Boys will be girls and girls will be boys

Feminism is once again a hot topic of debate playing an increasingly influential role in the news agenda.

On this morning’s Today programme on Radio 4 for instance, John Humphries hosted a discussion about psychologist and cognitive scientist Dr Steven Pinker’s claim that men, as a gender, are beginning to resist the urge to violence that has seen them dominate women since, seemingly, the dawn of time and reject the expectation that they should embrace ‘the warrior within’.

Dr Pinker suggests that a greater number of men have developed emotionally in this new age and, most interestingly, are now questioning whether they should allow gender stereotypes to define them.

Laurie Penny @PennyRed, the combative Contributing Editor to The New Statesman and Guardian regular, took up this argument and ran with it during the radio debate. And, in doing so, she threw up some interesting feminism-related questions not directly about women, but about men.

Amazon wearing trousers and carrying a shield with an attached patterned cloth and a quiver. Ancient Greek Attic white-ground alabastron, c. 470 BC, British Museum, London

Amazon wearing trousers and carrying a shield with an attached patterned cloth and a quiver. Ancient Greek Attic white-ground alabastron, c. 470 BC, British Museum, London

She said that feminism was never meant to just be about liberating women from the roles imposed on them by the long-prevailing patriarchy but about freeing boys and men from their traditional bonds, too. Penny claimed a number of young men she knows are deeply uncomfortable with the idea that they should have to conform to a gender stereotype – presumably, that of a modern day warrior or ‘hunter-gatherer’ that spends their time playing or talking about sport, getting smashed in the pub, leering at women and referring to them as sexual objects, fighting, fixing things in and around the house, feigning a lack of interest in anything cultural and bantering in blokeish manner.

It’s relatively easy to see what Penny is getting at. Not to make this about me, but sport has – and probably always will – play a huge role in my life. My role models are generally men, or else female figures such as Antigone that have had male characteristics imprinted on them. I like beer, and I like to think that women fancy me despite the fact that my own personal history suggests otherwise. I will use phrases like “you should have knocked him out” notwithstanding the fact that I abhor violence when I see it and have never thrown a punch in my life (though, as I’m sure you can imagine, have been on the end of many). And it is to my great detriment that until recently I had to suppress a wince whenever women expressed too much of an interest in cricket, football or rugby or ordered a pint of bitter.

And yet – as I found on a cricket tour earlier this month, but knew well in advance of going anyway – I increasingly find it difficult to spend extended periods of time simply in the company of other males. It may be that growing up estranged from my biological father engendered a sense of detachment from men. It may be that my heart constantly aches a little whenever I’m away from my three-year-old daughter and from home. It may be that I have an interest in culture and the arts that other men of my acquaintance, in general, do not have. It may be, as has been suggested, that I think myself to be ‘better’ than the men I meet due to a misguided superiority complex. It may be that, deep down, I want to sleep with them all and that my subconscious battles are rising to the surface (though, such is the state of some of the blokes I was on tour with that they’d struggle to get any takers if they offered their sexual services in a sexual offenders prison wing). It may be that I’ve grown up (the previous sentence suggests not). It may be a combination of all of the above and more. Hey, it’s not as though I have swathes of female friends, either, so it may simply be that I’m socially inadequate. Who knows, perhaps many of the other blokes on the tour felt similarly and I was too wrapped up in myself to notice it. And I’m not going to try to pretend that there weren’t times when I didn’t have an absolute blast.MeCricketFeminism

My feeling is that I don’t easily fit the mould that collectives of men – and I say collectives because they do differ, if only very slightly, according to class, geography, age, environment, the varying lengths of time some of those within a group might have known one another and wealth, among other things – would like me and others to fit into. It’s not for me to say whether it’s a good or bad thing that the mould doesn’t fit, rather that the mould categorically does not feel natural and that to accept it would be to allow an artifice to impose itself on me and the concept of individualism in general.

As a father, I’ve become very aware of the gender stereotypes that people – including me – seem inclined to impose on both boys and girls. I’m very happy that my daughter loves pretty dresses, the colour pink, ballet and Cinderella, but also that she likes football (and gets stuck in like Roy Keane when she wants to get the ball back), eating tonnes of meat, a bit of rough and tumble with our dog and toy trains. But can I honestly say that I’d feel naturally inclined to be ok with all the ‘boyish stuff’ if the ‘girly’ things weren’t there as well? Probably not.

