Sunday, September 11, 2011

A substance more addictive than nicotine and morphine combined?

How I survived a week in the wild plains of yesteryear.

Recently I was temporarily consigned to a world without social interaction, a world without any joy whatsoever, a world devoid of entertainment and stimulation. No not Sligo somewhere far, far worse. For an entire seven days I resided in my dwellings without one of life's main essentials. I had running water, electricity and a bed to sleep in but at one point or another I would have gladly traded any of these (except electricity as you'll soon discover) for the one thing that I could not live without. I am of course talking about the internet. Moving house brings with it much upheaval and distress but lugging furniture up two flights of stairs pales in comparison to being essentially cut off from humanity. When you couple this trauma with the loss of television to boot you may begin to wonder how I even lived to tell the tale. But although there was some hairy moments I somehow managed to survive this torturous ordeal and in my opinion I'm a better man because of it.

During my hiatus in the twilight zone I relied heavily upon the oldest form of wireless communication, the radio. And it was with a wry smile that I listened to a story about how addiction to the internet is affecting the lives of the nation. Everything from the breakdown of marriages to the filing for bankruptcies can apparently be attributed to overuse of the internet and whereas at one time the blame could be solely aimed at males browsing 'specialist' sites it now seems that the women are just as bad. Endless hours spent tending virtual farms, and in the process presumably neglecting their real life equivalent ie; the homestead, has left the nation's husbands in a state of quandary as they attempt to iron their own shirts and, shock horror, cook their own dinners. It was never supposed to be like this, what happened to the idyllic picture on the box of that shiny new laptop which depicted a happy family browsing the web as one and having a jolly good time in the process? Instead that laptop has been swiftly joined by another due to 'Daddy hogging it' and now both Mammy and Daddy can be found hovering over a glowing screen till the small hours while their feral children rummage through the cupboards in the hope of finding even the smallest morsel of food to keep them from starving to death.

So while I chortled my way through this radio report and scoffed at the idea of feuding families seeking counsel to resolve their web warfare I noted with some satisfaction that I'd gone an entire 6 hours without any online usage and far from displaying the first signs of an addict deprived of his drug I was in fact thriving! There's nothing to this I thought as I reconnected with radio djs I hadn't listened to in years, cleared the backlog on my UPC box and read books at a voracious rate not seen since my childhood. So this is what my life was like before I spent every waking hour discussing inane conspiracy theories with complete strangers, discovering what happened to random celebrities from my youth and watching videos which by all rights should have horrified me but left me unfazed and apathetic. For the first time in years I felt liberated as I worried not about whether my several incisive yet scathing comments had received any responses on a football forum or whether my tweet telling Michael Owen to “just become a jockey if he loves horses so much” had roused a reaction and instead I went about my day with a head clear of such trifling matters safe in the knowledge that my presence amidst the world wide web would not be missed.

That was after the first day. By day two, a Saturday, I began to notice with no little distress that my daily routine had become disrupted due to this change in my circumstances. I sat down with my morning paper and regaled in the pleasures of sorting out the various sections in anticipation of an epic day gorging upon the work of the Guardian's finest. Within twenty minutes of finishing the sports section and moving onto the main paper I found myself becoming restless. I thought I felt a slight twitching in my left eye but ignored it and continued my perusal of places to visit in North Wales. The twitch became more pronounced and with it came an irrepressible urge to wiggle my fingers incessantly, what the hell was this? Was I turning into a werewolf? I again continued unabashed and resisted the urge to call my GP with these worrying symptoms. If only I could google them I thought absent mindedly to myself. The word Google struck me like a thunderbolt and with it the realisation that I wasn't morphing into something from a Wes Craven film but was in actual fact displaying the first signs of internet withdrawal symptoms. I needed a fix and I needed it bad but instead I found myself cut off from society reading the bloody paper and listening to Sile Seoige bang on about her childhood and how she...blah, blah, blah, blah.......fuck off Sile you insufferable bore!

What had happened? Within the space of 24 hours I'd gone from being at ease in a world without any online activities to someone who had begun to daydream about that lovely little red notification circle on facebook and the joys contained therein. Enough I said, stop being so weak you can do this . Had my twenty odd years on this earth before the advent of the internet been for nought. Was I now a slave to the whims of those who preyed upon impressionable souls like myself and insisted we live our entire lives online? Before my time in this abyss began I had vowed not to crumble by visiting an internet cafe and with a phone that I steadfastly refused to pay extra to use surfing the web I was left bereft and bereaved with no possible chance of redemption for the foreseeable future. I anxiously paced the floors of my flat and wondered what inanities were being discussed by those I knew only by their online monikers, I self indulgently wondered if anyone missed me pondering that if I died would those whom I only ever spoke to online ever become aware of my demise. In spite of myself it appeared that I was undergoing the first stages of withdrawal and in much the same way as those weaning themselves off heroin or alcohol experienced I was turning into a sweating, convulsing wreck with each passing moment. But unlike those attempting to eliminate poisonous toxins from their body I sought refuge in the knowledge that my addiction would soon be catered for as reconnection to the mainframe was only days away.

So having carefully overcome this slight bump in the road and regaining a sense of normality I recommenced my life of spartan frugality. And, football related news aside, I found that my initial comfort in existing on a steady diet of the wireless, printed word and the occasional dvd was not the result of a deceptive mind but in actual fact a highly enjoyable alternative lifestyle. Indeed after a couple of days I could honestly say that I never gave the internet and it's bountiful delights a moments thought as I readjusted to a way of living that only a few years ago was the norm. I could come over all schmaltzy and say that not interacting with people online meant that I rediscovered the joys of talking to people face to face and not hiding behind the safety of my keyboard all the time but that would be nonsense. Whether I was an internet addict or not was still up for debate but I vehemently denied any allegations that my online dalliances had altered my ability to interact with real life society in any way, shape or form. But was all of this just an illusory state of inner peace brought about by the mollifying fact that despite my relative comfort in an interactive free zone I would be back up and running in a couple of days and those books would be left gathering dust just as they were before?

So as UPC finally sorted their act out and set about installing my broadband / TV combination I sat pensively in the corner offering an air of insouciance whilst secretly urging them to 'hurry on so I can get back online'. With the door barely closed behind them the laptop was booted into life and my mind was taken to that place where time seems to lose relevance as minutes become hours, hours become aeons and before you know it it's time for bed. I hopped from facebook to my emails and back to facebook again, briefly perusing twitter on my way, posted countless inane comments on various forums and opened links that simply couldn't be ignored, and at the end of it all my mind had been reduced to pulp due to the continuous stream of disposable information that had been absorbed, processed and dispensed with little or no afterthought. It appeared I had learned nothing and my time in purgatory was to be nothing more than a brief interval in a life otherwise dominated by the power of the internet. But to my surprise I found that although the world wide web was invariably my first port of call upon settling down for the evening some of the things I'd sampled during my time away began to jostle for position in my life also. No longer was the radio something I only turned to in times in trouble as I made the musings of George Hook part of my daily routine. Sadly my saved programmes quickly began to stack up again on my UPC box and more than one unfinished book lay neglected on the coffee table but although these may have been signs of a rampant addiction I knew that if it came to it I could happily survive in a world sans internet and for that alone I was grateful.

The internet is a vital tool for each and every one of us in the 21st century, it's become such a crucial part of our lives that we've got to the stage where we simply can't live without it. But how many times have you sat down to do some serious work online only to find yourself led astray by the temptations of your favourite social networking sites? Unlike the feeling of completion that you experience upon turning the last page of a book, or even watching the credits roll at the end of a film, the internet is never ending and offers no tangible reward for the hours we frequently spend at its altar. Humans by our very nature are incessantly curious beings and it's this which make the web such an alluring prospect for us, rather than be restricted by the confines of books or television we can dictate how we wish to be entertained and if something doesn't keep us rapt for more than a couple of minutes then it's summarily dismissed and on we go. It's this kind of web usage which is at the root of any potential addiction and it could even be argued that the behavioural pattern displayed by these kind of users isn't too dissimilar to that of a strung out junkie chasing their new fix or a quivering alcoholic frantically searching the cupboards for that half empty bottle of Pernod. Melodramatic? Perhaps so. But if you too chortle at the idea of someone being addicted to something as trivial as the internet just try and live without it for a week and see how you fare.   

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Last Minute Shopping Rush Boosts UK Economy

Transfer Deadline Day and it could be your club........

The camera pans slowly on to the face of the maniacal white haired Scotsman. This looks serious, it could be a biggie. We pry our eyes away from the omnipresent yellow ticker for just one second and give the odious Jim White our full attention. He's played possum with us on many an occasion before but this time it'll be different. A British transfer record perhaps? Wesley Sneijder at Manchester Airport? What could it be? In the manner of a president solemnly addressing his citizens White carefully ruffles his sheets of paper, clears his throat, takes a deep breath and announces the news we've all been waiting for....”Reports just in.....our sources are telling us that........Burnley, yes Burnley.......have made a bid for Watford utitlity man....” his voice drifts away in the background as our hearts sink and we rebuke ourselves for being fooled again. How could we have been so gullible? This is a man who'd call a press conference for the opening of a pack of Hob Nobs and here we are in thrall to his every word on a bright Wednesday afternoon at the tail end of another disappointing summer. But it's transfer deadline day and even if there was a street party involving high kicking, high living samba dancers with liberal attitudes to clothing going on outside you still couldn't drag yourself away from the screen and that blasted yellow ticker.

Believe it or not there was a time when the wonder that is transfer deadline day didn't actually exist. Clubs were free to sign players all year round and did so at their leisure whether it was August 31st or a murky winter's evening slapbang in the middle of the season. But as ever the powers that be decided that this perfectly functioning state of affairs just wouldn't do and so in their infinite wisdom they did what they always do and tampered with it. The summer transfer window and it's cousin the shorter, but no less dramatic, winter transfer window were brought into effect at the turn of the century much to the bemusement of all involved in the game and with it came the advent of what we now know as transfer deadline day or TDD for short (how have Sky not adopted that acronym? It just rolls off the tongue!). At first managers tentatively utilised the window unsure of its mechanics not wishing to break any unforeseen, obscure rule or regulation. They did their utmost to ensure that all business was finalised well in advance of the closing date leaving only the moronic, the desperate and Harry Redknapp frantically scrambling for players at the very last. Oh how they laughed at the idea that this new fangled restriction would hamper their chances of success, “I've got a squad full to the brim with talent and by jove they'll last me all season you just wait and see”.

Fast forward a couple of months and an ashen faced Premier League manager stalks off the training ground having seen his inexperienced but precocious left back left in a crumpled heap by that lumbering ape of a centre forward who in all honesty should have retired at least two years ago. The gaffer storms into his office silently beckoning his first team coach inside as he does so. “Young Robinson has just done his metatarsal in training, do you know what that means?” The first team coach knows this is a rhetorical question but answers it just to fill the deadening silence filling the room. “We've got no fit left backs at the club Boss”. His superior barely hears him however as he is in the process of making a phone call, a desperate plea for help as it turns out. “Hello is this the FA?”..........”Can I speak to the chairman please?”...............”Well can I leave a message then?”...............”Ok, could you just ask if there's any possibility, any whatsover, that I could perhaps be given clemency to sign a player outside of the transfer window?”...........”Yes, yes I know all that but just ask him...please?”...................................”Why not?”....................”What the hell would you know you're just a secretary!!!”................”NO I WILL NOT LOWER MY VOICE, DO YOU REALISE I'VE GOT NO FIT LEFT BACKS AT MY CLUB, WELL? DO YOU?!?!?!.....And so it begins.

