REVIEW: Whiplash

The hype surrounding the surprise Oscar contender Whiplash, seems to have exploded unannounced, like the crash of a cymbal, rather than the slow build of a drum roll, like so many of its competitors. However the problem with going to see a film in the midst of unprecedented word-of-mouth hype is that however good it is, it often fails to meet one’s elevated expectations. However, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s second feature-length film met my expectations, and exceeded them.

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash. Photograph: Rex Features

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash. Photograph: Rex Features

On the surface, this is a film about a mentor and a protégé; the surly anti-social music teacher and conductor, Mr Fletcher played by J. K. Simmons, and the intense young wannabe jazz drummer, Andrew, played by Miles Teller. Whiplash injects vigour into this well-worn dynamic, with Simmons’ teacher employing all manner of questionable psychological tactics to push his young ward to the pinnacle of his abilities. Fletcher sees the hunger, drive and desire in Andrew that he requires in a student, in order to mould them into a great musician. Fletcher believes that only extreme behaviour, in the form of dedication from the musician, and drill-sergeantesque encouragement from the teacher can produce extreme brilliance, and it is this single-minded belief that drives him to push Andrew to the limit physically and mentally. Fletcher hurls shocking verbal insults at Andrew, as well as physical objects, but more often than not he is quiet & brooding, and it is then that he is at his most menacing. His performance mirrors the music in the film; subtle, tight and controlled, punctuated by alarming crescendos of rage.

The direction, like every other element of the film, including the performances and the score, is tense, physical and imposing. There is ample use of extreme close-ups and slow motion, to emphasise the intensity and physicality of the performances, and there are a number of fast, jerky camera movements that unsettle the viewer and keep them on the edge of their seats.

The film as a complete package is doWHIPLASH+onesheetubly impressive when you consider that the film’s director Damien Chazelle, himself once an aspiring jazz drummer, is only 30 years old. Such a confident and measured film from such a young director is exciting, and will no doubt lead to much anticipation for Chezelle’s next offering La La Land, which is currently in pre-production, and slated for release this year, with Emma Watson rumoured to play the romantic lead, beside Whiplash’s Miles Teller.

Immediately after watching the film, I was smitten, but on reflection, I have a few small criticisms. There was a distinct lack of female characters, but this may have been a deliberate choice, to emphasise the macho, physical nature of the film. The only female character of any note, Andrew’s short-lived girlfriend, was a little one-dimensional, and not featured for any length of time, but once again, perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to highlight Andrew’s single-mindedness, and lack of ability to focus on anything other than his music. Andrew’s father lives alone, and we neither meet Andrew’s mother, nor hear anything about her. Some background information would have been nice, to justify his obsession with music, but again, perhaps it is a deliberately blinkered view of the narrative that the viewers are shown, to mirror Andrew’s blinkered view of life. There are also times when the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher borders on the absurd, with both Andrew and even Fletcher ignoring their physical wellbeing and social boundaries in pursuit of their dream.

Whiplash is a film that draws the viewer in completely, engages them in the narrative, makes them invest in the characters, and gives them very little respite. I left the film exhausted but exhilarated. Despite not being a fan of jazz music, I was gripped by the musical set pieces in the film, and even that most self-indulgent of musical flourishes; the drum solo, becomes utterly enthralling. It takes a special script, performed masterfully, and shot exquisitely in order for audiences to become completely wrapped up in the narrative, despite having little knowledge or interest in the subject matter and Whiplash does this brilliantly. I left the cinema wanting to head straight for the nearest jazz club. Thankfully, I have now come to my senses, but despite not quite converting me into a jazz aficionado, if any film could, it would be this one. As musical propaganda, it’s about as good as it gets.

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“Top 10 Ugliest Rugby Shirts” – TheSportsWaffle.com

To mark the start of the 2015 Six Nations Championships, I thought I would post this guest post that I wrote for my friend Karl’s blog, The Sports Waffle.iLawQu5h

Karl is Dublin based Sports Marketer, having worked with some of the biggest sports properties in Ireland, such as the Football Association of Ireland, and Irish Hockey. Karl is also a UEFA qualified football coach and has worked within Women’s Football in Ireland, both at club and national level. 

Karl’s blog features lots of in depth analysis of sports such as American Football, Soccer & Hockey, as well as sports coaching in general, and sports marketing, all presented in a very readable, witty manner.