What my wife and I are good at, though, is fighting the gender stereotypes that outside influences try to impose on our daughter. For example, if my daughter says to me: “Girls like pink; boys like blue” I will immediately respond in as non-patronising a manner as I can muster: “But it’s ok for you to like blue as well, you know? You can like any colour you like, and so can boys” (though I’ve often had to reprimand myself for the fact that the “so can boys” part cloys in my throat sometimes). Likewise, when playing out a game based on a fairy tale she turns to me and says “[her male friend] will save me” or that The Prince will save her, I pull her up on it by telling her that girls can save boys and that she could save her male friend if she wanted to as well.

Indeed, my daughter is mutantly strong for someone her age and it can prove extraordinarily difficult to physically get something off her if she doesn’t want to let go of it. Which is why it can be very confusing to see her allow herself to be physically intimidated by a boy in the context of a ball-pit or other play-setting when, just by looking at him and seeing what he is or isn’t capable of, that she is easily the stronger of the pair. As was said during the debate on Radio 4 this morning, and it is difficult to disagree, baby boys are not born violent, so why is it that so many appear to be rowdy and aggressive in an effort, seemingly, to dominate their environment? Naturally, I don’t wish to encourage aggression in my daughter – and of course there are some aggressive girls out there, though in much fewer numbers – but I don’t actually know why a parent would want to encourage it in a boy, either: except if that parent is looking to – or is conditioned to by our patriarchal society – reinforce a gender stereotype that might well live with that boy and man for his entire life.

Again, it comes back to the individual (not me in this case, you’ll be relieved to hear): why should a boy or girl be barred from – or feel as though they’re being barred from – any activity, career or interest on the basis of their gender? And this is where feminism is proving to be a force for good, because it questions these things from both perspectives. It should be ok for a woman to play Test cricket against men if she’s good enough. It should be ok for a boy – regardless of his sexual orientation – to express a desire to be a dancer or nurse without being made to feel that it’s unnatural in some way.

Feminism still has some serious issues to address before even Western society will embrace it and denounce patriarchy. It must shed its militant guise and the idea that it is a ‘movement’; move further and further away from the perception that is a ‘tyranny of liberalism’ forcing its views on society; it cannot be seen to be patronise and emasculate men and boys or to be bullying women and girls into submitting to it; and it has to purge itself of some of the unseemly disputes among warring high profile feminists on forums, such as Twitter, ill-fitting for genuinely meaningful intellectual or philosophical debate. If it does so, and the signs are there that progress is being made on all fronts, then in time it may itself undergo a metamorphosis and develop into a philosophy – a way of life – that transcends the boundaries of gender and becomes a vehicle for individualism and choice for all.

Now, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Posted in Amazonian, Antigone, beer, feminism, football, John Humphries, patriarchy, Penny Laurie, Philosophy, politics, Radio 4, Steven Pinker | 1 Comment

Review: Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends

“A rollicking, bollocking set of bawdy songs from back when Britannia still ruled the waves” was what the audience at The Royal Hall, Harrogate was told to expect at the start of Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends set – and that, among much else, is what they got.

In a varied programme full of lovely changes of pace and tone, Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends one minute had us straining at the leash to yell out jingoisms, down a vat of rum and board the nearest French vessel with cutlass and flintlock in hand, the next chuckling at some coarse tale of sailors causing maidens mischief and the next lamenting at ‘The Last of the Great Whales’.

Jon Cleave, the sea shanty group’s MC and genuine funny man, told the audience – in typically uproarious and self-deprecatory manner – that Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends “are to singing what Long John Silver was to tap-dancing”, and if there’s one frustrating thing about the group, it’s that they don’t always seem to know how good they actually are.

When their voices join in rich, harmonious union, the sound slams into the audience like a warship from Nelson’s fleet smashing headlong into a Napoleonic starboard, and yet we probably weren’t treated to this powerful sound sensation as often as we might have liked.

Still, some of the individual voices among the group are so strong that you’d happily listen to them on their own for an hour, and each of the members led at least two shanties each with varying degrees of aplomb. Some of the group’s versions of laments like ‘The Last of the Great Whales’, ‘Cousin Jack’ and ‘South Australia’ were simply astonishing, while ‘Ladies of Plymouth’, ‘No Hopers Jokers & Rogues’, old favourite ‘Drunken Sailor?’ and other upbeat numbers had the crowd stomping their feet, laughing away, doing ‘chair-obics’ and all sorts, meaning there was someone for everyone in there, no matter what their musical leanings.

