Dear BT Sport;
I know that you’re new to this whole sport broadcasting thing, but if you continue to be a provider of Premier League football coverage there is one thing that you absolutely must do. You have to banish Michael Owen from your team. Do not let him represent you by speaking in any way manner or form in a public broadcast again. He is terrible.
They say some people have a face for radio, well Michael Owen has a voice for mime. Aside from his barely veiled bias toward Liverpool and his hard on for Man United, he sounds like what cardboard would sound like if it could speak. He has a voice like the Richard Harrow character off Boardwalk Empire, except that character has a voice like that because half his face has been blown off, which is naturally going to effect the way he sounds. That and the fact that he murders people for a living are inclined to make him also sound a bit dull and depressive. Michael Owen does not have this excuse.
Listening to Michael Owen, it… it… it actually hurts. Not in a the way a sharp object hurts when you are stabbed with it, Michael Owen is way to dull for that effect. It’s more like chronic discomfort. It gives you a feeling of anxiety, nausea and mild depression all at once – like the side effects of bad sleeping pills.
Please get rid of him. Please. He was a decent footballer (if not a chronic ‘sick note’), I hear he’s good at golf and a really good horse breeder, but you can’t be good at everything and he truly, truly, sucks at sports punditry. Even when he’s on screen he looks like he’s a prototype of an android, he’s unbelievable awkward looking and dull.
Some things work well together, like strawberry’s and cream, Morecambe and Wise, Lionel Messi and a football. Michael Owen and broadcasting are like Chris Quentin and the American film industry – it’s never going to happen. That is all.
PS: I am not alone:
Oh selfie oh selfie
Such self loving ain’t healthy
But by God I can’t help me
How I love me endlessly.
iPhone prepped nice and steady,
Prepared pout and pose ready,
In a club somewhere trendy
With my girls who’re my Besties.
With some guys who just met me,
In a toilet nonchalantly,
Silly face or seriously,
Or just me being me.
In my room getting ready,
Half naked, in flagrante,
Showing off my hot body
And my big bubble booty.
The people will love me
Repost and promote me.
They’ll all look and see me.
They’ll all want to be me.
Everybody will watch me
Nobody can stop me
Oh selfie oh selfie
How I love me endlessly.
I found this list of 50 questions on Joanna Best’s blog. They didn’t originate from Joanne Best, but she had a link on her blog to where she’d got them from. When I clicked that link it took me to ‘A War In My Brain’. Not literally of course, that was the name of Megan’s blog which was where Joanne found the questions. But Megan hadn’t originated the questions either, although she did like cats.
The fact that Megan liked cats didn’t really help me find the origin of the questions. However, the link on her blog led to another lady’s blog who also liked cats called Felina. I don’t mean this lady only liked cats called Felina – that would be pretty limiting; no, I’ve probably just missed a comma there somewhere – Felina was the name of the blogger who also had this list of 50 questions. I think the name of the blog is a play on the word ‘feline’, which is why I think she also likes cats. That and the fact that she has a picture of her tabby cat on her blog. I’m assuming it’s a picture of her cat and that the cat didn’t write the blog, but I don’t know the actual name of the lady who did write the blog either because it’s a ‘sparkle page’ blog, which is a set up I don’t really understand so I couldn’t find her name.
Anyway, Felina – or whatever her real name is – she didn’t have a link to where the questions came from. She just wrote ‘I’ve seen this on some blogs, thought I’d give it a try just for fun’. This pissed me off as I really wanted to know where the questions originated from. Anyway, England and Denmark were playing a friendly and it was about as action packed as a vegan child’s lunchbox, so I decided to answer the questions myself. First I opened a another can of Stella Artois as I’d drank the last of the one of the previous three I’d already had. Here are my answers:
1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
Yes, my older brother and two sisters. I was the second youngest of five, so my younger brother was named after me.
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?
The second time I knew I needed a number two after I had my haemorroidectomy – after the first time I was aware of the agonising pain I was about to experience. After that I decided to make sure I was really drunk and high for the rest of the week.
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?
I’m not too sure, I use a keyboard most of the time, or a touchpad. When I write by hand it’s usually scribbled notes so it’s pretty messy.
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LUNCH MEAT?
Jerk chicken served with rice and peas. I don’t want to be a grammar Nazi, but I think this should read ‘luncheon’. But it doesn’t matter because I don’t really do sandwiches, unless it’s a triple-decker bacon and egg sandwich, which I’ll usually have for breakfast, so I guess that doesn’t count.
5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS?
No, I’m a male so I don’t have the biological mechanics to have kids.
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?
I hope not, because that would mean the other person that I would be would be a schizophrenic and I don’t think being schizophrenic would be fun, even if I was another person.
7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT?
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS?
No, but I kept my daughter’s because I was really annoyed that I didn’t manage to save all of her baby teeth. At least with tonsils there is just one set so it’s not too hard to keep up. And even if it wanted to, the tooth fairy could never get in that jar because I’ve closed it really tight – ha!
9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
I would if it wasn’t so damn expensive.
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CEREAL?
Kellogg’s Cornflakes, but for some strange reason I never have cornflakes for breakfast. I tend to eat them after dinner, although I don’t really do desserts.