 

Rugby union is a sport that prides itself on its traditional morals and values. Rugby is known for sportsmanship, humility and respect. This heritage & tradition could be seen in the kits, with players up until as recently as the turn of the millennium wearing heavy, baggy cotton, long-sleeve shirts that had changed very little from the shirts worn by the founding fathers of the game in the nineteenth century.

In 1995, rugby union became a professional sport, and with this change, the image of the game began to change too. One of the most noticeable changes was to the kits that players wore. Initially they gained corporate sponsors, plastered across the front, then in the early ‘noughties’ shirts began to get tighter, in order to avoid them being grabbed by an opposition player. To coincide with the tighter shirts, new man-made fabrics were introduced, which were lighter to wear, and kept players cool by wicking sweat away from the body. Another advantage was that they didn’t absorb moisture in the same way as cotton. Rugby is a sport played mainly during the winter, in the northern hemisphere, and a cotton shirt that has absorbed water can weigh around 6 to 8lbs, which the player then has to carry around.

As shirt design has moved forward from a sporting and technological standpoint, so to it has progressed in terms of visual aesthetics. The dependable stalwarts of block colours, stripes & hoops gave way to ever more elaborate patterns and psychedelic colour schemes. It has to be said that I am somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to rugby generally, as well as shirt design, and I can’t help thinking that as the shirts get wilder and less traditional, the conduct of players and the values inherent in the game get eroded. Only since the introduction of the modern style shirts have we seen blatant cheating in the game, players emulating footballers by pretending to be injured when they are not, and flamboyant try-scoring celebrations.

I have therefore decided to name and shame some of the worst offenders, with a comprehensive countdown of the ugliest shirts, ever to take to a rugby field. The rules that I have subjected my decisions to are as follows:

  • Shirts can be either of national teams, or professional clubs
  • Shirts can only be from teams playing rugby union
  • Only one shirt from each nation/club allowed

With those caveats, I humbly submit to you, the Top Ten Ugliest Rugby Shirts.

 

  1. Argentina – Sevens (2014)

Kicking off the countdown, it’s the latest offering from Argentina’s sevens team. As rugby sevens has become more popular recently, and with its impending inclusion in the 2016 summer Olympics, the sport has tried to carve out its own separate image, with many clubs & countries commissioning different shirt designs for their sevens teams.Argentina sevens

Los Pumas would usually play in sky blue and white, the colours of the Argentinian flag, however kit designers Nike chose a different inspiration when it came to this year’s sevens kit. The Ceibo tree is the national tree of Argentina, which blooms in the summer months, when sevens rugby is traditionally played, with pinkish-red flowers. Pinkish-red was clearly deemed too tame, and a Day-Glo shade was chosen. Surely Dyno-Rod has missed a trick here by not sponsoring this shirt, but then again, they may be planning another lawsuit over the use of their trademarked colour.

I have placed this shirt in the number ten spot because the overall ‘design’ of the shirt isn’t bad, I just have a problem with the colour. I know the ‘90s are making a comeback, but Day-Glo deserves to stay consigned to the history books.

 

  1. Canada – Away (1995)

While the 1995 Rugby World Cup may be remembered for being the first major sporting event to be held in South Africa since the end of apartheid, for Canadians of a certain age, it will be remembered because their embarrassment at not scoring a single point against the hosts during their group game, was increased exponentially by the fact that they had to play wearing this monstrosity.Canada front

As the oldest shirt in our countdown, it is the only one to be made from cotton, rather than figure-hugging, sweat-wicking, synthetic materials. While it may seem tame by modern standards, particularly compared to some of the other shirts on this countdown, it was quite unpalatable back in 1995. You have to remember that rugby union was still an ‘amateur’ sport in those days. While most of the top tier nations ran out at RWC ’95 in simple, traditional shirts, usually consisting on one solid colour, and a secondary colour for the collar, Canada opted for an array of multi-coloured maple leafs across one side of the shirt.

On the red ‘home’ shirt the maple leaves were a little less noticeable, but on the white ‘away’ shirt, they were an assault on the eyes you might only expect if Andy Warhol designed a rugby shirt. This shirt was easily the ugliest shirt at RWC ’95, and with the advent of professionalism in rugby union less than three months after Canada’s exit from the competition, it was arguably the beginning of the end for international rugby shirt design.

