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DBTG who… has a driving licence

 

Ah politics.  You probably don’t like to talk about it, and you probably like even less to hear me talk about it, but you can’t escape the fact that there are “important” (and the other type) of decisions being made daily on our behalf.  And dare I say, some of them don’t make any sense.

Today, buried under the story of Royal Mail shares being sold cheap (ask again in 6 months) (not investing advice), is the tale that the Government is plotting a change in the rules for taking your driving test.  And while I usually prefer to not be rude or sensationalist, let me say here and now that I think they are fucking dumb.

The premise is not all that unreasonable.  I completely agree that something should be changed to improve road safety, and it is difficult to argue that a contributing factor in many accidents is the young age of one or more drivers involved.  The statistics paint a fairly telling story after all.  So I understand that changes need to be made, and frankly, I’d much rather our parliament spent time discussing this sort of thing than whether or not rich people should be allowed to chase foxes (something I really dislike, but also don’t give a shit about, if that’s possible).

However, I take issue with the proposals being set out. A lot.  I have broken out the key elements, along with a firm rebuttal for each as to why I think its utter batshit. 

–       Before you can get a full licence, you will need to complete 120 hours of supervised driving with a responsible adult.  Incidentally, I completely agree with the government that this will radically change the behaviour of young drivers.  Specifically, it will incite them to commit fraud (joke alert!).  The odds of any 18 year old (aside from that weird kid who liked to sit near the front of class. What was with that guy?) accurately completing a form which documents the time, place, weather conditions and people present of 120 hours of driving time are very small indeed. 

As an aside, I reckon I probably achieved this (by accident) with my parents when learning to drive.  I took a while to get good at driving) over 6 months, and I spent a lot of time driving my parents around (though I was the key beneficiary of these reverse lifts).  Did I fuck fill a form out about it though.  Also, when learning to drive, I was complicit in fraud (for legal reasons, please consider this story fictional).  At the time, it was possible to take “pass plus” lessons, where you drove around for a bit with your instructor in rain, night, motorway, etc conditions.  It got you cheaper insurance if you did this.  My instructor, who was a former policeman btw, pointed out that these lessons would cost far more than the insurance savings.  As a result, he took me on the motorway one (which he considered “very important”), and then filled in some other dates when I may well have been driving with him at night, in the rain.  He pointed out that I had actually done that driving many times, so why pay again to prove it? Fair point, and in my bank account’s favour, I might add.

The point here (in a story that quickly rambled out of control, and implicated me in a fictional crime) is that getting that experience could be very fucking costly.  I had indulgent parents who had the time to accompany me on journeys and more importantly, could drive and hence supervise.  What of the people out there with parents working funny hours, or who can’t drive, or just don’t have a car.  You can try getting 120 hours-worth of favours out of a neighbour or your aunt, but unless they live nearby AND have a soft spot for you, I doubt it will fly.  I have friends who don’t drive (or own a car) and have a young son.  In 17 years’ time, they are going to struggle to address this issue.  I would not want to have to pay for 120 hours for an instructor to help you rack up these hours.  That would easily cost more than my first car.

–       You can’t drive after 10pm (or before 5am) without a person over 30 in the car.  Well, aside from the arbitrary nature of the number 30… no, actually let’s not ignore that.  For the record (and for 2 more weeks) I am not 30 years old.  I like to think of myself as a relatively responsible member of society: I am a homeowner, and have held a well-paying job for 7 years now.  And I nearly have a daughter of my own.  I am allowed to drink and vote and all that.  And yet I can’t supervise my sister while she drives at night (assuming hypothetically that she didn’t pass her test 8 years ago).  My sister, also for the record, is also a fairly trustworthy person – she is allowed to operate radioactive machines at the local cancer treatment hospital and own her own home, but not drive by herself at night.

What happens if I get stuck in traffic somewhere?  Do I need to get a 30 year old to come and meet me? Do I pull over and sleep in a lay-by?  What if I work shifts in the countryside (as some of my friends did when we were younger) and don’t finish until after 10pm, or start earlier than 5am?  Any parents planning to come meet their offspring at that time of day?

–       The final rule that is absolutely killing me is that you aren’t allowed any passengers under 30.  I need to reiterate: I am not yet 30.  And yet I am old enough to have, more or less, stopped drinking and going out late, or having any fun at all.  That is how old 30 actually is, people.  I regularly give rides, and get rides from people my age, and now, if they were recent drivers (which they actually aren’t, but at some point they were) that would be out of the question.  I also, a few years ago, was the “responsible passenger” for my wife when she learnt to drive (it went ok).  Suffice to say, that would no longer be an option.  It’s so odd to expect adults to require supervision from other adults who are significantly older than they are.  I really don’t get it.  Also, I assume that the designated driver is dead and buried by these rules?  Unless all your friends are elderly people who drink in the day time, I suppose.

