Sad over England’s World Cup 2014 Exit? Why?! We have the Internet.

It was Wednesday 26th June, 1996, and England were playing Germany in the Semi Finals of the UEFA European Championships at Wembley Stadium. After 120 minutes of high blood pressure-inducing football, the score finished 1-1, and England found themselves faced with a penalty shootout against the organised and resilient German team. Put it this way, if there’s ever a situation you don’t want to be in, it’s having to take penalties against Die Mannschaft. And that night was no exception.

Gareth Southgate, shortly after his penalty was saved by Andreas Köpke

Gareth Southgate, shortly after his penalty was saved by Andreas Köpke

I remember the miss like it was yesterday; I believe everyone watching the game that night does too. For me, it’s my,  “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” moment.
I was sat on the living room floor, wearing my fetching black and orange Kappa tracksuit, sporting a bowl head haircut so spherical it defied the laws of physics. Both teams converted all five of their penalties, and with sudden death now in place, it was Gareth Southgate’s turn to try and salvage England’s Euro 96 hopes. His effort was easily saved by Germany’s Andreas Köpke, and after Moller converted his penalty, England were out of the competition.

I cried. Bucket loads. My Dad tried to console me with a meagre pat on the back, but nothing was going to shake my blues. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. My sister, Hannah, barged into the room to see what was going on.
 “Oh my God, are you CRYING Charlie?!”, she yelled unsympathetically, basking in the schadenfreude with a wry smile. Like a shitting dog being stared at, I felt helpless and exposed, but I had no option but to let it all out. It was a grim ending to what had promised to be a fairytale. After 30 years of hurt, mine had only just begun. Well, that’s what I thought.

FIFA World Cup Brasil 2014 Logo

FIFA World Cup Brasil 2014 logo

Fast forward eighteen years and it’s the World Cup 2014 in Brazil, and what a tournament it has been. Goals, drama, vanishing spray. The lot. We’ve witnessed the frenetic energy of the South American teams on their home soil, a revival of Holland’s Total Football, a newly energised French team that have found their Va Va Voom again, as well as the rise and fall of the mighty giants Spain. It really has been a joy to watch, and we’re barely half way.

For Roy Hodgson’s England, however, things haven’t gone so well. After two early defeats, England were eliminated from the group stages. In part due to being seeded in an extremely tough group alongside Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, but largely down to the fact that we’re just, well…a little bit shit.

When Suarez scored to make it 2-1 to Uruguay, hammering the final nail in England’s proverbial coffin, you’d be right to assume that I was disappointed. Was there a repeat of the Euro 96 floodgates though? Was I a blubbering, inconsolable wreck? No. I was pissing myself with laughter, and I have the internet to thank for that.

Within seconds of England’s untimely World Cup exit, my social media channels were awash with viral images and videos. Here are some examples:

suarez airport meme

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48-years-later

These memes offered light relief in a time of loss and disappointment. What could have been a miserable evening turned out to be a rather amusing one at that. I spent the rest of the night scouring Twitter with the hashtag #suarez, which was trending Worldwide at that point. It seemed I wasn’t alone in using the Internet to take solace from England’s World Cup set back.

Memes have been a key feature of the tournament. According to Zero Hora, a Brazilian national newspaper, this World Cup has been dubbed as Copa dos Memes, or ‘The Cup of Memes’.

Robin Van Persie’s swan-dive header against Spain has become a viral sensation too. Known as ‘Persieing’, the wonder goal has been followed up with photoshop parodies and photo fads, with Robin’s 93 year-old Grandad even getting involved.

Van Persie Goal

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Robin Van Persie’s Grandad getting involved

Other incidents that have gone viral include Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa depicted as Superman after his heroic display against the hosts Brazil, Bruno Martins Indi’s laser eye stare at Diego Costa, and a levitating Claudio Marchisio.
A particular favourite of mine is of Cameroon midfielder Alex Song’s imbecilic foul on Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic. Unprovoked, Song elbowed Mandzukic in the back, and has subsequently been banned for three games. Feeding off his moment of lunacy, several GIFs have emerged providing an alternative as to why Mandzukic went down so sharpish.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, this World Cup is predicted to generate “more social media posts of any mega-event in history”. The fact that Brazil has a population of 200 million and is the fifth-largest Internet market by population must have an influence, but I believe we’ve all caught the viral bug. The memes compliment the beautiful game. They add a different dimension. And what’s more, they’re universal. They reflect just how much social media has changed the way we watch television. Whilst Phil Neville is sending us to sleep with his monotonous, torturous, yet oddly endearing commentary, most of us have one eye on our Twitter timeline, waiting for the next viral hit to pop up.

Now it’s Tuesday 24th June 2014, and England are out of the World Cup. I’ve ditched the Kappa tracksuit. I’ve destroyed all evidence of the bowl head haircut. And I’ve swapped the tears of pain for tears of laughter. No more years of hurt. Bring on the memes. Well, that’s until we ever have to face Germany in a penalty shootout.

#IStillHaventForgivenYouSouthgate

Farting in a Onesie.

Something happened to me last night that took me by surprise. I’ll set the scene.

The clocks had just turned 8pm. Midsomer Murders was on ITV, and I had nothing better to do other than sprawl out on the sofa in my onesie. As my flatmate (and older brother Ol) was away for the rest of the week, I could afford to be extra slobbish.

So I did what every honest person would do in this situation; I let out a massive fart.

Now I’m not one to blow my own trumpet – unless a noxious odour is involved – but it was one of my most impressive farts to date. Its high, mid and low frequencies aligned beautifully to create a wondrous, foghorn-like racket – imagine Brian Blessed playing the tuba with his trademark gusto in an empty corridor. The sheer power and panache of the fart caught me by surprise. And given that there was just me in the room, I had a little chuckle to myself. Life at its most mundanely magical.

It was around about this time that I just so happened to scroll aimlessly down my Facebook timeline, something I’ve been perfecting for the past seven years. Quite a few of my friends had commented on a link, automatically grouping it to the top of my page. The link contained this picture below.

Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan

Within seconds of laughing, and with barely enough time to evacuate the plume of methane that was suffocating me, a wave of guilt washed over me. Guilt and shame.

Here I am, in my pokey West London flat, in an ill-fitting onesie, watching Inspector Barnaby solve YET ANOTHER MURDER IN THE COUNTY OF MIDSOMER, while basking in the hilarity of my own farts. And there Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan are, looking impeccably sun-kissed and impossibly beautiful as they stroll along a beach in Dubai. For a moment, I felt like the less hygienic brother of Harry Enfield’s ‘Wayne Slob’ character.

The comments my friends had left on Facebook were of a similar nature.

“THEY’RE SO PERFECT”

“THE PERFECT COUPLE”

“OMG, FOR ALL DA LOSER GUYS WHO R WATCHING MIDSOMER MURDERS IN THEIR ONESIES RIGHT NOW, DIS IZ WHAT A REAL MAN LOOKS LYK”

Ok, maybe that last one wasn’t true.

But then I thought to myself, “NO!”.
(Admittedly, the smell had dissipated at this point, so maybe that’s what had clouded my judgement in the first place). What do I have to be guilty about? I was well proud of that fart. And more importantly, with no offence to Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan, why are we basing our ideals on a photograph like the one featured above?

The moral of this rather aimless blog entry? Try not to take the polished, Instagram-filtered snapshots we see on Facebook and the like as gospel. Nothing in reality can compete with them, yet it’s the raw moments, like sprawling out on your sofa in a onesie and letting out an earth-shattering explosion of methane from your backside that make us human. I’ll leave it for you to decide if I’m just spouting a lot of hot air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do smokers have a social advantage?

Worldwide smoking bans in public places have made the 21st century an increasingly difficult and marginalised time to be a smoker. And for the non-smokers around, me included, the ruling makes life a hell of a lot easier. Opening the doors to your local boozer no longer means having to saunter through the sort of smoke clouds you had only seen on a Stars In Your Eyes stage entrance. Nowadays, whether you’re at work, at a restaurant, or out clubbing, you have to brave the elements if you want your nicotine fix. And if you’re in England, 99.9% of the time the weather is a drab and dreary concoction of cloud and drizzle, adding a touch of melancholy to the already depressing sight of people huddled together smoking outdoors.
However, something happened to me this year which gave me a totally different perspective on the matter. And in order to look back on it, we have to rewind to March, when I was solo backpacking the East Coast of Australia.

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Smoking – a social advantage?

There I was. My cheek squashed against the Greyhound bus window. The dry, exhausted Australian landscape providing the backdrop. An overweight man in his late 40s was sat next to me, his snores reaching the decibel levels of a pneumatic drill. I was travelling by myself and, if I’m being honest, I desperately wanted some friends. Some company. Anything.

We approached a service station somewhere in between Sydney and Byron Bay. The driver pulled over and got on the mic,

“Guys, just a quick toilet break for those who need it. Make sure you’re all back on the bus in ten minutes time”.

Within seconds of the announcement, half of the bus had made their way to the exit.
“Crikey, I didn’t realise I was in the presence of people with such weak bladders”, I thought. I had to double check that I hadn’t booked myself onto a Saga tour of the Australian East Coast instead. Upon further inspection it was apparent that this wasn’t the case. These people rushing to the front of the bus weren’t about to soil themselves. Nor were they a bunch of septuagenarians either. These people were smokers.