 

  1. Leicester Tigers – Away (2012/13)

The Tigers are a team with a proud history, hailing from rugby’s historic heartlands in the East Midlands. Their shirts reflect this, usually opting for hooped shirt designs of some sort, using their club colours of green, red and white. In recent years however, with clubs relying on shirt sales to boost their ever increasing budgets, shirt designers have been tasked with making clubs’ shirts noticeably different each year, in order to encourage people to buy the latest shirt.Tigers

With this in mind, the guys at Canterbury put their best minds on the job. Unfortunately their creative brainstorming session only got as far as “They’re called the tigers… tigers have stripes… why don’t we put tiger stripes on the shirt?” In the club’s traditional ‘home’ colours, the shirt was almost passable, but the ‘away’ shirt, using blue, aquamarine and black stripes, looked like something you might wear to go scuba diving, particularly with modern shirts being so tight. This was a rare mistake for a team that can usually be relied upon to produce pretty solid shirt designs.

 

  1. Blue Bulls – Away (2014)

Yet another piece of lazy shirt design comes courtesy of South African outfit, the Bulls. After just failing to make it to the Super Rugby league final last season, kit designers Puma decided to give the Bulls an extra advantage when playing those tricky away matches. This kit would allow Bulls players to blend seamlessly into their surroundings, making them nearly undetectable to opposition players.Bulls away 2014

The only situations where camouflage is acceptable as clothing, is if you are actually in the armed forces, you are playing paintball, or you are at a rave in the early ‘90s. Outside of those three options, it is wholly unacceptable for casual wear, and certainly not acceptable for sports kit. The ‘home’ shirt was less offensive, with the camouflage being made up of a variety of shades of blue, but the Bulls have previous form for bad kit design, with their 2013 kit being responsible for at least a dozen epileptic seizures in Pretoria alone.

 

  1. Calvisano – Home (2006/07)

At number six, it is a shirt from probably the least well known team on the list. Calvisano are an Italian team playing in the grandly titled National Championship of Excellence, the highest tier of the national rugby union competition in Italy. In the early noughties, before any Italian teams had been inducted into the Pro12 League, then known as the Celtic League, Calvisano had a reasonably successful run, qualifying for the Heineken Cup six seasons in a row. At that time rugby was struggling to compete with soccer in Italy, in terms of funding. So Calvisano decided to take advantage of their relative success & European TV exposure, by packing as many sponsors as possible onto their shirts.Calvisano 06-07

Even today the Calvisano shirts still have a higher-than-average number of sponsors on them, despite their recent lack of European rugby, and I suppose you can’t really blame them. Keeping your club competitive, by drawing in decent players on the miniscule budgets available to ‘second tier’ clubs is a challenge. However, their shirt from the 2006/07 season has earned its place in our countdown, not only for the bare-faced commercialism, but also for the combination of colours and Italian logos, that have left it looking more like a jersey of a Tour-de-France cyclist, than a rugby player.

 

  1. Perpignan – Third (2010/11)

The first French club on our countdown sneaks into the top five with this visual violation. Perpignan are based in the Catalan region of Southern France, and as such their traditional ‘away’ kiRugby Union - Heineken Cup - Pool Five - Leicester Tigers v USA Perpignan - Welford Roadt is red and yellow, like the Catalan flag, whereas their ‘home’ kit is blue and white. The shirt here though is part of a recent phenomenon of clubs producing a third shirt, for use in European competitions like the Heineken Cup or the European Challenge Cup. This is yet another way for clubs to increase revenues by selling more shirts, and the onus is on shirt designers to make them distinctive enough that fans will buy them even if they have the ‘home’ & ‘away’ shirts already.

Kit manufacturing minnows Errea, certainly made Perpignan’s third shirt distinctive, but whether anyone would buy it is a different matter. They have amalgamated the colours of both the ‘home’ & ‘away’ shirts into this monstrosity, that I can only presume is inspired by the flamboyant Mediterranean ceramic tiles of the region, or maybe I am giving Errea too much credit. Unfortunately instead of conjuring up images of Catalonian seafront villas, this shirt simply makes the players look like court jesters.