Fair enough though, I probably shouldn’t shit on these proposals without being in some way constructive.  I don’t think things should stay quite as they are.  However, I also believe that improvements can be made without absolutely shitting on young drivers, many of whom are responsible and see driving as a rite of passage into adulthood.  If these changes are made, there will be a lot of people who don’t (can’t) pass their tests until they themselves have children.  I know that can happen already, but without having society frown upon them I mean.  Here are my suggestions:

 

  1. Cut the alcohol limit to 0.  Not drinking is really fucking easy. You just don’t do it.  I know a lot of people who enjoy it, and a lot of people who believe that they can “handle their drink”.  But even a single pint of beer isn’t going to improve your driving, so just leave it alone.
  2. Make people retake their test every 2-5 years.  The re-test should be a bit less onerous than the original, but challenging enough that people will need to keep up good behaviour in between time and not let bad habits creep too far in.  this will also weed out the people whose eyesight/reflexes are shot.  That would suck, but not as much as dying in a wreck, no? (yes).
  3. Keep/bring back (does it still exist?) pass plus, and make it compulsory AND FREE.  Driving on the motorway the first time was terrifying, and I understand completely why my instructor felt it was necessary not to skip that part.  I had never driven at 70 mph before, and I was dropped straight on to the M25 in the middle of a busy period (ie: any time of day or night).  It was a big relief to have a former police driver sat in the passenger seat helping me out.

 

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DBTG who… says “next weekend”

For the first time in this blog’s long and chequered history, I am writing about something completely serious that affects me personally.  If I had the opportunity to change one thing about the world, I would choose this (assuming that all the important stuff like wars and hunger and AIDS and that have already been fixed, which obviously they won’t have been).  It is something with the potential to have a devastating effect on people – it’s ruined whole days of my life, and frankly that needs to stop.

The problem, if you haven’t read the title of this blog (fair enough), is that the whole world apart from me (apparently), is unable to use the word “next” correctly when referring to dates.

Let us try a quick thought experiment:

If I say that we are currently at 6, and ask you what the NEXT even number is (assume numbers are increasing), what is the answer?:

a)    8

b)     Absolutely anything else

 

If you answered “b)” then you are an idiot, or more likely a contrary dickhead who thinks it’s clever to not give a straight answer to something.  Ok, I get it.  Sometimes it’s good sport to take the opposite side of an argument, sometimes it’s even necessary to properly understand an issue.  But this issue is totally black and white (because this is my blog and I say it is), so your smug little attempt at being better than me was always doomed to failure.

I was once asked a similar question amongst a group of students (pah!).  We were given the terms “always/often/sometimes/rarely/never”, and asked to give each one a percentage to represent the frequency of an event happening.  Ie: if I “sometimes” brush my teeth after breakfast, what percentage of days do I brush my teeth?  One girl, whose name I forgot, answered “always” as 80%, and “never” as 20%.  When it turned out that (obviously) everyone else had gone for the sensible answers to these, she got all proud of herself for standing out of the crowd and began trying to argue her case.  The instructor told her to be quiet, and that she was wrong, and that was the end of the exercise.  I am glad I don’t remember anything else about her.

Anyway, the point is that the word “next” is clearly defined.  It’s almost impossible for me to explain it without using the word itself (and I’m fucked if I can be bothered looking up a proper definition) – that’s how well-defined it is.  And yet, it sometimes seems as though the entire world got together and agreed (presumably while I was on holiday or something) that they would all accept and propagate the improper use of the word just to piss me off.  Though experiment number 2:

Today is Monday 2nd September. According to the calendar, when is the next Thursday?

a)    Thursday 5th September

b)    You’re wrong, and I’m forgetting your name

 

So how come, when I agree to meet someone in the pub “next Thursday”, do you all seem to think that means Thursday 12th?  That’s in 10 days’ time, and there is another Thursday in between then and now!

WHAT?!

What the fuck is wrong with everyone?!  This genuinely upsets me (not like cancer, but still, genuine anguish), because I seriously can’t adapt to it.  I know how everyone else uses the word, but my brain won’t accept the override because the logic is so utterly plain to see that, I don’t know, it just feels like I’m pranking myself.  It all serves to remind me that I will never properly fit in with the rest of the world, and that will forever be, metaphorically speaking, sitting in the pub alone, a week earlier than everyone else.

This has actually happened to me, by the way.  I now insist on expressing the date of the meeting, or how many days there are between then and now to remove the confusion in the situation.  People think I’m being “that guy”, I know, but I genuinely have to do it.  Not because I love being a contrarian wanker, simply because my brain doesn’t seem to work like everyone else’s.  I am actually really envious of all the people out there, who can say something that, objectively, makes no sense, and yet everyone else has some tacit understanding of what you meant, and can communicate with one another without making a fuss about it.

Well done you.  Can we please have another meeting and change it back?

