Thursday, 27 August 2009

Why yes, I do watch Disney films without critically analysing them. Thanks for asking.

Everyone loves sounding clever at parties. What's more satisfying than sitting yourself next to a poor half-educated shlub and tooting brains out of your mouth-hole for ages and ages while they nod and wistfully dream of one day becoming as clever as you? Nothing. Nothing is. Unless you're a Nice Person, in which case this sounds like a fuckawful thing to do, and have probably had it happen to you on more than several occasions because you were too polite to pipe up and admit that you didn't quite understand the past ten minute's worth of bullshit. You see, I am often this person in question, the ranter. But I'd like it to be known that the difference between myself and your common or garden show-off is that I generally talk for ages and ages and ages due to a combination of gin and misguided super-appreciation for a subject. I'm generally trying to convince somebody to watch something (Withnail & I, The Wire, A Goofy Movie), listen to something (generally some band I've only just decided I LOVE out of sheer inebriation) or more regularly, read something (to my complete embarrassment, I nearly always tell people to read Thomas Hardy books. I do love Tess...but it's just not party speak). I often find myself on the receiving end of a conversation I don't want to be a part of however, and normally this ends up in friendship disaster. Drunk people are annoying at best, but combine my considerably more confident post-cider state and some "intellectual" who wants to chat endlessly about Women's Rights or the state of Cinema today, and you're probably looking at a relationship-ending comment, the fallout resembling the worst emotional nuclear winter ever recorded in history. Some things should be left in the old head box.

And so we jump seamlessly now from my insensitive boorish personality defects, to good old Disney films. As a kid, I only ever watched Disney films. Not out of prejudice or preference, just because they were the videos I had. The colours were nice, and the songs were catchy. I rarely watched TV and watched a whole film even less, because my mum comes from the "make the kids play in the garden as much as possible" school of parenting, which I actually enjoyed loads. What this meant was that watching a Disney (which is what I used to call films - either that or "something more colourful" as in "Can we watch something more colourful?" while the news was on. Invariably the answer was No) was an exiting event. Even now, at my grand old age of 21, the music that accompanies the beginning Disney castle logo makes me happy. It's a sort-of Pavlov's dog-type scenario. If it was raining, I was allowed to pick a video out of the cabinet, and choosing the video was very important. You didn't want to watch one you'd seen recently - that would be a waste of quality video time. So you'll forgive me, please, if the films themselves take a backseat to nostalgia and general appreciation. I just enjoyed watching them because they were a treat, and I still do now. I'm not very interested in new Disney films, because they don't hold the same magic for me - the reason I love Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast is because I loved them so much as a kid. The newest one I liked was Hercules, so it's really hard for me to enter the ongoing debate regarding CGI and proper old-school Disney, because as you'll have already noticed, I am somewhat biased.

It's not particularly cool to be a Disney fan when you're older - for some reason comics, anime and general Marvel action tomfoolery is allowed pretty much across the board, but mention that one of your favourite films of all time is The Lion King, and (in the circles I'm in at least) people will look at you with derision, and possibly sympathy. But that film has no subtitles! Where is the subtext? It's a cartoon for God's sake! You must be there a German live-action remake with added scenes from Hamlet? Incidentally, if I am told once more that The Lion King is based around a Shakespeare play, I may kill everybody in the whole world with the giant ball of flames and fury that I become. He recycled stories, Disney recycle stories - it just happens. I am in no way comparing the two, I'm just saying. Drop it you boring bastard, and continue with your life. Apparently, in order to Fully Appreciate Disney as an adult, you have to fully embrace the total nobbery that is Critical Analysis. Watch the films as much as you'd like, but try your very best to detect undertones of sexual discrimination, crime, cultural references, and most of all, aspects of racism. Adult Disney appreciators/critics (because everybody's a critic) generally love pointing out that old Walt was anti-Semitic, making links to Hitler and even banning their children from watching any of his classic cartoons for fear that the Pure Unbridled Evil will leap from the screen during the Little Mermaid's wedding scene and into their kiddy-winkle's brains.

Completely rational, considering a child's capacity for looking beyond chirpy soundtracks and fast-moving colourful shapes to unpick a hidden racist meaning. I've said it a thousand times before, but I'd like to say it again - Jesus Wept.