The banter throughout was genuinely hilarious – perhaps a little too close to the wind for some of the blue-rinsers – and it was so refreshing to see a collection of good old West Country Boys, a good many of them actually genuine fishermen, enjoying what Cleave described as their ‘Andy Warhol moment’ just doing what they love doing and would be doing regardless of whether they were famous or being paid for it or not.

It was plain to see from the faces of the audience members leaving the palace of glittering gold that is The Royal Hall at the end of the show that the universal hope is that Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends’ fame lasts considerably longer than 15 minutes and that the Cornishmen (and their one Yorkshireman) will be back in our region soon.

Posted in Harrogate, Theatre | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A Government Inspector

A Government Inspector

A Government Inspector – a Northern Broadsides production made in partnership with Harrogate Theatre that runs in the spa town until 22 September before touring around Yorkshire and the rest of the country  – is about as enjoyable a piece of straightforwardly intelligent theatre as one could wish to see.

It is not so much a direct translation as a shrewd re-imagining of Gogol’s Revizor, here set in a small, non-descript Pennine town that integrates a fantastic brass band element to create a smart political satire that occasionally eases seamlessly into full-blown comic musical theatre.

Feeding on the universal mistrust of local authorities and the people that run them, A Government Inspector sees the Pennine town’s councillors – and in particular the crooked, bullying and ambitious leader Tony Belcher, brilliantly played by Howard Chadwick – fly into a blind panic when news reaches them that a government big-wig from London is in town to give it a secret inspection and – as the councillors, united in their incompetence and corruption, fear – a thoroughly good kicking of the sort that could cost them their jobs and power.

The only thing is, like when Basil Fawlty hilariously mistook Bernard Cribbins’s irritant as a hotel inspector, the bloke that they ‘think’ is the government inspector isn’t. Instead, he – Snapper – is a chancer: a foppish, small-fry Whitehall clerk down on his uppers after being cleaned out in yet another card game and unable to pay the bills he’s accrued at the town’s grotty inn. He’s in big trouble, as his world weary assistant Frank is only too aware, and it’s difficult to see how he’s going to get out of this one. Help of an unexpected kind, though, is on its way in the form of Belcher and his gullible partners in bribery.

The best thing about A Government Inspector – a Northern Broadsides production created in partnership with Harrogate Theatre – as a political satire is that it doesn’t alienate its audience by attempting to be too clever. That’s not to say that it isn’t sharp or witty: it is – incredibly so, on both counts, and hugely enjoyable to boot, with the Ancient Greek theatre chorus effect an innovative delight.

The cast is outstanding, with not a weak link among them, and the script awash with wonderful contemporary references to the expenses scandal, Cameron’s ‘Cornish Pasty fiasco’, Government’s lack of accountability and abuse of power, and local authorities’ attempts to pull the wool over our eyes make this play seem both truly contemporary and relevant.

OK, so the brass band chorus aside, it’s not mind-blowing stuff. Anyone expecting or wishing for a Kafka-esque or The Thick of It-type political satire of the intellectual kind will not find it here. But, once they or anyone else has put that expectation to bed and taken this marvellously realised concept for what it is, they will realise that Deborah McAndrew’s fantastic play has the potential to be a hit wherever it tours, be that to the West Riding, over in enemy territory in Lancashire or even in – as it is in A Government Inspector and elsewhere risibly misconstrued as being – the ‘considerably more sophisticated’ South itself.

Posted in Harrogate, Theatre | Leave a comment

Taken for a ride


As some of you might know, I recently left a PR & Marketing agency to become a freelance journalist, PR and ‘social media specialist’ (not guru, expert or anything ridiculous like that), and thought of taxi driving as something I could do to support myself along the way.

I was wrong, as it turns out. Here, though, is the first instalment of what was supposed to be an ongoing column for my local paper (until they decided they didn’t want it). Two experienced freelance journalists I showed it to for feedback and advice said it was quite good, but you may think otherwise.

Leaving a supposedly glamorous, exciting and rewarding career in PR to become a taxi driver may seem like a drastic step for someone to take; like Wayne Rooney swapping the bright lights of Manchester for Plymouth Argyle. Or Paul McCartney leaving The Beatles to form Wings.

But this wasn’t a Kevin Pietersen-type decision. No toys were thrown from prams. No naughty texts were sent. And no-one will feel that PR has lost a great talent and glittering star.

