Trivial Pursuits’ top 10 albums of 2014…


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It’s that time of the year once again, where lazy and thankful journalists up and down the country tell you what they’ve enjoyed over the last year. Not wishing to miss this creative open goal, here is my definitive list of the best 10 albums of a year which has provided a rich seam of output. So without further waffle, indulge yourself, give a few of them a listen (I have even been so good as to provide links to recommended tracks, you lucky people) and who knows, you might discover your new favourite band…

by Harry Harland


10. Pink Floyd – The Endless River


OK, so beyond the hype and excitement of a first new Pink Floyd release in 20 years, this was a fairly limited offering. Indeed, 1994’s Division Bell-aside, the Roger Waters-less Floyd output had always been patchy at best, so little in truth was expected of a newly-recorded selection of B-sides from the early 90’s.

However when it worked, as it did fleetingly on Things Left Unsaid, Allons-y and closing piece Louder Than Words (the only track on the album with Dave Gilmour’s unmistakable vocals), it was unmistakably Pink Floyd. Given that fact alone, the swathes of mediocrity that ran through much of the rest of the album were forgiven.


9. Future Islands – Singles


As unlikely pop stars go, Future Islands must be up there. Hailing from the relative backwater of Baltimore and boasting a frontman in Sam Herring with the looks of Kevin Spacey and a unique dancing style that somehow combines Christopher Walken with ‘drunken uncle at a wedding’, not many would have put money on them finally breaking through with their 4th album. However, break through is precisely what they did, and on the basis of Singles, all success was richly deserved.

A joyous mix of 80’s electropop and euphoric choruses, much of Future Islands’ winning formula is built on Herring’s phenomenal vocal dexterity, combining gentle moments with a soulful roar that Bobby Womack would be proud of. There’s little clever or new about what Future Islands do, but when you have choruses like that of Seasons (Waiting on You) in your locker, it seems churlish to experiment.


8. Spoon – They Want My Soul


Texan indie band Spoon have, over the course of an 8-album career, proven themselves to be one of the most consistent bands out there. They returned from a 4 year hiatus in the autumn with They Want My Soul, another tight, tuneful collection.

Spoon always have the ability to sound fresh and fun, even if their “evolution rather than revolution” approach can lead to accusations of creatively treading water from their detractors. Still, with songs like New York Kiss on board, They Want My Soul comes highly recommended to the uninitiated while providing a safe pair of hands for existing fans of the band.


7. Royal Blood – Royal Blood

Part Muse, part White Stripes, all noise, Brighton’s Royal Blood burst onto the scene early last year with their wonderfully raw debut EP, Out Of The Black. A resulting support slot with Arctic Monkeys and a barnstorming Glastonbury performance preceded the release of their eponymous first album in August.

Happily, many of the EP’s tracks were retained for the longer offering, and Royal Blood crunching mix of distorted bass, drums, soaring vocals and very little else smashed into the charts at number 1 in August. An intriguing clash of basic noises and high production values recalled The Vines’ debut as tracks like Figure It Out and Little Monster provided classic rock backdrops to summer road trips. The album was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize, where it narrowly lost to Young Fathers (on whom there is more below…), but succeeded in dragging heavy rock back into the mainstream.


6. EMA – The Future’s Void


Long-time readers of Trivial Pursuits (with exceptional memories) will remember the glowing review that I gave to Erika M. Anderson’s debut album back in 2011. That release was a gruellingly visceral listen, which left you beaten and bloodied, yet richer for the experience. Fortunately (especially for EMA’s commerciality), follow up The Future’s Void was a much more accessible affair. Gone were the lyrics about self-harm and scratchy 8 minute epics, and in their places was a collection of interesting, quirky yet undeniably poppy songs.

That’s not to say that Anderson has gone soft, her trademark howl still adorns songs as lovely as So Blonde, while the tribal drumming- fired Neuromancer is about as progressive as anything in this list. All-in-all, where Past Life Martyred Saints came across as cathartic and at times overly-personal, The Future’s Void is the sound of an extremely gifted singer finding her voice.


5. Jamie-T – Carry On The Grudge


Jamie-T, remember him? He of Sheila and Calm Down Dearest fame? You’d be forgiven for not having thought about him for half a decade, as he hadn’t released so much as a single track since 2009’s Kings & Queens. However, following a mentoring from none other than Damon Albarn, Wimbledon’s finest returned with a new album and it was really, really good.

Parting completely with the Mike Skinnerish rapping that was almost his trademark previously, Jamie Treays compiled an album of tender beauty, interspersed with the occasional barnstorming anthem. Standout track Zombie is a fine example of this, yet it is the softer likes of Limits Lie and Don’t You Find that suggest Treays has truly progressed as an artist. A welcome and unexpected comeback.


4. Alt-J – This Is All Yours


Alt-J’s Mercury-winning debut An Awesome Wave was always going to be an extremely hard act to follow. Not only was it extremely good, but it was so packed with invention and ideas that there can’t have been much left in the creative tank for a follow-up. All this, combined with the departure of multi-instrumentalist Gwil Sainsbury, was setting the band up for an extreme dose of ‘second album syndrome’, yet Alt-J prevailed, progressed and added another accomplished album to their impressively growing repertoire.

This Is All Yours is a slower-burning affair than its predecessor, shorter on quirks but longer on consistency. Despite Intro suggesting more of the same, the album really started with the two Nara tracks, gentle melodies with sharp chord progressions and some of the band’s now trademark harmonies. Hunger of The Pine, the lead single, is a sensational, climactic track and seems to enhance the opinions of those who profess Alt-J to be the ‘new Radiohead’. Only Left Hand Free, a poppy 3-minute track that the band allegedly only included to appease their record label’s desire for a “radio-friendly single” to appeal to the US market, seems out of place on what is another impressive journey.

The best bands leave you wondering what their next move will be and, in releasing another impressively creative album, Alt-J might just be one of them.


3. Young Fathers – Dead


I must confess, at the instant loss of music kudos, that I hadn’t heard of Edinburgh’s Young Fathers until their Mercury nomination introduced me to their unique combination of electronica, rap and vocal harmonies. Once listened to a few times though, it became clear that the judges’ decision to award the gong to them (which has been myopically derided by the more mainstream end of the music press as “too quirky”) was the correct one.

I wrote fairly at length about this album earlier in the year (the article can be found here), so will leave further investigation to your intrigue. However since then they delivered a live performance in XOYO that drew 5 star reviews from the notoriously hard-to-please Evening Standard, Guardian and Telegraph music sections. They play Camden’s KOKO in May and I would strongly recommend begging, borrowing or stealing to make sure you are there.


2. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream


Lost In The Dream came from nowhere early in 2014 to first become the word-of-mouth soundtrack to countless people’s summers and subsequently dominate many critics’ end of year lists.

Starting as strongly as any recent albums with the phenomenal Red Eyes and Under The Pressure, The War On Drugs’ 3rd studio album catapulted them from the underground and into the tour-heavy world of the mainstream (I believe the band are due to play their third separate London date in 12 months early next year).

Combining the best of traditional Americana, Lost In The Dream succeeds in wowing you with Springsteen-esque anthems while (in the style of the Boss himself) not needing to over-complicate. If I was playing a straighter bat at this list with regard to universal appeal, I wouldn’t have thought twice about awarding this album top spot, but I’m not, so TWOD will have to settle for second best.


1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2


It speaks volumes that when I first started compiling ideas for this list, Run The Jewels’ second album hadn’t actually even come out. Indeed, I wasn’t even aware that it was coming out at all.