 

  1. Ospreys – Training (2011)

Since the late ‘noughties’, Welsh region Ospreys have sought to combat the rather dismal fact that they play their rugby in “Britain’s wettest city”, by taking to the pitch in an array of bright and bewildering shirts. There was the orange ‘away’ shirt in 2008/09 that featured an abstract flock of Ospreys taking flight, the black shirt that featured a bold flash of pink stripes across the front, and the shirt from 2010/11 that featured numerous starbursts. But those shirts pale into insignificance when measured against the shirt in fourth place on our countdown. Ospreys

I have a slight admission to make; this isn’t a shirt that was worn for competitive games, it is a training shirt, and as such, was worn for training sessions, and pre-match warm-ups. However, as it was worn on the pitch by Ospreys players, in front of fee-paying fans, and sold to unwitting supporters, I do feel that its inclusion is justified for that reason, let alone its overwhelming unsightliness. Much like ‘away’ shirts, and ‘third’ shirts, training shirts are an arena where designers can flex their creative muscles, think outside the box and be a little bit daring. The designer responsible for this monstrosity obviously went to all his art history lectures, and decided to distil his vast knowledge of 20th century art into this masterpiece. The palette and intersecting lines are clearly homage to Mondrian’s neoplasticism, while the influence of Kandinsky and even Matisse’s later works are also evident. Or perhaps they just let their infant child design it.

 

  1. England Sevens – Alternate (2013/14)

The second rugby sevens shirt in this countdown, which could if truth be told, have been entirely populated by sevens shirts. I tried to keep the majority of the list populated by shirts from the more well-known fifteen man code, but I just could not write a countdown of ugly rugby shirts without including this psychedelic nightmare.England sevens away

The ‘home’ shirt is slightly more respectable, with red and green triangles against a white background, although it does somewhat resemble the world map on the HSBC advert. The ‘alternate’ shirt on the other hand is such an affront to the eyes, even Jorge Campos would consider it too offensive to wear. It resembles the sort of interference you used to get on old analogue televisions, or those magic eye pictures that tormented people throughout the 1990s. In fact, if you stare hard enough at this shirt, you can almost make out the anguished face of the designer, who was driven mad by exposure to the pattern.

As if the pattern on the shirt wasn’t enough to consign this shirt to the number three spot on this countdown, and believe me it is, the colour scheme on the shoulders and sleeves is the icing on an already incredibly unappetising cake. If it had just been black, it probably would have helped tone down the otherwise garish shirt, but the addition of the yellow collar and sleeve cuffs makes the top section of the shirt resemble a not unjustified hazard warning sign, for the pattern below.

 

  1. Edinburgh – Third (2009/10)

Just missing out on the top spot is this offering from the Scottish capital. As mentioned previously, many teams are now producing ‘third’ kits, for use in European competitions, but Edinburgh have not been hugely successful in Europe of late, having only progressed past the pool stages of the Heineken Cup once in the last ten seasons. Their solution was to start producing a special edition ‘third’ shirt for their 1872 Cup matches; rugby union’s “oldest derby fixture” between Edinburgh and Glasgow. This cup is contested by the only Scottish teams in the Pro12 League, on their home & away fixtures, each season. Unfortunately the shirt didn’t bring them much luck on the field, as Edinburgh lost both their ‘home’ and ‘away’ fixtures against Glasgow that season.Edinburgh's Phil Godman and Nick de Luca with the loudest kit in rugby!!?

The shirt itself is made up of large multi-coloured versions of the Edinburgh Rugby logo, overlapping in a haphazard manner. The ‘pop art’ influence is clear to see, with the repetition of a logo in a colour palette of neon pink, yellow and blue that clashes badly. Not only is this shirt visually offensive, but it seems to be trying a bit too hard. The designers have obviously tried to design a controversial shirt that will receive press coverage for the club, and maybe boost attendance at Edinburgh games. Perhaps, rather than relying on gimmicks like this, Edinburgh should focus on improving the quality of rugby that they play, as that is the only sure-fire way to improve match-day attendance. Unfortunately they didn’t learn from their mistake, and put out another ugly shirt for their 1872 Cup matches the following year. This time it featured a multi-coloured camouflage pattern that resembled the contents of an extremely groovy lava lamp.