I might sound like a simpleton, but I don't care. I like watching my Disneys occasionally, just to enjoy them. I'm not a huge fan, I don't wear Winnie the Pooh t-shirts and go to Florida every year to see Mickey, but I think sometimes there's a time and a place for such a simple pleasure. If that makes me a fool, then so be it. I'd rather honestly enjoy something, than become a joyless blabberer, sucking the fun out of films that don't have to be viewed in-between the lines. If you want intellectual discussion, go somewhere else. My feature-film fairytales are to be ruined on pain of death.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sportsfuck.The Nation United in Idiocy. (warning - un-researched opinion and general wtf-ery)

Recently, the country I live in won the Ashes. I'm not such a complete failure that I don't know what the Ashes are, or what they represent (some wickets got burnt or something and now the cricket is played in order to win them back....right?), but I feel completely at ease with the fact that I don't really care too much. I think it's lovely that some people played a game they like to play, and they tried really hard to win and then they did - well done for that - but that's as far as my admiration goes. I come from the Bill Hick's school of "I'm only American because my parents fucked here", although obviously in my case, you can substitute America with Britain. Patriotism seems to me like a massive woop over something essentially futile. I like living in Britain, don't get me wrong. I doubt I'd want to live anywhere else - it's pretty, the cities aren't too much like West Baltimore, there are some nice beaches and mountains, and most of my friends are here. I just don't feel a Deep Meaningful Connection with the place. Surely this is the sane way to be? Feeling overly close to a country seems very odd to me. Sport brings out this psychopathic love more than any other event, since people now openly admit that the Queen might be a bit useless (not me though, I'm a sucker for traditions, especially expensive guilded ones that remind us we're a really old place that's had a feudal system for literally ages) so her jubilees and whatnot tend to attract less meters of bunting than in the past. Sporting events bring this country together, however wrong or ridiculous that seems to some, and for that reason it might just be a Good Thing that such a big deal is made of the seemingly endless parade of sports tournaments. Distracts us from our differences, innit. Keeps us all striving towards one goal. Like the War.

It wouldn't be an original observation for me to make if I began talking about how people substitute their own stunted feelings and emotions with those they feel regarding a far more easy to understand format - people have been making correlations between supporting sports teams and unfulfilled emotional needs for years - but some people's love for their teams does distress me slightly. As a person who's clearly not got the slightest idea how to play most sports, I don't feel entitled to write about whether the games are a load of old boring shite or not. I never EVER want to be one of those women who say "what is it about football? It's just a load of men on a field, kicking a ball about! hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha *swig of rose wine spritzer*" because clearly, it means a lot more to some people, than the fact that yes, it's just a game. But why? That's what intrigues me. It's all very well dismissing your ex-boyfriend's love of The Beautiful Game because it is "just a game", but you'll never lead a rich and fulfilled life if you flick other people's loves and hobbies out of the air with a throwaway comment that proves you don't know what you're talking about. To a lot of people, sports involve a sense of union and shared passion that they can't find elsewhere. To people like me, this sense of kinship (however shit that word is) is found at gigs. Some people like feeling connected with musicians and their fans, some people like feeling connected with their sports heroes and their fans. And some people like feeling connected in myriad other ways, from going to film conventions, to playing WoW. Everybody has their own geeky love for something, but most of us keep our polite traps shut about it. But no. Not sports fans. They hoot it out everywhere, and people who don't like sport can fuck off as far as they're concerned. Because sport is more than a hobby, yeah? It's a religion. It's about pride. And all that other shit they gargle on about when you ask them to stop singing offensively loudly in the pub on a Saturday evening.

TV seems to have this opinion too, with sporting events holding precedence over any other show that might be on. A British athlete is taking part, and so by some ridiculous law of mouth, we should all care about it, because We Love Britain. Well, I hate to piss on the party, but no we don't; as a nation we mainly fucking hate Britain. Have you read the papers recently? We love talking about how everything's gone to shit, about how our kids are running riot, about how old people are dying in care, about how pollution is getting worse, about how there aren't any jobs, about how shit the public transport infrastructure is, and especially about how none of it is our fault. Because we hate our government too, because they made everything bad, it wasn't us. But put an exhausted but happy British national on the tallest podium, with a flag draped on their shoulders and suddenly we're all bellowing Jerusalem and turning red and jelloid with pride. Just...just fuck off.

