A mane of two halves

The Premiership season returned to our screens this weekend and was once again greeted like an old friend. Only this time, our adored acquaintance had returned from its holiday proudly displaying a nipple ring and gap yah tattoo. I’m referring to the introduction of VAR, a computerised system that pauses the game to aid referees in ensuring the correct decisions are made. If it sounds robotic and laborious, that’s because it is. It’s the equivalent of going for a kick about in the park with your friends and one of them stopping every five minutes to confirm that the dog faeces you just ravaged your Reeboks with actually belongs to a German shepherd and not a King Charles spaniel.

            However, the VAR process paled in comparison to some of the lurid hairstyles on display. Anyone not interested in the beautiful game – and I would hazard a guess that there were many partners across the country forced to endure the middle-aged paunch and puns of Jeff Stelling – would have found renewed interest in the ridiculous barnets brandished. On Saturday’s televised fixtures alone, there were more dodgy decisions carried out in the salon as opposed to the stadium.

            Saturday’s lunchtime fixture featured Leeds United, but the real standout came from their midfielder Kalvin Phillips, whose hair resembled a roadside pineapple rather than an actual hairstyle. However, nothing compared to what was going on Aston Villa, for it seems their transfer strategy had been deployed on the sheer basis of foolish thatches rather than tactical tenacity. They must be the only team whose highlight reel comes from Toni & Guy rather than Sky Sports.

            Much has been discussed about Jack Grealish’s syrup but it looked especially absurd in their opening game. Almost arbitrary patches of freshly shaved skin surrounded his ears and neck, looking like he’d endured painful brain surgery moments before stepping on to the pitch. Then there’s the backcombed quiff teetering nervously on top like an uncontrollable wave in a fish tank and the headband cramming it together like gaffer tape holding in a hernia. He made a mistake giving away possession on Saturday, but some would say that was only a minor error compared to gracing the pitch with that ‘do.

            Grealish was not the only guilty one. Douglas Luiz came off the bench when he should have stayed in the barber’s chair, rocking rancid blonde dreads that made him look like a dehydrated Medusa. Not to be outdone, Villa’s Jota proudly showed off his own strange plumage, a short and sharp bob that is usually adorned by first-time moms in the Home Counties.

            All of this gives me hope. I have spent my life making brave decisions in the barbers. In sixth form, I spent the autumn term boasting a jet-black emo style with a blonde panel fringe, resembling a mixture of an anaemic Kevin Pietersen and a gay skunk. Then there was the long, bleach blonde mane that combined a destitute Swedish DJ with an edgy scarecrow. At the moment my hair remains relatively conservative, but after seeing so many professional footballers showing off such wacky wigs, I feel it’s time I went back and asked for a modified Noel Fielding.

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‘Too fat to play football’ – meet the exiled players looking to shift the pounds

He plays it forward with a beautiful sweeping motion. There’s a slight dip on the end of it before a switch in play. It moves to its target who then dribbles exquisitely. The rest of the evening sees a crisp finish and some liquid passing.

Sovereign FC are halfway through their Wednesday night dinner – a bombastic banquet of fried potato, succulent beef, cauldrons of coke and chocolate fudge cake for dessert.

As football diets go, it’s certainly unconventional.

Based in Wolverhampton, Sovereign FC – or the ‘Sov’ as they are affectionately known – have an excuse for such gluttony.

This is their final meal. Not before the electric chair, but the bamboo one.

They’re going green. Pepsi is to be replaced by protein shakes. Chicken with chickpeas. Tofu instead of toffee.

At their pinnacle, the Sov tore up leagues across Cannock and Bilston with reckless abandon. Their star striker, Jon Giddings, netted so prolifically he was almost tipped for the full-time game, before the lure of banking proved too great.

Equally, the defensive midfielder Ash Wiley gave nothing away, leading to his nickname ‘the Nun’.

Add to the mix the all-round tenacity of Liam Dixon, the punch of Matt Palmer, the gallops of Kriss Costins** and the injuries of Frazer Evans and you had a recipe for success.

Sadly, the lads discovered the recipe for burgers.

Since their literal salad days, the Sov have enjoyed more success in Subway than they have in soccer.

The team combined now weigh a metric ton. Their weekly food intake could keep a small African settlement well-stocked for a century. They became, in 2018, the first football team to see Jacamo provide their home and away kits.

“It started off with curry and a movie at Costins’,” says Wiley, a relative whippet at 13 stone 11. “Then Jon would have Maoms by his sofa and things spiralled out of control. I’d turn down meals with my girlfriend because I had Jelly Babies for tea…although, to be honest, that wasn’t the only reason.”

However, Wiley’s weight gain stems from keeping the bad thoughts out, as opposed to letting the good ones in.

“I struggle to sleep at my missus’ house. It’s not very comfortable being kept in the broom cupboard,” he admits. “I have been haunted by the death of a loved one – Kirst’s rabbit, Callum – so to sleep I started medicating…I have four cans of lager a night now. Some people read a book, I down a Carling!”

With the Sov adopting a new policy on pudge, some players had to adapt to the new regime. “I was working as a sports coach, but I was staying too slim. I simply had to keep my weight up,” recalls Liam Dixon.