DBTG who… goes to the cinema

First up: an apology.  It appears that the Blog War of 2013 has been well and truly won… by me.  The hype around the much-feted Steve sBlog has died down considerably and I’m left only needing to update sporadically to ensure that my output is more relevant and interesting than that of my arch-blog-nemesis (and real life best chum).  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I should have been resting on my laurels quite so casually.  I apologise to the handful of faithful readers who (I assume) are waiting with baited breath for an update on my miserable outlook on the world around me. I’m sorry I’ve kept you waiting (and now delivered this load of tosh).  This post probably isn’t very good.  I feel like I’m offering you some chocolate, only to later tell you that I left it in the car and it melted and then resolidified in the fridge.  We all know it’s fine, but it won’t taste quite right.

The truth is I’ve had a bit more work to do than usual in the past couple of months (or maybe I had less work to do than usual in the first few months).  I’m not promising that I will be able to reverse this trend any time soon, but rest assured that I have at least noticed it, which counts for something, no? (No.)

Now for the matter at hand.  I haven’t always hated the cinema – I can actually pinpoint a month in my life when I may have gone to the cinema so frequently that I ran out of films to watch.  I say “pinpoint”, what I mean is “refer to in vague terms”.  It was sometime in my first term at university (or maybe second), when a huge 16 cinema AMC opened up in Central Manchester.  In order to generate hype, the cinema offered a month where you could get free tickets if you printed off a voucher from their website.  Frankly, this was the sort of thing that students dream of, even better than the free beer being offered by bible society (nope! Not worth it), and given the cinema was actually nicer than the local (craptacular) odeon, we didn’t need much of an excuse to make the trip, frequently.  Blessed with a sense of entitlement only seen in university students, we also used to sneak into a second movie after watching our legally free one, on the basis that the cinema outrageously limited its customers to one free voucher per day.  Those were good times. 

Since then, the times have become progressively less good.  I still went to the AMC when tickets were £2.50 and the parking was free (makes sense), and I still went when the prices went up to £3.00 and £1 for parking.  Then I moved back to London and realised the horror of the cinema in the city.  Here’s the problem I face today: if my wife and I wanted to go to our local cinema tonight and watch the Alan Partridge film (for instance), it would cost us £22 just for the tickets.  Add on to that maybe £3 for the cost of bus fare or parking (I could walk, but pregnant people apparently don’t enjoy that) and I’m well into the cost territory that is liable to annoy me.  It may be cheap compared to, say, going paintballing, but when you consider the more appropriate alternatives, it’s a fair amount of cash.

The reason it annoys me as much as it does is that I am paying for something that I don’t really want.  I don’t like spending time sitting in silence with my wife listening to other people drown out a movie with their chat and mobile phone sounds.  The floor is sticky, the seats aren’t really comfortable and most importantly the pause button doesn’t work.  If I need to get up, I miss part of the film.  If I fall asleep (which has started happening every time I try watching a film in a dark room), I miss the rest of the movie, and have no opportunity to go back and try and watch it with my eyes open.  I can’t start it when I want, and when it finishes, I have to wait for a bus with a load of drunks. 

I realise this makes me a cheapskate, and a miserable one at that.  I actually generally try to make the case for ignoring logic when it is inconvenient to me having fun, but the problem here is that I don’t actually find the cinema fun at all.  I’m happy to spend money doing something memorably or otherwise enjoyable, but I can’t help but rationalise that in 3 months’ time, the films on at the cinema will be available on bluray DVD.  I can buy the disc, cheaper than the cost of a single cinema showing, so it arrives on release date if I’m really keen.  If I’m prepared to wait a bit longer, it will ultimately be shown on TV (albeit with bits cut out to fit around advert breaks), but then I figure that if I can wait 2 years to watch it, I’m probably not too fussed about the film anyway.  Other people will probably just download the film when it is first released, but I’d rather not get into that.  I have previously enjoyed pirated media, but I’m not poor and I don’t consider this an appropriate path for me to take any more.

When I was a kid, going to the cinema was a popular activity, both with friends or on a date.  Apart from the fact that we were sometimes too young to watch good films (like that mattered), it was a really cheap way to spend time out of sight of my parents, not stuck in the house with them.  I could be confident that (unlike our other hangout, McDonalds) we wouldn’t get thrown out for not eating enough food, and unlike the spot outside the train station, it stayed dry when it was raining.  And unlike the pubs, being a child didn’t seem to matter.  But now, I am not a child, in fact I own a house, and am a lot more like the parents I was trying to avoid.  I’d much rather sit in my house (which conveniently separates me from the rest of the world which I am so reluctant to engage with), and enjoy the fairly comfortable life I have built for myself (we have built for ourselves).  I like my house, and my nice television (plus the DVD player complete with pause button).  I currently have something like 80 hours of films recorded, ready to watch, and no desire to go to the cinema.  

DBTG who… goes on Dragons’ Den

Let’s get this out of the way early doors: I cannot stand any form of reality TV.  To my mind any sort of art (and entertainment television most definitely is an artform) should be performed/created by the most talented people.  That is why I would prefer to look at a Picasso hung on my wall (alas I have no such thing) than my own paintings, or why I read Steven King novels but not fifty shades of grey.  It is also why I don’t own a single black eyed peas song. 