I don't hate sport. I used to play football and hockey at school, and it was my childhood dream to be an Olympic swimmer. True story. What I do hate is people using sport as an excuse to act like pricks. So we won the Ashes. Fantastic. I mean it, great, I'm sure the English team and their parents are very very proud. They did their job well. But looking at the pictures, I'm not convinced it was worth all that effort. Have you seen how fucking tiny that trophy is? I mean, SERIOUSLY? It's just SO SMALL. Well done England, well done. I'm sure what matters now is that you'll all be given OBEs and Sports Personality of the Year awards, and advertising contracts with healthy cereal brands. Congrats. Now sing the National Anthem, because it wasn't you or your effort that won this, it was THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

* The topic of this entry was chosen by xthemusic, who has since also asked me to call him a cunt. Whatever floats your boat, hun. Go read his blog, yeah?

Friday, 21 August 2009

A level playing field (arf)

School is crap. Isn't it though? If you think about it, wasn't it just the years of your childhood magnified through an embarrassment lens, with an added filter of grey depression flipped over the top just to show the real bloody horror of having to associate in That Place every day? Wasn't it? Or am I just projecting on everybody's hypothetical schooling days in order to make me feel better? Who cares. Alls I knows is that despite the odd flash of bright cycle-safety arm tape in the darkness - namely English, Music and Marvel Action Hero Top Trumps - school for me was a wholly miserable experience. It shows in my grades too - despite being quite clever (not exceptionally clever, I assure you, my boundless self-deprecation would go nowhere near a description like that) I left with two and a half Scottish Equivalent A levels to my name. Unless you've read my CV, and then it's somewhere nearer four. Artistic license. A tawdry achievement, given that school leavers yesterday were celebrating yet another year of record-breakingly high results, and many of the students I spoke to last night while they were celebrating had taken three or four. The studious bastards.

It would be easy then, for me to talk about how A levels and examinations in general, are becoming easy. So easy, in fact, that along with the tests, my comments would be worthless. They might as well just usher you out of school on your last day with a wristband that states "I HAVE FINISHED" and this will qualify you adequately for a lifetime filled with public service sector jobs and a semi in Bradford. That's how much they mean. It'd be easy to do, because that would be the kneejerk reaction to a trend - look at the results, not the data, and form your conclusions. That's how we deal with statistics and science in the media, right Ben? Right, Stan? Clearly, those teachers are conning the system, in order to increase their school's funding. Surely those dreadful youngsters couldn't have created success for themselves - that's far too unlikely. Young people are the enemy.