 

  1. Stade Francais – Third (2011/12)

The number one spot goes to this monumental affront to taste and decency from Parisian powerhouses, Stade Francais. Anyone who is familiar with European rugby will not be surprised that it is a Stade Francais shirt that has topped this chart. In fact, if I had not restricted myself to only one shirt from any club or nation, Stade Francais would probably have dominated the entire top ten. The club has a chequered history of crimes against fashion, ever since club president and media mogul Max Guazzini began to use his influence to change the image of the club. In 2005, Guazzini changed the club’s colours from red, white & blue, the colours of the French tricolour, to dark blue and pink.Stade leopard

The introduction of the least used colour in sporting attire, opened the floodgates of fashion, and all notions of taste and decency were washed away by the fuchsia tsunami. Some notable Stade Francais shirts that just missed out on inclusion in the countdown, but deserve a special mention include the beige ‘home’ shirt adorned with pink lilies, the pink, blue & green tie-dye effort, and the Warhol-esque shirt featuring multi-coloured portraits of King Louis VIII’s wife. The winner however, is much simpler than those shirts, but its directness is the reason for its offensiveness. The combination of one of the tackiest patterns in fashion, with the campest colour in existence, makes for a shirt so ugly that even Keith Lemon would consider it gaudy. The only saving grace for Stade Francais players, who have to wear these abominations, is that most of them are so tall and muscular that few opposition fans would have the guts to insult them to their face.

 

I am sure that many of you will have opinions about the shirts included in this countdown, and I know there are plenty of ugly shirts out there that didn’t quite make the cut, so get involved and give us your opinion using the comments section below.

 

 

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REVIEW: Horst – The Photographer of Style

This is a short review of a photography exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum, featuring images by prolific fashion photographer Horst P. Horst. The review was written for a competition run by the arts charity Ideas Tap.

The name Horst, may be unfamiliar to many, but while his name may not be familiar, the images by this prolific 20th century photographer will be recognisable to most. Having adorned the pages of Vogue magazine for much of the 20th century, Horst has had a significant influence on the west’s idea of contemporary beauty. One of his most iconic images, “The Mainbocher Corset”, was famously referenced in Madonna’s music video for the song “Vogue”.

Mainbocher Corset (pink satin corset by Detolle), Paris, 1939. © Condé Nast/Horst Estate

Mainbocher Corset (pink satin corset by Detolle), Paris, 1939. © Condé Nast/Horst Estate

The V&A’s extensive and varied exhibition gives a comprehensive overview of Horst’s work, as well as an insight into the man behind the camera. High fashion images intermingle with personal holiday photos. Some of Horst’s earliest professional photographs seem worlds apart from modern fashion photography; the simplistic set dressing and masterfully bold use of light and shadow creating images that have more in common with those of Caravaggio than Mario Testino.

After viewing these classically styled images, visitors are then treated to an insight into the process of getting these images from the photographer’s studio, to the cover of Vogue magazine. It seems that the obsessive pursuit of the perfect fashion image is not one that is exclusive to the modern era of ‘Photoshop’ and ‘airbrushing’.

Visitors could view examples of how Horst’s images had been re-touched by hand before being published. There were before and after versions of images with hand-written instructions on models’ faces, or retouching marks showing where waistlines were to be slimmed or eyelashes accentuated.2014HE4184 It seems that rather than being a modern phenomenon, the editing of fashion images has been going on almost as long as there has been photography in fashion magazines.

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About – AlisonBartonPhotography.co.uk

This copy was written for the ‘About’ page of AlisonBartonPhotography.co.uk. This is the official business website for Alison Barton, a female photographer, based in the West Midlands. Alison specialises in wedding photography, family portraiture, promotional business photography, and equine & canine photography.

In the interests of full disclosure, Alison is my sister, and this allowed me to provide copy which I believe gave a highly personal insight into Alison as a photographer.

You can read the copy below, click on the image of the webpage to enlarge, or click the link below to go to the ‘About’ page on Alison’s website.

Alison Barton Photography – About

Passion is at the heart of everything that I do. My passion and enthusiasm for photography as an art form, combines with my commitment to capturing beautiful memories for my clients that will last a lifetime and beyond.Alison BartonPhotography-About

My dad was a fantastic amateur photographer, who captured my childhood in images that I will cherish for the rest of my life. As a result, I grew up surrounded by photographs, whether in my family’s numerous photo albums, in frames on my Gran’s sideboard, or on the walls of my family home.

My dad passed on to me his love of photography, and nurtured my interest in the craft. This interest was further developed by my art lessons at school. I knew that photography was something that I wanted to be part of my future, and I went on to hone my skills and foster my passion firstly at art college, and then at the nationally renowned University College Falmouth, where I received a Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honours in Photography.