Rather, it was a decision partly based on reason and an element of necessity, with a little bravery – or foolhardiness, if you must call it that – thrown in for good measure. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will be able or willing to understand it. Among some of the questions asked by family and friends in relation to this surprising departure include “will you make enough money?”, “won’t you be bored?”, “aren’t the hours terribly long?”, “have you lost your tiny little mind” and “is this really the best use of your gentleman’s degree in Classical Studies?”. Chief among their concerns, though, is “will you be safe?”.

That last one is a very good question.

A quick Google search for ‘attacks on taxi drivers’ returns a litany of horrifying results, from taxi drivers being verbally or racially abused to being mugged by gangs of thugs to one poor man in Manchester lucky to still be alive after having his throat slashed. Another had his face viciously slashed with a bottle in Hunslet, Leeds. Another… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about it any further.

What of Harrogate and its own record? Thankfully, reported attacks – and maybe that word ‘reported’ should be underlined here – are few and far between, the latest notable incident, as reported in Harrogate Advertiser, being an attack on a driver dropping off a pair of men in Starbeck on Boxing Day last year when they tried to avoid paying their fare. The driver in question was relatively unhurt – but it could have been so much worse and he was understandably shaken by the incident.

Harrogate Borough Council’s Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Office – which is responsible, among other things, for licensing taxi drivers working in Harrogate, Ripon and the surrounding area – weren’t able to provide any official figures on the number of reported assaults on taxi drivers in the area. They did, however, intimate that, though verbal abuse or assault is something that any taxi driver facing the public will risk, they do feel that incidents of that, fortuntely, nature very rarely take place in Harrogate.

And that’s the point. Without wishing to get bogged down in statistics, national crime figures show that North Yorkshire is the safest place to live and work in England, while we can also safely say that Harrogate – in comparison with some of the less salubrious parts of North Yorkshire that we won’t care to mention here for fear of being seen to be vulgar by gloating – is among the safest conurbations in the region.

But, then again, dangerous people can commit violent crimes anywhere, any time. Harrogate is no exception to that, as history has shockingly and tragically shown. And statistics can work against Harrogate, too. After all, it isn’t so long ago that Harrogate was (questionably) revealed, along with Sevenoaks in Kent, to have the highest rate of ‘binge’ drinkers in the UK: and, as we all know, excessive boozing can – and often does – fuel violence.

Ultimately, you can never be too careful. As such, taxi drivers have to know that an unsavoury and perhaps even violent incident might happen in and around their taxi or on their person at any time; and they therefore have to be on their toes, metaphorically speaking, at all times. It helps, though – in my own case and that of other taxi drivers in the area – to know that Harrogate is on the whole – despite what people might say – inhabited and visited by extremely friendly and civilised people with a greater penchant for good humour and responsible drinking than for grog-inspired thuggery.

I know what you’re all wondering. What would I do in the event of somebody kicking off in my taxi? The answer is that I’d love to bluster that I’d go all Steven Seagal on their backside -what’s infinitely more likely, though, is that I’ll just do a Mo Farah and run away, very far, as fast as my legs will take me before hiding out in the Dales for a couple of days. Quite what happens once the taxi drivers’ usual diet of fried food and carbs catches up with me, causing me to lose my Olympian physique and famed running ability, I don’t know. I guess I’d just have to rely on my considerable charm to get me out of any such situation. Let’s just hope nothing like that ends up happening, eh? The law of averages says that it won’t – but who knows?

Either way, things should prove interesting.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unleashing the beast

By the time you read this, the world would have probably fully gorged itself on a feast of righteous indignation at learning that a moron had thrown a beer bottle at the rocket-powered demi-gods on the starting blocks just as they were about to explode into one of the most eagerly anticipated 100m races of all time.

In a coincidence of sorts that Seb Coe described as “poetic justice”, the accused happened to be in reaching distance of Dutch judoka (I’ve just learnt that word – sounds much better than the weedy ‘judo player’, doesn’t it?) and 70kg category bronze medallist at these very games, @EdithBosch. The aptly named Bosch duly struck the oik in the back with what I can only imagine was considerable force (in her own, roughly translated words, she tweeted that she had “beaten him” – which made me guffaw rather), in so doing drawing the meaty security guards’ attention to him, resulting in his forceful ejection from the stadium and eventual arrest.