11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF?
They’re already untied when I put them on. I really don’t see any reason to tie them up when I take them off as they can’t go anywhere unless I’m wearing them.
12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG?
In relation to someone who is weak, I am most definitely a He Man.
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ICE CREAM?
That’s easy – Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Munky.
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE?
Whether they try too hard to be likeable.
15. RED OR PINK?
16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
My fickle temperament.
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
The first goalscorer in a winning bet. If got that prediction on target every week I would be a rich man.
18. ANY TATTOOS?
Not any, they’re there for life so I’m very particular about the tattoos I choose.
19. DO YOU HAVE ANY HOBBIES?
Yes – writing, Djing, watching movies, watching people, playing football, watching football, getting drunk and partying hard to house music and early 90′s drum and bass.
20. WHAT COLOUR SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?
I’m not wearing shoes.
21. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE?
A chocolate Boost bar, a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut and a packet of Walker’s salt and vinegar crisps.
22. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?
The pundits talking about the really boring International friendly between England and Denmark that’s just finished, although I’ve not really noticed that it was still on until now, so technically I’m just hearing it like background noise rather than listening to it. However, for some reason I am listening to the clock ticking on my wall and the rhythm of my fingers hitting the keyboard on my MacBook. A siren went past just then. I’m also aware that I’ve just listened to myself say to myself in my head; ‘you’re a strange man’ upon realising that the main thing I am actually listening to is the sound of me typing and the clock .
23. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOUR WOULD YOU BE?
A really dark purple.
24. FAVORITE SMELLS?
Freshly talced babies, fields of flowers, the names of which I couldn’t tell you if I was smelling them, the aroma of the air when walking through a pine forest, burning matches, ‘Antaeus’ by Chanel and ‘The One’ by Dolce & Gabanna.
25. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
26. MOUNTAIN HIDEAWAY OR BEACH HOUSE?
27. FAVOURITE SPORTS TO WATCH?
Football, Wimbledon (quarter finals onwards) and post 60′s to pre-milennium boxing.
28. HAIR COLOUR?
29. EYE COLOUR?
A brown so dark they’re almost black.
30. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS?
No, I keep them in my phone like everyone else.
31. FAVOURITE FOOD?
My mam’s apple pie is unstoppable. The lamb roast she makes at Christmas and Easter is incredible. My own Caribbean salsa chicken recipe is awesome when it’s right. The jerk chicken and the curry goat and rice they serve at Notting Hill Carnival. Escovitch fish with rice and gungo peas, and the Thai hot and sour soup they serve at Ark Bar on Samui Beach (I love food lots) :-P
32. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
33. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED?
The last movie I saw was The Good Shepherd, but it was so tediously long and dull that I stopped really watching by the time Angelina Jolie got fed up with being ignored by Matt Damon’s cold, detached CIA husband. The last movie I watched was Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy, but only because I was holding out in the hope that it was going to come good before the end. It didn’t.
34. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING?
35. SUMMER OR WINTER?
Who likes the winter!? I’m a man filled with Caribbean blood living in Manchester for Christ’s sake, summer is like therapy.
36. HUGS OR KISSES?
37. FAVORITE DESSERT?
My mam’s apple pie.
38. STRENGTH TRAINING OR CARDIO?
39. COMPUTER OR TELEVISION?
Computer feeding movies and mini-series’ through my television. Television is like a social lobotomy.
40. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
I’m writing one and reading several for research. The most interesting and disturbing is ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ by John Perkins.
41. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
My computer, an ashtray, a can of Stella and various receptacles for storing stationary – these questions must have come from the 90′s because nobody uses a mouse pad anymore… do they?
42. FAVOURITE SOUND?
43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES?
44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME?
Somewhere out of my mind on LSD.
45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT?
I was told by my school teacher that I have ‘great perspicacity’. Aside from that I can pretty much sleep anywhere under any circumstances if I’m tired enough.
46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
SM7, St. Mary’s Hospital, Manchester.
47. WHERE ARE YOU LIVING NOW?
Manchester… I need to move on, really, holidays just aren’t enough.
48. WHAT COLOUR IS YOUR HOUSE?
49. WHAT COLOUR IS YOUR CAR?
It will be silver when I eventually clean it again.
50. DO YOU LIKE ANSWERING 50 QUESTIONS?
It’s better than watching 90 minutes of England in an international friendly with Denmark… but yeah, that was fun. Now can somebody tell me where these questions came from please?
The airport procedures involved in travelling by airplane are lengthy and laborious at best. Lots of checking, searching, walking, waiting and standing; yet it never ceases to amaze me how travellers can’t help but fall into the fruitless enchantment of the boarding gate wait. Despite the amount of dragging around of bags and beating of feet on hard marble and concrete floors they do, even seasoned travellers find themselves lured into this futile ritual. Airlines have tried to offer support by prioritising and calling out seat numbers in groups to save people the discomfort of pointlessly standing around for lengthy periods of time, but it’s like a mental illness that effects almost all travellers regardless of age, gender, race or creed.