Run The Jewels, a formalisation of the Killer Mike/EL-P hip-hop partnership that excelled on the former’s R.A.P. Music album last year (EL-P produced it) had actually released their eponymous debut at the start of 2014, but it was the inventively-titled RTJ2 that has won them plaudits from more esteemed pages than these.

Hip hop is a strange world, in which much of the scene appears to focus more on style than substance. Thus when a truly great release (such as Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, Maad City) comes along, you almost get caught off guard by it. So it has come to pass with RTJ2.

Arriving at the back end of the year, RTJ2 thundered into the public domain like a sonic wrecking ball, with the only audible noise other than the thumping bass of their tracks being the scribbling of journalists hastily having to re-write their end of year lists. From a personal point of view, as much as I have tried to temper my love of this album with caveats such as it being my new toy or flavour of the month, I simply can’t put myself off naming it as the best release of the last 12 months.

From the perfectly sparse sax of opening track Jeopardy to the dealer-guilt narrative of Crown, RTJ2 simply grabs you by the lapels and demands your attention. Great songs just roll effortlessly into great songs, with Killer Mike’s frankly unrivalled lyrical dexterity more than supported by that of his bandmate. And then there is the production. Oh, the production…

There is so much invention in EL-P’s backing tracks (be-it the clackety-clack drumbeat of Blockbuster Night Pt 1, the bouncy stoner bass of the profane Love Again or the fantastic sensory assault that is Oh My Darling Don’t Cry), that the album manages to sound both polished and yet somehow raw, which is no mean feat.

It certainly isn’t for everyone, the brutality of the bass, not to mention the lyrics, might offend some (never more that on Love Again, itself a clever satire of the sort of macho song you think it is when you hear the first two verses). However if you like your rap music, I couldn’t recommend this more. The lyrical flow of the pair is sensational, and the tunes just make you want to keep on turning them up. This album could well result in an ASBO. It’s a risk worth taking.

Downton Abbey, Series 5, Episode 8


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Who farted? (c) Nick Briggs

What series of Downton is this? Image (c) Nick Briggs

Stuff I noted down on my laptop at 6am this morning watching Downton on iPlayer because I missed it live last night #DEDICATION

Dowager registers horror
Chatting about Rose’s wedding and at the mere mention of a registry office, the moment is made by dear old Dowager’s disapproving smirk. Oh Maggie, how we shall miss you!

Lord G – the worst kind of children’s entertainer
‘I shall win this game of snakes and ladders. And you know what Cybie? If you have any sweets about you, I shall steal them from you too.’

Lord G says it straight
To Mary: ‘Don’t call me “Donc”. [It sounds like ‘bonk’ – and I never do that].’

All my day [dresse]s
Decker suggests the Dowager wear her lovely Lavender Day Dress for the meeting with Prince Kuragin and we are resolute in our conviction that there is definitely love in the lavend-air…

Willis, won’t he?
The boring Bates and their withering Willis saga continues. Bates is too tall to be the murderer apparently. The man has a stick for Christ’s sake – bent over it, he’d lose a few inches, surely?

Anna the Killer?
Anna: ‘Shall I just give it up and tell them everything [I mean effectively kill this stupid storyline]?’
Mr Bates: ‘No. [I’m the one that does the killing].’

Lord G thinks.
Lord G can’t quite put his finger on who Marigold reminds him of. Some rubber gloves perhaps? A type of flower? ‘Déjà vu’, he considers. It’s like we can almost see his little brain cells making connections. Come on Lord G – tick-tock.

Good Cop – Bad Cop Parents
So Atticus’s father is an A1 jerk as is Rose’s mother. Atticus’ mother is an A* trooper as is Rose’s father. Can’t they just swap spouses? And what’s the betting they do at Christmas?

Mary invents the Hag party
Lots of excitement about Atticus’ *SHOCK HORROR* stag party, but has anyone thought that, with her suggestion that she, Rose, Edith and Tom (a MAN) meet up prior to Rose’s wedding – ‘Why don’t we go to lunch on Wednesday; even you can come Edith!’ – Lady Mary not only invents the Hen party, but the Hag party too.

Anna Lines Up
Although yes, it’s all very worrying Anna is being ‘dun for murder’ in the line up, I find it rather amusing that the reason they confirmed it wasn’t her husband was because the murderer ‘was too short’. Not ‘the wrong age’ or ‘has the wrong hair colour’ or, I dunno, ‘is not a man’… Does it seriously appear to Scotland Yard that Mr and Mrs Bates are in all respects, bar their respective heights, identical…?
When ‘I AM LADY MARE-EH’ later calls up her lawyer, I do hope it’s Sherlock Homes she actually telephones – if only to sort this sh*t out once and for all.

Queen of Tarts
I find the ease with which Mrs Rose planned the Tart-Flashing affair totally ridiculous. As in, insanely ridiculous. I mean, think of the lengths she’d have to have gone to:
1. Find a tart
2. Find a photographer
3. Rent the next door room to Atticus’
4. Take pictures and get them developed in RECORD timing – where? 1920s SnappySnaps LIKE OBVIE.
5. Have them delivered to Rose by the next morning.
It would have made much more sense if it had been one of Atticus’ leery lads playing a practical joke. Made more sense and been actually practical. But then again, this show rarely is.

Decker Dangle Dankle
I love the idea of Decker leading the new butler astray to ‘show him something’. PLEASE can it be her ankle.

Shrimpy vs Mrs Rose
Shrimpy: ‘Get down you cat’.
No, he didn’t, he couldn’t, did he actually??? I’m just shocked Mrs Rose didn’t wail back: ‘You BASTARD. How could you say such a thing…’
Come on Fellowes, you can do better than that.

Tom to move on
Tom decides to leave but says, conveniently, he’ll stay for Christmas. Why? To decorate Christmas Downton in BUNTING most probably.

Mary’s Second Creation
Mary to Tony: ‘You were just what I needed when I needed it.’ And BOOM Mary invents the f*** buddy. I think she’s up for a Nobel prize this week, for all her inventions.

JUST WHO? I mean I am seriously baffled. Anna did it? Groan. What’s the betting once she’s cleared of murder, the tables will turn on everyone at Downton until Scotland Yard come to the irrevocable conclusion that the recently deceased Isis did it.*

Jerk off
* And on the note of Isis…Hugh Bonneville was quoted last week as saying that anyone who implied Isis was killed off in last week’s episode because of the dog’s rather unfortunate name is a ‘complete berk.’ Ladies and Gents, Hugh Bonneville thinks I’m a berk. A complete one.

We will remember them
Rather touching the unveiling of the war memorial happened on Remembrance Sunday. I wonder if this was planned? Nice touch!

Walking up to the house and we leave this season with…
Will Anna get off? Carson doesn’t seem too bothered by it and let’s be honest, neither are we.
Lord G finally guesses about Marigold. ‘There’s a secret in this house I’m actually privy to’ – how smug you must feel, Lord G.
Tom encourages Edith to go to London and carry on with her magazine – and it suddenly dawns on me, Tom is eager for everyone to leave Downton. And he openly encourages them to do so. This liberalist will rest at nothing – not till everyone at Downton has gone. This is his masterplan… maybe TOM is the murderer…?

A really good episode actually. Apt and appropriate therefore to award it my highest score of the season 9/10 (there’s always room for improvement).

So with that, we wait with Bates-ed breath for the Christmas special… Until then, Downton-lovers. THANK YOU for reading.

By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Seven


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One can remained dry-eyed through a whole series, but when something happens to the dog...

One remains dry-eyed throughout a whole series but when something happens to the dog…

Bits and bobs I wrote on my laptop as usual.

