. Lampard and Gerrard go together like polar bears and armadillos. Lamps and Stevie G are two creatures that cannot exist together in the natural world. The only place they have any business being within 100 feet of each other is in an artificial environment like the zoo. Or Benidorm.
  4. If you really do hate the England team and cannot watch them without booing, simply restrict your boos to whenever Ashley Cole touches the ball. No one will pay you any notice. In fact, it might get you laid.
  5. Wayne Bridge is the idiot watching the World Cup from his couch because he traded his England career for a big, pink diamond tiara awarded every year to the biggest drama queen on earth.

It really is a lot of fun to be involved, from the absurd hope at the beginning of the competition all the way to the communal whinging when England go out on penalties. Singing songs, binge drinking and spouting borderline racist banter in the office – what’s not to like? Sure, you will be doused in cheap lager at some point, you may be on the wrong end of a shouting match or two, you’ll be embarrassed by other drunken English footy fans and, yes, your town centre will be transformed into a 24-hour townie-barf hell, but believe me, it could be worse:

You could be supporting the Canadian soccer team.

More hood would be good

Leftlion 34 cover

The LeftLion version (including Al Needham’s rebuttal can be found HERE

Oh God – an entire LeftLion dedicated to Robin Hood? I’m surprised you bothered to pick it up. I’m even more surprised LeftLion have done it in the first place, I didn’t think Robin Hood was cool enough for this magazine. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ‘Robin Hood issue’ is just an ironic piss-take. There’s probably a nasty drawing of Robin Hood on the cover, strung out on heroin, selling Big Issues with his cock out.

I don’t care; I’m pro-Robin Hood and proud of it. Yes, man-tights aren’t cool and yes, there have been some truly crap Robin Hood-related tourist attractions in this town but does that mean Nottingham should shut out Robin Hood completely? Frankly, you’d be positively mad to say ‘yes’.

giant perogy on a fork

Do you know what other cities would do to have Robin Hood? There is a Canadian town whose biggest draw is that it sounds like a planet from Star Trek and another that houses the world’s largest perogy. Let me say that again; the world’s largest perogy.

I’m sure it draws Ukrainians in by the truckload, but damn – how bad does Glendon, Alberta have to suck that a giant statue of a meat dumpling (on a fork!) is its main landmark? If the Mayor of Glendon found out that the guy who played Kevin Costner’s butt double in Prince of Thieves once stopped there to have a dump, Glendon would now be known as Robinhoodland.

I’m not saying Nottingham needs to put every penny of arts spending into Robin Hood-related festivities, but how about changing the name of the Goose Fair to Robin Hood Fair and tacking on a medieval market and international archery competition? You would have little Korean kids peeing their pants in excitement at the prospect of coming to Nottingham.

Nottinghamian apathy towards Robin Hood has not just lost you a tourism buck or two, it’s done something far worse—it’s lost you Sherwood Forest—the desecration of which is a national disgrace. I remember how excited I was to see it and how disappointed I was when I got there. Whenever friends of mine from back home come to visit me, that’s the first thing they want to see, and the first thing they whinge about when they go back home.

Nottingham is a very cool town; easily one of my favourite places in the UK even in its current Hood-less state. Does that mean adding Robin Hood back into the mix to attract tourism would be such a bad thing? Definitely not. The world loves Robin Hood – why not make a buck or ten off of those suckers? Maybe then the Sherwood Forest Trust wouldn’t have to rely on donations and failed lottery bids to continue with the very good (and extremely important) work they are doing now to save Sherwood Forest. That can only be a good thing.

Listen up, Nottingham: you need to bring Robin Hood back into your massive immediately. The poor, neglected bastard is in the Thurland on his own and a dirty Yorkshireman has just roofied his drink…

Why Omari Roberts should never have seen the inside of a courtroom.

omari roberts drawing Copyright 2010 Robert Cutforth

Yesterday, the charges against  Omari Roberts, the man who stabbed two teenagers who were burglarising his mother’s home, have finally been dropped.

