Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group D

The other day I’m on a train pondering the feedback I’ve received from my mother about Group C – dull write up of a dull group, must try harder; you don’t want to alienate your fan. And do it fast; strike while the iron’s underwhelmed.

I could be wallowing, sitting in my bedroom in the dark listening to that Ne-Yo song that goes ‘I’m so sick of love songs…’ and wiping away the glistening tears from my cheeks in case mother pops in because I don’t want her to see me crying. And I could be thinking to myself “that is so true, I AM so sick of love songs.”

But instead, like I said, I’m on a train, looking at a guy’s phone over his shoulder because my mother didn’t raise me properly. Besides which he’s on the Tinder app, which I’ve not seen before (being a brittle little narcissist incapable of accepting any form of criticism with good grace, I’m not on it).

He’s got a lip curled into a permanent sneer, thumbing through women like one of the more psychotically efficient Roman emperors. He’s also what you might call a double bagger, in computer club glasses and jeans only a mother would buy. He’s certainly no Andrea Pirlo. But nevertheless his body language screams irritation as he rejects any woman less than a 10 out of 10 as beneath his contempt. 

This is England in the run-up to the World Cup in 2006.

Costa Rica

Tropical Costa Rica constitutionally abolished its standing army in 1949. It is one of the greenest countries in the world, planning to be carbon neutral by 2021, and recently outlawed recreational hunting by popular demand, thus proving it at least occasionally listens to its people. All in all it sounds like a nice place to live.

They’ve qualified for the World Cup on 4 occasions including Brazil 2014, coming 31st out of 32 teams in 2006. You’ll be on the rum, because guaro was too hard to find at the last minute and you’d quite forgotten their involvement.

And that’s a shame because, given the other three teams in the group are all past World Cup winners, the smart money is on Costa Rica as de facto kingmakers depending on who spanks them the hardest. You have a cynical feeling that you can dupe the hard-of-thinking into betting that Costa Rica will finish second behind Uruguay because of the altitude and climate not being ideally suited to England or Italy.

We’re not judging – all these exotic drinks are expensive and besides which you found the cutest little chelsea boots in a Carnaby Street boutique.

Joel Campbell, the Arsenal striker who’s spent the past season on loan at Olympiakos will probably be leading the line, with Fulham outcast/PSV Eindhoven loanee Bryan Ruiz behind him. On another continent watching the games on the TV as he hasn’t recovered sufficiently from an injury to make the squad.

Oh no, Bryan Ruiz will be there, it’s Bryan Oviedo of Everton who won’t.

In other words, I’ve got nothing. Sorry.

England

As I write this it’s the immediate aftermath of the FA Cup final. If you say it wrong it sounds like ‘fuckup’, which a) is funny in a childish way and b) is apposite because Arsenal nearly did. Actually it’s a couple of days later, but anyway the English media has been relatively quiet about the World Cup, maybe even too quiet.   Talismanic potato chip Wayne Rooney got miffed that he was photographed in Portugal.

Other than that it’s not like the run-up to 2006, in which we were definitely going to reach at least the semis because we had THE PASSION, football being little more than a passing fancy in Brazil, Argentina, Italy etc. Hell, John Terry was so passionate and patriotic that even his blood cells came in red and white.

After the Champignons League final next weekend (Madrid derby – I’ll be supporting Boleto del Pino, although Real Madrid won 4-1 when it took place last Saturday), I expect things to kick off: plastic flags, pessimism and overweight men in tiny shorts flashing their sunburnt tits and misspelt tattoos as they drink on the tube at 10am because they got the time difference wrong (goes the other way, chaps; you’ll be all tuckered out by kick-off).

Yes before you know it England will be en route to a mediocre quarter-final second round penalty shootout first round capitulation sound-tracked by the impotent roars of a nation that’s suffered far too many delusions of grandeur over the years.

And speaking of delusions, now that tiki-taka/passing/attractive football’s had its day, England is at the tactical forefront with exciting 15% possession stats.

Historically, England fans appreciate more …traditional… football – proper defending (“hurting people”), kicking the ball really far, deeply offensive chanting and classic centre forwards (“big bastards”) outmuscling (“hurting”) wussy (“foreign”) defenders.

These days, however, they’re more given to mildly narcissistic angst and ennui, cunningly disguised as self-deprecation, and an air of the fin-de-siècle decline of a crumbling post-imperial nation; the sort of thing of which the English would typically accuse the French.

If you want to ingratiate yourself to an England fan, point to one of the poncier (“technically accomplished”) foreign players and say:

“yeah all very impressive and that, but could he do it on a wet winter night at Stoke?”

The England fan will appreciate the hoary old joke and play along accordingly. Or the England fan will take your comment at face value (“nuance” being a decidedly foreign looking word) and play along accordingly.

Because, frankly, whether Lionel Messi could do it in such circumstances is the only measure of his ability that matters.

Either way you’ll be wanting that drink. Luckily the English are quite accommodating so you can drink anything you want as long as it’s not alcohol-free. Just do so in excessive quantities before starting a fight, having a good cry and passing out.

Beats actually watching England play.

Italy

The Italians are getting their excuses in early this year with rumours that tantrum-prone star striker Mario Balotelli has been racially abused in training by his own fans. And that’s the last Frood has to say about Super Mario because that’s what the rest of the internet is for.

If I could naturalise any player for England it would be Cristiano Ronaldo. But if he was busy getting his eyebrows waxed – the must-have grooming procedure of the season for gigolos on the French Riviera – I’d choose Pirlo.

A couple of years back AC Milan decided they didn’t need the aging playmaker with the Serpico beard, so they took him to the woods and left him there without water or a map, like mother did with me when I was 8. Juventus happened to be there hunting for defecating bears, which is only 1 letter away from beard.

Now, luck is for those who make it (in Juve’s case that meant bribing referees, ultimately leading to the stripping of scudetti and relegation to Serie B following the 2006 calciopoli scandal). And the Old Lady made herself some damn fine luck here, winning their third league title on the bounce this season with Pirlo sitting deep while Vidal and Marchisio ran interference.

Pirlo does much the same for the national team. Since winning the World Cup in 2006, however, the Azzuri’s performances have been as variable as the quality of Italian wine. For every surprisingly good chianti n’ Daniele De Rossi combo there’s a rancid valpolicella plus Antonio Cassano’s food baby. The former is exemplified by the run to the Euro 2012 final, excluding the final itself because Spain, the latter being the entire campaigns of both Euro 2008 and the last World Cup.

Cassano was hoping for a boy.

Best to wash your hands of it all, pour a shot of limoncello from the freezer and hope for a cataclysmic meltdown from Mario Balotelli. Or at least another Panenka chip penalty from Pirlo’s beard.