Award week
The Bafta for Best Actress goes to… Dowager-Dame-Maggie-Smith
A few of her corkers this week include:
‘He’s a man! Men don’t have rights’
‘A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears’
‘You’ve made me regret my confidence – do have some cake’
Not to mention her tear-inducing ‘I’ll miss Mrs Crawley’ scene. If Julian Fellowes spent half as much time developing the other characters as he does the Dowager, we might have a show not worth criticising at all. But that would be very dull indeed. So on that basis, as you were old Fellowes…

The Fat [plot] Controller
In the inaugural performance of Romeo and Juliet in the film Shakespeare in Love, Joseph Fiennes (as Shakespeare) convinces Tom Wilkinson (as Fennyman) to play the part of the Apothecary. ‘A small but vital role,’ he enthuses. I feel the same line was most probably sold to Downton’s station master. Because not only did he remember selling Bates his return ticket to London roughly a year ago, but he also recalled selling Edith her ticket to King’s Cross. Where would the plot be without this elusive character I wonder?

Cora says something sensible
Cora: ‘Somehow we must find Edith, and we must see from her what she wants’. Since she left Downton of her own free will, I’d say it’s pretty obvious.

Food for thought
Why is everyone at Downton so slim when all they to do is gorge on Patmore’s pies?

Put a stick in it
Baxter walks in. Bates mumbles murderously: ‘I have to clean some shoes.’ Bates gets up. Bates grabs stick. Bates looks murderous. Bates exits to murder music. This is all getting very murderously predictable.

Daisy joins the real world
‘She had such hopes for the Labour government,’ sighs Mrs Patmore. Poor Daisy has no faith in the government. If only we knew what that felt like.

There’s something a-mish….
Does anyone else think that, dressed in their perpetual black, the Bates’s would look more at home in an Amish community?

…having said that, Im sure the Amish would be most horrified having to listen to their never-ending sex chat, so probably best they remain holed up in their cottage, tittering over contraceptive devices.

Other shit that went down
Bates is suddenly and randomly cleared of murder. How did that happen?
Mary is suddenly and hilariously cleared of Gillingham via a ‘staged tableau’. Why did that happen?
An anti-climax on both fronts.

Cora says something else sensible
‘Let’s come up with a totally stupid hair-brained scheme to get Marigold to Downton so we can provide Edith with enough of a subplot to see her through to the Christmas Special.’

Tom, thumbs up
Tom makes his ‘bastard’ comment and we roar with approval because at last he’s said something useful.

Love in a cold climate
Yes, I find Rose’s annoyment factor on par with that of Daisy’s, but I do think her and Atticus’ engagement was rather sweet. Probably because I was fantasising I was Rose and the dreamy Atticus was proposing to ME.

I think we can all guess why Isis was killed off… A damn shame – let’s face it, she was our favourite character. If only Fellowes had extended his absurd plotlines to the dog, I am certain the Labrador would have made a full recovery once Lord G started calling her by her lesser-known uncontroversial other name: Ikiss.

I can’t quite believe next week is the series finale. *sobs*


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Six


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Hat, haircuts and horses. That pretty much sums up this episode. NOT. (c) ITV

Hat, haircuts and horses. That pretty much sums up this episode. NOT. (c) ITV

Stuff I wrote on my laptop during last night’s episode where so much happened I wouldn’t have been surprised if the entire cast of Coronation Street had made an appearance…

Edith’s bad news
See here, Julian Fellowes gets it totally wrong. What normally happens in a drama is: all the characters are convinced something is going to happen, they all say it’s going to happen and then…it doesn’t happen. So, the fact that both upstairs and downstairs predict Gregson’s death and then it’s actually confirmed, is totally, totally wrong. Fellowes should go back to writer’s school and play particular attention to the class titled ‘Suspense and Surprise.’

Lady Mary and Anna’s Tete a Tete
Re: Gregson’s demise
Mez: Well, of course it’s terrible, but what did she think he was doing – living in a tree?
Come now Mary, you can do better than that.
Mez: No, I am sorry, truly, he was a nice man. Though what he saw in Edith…
Yes Mary… what he saw in Edith, YES? Have you gone soft or something woman?
Re: Blake and Gillingham riding in the York and Ainsty Point-to-Point
Here’s a point-to-point-out: why does Mez have to enunciate irrelevant words to try to make them sound posher when it makes precisely no sense to do so? Example: ‘York and Eins-te-i’

Bates, the JOKE nurse
Bates comments on Barrow’s health ‘you’ve never looked worse’ and we suddenly catch a glimpse of Bates, a few years on, in the medical profession:

Open wide...

Open wide…

More [bore] Bates
Porky Bates hobbles in with his stick, munching on something, and finds a saucy book and Lady Mary’s Dutch Cap. As predicted Bates gets into a…bait (a murderous one) and we prepare ourselves for a heated ‘I might murder you’ chat with Anna which, as predicted, plays out later on.

Is it, could it be… a door?
The Dowager gets completely dumfounded by a door that has NO knocker. We must therefore assume that all her doors – bathroom and bedroom included – have the aforementioned brass attachment.

Curse of Bunting
Bunting gets name-checked again by Daisy and Mrs Patmore and I realise I have to accept that this woman will never go away, and Downton Abbey should probably decorate itself in bunting just to confirm this stupid and irritating fact.

Not a teacup to his name…
Prince Igor: ‘How comforting to be back in a world where ladies are accompanied by their maids.’
Actually, what’s more comforting to know is that when rich Russians flee their homeland they don’t forget to pack their glass Russian teacups. A HUGE weight lifted!

Russian Romance
Igor: I wanted you from the moment I first saw you. More than mortal man ever wanted woman.
Dowager: That is a historical detail! And a fricking creepy one at that.
Igor: Nonsense. If Irina were dead, I’d ask you to run away with me now…
Dowager: ME? RUN?! Are you INSANE?
(That said it was a rather touching scene – purely down to Maggie)

Small issue
Is the Dowager’s ladies maid seriously called ‘Stinker’ or is that my imagination? Either way, it’s quite ironic Stinker throws a stinker at Sprat for having to wash the Dowager’s smalls. Out of all households I’d have thought the Dowager’s would be the very last place where dirty laundry would be aired in public. I guess not.

Bebe Bates
Bates: ‘I found a cunning piece of equipment to assure there’d be no baby Bates.’
Anyone who didn’t give themselves a hernia after hearing the expression ‘Baby Bates’ is just not allowed to watch this programme.

Sex tug of war
Cora: What have you told Bates?
Lord G: Nothing
Cora: I wondered if you might like to change your mind and come back?
Lord G: [Huff, puff, struggle with blankets and duvets] No, I will not have sex with you.
Cora: You heard Bricker say he was not in my room by my invitation.
Lord G: How do I know that wasn’t just his gallantry?
Cora: Because I’m telling you. Nothing happened. Please come back to bed [and have sex with me?].
Lord G: You allowed him into your private life. A man who thought he could just step into my place just like that [and have sex with you].
Cora: He thought it, but he was mistaken. Very well, if you can honestly say you have never let a flirtation get out of hand since we were married [THINK: dislike/underlying sexual attraction to Miss B**ting]. If you have never given a woman the wrong impression [THINK: that maid you had a rumble tumble with a few seasons ago] then by all means stay away. Otherwise, I expect you back in my room tonight [to have sex with me].
Lord G: Huff, puff, no I …oh, ok then…

Dog Days; Isis – the only story worth paying attention to
Isis lies asleep – or maybe comatosed, exhausted (no doubt) from the never-ending stream of storylines thrown up by this episode. What can we say? Pup, we know the feeling.

Barrow’s Bow of Resolution
The sweetest part of this episode. Barrow, his boils and Baxter, all tied up neatly in a ‘be the best you can be’ bow. Love it.

True meaning of modernity
In this day and age, when driverless cars were invented and photogaphs taken on Mars, we thought we were well and truly modern. How wrong we were! Because, as we have just learnt, the TRUE definition of modernity is for a member of our family to get a slightly different haircut from the one they had before. Ladies, cover your eyes, Fellowes would like to present you with… Mary’s bob.

Sisterly spat
Mary: Everyone, ready? Look at my haircut!
Edith: Everyone, MORE ready? Look at my suffering heart!
Mary: #Awkward. We only care for hairdos and horse races here…
Goneril and Regan – are back.

Bates The Murderer (Part MILLION)
Bates: You think I’m a murderer.
Anna: Yes, yes I do think you’re a murderer.
Bates: Well, let me tell you, I am not a murderer. And I have a non-ripped ticket to prove it.
Anna: Oh hurray, hurray, in that case you’re right, you not a murderer! I mean, there’s no way you could have just avoided the ticket man all journey! Or bought TWO tickets, one to use and one to leave dud as an alibi! Or stolen a ticket off someone else to get ripped! After all, you’ve never been in prison to learn how to do such things! And it wasn’t you who criminally forged that letter in the last series either, was it?!

What’s the betting Bates’ un-ripped ticket turns up hidden in a book in the library, where all of Matthew’s correspondence was carefully and conveniently concealed until the appropriate moment? That said we can’t actually remember what happened to the damn ticket…did Mrs Hughes eat it?

Was this not the most disapPOINTing race you’ve ever seen? No one falls off, no one seems to win, or lose, no one has the least notion to… zzZZZZ

Never Downton, only Upton
Atticus’s father on being invited to Downton: That seems rather an imposition…
Cora: Not at all! We’re very rich!

More romance
Just when you thought nothing else could possibly happen in this episode, Carson asks to buy a house with Mrs Hughes – who turns red and tells him to ‘go ring that gong…’ Ooh, aii, Mrs Hughes, which gong might that be?!

Edith escapes
Edith kidnaps her child and scurries to London to eat ice cream and drink champagne. Could this episode get any more ridiculous?

Thankfully not – there it ends.

We have an insight into next week’s escapades – changes a-coming (are they ever not?) and Mary gets snogged, again – I tell you, if I don’t need to wait till Episode Seven gets its own Wikipedia page to get my head around it, t’will be a small miracle.

That said, this episode was a corker.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series 5, Episode 5


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No smiling welcome here ladies, only smirking (c) ITV1

No smiling welcome here ladies, only smirking (c) ITV1

Things I jotted down during last night’s episode, in case you’re interested, in any way, in what I think…

To help with you
Lord Grantham on Rosamund’s un-announced week-long visit: ‘Great, you can help…’. Fantastic that Julian Fellowes opens the episode with one of Lord G’s famous blunders; for we all know that any character who enters Downton from the outside will only ever be a hindrance.

Critical information
The Dowager accuses Mrs Crawley of ‘stringing out moments’ and we wonder if Fellowes has mistakenly inserted a line from one of his many critical reviews.

Taxing storyline
Mrs Patmore comes in to boast about her inheritance and we immediately think to ourselves (since it’s topical) after she’s paid her inheritance tax she’ll probably be left with… [we take out our calculators and tap on them a bit]…0.001p. She should probably forget about it altogether.

History lessons
Rosamund recaps the history of how she nursed Edith through her pregnancy for 10 whole months in secret (to those not in-the-know), and the rest of us think: ‘What a way to reward those who have actually managed to keep up with this debacle.’ The least Fellowes could do is leave those who haven’t bothered in the dark.

Putting up [with] Bunting
Tom says Bunting’s not coming for dinner again. Ever. I throw my mug in the air and shower in the downpour of scalding tea.

Lord G lifts a finger – and for once, it’s the right one
Lord Grantham announces he has poured his own drink by his very own self; I start to laminate him his very own certificate.

Bog off Bunting
For the first of many times in this episode [see post above re: ‘stringing out moments’], Bunting get’s rej’ed by Tom. Only a million more times to go now…

Icing on the…
Rose lets the poor Russians eat cake and we almost hear her refer to Downton as Château de Versailles.

On Newsnight tonight…
‘“Mr Carson’s giving me investment advice, and Miss Bunting is leaving Downton because Tom won’t stand up to her.” This has been Mrs Patmore, reporting for ITV1, from Downton Abbey.’

Whoopsie Daisy
Daisy tells Branson about Bunting leaving and I scowl at the telly and bite my nails.

The Last Straw
Farmer Drew gives a very convincing performance of ‘irritated workman’ by prodding the straw with purpose, and a fork.

Sex-onds away from turning off the TV
Mr Bates and Anna Bates talk about children as a euphemism for lots of sex-having, and I scowl at the telly harder and try to eat my own fist.

Take down the Bunting
Bunting, with her Lady Mary-imitation hat, gets hassled by the driver to hurry the fuck up into the car, so she can hurry the fuck off. Yes, Branson, yes – hustle the bloody woman into the car and slam the bunting door. Bye-bye Bunting, By-eeeeee!

The Beginning of the Affair
Bricker: ‘Downton is like home…’
Cora: ‘You’re very welcome – as long as you behave!’ [wink-wink-smirk-smirk].
And what about you Cora? Will you behave?

Act 3, Scene Atticus
In the dusty, decrepit dungeons, Rose wears a skimpy shirt and the Russians – who are accustomed to temperatures well-below zero in their natural habitat – wear the thickest of beards, hefty overcoats and massive rugs to ward off frostbite. Audience, just accept.

Moss on Mary
Mary rushes to London to start dating Charles Blake before she’s even struck Lord Gillingham off her Little Black Book. That’s the spirit Mez, you feisty lass, you… Or, as Kate Moss rather uncharitably refers to you in the Stand Up For Cancer Gogglebox clip of last week: ‘SLAAAAAG’. *

The perpetual thorn
So Bunting has finally fucked off and still Fellowes insists Mrs Crawley note her absence and ask for the millionth time this season whether the fucking woman is coming for dinner. I despair.

With Nails
Is there anything better in life than a lithe Richard E Grant corridor-creeping in his dressing gown?

The End of the Affair
Lord Grantham tries to murder Bricker and we realise Bates has rubbed off on him more than any of us could ever have realised.

Bates’ Proposed Murder List uncovered
1.) Thomas Barrow
2.) Everyone else

*(I personally prefer Naomi Campbell’s: ‘She’s in bed with one man I wouldn’t call her a fucking slag’)

Easier to follow than last week’s episode, and because Bunting has finally left the program I have to up this week’s score by at least four points…


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Four


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Say cheese... (c) ITV1

Say cheese… (c) ITV1

Stuff I wrote on my laptop during last night’s episode…

Barrow back at work
Carson opens the episode with the characteristic bluntness we have come to love about him: ‘Thomas, you’ve missed lunch, but look, clear it up anyway.’

Rose and Russian Slippers
‘They talk about the old days and they have holes in their shoes,’ Rose squeaks mournfully. This is the point where she should have announced she’s holding a house sale of Downton’s shoe collection and distributing the proceeds to every formerly rich Russian she happens to lay eyes on. She doesn’t do this, of course, because she couldn’t care less about the Russians and their shoes.

Tom thumbs the reference books
Taking a stroll with Lord G and Mary, Tom uses the word ‘dwellings’ and we can’t help but envisage Julian Fellowes thesaurus-ing the word: ‘house’.

Downton Darklight
Mrs Crawley and the Dowager see poverty for the first time ever, it seems, visiting the Russians in their dungeons. We try to concentrate on what they’re saying but mostly we’re thinking: just because they’re new to poverty do they have to live in tunnels like moles? Can’t impoverished aristocrats afford daylight?

Anna [the] Christie
Anna hints once again she knows Bates is a murderer.
‘Do the Sergeant’s enquiries bother you?’ she innocently (shrewdly) asks her husband.
‘No,’ he replies, ‘he doesn’t bother me.’
You know what Bates? YOU bother me.

Glorious revelation
Isn’t it enough for us to know that Daisy is learning stuff, do we really have to have it spelled out that she’s studying the Glorious Revolution of 1688? Or is it just that, once again, Fellowes feels the need to educate us by bringing to our attention there was a revolution in 1688?

Love is in the…title
If someone offered you their hand in marriage you’d probably dispense with formal titles, wouldn’t you? Not if you’re Mrs Crawley you wouldn’t. Her ‘Lord Merton this’ and ‘Lord Merton that’ would have continued had he actually gotten down on one knee and, as predicted, not gotten up again.

Laying the breadcrumbs
Lots of divorce chat about Prawny (or was it Shrimpy?) and then Lady G mentions Bricker and it’s clear divorce is in the air.

Thomas and his treatment
I’m too upset to think about what Thomas might be trying to do to himself and have now decided he might be my favourite character.

Seen and not heard
Is George and Cybie’s only contribution to each episode to be paraded around the hallway so Fellowes can prove to us he’s not forgotten about them?

Hearts bleedeth for Edith
Not only is Edith pitied by virtually every character but she’s then presented as a stalker – hiding behind walls and diving into hedgerows to catch a glimpse of the bouncing Marigold. Is there no end to this character’s torment and humiliation?

Blake’s Back
How exciting Mary’s infinitely more handsome suitor, Charles Blake, returns to raise eyebrows at her across catwalks and take her out for un-chaperoned dinners in London. Hope she remembered her Dutch cap, if only to match her fetching red one.

Sitting room
What happened in the sitting room? I’m not quite sure. What didn’t happen in the sitting room?
1.) Edith talks to the Dowager about Marigold and family duties.
2.) Lady G and Bricker flirt away in the corner and Lord G throws a wobbly.
3.) Dowager talks divorce to Prawny and something about never taking sides, which is possibly the most controversial thing she has said all season.
4.) And fucking Bunting comes up yet again, so I throw my sock at the television.

In saucy, arty conversation with Lady G, Bricker talks about his need to ‘burst’ and – boom – in BURSTS Lord G. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Oh wait…

Mary had a little man
The alternative break-up chat:
Lord Gill: Am I bad lover?
Mary: It’s like I was in a dream.
Lord Gill: How flattering. We go to bed together and then you wake up.
Mary: At least one of us was ‘up’.

What happened over dinner? I’m not quite sure. What didn’t happen over dinner?
1.) Lady G and Bricker sit next to each other and flirt away in baby voices.
2.) Bunting makes a bloody nuisance of herself and the television gets smacked by my other sock.
3.) Daisy and Mrs Patmore are wheeled in liked fools and then questioned like criminals in a scene reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, which I reckon is what Mrs Bunting will be teaching Daisy about in next week’s episode.
4.) Lord G huffs and puffs and blows his house down – or was it his napkin, and also his candle?

Bolshy in beddies
Lord G’s: ‘You were flirting and twinkling with that ghastly travelling salesman’ was quite possibly his most hysterical comment to date, and for the first time ever, I actually agree with him.

Curiosity kills the courtship
Anna’s curiosity may well be the undoing of her husband; at last we can raise our mugs of cocoa to the long-awaited departure of this evil, evil man.

A truly extraordinary episode where so much happened I don’t quite know what happened. The only surprising element, really, was that the ghost of Matthew Crawley didn’t appear from down the chimney to chase Miss Bunting out of the house with a hot poker. Then again, there’s always next week.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 3


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The Morning After...

The Morning After… (c) ITV Nick Briggs

Stuff I wrote on my smartphone during last night’s episode

A dose of ick
So you settle in to watch Downton with supper on a tray, and the first thing you hear is Lord Gillingham’s post-coital announcement: ‘We’ve worked up an appetite.’ I think, Lord Gill, you didn’t ‘work up’ an appetite so much as you ‘stole’ mine.

Spratt’s a fact
Where would Spratt go if Spratt happened to have a day off and enjoy a family wedding? York? London? (the only two places people go when they leave Downton?) No, Liverpool – to witness Mary and Lord Gill exit their hotel. Now, I don’t want to call this a coincidence… but I’m going to anyway.

If Carlsberg did Grandmothers…
When Spratt finally spits out he saw Mary in Liverpool, the Dowager quickly and coolly lies about why Mary was there, before dismissing him to enjoy her brandy. If I am ever a Grandmother, I want to be this one.

Lady G asks all and sundry to accompany her to London which makes us more convinced than ever what lies ahead for her and Withnail Richard E Grant Simon Bricker.

Rose invites the whole of Russia to Downton, under the pretence of ‘tea’, when actually all she wants to do is gloat about how rich she now is, and by extension, how poor they now are – all unconsciously, of course.

Let’s go Dutch
Lady Mary gives Anna her [used] Dutch Cap to hide, Anna mumbles something about ‘sin’ and we see Fellowes’ next story line: Bates finds Dutch Cap and travels to Holland to hunt the offending Dutch Man.

Most ridiculous idiom goes to…
Mrs Patmore and her ‘sympathy butters no parsnips’.
Perhaps a better phrase might be: ‘Writing a soap-drama butters up no Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable editors.’ Fellowes, take note.

Who doesn’t talk to Granny about sex?
Considering how prudish Yorkshire seems to be – well, Twenties Yorkshire according to Fellowes – I find it fairly unfeasible that Mary should choose to confide in her Grandmother about her sex life. ‘I learned a great deal that I never knew before,’ she s-u-b-t-l-y says of her Liverpudlian affair. Was this the beginning of Sex Education?

Baxter’s soup (2)
Baxter reveals her shameful story to Lady G and we finally find out it is the most shameful thing we’ve ever heard: ‘A bad man made me do bad things.’ My ears! My ears!

Bates blunders his alibi
For someone with such a feel for crime, Bates doesn’t half make a pigs ear of his story:
‘Well, I went to the opening of Browns in Queens Street [near the station]. I drank a cup of coffee [near the station], I left a whole day of time unaccounted for and think the best way to explain it is to say: ‘I walked around. I may have had a sandwich.’ And then I end by describing how I had a drink in a pub [by the station].’ Well and truly aced it.

Bricker’s back
Richard returns. That’s all.

Sharp note
Bricker calls Lady G ‘sharp’ and do you know what happens? I laugh out loud.

Cora’s conundrums
Cora admits her secret ambition is to impact on four centuries ‘with something’ she has done. I suppose the only way to accomplish this, Cors, is to actually do something.

Basic instincts
Bricker compliments Lady G on her instincts, and seconds later she says (of having dinner with him): ‘I probably shouldn’t, but I think I will’. This reveals, I’m sure you agree, quite how instinctive she really is.

Stupid and stupider
Lord G has a tantrum about Lady G’s dinner with Bricker and ends his argument by calling her stupid. As a feminist, I don’t want to agree with him, but as Downtonist, I absolutely can’t not.

Tom dumb
Does anyone care whether Tom snubs the luxury of Downton and f*cks off to America with Bunting? Anyone?

Bunting Blunders
Considering what happened the last two times she was involved, has Rose learnt her lesson re: including Bunting in Downton’s social engagements? No? OK then, let’s rerun this irritating episode once again for those who happened to have missed it the first two times…

Love is in the Heir
The Dowager gets given a fan by a… fan; a Prince Kuragin. We like where this story is going. If Granddaughter’s gettin’ some, it only makes sense for Granny to get some too.

This episode was largely disappointing and dull. Next week’s episode – with Daisy discovering all about the Revolution – is setting itself up to be a right corker.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey Series 5 Episode 2


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Stuff I wrote on my smartphone during the course of last night’s episode…

'I've just farted'  Photo: Carnival Films

Lady Grantham ‘I’ve just farted’*
Photo: Carnival Films *flirted

The game of Doubting Thomas
This episode is mainly about following the game of: Poor Thomas versus Evil Thomas. Scores after his emotional farewell to Jimmy lie at (if you haven’t seen last night’s episode, look away now):
Poor Tom, 1 – Evil Tom, Nil

First Footman Forward
Molesley asks to be promoted to first footman and Mrs Hughes puts him back in his place by way of predicting a world where there are no footmen at all. I reckon at the time of writing, Julian Fellowes was fantasising about having his own [first] footman.

Mrs Crawley demonstrates the acute Marple-esque skills in observation for which she is best-known
‘It’s funny how they change week by week at his age,’ she says of George. It’s like babies were meant to grow, isn’t it Mrs C?
THEN she interrupts what is frankly a disjointed and tedious lunch conversation to randomly talk about a Mrs Henderson and some radios. If Fellowes must repeatedly insert irrelevant subplots for Rose, I do wish he’d introduce them in a way that at least makes sense.

If Mr Drewe was such a good man, worthy enough to look after little Marigold [gloves], do you know what he’d most probably do about the #awkward Edith situation? Tell his wife.

Daisy’s a bright spark
‘Why do you have to be so nasty about everyone?’
Daisy comes straight to the point and asks Thomas the question nobody seems to have quite managed. And she thinks she needs educating…

Baxter Soup
Following Thomas’s bitchy exchange revealing all about Baxter to Molesley, the score of Poor Thomas vs Evil Thomas heats up, and we find ourselves on: 1-1.
ps Anyone notice how lovely Molesley’s hair is looking this week?

If Rose mentions the word ‘wireless’ one more time I’m going to smash my fucking telly.

Carlson gives Mrs Hughes one helluva telling off
‘I’m not cross with you, Mrs Hughes, I’m just disappointed’. As we all know this is far worse.

For all her socialist values, isn’t it funny that the well-to-do ‘middle class’ Miss Bunting makes ‘working class’ Daisy pay for her extra lessons? I’m aware the welfare state hasn’t arrived yet, but if the ruddy Bunting was so revolutionary and forward-thinking wouldn’t she have invented it?

Lord G – the ultimate buffoon
‘It’s a fad, it won’t last,’ he says of the radio. Is Fellowes intentionally trying to make us detest every word that comes out of this man’s mouth, cos if so, it’s working.

Molesley struggles to understand the concept of crime
I just, I won’t, I cannot believe that criminals exist – even though so many people who pass through Downton seem to either have been to, or belong in, prison…

Contrary Mary
If Fellowes really wanted to excite his audience, rather than Lord Gillingham un-sexily explaining he was going to take Mary out for dinner then shag her (sorry, ‘make love’ to her) all week long, couldn’t there have been no words at all and they just got on with it? Isn’t that what passion is supposed to look like? I understand the very mention of something so radical is most racy for a show of this nature, especially since Mary is, as we all know, a virgin…

Can I put Rose on mute?
As if Rose couldnt possibly get any more irritating, she then insists on inviting the ruddy Bunting for dinner – in spite of that fact not one person wants her to be there, least of all ruddy Bunting herself.

Kitten Cora changes her purr
Cora flirting is rather embarrassing but at last she’s finally showing she’s got an ounce of sass, eschewing (albeit briefly) the role of timid kitten to Lord G’s manly ‘Rabbit’.
p.s. – umm, is that it from Richard E. Grant, then? I’m probably missing something huge, but it seemed to me like he was written into the script because he was in Gosford Park, which, conveniently, was shown on ITV3 following last night’s episode. To use him simply for one ‘We’ve got history’ look at Cora (or do I mean Isis?) seems a bit of a waste to me. Does anybody know?

Gownton Grabby
Cora threatens to fire Baxter, and then hurls her dressing gown at her. If Baxter had been a proper criminal she’d have told Cora where to shove her stupid job and stolen the dressing gown.

Final Score
After Thomas’s ‘smoking broodily into the fire’ scene, we go up a goal to: Poor Thomas, 2 – Evil Thomas, 1. But then Bates turns up, sees Anna looking at Thomas forlornly and we sense Thomas’s life is in danger. So our sympathy goes up a further notch and the episode ends with the final score of: Evil Tom, 1 – Poor Tom, 1million.

In all, an OK episode. But the thought Bates might actually go to prison is such an exciting one, I’m not sure I can wait till next week. Sadly, we have no choice.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series 5, Episode 1



Things will be great when you're Downton

Things will be great when you’re Downton (c) ITV

Downton’s back. And so is this: Trivial Pursuit’s blow-by-blow account of last night’s episode (or rather – stuff I tapped on my phone during it). So if you’ve not seen episode one, look away now.

Not an awful lot goes on in the first 15 minutes that I can be bothered to comment on (probably because my TV conked out during the middle of it).

Next 15 minutes..
Lord G talks ‘honourably’ about not being worthy over all that war memorial business. ‘I should be praying in the background not the front,’ he sighs. Oh how the idiot changes his tune but minutes later…

Lady G reveals ignorance of ‘birds and the bees’ euphemism
Lord G mentions ‘Tom and the Teacher’ – which in everyone’s mind could only mean one thing. True to form however, what that thing could possibly be totally foxes Lady G.
Lady G [ purring] ‘Can’t I know the details?’ Why don’t you just guess them like the rest of us?

Mary supplies important information
‘I’m going upstairs to take off my hat.’ Noted.

Lord G has a moan
Lord G, at the fireplace with Mary, chats crop rotations and drones on about not being wanted. You know what Lord G? Grow a pair.

Thomas takes lessons from Bates
Thomas has taken on Bates’ role of acting like a murderer, signified by the fact he gets his own ‘murder’ music as he threatens Baxter in the corner.

It just doesn’t add up
Daisy calling herself pig ignorant is mostly hilarious because no one disagrees with her.

Rose makes an important discovery
Most pointless scene involving (yup, you guessed it) Rose. This time, she ‘finds’ Tom’s office for no reason other than to plant an idea in his head that will become a new storyline.

It’s Halloween soon isn’t it?
Bates talks to Anna about getting his leg over and I throw up a bit in my mouth. Make it stop.

Horrifying news of what the kitchen staff get up to in their spare time.
Learn stuff? Well, I never… But you’re right Carson and Mrs P; Daisy should NOT get an education. Because a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Ask Lady G, she knows all about that…

Entertaining is SO difficult when I just have to sit there
And again, Lady G whinging. This time, about Lady Anstruther coming for tea. What is this woman’s problem? It’s not like she has to make the tea. From now on I call her ‘Lazy G’.

Criminal conundrums
Bates to Lord Gillingham: ‘You don’t travel with a valet?’
Subtext: ‘Who can I murder now?’

