Happiness to Have A Day/Celebratory

JOURNALISM is pretty much unrecognisable from the days a local weekly first decided paying the clueless kid who had been working for nothing for a couple of weeks was in some way a good idea.

Still expect to be uncovered as a chancer who has somehow blagged his way through a career lasting nearly three decades, countless threats of redundancy and some surprisingly senior positions.

Whatever the platform, key basics remain the same (regardless of what some people say) – get the facts right, present them in a readable fashion in something approaching correct grammar and house style, descend on free food without bothering to ask where it came from… – but far more has changed.

Print has been gradually squeezed aside – not totally, there’s still enough of us fighting the good fight – by the rampant advance of the internet.

And that’s fine, anyone sat hankering after the good old days is not really doing the job of a journalist and offering a true reflection of what is happening. As long as those basic tenets of the job remain in the place (although more reverence for subs is always welcomed).

Technology has transformed life in the office from the days of sketching out pages and print commands on paper to be replicated by cutting and pasting printouts into an approximation of my messy scribbles, now reserved to the lists on the A4 pad to the right of my mouse as everything happens on the screens (another big change) in front of me.

But rarely can a reporter’s relationship with technology have changed as much as the one they have with phones.

Once upon a time the only way to get a quote or speak to someone was to go and physically meet them or pick up the phone. They might fax you a statement – look it up kids – but chances are you had to take down what they said and go from there.

The office’s first mobile had to be shared around and was only any good if you had strong arms.

But relationships with phones have changed.

Reporters are never far from their phone, be it checking social media, filming something for the website or picking it up and scurrying off into a side office to make a call.

Not all of them by any means, but it does seem to be growing trend.

It can be intimidating but don’t worry, the people around you aren’t that interested in what you are saying (and are probably too busy to take much notice) and one day all those side offices might be busy – as happened to one work experience lad in our office who was totally lost at what to do next when he found the boardroom was being used for… well, something close to what it is meant for.

It is not the first time phones have caused work experience youngsters issues – one looking aghast when asked to ring around and check some details for an online articles, descending into tears and never returning after lunch on their first day.

A Twitter debate sparked by the above tweet revealed tales of phones being taken into toilets so they could be used in private. Just hoping it wasn’t hands free.

Work experience can be abused by both sides, either as cheap labour or a week away from education, but it can be hugely beneficial. Not only are extra bodies always welcome in the office but, used properly, they provide a valuable insight into life in a newsroom.

Have seen more than one talented youngster start as a workie and become a fixture around the office before starting a successful career, but there’s also been some tales of woe. Also bumped into one again a few weeks later when she recognised me in a rather dodgy club where she was working. Wearing rather less than she had in the office, even less for a few quid more.

We used to have a white board in the office which had a tally of “Days Since We Last Lost A Workie” as it became such a frequent event.

More than one has been reduced to tears – at least in one case by being asked to, you know, experience some work – while another felt a bit tired so went for a lie down on the seats in reception.

Had to escort one from the premises after he had been sent with a reporter to a football press conference and posted most of it on his fans’ blog before he had returned to the office – initiative maybe but breaking an embargo and giving away our back page lead for the next day to the very people we wanted to read it.

But star of the workie wall of fame was the lad who got sent out on the trainee rites of passage – a vox pop.

They are horrible to do – had one senior reporter walk out never to return after  increasingly desperate calls to the news desk as he struggled to stop people with a deadline looming – but being sent onto the streets of Cheltenham was too much for one would-be reporter.

“This shit’s horrific” he tweeted with an explanation of what he was doing.

And he would have got away with it if it wasn’t for those perishing subs who spotted it in a search for tweets mentioning Cheltenham to fill a space.

By the time he arrived back, several hours and nowhere near enough successful responses later, “This shit’s horrific” was plastered across the whiteboard and has become a long-standing office joke.

Along with something about plastic cheese, but that’s a whole other story.

  • Short and sweet on the music front for this entry. The A-Z from Wilco to The Polyphonic Spree threw up mainly vintage stuff including what, if memory serves, was the last physical single in my collection. Back when we got totally overexcited about The Strokes for a few weeks and that was the only was we could hear it.

Hard To Explain is still a great song mind.

  • We are a month from Christmas and the war of wills is underway in the office about when the decorations go up (as it’s my week off, pretty sure they are already up) but no such dilemma in my flat.