I agree with this statement - I'm not fond of people, but I'm fond of teenagers even less - but I don't feel we can, or should, find blame in these exam results. Good results are meant to be a good thing. They mean at least our education system is working well even if nothing else in the country does (#IlovetheNHS), but some people, as always, are more than willing to look on the dull side of a good situation, and painstakingly research just how easy the tests are. Because if people are passing them, they must be easy. Right? Now that's what I call logic. Hack out a couple of pages, cause a minor amount of outrage/concern - bingo, you've just got yourself a brand new campaign. Or at least something to write about in your column. (Before you call me a hypocrit, I'd like to point out that she is paid, I am not.) Apparently, A levels are now "impossible to fail" and are not a true representation of a student's intelligence. I only took mine 4 years ago, and I can tell you, this is probably the worst thing to ever hear. Not only did I fail some tests, I failed some tests that are impossible to fail. Cheers pundits. Cheers. I do wholeheartedly agree that formal exams alone should not be the way to judge a person's intelligence - under pressure a person can stall, yes, but if you've spent long enough swallowing textbooks and learning how to pass, you'll do just that. It's like a driving test. You don't learn how to drive necessarily, you learn how to pass your test. And then as soon as you pass you forget the tricky bits and the habits set in. In our classes at high school, aside from the admittedly rare, passionate teachers, our mentors knew that to pass exams, we had to know how to take exams. I learned nothing about the nitrogen cycle in Biology when I come to think about it, but I did know what to write about for my exam. I even wrote the equation for nitrogen dispersion in something or other energy whatsit recycling blah. I didn't know what it meant then, I still don't know what it means now. Before we decide that our national assessments are flawed, why don't we go back to where it all starts - perhaps we should figure out whether more people are passing because they know what's expected of them, rather than actually having the knowledge? I know that the exams I failed were simply because I hadn't recited my "must knows" several times a day into the mirror, and when I put post-it notes about sin cos and tan up in the bathroom to read while I was brushing my teeth, my mum took them down and said "this isn't the way you learn". It's true. It's not. That's the way you learn valueless facts in order to learn something else, but because I didn't go on to study maths (oh Christ, that would have been the stuff of sitcom legend) I never used the memorised stats. They meant nothing. It's like when you realise you still remember the Lord's Prayer, even though the last time you recited it was aged eight at a primary school harvest festival. It's still there, but it's useless. Taking up space because you knew that you had to know it to get on in life, but you didn't really understand what it meant. I think what I'm trying to say is that we might be getting young people to be experts in passing exams, but is that really good enough in the life skills department? Because once I left school I realised you could be the cleverest person in the class, and you'd still be living in your hometown working in the same job with the same people because of a fear of the unknown. Learning from a book is all well and good, and you'd not get very far without learning what you do learn in school, but what I'm trying very inarticulately to express is that passing an exam does not a human being make. It isn't what's important. The grade you get might determine what uni you go to, but your enthusiasm and ability counts for much more than your relevant percentage if you apply to the right places. Or perhaps I'm just doomily positive. I am poorly today, after all.

And don't get the idea that I just said "life experiences enable you to grow as a person". I'd never say that. That's what cunts say.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Books so frightnening, you'll go postal and kill everyone on your way to Crewe.

It worries me why a person would only read a book to be scared to the point of epilepsy. Or watch a film for that reason. I understand that horror is a fantastic genre - one of my favourite books of all time is Dracula, and I love a good, bloody psychological horror too, like American Psycho, but recently my trips across the country have been showing me more and more of the kind of book that would turn a person to mass murder.

Sat bored at a train station (a pastime, you may have noticed, that I seem to frequently enjoy) waiting for the 11:32 to Pisston, you'll be drawn to the advert posters lining every train station in the country. That's what they're for, after all. They will be advertising one of three things; a new healthy but dangerously awakening caffeine drink; travel destinations around the country ("A long weekend in Yorkshire is not long enough" I was told in Euston station. I beg to differ, on behalf of anybody murdered and left on the moors) and lastly my personal favourite - adverts for books who's main selling point is a high position in WHSmith's paperback chart. That, and the seemingly endless amounts of horrific violence and supernatural heebie jeebie business. I used to imagine the type of person who read such a type of book would be the slightly unhinged flavour of person - the person on the train who's repeated playings of a certain song you can only just make out drives you slowly to the dark recesses of madness over the course of a two hour journey until - YES - you realise it was Aswad, and then you can't get it out of your subconscious for weeks, occasionally singing choice lines in Morrissons. The kind of person who'd think nothing of embarking on a seven hour trip to Penzance without showering first. Exactly the type of person who you wouldn't sit next to unless you had to in case they asked you whether you liked vampires and ghosts, but you do have to sit next to them, and they do ask you about vampires and ghosts. I was wrong. This isn't a surprise really - I'm always wrong about people; I'm highly prejudiced when it comes to perceiving total insanity on public transport - but I've come to a new conclusion. Office workers, accountants, business folk - they're all hideously bored with their lives. Their commute from Crewe every day has driven their imagination AWOL, and when it returns, there remains a wistful memory of the things it had seen while it was gone. "You weren't there was beautiful" it says, as a business proposal is hacked out on a keyboard at 8:02am. This imagination has tasted blood, somewhere in a nightmare after napping on a cheese and wiltshire ham panini on a Pendolino. This is why the horror books work. The commuters have all gone fucking mental. Gentle imaginative mental stimulation won't cut it anymore, they need the hard stuff. The horror morphine. Yes, I like that. Hopefully it can be a quoted review on a poster someday.