PS: at some point you may overhear someone using the word catenaccio.   Catenaccio was a highly successful formation cum* style of play employed by Internazionale in the 1960s which is routinely if inaccurately applied to all Italian teams, even the ones that don’t or can’t defend.

If someone else decides to slip in a quick catenaccio and you’re feeling up to it, loftily point out the lack of a libero in the side and that incidentally only the hopelessly bourgeois drink pinot grigio these days. No one really knows what a libero is or what bourgeois actually means so you should be safe enough on both counts.

*Stop sniggering at the back there. Your mother is ashamed of you. You do know that, don’t you?

Uruguay

So Luis Suarez went and got himself injured and might not make the finals. And on a personal note, that’s a shame because I’d already done Uruguay and it was beautiful, or at least finished: Suarez as an object lesson in cognitive dissonance, the importance of avoiding references to the diving, that racism scandal, his goal-keeping exploits in 2010 against Ghana, the occasional biting, because it’s probably best to avoid the 5 hour lecture on cultural relativism and moral cowardice from any passing Liverpool FC fans.

Such is the narrative drive of modern football that if Luis Suarez didn’t exist we’d have to invent him, like we invented Piers Morgan (sorry USA, no we don’t want him back). He is, after all, arguably the greatest cartoon villain football has ever produced. And he’s the star man for reigning Copa America champions Uruguay.

Anyroads, grappamiel is a drink made from alcohol and honey. But you fancy yourself as a DIY buff and have no money, so you mix any old booze you can find with that crystallised honey that’s been in the back of your cupboard for the past five years. You think it might have evolved some form of higher cognitive function, so be careful.

But you weren’t careful, were you, no you weren’t, and while your mind was away on an imagined higher plane you had a perfect insight wrapped in a pithy bow, but then the doctors pumped your stomach and you forgot it.

So, glib is the order of the day. Uruguay has another world class striker in Cavani, Paris St Germain’s back-up booty call to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG’s mum thinks that Cavani is a far more suitable life partner and he’ll make an excellent father someday, but she was young once too and she gets it, just make sure you take precautions, sweetheart.

Forlan’s still an option even in his mid-thirties, albeit he now plays in Japan’s J League and is therefore regarded as little better than semi-professional by snobbish European types.

But to balance the attacking riches, the team’s tactics are built round a defender (Lugano) who’s slower than I am when faced with simple mathematical formulae.

No doubt Suarez will be there, half-fit and foaming at the mouth ready to dive and cheat and be ridiculously, unbelievably brilliant at football. Given their own well-noted proclivities, expect the game against Italy to be particularly irritating if you care about such pretend concepts like sportsmanship.

Except for Pirlo, who’s a scholar and a gentleman. I heart Pirlo.
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Next time: you thought Group C was bad, Group E has Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland in it (and France).

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group C

Last time we suggested the thrillingly transgressive idea of denouncing Spain for the sake of it, and that the team of choice for the sophisticate had to be the Netherlands.

But Group C is a far trickier proposition because I say it is.

Colombia

Pele predictably predicted a World Cup trophy for Colombia last time they graced the tournament in 1994. Predictably, Colombia failed to get past the group stage.

Their first setback for this year’s competition came when legendary hairstyle Carlos Valderrama stopped playing for them in 1998.

Their second setback came when scorpion kicking, goalkeeping sweeper René ‘El Loco’ Higuita stopped playing for them some time in 1999. To be fair, entertaining as he was, he was probably a bit of a liability if we’re being brutally honest.

Colombia suffered yet another setback back in January when apex predator Radamel Falcao got a nasty booboo on his knee playing for Ligue 1 club AS Monaco (based in Monaco, which is like France but with less tax).

But Falcao’s a goal hungry man-beast and it’ll take more than a long-term, career-threatening, heavily-hyphenated injury to keep him from the contest, especially now he’s been called up and everything. Nevertheless, such a heavily-hyphenated injury means that he might rule himself out of contention, after all.

Accordingly, manager José Pékerman has called up a further 5 strikers in his provisional squad. The only one I’ve seen playing is Bacca of Sevilla, who was…not great… in the recent Europa League final against Benfica. Or there’s Jackson Martinez, the 2-footed goal thief from FC Porto with 8 goals in 26 appearances for his national side, but I haven’t half-assed my way through any games featuring him or played Pro Evolution Soccer in donkey’s years. That’s some rigorous, scientific analysis right there.

I appreciate that FIFA might be the better game these days, but fiercely irrational tribal loyalties is what football is all about.

Anyway, Falcao’s erstwhile strike partner during qualifying, Guttierez, may have to shoulder the burden of doing goals for the team as a lone wolf striker. He does his professional footballer-ing for River Plate in Argentina, which is nothing like France.

Further back, the likes of Guarin and Rodriguez make for some pretty tasty midfielders (legal disclaimer: Frood does not condone cannibalism, except as a hypothetical topic for discussion). In defence, Zapata looks good enough to have been a squad player back in the days when AC Milan was a half decent side.

We at Frood suggest you knock back a shot of aguardiente. Especially when they play the spoiler horror show that is Greece. For an explanation of aguardiente, see our previous comments on guaro in our write-up of Group D, probably landing next week.

Greece

Here at Frood we don’t play favourites, although clearly you should support the Netherlands; no we aim for a dispassionate, non-judgemental assessment of each participating nation.

Close your eyes and cast your mind back to 2004. Unfancied FC Porto won the Champions League, beating even less fancied AS Monaco in the final. That victory catapulted Porto’s considerably more fanciable manager, José ‘I’m dead special, me’ Mourinho into the international spotlight.

But something much more disturbing than the above was to follow as a charmless team with no ambitions whatsoever beyond its own 18 yard box managed to spoil its way to winning Euro 2004.

I’m talking, of course, about England.

I mean Greece.

Greece qualified for the tournament after taking a long hard look in the mirror – that proper soul searching look you do when you know you need to make some fundamental changes to your life, or at least that thing on your face you (adorably) think of as a ‘beard’ – and deciding that actually some things are more important than the approval of hipster dilettantes who think they know football because they managed to find a vintage Borussia Dortmund strip in a skip in Dalston. Like qualifying for the World Cup, or winning Euro 2004 for that matter.

There’s more than 1 legitimate way to play the game and when you have to rely on strikers of the calibre of Samaras (Celtic) and Mitroglou (Fulham) you’ll probably reach the conclusion that there are worse things than focusing on defensive solidity. Like English holidaymakers in Greece.

Incidentally, I say Mitroglou’s a Fulham player, after all, vicious rumours abound that he is one, but to be fair no-one’s seen sight nor sound since he signed for them in January for £10m. And given the weak way they got themselves relegated it’s probably technically libel to refer to someone as a Fulham player. #hashtagBANTZ.

You remember that ‘epic’ lads/girls trip to Corfu you had after your A-Levels and in a misguided spirit (foreshadowing pun) of nostalgia got tanked up on the ouzo. And when you woke up, the World Cup had been over for 6 weeks.