I adore working with both people and animals, building up a special working relationship to allow me to capture their unique qualities and the nuances of their personalities. I aim to build a mutually respectful and trusting working relationship with my clients, putting them at ease in front of the camera, so that I can capture genuine natural emotions. There really is no other art form quite like photography, and its capacity for capturing truth, beauty and emotion still astound me.

I wish for everyone to have what I have had throughout my life; to be surrounded by images of special moments and cherished memories. I feel privileged to be able to provide clients with the opportunity to capture these special moments, and it is a pleasure to witness them.

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“Through the Round Window” – The Guardian

This piece was published in the ‘Life & Style’ section of The Guardian newspaper on 1st December 2012. It explains the story behind one of my favourite family photographs.

The original text can be read below, or click on the image of the piece in print to enlarge. Alternatively you can read the piece on The Guardian’s website, by clicking the link below:

“Through the Round Window” – The Guardian (Life & Style)

My parents’ house is packed with family photographs, either standing in frames, hung on the walls, or in countless albums. What is unusual about this photograph is that it has for years sat loose on a shelf on the dresser in the living room, propped up against an ornament. The photograph is of my mother, the second youngest of seven siblings, and her parents, taken in 1955. They are stood on the veranda of my grandparent’s top floor flat in Eastwood, Glasgow. My grandparents were the first residents in this newly built council flat, moving in just a week before Christmas in 1951, after passing the rigorous screening process the council employed to make sure that the right calibre of people were living there.

 My mother, who was born in this flat, is thrThrough the Round Windowee years old in this photo, flanked by my grandmother, who would have been forty one, and my grandfather who was fifty nine, dressed in dungarees, no doubt having just arrived home from his job as a foreman at the local foundry.

 The porthole kitchen window behind them was extremely interesting as a young child with a vivid imagination. It could be the porthole of a submarine or a portal to another world like the round window from Playschool. The entire history of my immediate family seems to have been documented in photographs in front of this window. It somehow became the de facto photographic backdrop for all family photos.

 The long veranda, with one residence at each end, acted as long, safe, enclosed play area for my mother to push her smart dolls pram up and down, or my uncles and aunties to ride their bicycles and scooters along; a tradition that my sister and I continued with gusto. In bad weather we moved indoors, utilising the long corridor that ran the length of the flat, much to the chagrin of the neighbours below.

 The west-facing veranda would be bathed in sunlight in the afternoons, and with uninterrupted views over the school playing fields opposite, we would often arrive to find my grandmother sat out on the veranda in a deckchair, enjoying the sunshine with front row seats to a game of schoolboy rugby.

 I visited my family in Glasgow two or three times a year when I was a child, usually with my parents and sister, although occasionally I would take the train from the West Midlands with my Gran, who would travel down to collect me, and spend a week with her on my own – what an adventure! We would visit the excellent Transport Museum, the diverse and ever-changing Burrell Collection, and the living time capsule that is the Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Scotland Street School.

 I will always consider Glasgow my second home, and always felt particularly at home in my Gran’s flat. When my Gran passed away, we helped clear the flat, shortly after her funeral. It was so strange seeing the large, three-bedroomed flat empty. It didn’t seem like the same place, for somewhere that was always so full of life and held so many happy memories for my family and me. I wonder whether the new tenants had to undergo such rigorous screening by the council, before being allowed access to their new home, and if they would call it home for as long as my Gran did.

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“An Englishman in Croke Park” – Amen

This feature was published in the May 2012 issue of AMEN magazine, a monthly men’s glossy supplement of the Irish Daily Star. It chronicles my introduction to, and increasing interest in Gaelic Football. The full original text is reproduced below, along with an image of the the edited version in print, which you can click to enlarge.

As an Englishman, I did not grow up with Gaelic games. My introduction to all things GAA began nearly three years ago, courtesy of my Dublin-born girlfriend. The first night we met, Gaelic football, specifically the Dubs, was one of the main topics of conversation. Sport has played a significant part in our relationship ever since, as I have helped her to understand the finer points of rugby union, so she has immersed me in the rich culture of Gaelic football.An Englishman at Croke Park

At first we may have feigned enthusiasm for each other’s favourite sports; they were a topic of conversation, and a shared social activity. However, I think we now both share a genuine passion for the games.

On a trip to Dublin, in 2010, early in our relationship, I attended my first live match, a league game against Derry, in Parnell Park.