What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Not a great deal, I shouldn’t have thought, though I did feel very sorry for Edith when I read that the incident caused her to actually miss what was an absolutely fantastic race; a cruel irony considering that those of us sitting at home watching it on TV had been oblivious to the incident and were able to enjoy the race to its full as it unfurled before our eyes at improbable speed.

What I have used this incident to do is tenuously refer back to another incident in which a Dutch person – a people of whom I am uncommonly fond – dealt out justice by means of physical force in an attempt to stop somebody from ruining everything for the rest of us that actually gave me cause for self-reflection while reinforcing one of my quite unpopular views.

In short, that view is that I don’t like other people being in art galleries when I’m in them. There. I’ve said it. In public this time, rather than just in the pub after work, to people that know I’m prone to bluster about these sorts of subjects.

Now, before you go chewing my head off, hear me out. I couldn’t be a greater advocate for people of all ages, classes and backgrounds visiting galleries, I really couldn’t. It’s just that I don’t want them, whomever they might be – kids from a local state school with poor arts provision, a gaggle of middle-aged crusties plodding their way through OU textbooks in a tardy attempt to culture themselves, a wanky bearded art student with carefully curated splashes of paint on his jeans and a girl in thrall at his shoulder or a set of intellectuals among whose number might be found Pope Julius II, Ruskin and Clem Greenberg themselves – to be there in numbers greater than two or three (less, ideally) at a time or making any noise while I’m in there scowling my way from painting to painting.

It’s not that I’m better than you or them, or that I have a greater connection with paintings than other mortals, or any more right to be in a gallery than they; it’s just that I am myself a really quite stupid individual that requires every ounce of concentration I can muster to zone in on a painting and absorb its power or to pour scorn on its lack thereof. And that’s something I enjoy doing more than nearly anything else in the world and have very little chance to do these days.

So, imagine my horror when I’d paid – yes, paid: we in Britain should be far more grateful than we are that we can, on the whole, enjoy the privilege (covered by our taxes, of course) of walking into galleries and see masterpieces without having to hand over any cash – for both my very reluctant wife and I to visit the gloriously located Mauritzhaus in The Hague, only to find that there was a middle-aged, beardy windbag (an American, naturally) with scholarly pretensions dragging two bored-looking ladies of a similar age around the place by their handbag straps, spouting all kinds of dreary nonsense at something approaching the top of his nauseatingly whiny voice.

Being far too English by nurture to tell him to shut the fudge up before I smashed his fudging face in, I tensed up, became distracted and started being snappy with my wife. The day was ruined – RUINED! – as far as I was concerned; for me because I’d now struggle to enjoy the Mauritzhaus’ astonishing collection of Rembrandt and Rubens paintings to anywhere near their full with this tit droning on; for my wife (Katherine, let’s call her… because that’s her name) because she’d have to put up with me – and she hadn’t even wanted to come with me in the first place.
And why hadn’t she wanted to come with me? Not because she’s a Philistine – though she can be, as I can be in regards to some of her cultural interests; like dance, for instance – but because she knew that this sort of thing would happen. She knows that I’m an absolute nightmare to be with in galleries, storming about the place with my hands linked behind my back like a deranged general inspecting a parade before settling in front a painting for a half an hour at a time and glaring at it in silence, bristling at anybody that comes within two foot of me; or else, in her unfortunate case, rabbiting on to her in rapid, hushed tones about a painting in a preposterous, crazed and misinformed fashion while she’s actually just trying to appreciate it from her own perspective.

There’s nothing that could salvage this gallery visit, nothing. Except, hang on… what’s this? The American windbag has got too close to a painting! Out from the shadows – with serpent-like speed and threat – emerges the previously unseen, enormous figure of what was once, unmistakably, a member of Holland’s Special Forces: “Excusje me, shhjir: pleasje don’t touch jha paintingsje,” he menaces. “I wasn’t touching it, I was just gedding closer to show these ladies something – see,” he says prissily, gesturing to touch the painting again with a prehensile, poking index finger; at which, with alarming suddenness, the creature grasps the pest’s arm without quite hurting him, oozing a Pinteresque threat of restrained violence before very deliberately uttering, slowly, so as to make sure there’s no misunderstanding: “I told you, shhjir: don’t. Touch. Jha paintingsje.OK?.” And with that – once the beast had let go his grip – the windbag skidaddled, with his hens clucking in tow behind him.