Plus side, you didn’t have to watch any games involving Greece.

Ivory Coast

Sports ‘journalists’ have been banging on about how this really is the last hurrah for the Elephants’ underperforming golden generation (is there any other sort of golden generation that isn’t Spanish?). And it really is this time even if that’s what they said about the last few Africa Cup Of Nations tournaments and indeed the last World Cup, because Drogba is old as shit and so are the other ones whose names they’ll totally remember in a minute when they can get Google to load up. Stupid Android phones.

Some of those players include scampering wing-flake, Gervinho, 26, of Roma and Wilfried Bony (25), who bagged 24-odd league goals for Swansea this season, justifying his £12m transfer fee. ‘Justifying’ being a relative term of course. Also in the old man/last hurrah bracket is Serge Aurier of Toulouse. The 21 year old right back is hopeful of backing at the right of the team ahead of ex-Arsenal galoot Emmanuel Eboué. Eboué doesn’t appear to have made the cut, which makes Aurier’s job that much easier.

Of course there’s always throbbing atavism Yaya Toure, who’s dedicated his career to proving that actually the box-to-box midfielder isn’t an extinct position. He’s only 31 so he has a few more last hurrahs in him. Although possibly not for club Manchester City as he (or his agent at least) has let it be known that he was upset at the lack of respect shown to him by the club’s owners when they didn’t shake his hand on his birthday or give him a Bugatti Veyron. They didn’t give me a Bugatti Veyron for my birthday either, so I understand Toure’s pain.

Or that’s how it’s been reported in forensic detail by the English media at any rate.

If Toure proves too inconsolable to play there’s always Newcastle United’s surprisingly fragile door wedge, Cheick Tioté, who’s a total monster in the tackle unless he makes contact. For the avoidance of doubt that’s an obvious lie. Incidentally, it’s unlikely that Toure won’t play as the internet has decided he’s flashing an ankle at Barcelona even though Barcelona’s transfer ban hasn’t, to date, been lifted.

Anyway, you know what they say about elephants – they struggle to climb out of the Bugatti Veyron’s bucket seats. But they should be easily good enough to get out of the group stages for the first time.

The national drink is a type of wine derived from palm called bangui. Which might be tricky to source depending on where you live. If all else fails, knock back a glass of white wine, go outside and lick a tree.

It’s the thought that counts, as Yaya Toure will attest.

Japan

This season, Manchester United’s performances have been more unsettling than watching a pregnant woman smoke. Despite this, once-regarded playmaker Shinji Kagawa couldn’t get a game, which is cause for concern for his national team manager Alberto Zaccheroni.

Added to the star player’s form worries, Zaccheroni also has to deal with problems elsewhere in the squad. In particular, team captain Makuto Hasebe, a defensive lynchpin for FC Nürnberg, is a doubt to be pinning any lynches having spent much of the Bundesliga season either struggling with injuries or being operated on by doctors. That’s an exaggeration for comic effect in case you were in any doubt.

Japan is the reigning Asian Cup champion and was the first team to qualify for the World Cup, their fifth in a row. They’re usually regarded as one of the finest Asian teams, but sit somewhere around 50 in the FIFA world rankings, which are almost entirely meaningless.

They’re not in a particularly difficult group and should expect to qualify, behind Colombia and the Ivory Coast in second and first place respectively. Accordingly, you’ll happily proclaim them to be your dark horse choice (Belgium’s qualities are too well known to be dark horse contenders) before confirming you were talking out of your mouth when they don’t make it beyond the first round.

Is it maybe a little bit racist to suggest sake? Like Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s racist? Maybe not quite that bad, but culturally insensitive at least, like Lost in Translation? You’re not sure, so you just make it Suntory time like Bill Murray recommended in Lost in Translation. And that way people can be impressed by your quiet good taste in movies when you tell them at length how good it is. By ‘quiet’ and ‘good’ we mean ‘completely obvious’.

And yes Honda (AC Milan) is a player, but he’s also a car. Well done, your parents must be very proud of you.

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Next time: some clever pun about Suarez as Frood bites a chunk out of Group D.

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group B

Last time we wrote about Group A, this time we’re writing about Group B, next time it’ll be Group C. Get used to that ‘say what you see’ approach – that’s all you’ll be getting from the pundits next month.

Australia

You get all excited when the World Cup comes around, even though there hasn’t been a particularly good or memorable one since they expanded the format to 32 teams. And then you remember that you’re supposed to write about Australia.

To be fair, it’s not a common problem. But then neither is casting Maria in The Sound of Music or whatever it was, and the BBC made a TV show about that. Using my licence fee money.

Such talk of things from years ago that remain sources of irritation to, well, me, leads us back to the subject at hand. In 2006, Australia looked to be gearing up for some dark horse action until they ran into Italy in the round of 16. Or, more precisely, until Italy’s Fabio Grosso ran into Lucas Neill and fell over, earning one of the softer penalties you’ll ever see on Youtube if you type ‘Fabio Grosso gets penalty against Australia in Germany 2006 World Cup’ into the search function.

And that was that for Guus Hiddink’s boys; in 2010 Australia qualified for the third time in their history, going out meekly in the group stages.

Much like the USA, Australia doesn’t appear to give much of a damn for the considerable charms of football (the sporting world’s Scarlett O’Hara, clearly). But that’s slowly changing.

Australia took a leaf from the USA playbook of how to make people like soccer and enticed their own superstar European, albeit while MLS got David Beckham and his amazing ability to be photographed in his underpants, the A-League got Alessandro Del Piero and his amazing ability to be good at football despite being 87. Ish.

Both boosted the media profile of the sport in their respective nations to the extent that the national managers don’t automatically look to Europe for the same players who underperformed in the last tournament.

In fact, Australia manager Ange Postecoglou got the job on the understanding that he’d regenerate the team and focus on youth, so you can probably ignore all the above. Sorry for wasting your time.

Fact remains that the largely inexperienced squad is light on quality and particularly weak at the back; injuries mean that Preston North End’s Bailey Wright has been called up. PNE play in England’s third division, and Wright was 1 of 6 PNE players arrested for alleged match-fixing earlier this year. Wright denies all wrong-doing and we must stress no one’s proved anything to the contrary, but it’s a controversial choice that one suspects would’ve been avoided if Australia had a few more options.

Anyway, you’re stuck on the idea that Australia’s national team consists of those guys you vaguely remember from about 7 years ago – Kewell, Neill, Bresciano, Viduka – and accordingly you’re drinking one of those ‘Aussie’ lagers that’s brewed in the UK. They’re pretty vile, but to be fair so is Australia’s kit.

Chile

Juventus steamroller Arturo Vidal faces a race to be fit in time, Gary Medel just got relegated with Cardiff and there’s no place for David Pizzaro, only recently coaxed back in after years of international exile.