For the next ten minutes I stayed put. My cheek still pressed against the window. The chap next to me was now breathing so heavily, he could only be nearing the end of some sort of rampant sex dream. Yet this time round, the view from my window was a group of twenty-something travellers, puffing on cigarettes and conversing like long lost friends. Forming friendships and making plans for that night, I presumed, whilst gradually realising just how much each other had in common, in between each inhalation and exhalation.

I don’t like cigarettes, I’m asthmatic, and therefore not the best at passive smoking. So for me to hop off the bus, wade through the cloud of tobacco smoke and join in with the conversation was completely out of the question. But at that moment in time, I wanted to be out there with them. I wanted the sociability of a smoker, and it posed me the question.

Do smokers have a social advantage?

Smoking Left Out

I want to join in the with the conversation, but I’m not a smoker.

One thing that smokers have is the ability to spark up conversation with complete strangers, and it being entirely socially acceptable. The words, “got a light?” create the platform and lay the foundations for conversation. You smoke the cigarettes together, and an immediate bond is formed.

When I’m walking my dogs, I experience something similar. Approaching and talking to a stranger in the park would ordinarily seem a little weird. Yet when I’m armed with my Border Terrier and my Cockapoo, and the stranger in question also has a dog in tow, talking isn’t a problem. Smoking is exactly the same. And since we’re living in a time where we’re increasingly turning to our smart phones and laptops to converse with one another, smokers have the benefit of having a shared activity that allows them to talk to strangers in person.

Another advantage is that smoking tends to be conducted in groups. I mean, I wouldn’t be writing this piece now if only one person had stepped off the coach in Australia, dejectedly lighting a cigarette and puffing away on their lonesome for those remaining ten minutes. It was the gathering of several people that had me envious for a slice of their social interaction.

Perhaps the Government’s efforts to curb smoking in public places has brought smokers closer together. Stripping them of the chance to both smoke and interact with non-smokers at the same time, smokers can now only converse with one another. I feel this especially at work. I’ve been sat there, the sound of a pin drop enough to make me jump out of my skin for the lack of atmosphere, whilst the people with their cigarettes would be outside, chatting, venting and gossiping with one another. There’s also that painful period of solitariness, filled with pretend texting and awkward stretching, when your friends decide to leave the bar or nightclub to go outside for a smoke. They are mingling with a party of people, and I’m inside on my own, having to shuffle incompetently to the latest David Guetta tune.

In a related article from the Montreal Gazette, focussing on the social side of smoking, one of the subjects, when questioned as to whether the efforts to eliminate smoking had an effect on smokers, responded,
“There’s a group spirit…There are things you would say to another smoker that you would never say to anyone else”. This hints that the sense of disconnection from society felt as a result of the smoking ban has in someways strengthened the connection between smokers. This is reminiscent of the time my primary school banned Pokémon cards after the head teacher believed them a distraction from work. All that happened was that the dedicated Pokémon card collectors amongst us took to covert strategies in order to build up our Pokémon card empire.

According to a 25 year study into smoking carried out by Jim Sherman, a Professor of Social Psychology at Indiana University, smokers are more sociable than non-smokers, and this can be seen as early as school.
“They generally date earlier, and they’re often popular. The cool kids in school were smokers, and they were dating…They tend to be more socially precocious, extroverted and risk taking than non-smokers”. Whether or not this is true is up for debate. But as a non-smoker throughout school, spending most of my time reading TinTin and ‘fiddling’ with my Playstation controller, I certainly didn’t ooze with social prowess.

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So, are there really any social advantages to smoking after all?

The negatives of smoking are so well established, it would have been pointless to write a blog entry on the reasons why smoking cigarettes is bad for you. I thought it would be interesting to explore an antithetical viewpoint, following that feeling of envy I had on the Greyhound bus. I tell myself all the time that smoking is bad for you, but I still can’t shake off the disadvantages I feel from being a non-smoker. Having something so conversable as a cigarette gives smokers a social leg up.

I must add though, it is only when I’m on my own that I feel envy for smokers. When I was backpacking, I was alone, far from home, and thus had a greater desire and need to belong and be part of a group. In the staff room at work, or the nightclub, when my peers leave me to smoke, it’s the vulnerability and loneliness that prompts the desire for communication.

Smokers probably think the world is against them, and to an extent it probably is, and rightly so, but this post shows that there are social advantages to smoking, coming from the perspective of a non-smoker.

Hopefully in years to come, smoking levels will decrease, and there will be someone like me on a Greyhound bus – maybe one of the latest ‘hover’ buses – on the East Coast of Australia.

The driver will then pull over and get on the mic,

“Guys, just a quick talking break for those who might be feeling lonely, or for those who just want to chat. Go out there and make some friends. See you in ten minutes time”.