So you know you’re allocated a specific seat on the plane, right? You also know that no matter what happens you’re not going to be asked to rest your hand luggage on your lap throughout the journey, right? You know that as long as you are at the gate prior to the departure time of your flight that the plane isn’t going to leave without you, right? You can see the seating scattered all around the gate for the purposes of your comfort. So why do you insist on standing up, edging forward one bag shunt at a time, pushing and jostling like a desperate refugee waiting for a food parcel, in a queue that stretches ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty metres back into the airport and has barely moved for the last half hour? It’s absolute madness!
I think this is one of the rare occasions when more mature adults act more childish than the young. Younger travellers tend to be more carefree in this situation. They often seem to just symbiotically merge with whatever formation of authoritative structure is placed in front of them as they laugh and chatter their way through the airport rituals. They’re often drunk or hungover and aren’t really paying attention to anything. As long as they have their bag, their passport and their ticket they’re happy. But the 40 pluses, the families and the retirees who holiday two, three and four times a year, seem to be hypnotically inured to assume formations of rigorous, efficient futility. Furthermore, they will defend that futility with a youthful vigour usually reserved for those evenings when the kids are out or Viagra night.
Maybe it’s years of state indoctrination of subservient adherence to bureaucracy. Maybe it’s a predilection to a domestication instinct to follow the crowd and join a queue. Maybe it’s all just part and parcel of the ritual excitement of travelling to a foreign land in a huge flying metal beast (although I find that hard to accept because people do it on internal and return flights too). Maybe I’m just trying to be nice and it’s simply the idiotic herd mentality of Sheeple.
Whatever it is it’s stupid, so stop doing it. You’re only going to be stood up longer than is necessary. You’re going to be wrestling with other passengers again when you get on the plane because everyone in there is probably a petty, priority Nazi like you. Even if you do get seated quickly, you won’t be able to relax because you’ll be spending the next half hour or more having your knees and elbows assaulted by the rest of the passengers and stewards as they stow away hand luggage and seat themselves.
If you had have showed some restraint and independent thought you would still be sat in the relative calm and comfort of an airport waiting lounge. You would have then entered the cabin of the plane facing a group of predominantly seated and settled passengers, and stewards who are far less agitated. You would also have done a favour to those who were seated before you by relieving them of the chaos caused by the rushing of irrationally impatient passengers onto a stationary aircraft. In short, you wouldn’t be contributing to the already excessive amount of hostile stupidity that plagues the world. You would have made one small, unhurried, step toward being one of the lesser fools of man, and hopefully made one sensible, independent step toward the betterment of mankind.
You see it’s bigger than just the terminal madness of the gate queue. The irrational gate queuers are usually the same idiots who unclip their seat belt as quickly as a sprinter leaves a starting block the moment the ‘fasten your seatbelt’ sign is switched off. They then jump up to be the first to get their hand luggage out of the overhead compartment, elbows lunging as they drag their belongings out as if there’s a fire. Then they stand in the gangway for twenty minutes clutching their bag, being nothing other than an idiotic obstruction as they wait for the cabin doors to be opened. These same people then rush to get to the baggage carousel in a scrambling hoard in a desperately futile belief that standing by the conveyor belt and staring at the hole in the wall will make their luggage come through quicker than the arbitrary baggage handling process permits. It’s idiotic. I know it’s idiotic because I have been one of those people. Now I know better. And if you have read this then so do you. A holiday is a time for relaxation. Extend that relaxation as far as you can and just wait for the inevitability of the process to run its course, it’s so much easier.
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”
Eric Cantona’s response to the press after winning his appeal against a charge of assault for attacking an abusive Crystal Palace fan in 1995 is arguably one of the most famous football quotes in Premier League history. Ok, it’s not directly about football and it wasn’t exactly spontaneous, but for sheer originality alone, it has to be up there with the very best. However, I would suspect leading the argument against with a fanfare blown from his very own trumpet would be a certain Portuguese football manager.
José Mourinho is now probably known as much for what he says off the pitch as for what his teams do on it. The self proclaimed “special one” would surely have the statement that announced his entrance onto the Premier League stage at the top of any list of Greatest Premier League quotes if there was one. He would likely argue that he has won the league in four different countries and that his quotes are about football rather than being some cryptic analogy about seagulls, (the press) sardines (news stories) and trawlers (footballers) spouted by a player who didn’t even win a Champions League – of which he has three. He would argue his point because it is true and right, but mainly just because he loves the attention that a good verbal bust up gets. But then again, maybe he wouldn’t argue at all. Maybe he would make a point of not arguing his point, knowing that his refusal to engage in the argument would in itself gain attention. Or maybe he would just sniff the air, claim he can smell a headline and leave the building in a laundry basket. He is the Special One. He does what he wants.
“I am a special one”
There used to be something about José that was quite interesting, quite intriguing. He is undoubtedly a very talented football manager, which his success has clearly proven. However, unlike the genuinely enigmatic, Gallic forward known by United fans as ‘King Eric’, José has become a bit boring. If Eric Cantona was John Lennon then José Mourinho would definitely be Paul McCartney – talented, yes, accomplished, yes, but perhaps he’s been around doing the same thing for too long to remain interesting or even relevant anymore.