The books I'm particularly worried about are of a super-violent nature. Advertisements make claims such as "you'll sick your guts up before you finish the blurb - amazingly ghoulish to the point of complete illegality" and "scratching your eyes out because the memory of what you've just imagined is burning your soul has never been so compelling". Rape seems to have become a favourite, as have action/thrillers ripped straight from the laptop of a guy in Starbucks who REALLY likes 24, but believes it's a bit softcore when it comes to torture and stabbings. Child molestation became hugely popular (in a reading sense, of course) in recent years, reaching a peak/new low last year, when on my lunch hour in Harrogate I saw with my own eyes, a wall of books under the heading "Traumatic childhood experience - non-fiction". Luckily, people seem to have moved on from "Please Daddy, No" (a real title) in search of a more gory read. Hence the invention of what I like to call "white collar softcore vio-porn". Case in point - "Kill For Me" by Karen Rose, which has a suitably dark and mysterious cover, and a snappy tagline - "Kiss the girls and make them die." having not read this book, I won't pass judgement on the content (I am going to read it and pass judgement later however, oh, don't you worry about that) but am instead using it to illustrate my point. It's about a paedophile ring. It is a sequel, to a book called "Scream For Me", and alongside calling it "brilliant", "shocking" and "a good holiday read" reviewers seem to be completely taken in by this world in which an underground paedo syndicate operates unnoticed by the public an law at large. If there wasn't a "FICTION" sign above the shelf in which it stands alongside Dan Brown and Maeve Binchy, I'd be convinced I was reading a New Exclusive Undercover Exposé in the Daily Express. but people love this shit, if you'll pardon the expression. And all I'm worried about is the sheer number of educated, intelligent and intensely bored salarymen who are one sequel away from throwing their book down and knifing everyone on their carriage before leaping out of the escape door and gliding into the night. It makes me nervous to see a stony-faced sensible-looking person reading an "unputdownable" paperback written by a certain "Karin Slaughter" only to easily close it an get on with their lives once they reach their stop. One of these days...just...something bad's going to happen. Just you wait and see. Use that as my review.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Babies - those things you try so hard not to have until you're too old. As Alanis would say: "IRONYYY!"

Babies and myself often have weird relationships. No, no, not in that way, you hilarious person, I meant that we don't really get along as peers. Look at you, going straight to the Gary Glitter analogy. Aren't we especially controversial this morning? What I mean to say is that we don't necessarily get along. Small babies are wrinkly, like tiny, fat old men who've been left out in the sun for too long by a distracted nurse. Sundried pensioners. How adorable. When they get a bit older, they become like my niece is now, around six months old, chubby and just about able to laugh. I generally like people if they laugh when I'm trying to be funny, so me and this age group get along well. They might not understand some of my more oblique references to late nineties sitcoms, but most of my facial expressions go down a treat. Then after this magical age of constant inquisitiveness and hilarity, they learn that they don't have to sit still and gawp, and instantly start careering round the house like fleshy snowploughs, ripping and gouging and drooling. I'm not the most maternal of people (surely not, I hear you gasp), and when it comes to toddlers, If they're asking "why?" all the time but can't understand the answers, I get bored really quickly. Yeah sure, you can destroy the Jolly Pocket Postman in under 10 seconds, but can you flush the toilet? No. I feel they need to be brought down a peg or two. Especially those ones that cry all the time.

And so, I empathise with women in their twenties who have decided "ooh, babies? Not yet, no thanks!" and nervously laugh whenever the subject is raised during a third degree personality test disguised as polite conversation. So I should, I am closely resembling one of them. On my next birthday I'll be twenty two, in other words, I am a twenty-odd year-old female who, when asked about babies, feels about as relevant to the conversation as if I was being asked about liver microsurgery. I'm a kid, and as far as I can tell, I always will be. Plus, I want to do job things, and travel things, and all those other aspiring middle-class things people do when they leave uni all young and bright and barely-jaded. I decided a while ago that I didn't want children of my own, that I'd much rather be Auntie Katie who lets you play with ultra-violent computer games until an hour after your designated bedtime. Children born by me would be weird and antisocial. I think it'd be borderline child cruelty to have a kid grow up in a house ruled by me. They'd be bullied senseless at school, for one thing. Or worse, they'd re bell, and I'd have the shameful admission to make to my future psychiatrist that my child was cooler than I had ever been, was extremely popular, and I indeed was too awkward and shy to talk to it anymore. It's a real possibility.