Well, I might have applauded were it not for fear of the 1,000-yard stare turning in my direction and the brute taking his frustrated desire for violence out on me. I instead allowed myself a self-satisfied smirk, turned on my heels and made my way happily to a brilliantly graphic painting Rembrandt had made of a live autopsy, thinking to myself that I must find myself a man-beast and train him to destroy fellow gallery-goers on my behalf.

A tenuous link to the events of the Olympic 100m, as I say (and rather like poor old Asafa Powell, I seem to be pulling up short here). And, yes, there’s an element of hypocrisy in my attitude to other people in galleries in that I probably prevent other people from enjoying their gallery experience, but I really can’t see that changing. Scream and shout, talk rot and frankly do as you wish while you’re in a gallery – just don’t do it while I’m there, please. Or else I’ll be forced to unleash the beast.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some brands don’t get a sporting chance

Many of the brand loyalties I hold were founded in my youth and, you may groan here if you wish, based upon sport.

To be more specific, based upon sports people – and by that, I’m afraid that I do, without wishing to do sportwomen own in any way, mean sportsmen.

When I started playing tennis again in earnest after a break of many years, there were only two brands on my mind when it came to buying new gear – Wilson, for the racquet; and Nike for the trainers and other gear. Why? Some may like to do down what Pete Sampras achieved as a player out of some absurd loyalty to Andre Agassi and the chippy hatred some have for those that are regularly triumphant, but Sampras wasn’t just a phenomenal serve-volley man but also a patently stylish striker of groundstrokes, and a gentleman to boot – I liked the cut of his gib, and therefore Wilson and Nike (the most visible of his sponsors) by association.

That brand loyalty was strengthened only further when the only man that could so far be said to have usurped him as a player, R-Fed, started taking to the world’s major courts dressed in Nike clobber and making masterful metaphoric brush strokes across them with a Wilson racquet. I may have ‘got’ a lot of stick for turning up to cricket last year in a pair of white and gold Nike Air Max but I was perfectly fine with that, knowing that the offending trainers had Roger Federer’s – in truth, rather questionable – style written all over them (though not literally, of course – that would just be chavvy).

As for football, I once abandoned Nike, Umbro, Adidas and all the most reputable makers of football boots to buy a pair made by Diadora simply because Roberto Baggio wore the brand – and I frickin’ loved him. Can’t remember if they were any good or not, only that I wore them for a season before switching back to one of the major names before going absolutely mental and becoming the first at school to buy blue and then (“easy there, ffoulkesy”) white boots (it helped that I was pretty good at the time – did I tell you about the time Swindon Town… actually that story ends with them turning me down twice and sending me off to a feeder club because they felt sorry for me).

Rugby union, oddly, seems to evoke very little in the way of brand loyalty but then that’s most likely to do with my just grabbing at the least muddy, wet, musty and frankly hazardous of the unidentifiable gear I can find in my bag before taking to the field each Saturday afternoon during winter (which reminds me: must, must, MUST wash my kit tonight!). The old Gilbert balls educe the odd pang of nostalgia – and, slightly irrelevantly here, I pine for long-sleeved shirts – but that’s about it.

Cricket, on the other hand, has caused me a great deal of trouble in regards to brand loyalty.

Prep and public schools are a breeding ground for many things, not least among them brand snobbery.

Gray Nicholls were the thing when I first arrived at my prep school in the late-80s/early-90s, a fashion that must have been based more on the way they looked more than anything, because there were no notable stylists using Gray Nicholls bats in the international game to speak of at the time (Lara was to come later and although Robin Smith could be great to watch, he was also infuriating… and a Saffer posing as an Englishman) – indeed, looking back, Athers was about the only player of note batting with the Gray Nicholls willow back then; and of all the things he is noted for, style is not one of them. But, yes, Gray Nicholls bats looked good, so the first bat I ever bought had to be a Gray Nicholls, and the trend for buying their bats continued up to the age of around 19 when I realised that, despite a promising start to my batting career, I was yet to score even a 50… and had turned into a bowler.