Eric Cantona will always be better known for doing his metaphorical talking on the pitch than he will be for his surreal, verbal stab at the media and the kung fu kicking he gave an abusive fan. Despite reconstructing himself into a serious actor after his premature retirement from football aged 30, Cantona still retains his enigma and mythical status amongst the red half of Manchester. In contrast, the self-proclaimed ‘special one’ has become a little… predictable – dull even. And to be honest, the football his teams produce isn’t that much more interesting.
Perhaps it’s just me, but it appears that despite his impressive CV, José’s footballing achievements seem to have been overshadowed by his headline grabbing, media performances. The paradox being that, as he has increasingly come to believe his own hype, his concerted efforts to make every press utterance a quote-worthy headline seems to have bored everyone into indifference. When I watch Mourinho in a press conference I see a man painstakingly shepherding his thoughts and filtering his words to make them into something… something… more. More than what they are, which is just a bit of sport punditry. I mean let’s face it, he’s not presiding over civil war every week is he?
There have been times when José has deferred praise and come over all humble, but it’s just not convincing. However, if there is one person who José holds any reverence for, it is Sir Alex Ferguson. When Real Madrid beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League in 2013, José’s apologetic submission that “the best team lost” carried the melancholic weight of a Greek tragedy – it was almost pathetic. Like watching Princess Diana’s butler cry after admitting selling her secrets to the tabloids for money. Despite his managerial talents, José is no actor. When he is trying to feign humility, the fact that he’s trying – and trying really hard – shows like a heavy layer of sweat, weighing his words down with a soggy contrivance.
There’s no doubt that José is a winner, but there are two kinds of winners in sport. There are those who think only of the result and their ego, and those who revel in the competition and the performance. The former would argue that the result is all that matters when making history, but I think for those in the latter category the result diminishes in importance if not matched by the performance. As a spectator I would agree with the latter. When I think of the great teams and the great athletes, I remember their performances.
In tennis Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras were great, but win or lose, I always enjoyed watching John McEnroe and Boris Becker more. Whilst Alain Prost may have won more Formula 1 titles, Ayrton Senna’s name will be long remembered in the hearts of the fans after Prost’s has been forgotten. And when we think of boxing, the names that spring to the forefront are Ali, Tyson and the two Sugar Ray’s – Robinson and Leonard. Can we say in 50 years time that Lewis, Klitschko or Calzaghi will stir as much reminiscent excitement? And whilst we all remember the great Brazil teams and their flamboyant displays on the pitch, we don’t always remember the solid performances of the Germans or the Italians, despite those nations having arguably parallel successes over the course of history. There is no doubt that José will be remembered in football’s history, but I wonder if any of his teams will be.
José’s brand of football seems to reflect his style of media delivery – dull, methodical, defensive, solidity, punctuated by occasional incisive, attacking moves and usually finished off by a big, hard, unflinching, direct striker. Relentless and monotonous are two words that spring to mind for both aspects of José’s career – coaching winning teams and soliciting media interest with a relentless conviction and monotonous regularity. But for José the off-field media play is as an important part of his game plan as his team formations and tactics. For José, it’s not how you play the game, it’s whatever you can get away with to win it.
Much of José’s game plan is about getting under the skin of his opposing managerial competition, but during his time at Real Madrid his inability to destabilise Pep Guardiola and upstage Barcelona got to him. Pep was younger than José, more dignified, composed, more respected and better liked than him. In his debut managerial job Guardiola had produced a Barcelona team that the footballing world were drooling over – the best football team to ever grace the field of play they were saying. No matter what José would ever do, he knew that nobody would say that about any of his teams. That type of accolade transcends winning trophies – which Guardiola also did – a domestic and European treble in 2009 no less. So how did José cope with his new competition?
Despite having the most expensive player in the world in his team (although not the best – parallels between Mourinho / Guardiola and Ronaldo / Messi can be easily drawn here too), José just couldn’t outplay Barcelona. So he resorted to kicking and violence. But the kicking and the violence didn’t work either and Mourinho suffered the most humiliating defeat of his career at the Bernabeu in 2010; Barcelona battered his team 6-2. This was followed by a run of 4 consecutive defeats against his Catalan rivals (including a 5-0 drubbing at the Nou Camp) only punctuated by a 1-1 draw in Madrid. But perhaps the most humiliating episode in José’s career to date is the petulant eye-poking assault on Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova that followed a flare up during the Super Cup in 2011. That act really unveiled the façade of composure that belies the inner tantrum of a sore loser. Perhaps more telling than ironic, Madrid actually won that game.
José left Madrid in 2013 after he finally managed to win a La Liga title, but many were glad to see the back of him. They felt that the dirty tactics he adopted to overcome his Catalan rivals tarnished Real Madrid’s image. By then Guardiola had already left Barcelona and rejected an offer to become Chelsea manager to take a sabbatical from the game. Meanwhile, Alex Ferguson, the one manager for whom José had nothing but reverential admiration for, was on his way out of Old Trafford. What next for José? A return to the place where he was loved – Chelsea (but only because Pep Guardiola turned down the job).