Christmas has come early. At least in the incessant, highly-repetitive soundtrack from the speaker (currently drowned out by Bob Dylan on the radio) which appeared on the lamppost outside to accompany the skating rink which will be there until the new year and the Victorian Market which is resulting in a lot of fake snow being traipsed inside.

Quite what the green monstrosity clinging on for dear life next to it has to do with Christmas, God only knows.

It appeared without warning one night. Returned home, looked out the window and there it was, perfectly framed to the right of my TV.

And it is even worse in the daylight.

All I want for Christmas is to avoid nightmares.

  • Normally the excuse for long gaps between posts is being too busy, a lack of organisation, total absence of inspiration or not listening to the A-Z in favour of something else.

All that’s true this time, but there is the added reason of finally getting to a lot of jobs on the website which have been meaning to do for ages.

Nothing major and there’s still a few tweaks to do but if you have a quick look around and click some of those links off to the right, there’s some new pages and sections which should make it easier to find stuff or stumble across something you didn’t know you were looking for.

There’s even my first attempts at playing around with video in the new Overlanding section.

Apart from tidying things up, it’s all designed to house some new writing ideas in the new year.

Eventually.

 

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Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah) to Happiness

ANYONE listening carefully during the closing scene of the first episode of the BBC drama Press would have heard anguished screams from newspaper sub editors all over the country.

You will need to have listened carefully – we are an endangered species after all – but the screen shot of an intro written by a deputy news editor had us (and journalists of all types) shouting at the TV.

One glance at Twitter was enough to confirm what we were all thinking after the opening episode of the tale of two competing, contrasting and neighbouring newspapers.

Let’s not go in to too much detail of what is wrong with that (basically, all of it – too long, dull, don’t throw all the facts in the first par, local is on the banned words list on a regional paper let alone a national whose readers could be anywhere in the country, last Friday dates it, start with the news angle…)

It needs a complete rewrite.

On a former paper the production staff had a running joke with one ‘award-winning’ reporter in particular that copy needed so much work their byline should read ‘From an original idea by…’. Or unoriginal if we were feeling less charitable.

And who let a reporter (deputy news editor in this case) write her own headline?

There were other complaints from journalists all over Twitter – absolutely no mention of the internet, the appalling design of The Herald, a reporter carrying out an interview without notes or recording, the lack of empty desks and swearing in the office, no feeding frenzy when free food arrives and unrealistic shortage of tea being made and consumed plus a few more niche complaints.

Smelly food seems to be a widespread complaint – one reporter’s name was mentioned in our office when that tweet was spotted.

In fairness, Press was pretty enjoyable. One review described it as more accurate of a newspaper world from 20 years ago – the lack of internet taking precedence confirms that – and from experience in regional newsrooms, there was certainly enough there that rang true (amid a lot that didn’t).

Certainly not as bad as feared after years of watching reporters and newspapers portrayed inaccurately in dramas which have helped to colour public perceptions of our profession.

It’s not a documentary, we get that. But getting most of the basics right is generally a good place to start and, on the whole, Press got enough right to pass muster – and enough wrong for journalists to do what they love most. Moan.

It’s not always the case. Regardless of what most people think, the press  in this country is governed by laws and every trainee journalist has to learn the basics (yes, there is a well-thumbed – albeit out of date – copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists in my desk).

The 10 points of what you can report from the first hearing – as dictated by The Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 – is pretty much the first thing generations of reporters learned. Before knowing where Oxdown is.

A sighting of a newspaper page in any drama normally has me squirming and  watching through my fingers as they blast a headline, designed to explain as simply possible to viewers, which would break any number of legal reporting restrictions. To say nothing of the quite awful design.

Occasionally a film crew will ask the professionals to mock up a page for them – not sure what one production team didn’t like about a design we provided, the look, fact it was not simple enough or that the back page had the two people behind it promoted into the British & Irish Lions squad.

The Lions featured on a genuine back page of mine in a South Wales Echo read by Larry Lamb on the beach at Barry Island during an episode of Gavin & Stacey.

But as much as those of us who nudge pictures around pages and spend ages coming up with headlines (or until a relevant song title or lyric takes to pop into our minds – very proud of last week’s niche top cats provided with dignity effort), it is the stories which really matter.

And words matter.

Each week, send out an email to our reporters and news desk detailing things we have picked up in their copy or have cropped up in the office – be it factual errors, house style or the correct distribution of sauces in a sausage sandwich order (the important stuff).