The charges were dropped not because the Crown had taken a second look at the case and decided that Omari had in fact acted lawfully; no, they were dropped because their entire case hinged on the lies of a teenaged burglar.

According to reports on the BBC news site and others,  the second burglar changed his testimony by telling social workers three things that differed from his original statement:

  1. He was, in fact, carrying a knife at the time of the burglary. He originally said he wasn’t carrying a weapon.
  2. He “would have killed” Omari if he had the chance
  3. Omari did not chase him down the street as he had originally stated.

However, if you read the CPS’s own definition of “reasonable force”, Omari should not have been charged with murder, even if this boy’s original statement was in fact true.

According to the CPS’s joint public statement on reasonable force:

“Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime. You are not expected to make fine judgements over the level of force you use in the heat of the moment. So long as you only do what you honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, that would be the strongest evidence of you acting lawfully and in self-defence. This is still the case if you use something to hand as a weapon.

[You do] not [have to wait to be attacked] if you are in your own home and in fear for yourself or others. In those circumstances the law does not require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force yourself.

If you have acted in reasonable self-defence, as described above, and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully.”

So even if the boy was telling the truth, and he wasn’t carrying a knife, Omari could still lawfully use a weapon to defend his mother’s home. But what if he had chased the boy out of the home?

“[Chasing a burglar] is different as you are no longer acting in self-defence and so the same degree of force may not be reasonable. However, you are still allowed to use reasonable force to recover your property and make a citizen’s arrest. You should consider your own safety and, for example, whether the police have been called. A rugby tackle or a single blow would probably be reasonable. Acting out of malice and revenge with the intent of inflicting punishment through injury or death would not.”

This is the bit the CPS used to bring a charge of murder on Omari. The boy’s original statement said that Omari chased him down the street; The Crown’s argument is that the time spent chasing the boy could’ve been used to call the police. But hang on, the boy he allegedly chased and attacked lived. The boy Omari killed never left the house, so how can the chasing of the second boy result in a murder charge? If the chasing of the second boy is the part the CPS used to bring charges, then surely the only charge that could be laid is GBH, is it not?

But this is not the biggest problem with this case. The biggest problem is that the prosecution’s entire argument revolved around a teenaged burglar’s testimony; a teenaged burglar with an Asbo and a number of previous convictions. Why is a burglar’s testimony given more consideration by the prosecution than the victim’s statement? With whom does the burden of proof lie?

It’s just another case that illustrates what a grey area “reasonable force” is under UK law. This law needs to be strengthened so when a situation arises where it’s one’s word against another’s, the victim’s statement is considered to be at least on par with the attacker’s statement. The word of a teenaged delinquent should  simply not be  enough to bring charges.

Life would be easier if all burglars told the truth and had the good sense to run away when confronted by a homeowner, but it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes the bad guys lie and sometimes they have no intention of leaving without a fight. Sometimes they’re just kids.

However, Burglary is not a petty crime even if it is perpetrated by kids. It’s a very serious crime; one in which split-second decisions are required by the homeowner if he’s going to get out of it alive. Omari Roberts made remarkable split-second decisions. He protected his home and his family by attacking two burglars, he ignored the urge to chase a burglar down the street and he even had the mental wherewithal to refrain from stabbing the boys in obviously lethal areas.  He stabbed the boy twice in the knee and Juett once in the shoulder; if he really wanted to kill them, he could’ve gone for their necks or chests. Then, once both boys were incapacitated, he stopped attacking them and called the police. In short, he did absolutely nothing wrong.

The death of Tyler Juett is an unfortunate and a very sad thing, but if Omari Roberts had received a life sentence for murder, that would’ve been the real tragedy in this case. Frankly, it should never have seen the inside of a courtroom.

The CPS now need to step up and do the honourable thing. They need to compensate Omari for his court costs, apologise to him and his family for all the hurt and distress they’ve caused and above all, change the law so another innocent man does not get charged with murder for simply defending himself and his home.