José’s return to the Premiership was relatively low key. He seemed to be more mature, less severe and a little softer around the edges. He played down his chances of winning the league and spoke of Chelsea as the “little horse”, and his “beautiful young eggs that need a mum”. This was a team he was building for an assault on the league title next year. The mediocre and typically uninspiring performances of his team reflected that. But it wasn’t long before the nasty barbs came out again and the targets were the obvious ones – anybody threatening his title challenge. So there were patronising backhanded complements given to Brendan Rodgers, the “young manager” who was once José’s understudy. There was mud slung at sexagenarian’s Arsene Wenger – who he labeled a “specialist in failure” – and Manuel Pelligrini with whom he already had previous, having mocked his appointment at Malaga after he replaced him at Madrid.
Now we’re at the money end of the season and Chelsea are title contenders, the abstract distractions – references to money, fixtures, players even the scent of goals – all these things are part of José’s arsenal of obfuscation that he utilises to attain victory. Unbowed by grace or humility, José will try anything to win. He is no respecter of age, rules, rights or wrongs. His aim is to make history and make a few headlines along the way.
For some, a simple statistic in the history books is all that matters. For others, a chapter that is retold over and over, telling a story of strength, desire, skill and passion means much more. In an era where every second of every football moment is recorded in posterity, I think those looking back from the future on the great teams of yesteryear will be enjoying the games involving Manchester United, Barcelona and even Arsenal more than José’s Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Madrid. It is very possible that in 50 years time people will remember José more than his teams. We will remember his post and pre-match interviews, his touchline performances and his increasingly self-indulgent ramblings, but how many of his incredibly successful teams’ performances will last in the memory?
Despite all of this, there’s still something about José that I like. For all his flaws he offers more entertainment value than Moyes, Allardyce, Martinez, Hughes, Hughton, Pulis, Rodgers, Pelligrini and even Wenger. In the absence of characters like Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp and even Roberto Mancini, post-match press conferences have become a wasteland of blandness this season. For all the criticism that can justifiably be landed at his doorstep, José does give an otherwise anodyne arena of sport the promise of something a little bit different, even if it is more of the same.
A dark tale of love, desire and dentistry.
He opened his eyes. His eyes saw nothing and his mind felt nothing. For a moment he had no idea of a before or an after. He had no interest. All was now and now was all inky-black nothing. He was blank.
Then clarity began to permeate the blackness. Sparks of memory, like tiny, phosphorescent, deep sea micro-organisms, flickering on and off like a coded signal trying to tell him something. Just small flickers of light, a slight pulse, then gone… then a sting, and that fire in his blood… Darkness swallowed him up again and he went under.
Zoe had dumped Luke almost a year ago. He hadn’t seen it coming – although she had been thinking about it for weeks; apparently. It was a few weeks before Christmas, which was harsh. But at least it gave Luke the ideal opportunity to drown his sorrows and – ‘sow the seeds of recovery’ – as Ed had put it. ‘Tis the season to be jolly so stop moping you miserable twat’, he’d told him. ‘Everyone splits up at Christmas. They split up at Christmas so that they can go to Christmas parties and shag someone else without guilt and get back together in the New Year – you’ll be right. Don’t worry about it.’ Luke didn’t go to any parties and he didn’t shag anyone and Zoe didn’t come back for New Year.
Love is what love is – blind and irrational. Luke had felt the loss and the desperation, he’d been through the blaming and beating himself up bit – he’d even gone beyond the hating-her-fucking-guts stage. It was just past memories now. The odd twinge of regret every now and then and the occasional ache of sadness when something reminded him of what could have been had things gone a little bit differently. But things hadn’t gone differently and she hadn’t – couldn’t – or just wouldn’t give it a bit more time, a bit more effort. She obviously didn’t love him enough – the first thought that struck him when it happened, but one of the last thoughts he’d chosen to accept. Now he had. If she had loved him she wouldn’t have left him so suddenly and so completely. If she had loved him she wouldn’t have cut him off and left him floundering in the poison of his own lovesick head-fuck. If she had loved him they’d still be together. But she didn’t, so they weren’t. He wasn’t bitter anymore but he still felt a little empty. A little numb.
He awakens with a scream that shrieks back at him as it echoes around the dark, cavernous tomb within which he finds himself. He is lay on a cold slab. An altar? A death bed? He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t know what these… these… devils are. These creatures surrounding him. All around him they’re eating. Black eyes on pale, translucent skin look at him with hunger. They’re eating him! Sucking away his very lifeblood. In that darkness from which he had just awoken he thought he was dreaming; a nightmare. In that nightmare he was surrounded by demons, but it was real. It is real and she is one of them. A demon… a devil… a beautiful, dark angel. Her face comes close to his and through those deep, crimson-black eyes she looks into him and through him and he is lost to her wanting…
Luke’s work as a freelance photographer offered him many opportunities to get away, but he seldom stayed anywhere longer than the job required. When he did get the opportunity to holiday he would usually go and visit his best friend Stuart in Barcelona. Luke and Stuart had been friends since university where they shared digs. They’d had some great times at Uni and those great times continued when they came up in the fashion industry together. Then Stuart met his wife Lora and settled down.