The reason I'm pondering the ins and outs of child cultivation is all because of a two-page spread in today's Observer. Women are "sticking their heads in the sand" when it comes to fertility, according to (albeit generically-titled) "experts" on the subject. It would appear that women are expecting to be able to put off pregnancy until their thirties at least, putting their careers and social lives front of the needs of our struggling species. Oh, hang on, this paragraph was meant for a post-zombie apocalypse blog. My bad. Women are putting off having kids, because IVF and other forms of being-able-to-have-kids-really-old-like treatment are shown in such a positive light. As Professor Bill Ledger of Sheffield University said in the article: "They think, 'It won't happen to me, I'm 37, I go to the gym twice a week, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I'm fit – everything about me is young'. Well it is, except your ovaries." People are looking at the date, seeing that we now live in the flying-car futuristic world of tomorrow (of the eighties), and thinking that the impossible can happen. That because you can go to Barcelona for £9, you can also become pregnant aged 42. And then subsequently becoming heartbroken because having a baby wasn't as easy as you'd planned, and you should have probably tried about 5 years ago while you were building your dream home in the Quantocks. I know I sound mean and ruthless, but if people really wanted children, they'd have them first, instead of building up their life and then demanding a baby as the cherry on top of the sprinkling-covered whipped cream confection that is their life. *breathe*. Without the cherry, it all seems a bit like empty calories, doesn't it? I am definitely becoming cruel, fast. I apologise. I just hate the way that in today's society (cue 60 year old's opinion) children are portrayed in one of two ways - either unwanted feral carjackers with a penchant for violence and a love of nothing, or the perfect bundle of aww to put inside your happy box of life. Children, in my eyes, are projects. You get what you put in, and you need to have the time and patience to be able to raise them properly. To have them only when you feel you're completely ready, or worse, as an afterthought makes me feel a bit sorry for the way we treat our younglings. I know a lot of people who are excellent parents, who had the surprise of a kid sprung upon them at perhaps an inconvenient time. That's kids for you. They are messy and time-consuming, inconvenient, noisy and hard work. But that's the price you pay for having somebody to love who will always love you back. Like a pet, but one you can read to and watch Mulan with in fancy dress without the neighbours shunning you in the street. My sister became a parent ages seventeen years old. This wasn't her long-term plan - since the age of eight she wanted to be a Harrier Jump Jet pilot - but she's taken to it astoundingly well, and I can't imagine her without Imogen now. Maybe I'd never be good at being a mum, but for those women who are realising too late that they'd really like to give the old parenting thing a go - have they forgotten about adoption? Perhaps they could feed their needs and do something amazing for somebody else at the same time. Sortof like, a perfect charity swapmeet. But less crude, and with a lot more loving neediness. I am trying to be sincere, please don't laugh.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Hells Angels and the Party Poopers

Bikers get a bad rap, or at least they used to, back in the days of motorbike rebellion and Motorhead. These days, you're as likely to see a businesswoman speeding through the middle of early morning traffic as you are to see a bearded Harley rider on the roads of Leeds, and if I'm completely honest, as much as it pains me, most people riding fast bikes round my particular patch of the UK are of the more chavvy disposition.

I grew up around motorbikes; my mum first met my dad in bars around Lancaster favoured by the grimy biker set, and I'm imagining my grandparents weren't especially thrilled with his long hair, piercings, ripped denim and general oil-stained appearance. In the Eighties, this grungy attitude was not cool, it was a rebellion, much like my pink hair and Pantera fixation was during those dreaded teen years. My mum quickly developed a love for bikes (not that she didn't already like them before she met my dad, of course) and so when little baby Katie was born, the house was filled with baby bottles, engine parts and Jimi Hendrix. I have pictures of me as a toddler playing around with bike helmets and wearing Bulldog Bash tee shirts. It was an interesting way to grow up, and I like to think it's shown me that being different probably means you can have more fun. I definitely learned that even as an adult, you can still act like a kid sometimes. Bikers to me were my parent's friends, and I wasn't scared of them, they smelled of leather and petrol (which still happen to be two of the most soothing smells in the world to me - along with fumes from a two-stroke engine). Every so often though, there's a news story that reminds everybody that certain bikers are somewhat violent, and a little bit bad. It nearly always happens right about the time of year the the Bulldog Bash is about to happen again.