Reality TV takes this theory and flips it.  Rather than a comedy or drama, where incredible actors bring to life characters developed by brilliant writers and directors, we instead are treated to idiots being exploited by evil geniuses behind the scenes.  Whether it is Simon Cowell, or the Big Brother production team devising wicked tasks to infuriate their menagerie, or Ant & Dec (who I am convinced are actually the malevolent puppermasters and not the marionettes they pretend to be. Quite machiavellian ), there is someone in the background/foreground who plucks people from the streets and makes them dance for an audience in exchange for the promise of relatively mediocre financial reward and a fleeting taste of fame, where they alternate between being photographed while overweight and releasing an exercise DVD in time for Christmas.  It is necessary to pick the most ordinary, stupid and pliable people for these shows because the intelligent people among us are likely to rebel against the stupid regimes they find themselves in.  Or worse, they succeed and thus remove the drama and conflict from the shows.

The BBC has, for the most part, tried to avoid embracing this format to the same extent as most of its competitors.  Unfortunately they know as well as anyone else that the moral high ground can be a lonely place and when you rely on entertaining millions of people for your continued existence you sometimes have to come down from your perch and embrace the vacuous format that you loath and everyone else loves.  So they have produced a few shows to try and compete in this arena (albeit with a little bit more thought required than “would I like to eat kangaroo testicles?”).

First (not necessarily in chronological order) we have strictly come dancing.  A thinly veiled popularity contest where celebrities are paid upfront to act like they care about going on a trip to Blackpool.  The show takes celebrities from all walks of, well, celebrity and so we end up with athletes competing in a dance competition against professional dancers (say what you will, but if you’re in girls aloud, you’re basically a professional dancer in my eyes).  It says something for the athletes’ talent and determination that the pop stars tend not to win.

Then we have the Apprentice.  This is show is far worse because it takes people who honestly believe (and we are told to believe with them) that they are incredibly smart and capable individuals.  If that genuinely was the case they wouldn’t have to jack off Alan Sugar on TV for the chance of a £100k job (one year only).  In fact, most of them are loud-mouth idiots who are hugely confrontational and so desperate for “success” that they will happily fight to the death with one another for an opportunity they could probably get anyway if they really deserved it.  Meanwhile we all watch on and think “well shit! If Alan Sugar is going to employ one of these fools, that must mean I’m even more amazing than I think!”

Finally, we have the subject matter of this post: Dragon’s Den.  Ostensibly a display of venture capitalism at work, this is the absolute worst of all of its competing shows, both on the BBC and others.  All the other shows exploit idiots.  On other shows, the entrants are forced to exchange their dignity for a chance of fame.  They are almost all idiots who believe that the world owes them a living and that this is best earned through a singing audition.  Dragon’s Den does have a small sub-set of stupid entrants, the people who go on the show with an untested prototype that is neither good or original. But most of the entrants who make it on TV are not idiots.  They may be intellectually limited, but I don’t think it’s fair to refer to someone as stupid when they have developed an invention or company that Banatyne and friends are interested enough in to consider investing.  I can look away when I see idiots being exploited, but these people don’t deserve the treatment they receive.  It takes a good amount of effort, thought and a bit of luck to get yourself to this stage. 

However, here is where your luck runs out.  You’ve worked hard enough to build up a business (or a product) that is making money, and you now decide to enter this tv quiz show (because people mistakenly consider it as such).  If you are unlucky enough to win, you get to gift your business, your life’s work, to some billionaire wanker whose only goal is to make a big profit out of your endeavours.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I don’t hate people who work in finance (like myself), and I don’t hate venture capitalists.  Those guys take big risks on unproven projects (like facebook before it had ad revenue and looked like a money pit) and are right to expect some reward for this chance that they have taken.  But the dragons don’t invest like this.  They wait for someone who comes to their den and tells them that they have already pre-sold 10,000 units to a “major un-named supermarket in the UK” and that the whole thing is not a risky proposition.  This gets the dragons’ tails up, and suddenly they’re interested, but only if you are prepared to hand over half of the business for an amount of money that won’t even pay off your mortgage.  Put simply, these wealthy people exploit intelligent but naïve inventors who seem to think that the only way to make a business work is to sell it to Deborah fucking Meaden.  Fuck that.  If you took your letter of intent from Asda to your local bank, they’d definitely give you a loan on that basis (not a guarantee, but I’m confident).  That is how you finance expansion of a solid business plan.  Venture capitalism is not required at this stage in a business’ lifecycle.

The other, massive issue that I have with this show is that the “contestants” are forced to memorise their business plan.  “How many units did you sell in the 2009-10 financial year?” barks Theo Pathitis. The guy can’t remember, but maybe 150?  Scowls all around from the dragons, while they write this down on their notepads (I see they aren’t forced to rely on their memories).  This guy’s uncertainty makes them all nervous – he is not investment material.  “How much profit did you make that year?” continues Theo.  £10k? maybe. “So you made over £60 profit on each one of these novelty ovengloves?” snarls our dragon.  Sounds unlikely. 