I enjoyed the novelty of watching a match from the stands for the first time, rather than the relative comfort of a plastic pull-down seat. I liked the informality at half time when spectators were allowed onto the pitch to kick a ball about, or how we were allowed to trudge across the pitch to the exit, at the end of the game, rather than being kept off by a fluorescent yellow wall of stewards. I attempted to hide my apprehension at the gangs of hooded teenagers lurking around, brandishing hurls. Finally I wondered why the GAA insisted on playing games so late in the evening during winter.

I felt truly accepted as an honorary “Dub” when I received a Dublin GAA polo shirt from my girlfriend’s sister for Christmas. I proudly wore my new shirt on my first visit to Croke Park, albeit under a heavy jacket, as it was February. The result was well worth braving the cold for, with a three-goal victory over Kerry. Dublin seemed to be scoring goals for fun that year, and finished top of the league.

My first championship game at Croker was the 2011 semi-final between Dublin and Donegal, and even the rain on the way to the ground, and the un-entertaining defensive football played by Jim McGuinness’ men couldn’t dampen my spirits. The game might not have been a classic, but the experience was unforgettable. We spent the rest of the evening in Meaghers, toasting the win, serenaded by endless renditions of “We’re going to win the Sam!”

I did not attend the championship final, as tickets were extremely hard to come by, my girlfriend only managed to secure her match ticket on the day of the game. I thought it was appalling that loyal Dublin supporters who had waited sixteen years for their team to reach an All-Ireland final, struggled to get tickets, and even if I could have got a ticket, I wasn’t going to deny a die-hard Dubs fan a seat. My girlfriend watched the game sat between uninterested supporters from the North, and I watched it sat on my own in an O’Neill’s pub in London. I wished I could have been in Dublin that day.

My short time as an honorary Dublin supporter has been a relatively successful era for the team, and I have yet to attend a match that the Dubs have lost. Perhaps I am a lucky charm? Though as I have become more interested and passionate about the game, I find myself in an odd situation; will I ever be truly accepted? It seems to be acceptable for people to support English soccer teams from areas that they are not from, or do not have family connections to. In fact I was surprised to find that most Irishmen I encountered supported English soccer teams, and I have yet to encounter a Shamrock Rovers or Bohemians fan. However, I am unsure of the acceptability of an Englishman supporting a Gaelic football team, as Irish people usually support the county that they were born and raised in, or have family connections to, rather than arbitrarily picking a team. However, all of the Dublin supporters I have met have been extremely welcoming towards me, and in reality, it is probably the reaction of the opposition fans to an English accent deriding their county that I am more worried about.

Rugby is still my first love – I thoroughly enjoyed England’s demolition of Ireland in the 2012 Six Nations – but I have enjoyed learning about this ancient and exciting game, and now when I say “football”, I mean Gaelic football, and the other game is called “soccer”.

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“My ICT Favourites” – The Teacher

This short filler piece was published in the July-August issue of The Teacher magazine; the award-winning magazine for members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

My ICT Favourites is a recurring feature where teachers can recommend useful software, gadgets and websites to their colleagues. You can click on the image of the piece, on the right-hand side to enlarge, or I have reproduced the copy below, so it is easier to read.

 

Favourite SoftwareThe Teacher Jul-Aug '12

Comic Life is a brilliantly simple piece of software which allows students to create comic books by importing their own photos. There are templates, speech bubbles, and the software is intuitive. Most features are ‘drag and drop’. It is great for creating visual narratives with SEN students, as it is so easy to use.

Favourite gadget

My favourite gadget has to be my scanner.It is extremely useful to be able to take a magazine or newspaper, scan it and put a full colour copy in your lesson resources. i also scan students’ original drawings. They can then manipulate them using Photoshop software, and combine hand drawn and digitally produced artwork.

Favourite websites

www.dafont.com is a great resource allowing students to download custom fonts for use in most programs. There’s a huge range, categorised by theme. Fonts are simple to download and install, and can make any type of design coursework look more professional.

www.filmeducation.org is a charity promoting the use of film in the curriculum. It provides excellent resources on its website, and will post you lesson ideas and resources if you register. It organises the excellent National Schools Film Week, where hundreds of free cinema screenings are available for students.

www.teachit.co.uk has a fantastic bank of free, high quality resources for English and media studies. The resources are relevent to current national curriculum and GCSE specifications and range from primary to A-Level, categorised by subject and content.