Some of it may seem trivial, some of it is useful information, some of it drives subs nuts (misspelling the village where one of them grew up is never a good idea). There may be lots of ways to refer to councillors, but only one of them is correct in house style and it looks stupid if it varies from story to story – or paragraph to paragraph in many cases.

Yes, words matter.

One example came to my attention this week and, must admit, had not given it much thought.

Committed suicide is a recognisable phrase, very easy to slip the words together without thinking.

But committed comes from when suicide was a crime so should we really be churning it out without thinking at a time when so much effort is being put in to tackle mental health and its public perception? That’s one for the next style guide email.

And then there’s one which has had a deal of personal resonance over the years, particularly in recent weeks and months – cancer battle.

Remarkably, Rachael Hodges was criticised by a small section of Twitter lowlife for not battling this despicable disease hard enough, regardless of her remarkable work in changing perceptions and putting people with cancer in the spotlight. Not hidden away with people unsure how to deal with them.

Describing it as a battle gives this horrible condition some form of dignity, a foe worthy of meeting on equal terms when all too often the odds have long been stacked far too heavily.

And just the whole thought of winners and losers in this situation is ridiculous.

Understand why people use the phrase and have yet to come up with much better, but suggest we try. Words matter.

Which all adds up to make it slightly ironic the last section of the A-Z trip through my iPod – you know, what this whole blog section is supposed to be about – ends with Happiness.

Was not the main feeling over the past month or so, but recent events have had the side effect of a lot of looking back at happier times and so amid the sadness there’s been a lot of smiles. And laughter.

The latest leg of the journey took us from White Denim to Teenage Fanclub and was dominated by Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Prefab Sprout and Juliana Richer Daily all chipping in with originals, covers and altogether different songs.

There was some terrific stuff along the way but rather than another ridiculously long paragraph listing it all, here’s some of it…

  • A big thank you for the reaction and kind words following my last, untitled piece on the loss of the much-missed Nick Machin. It meant a lot. The number of hits that post has received has been ridiculous – something I’m sure says a lot more about Nick than my writing.
photo by: comedy_nose
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WE didn’t do arrangements. Never bothered with phone calls. There was an unspoken agreement of where and when to meet.

Originally on a Saturday with the ink on the Sports Echo marking our fingers, more latterly on a Friday – not necessarily the best idea for those of us working the next day.

There might be the odd confirmation if you bumped in to one of the others in the office, people could bank on us being in The City Arms post work – bar the odd splinter group sparking a change of venue before we reverted to type.

And on Friday, many of us will do it all over again. Just without one of the key figures.

Walking into The City Arms again without Nick Machin will be odd. Walking in there to toast our lost friend will be even stranger. And not a prospect that is easy to come to terms with.

Tried several times to write this piece. But the words didn’t come.

Not for a lack of anything to say – could rattle through enough memories of Nick to fill any number of articles and have been running through many of them over the last couple of weeks. It has been impossible to put everything in some sort of order.

But let’s give it a go.

Nick was many things to me. And to many others. Colleague, news editor, housemate, landlord, tea maker, travelling companion, drummer, Badger, Imp, but above all friend. For the lucky ones, very good friend.

Without him, things would have been very different.

He was the first new face I got to know in a new job, he offered me a roof over my head (and never complained when I broke the bed on the first night) and more than once convinced me one more pint was not a good idea.

He was off home to his pit – via a takeaway. And if I wasn’t working, I could guarantee there’d be a couple of cans of Coke in the fridge the next morning by the time I made it downstairs – he opted against the Saturday lie-in, just in case it had a detrimental impact on his afternoon nap.

He introduced me to fish and chips for Saturday lunch, crab sticks (no thanks), Kenny Thomas, cooking lager, countless games of darts in the kitchen, the comedy potential of a ruler, Midsomer Murders, relaxing under a large poster of Norman Stanley Fletcher, asking for your eggs dippy… and any number of things which I came to take for granted.

We had our moments sharing a house. Sure my more relaxed attitude to housework drove him nuts while he had a reliable ability to be in the bath at the moment you had agreed to be going out the door.

And we had long arguments about what should or should not be included in fish finger sandwiches.

Without him I would not have enjoyed a brief spell as band manager, roadie and sound man fighting to get the band heard over the drummer smacking his kit with abandon.  Or slept in my car in a slightly dodgy park in Skegness.

I would not have supported Lincoln City at two play-off finals or melted in the Charleston heat with a horrific hangover on dog-sitting duties at his wedding.

And without Nick this blog would probably never exist. Without him I would probably never have travelled, certainly not to the same extent.

Who knows which baseball team I’d support if Nick had not come from Boston, Lincolnshire. Its namesake seemed as good a place as any to start our US road trip – six weeks in a loop from Boston to New York which means my contribution to wearing a bit of Lincoln red at his funeral will be Sox.

Not sure which one of us first floated quitting our jobs to do a longer overland trip to New York, this one starting in London and heading east rather than a few hours down the coast.

It got kicked around, put to one side, revisited, forgotten and, eventually, raised over a pint and neither of us could find a reason not to go – we’d both learned the hard way that you never quite know what lies around the corner, as we have all been reminded over the last few months.

Sure our boss was delighted when we both walked into his office and handed in our notices on the same morning.

The decision changed both of our lives in so many ways and neither of us regretted it. Without it, I… well what I’ve done since is outlined in this blog. Nick gained something far more special. But we’ll get to that.

Could rattle on with any number of tales from the road on coaches, trains, cruise ship, gers, campsites, national parks and any number of strange, wonderful places large and small.

We spent four nights on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Irkutsk, four blokes sharing a cabin with not a lot of room to spare.

But we invited everybody in to what became known, very quickly, as Nick’s Bar.

Not sure who christened it as we set about tackling the vodka supplies we had loaded up with for the whole four days and lasted a few hours, but it was Nick’s Bar. No dispute. There were four us sharing and more than twice that crammed in at times, but it was Nick’s Bar.

Nick was at the heart of everything. Not the loudest, not the most flamboyant, opinionated or dominant. But Nick was the beating heart of the group. Of the whole trip. Of pretty much whichever group he was in at the time.

And there he sat, the calm centre of apparent chaos. Just like he had in the newsroom. Only with more angry Russians.

One of our travelling companions always described him as totally genuine. A former colleague harkened back with fondness to our days on the South Wales Echo with “Nick at the centre of it”.

Whenever I get in a conversation about travelling, I always get asked about my favourite places. Or experiences. There’s a long and a short answer, but at the heart of both of them is that what matters most is the people. And I was lucky, I took one of the best with me.

All the strong memories of that trip – a minor diplomatic incident in Warsaw, getting lost in Prague and St Petersburg, sweating it out in our Mongolian ger, sliding across frozen Lake Baikal and watching the spectacular sunset from Olkhon Island, the pirate party in the middle of the Pacific, the midnight sun in Alaska, sweltering in San Francisco… the list goes on – are as much about the people as the places.

And Nick was at the heart of it, hosting visitors in Nick’s Bar, turning Roger the Parrot into a minor celebrity or leading a Beijing hostel bar in a version of Wonderwall on the drums.

Used to wind him up that we would meet people along the way, chat to them for an hour or so – if that – and they were his friends on Facebook.

But that was Nick, spend any time chatting to him – however short – and he was your friend. He made you feel that way and, chances are, he was more than happy to help you out as a friend would.

Know my sister, who had met Nick briefly in passing years earlier, was grateful for the welcome he gave to a message out of the blue and his eagerness to help sort some issues with my house in Cardiff while I was battling a dodgy internet connection in Addis Ababa.

We didn’t see as much of each other as I’d have liked in the last few years, travelling, work and life getting in the way for both of us. We caught up when we could and picked up where we left off – cup of tea, cooking lager, brown booze.

We finally got round to sorting out a reunion for some of the London to New York crew last year, a weekend which was pretty special and which will now take on extra resonance.

As we walked through London, the two of us fell to the back of the group comparing middle-aged ailments.

I was hobbling along with what turned out to be bursitis of the hip and sparked a much-needed weight loss. He bemoaned his eyesight worsening with the passing years. We had no way of knowing it was rather more than that.

The news editor in Nick would want me to ensure the facts are included, however difficult. Hope he doesn’t mind too much if for once I ignore his professional opinion.

So let’s look at some other facts, back from days just after that London to New York trip which would end with me sweating and looking after a terrier down the coast in South Carolina.

Of all the experiences we shared on the road, the one which really made an impact on Nick happened after we parted ways in Boston – when we met up again in sweltering Nashville a couple of months later, he kept going on about this woman he had met.

And he pretty much did that every time we met from then on as his relationship with Sufia battled its way through geography, logistics and red tape to forge a couple (well, family once you threw in Ellie the dog) it was hard to imagine had ever been anything else.

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Nick was never happier than the last few years with Sufia and it is baffling, infuriating and tragic that they only had four years after that wonderful wedding week in Charleston.

Sufia has been amazing over the last 10 months or so, fighting to get Nick whatever treatment and help could give them a longer future and nursing him through the final weeks.

We’ll raise a glass not just to Nick on Friday but to Sufia, Si and the rest of the family and all his friends. There’s a lot of them out there and it’s a privilege to be one of them.

Miss you mate.

Nick Machin 1969-2018

 

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Adios Amigo to Golden Dream

BY its very nature, this blog spends a fair amount of time paddling around in nostalgia.

There’s plenty of new stuff making waves along the way – and maybe, just maybe, introduce you to through the links – but the default position is ankle deep in the past.

Be that music or the memories, stories and feelings it stirs when held up to my ears (think we might have gone far enough with that metaphor).

And that’s fine. Been great rediscovering forgotten gems, unearthing a few  missed through the years and seeing how classic tracks have plotted the soundtrack of my life.

But maybe diving too deep into the musical past is not always a great thing.

The soundtrack since the last entry (far longer ago than intended) has been littered with a lot of new stuff, helped by a catch-up through A-G in the journey through my iPod – some it very new, some of it stuff from the last 12 months or so which needed the compulsory listen to ensure nothing was missed.

By contrast, a couple of live outings have rolled back the years. Even decades.

Echo and the Bunnymen were my first proper gig at Gloucester Leisure Centre  in my teenage years, to which they provided a large chunk of the soundtrack.

They were, along with REM, my band for many, many years, but for some reason had somehow missed seeing them live again. Partly due to lack of opportunity, but largely turning down a couple of chances as we all got considerably older.

Never been a big fan of just seeing bands for old times’ sake. And somehow didn’t want to mix those wonderful memories of seeing the Bunnymen way back when with a risk of disappointment at what they have become.

Right up to the point when a ticket to see them live dropped in my lap as a Christmas present.

For a while, looked like might miss it – the band cancelling the gig due to a clash with the Champions League final, rescheduling to the one night when work rather gets in the way before an outcry from fans forced a return to the original date.

And it was enjoyable. If you don’t relish Ian McCulloch singing the likes of The Killing Moon, Seven Seas or Villiers Terrace – the song which always ended any C90 compiled for anyone else – backed by an excellent band and string quartet, you are missing some sort of musical gene (it’s what stops me getting most heavy metal).

But… there was always a but hovering in the air. McCulloch always was a difficult soul and whether it was his natural personality or resentment at missing his Liverpool side in action, there was an element of going through the motions about it all.

As good as the band were, they were shunted right to the back of the sizeable stage as McCulloch took centre stage – largely motionless – with Will Sergeant almost skulking off stage right.

And the set list was bizarre. A strong start with old favourites – let’s face it, that’s what most the audience of a certain age wanted to hear – drifted into mid-gig malaise and every time they got us up again with a classic, it was straight back down with some newer track.

There were no quibbles with the set list at the second gig in close succession, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott rattling through The Housemartins’ and Beautiful South’s back catalogues. The music was highly enjoyable – far more so than expected.

But in the middle of Westbonbirt Arboretum, it was all a bit odd.

The long, slow-moving queue to get in was frustrating (especially seeing late arrivals, including at least one regular reader, benefit from them eventually opening extra entrances while the original queue watched on) , meaning most of support act Billy Bragg’s set was witnessed from afar and through a fence while trying to get in.

Judging by some of the tutting at his politics, a few were in no rush to get in.

And when we did get in, with limited space around the back and sides, it was into Dante’s middle class circle of hell.

Tickets were not cheap, so did wonder why some people were there. Not for the music, that’s for sure. Far more for the chance to sit and have a picnic – suggest M&S and Wzitrose enjoyed a huge soar in profits as they must have sold out of dips, nibbles and finger food. And wine boxes.

One group in front of us, apparently four couples, were sat in a circle from which they barely moved throughout.

The women did get up a couple of times to start dancing when a song they knew came on, only to stop halfway through to take some selfies and then wander off to the loo.

The men sat and talked, only stopping occasionally to pass out some more drinks and to cut up some limes to go with them.

Actually, that’s not fair. Two of them did stand up, almost on top of a seated couple who had staked out a prime spot, so they could compare tips on their golf swings.

The eight of them would have had exactly the same evening (without the queue and traffic) if they had sat in the garden with a CD on in the background.

Sure a lot of people there didn’t realise music came without interruptions from Chris Evans and the traffic news.

Musically better than expected (not necessarily my normal taste post-Housemartins, but Heaton has written a surprising number of great songs) and a fair few additions to the bad gig etiquette list.

Certainly not a Billy Bragg audience – as one woman showed who talked relentlessly just behind us, moaning about him covering that nice Kirsty Maccoll’s New England.

He has been a fairly constant presence live – seen him in four difference decades – and throughout this A-Z journey through my iPod. And he popped up again in this recap, courtesy of the collection of tracks he put out last year. Politically inspired, surprisingly enough.

The bulk of the catch-up – from Michael Head to Snail Mail – can be split between the traditional end-of-year download binge and new stuff.

Phoebe Bridgers cropped up a few times on the former having made it in to the top three of my albums of last year. Certainly no need to reconsider that one and remain slightly obsessed.

The new stuff has not been quite as much as planned – the January idea to get something new each week never got out of the month – but there’s been some decent stuff.

Let’s Eat Grandma, Snail Mail, Goat Girl, perhaps surprisingly Buffalo Tom and old faithfuls Half Man Half Biscuit are all threatening this year’s best-of lists.

But early, clear favourite for top spot is Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.

Thankfully, the music is a fair bit easier to cope with than the name and delivers a large enough helping of jingly-jangly guitar to wash away any lingering anger sparked by fellow gig-goers.

 

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The Great Big No to Gypsy Death & You

THERE is an odd phenomenon which happens some time before the clocks go forward each spring.

Quite when depends on how bleak the previous few months have been but around the point at which it becomes pretty easy to remember the rest of Gloucester’s fixture list, the end of the rugby season cannot come soon enough.

It has not always been like this, but when egg chasing on and off the pitch infiltrated the bulk of my working life, the end of the season increasingly became  a moment to savour.

It did not last long. Within weeks – often within days – we had replaced spending Saturday afternoons covering matches or producing pages based around that coverage with going to the pub to watch the summer Test matches over a few beers.

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And before you knew it, that gap on a Saturday afternoon needed filling (to say nothing of the sports page which don’t just vanish all summer) and the countdown was on until the first match.

Rugby – and sport in general – forms only part of the day job now. More of a watching brief than the heart of the role. Writing about it and designing pages about it has been replaced by watching it. As a fan.

The same still applies. By around March, the end of the season cannot come soon enough – not that you would have heard any complaints if Gloucester had managed to extend their season into the play-offs (two heavy defeats to end the league campaign made sure that didn’t happen, but we were seriously in the running until then which made a refreshing change).

It’s not the rugby. You wouldn’t find me anywhere else than in The Shed for any home game or in front of the TV for any televised away match. It’s just that you start to crave a weekend that doesn’t have to be planned around the game (and the getting there early to save a place in The Shed).

Was certainly desperate for the season to end as Gloucester, down to 14 men, were hanging on into the final couple of minutes of the European Challenge Cup final (our third in four years) against a Cardiff Blues team that really should have been buried before the break.

Season’s end came little more than 60 seconds too late, a last-ditch penalty bringing the kind of finale Gloucester fans have seen all too often in recent seasons. It’s got to the point where it is hard to accept we have hung on for the win until you’ve seen it on the TV highlights.

By the end of that night in Bilbao (the venue needs an explanation nearly as long as some of the journeys it took to get there), rugby could just go vanish.

For three days. Right up to the point when Gloucester signed Danny Cipriani.

Unlike the influx of South Africans (more may have arrived by the time you read this*) and Matt Banahan from Bath – akin to Liverpool signing Gary Neville in his playing days – this was not rumoured for weeks, debated and ranted about by the keyboard warriors who would find something to complain about if Gloucester went the whole season undefeated. There had been the odd whisper which over the course of a weekend became a roar.

Popular rantings on forums and social media over the past season included opposition to the renaming of The Shed (it is officially, shock horror, The Greene King Shed although you will not hear anyone call it that), one woman’s crusade against players not spending enough time thanking fans at away games, the selection of beers (much of it supplied by the same sponsors), unsuitable headwear and the club not announcing any new signings.

Whether there was any to announce or not and regardless of whether the player had signed or any agreement between his old and new club over a big reveal. Never mind any of that, somebody had mentioned it on the forum, why had the club not announced it?

Cipriani’s signing – by my reckoning, the biggest name since at least the capture of All Black lock Ian Jones the best part of 20 years ago – was met with almost universal support. Almost.

There were those fretting about his wages and those about what was going to happen to our existing outside-halves. Because clearly we are going to play the same 15 players in every game next season. And one of our No 10s didn’t really play inside centre for Wales in the autumn.

But the keyboard complainers did not have too long to wait. Little more than 24 hours later and they hit the mother load.

Word got out of an announcement – people were invited, people talk, however much the club try to keep it quiet – and the amount of times two plus two came to totals other than four was astonishing.

More signings (complete with mixed reviews, despite not knowing who they were) and a rebranding as Gloucester Lions were presented pretty much as fact. Opinion on Twitter, after all, is confirmation of the truth these days.

And that opinion, particularly about the rebrand, was not a welcoming one – no matter how many times the club denied it. Even after the event. You fear for the king of the jungle around these parts if we ever have a referendum to take back control from cats.

The truth barely caused the complainers to draw breath.

Yes there was a lion. In a new badge. On a new shirt. But no, we remain Gloucester Rugby. We Are Gloucester Rugby as the branding repeats.

Personally, like the shirt (first current one bought since about the time Ian Jones was playing for us) while really cannot get excited one way or another about the badge. Far more concerned about things that actually matter, like what’s happening on the pitch.

And the number of bobble hats in The Shed (probably the favourite issue all season which has become something of a running joke).

But the complaints rolled in. They hated the shirt, declaring it was destined to sit unloved in the club shop (early evidence suggests otherwise) if it was even in the shop before the season started (it was later that day), the lion on the logo had no connection with the club (bar the lions on the old crest and that of the city) and it looked just like Leicester Tigers.

Which, as more than one wag pointed out, suggests they would be easily confused at West Midlands Safari Park.

The shirt’s fine. Some are better than others, if you don’t like it wear an old one and we’ll have a new one soon enough. At least it’s not dayglo, highlighter pen yellow. Or blue, black and white.

The logo is OK, if you really care, and with my page designer head on is certainly more user-friendly than the old one. And no, however many forum gurus claim otherwise, we are not changing the name to Gloucester Lions. They are not going to spend all this money on a rebrand and then change the name.

All this means the need for a summer break is desperately needed. Not from the rugby (already looking forward to next season with more than the usual optimism), but from the serial complainers.

My favourite was the unknown guy who, walking home after a draw with Wasps, blamed the defeat on Ben Morgan – partly for missing tackle for one of their tries. After he had gone off.

He then criticised Ruan Ackermann for being granted a short mid-season rest.

How could a pro sportsman earning decent wages need a rest, he argued? Akin to the utterly ridiculous argument – seen countless times in the last few days – that Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius can take the mental anguish and quite shocking online abuse following his errors in the Champions League final, just because he earns a lot of money.

Having opted not to run into him repeatedly (there is, even mid weight loss, quite a lot of me) and arrange to do the same on a weekly basis to see at what point he needed a rest, pointed out the still young back-row forward had not missed a game up to that point and had not had a break after reaching the Super 14 final with the Lions in South Africa, my unhappy companion thought for a second and dismissed my observation.

“He didn’t play for the Lions,” he argued. “He couldn’t, he’s South African.”

As he stormed off ahead before my explanation there was more than one Lions, the woman with him turned to me, shrugged, considered an explanation but simply shrugged again, smiled and sloped off in his wake, resigned to a long night.

Gloucester’s season was not the only thing coming to an end. The G section of the A-Z of the iPod reached its conclusion, all 498 tracks from The Lemonheads to The Kills.

It was a relatively short sprint with some old favourites in The Lemonheads, The Clash (Guns of Brixton – twice – and Groovy Times),  REM (Green Grow The Rushes) and Half Man Half Biscuit (Gubba-Look-A-Likes) plus less frequent, but very welcome, visitors in I Am Kloot (Great Escape), Stornoway (The Great Procrastinator), Charlotte Hatherley (Grey Will Fade) and Drive-By Truckers (Guns of Umpqua).

And there was some classic country, two versions of Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs… which always takes me back to a US road trip and a cover version in a bar during a memorable night in Austin, Texas.

You’ve got to do something when there’s no rugby.

* Two more have been announced between writing this and posting it.

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