The simple truth is that our poor contestant can’t possibly be expected to remember all these details and the dragons know this and are waiting to trip him up for their own amusement.  I can’t imagine going to an investor meeting without a suitcase full of notes and back up information to draw upon.  It doesn’t convey any reassurance that you can rely on your brain to recall all these figures – in the real world it makes you look like a disorganised fool who’s getting by on a wing and a prayer cos he left his notebook on the train. 

But as we know, if people were allowed to enter the den well-prepared and organised, the conflict that the viewer craves cannot be manufactured.  Instead you would have dry, boring meetings between accountants and nothing to make Theo scoff loudly (which we all love to hear).  It’s much more exciting to watch someone’s hopes and dreams crash and burn than take flight.

DBTG who… calls for caps on foreign football players

Apologies for the delay in posting to what is supposed to be a weekly blog (although that’s already a pretty loose description to be totally honest).  The reason for the delay is that I’ve really gone out on a limb here and, “SHOCK”, done some research and compiling of data and the like.

It is coincidental, but quite handy that my opponents in this battle of wits chose today to voice their ill-informed opinions in two separate newspapers.  I present to you – Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher.  These guys are both well-respected former players and now tv pundits (at least I think Carragher would be respected if I could figure out his accent).  Gary Neville is also heavily involved in the England national team’s coaching set up, and yet neither seems to be able to grasp the reasons why their suggestions are manifestly incorrect. 

In case you have missed the point (cos you didn’t click on my links), both men are calling, albeit in slightly different ways, for English footballers to be preferred in the premier league over foreign rivals, either by restricting foreigners or by forcing a quota of Englishmen to be involved in each match.  They are saying this because tomorrow, a second string England team take on a first string, but still decidedly average Scottish side.  I don’t blame England’s top players for crying off this match, scheduled 4 days before the start of the premier league, and I’ve discussed why that is previously.  However, Gary and Jamie have taken the view that it’s “bloody foreigners” who are “tekking thur jawbs”,(to use the hill-billy parlance usually associated with this sort of viewpoint) who are preventing top quality English players from appearing.

So instead, Gary wants every premier league team to field at least 3 English players in every match. Aside from the fact that it is almost certainly illegal under European law (Gary’s response is helpfully “where there’s a will, there’s a way”, which I suppose he also thinks is a valid defence in a murder trial?), more importantly it won’t have the effect he thinks it will. 

For a start, let me point out something quite important.  As of 13th August 2013, Wikipedia lists 205 English players in the first team squads of the 20 premier league teams.  Admittedly, this is less than half of the 578 players registered in total, but even so, you should be able to make a pretty good international squad out of that many players.  And if you make the premier league sign, say, another 100 players, why do they think those players will be better than the 205 already there?  If anything, you’ll just get 100 players currently in the championship elevated to a level they aren’t capable of competing at.

Secondly, I suspect the teams that he thinks are guilty of not supporting English players are not the biggest culprits.  It should come as no surprise to anyone to learn that Arsenal have the fewest English players (4), but I would think that the next two in the list will come as something of a surprise: Fulham (4) and Sunderland (6).  Of the Fulham players, Steve Sidwell and Kieran Richardson are fairly regular starters, but David Stockdale (reserve keeper) and Matt Briggs (left back) have spent most of their professional careers on loan at championship clubs.  They are a club that would really have to scratch around to comply with Neville’s quota rule, and in order to do so would probably have to employ lower standard players than they currently do.  I’m assuming (correctly), that any decision to implement a quota rule like this will further inflate the ‘value’ of good English players, probably to a point where they are out of reach of clubs like Fulham and Sunderland.

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that the club with the most English players in their squad is actually Welsh.  Two guesses for you to figure out that it is Cardiff (16).  Presumably under Gary’s scheme, they should be required to shift a lot of these players in favour of Welshmen?  He fails to mention that issue but it is an interesting point (to me).

I am now going to make a fairly controversial claim.  I think it is good (or at least necessary) that the majority of England players are drawn from the top/’biggest’ clubs in England, rather than the unloved mid-table dwellers.  It is a much-used stick that the England manager is beaten with “why do you continue to ignore players like Ryan Shawcross in favour of the out-of-form Rio Ferdinand?” he will regularly be asked.  I would have thought the answer to this would be obvious (though clearly it isn’t).  Ask yourself who the best striker in the premier league is.  The answer, almost without argument, has to be Robin van Persie (as of today).  Who would you rather take to the World Cup?  A defender who, 5 days a week, trains against one of the best strikers in the world, learns from the best coaches in the world and uses the best facilities in the country, or a defender who trains against Peter Crouch every day and plays against RVP twice a year (assuming he isn’t banned that day)?  You may or may not think that Shawcross is a better player than Ferdinand, or that he will grow into a better player etc.  But until the day that this is recognised by one of a handful of people with influence in the football world, he won’t get the opportunity to develop as such in the right environment. 