A change was required, then, though options were limited. There was no way I was going to switch to County (many of the better players I was friends with had started to use County bats by around this time – unthinkable some years before), Kookaburra (Australian!), Duncan Fearnley (big, hefty tree trunks… and I didn’t much like Graeme Hick), Gunn&Moore (again, laughable back then, though Michael Vaughan did much to change that…), Stuart Surridge (come off it!) or those massive MRF bats from India (far too heavy-looking, even if the ball does fair fly off ‘em). So, not much to choose from other than Slazenger, the case for which was greatly helped by my growing affection for the then hopelessly forlorn – but unfailingly stylish – Slazenger-wielding Mark Ramprakash; and the deal was sealed when I found their bats not just to be on the lighter side but to garner far more runs (I’m talking about a seriously sub-standard level of cricket here, by the way) than did any of the Gray Nicholls bats I’d ever used. Result = switch of allegiance.

Can’t say much about golf, as the first set of clubs I owned were handed down to me by my Grandpa at a time when I didn’t give a fig for golf and were so ancient that one could imagine Noah having played a soggy and maddening 18 holes with them after hopping off the Ark for the first time.

As for motor racing, I’ll come back to Martini in particular (and other drinks brands) in a follow-up post to continue the series (oh joy, you’re thinking), but it wasn’t just Ayrton Senna’s devil-may-care attitude, flair, recklessness and his not being Nigel Mansell that made the Brazilian so appealing in my first days as a very casual F1 fan, but also the pleasing, heavily Malboro-branded McLaren he then drove. Needless to say, all loyalty I had to McLaren was scuppered when its association with Marlboro ended, facilitating a treacherous and glory-seeking yet seamless transition into the Ferrari camp instead. Senna, on the other hand, was untarnished by his move to Williams – but, then, he was exceptional in so very many ways.

Again, this hasn’t exactly been the most scientific assessment of brand appeal and loyalty – and examiners would probably give it the same treatment given to the Cicero essay I bodged in my finals – but it does, I hope, demonstrate that brand loyalty may be dependent on many things: but is certainly inextricably linked with personal experience. Just in case you needed somebody to state the bleedin’ obvious for you in painful detail.

Posted in brand, cricket, F1, football, motor racing, Nike, rugby, tennis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple isn’t the only fruit

Apple is the brand that I, for one, am most conscious of being exposed to at present – I may be subliminally blocking others out, who knows? – yet I can, without hesitation and in all honesty, say that I have little or no loyalty to Apple.

Sure, I own an ipod and find it both aesthetically pleasing and useful – particularly when giving parties – but there are plenty of reasons why I’m not utterly in love with it.

For starters – and this drives my wife and others that are forced to spend any time with me absolutely nuts – I’m obsessed with listening to albums in full, in one sitting; and even hate it when bootlegs and ‘never before released’ tracks are tacked onto the end of an album, polluting the quietly fizzling space in which I was expecting to be able to thoroughly contemplate – and stroke my regrettably beardless chin at – the sum of that purposefully crafted album’s parts.

True enough, you can download and listen to an album on your ipod in full (er, or stop the CD before it moves on to the bastard tracks), but I have a not entirely irrational suspicion that the ipod wasn’t designed for that purpose and is in fact an ingeniously conceived hybrid of two pieces of technology ubiquitous in my youth: the mix tape and the Sony Walkman (other brands did exist… didn’t they?).

My contempt for the former is manifest in my obsession with complete albums, but to focus on my love for the latter, my hulking about cassettes all day and having to transfer them back and forth between my pocket – where they dug into my leg and caused the material to fray each time I sat down – and a hopelessly cumbrous contraption were, to me, symbols of my stubborn commitment to the albums I had carefully selected according to the mood I found myself in that morning. And I’m afraid, the very pervasiveness of the convenience, compactness and smugness of the ipod is such that it hinders the level to which the album I’m listening to on it can be said to be gratifying, however spectacular that album may be.

More briefly, other reasons for my not being likely to go clunibus super pectus for Apple is that I’m a luddite, am not partial to gadgetry (though I’m only 29, I have middle-aged-person-with-mobile-phone syndrome in that all I need – nay, want – to be able to do with my mobile is make calls with it, send texts, and use it as an alarm clock) and, most importantly, distinctly recall thinking in my schooldays that, to my (still) extremely ignorant mind, everything made or designed by Apple Inc was utterly rubbish – and ‘first exposure’ or initial experience is nearly everything where brand is concerned.

I’m ready to accept that many millions of people far more switched on about these things than me love the Apple brand, but loyalty and the degree to which we are loyal are highly subjective and personal (note the excruciatingly annoying number of times I’ve used the first person in this piece).

Now where did I put that Walkman…

Posted in album, apple, brand, ipod, music, sony, walkman | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment