Archive for January, 2009

Conspicuous Consumers: Chris Rea

Posted in Conspicuous Consumers, Music on January 29, 2009 by Johnnie

reaThe Road To Hell is paved with mistaken identities, unseen stars and close brushes with celebrity you’d never know you’d had.  And to think I almost missed the man who did his best to put the “miserable” in Middlesborough.  One late, thoroughly horrid, Thursday night at the old Our Price store in Neal Street, Covent Garden in 1996, I was the reluctant manager on duty, accompanied by two other staff, one on each floor; it was a typically slow end to the day, with only one or two stragglers flicking through the racks to kill time before traipsing home.  I sat in the basement office with my canteenth coffee of the day, doing my level best to stay awake, when my colleague Nick came to fetch me.  “Hey Johnnie, come and see if you recognise this guy.”

I followed him out to the counter and he pointed out a middle-aged man milling around the Rock/Pop A-C section; faded, brown leather jacket, highlighted hair which was ‘fashioned’ into an old-rocker mullet, and an unkempt painter-decorator beard.  I shrugged, he looked like he could be anyone.   “I think it’s Chris Rea,” Nick whispered.  The man turned around slightly, so I got a better look at him.  “No, it isn’t,” I whispered back. “It’s just a sad lookalike.  I bet you he’s been in the same band since he was 18, and still thinks he’s 18.”

The man continued browsing for a few seconds more before, unable to find what he was after, came up to the counter.  He opened his mouth to make his enquiry, and it was like a spontaneous burst of Auberge or Driving Home For Christmas filling the store: “Have you got The Cardigans?” came the astonishingly familiar, gravelly rasp.  “Fucking hell,” I thought, “it is Chris Rea.” But we didn’t have any; The Cardigans were cool band du jour and we were all out.  And that was that.  He nodded forlornly and left.

Next morning, we replayed the CCTV video to show unbelievers that we had been visited by Mr Rea; well, there were many slow days in there.  The one line he’d uttered to us became something of a catchphrase.  In fact, if anyone ever asks me to do a Chris Rea impression (and oddly enough, people have asked in the past), all I can actually say to impersonate him is, “Have you got The Cardigans?”

New Year, New Chow

Posted in Food & Drink, Grave News on January 29, 2009 by Johnnie

lidl-shunjiI’m a huge fan of Lidl supermarkets.  Sure, the great Paolo Tullio shops in my local one, and that’s quite good enough for me.  Their selection of fruit and vegetables is, at worst, entirely adequate and a good deal of their pre-packed or frozen products are excellent value.  I would sooner do the majority of my shopping between there and Aldi than any other supermarket currently operating in the Republic.  All the same, though, there are occasions where, in the interests of advertising, Lidl are forced to operate the dual strategies of “straws” and “clutching”.  Their current print ad urges us, in large lettering, to “celebrate Chinese New Year”, which is as good a reason for purchasing some inexpensive ethnic foodstuffs as any other.  But then they go on to display a photo of  Vitasia ‘Sunji’, a flavoured dessert wine – from Japan; then, your choice of Vitasia Red or Green Thai curry paste.  Actually, there are no ‘Chinese’ items in the advert at all.

There is, however, a smallprint ‘explanation’  (better known as an ‘excuse’)under the Chinese New Year headline: “Indulge in a cuisine as diverse as the continent of Asia itself – try the taste of the Orient with our special selection of tasty offers!”  Bless.  Now, of course, I’m looking forward to the variety of offers they’ll have around the time of Persian New Year in March; who knows, they may adopt the  convenient South Park philosophy, “Iran, Iraq, what’s the difference?”

“I’ll Have A Fiorentina Please, Boss…”

Posted in Calcio, Food & Drink on January 23, 2009 by Johnnie

prandelliAs if we needed any further proof of the gulf in professionalism between Continental football sides and their British counterparts, here’s a heart-warming, heart-saving tale of a dietary reward system that simply wouldn’t work if offered to the Mars Bar and Coke-consuming likes of Keane, Rooney and Terry. The greatest football coach of them all, Fiorentina’s Cesare Prandelli, has promised that his players will be rewarded with a pizza for their tea if they beat Italy’s answer to ManUre,  J*v***s in Torino this weekend.

A win could put my lads, who currenly lie sixth in Serie A, right back into contention for the coveted fourth Champions League spot. As per Calcio Italia, Prandelli said: “We are convinced that we can get a good result and our objective is to win because we are working towards something important.  This is a great chance for us to bounce back. It is a very difficult game, but I’m hoping we can win and if we do everyone will get a pizza!”

Cream Of The Crop

Posted in Grave News on January 23, 2009 by Johnnie

Of all the “tributes” to the much-unmissed former U.S. President, Veet‘s timely ad is the most subtly unsubtle.  To the creatives who waxed lyrical on this one, garlands and medals all ’round.


Tony Hart 1925 – 2009

Posted in Dearly Departed, TV on January 23, 2009 by Johnnie

tony-hart1Another founding stone of my love for television passed away last weekend.  Tony Hart, gentleman, artist and one of the most pristine, softly-spoken examples to children’s TV presenters the world over, has left us at the age of 83.

I first fell under the spell of this wonderful man in the 1970s, on the slightly bizarre children’s arts programme, Vision On; it was some years before I realised that the reason the programme was presented in near-silence, and contained comedy mime routines by future Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy, was that it was intended for the deaf.  The beauty of it, as with most experimental and educational shows of the ’60s and ’70s, was that is was always fascinating to all children, irrespective of their hearing.  Its most iconic item was The Gallery, a slow pan around a wall of selections from the flood of artwork sent in by young viewers every week; it was memorably soundtracked by the beautiful and quirky dittie, Left Bank Two, which was later to become a retro-lounge classic.

After Vision On ended in 1977, Tony returned the following year with Take Hart.  In this, he necessarily did far more talking, especially with the introduction of Plasticine stop-animation character Morph and, my favourite,  the anxious, manic janitor, Mr Bennett (whom I found particularly funny, for some reason, leading me to find anyone called “Mr Bennett” hilarious ever since).

Like Rolf Harris, Tony Hart had the innate ability to demystify the practice of art and thus make it accessible to people like me, who had no natural talent, but simply a love of holding a pencil and drawing for its own sake.  In one of his last interviews, he told The Times: “Time and again I have been told: ‘I can’t draw.’  My answer has always been the same: ‘If you can write, you can draw’.”

In fact, I still treasure my copy of his book, “You Can Draw”, a step-by-step guide to the basics, which helped me live out my unfulfillable ambition to be a cartoonist: my efforts, “Lamb Amirstan” and “Flobby Blobby People”, are classics only in the confines of my boxes of rubbish in the attic – so, yes, my namesake can rest easy in his grave too.

Tony Hart brought art into the lives and living rooms of millions of children like me; to all of us who grew up sketching, painting, cutting and pasting under his gentle guidance, he will be fondly remembered always.

‘Allo ‘Allo, he’s Putin on the Ritz

Posted in Grave News, TV on January 21, 2009 by Johnnie

As we’re talking momentous political occasions, wasn’t it lovely to see a rather dapper Vladimir Putin trying to get  pally with Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, while agreeing to a new deal over gas supplies?  They’d make a great double act – even if it looks very much like it’s all been done before.


And The Award For Most Surprised Nominee Goes To…

Posted in Grave News on January 21, 2009 by Johnnie



Dear reader, I humbly thank the soul or souls who nominated I Have Grave News in three categories for the Irish Blog Awards ’09: Best Popculture Blog, Best Blog From A Journalist and Best Newcomer.  It is with renewed optimism for life and work that I sit here, smiling inwardly, with another pot of coffee on the stove, and a sense of wonder and added pressure as to what I should rant about next.  God Bless You, one and all.