So that is my hypothesis (somewhat untested) as to why it matters that players play for a “Big Club”.  Defining Big Club is tricky – England has a big 4, but there are also clubs like Liverpool and Spurs who have large fanbases, large revenues from ticket sales etc, pay big money for expensive players and contribute players to the national set up (they are just also not very good teams for some reason).  Now consider Spain: World champions, double European champions.  You would be hard-pressed to convince anyone that they weren’t the best team in the world.  They are the top-ranked team in the world, according to FIFa, and have been since 2008, apart from brief interruptions by Brazil and Holland.  Now consider the big clubs in Spain.  I can’t think of a way to show it mathematically, but everyone knows that there are two: Real Madrid and Barcelona.  These two clubs have probably got more money than the rest of la liga put together, and they have the best players, domestic and abroad.

I was actually surprised when I looked up the first team squads of the two Spanish bigwigs.  Despite having a reputation for signing “galacticos”, the clubs have 13 and 16 Spanish nationals on their books, more than half of their total number.  You could argue that this helps prove G-Nev’s opinion, but I believe it is an effect rather than a cause. 

Think of it this way – your club (Real Madrid) has more money, way more money, than your neighbour (Atleti).  As a result, you can afford to sign any talented young player that appears in the Greater Madrid area, because you will always outbid your rivals.  You then allow these players to train alongside Ronaldo, Zidane et al, and become great players themselves.  You do this because you can, but also because you know that fans don’t want to support a team of talented foreign mercenaries – they want people like themselves on the pitch. People they grew up with and who could be them in another life.  That is what sells replica shirts with names printed on.  If you look at the 11 starting players in the Spain team for the Euro 2012 final (10 of whom play for Real or Barca), you will see that the vast majority have played for those clubs all their life.  They weren’t developed in Bilbao, then signed by Barca AFTER becoming great players; they were pre-selected at the age of 12 or so, and gambled on by the big clubs in the hope that they develop to greatness and pay-off.  I’m sure many times that number of Spanish kids fell by the wayside in this pursuit as well, but I also don’t suppose Real care that much.

The same is true for Germany, where 7 players in their semi-final played for Bayern Munich, and another 2 are Real Madrid galacticos.  Contrast that with the England team which drew 3 players (Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Scott Parker) from clubs not even playing in the champions league for their losing quarter-final.  To complete the analysis with the last of Europe’s “big countries”, Italy have 9 starting players at Juventus or Milan (10 now Balotelli has gone to Milan). Not only do these players play at a higher level than a lot of the England team, most of them train together for 9 months a year, not just the 2 week training camps Roy Hodgson is allowed.

So what am I suggesting?  To improve the state of England’s international football team, you need to stop worrying about the number of England players.  There are already plenty of Englishmen in the premier league.  But instead of having your top talent spread across 6 (or more!) teams, the countries that do well (based on our domestic model – clearly Brazilian players follow a different path) have it more concentrated.  They have a couple of teams that dominate the transfer markets and retain almost all of the local talent.  I’m not actually suggesting you give Chelsea and Manchester United preferential bonuses for their television rights, cos I don’t think it’s fair, but it would almost certainly help with the state of international football.  English footballers are already over-valued in the transfer market (ask Andy Carroll), so it would be better to make the best clubs the only ones who can afford them, rather than forcing everyone to waste money buying them up, then letting Jose train them up into world beaters.

Is this actually a solution that we want? The premier league is very competitive between a handful of teams, and even if the big Spanish pair are better than the English teams when they meet in the champions league (generally), the premier league is more watchable because it’s less of a foregone conclusion.  The few matches between Barca and Real are the epitome of footballing talent, but they happen a couple of times a year.  The top 6 in the premier league play each other 30 times a year, almost every week.  I know which I’d rather watch week in, week out.

To conclude,  I would actually rather watch a great England team than a great premier league.  However, the quality of teams such as Spain are a product of a domestic system that has occurred naturally or otherwise.  I don’t see a way to recreate this system without being very shady about it, and alienating a lot of people, and I think we just have to deal with that.

*Yawn*

DBTG who… is a mobile phone company

Another blog entry from the freshly filled basket of low-hanging fruit, but I’m having the sort of week where sleep and fun are things that other people do and the days go slower than my current DIY projects.  Plus it has been raining quite a lot recently and that is totally killing my buzz.  So I reserve the right not to apologise for writing about something highly non-controversial in the “things that make you swear in public” category.

I am currently preparing to go to war.  My wife has a hilariously over-priced phone contract which was (mis) sold to her 2 years ago by some jackass in a shop who inevitably used the words “this is eeezily the best contract you can get, isn’t it?” at some point during the “negotiations”.  Rhetorical question or not, the answer to his question is “no!”, or possibly “fuck off!”, but she didn’t know that at the time and here we are.  Wary of reproducing this scenario, the negotiation of a new contract has fallen to me. 