A fire hits Downton and everyone gets their priorities straight
Thomas: ‘Lady Edith!!’
Mary: ‘George!!’
Tom: ‘Cybbie!!’
Lord Grantham: ‘Get the dog!!’*

Mary finally reveals her sympathetic side
‘Lady Edith chose to set fire to her room.’

All in all, an excellent episode. Let’s hope Fellowes has started as he means to go on.

* I’m not saying that’s wrong or anything. I mean, I’d definitely save my dog.

By Beenie Langley

Woy ahead of the curve… How England can surprise a few people in Brazil


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And so the Premiership season reaches its natural conclusion, one in which (it seems) that an expensively-assembled team of global superstars triumphs over Sentimentality FC and another expensively-assembled team of global superstars with a slightly stunted grasp of irony.

"I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me..."

“I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me…”

Were this a battle for the charts, the number 1 spot would be going to One Direction (the sad indictment of modern music), narrowly beating a Facebook-fan-led drive from The Bee Gees (haven’t been big for years, mainly famous now for Tragedy) and Jennifer Lopez (“Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got, I’m still Roman/Jose from the block”). This analogy sadly falls flat for Arsenal because no band on earth scores constant top-5 hits for almost a decade without either breaking up or hitting the top spot. In a way they are unique.

Anyhow, enough of all that. The point is that, as the sun sets on the domestic season, so it rises in Brazil and the eyes of the world are drawn on the World Cup, like Sauron on a ringed Halfling.

Of course, Brazil is a country that football pairs with as naturally as tea and Hob Nobs, meaning that (providing the stadia stay upright for the duration) this is obviously going to be the best tournament since the World Cup was last in Brazil… 1950 or 2001 – depending on whether you recognise Mike Bassett’s semi-final run as an official tournament.

Mike Bassett, a sort of prototype Roy Hodgson

Mike Bassett, a sort of prototype Roy Hodgson

England will arrive at their base in Rio at their longest tournament odds in recent memory. Indeed those three-lion-tattooed lunatics who fancy a wager on Woy’s Boys can do so at a universally-available price of 33/1, giving us some distance between the Germanys and Brazils of this world and closer to the more realistic benchmarks of Colombia and Portugal.

The Golden Generation™ has mostly moved on: Becks is now a full-time football ambassador, Joe Cole is the team mascot at his beloved West Ham and Emile Heskey has been put out to stud. Only Liverpool’s mournful-eyed skipper “Stevie G” and Plug from the Bash Street Kids still command a position of any real importance in the national setup, although given the monumental success of the team over the period 2000-2012, it’s possibly no crying shame.

The squad that went to South Africa was littered with title winners and Champions League heroes, yet amassed a total of three goals in the tournament and were humiliated in the first knock-out round by the hun. The squad that are likely to travel to Brazil this summer are, for the most part, still impressed by Capital One Cup and Europa League medals.

In the aforementioned Mike Bassett: England Manager, the titular hero states upon his underwhelming appointment to the role, that “a lot of very qualified people have done this job before and look how badly they’ve done”. This is a sentiment that many have sought solace in as, for the first time in my lifetime, we enter a tournament with a seemingly realistic level of ambition.

But who are the brave souls that we are sending off in the most fruitless foreign adventure since Dunkirk? Yes, it’s time the for the Trivial Pursuits Official 2014 World Cup squad.


HARTJoe Hart (Manchester City) – The most automatic of automatic selections, for reasons that become clearer when you see the next two names. Overcame an early-season bout of the Bonettis to reclaim his place in the Man City side and will probably remain England’s goalkeeper until some point in the 2050’s, when the reanimated corpse of Peter Shilton can take over between the sticks. Dandruff-free, which will be useful in the heat of Manaus.

BenFoster_1308242aBen Foster (West Brom) – A capable deputy, largely on the basis that he A) is English, B) plays in the Premiership and C) recently renewed his passport. Has a jaw that can cut through granite. Or is that Scott Carson? Anyhow, whichever one plays for West Brom gets the job. Probably.


Fraser+Forster+England+v+Chile+o50KDIpTlwdlFraser Forster (Celtic) – The third-choice keeper is up there with England Supporter’s Band trumpeter as one of the most pointless roles in any international tournament. Celtic’s Fraser Forster has actually won something this season (albeit the sort of league where players like Gary Hooper and Kris Commons are dubbed ‘unplayable’) and, as a Geordie, will be looking forward to getting ‘mortalled’ on the Copacabana and trying to shag a ladyboy. Should therefore travel.



glenjohnson_1461550aGlen Johnson (Liverpool) – It is now 11 years since Johnson made his international debut (in a game that, somewhat incredibly, also featured James Beattie and Jermain Jenas) and only since being arguably England’s best player in Euro 2012 has the Liverpool right-back been undisputed first choice. Seems to no longer score his annual goal-of-the-season contender, however also makes less head-slammingly crass defensive errors than he used to. On balance, you’d take that. 


jag_1518222aPhil Jagielka (Everton) – Big Phil Jagielka is the sort of functional, no-nonsense, versatile defender who would have been a water bottle-carrying number 23 in previous campaigns. Now finds himself as one of the first names on the team sheet. Jamie Carragher must look at Phil’s international career and cry himself to sleep some nights.


gary-cahill-englandGary Cahill (Chelsea) – Cahill has been a revelation this season as the least flawed, and therefore most present of Mourinho’s back line. Still looks like a character from a Siegfried Sassoon poem, but his inherent Englishness belies a surprisingly good technique. Like Jagielka, will start by default.


Baines_1622043aLeighton Baines (Everton) – It seems almost unbelievable that, in 2010, England left Baines out of the squad for something called a Stephen Warnock. Four years on and the Everton man seems to have made the left-back slot his own. Long-term will probably be harshly remembered as “that guy who was left back between Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw”, but for now his attacking verve and set-piece delivery is a welcome weapon in a team that can lack creativity.


smalling_1697969aChris Smalling (Manchester United) – Somewhat of an enigmatic figure, Smalling’s career to date has swung between the sublime and the ridiculous. Now 24 years old and with Ferdinand and Vidic vacating his club position, he must push on. Versatility and lack of options make him a bit of a no-brainer here.


PhiljonesPhil Jones (Manchester United) – Another player who really needs to nail down a club position is Phil Jones. Huge versatility (could well play in midfield if England go down the “Mourinho route”), athleticism and the sort of dedicated gurn that you normally only see at footage of an illegal M25 rave all stack up in his favour. A lack of game time this season does not.


Northern Ireland v EnglandAshley Cole (Chelsea) – Sorry hipsters, if England are playing a better team than them in the World Cup (and given that two of our group fall into this category, it seems likely), I’d take Cashley over Luke Shaw any day. That said, he should probably retire from International duty as soon as the tournament is over, or “the knockout stages” as other countries know it.

The Controversial Issue – Only having seven defenders. I thought long(ish) and hard over this conundrum, but with James Milner able to fill in at full-back and the injured, muppet-headed Kyle Walker the only realistic alternative, I went for more entertaining picks further up the field. If Phil Jones is injured, expect an centre back to be picked who will probably win the only caps of his entire career in the warm-up friendlies.



GerrardSteven Gerrard (Liverpool) – Ah Stevie. Stevie, Stevie, Stevie… This season was so nearly the highlight of your career. That moment that you had waited your whole life for, that speech, your Trafalgar… Alas, football and indeed football studs are unpredictable things… Now back in the world of mediocrity after this season’s brief flirtation with success, England’s captain will hopefully continue his good club form into what should be his last major tournament.