But spicy Chile can cause an upset to delicate (continental) European stomachs (Australia ain’t getting out of the group).

Alexis Sanchez in particular will go right through you given half a chance. And while you’re locked in the bathroom wondering where all the toilet paper’s got to, Jorge Sampaoli’s chaps have qualified at your expense.

Or that’s what they’ll be hoping, cruel providence having seen fit to land Chile in a group against the two teams who contested the final of the 2010 World Cup one of which is arguably the finest national team in the history of the game (fuck you Spain).

But then again the Andeans have been in superb form. Since becoming manager a couple of years back, Sampaoli’s team have only lost 3 times (against Peru, Germany and Brazil) in about 15 games, winning most of them. And with their pace and attacking style, Chile is likely to be popular with the neutrals.

Also popular with the neutrals are Chilean red wines (mainly cabernet sauvignon) – consistently good if not top of the table (fitting considering Chile has never won an international tournament but usually gives a good account of itself).

Which is a result for you because it was that or pisco, which probably tastes like it sounds.

The Netherlands

The Oranje are the team of choice for the connoisseur, as they have been since Cruyff invented being good at football back in the 1970s.

But don’t let that fool you; the Netherlands is like a small, unruly, but quite charming pet ocelot. She can be skittish but is perfectly friendly if you don’t make any sudden moves or loud noises. I can’t leave her alone you see; poor dear has a habit of pooing in my plimsolls.

I believe it’s some sort of passive-aggressive grief response.

At the last World Cup the Oranje made the final, where they abandoned playing football in favour of kicking Spaniards. They followed that up with a Euro 2012 campaign dogged by rumours that all of the players hated each other even more than is usual for a Dutch team. They fell out, first with each other and then the competition, in the first round, securing a grand total of nul points for their (lack of) efforts.

And they’re not just mentally fragile, with this generation’s more notable players (Sneijder, Van Persie, Robben, Van Der Vaart – accused by former Dutch players of not being good enough to play the Dutch 4-3-3 at Germany in 2006) spending almost as much time on the treatment table as earning their quite astonishing salaries.

As per usual, the Netherlands qualified for this tournament with ease, RSVP-ing the hosts in the resoundingly affirmative.

So there’s the risk of them defecating in one’s brogues and the ever-present suggestion that it’s all just about to collapse like an underbaked soufflé, but like an Alfa Romeo just before its engine falls out they’re a genuine wonder to behold. I’d apologise for mixing so many metaphors (?) but like the average Dutch player I refuse to compromise my beliefs to accommodate other people.

Fans of Nathan Barley might wish to opt for a nice glass of Dutch wine, but for anyone too cool to admit to recognising topical references from the middle of the last decade there are a variety of easily obtainable Dutch lagers. You’ll be wanting something frothy but lightweight and prone to sudden sulky outbursts, possibly involving accusations of racism at Euro 96.

Chocolate aficionados might wish to consider a Cadbury’s flake, even though that’s not Dutch.

Spain

Tournament favourites Spain Barcelona Spain have one weakness other than having no convincing strikers (apart from possibly the recently naturalised Diego Costa), a goalkeeper/captain (Casillas) who has barely featured for his club in 2014 and a centre back in Sergio Ramos who apparently holds the distinction of having received more red cards by the age of 24 than any other player in the history of Real Madrid.

They’re boring.

Yes, yes, best in the world, possibly the best national team in the world ever, triangles, living proof that you can actually field a team that consists entirely of creative attacking midfielders, possession stats, aesthete’s footie; tika-bloody-taka.

You’re morally obligated to like Spain, which is why you’ll say you don’t to encourage a conversation about the relative merits of high (a thousand passes the last of which is into a now empty goal) and low (Cristiano Ronaldo) culture.

During which time you can neck as much rioja as you like. Or if you’re more of a beer person, Estrella, on the basis that it’s Catalan and therefore reflective of the team’s major personnel and tactics.

To be fair, when provoked they have a tendency to prove they’re not boring by decimating Italy in the Euro 2012 final. Also, there’s nothing to dislike about Iniesta.

This one will go the distance, so maybe try some tapas to soak up some of the booze. And try not to get irritated when they get all sanctimonious about virtue and how they play the game the way it’s meant to be played even if half the team isn’t above diving and feigning injury after mythical tackles somewhere in the vicinity of the stadium.

There’s a good soldier.

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Next time, as promised, we look at Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan.

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group A

Football. The beautiful game. Not Australian rules or American, just ‘football’, king of sports (ie pompous, self-reverential, possibly in-bred – that’s enough of that, Frood).

As well as being an exploitative corporate cashfest in which the pathetically grateful host nation is bled dry by a monstrously vampiric cadre of parasites in exchange for frustratingly nebulous promises of uncharted economic prosperity (and the opportunity for some spectacular naysaying whataboutery from the more miserable journalists), the World Cup is the biggest and best sporting tournament in the world.

No Olympics, no, you’re just not.

And it’s an iron-clad excuse for a liver apocalypse of a party (drink responsibly kids). So is Tuesday afternoon for that matter, because you have a problem.

But if you’re going to infiltrate the masses of people who genuinely enjoy the sport, you need to be capable of mustering some sort of opinion on every team, even the ones you couldn’t care less about. Because that’s the law.

It’s not necessary to understand the rules of the game – follow this guide and your knowledge will simply be assumed.

In light of the above, for the next period of time we here at Frood will be releasing a series of précises…préciae…summaries for each group.

There is one golden rule: it’s not soccer. Even if you’re American.

Group A

Brazil

The hosts.

At the very least it’s important that you recognise that fact.

The one they’re all talking about is perennial frontrunner for the worst haircut in football award, Neymar. Apparently Pele reckons he’s better than Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi even though he patently isn’t.

Don’t ask me to explain who Pele is.

Brazil have won more World Cups than anyone, they have the record goal scorer in the competition (“Not-Cristiano” Ronaldo), they have legends like Pele, Socrates and Garrincha who are more legendary than the legends of any other nation barring possibly Maradona.

They’ve added to their home advantage and fearsome reputation by bringing back ‘Big’ Phil Scolari, the last manager to win them the World Cup back in 2002 (Pele predicted that Brazil wouldn’t get past the first round). They’re favourites to win it along with Spain who they beat to death in the Confederations Cup last summer, prompting doubtless premature eulogies to the passing of tiki taka. Pun intended.

In revenge, Spain have naturalised the only top level Brazilian striker in service, Diego Costa. They don’t really use strikers, so he’ll probably sit on the bench while Cesc Fabregas plays a false 9, which is like a regular 9, only artificial.

But it’s not all roses. Public anger last summer at allegations of corrupt practices and generally excessive spending on stadia has been supplemented by FIFA concerns that some of said stadia haven’t actually been finished.