Stuart and his wife owned a fashion boutique in the up-market, bohemian district of Graçia in the city’s centre. They had lived in Spain for the past five years, the last two of which they had been married. Stuart had met Luke’s ex-girlfriend and knew them when they were a couple. He’d insisted on Luke staying with him over that New Year when Zoe had left him. He knew how hurt Luke had been and was glad to see him getting back to near his former buoyant, confident self.
Although Luke had never had a problem finding a girlfriend, something had changed in him since he’d allowed himself to fall for Zoe. With her he had felt something that he hadn’t felt with the dozens of other girl’s he’d been with. They say it’s better to have loved and lost than not at all, but he wondered whether that was true. He’d been happy as an aimless bachelor, hitting and running. Dropping in and enjoying the honeymoon before baling out. But he was now well into his thirties and starting again was becoming a lot harder. Now he’d experienced something with more substance he couldn’t go back to those empty relationships. That was why his mind would still drift towards thoughts of Zoe. After Zoe everything else seemed dull, pale and passionless. But he had gotten over the worst and regained most of his enthusiasm for love and life and August in Barcelona was doing what it was intended to – reinvigorating his passion.
On Luke’s visits to see Stuart their last night together was always a late one, and this was no exception. The two of them had partied hard the night before, got up late and lounged around the private enclosed terrace all day, recovering. They drank and ate and smoked and Lora played a perfect wife to the perfect host, and on a perfect day, Luke remembered that it can be good after all.
They sat out on the terrace all evening and into the warm Catalan night talking about old times and wringing out the last minutes of their time together as they finished thirteen bottles of beer, two and half bottles of rosé wine, a gram of poor grade cocaine, a knuckle sized chunk of Moroccan hash and a bowl of mixed nuts – one of which had cracked one of Luke’s teeth. In that time they put their respective world’s wrongs to rights and the following day Luke left Barcelona feeling complete again.
He didn’t know whether it was a dream. Like angels they shone – more a glow – an ethereal glow, like fresh snow in the moonlight. But their touch; cold – but sensual; irresistibly sensual. These were dark angels. Dark angels who played music through his blood. A music that he had never heard before. A music that coursed through his body. A music he felt without hearing, attuned to his soul. The softness of their lips on his body and the injection of joy and pain they gave was like nothing he could describe. It felt so right, like it had always been right and it had always been. Like something he had been searching for forever but never knew he had. Now he knew nothing else as he melted into their touch. Rapt with wanting he felt nothing but a sleeping acquiescence where he was part of the pulsing in their veins. Part of their hunger, a deep hunger… A deep sleep…
Luke’s teeth weren’t in the best of condition. The tooth he’d cracked in Barcelona wasn’t even a complete tooth. It was little more than an enamel husk that had been filled with dental lead. His dentist told him that what was left of the tooth would have to be removed. This would leave a big gap next to a cluster of teeth that had been crowned when he was a teenager after he had been hit in the mouth by an erratically bowled cricket ball. The gums had long been receding on those crowned teeth, leaving a hairline rim of unsightly, decay stained metal showing every time he smiled; but this had never bothered him. He’d worked long enough in the superficial world of fashion to be beyond petty vanities. However, this new gap did draw attention to those old discoloured crowns. Narcissistic preening was one thing, but having a smile like a vagrant really wasn’t a good look for anyone, so he asked his dentist how much it would cost to have them all put right.
Luke left the dentist feeling depressed. To have all the work done on his teeth would cost around £5000. He couldn’t exactly just not get it done either. After losing the molar he was left with a big gap surrounded by four other loose, badly crowned teeth and he was struggling to chew, or even bite on anything on the left side of his mouth. The dentist had suggested a cheaper option, but at thirty-four Luke wasn’t ready for dentures. ‘But five grand!’ he thought. It was a lot of money and he couldn’t really afford it. But could he afford to have no teeth either?
When Luke told Ed about his dental issues, Ed told him to check out Eastern Europe. Ed was a fashion stylist and knew lots of models who’d had teeth done abroad. ‘It’s supposed to be at least half the price mate, I’m telling you. And you can’t leave them looking like that anyway ‘cos you look like Fagin.’
You always got nothing but the truth from Ed, that’s why Luke liked him. In the fickle and sycophantic world of fashion it’s good to have a friend who doesn’t mind giving you his honest point of view – even if he might occasionally stab you with it. Ed said he’d ask around to see if he could get a contact for a good dentist, but Luke knowing Ed knew better than to wait on him. Instead he went onto the internet and found an agency based in London that arranged dental trips to Budapest.
At Magyar Dental Luke spoke with a cordial, well-spoken woman who gave him all the details. She even recommended a private apartment near the city centre that was owned by the dentist where he could stay. It looked beautiful in the pictures, overlooking the Buda hills and the River Danube on the Western side of the city. Patients who used the apartment were shuttled to and from the airport, apartment and surgery as required. All of this, including flights – which Magyar Dental also arranged – came in at a little more than half of the surgery alone at home. What’s more, having previously spent two days in Budapest on a shoot a few years earlier, Luke had always wanted to return to take a closer look at the city described as ‘The Paris of Eastern Europe’. Budapest had a rich history and some beautiful buildings – a much more appealing prospect than hanging around a dingy dentist waiting room reading back copies of women’s magazines before being drilled and filled.
Luke had completed a pre-op questionnaire over the phone with Anna, the British agent. She had been very thorough in her questioning – name, address, age, blood type, past medical history, relationship status, next of kin – she even asked about his travel arrangements, whether he would be travelling alone or not. She suggested that if the work was for cosmetic reasons to keep it to himself until it was completed; ‘Oh yes’ she said, ‘it is always a nice surprise for patients to see the reaction of friends and relatives when they see your new smile without knowing about it beforehand’. Luke was very impressed with the attention to personal consideration, such a refreshing change to the grim conveyor belt of medical service in England. There was also a small, petty part of him that liked the idea of bumping into his ex with a gleaming new set of teeth. It would be even better if he had a beautiful Eastern European girlfriend on his arm too. Luke booked his appointment and his flight and was surprisingly, quite looking forward to his dental trip.
Awake! In darkness. In the darkness he could see; feel. Damp stagnation smothered his skin. He threw his hands forward to leap from the cold slab he lay on but he didn’t move. Then he roared; a cry for help, a cry of frustration, he shouted with all his strength – but no sound came from his lips – lips that moved only in his minds eye. He was dreaming? No; he was dead? But how could he be? How could he be dead yet feel so alive; so hungry? He looked around – feeling the environment with his senses. Feeling in the dark. Seeing in the dark. He saw the cavernous blackness of a gothic… basement? Cave? Mausoleum? Total darkness – yet he could see! Only he wasn’t sure whether what he was seeing was really there…
Luke’s flight arrived at 18.05. He collected his bags and was met at the arrivals lounge by a young, dark-haired woman. She seemed to immediately recognise who he was as she introduced herself; ‘Mr. Forshaw? Hello, I’m Klára; pleased to meet you.’ And how pleased was he to meet her. She was beautiful, so much so he found himself staring.
‘Hi’, was his muted reply. He was so taken aback by his beautiful escort he found himself uncharacteristically dumbstruck.
‘You have all of your bags?’ she asked.
‘Er… yes. Yes, this is it.’
‘Okay, then we go?’
‘Yes; we go.’
Klára smiled an innocent smile, but there was something inviting in her look. Maybe that was just wishful thinking. Or maybe it was just the way she looked – those, ice-blue eyes, set against clear, immaculate, olive, skin; a mouth that seemed to permanently smile at the edges. Lengths of coal, black hair fell from underneath a simple, black, woollen hat. She wore an uninspiring, black, winter jacket; thick black leggings hugged shapely legs all the way down into a simple pair of black leather boots. ‘God, she’s gorgeous’ he thought.
It was almost December and even though it was early evening, it was practically dark. It was also very cold. It was cold and foggy, but this beautiful young Hungarian woman warmed Luke’s passion. As they drove toward the city centre, along the Danube, across Széchenyi Bridge toward the apartment in Castle Hill, Luke and Klára made small talk. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five yet he felt like a shy schoolboy in her presence. And although experience and instinct made him want to charm and seduce her, he somehow felt… he felt overawed!
They arrived at the apartment. Based on the top floor of a classically restored, pre-communist building - courtyard, high ceilings, parquet flooring, TV, DVD, power shower and spa bath – it was a beautiful place. ‘You have a complementary bottle of Vodka in the freezer’, Klára points out to him as she gives him a brisk overview of the amenities before handing him a set of keys and confirming the time she will come to pick him up in the morning for his pre-treatment consultation; 7am seemed very early. Although well pleased with his apartment, Luke’s concentration is completely lost on Klára. His attraction to her is almost of a feral nature. Yet despite this, his instinctive urge to ask her out remains somehow repressed although his heart seems to be racing. As she leaves the room, her welcoming smile seems almost teasing. As the door closes behind her Luke finds himself momentary glued to the spot staring at the empty space she has just left. He blinks, gives his head a tight, sharp, shake and puzzles at the cold layer of sweat he feels on his brow before reaching for the vodka. He quickly pours and downs the first shot and then pours another. It’s 19.56 according to the clock on the DVD player.
The clock on the DVD player says 21.21 as Luke snaps out of an almost hypnotic daydream he has found himself in for the last hour and a half. His second glass of Vodka is untouched. He ponders for a moment on his present, hazy, mindset, but his thoughts keep on veering toward the image of Klára. He knocks back his Vodka and decides to go straight to bed. That night he dreams of Klára. Strange, erotic dreams.
The following morning he is awoken from a very deep sleep by the buzz of the intercom. It’s still dark outside and his watch reads just after six, but it’s still an hour behind and he was due to be picked up at seven. The buzzer rings out again, ‘Shit!’ he says as he jumps out of bed… A wet bed! ‘No way!’ Luke becomes aware of the sticky wetness in his boxer shorts and sees the damp smudges on the bed sheets and he blushes. He cannot remember the last time he’d had a wet dream. There is a knock on the apartment door. It’s Klára. ‘Just one minute’ he calls to her; ‘Sorry… I didn’t change the time on my watch’ he continues as he scrambles around for his clothes.
‘That’s okay, we have time’, she replies from behind the door. She has a coy smile on her face and affords herself a little snigger as she waits for Luke.