Once the dawning realisation that the squads they were equipped with come the end of each respective window were the ones they'd be left to face battle with for the duration the managers promptly changed tack. Like a bunch of guilt ridden husbands who'd forgotten their wives birthdays they hastily snapped up any old item from the shelves not even stopping to check it's sell by date or whether it had been previously mishandled. All rational was lost as players were bought, traded and loaned with abandon and some of us were even moved to feel a slight tinge of sympathy for these pampered millionaires whose futures were being toyed with before our very eyes. Whilst the managers, players and most importantly the paymasters were desperately unhappy with this new state of affairs for everyone else it was an absolute hoot. Us supporters got more drama condensed into these manic few days than many of us would witness over the forthcoming season. Print journalists merrrily spun ever more fanciful tales with little possibility of reproach, a strike rate of one accurate story out of twenty was considered informed reporting during this fevered time. Those in the Sky Sports News studios had an absolute ball and the scramble to see the roster for the closing week of August saw Vicky Gomarsall almost trampled to death by the over eager Mike Wedderburn. But as is the case in most walks of life the ones who benefited most were those who deserved it the least.

To be a football agent during the closing days of a transfer window must be like entering a nightclub, surveying the scene, and realising that you're the only bloke amongst scores of 'up for it' women, everyone wants a piece of you. Most Premier League managers will tell you that agents are the scourge of the game and most view them as a necessary evil which must be negotiated when procuring the services of a player. But come TDD these footballing pariahs are in high demand, no longer are their dubious activities questioned by a single soul as even the very top bosses bite their tongue and dial the number filed under 'meddling tosser' in their phones. Of course agents lap this up and take great pleasure in playing clubs off against each other in the hope of acquiring even more unwarranted cash for they and their client. But it's not just the agents who play hard ball, club chairmen wholeheartedly get in on the sordid act and hike prices up to ridiculous levels in the hope of ensnaring a manager at the end of his tether after several dozen rebuttals. Instead of tying up all their business in the early months of summer and heading off to sun themselves in foreign lands managers choose to play a dangerous game of russian roulette leaving themselves open to the possibility of waking up on September 1st with nothing more than a dead phone battery and a second rate Venezualan winger that they don't even remember signing.

But the question asked more than any other during this time is why leave it till the last day? Yes we know there's the possibility of last minute bargains aplenty, the chance that stubbornly hard headed chairmen might suddenly relent and that wantaway stars may have an unexpected change of heart and committ their future to the club, but really would it not just save a lot of hassle if everyone was a bit more up front with each other. Take the recently closed transfer window for example. It was clear to any follower of the game that Luka Modric wanted out of White Hart Lane but because he's quite a respectable little chap he didn't want to cause too much of a fuss in doing so. Now the decent thing to do for the Croatian would have been to say 'Ok Chelsea you can have him but only if you give us £40million up front, right now'. Reports suggest that at the very death a fee rumoured to be similar to that was tabled by Abramovich but by then it was far too late to put together a deal of such magnitude. So instead Spurs are left with a clearly unhappy player who will most likely be off next summer for a price guaranteed to be less than that offered this time around, Chelsea having been unable to procure their number one target have ended up with the enigmatic Raul Merieles, and in the process dented Liverpool's squad with insufficient time to get a replacement, and the only ones coming out of with any real satisfaction are yes you've guessed it, the agents. Oh and Jim White of course.

Love it or loathe it the current system of transfer windows look set to stay for the forseeable future. We will continue to spend entire summers listening to ongoing sagas and being duped into believing that come the end of August all will be okay. Even those who don't foresee any actitivy for their club will still wake up on TDD and secretly think that yes today's the day, that bid for Messi is finally going to happen and by midnight tonight he will be ours. It makes no economic sense whatsoever to have a deadline for clubs to finalise all their business but since when did anything about football make any sense? What it does do is make dreamers of us all and keep us hoping against all hope, throughout each and every window, that our beloved team will be the ones in the centre of the maelstrom come the final minutes. As long as there is TDD there will be hundreds of thousands of football fans glued to the screens more in hope than belief, but really is that much different to the experience of watching an actual game? Delusion is part of every football supporters armoury and for that reason alone we enjoy this crazed skirmish. Maybe one day transfer windows will be abolished and we'll look back on those frenzied last days with a hint of nostalgia but no matter how misty eyed we get about transfer deadlines past none of us will ever get quite so emotional as Jim White who, annoying as he may be, is the undisputed King of TDD and will in all likelihood end up being the first man to spontaneously combust live on air some time in the not too distant future.