There’s also the minor fact that while ‘professional footballers’ numbers among Brazil’s more lucrative exports, the quality has dipped somewhat over the past decade, like that white wine you used to like so much in the 90s.

They’re undeniably weak at the back, with no settled goalkeeper (Julio Cesar has only recently returned to playing, albeit for MLS punching bag Toronto) and relying on the comedy stylings of David Luiz in defence. For a defender, Luiz is really good at attacking.

Add in a world at large that will view anything less than Brazil reaching the final as abject failure and you’ve got to conclude that where they end up is anyone’s guess, really, anyway, it’s your round and I’m on the caiprinhas.

It’s no less camp than Neymar, after all.

Cameroon

The indomitable lions have proved pretty, uh, domitable in past World Cups, only once making it past the group stages, in 1990, when they reached the quarter-finals.

Pele prediction: a team from Africa will win the World Cup before the year 2000.

Even you have heard of record goal-scorer, captain Samuel Eto’o, but behind him there’s not a huge amount of quality. Alex Song might be there, I suppose. Barcelona bought him on a whim from Arsenal a couple years back, decided he didn’t quite fit but they didn’t have the receipt and the 28 days had passed anyway so he’s been in a cupboard gathering dust with the spangly harem pants they’ve never had the confidence to wear in public even though they have the perfect little shoes to go with them.

The hard-headed pragmatist in you thinks it pretty unlikely that 2 of Mexico, Croatia and Brazil will choke. But you’re a soppy romantic with a gambler’s eye for a quick loss.

We’ve already made our one allotted palm wine joke in relation to the Ivory Coast, which you won’t see on Frood for a while yet, so instead of that you fancied some afofo firewater (distilled from palm sap according to the internet), but by the time you found a bottle Cameroon had long since been eliminated. In the first round.

And with hindsight you’d have preferred a lager anyway.

Croatia

June 12. Sao Paulo. Brazil opens against Croatia in a game that has all the makings of being a football match.

Croatia came over all On The Waterfront and sacked manager Igor Stimac towards the back end of last year, replacing him with retired midfield enforcer and former captain fantastic, Niko Kovac. They had the class (Modric, Mandzukic…) and they coulda’ been somebody but at that point they were just bums.

Given his reputation as a rare-ish brute among the artsy flowers Croatian football has tended to produce, you’d expect that Kovac likes his teams to be physical. Not frottage physical, or Olivia Newton-John physical but euphemism physical.

“No ref, fair tackle… Neymar’s faking it, typical South American diving and feigning injury – that’s not a snapped tibia poking out of his leg, it’s a special effect he keeps in his sock.”

Accordingly, you’re on the rakija (an umbrella term for local spirits: basically brandy).

Fool that you are – Kovac was never just a thug as a player – he was more an inspiring metronome with leadership skills. And his preferred strategy as manager involves expansive, reasonably attractive football. And the Balkan region as a whole produces some pretty decent wines, you philistine.

Question now is whether they’re contenders. You’ll say they have a legitimate expectation of second place in the group because Mexico. And Cameroon.

Mexico

Olympic gold winners in 2012 (beating Brazil in the final), Mexico went through 4 coaches and 44-odd players over the course of a qualifying campaign that was nothing if not hilarious. So there’s really no point in learning anything about them just yet.

That being said they may provide you with an all too rare opportunity to spy the small and cute Lesser Spotted Chicarito. The LSC is a shy and retiring goal poacher of the region very occasionally glimpsed around Manchester United where he’s consistently proved to be absolutely lethal in the box and useless out of it. Unfortunately this means that he is out of sync with the rest of the team who have spent the past season being utterly useless everywhere on and off the pitch, much to the amusement of everyone in the UK outside of United’s catchment area in Surrey.

‘Chicarito’ is the nickname of Javier Hernández Balcázar. It means ‘little pea’. When you see him you’ll have to suppress the urge to say ‘aaaaaaaaaahhh’, because football doesn’t allow emotions outside of a narrow range of tears, angst, recrimination and violence.

If they can get their shit together Mexico are always capable of doing well, but they won’t so they won’t. You sip a tequila (because you’re a cliché) gently exhaling the phrase comme ci comme ca, forgetting momentarily that French is not the official language of Mexico.

Possible candidate for dark horse of the competition, you’ll say mischievously.

Next time: we assess Group B: Australia, Chile, The Netherlands, Spain…

On Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s Divorce, Clickbait And The Death Throes Of The Media

Integrity: 1) the quality of being honest and having moral principles. 2) the quality of being sound in construction.
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Sad news as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announce publicly via Gwyneth’s website Goop.com that they’re getting a divorce. A divorce is almost invariably sad news, even when one half of the erstwhile couple wrote I Was Born To Fix You. So it ought to go without saying that hopefully they can be left to it to get the split finalised with a minimum of pain and anguish and without the sort of journalistic pile-up these affairs usually invite.

Like I said, it ought to go without saying but, y’know, clickbait…

The Goop.com statement itself is entirely dignified and thoughtful. Ok there’s also an Instagrammy snap of them in presumably happier times, and of course she’s wearing something floaty like a latter day earth goddess (and why not) that makes her look both, like, totally effortlessly glamorous and completely approachable. Which is a bit ick, but all in all it could and possibly should have been worse.

Of course in the celebriverse nothing is so simple. And they didn’t quite help themselves, what with that pseudospiritual/scientific-sounding title ‘Conscious Uncoupling’ and the much longer –insert pejorative term here– diatribe explaining the concept, which is exactly what you’d expect from a cursory glance around the rest of the website.

That’s the nicest way I can think to put it – being a crusty old cynic I take issue with anything quasi-thought-based that uses Paleolithic man as a rhetorical parry in the intellectual skirmish.

See also: the paleo diet (Paleolithic man had a life expectancy of about five minutes and a diet that consisted of whatever happened to be lying around, up to and including the contents of dead animals’ stomachs – they definitely wouldn’t have been sniffy about cereals or monosodium glutamate).

Anyhoo, the end result of all this is that a divorcing couple made an entirely uncontroversial public statement which they framed in a typically anodyne and precious fashion. But what else would anyone expect: a selfie of Gwyneth with a pint and a double bacon cheeseburger accompanied by a missive along the lines of ‘dumped the drip. Mama’s found her fancy underwear and her inner goddess wants a spanking; who’s gonna’ oblige’?

Or a Chris Martin selfie accompanied by a missive along the same lines for that matter.

That really ought to be the end of it. But modern journalism increasingly resembles an echo chamber of bollocks.

The Daily Mail has been its usual sensitive self, posting pictures of the couple’s real estate portfolio and Gwyneth in short shorts and asking rhetorically how they’re going to split their $150m and sparkly friends. Further downmarket and there’s a shit ton of schadenfreude with Gwyneth’s name on it. So far, so typical.