Once again, Warwickshire council have been trying to ban permission for the Hells Angels to host the annual Bulldog Bash bike festival in Long Marston near Stratford-Upon-Avon again this year, after last year's mini-riot at Bradford International Airport between the Angels and the Outlaws. There are several rival biker gangs in Britain, but the prominent three are the Outlaws, the Bandits, and the Hells Angels. Tensions aren't always high between them, but every so often news surfaces to the outside world that shocks the rest of the country. What people seem to understand about bike gangs is that they deal with a lot of illegal businesses, and that huge amounts of violence can happen between the groups. Drug and weapons trafficking as well as other shady dealings is what people expect from these outlaw gangs. Last year, Hells Angel Gerry Tobin was shot dead while he drove home on the motorway from the Bulldog Bash by members of the Outlaw gang. Those involved have now been jailed for life, and although this seems like an isolated case, what really goes on between the gangs really isn't known. It isn't any of our business after all, we aren't members...and if you were in a group like this, you'd keep your mouth shut. No snitches allowed!

I don't have a favourite gang per se, but growing up around them means that the Hells Angels seem less scary to me. I can remember camping and being a part of the Bulldog Bash weekend experience even as a kid, and however irresponsible that makes my parents sound, I believe that it would have been far worse to have been left out. I always had a great time at these weird and wonderful places - yes, there were drunk people everywhere, but I wasn't exactly left to my own devices, and I must say, the Hells Angels made seriously effective wardens for the old air force landing strip that the bash calls it's home. One of my earliest memories is being scared and upset because I'd wandered off and lost my mum in the crowds near the market stalls (the Bulldog Bash can only be described as a mish-mash of music festival atmosphere and alternative fashion and motorbike stalls. I was always fascinated by the thousands of tiny parts you could put inside motorbikes, and the stalls were covered in shiny things to look at). Wandering round, crying and sure I'd have to live in the tent forever, I tugged at the sleeve of a tubby bearded Angel who was standing by the Ferris wheel. Somehow deciphering my childish sobs, he took my hand and helped me find my furious and worried mum. In my experience, they are friendly people, these biker types. Having this kind of memory of them makes any violent shenanigans they become embroiled in seem just that - a comedy fight with barely any grounding in real, serious lawbreaking. I'm wrong, I know I am, but how can ginger Santa Clause lookalikes shoot people or cause riots? They carry knuckledusters and meat cleavers? But when I had my ears pierced by one as a toddler (the only cool fact about me) he could barely do it in case I cried! These aren't criminal masterminds! They just like drinking beer and driving bikes and looking at bikes and wearing leather jackets with fringed sleeves and watching drag races. They like Lemmy and Jack Daniels and look after other bike riders. I think I'm suffering from positive stereotyping. I see the Hells Angel badge, and I think "Cool!" or "Nice guy". There's clearly something wrong with my neural processes in this area. I just can't seem to thing anything but nice things about those funny people with bike fixations and a cheeky wink.

The only anecdote I have that shows "bad stuff" is a real threat at places such as the Bulldog Bash is a memory of going one year as an older kid, perhaps aged seven or eight. It was hot and there was a traffic jam as we tried to get into the campsite, which was irritating because we'd already been driving for about three hours. Trying to find out what was going out, my dad got out of the passenger seat (he could only drive a bike until I was about nine) and was immediately told to return to the car by Hells Angel stewards. We all got our cars searched, and it turned out that rather than drug trafficking, a rival gang had threatened to bring homemade bombs to the festival. Quite a scary thought for a child. Probably. Chloe - my sister - and I just thought it was quite exciting. I blame the parents.
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