 

You can read the July-August issue of The Teacher, containing my piece online by clicking the link below:

The Teacher – July-Aug

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Pigs Ears – GreatLittlePlace.com

This short piece of copy was written for the website GreatLittlePlace.com, an online “guide to planet earth’s most charming spots.” The website features reviews of the best independent bars, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, music & comedy venues, museums, shops, markets and green spaces in the UK. The emphasis is on small, unique, unconventional places, which are less well-known, in unusual locations, and away from crowds of tourists.

This copy was for a page on the website for Pigs Ears, a bar & restaurant in Richmond, Greater London. This is one of my personal favourite local bars & restaurants, and if it weren’t for some serious self-control on my part, it could easily have a negative impact on my waistline, and bank balance.

You can see an image of the webpage below (click the image to zoom), or simply follow the link below, to visit the page. The copy is also below to make it easier to read.

www.greatlittleplace.com/place/pigs-ears-richmond

GLP Website

Down some unassuming stairs, behind a heavy, solid, uninviting door is Pig’s Ears Beer Cellar; Richmond’s best kept secret. Formerly called ‘Brouge’, although looking much the same and serving similar food & drink, this is the definition of a great little place. The bar area is small and dimly lit, with mismatched dark wood & comfy leather furniture and the low vaulted brick ceilings give a feeling of antiquated intimacy. The real reason to visit Pig’s Ears though is for the beer; the beer menu is roughly twice the size of the food menu and is categorised by type (wheat, porter, lager etc). The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and are usually happy to recommend a beer based on your preferences, describe the beers to you, and suggest beers to compliment food if you are eating. There is also a lower level with dining tables, and the food is different to your usual pub fare, very tasty, and not overly expensive.

You can visit the Pigs Ears website and the Great Little Place website by clicking the links below:

www.pigs-ears.co.uk/

www.greatlittleplace.com/

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Calcutta Cup 2011

On a bright, cold afternoon in March, we began the short pilgrimage to Twickenham Stadium. An Englishman, an Irishwoman and a Scotswoman; the proverbial joke personified.

Our seats were on the upper tier and we entered the enclosed, grey concrete, spiral to ascend to our seats, having to mentally reassure ourselves that this wasn’t a multi-storey car-park, and we weren’t suddenly going to come face-to-face with a hatchback or people carrier, winding its way down the ramp.

The brass band, in their heavy grey trench coats, had taken their position on the field, in preparation for the national anthems, when suddenly an adult fox sprinted out of the access tunnel in the southwest corner of the ground. The crowd erupted with laughter and cheers, amazed at the spectacle, as the creature seemed so out of place. It sped across the field at an incredible pace, the rusty orange fur easy to spot against the vibrant green turf. A tall, round-shouldered man in a dark blue suit sauntered onto the field and spied his quarry. He approached the fox cautiously, but the auburn invader was too quick for him. Every time the fox evaded the man’s grasp, the crowd roared with appreciation at the unorthodox pre-match entertainment. While the chase continued, the Scottish and English rugby teams made their way onto the pitch. Again the assembled masses let out an almighty roar, but it was audibly different to the ones that had preceded it. The fox provoked joyous, carefree cheers and catcalls, whereas the appearance of the forty-or-so burly men brought forth primal, guttural war-cries from the assembled masses.

TwickFox

The fox eventually tired of the chase and made its way nonchalantly out of the ground via the tunnel in the northeast corner. The crowd predictably gave a great final cheer upon the fox’s departure.

Once the teams were lined up for the anthems, the announcer advised the crowd that a minutes silence would be observed for the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. I have been to Twickenham stadium several times; it is usually a lively, exciting, sometimes rowdy place, where you can witness raw, untamed emotion. However, the quiescence of 82,000 people is far more intense and unnerving than the noise they can make. During the silence, a mobile phone beeped on the far side of the stadium, but it seemed like a foghorn against the awed quiet.

The game itself was remarkably average in comparison to the unusual display of pre-match fauna; a try each and a smattering of penalties and drop goals on both sides. Fate must have noticed the crowd’s indifference to the mediocre match, and decided to intervene with another first in Twickenham history; seeing fit to cause the referee an injury severe enough to warrant him being substituted.

England ended the game victorious, but were flattered by the 22-16 score line. The game certainly wasn’t a classic, but the fox and the referee at least, will ensure that this is one match I won’t forget in a hurry. It may however make future matches seem dull by comparison. Perhaps Twickenham stadium should install the fox as a permanent pre-match feature.

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