But the more interesting development is that of proper journalists trying to put it into a wider context, which is like trying to find meaning in a Paulie Shore movie (thanks Clueless, you’ve always been there for me).

The Guardian’s Anne Perkins posted a toxic little piece (she reserved most of her ire for the ‘snake oil salesmen of the soul’ experts, but do check out that final paragraph) about how this conscious uncoupling had nothing to teach ordinary people. To be fair Goop.com is a little didactic, but it’s mainly mildly self-congratulatory navel gazing, like most blogs (especially this one).

The Washington Post crayoned a thinkpiece about how actually maybe the ‘female celebrity’ doesn’t have it all, after all. You see, theoretically they do because they have high-powered careers and the finances to raise kids simultaneously and have agency and look totally hot in skinny jeans. To be fair, a lifetime of pressure to diet surely contradicts the fundamental conceit of ‘having it all’.

But anyway, celebrity divorces enable us to assess our and our society’s attitudes to marriage and divorce with emotional distance. Predictably, the Post concludes that maybe none of us can have it all, after all.

Well stick a knife in me, I’m done.

I mean, wow. Here was me thinking that journalism was in crisis because of money rather than a race to the bottom of the integrity barrel.

In the midst of the tawdry gossip of Gwyneth’s alleged affair(s), published with cowardly qualifiers such as ‘might’ because libel, speculation over asset splits and custody battles, memes and clickbait and snicker-snack paddywhack snark; and crocodile tears cried by commentators for no one but themselves; there’s a faux-profound need to understand, to find any old pop psychology that hasn’t already been claimed by one of the other tabloids to recast a commonplace personal catastrophe as a study in the ways and follies of man. And that, my darlings, is probably the longest sentence I’ve ever written.

There’s only one actual lesson to learn from all this: there’s a yawning chasm between ‘public interest’ and ‘things the public might be interested in’.

Beyond that, if you don’t know either of them then you’re not affected by their separation (if you think you are then you might want to reconsider your priorities in life). Their divorce can teach you nothing about the problems you may have in your own relationships. And while we’re on the subject, whatever enjoyment you might get from it all do bear in mind that it comes at the expense of actual people with actual feelings.

So while ‘conscious uncoupling’ sounds like pretentious self-parody, whatever panacea they self-prescribe for their pain is a matter for them. And it probably beats spending the next year getting pissed in your kitchen Facebook stalking and glazing your friends’ eyes over with never-ending volcanic rumblings about the many failings of ‘ting.

A Second Pitch For Man Of Steel 2: Batman Vs Superman

With news that Wonder Woman is set to make an appearance alongside Batman in the Man of Steel sequel, here at Frood we have developed a second pitch (first pitch here). Warner Bros, drop us a line and we’ll get a treatment together…

Light-dappled waves kissed the shores, caressed them even. A gentle breeze took the edge off the heat. Paradise. She took a sip of her long drink (such an elegant glass) and allowed her mind to drift.

With fire in his eyes and ice on his tongue he was possibly the most beautiful man she’d ever seen, tall and dark and handsome. She blushed involuntarily in sudden embarrassment at her soppiness. But he’d literally swept her off her feet. He’d promised her the Earth and she believed he could deliver; when they’d made love he’d been gentle and caring, attentive to her every need. And afterwards he’d bathed her in a warm glow, holding her in his rippling arms until dawn.

She sighed despite herself – he was such a simple, sensitive man, maybe the perfect man – a good listener (incredible hearing come to think of it), handy. She found herself increasingly day-dreaming of raising a family with him: he’d be an excellent father, the best anyone could hope for.

She arched her back and stretched languidly, gracefully, enjoying the feeling (he’s really got under my skin).

Better call Steve, she thought, what can I say: I’m sorry, Steve, it’s not gonna’ work out Steve. I’ve loved being with you, and I loved you from the moment I rescued you from your plane crash. But even though I love you I’m no longer in love with you. The truth is I’ve met someone and he…well, he isn’t you.

No, too cruel. But what then: it isn’t you it’s me? I’m not ready to settle down with you because I’ve not settled down with me yet; I don’t know who I’m going to be yet? Yuck.

And anyway, it wouldn’t be quite true. Because she hadn’t just met someone – she’d met someones. Plural.

She’d met him first, just the other week in fact. He was suave and dignified, sophisticated with an arrogant streak a mile wide. Oh he’d swaggered about like he owned the place (he probably did come to think of it), but she’d sensed a shyness in him, a little boy lost hiding underneath the $10,000 suit and expensive manicure. So complex, so intriguing. Potent mix.

They’d gone for dinner, somewhere fancy, but she wasn’t interested in the money, had enough of her own. He’d ordered for her (control freak?), which she normally hated but he’d been right on the money; she couldn’t have done better herself. He was a good detective, he said, could read people, like a gift, like it was no big thing. That arrogance again, but delivered with enough smooth charm that she found she didn’t mind.

He’d walked her to her hotel – streets aren’t safe, he said. She’d laughed internally at that, she was pretty confident that if anything the streets weren’t safe from her. But it was touching in an old-fashioned sort of way. And he clearly adored the city.

She’d made her mind up by the time they reached the hotel. But then his shyness reared up – is he not used to this sort of thing? He’d held the door for her and she’d thought does he really think we’re here for coffee?

But then he’d, well he’d ravished her, like a pirate in one of those stupid romance novels. It was quick and dirty and sexy as hell. Not very feminist of you, Di, she thought; a man who took what he wanted like that, who hadn’t treated her like a goddess like men usually did. But boy did it work

She found herself blushing again from the memory.

Which reminded her, she was seeing him tonight. Better make sure she hadn’t double-booked and agreed to see farm-boy too – this dating two men was exhausting. But she couldn’t decide between them and in her more honest moments she admitted to herself that she was having too much fun to stop.

Her phone rang: he had a helicopter coming to pick her up in an hour (they were going to the opera so dress nice). Shit she found him sexy. She sighed, despite herself.

Miles away ‘farm-boy’s’ brow furrowed. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d heard, but he was uneasy. Don’t jump to any conclusions. But even if you’re right, he thought, I’m a good man with a good heart; I’ve as good a chance as anyone.

Meanwhile in the gloomy, subterranean depths Batman smiled wickedly in the green glow of a computer screen.

Kal-El, this means war.

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But on second thoughts the studio will have second thoughts about this pitch – there’s only one Wonder Woman after all, which means one of Batman or Superman will lose.  And that can’t happen, because you need a draw (and it’s a cop-out if she decides to go back to wussy Steve in the end having learned the value of reality over fantasy, vomit).

So here’s the shock twist (it doesn’t matter that it makes no sense, just go with it) – it turns out that Batman and Superman are actually dating different incarnations of Wonder Woman from different Earth-Nos so they both win! Just like in that R Kelly/Usher music video!!!