I will not be visiting a high street shop to listen to a man-child mangle the English language while wearing a black shirt (collar at least 3 inches wider than his neck) and a purple tie (stupid fat knot: non-optional).  I don’t know what it is about working in a phone shop that so gravely distorts your understanding of dress sense and style and class and hell, dignity, but I made a promise to myself a few years ago to never wear a black shirt with a colourful tie just in case people mistake me for an employee of these places.  I also don’t know how there can be so many different brands in the marketplace, and yet they all have the same uniform?  Asda and Tescos make their staff dress up in different colour fleeces, presumably so you don’t forget where you are, and phone shops could learn a thing or two from their example of brand identification.  The other problems with phone shops are that I have to get up to visit them (always a hassle), there will probably be other people there (all of whom I hate) and if they piss me off I can’t hang up on them.

Instead, I made a call to t-mobile today.  I am already a customer of theirs, and it shouldn’t be too hard to get a second phone added to my bill, at a rate in line with that I am already paying, right?  Hahaha, of course not.  In fact, I had trouble even getting to speak to someone..

There is a massive problem with data protection that I have only recently noticed.  Companies that do business over the phone (or internet) are rightly very nervous about giving someone access to the wrong person’s information.  A couple of years ago I called easyjet pretending to be my father and changed the name on one of his boarding passes (if that is a crime, please assume this is a hypothetical story).  I did this with good intentions, because he had miss-spelt my wife’s surname when booking the flights, and because if he had called them himself he would have lost his temper and no doubt incurred some sort of anger management surplus fee.  The fact that he didn’t know I had done it until after the fact only makes it a better example, because you can imagine his reaction if I’d chosen to also change his name to Mr Shit-Speller while I was there.  I don’t really recall how I was able to talk my way into the easyjet booking system, but I remember it being fucking simple as anything back then.

Today, that is not the case (at least with t-mobile).  So allergic are they to the risk of data theft that the second question I was asked (after my name) was my password.  I have a real problem with this.  At the time of the call, I was in a busy office, surrounded by co-workers who are all nosy little turds.  I don’t distrust them specifically, but reading my password aloud in a busy room doesn’t seem like a smart move.  My bank asks me for several letters from my password, which is a huge improvement because listening to me spelling out “W-A-N-G” shouldn’t give any listeners-in any great insight into what my password might be (though who knows what they are assuming).

I don’t know why t-mobile thinks that getting me to shout my password out loud is somehow going to help me keep it private, but they’re obviously wrong.  The other problem here is that I know for absolute certain that the person I am talking to already knows what my password is (otherwise how would they know it is correct?).  I also know they are a low-paid call centre worker, and not statistically the most trustworthy person in the world (though I have no specific problem with their honesty).  I don’t quite know what I expect them to do with the information, but it makes me feel uneasy.  It probably isn’t logical to trust an electronic database to hold my password safe but not a human being (both have been known to divulge secrets throughout history), but there you go.

Ultimately, this second reason isn’t one I can fight and that is why I will give in and answer their “security” questions when I get home tonight and can make the call in relative privacy.  But gaining access to my account and the ability to discuss it with someone is only the first battle in this particular war.  We all know that I will have to negotiate, then threaten to leave and climb up a long-winded ladder of escalated “retention experts” until I reach the rung that will offer me something acceptable.  Only then can I consider this fight won.

I hate that we have to do this.  We both know that I don’t want to leave, and we also know that I am highly unlikely to accept the first offer tabled by them.  Once, a younger version of me dreamt up the shocking idea of a, wait-for-it: honest & transparent mobile phone company.  The premise was simple.  My company (OliCorp) would sign you up on one of a handful, maybe 3-4, of monthly contracts, depending on your expected usage.  No requirement to select top-ups and boosters and free calls to your mum – keep it simple.  The contracts would be overpriced by OliCorp, a fact that we would be totally upfront about.  The reason being that we had to make sure we were covering unforeseen costs, like if you make a lot of phone calls and suddenly the price of electricity spikes and we have to pay a big bill to route them all, or the help desk in India gets unionised or something.  But assuming we don’t come up against any problems, we would rebate the excess profits we make back to the customers in a fair and timely manner, so that OliCorp only ever makes a 15% profit margin.  And we would be totally transparent about how this is done and everyone would be confident that we are making money (because we work hard at OliCorp) at a reasonable margin and not utterly shafting our customer base in the process.  I was fairly confident that people would buy-in to the idea (maybe not investors so much).  Capitalist it is not, but it never pretended to be so.

Sadly, I lacked the a) capital, b) experience, c) energy to do any more than simply dream about this plan.  But I still think it would work, and as a gift to the world, I offer this business plan, free of charge and copyright, to anyone who reads it and has the above list of requirements.  If you wish to offer me a well-paid job or some other recompense, that would be great, but not necessary.  I will be the first customer to sign up regardless.

DBTG who… hates the summer weather

For various reasons, I am finding it very difficult to sustain the levels of hate required to write this blog. Due to my unheralded cheery disposition, I am therefore turning my attention and criticism on to the miserable fucks who are currently attempting to kill my buzz.

(Please note that my wife, who always suffers during any sort of heat, is exempt from being labelled a moaning myrtle on the basis that she is my wife. Also, because I know she reads this. Hi!)

I just need to say this right off: I love summer. And I love the warm temperatures that we have been experiencing in the UK for the past couple of weeks. It is difficult to get angry when confronted with such blissful conditions. There are only two problems with this weather:

  1. my lawn has turned brown

  2. my cats are melting

And frankly, if you will insist on wearing a fur coat in all conditions then you only really have yourself to blame.

Despite the above list being quite conclusive, people who have neither lawn nor cat are clogging up my facebook feed, and real life feed with dreary comments about how it is “just too hot” or how “they can’t sleep in these temperatures”, or that “the trains are a bloody nightmare”. Please! I can understand why people moan about cold weather, snow, rain, clouds, fog, hail and tornadoes. But this right now is the sort of weather that people go on holiday (or even emigrate) to try and chase, and now it has come to you. What’s the problem? British people do love a good weather moan I suppose.

In order to properly understand my total love-in with the current climate, I need to take you on a bit of a journey back in time. Back to the summer of 2006. As I am about to explain, this period of 2 and a half months was arguably the best time of my life. Not the best single day (which has several other contenders), just a sustained period where everything was completely right.

I had just graduated from a good university with a good degree, and I had a well-paid job lined up to start in September. I had returned to London to stay with my parents until I got round to making plans. I moved back into my old room, which had recently acquired a double bed (you forget how awful it is to sleep in a single bed), and I installed at the end of this bed my new 32” TV attached to my xbox. When nothing else was happening, I got really good at ssx tricky and Need for Speed (never did master Timesplitters). But it was rare that nothing else was happening. My girlfriend (now my wife) had graduated at the same time as me, and for the first time as adults we were living in the same city. 4 years of a long-distance relationship were over, and we spent many days and evenings hanging out together. Our parents had come to accept that we were adults at this point, and we were able to sleep in the same room. I had a job working 2.5 days a week in an empty bar that had a huge tv and a sky subscription, and was paid £5.50 an hour, after tax. This was way more than I could actually spend, and as I was too lazy to go to the bank, by the end of the summer I ended up carrying a load of £50 notes around so that I could fold my wallet properly (I was kind of a dick back then).

Almost all of my old school friends had graduated this summer, or at least were back in town for the summer holidays. I could fill my car with petrol for about £30 and I could do anything, be anywhere at the drop of a hat. The only fixed event in my diary was that on Sunday afternoon, all my friends and I would meet on Wimbledon common and play some casual football, then retire to the pub. We played almost every week, and the regular practice meant that, for the only time in my life, I actually got quite good at football. One day, some guys showed up and challenged us to a game, the same guys who 10 years ago would trip us up in the school hallways and generally make life difficult. And I am happy to report that (from memory) we absolutely fucking buried them. It was awesome.

It was a happy accident of circumstance that everything lined up for me quite as well as it did in those days. I can’t give the weather full credit for the situation, but it certainly helped. Football was always on. Sometimes the sun shone, sometimes it pissed with rain, but it was always warm, so we didn’t care. Myself and 3 friends walked 4 miles after the pubs closed one evening to crash a house party (see? Dickhead) with our shirts off because it was just so damn pleasant. When I went out, I never had to consider whether I would need a jacket or jumper, because I never did. The weather conditions framed what was, for me, the greatest summer ever.

I’m telling you this because since 2006, whenever summer has rolled around, I have waited, poised, for the summer to recreate those moments. And it never has. Trust me, every summer since then has been disappointingly cold or brief. We’ve had heat waves in April to get us excited, and then buoyed by this early promise, July and August have always stood up and promptly shat themselves with the weight of expectation. Last year I didn’t go out once without a hoodie with me, just in case.

As I said, the weather wasn’t the only factor involved at all, but I always felt that without the heat everything else was academic. I’ve waited 7 years for conditions to present me with just the slightest possibility of a summer to remember, and finally they have. Granted, a lot of friends have spread out over the city, country and even the world, but I’ve made new friends this year. I have obligations now, but I am happy to carry them with me. I’m too busy, both with work and play, to stay in and get bored. Last Saturday, I rode my old mountain bike over Esher common with my wife while the sun set on our backs, and I think we will do the same again tonight. I’ve been out the past three Sunday nights in a row…

So far, this summer has been everything I wanted it to be. It’s different, but it’s matching up to 2006 in many ways. So please don’t try and bring me down with complaints about how you don’t have anywhere to store your duvet now it’s too hot to sleep under it. Don’t you dare. Your point is trivial and I don’t want to hear it. If you insist on being miserable while I properly enjoy my life for the first time in ages, go and do it somewhere else.

That all said, the grass could do with some rain…