Jordan HendersonJordan Henderson (Liverpool) – The star that keeps rising. It seems endemic of how bizarre this season has been that Henderson would probably get in most people’s starting XI. The idea is (theoretically) that he does a lot of the leg-work that allows the others to flourish around him. Whether this works in the stuffy heat of Manaus remains to be seen. A decent shout to be the scapegoat for whatever entirely predictable defeat ends our tournament.

Raheem+SterlingRaheem Sterling (Livepool) – Young, exciting, quick and with an exceptionally high sperm count, Sterling is the name sending the nation’s hype-o-meters spiralling from “meh…” to “we might do OK”. Has excelled across midfield this season, while goals against Man City and Arsenal suggest he likes the big occasion. Looks England’s next superstar in waiting, although we’re pretty sure that was said about Aaron Lennon at one stage.

LallaAdam Lallana (Southampton) – The trendy name to suggest when the subject of spare slots in the national team comes up. Two-footed and skilful, with a decent range of passing and finishing, Lallana has improved immeasurably as a footballer since Pochettino took over at Southampton. Critics will argue that he has not been tested in Europe yet, while his yearning for a fluid number 10 role might make him a Joe Cole-esque square peg in a nation of round holes in the long term. Deserves a chance though.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal) – Strong, quick bulldozer of a midfielder who will probably end up playing centrally in the long-run. Can shoot off both feet, as a cracking strike against Brazil last year showed. Negatives include consistency and image association with the dire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. Not impossible that Hodgson will give Kieron Gibbs his place by mistake.

James+Milner+England+v+Ireland+-xjF-nhhZrRlJames Milner (Manchester City) – Embodies everything that is wrong with the English national team. Not because he’s a bad player, his energy and versatility are valuable assets, but more because he summarises our lack of acceptance as to who we are. Whenever Milner is picked, you can hear the fans’ groans, as if he’s keeping some prodigious megastar out the side. The reality is, more often than not, that he’s keeping Adam Johnson out the side. And that’s a good thing. People need to take him for what he is: Our national identity made flesh.

Barkley EnglandRoss Barkley (Everton) – The new, new darling of the England setup and bullish driving force behind Everton’s strong year. At his best, he reminds you of when Rooney rampaged into Euro 2004 like a bull in a china shop. His lack of game time prior to this season is another stick to batter David Moyes’ credentials with. Unlikely to start in Brazil, but could prove a handful off the bench once Wazza’s 40 Lambert & Butlers catch up with him.

WilshereJack Wilshere (Arsenal) – Has struggled with injuries of late (see last 3 years) and frustratingly prone to ‘dying-swan-itis’ when fouled, but still one of the most technically gifted midfielders in the country. In a more gifted talent-pool, he probably would have missed out on this tournament due to fitness concerns, however we are England and the alternative is Tom Cleverley, so he has to go.

Fabian-Delph-Leeds-United-England-Under-19_1074587Fabian Delph (Aston Villa) – OK… Balls out time. I have set out with the intention of having an exciting, forward-looking squad and one player who deserves inclusion as such is Villa’s Fabian Delph. England are going to need energy and mobility if they are to surprise people in this tournament and for that reason, I’d have Delph as a back-up for Henderson. Absolutely ran the show against Ramires in March and would be a considerably more interesting pick than 47-year-old Frank Lampard.

The Controversial Issue – No Lampard, no Carrick. At least one of them is definitely going to go, aren’t they? Sigh…



Daniel+Sturridge+England+v+Montenegro+FIFA+C2JJrUIDLWylDaniel Sturridge (Liverpool) – After looking too big for his boots at Man City, then too selfish for his own good at Chelsea, Sturridge has been an astonishingly good signing for Liverpool. 35 goals in 48 games cannot be ignored and when you see the range of strikes he’s scored, it’s hard to deny that he looks the real deal. Able to run the channels, cut in from wide or drive on from deep, he could be the antithesis to the sort of stodgy displays England regularly produce on the big stage. Really needs to cut out that celebration though.

Wayne+Rooney+England+v+Brazil+International+N56o6d3M9G-lWayne Rooney (Manchester United) – It’s become fashionable to slag off Wayne, with his massive contract, permanent scowl, punchable face, off-the-field antics, punchable face, association to David Moyes, berating of his own fans, punchable face and the fact that he hasn’t produced in a tournament for a decade. Oh and his punchable face. But he is still one of the most talented members of the squad and one of the few to have scored big goals in Europe. If he can learn to operate behind Sturridge, it could prove to be one of the more dangerous partnerships in the tournament, which is exactly why it probably won’t work. Has a punchable face.

Danny_Welbeck_20120611Danny Welbeck (Manchester United) – Mystifying. It seems that no matter how many times I watch him play, I still can’t make my mind up as to whether he is brilliant or absolutely useless. A saner man would settle for somewhere in the middle, but this is English journalism and as such no place exists. Deserves credit as one of very few Man Utd players to enhance their reputation this season and genuinely caused Bayern Munich problems with his pace and movement. Can play on the left, albeit with all of the conviction of anyone else who has played left wing for England since Martin Peters.

lambert_1803244aRickie Lambert (Southampton) – For the record, I definitely would have taken his clubmate Jay Rodriguez, with his wonderful ability to bumble through tackles, ahead of Lambert. However injury intervened, so now I am delighted to pack the Southampton veteran onto the plane. Regardless of his potentially-useful penalty prowess and generally calm finishing, the main reason behind this is that he still bears the look of a man who cannot believe he has got to where he has. Lest we forget, this is a guy who was packing beetroot into bottles aged 21 and didn’t play in the top two divisions until he was 28. There’s something glorious about the idea of him swapping shirts with the academy-nurtured Neymar’s and Messi’s of this world.

The Controversial Issue – Given the lack of alternatives, the controversial issue up front appears to revolve around whether or not one-man wrecking mule Andy Carroll makes the trip. To give him his dues, Carroll can be a handful, but there’s something unsavoury about the way you have to play to get the best out of him. Connor Wickham’s one-man salvage job on Sunderland was too little, too late.



In previous campaigns, England’s game plan has usually seemed fairly robust but tended to resort to the worst sensibilities of the traditional 4-4-fucking-2 at the slightest sign of trouble. This is largely because, as any Sunday league manager will tell you, it’s the only way anyone in this country knows how to play. It’s how we’re taught from a young age. You’re unlikely to hear kids in the playground complaining that they’ve been asked to play as a “false 9” rather than an “enganche”, which on second thoughts is no bad thing.

However raising players who (bless them) are bears of little brain, in a country where using “wing backs” is considered a ludicrous tactical improvisation, does raise the problem of how to change things around and avoid getting mauled between the lines like we did in South Africa. To these ends I have a solution, and given that it worked when I coached Phaphane Primary School to the Mochudi Oros Cup in 2004, I expect it still works now…

Footballers might be simple, but they watch a lot of football. Therefore you simply take a successful team and you tell your footballers to emulate a player.

Got it?

None of this individual thinking bollocks, you just tell them to do what ‘their player’ would have done in that situation. As such I propose that, much like Phaphane’s golden generation copied the system of Arsenal’s Invincibles, this England team ape the style of Liverpool.

For starters, 5 of the line-up are actually in the Liverpool side, while the keeper and other defenders are (if anything) an improvement on Brendan Rodgers’ team. Up front, you bring in the closest thing England have to Suarez (probably Rooney, if on form) and Coutinho (Lallana) and, hey presto! You have a team who might actually look like they know what positions they’re playing… It’s a novel concept.

England 2014

But then again, why try that when we could just put Lampard and Gerrard together one last time? Over to you Woy.

By Harry Harland