For her part, Wonder Woman expresses her dismay to the studio execs that by now we should have moved beyond the notion that women are chattels to be bartered or otherwise exist for men to compete over them. Surely in this day and age she should be more than just a plot device?  But the producers told her not to worry her pretty little head over it and get back in the kitchen where she belongs. Cos’ she’s really good at all that baking and stuff and the men are sure gonna’ be hungry soon.

So she kills them.

The end.

Is Nice The Meanest Word In The English Language?

(Or: Captain Obvious Rang, He Wants His Insights Back)

Nice guys finish last, so they say (although who ‘they’ might be remains to be seen).

In Austen there are basically 3 types of male love interest: the PHWOAR-gasm – charming, sexy probably-a-soldier (bad guy); the guy she misjudged but she didn’t realise it at first cos’ he seemed like a total dick but actually on second glance is totally a good guy with a rockin’ bod; AND…

The obviously-a-good-guy, but he’s just too nice so that ain’t gonna’ happen but if he’s lucky he might get amongst a supporting character. Alan Rickman played him in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. See also: Mr Bingley – good enough for Jane maybe, but then again Jane’s equally insipid so doesn’t really count.

And before we start to sound like one of those vaguely misogynistic blogs by and for men who can’t get girls to fancy them and blame it on their inherent ‘niceness’ as opposed to their inherent personal failings, men are exactly the same, for exactly the same reason:

Here’s a list of things that are nice: BeeGees ballads, vanilla ice cream, pastels.

It’s not exhaustive, obviously, but to be fair it’s also not representative. Because we’re trying to demonstrate a point here. And that point is that ‘nice’ is the compliment people give when they can’t think of anything meaningful to say.

Nice is bland – it’s fine but nothing to get excited about or put any thought into, so far so, well, nice, right? But that’s not why it’s possibly the meanest word (alright, adjective) in the language.

This is: as it happens, nice hasn’t always meant, well… nice. Its archaic meaning around about the 13th century was ‘foolish, stupid or senseless’; your average Kate Hudson movie in other words.

Over time nice came to mean timid or uncertain, before developing to mean fussy or fastidious, then ‘dainty’ or ‘delicate’ (as in ‘of a fragile disposition’) and so on until the 16th century or so, when it primarily meant ‘scrupulously exact’. Which is a quality one expects in one’s accountant, prenuptial agreements and the taxman. Again, not exhaustive/representative, but you take my point.

The latter usage has been preserved in phrases such as ‘nice and early’ (ie punctual), incidentally.

So more or less until it achieved its current meaning of ‘pleasantly beige’, the word nice has signified a series of characteristics that most people would view as faintly insulting, like having your looks favourably compared to Predator.

And when you use the word to describe something, your implying of that narrative of meaning means that you’re being far meaner than you might have meant.

Meanie.

How To Be A Blogger of Repute

Bloggers of repute write knowledgeably and engagingly about topics people are interested in. Here’s a recommended example:

4th Street Review

I on the other hand write this sort of thing:

“Gather round folks. Women and chillun to the front. I see you guys at the back there; pretending like that’s you on the ID. What is that, your brother’s driving licence? It won’t work, not with that chubby little baby face. You’ll be happy enough with it when you’re 40.

Now, I didn’t get where I am today just by drinking more white wine than is good for me. I had to get here first because here’s where they serve the sauce. To clarify, I’m not a white wine drinker, can’t even call myself an equal opportunities drinker – it’s red all the way or else.

I don’t believe in compromise.

But I digress; you want to know my secret, the secret of my success? Hey that sounds like a Bob Dylan lyric if he ever wrote a blog about how damn good he is at stuff.

Firstarters I like to give advice. Like advice on how to be so successful that every now and then one person will read your blog or at least find it. Here’s how to give advice:

1) ‘Doing’ is for people of little or no education or imagination – if you want to give advice don’t ‘do’, ‘think’. Thinking is how clever people with higher levels of education differentiate themselves from non-thinking ‘doers’ who lack the requisite sophistication to use words such as ‘requisite’ and ‘sophistication’. And remember: experience is over-rated.

2) In order to demonstrate that you are thinking (they will assume about their problem), scrunch your face up really tight, like you’re trying to fit it into a really packed cupboard, or you’re remembering the bitter aftertaste of sucking on a lemon that’s been soaked in iodine and isn’t really a lemon at all but is in fact a weak black hole that’s winning the fight.

3) Laughter is the best medicine. However, it is considered impolite or even insensitive to begin a course of treatment while the advicee is explaining his or her problem.

4) Platitudes are your friend. If you can’t think of any, just say ‘oh no you deserve so much better’ putting the emphasis on so and much and pausing slightly as you say those words (that’s the secret). Then distract them with a magic trick.

Secondly, I like non-sequiturs. “Later traitor!” yelled the Queen as she had someone beheaded for high treason. Just like that.

Remember, having an actual point to make is bourgeois, demonstrating or imparting knowledge is a waste of time because lies are prettier than facts and we all love the pretty things.

Never give in, never compromise. Eventually the world will see that you were entirely correct to dedicate a blog to alternative uses for old, soiled doilies.

Best of all, write crap like: The world is flat – it’s your perspective that’s round. People love that shit cos it sounds deep but it means nothing.

Go you.”

On Why The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Isn’t What You Probably Maybe Think It Is. Possibly.

“the story of that terrible stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.”

Arthur Dent enjoys cricket and tea and masks his crippling emotional repression and general reserve with a nice line in dry understatement. He has a friend; an out-of-work actor from Guildford called Ford Prefect. Except Ford’s not from Guildford, he’s not even from Surrey. He’s from a planet near Betelgeuse, which can’t be accessed via the A3.

And then the planet Earth gets destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Suffice it to say, Arthur isn’t exactly prepared for this eventuality.

The trilogy in 5 parts (and definitely no more than that) is a clever-but-silly sci-fi saga, gently existential with cups of tea, towels and dressing gowns.

Between the movie, TV show and radio play I’ve always vaguely wondered how I’d gotten it so wrong with the books. After all I grew up on a diet of spiritual bedfellows Monty Python, Radio 4 comedy and Blackadder. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry exemplified precisely this sort of cosy British humour for people who appreciate that not all jokes need involve penises or naughty words. In fact, author Douglas Adams was 1 of 2 people (the other being Neil Innes) to be given a writing credit by the Python team.

In the interests of full disclosure, I adore the books but abhor the rest. Perhaps it’s because for me the series isn’t Stephen Fry voicing the eponymous Guide and certainly isn’t old-fashioned or gentle.

Because it’s actually properly, nightmarishly, totally fucking dark.

Let’s start at the start: “most of the people were unhappy for pretty much of the time.” The book is written in an easy breezy, light-hearted fashion designed to hide the darkness but it’s there, hidden beneath the witticisms and puns, beneath the cricket, tea, bathrobes, chesterfield sofas, beneath even the fundamental universality of the gin and tonic. And, of course, beneath the towel.