He is in an underground cavern that stretches as far as his eyes can take him. There are row upon row of tomb like openings, some with their burial slab pulled out to expose lifeless bodies like his own. He can see the pale glow of human shapes, like ghosts, moving freely through the dank, black air. Floating up and down the giant burial chamber as they feed off the entombed, listless bodies. Then she comes back. She is beautiful, alluring and mysterious. She is like Lady Death come to take him on that eternal journey into the unknown – and he wants her. He wants her and she wants him. She says nothing and he says nothing. He raises himself up off the slab and she takes him in her arms and looks straight into his soul. Without speaking he says yes as she envelops him in her embrace and they kiss. A kiss of joy and death…
After the silent journey that dark morning (Luke felt a little embarrassed about his wet dream, as if Klára knew), when he arrived at Maygar Dental Clinic Luke began to have second thoughts. The architecture in Budapest is quite awesome, but some of the structures remaining from the Austro-Hungarian Empire were left to fall into disrepair during the days of communism. When he saw the large, discoloured wooden doors leading into the building and the dusty marble stairs leading toward the dental surgery, he had visions of a horror film style torture-porn scenario! But once inside the dental office, the antiseptic smell and state of the art equipment partly reassured him. The pages of endorsements in the comments book also helped. But ultimately it was the assuasive words of Klára – who was also the dental nurse at the surgery – that talked him into going through with it. The dentist Dr Kiraly talked him through the procedure; the treatment would involve having two teeth removed, an implant screw inserted through his gum and into his jaw, and another two teeth filed down and fitted with temporary crowns. This was only the first stage but it would be quite lengthy and painful, so Dr. Kiraly advised that he be put to sleep.
As Luke lay there watching the injection of general anaesthetic leave the tube and enter his vein, he thought how much the liquid looked like blood. He tried to remember the last time he had had a general anaesthetic. That had been many years ago when it was administered via a gas. Then Klára held his hand and smiled at him and he felt comfortable again. Her hand was icy cold; ‘Cold hand’s, warm heart’ he thought to himself as he drifted away into unconsciousness.
He had no idea how long he had been under and he wasn’t sure whether he was dreaming or not. What he was sure of was that in this dream he was being led through a dark, underground corridor. The arched walls are ancient, damp, black rock – like the inside of a cave. He’s trying to speak, to move; but he is paralysed. Then he looks up and he see’s her. A sudden sensation of fear shoots through his paralysed body as he looks into the dark, crimson-black eyes of Klára. He tries again to move but he can’t. She smiles at him, revealing, sharp, pointed teeth. Fear fills his veins as he screams within himself in silence…
They had been here for millennia – since the dawn of mankind; but they weren’t men. They were of men – humanoid – but something more than man. They had gone by many names – Vampires, Vorvolakas, Strigoi – even Chupacabra, the ‘goat sucker’. But these magnificent creatures were more than evil bloodsuckers. They had seen the birth and death of prophets and saints. They had seen empires rise and fall and lived through it all. They had been revered, worshipped and feared before being almost hunted to extinction. All that remained of them in the modern world were myths and legends, rumours and secrets. Now they lived underground, in the shadows of society. There influence invisible to the masses, but deeply ingrained in the governments and offices of the most powerful institutions on the planet; safeguarded from exposure and total extinction. They claimed those that had no family, no home, no future or passion in their lives; and they offered them a choice – an endless death as food to these God’s, or join them in immortality, a slave to their hunger and a slave to the hive.
Luke had been chosen by Klára because she wanted him. He wanted her too – more than anything that he had ever wanted, but he couldn’t think clearly. He was on the cusp of complete transformation and his blood, the very core of his being, was full of the memories of a bloodline stretching back before recorded time. He was being bombarded with images and thoughts, equal in their beauty and horror. He felt an immense power within him, whilst at the same time he felt a terrifying vulnerability. But the most significant thing about all these feelings, was that they were pure, powerful feelings, infused with a substance the like of which he had seldom experienced in his old life; – pure, raw passion. For the first time in a very long time he felt a strong, unyielding passion and desire. Klára allowed him to take her. With her nails she cut an opening in her jugular. As he drank, she sank her teeth into him and they fed off each other. Luke was born again. Born into darkness. The darkness of an ancient, pure desire.
There’s something rotten in the state of… well not Denmark as Hamlet rightly suspected but in the state in general. Amongst some the mood is growing that this Capitalism thing has run its course and it’s time to think of a better way. An interesting read courtesy of Tara Hunt – and she works in marketing!
Originally posted on Tara Hunt:
I’m afraid. Truly. I’m afraid of where we’re headed.
We live in a world where the basic storyline goes something like this: we are born, we get educated, we go to work, we earn money, we buy a house and get hitched and have babies who are educated…and the cycle goes on. Of course this story varies in order, magnitude and timeline, but you get the drift. We get trained and then we work so we can afford to do it all over again generation after generation.
It’s always seemed to me an odd way to exist, but it works well enough and there have been loads of benefits to this structure, including advances in our technology and comfort in general. The market that we work for and buy from gets more efficient and produces better and better outcomes for us. The…
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