That bloody towel is symbolic of everything lacking in most versions. As the eponymous Guide would have it, a man who knows where his towel is probably organised enough to possess all sorts of ostensibly more important things and is thus more likely to be lent said things by strangers. That is, one of the fundamental uses of the towel is to mislead perfect strangers in order to take advantage of them. Half the joke goes missing if that subtext is jettisoned.

And to make matters worse, Arthur’s in a dressing gown, probably the least appropriate apparel for traipsing around a universe that is at best indifferent to your continuing existence and at worst actively wants to end it. See above.

And finally to make matters even more worser than that (me speak English good), having survived the destruction of Earth, the appalling poetry of officious aliens and the depths of space, he ends up in a stolen spaceship so advanced as to have rendered hyperspace bypasses obsolete. Said spaceship’s existence predates the destruction of the Earth.

Which means that Earth was destroyed for absolutely no reason whatsoever. See above.

The fact that he shares this spaceship with a woman he failed to get off with at a party and the fugitive ex-president of the galaxy for whom she’d quickly abandoned him only adds insult to injury. Awkward…

Naturally enough Arthur’s response is to spend much of the first couple of books pining for a half-decent cup of tea.

But even this is almost pitifully emblematic. Replace the cup of tea with any other edible cultural signifier, particularly one that means something to you personally and you’ll see what I mean. People find comfort in food and drink, particularly those that remind them of home or security. Almost everyone Arthur has ever loved, despised or merely encountered is dead and gone, everything he has ever known no longer exists and will only ever be summed up by the words ‘mostly harmless’.

There’s no going back for Arthur, and he’s not quite bursting with useful talents or transferable skills, let alone any desire whatsoever to embrace his new circumstances. The tea represents a tiny reminder of a lost reality to which he can never return (later on of course he does, several times, but at this point he doesn’t know that).

It’s a form of grief in other words.

Over the course of the series the tone will evolve as we experience the galaxy through Arthur’s eyes and see him in turn become another jaded veteran, eventually turning his back on the galaxy to find a way home in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish.

That novel would have been a satisfying end to the series, offering some semblance of a happy ending for most of the characters. SLATFATF offers a diametric opposite of the previous 3 novels, with Arthur embracing technology and positivity and finding love home on Earth. The novel sees him ultimately making the conscious decision to return to space exploration with his new squeeze despite his previous experiences living as a bewildered refugee from an obliterated civilisation fearful of the galaxy’s next horror. I believe that’s called taking ownership.

But of course that positive outlook was swiftly undone by series closer Mostly Harmless, far and away the bleakest book, which painted the galaxy and its inhabitants as unthinkingly cruel, reflexively cynical; bitter. Mostly Harmless returned to the inherent technophobia of the series with a Hitchhiker’s Guide Mk II and introduced a new character in the form of Trillian and Arthur’s daughter, a girl whose bad experiences of the galaxy are more extreme even than Arthur’s own.

Douglas Adams intended to write a sixth instalment prior to his untimely death. He claimed to have been in a very dark place when he wrote Mostly Harmless and felt afterwards that maybe they’d deserved a slightly nicer send off.

So there you have it, the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – on balance maybe not all that suitable for your 12 year old kid…

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If all that hasn’t convinced you, I’ve one last argument up my sleeve: customer service doors that take enormous (and quite vocal) pleasure in opening for you.

Horrifying.

Party Animals

The flowers were, of course, beautifully arranged. “The lily represents both marriage and death. Such a heavy weight of symbolism for such a delicate thing.” Goose said to Badger. It was the sort of thing he said.

“I heard the old man died in bed, not his own, and not from sleeping.” Hyena was such a gossip. Hummingbird slurred in agreement – poor thing was a nervous wreck, what with her condition and all. And she had noted that everyone had noted that they’d seen that little blue dress  before, at another party a few months ago.

“Why yes, thank you,” Badger accepted another drink, “I find it helps the old writing.” The others tittered dutifully but averted their eyes; everyone knew Badger was a lousy writer and a red-eye drunk with wandering paws.

Cat glowered in the corner smoking a Gauloises; he’d been stood up by Arthur Miller. Or at least someone who said he was Arthur Miller (and why would he lie). They were going to talk about Cat’s screenplay, a bittersweet coming of age tale, which he’d been working on for much of the past 7 years. It didn’t help that he was tripping balls off some violent, violet opiate. Pig had fixed his last gin, and everyone knew Pig liked his little practical jokes.

“Taste this,” he’d said, “the secret is lemongrass.” Not much of a secret, but Pig lacked opposable thumbs, so to get a cocktail at all was nothing short of astounding.

“You should see my new personal trainer,” said Rabbit, “Almost obscene the things he wears. And so much…orange…I swear his skin matches his outfits.” She glanced meaningfully at Hummingbird’s indigo feathers. But Hummingbird was too busy distancing herself from sobriety to notice. “Hummingbird, darling, are you sure you’re not overdoing things?” But Hummingbird was too busy distancing herself from sobriety to respond.

“I don’t know where you put it all with that figure,” said Cow, not quite green with envy, “I wish I could eat whatever I wanted like that.” Spider laughed a tinkling laugh (Goose would describe it as mellifluous) “Darling, you’re too kind, but if you listen closely you can hear the creak of whalebone.”

She tapped on her crystal champagne flute. “My late husband would’ve hated the funeral – he was never one for pomp, but he’d have adored the wake – he always was a party animal. I’d like to thank you all for coming to this little send-off. It’s been difficult these past few weeks.

(“I heard she did the old man in herself,” whispered Hyena)

Spider broke off, she didn’t like giving speeches. Badger teetered towards her, wrapping an octopus arm around her waist. “If you need anything…” he said to her cleavage. He stank of whisky. She dismissed him in an Elizabeth Taylor voice: “You’re too kind, dear Badger, far too kind.”

“Have you ever killed a man?” asked Cow. “No.” replied Wolf – he was a creature of few words. They stood in awkward silence for a moment, Wolf stirring his drink with a yellowing stalk of lemongrass hoping to mask the unusual flavour (Pig had made it for him as an olive branch over all that unpleasantness with the real estate last year). Wolf was a mystery – he’d made a lot of money doing something no one understood. And, even more baffling, he never talked about it at all.

Hummingbird and Pig walked back into the room, taking care to appear nonchalant. But her dress was ruffled and her eyes were glazed. It was an open secret that she’d been bankrupting herself even before her husband had been laid off.

It was time. The ladies took it in turns to rummage in the bowl. Spider went first; it was her party. She pulled out the keys to a Mercedes and looked expectantly round the room.

“You know she’s four times a widow?” asked Hyena to anyone who would listen.