“In the end, I had to jack it in. It was affecting my performances and the Sov said I may not be in the starting line-up if I wasn’t match-fat. In the end, I took a job selling bathrooms. It used to be every time I scored a goal I’d treat myself to a digestive. Now every time I flog a tap, I scoff a Twix.”

Recent photos of Dixon donning a fuller shirt hint that he has achieved his goal weight.

Similarly, Sam Lambeth weighed as little as 5KG as recently as 2018. Now a firm 15 stone, he’s worked regularly with a dietician to increase the weight gain. “I did a reverse Joker,” he reveals. “While Joaquin Phoenix lost the weight in three months, I gained it. I basically ate his old portions. He wasn’t happy about it but he’s got the Oscar, I’ve got the insulin.”

However, the Sov’s form began to buckle quicker than their beds. Players would be out of breath just undoing their tracksuit tops. Recovery time lasted a month. Half-time orange slices were of the Terry’s chocolate variety.

Now it’s time for a change.

In the past month, the Sov have been determined to return to their slimmer, successful days. Neil Jackson has adopted a plant-based diet. “Before, that just meant I ate a fry-up at the garden centre!” he beams. “But now I’m all about the plants. Have you seen that documentary, What the Health? Oh, you have? Is it any good? I only watched one scene. But it changed my life.”

Jon Giddings has already seen his weight plummet. “The only reason I’m keeping this beard is to cover up the skin folds,” he says between gorging on parsley.

Similarly, Chris Caddick has banned all chocolate and sweets from the kitchen. “It’s ruined my sex life but my blood pressures down,” he sighed.

Callum Pascoe, a recent signing from Plymouth Grouters, was unavailable for comment after succumbing to heat stroke after a particularly vigorous session of hot yoga.

Will 2020 see the return of a slimmer Sov? “I hope so,” says Frazer Evans. “My arse has never looked so good.”

** – Certain names have been changed to protect the person’s true identity

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Am I Sovvered?

Jon Giddings had always expected there to be a Sovereign FC revival. While there had been dalliances – the FA People’s Cup semi-final that broken dozens of hearts across the Wednesfield suburbs, Sam Lambeth’s 2015 testimonial that saw the retirement of Mathew ‘Chizel’ Hodson – there had never been a full-time return to the league. That was all about to change.

It was January 2019 and Giddings was keen to return to football. ‘After numerous tribunals against me at work, I needed to make some cash on the side,’ he recalls today. ‘Plus, The Apprentice had finished for another year and all of a sudden Wednesday nights became free.’

It turned out he wasn’t the only one eager to don the famous red and black. Ash Wiley had swapped mopping up the midfield for mopping up pensioners’ piss, breaking up fights between wrinkly patients rather than breaking up play. Plus, the fuel of football would provide the perfect tonic to get over his relationship problems. ‘The main issue was that I was seeing her,’ he says today. ‘I had managed to get away from Kirst for the other six days a week – lifting 0.5s in the gym, placing bets on who’ll do the rumba on Strictly, taking Ben to his clarinet lessons – but Wednesdays had become dangerously open. Football would give Kirst and myself some much-needed space.’

The stars seemed to align. Former manager and kit supplier Neil Jackson’s ban on Twitter may still be in force, but he’d completed his equality awareness test to play matches. ‘There had been some unpleasantness a few years ago regarding a woman referee and a popular TV show,’ he shudders today. ‘She put in a complaint. Typical wench…so when are you pressing ‘record’? Oh.’

The final two pieces of the puzzle were Frazer Evans-Mido and Liam Dixon. Sadly, the former failed a medical after spraining his ankle trying to remove his size 22 stretch-fit jeans. Dixon passed…this time. ‘I agreed to play for a short period in order to regain match sharpness, but I had signed a deal with Tivoli Gardens to be the Harry Kane of the Caribbean,’ Dixon explains. ‘Jon did my medical and noticed a slight bump on my back. We thought it was just a crease in the sheet so we didn’t worry.’

That was until Dixon received a call straight from Kingston. The team had been secretly tipped off by a ‘Tom Riddings’ that he was suffering from scoliosis. ‘My back could be part of Alton Towers,’ laughs Dixon behind pools of tears. ‘It turns out my back is crumbling faster than Pizza Express…and it might fold quicker than a calzone!’

Dixon vowed to play through the pain, of both his back and having Chris Caddick on the same team. However, the latter was enduring his own off-field problems. A WhatsApp message allegedly meant for Caddick’s wife – sample text: ‘I want to burst your quaffle and bludgeon your beater’ – ended up being sent to a baby. The latter pattycaked a complaint to the police and soon Caddick found himself in a cell. ‘It was actually a lot comfier and larger than the one Liv puts me in,’ Caddick says today. ‘But if Ched Evans can rape somebody and play in the Championship, surely a man who loves kids can play six-a-side?’

However, the team’s camaraderie helped propel them to the upper echelons of League Four. Over the course of the season, there were on-the-pitch moments that became unforgettable – in twenty years’ time, fans will still be recalling Matt ‘Pokey, Man!’ Palmer’s tragic passback. They will shout like Martin Tyler at Jon Giddings’ defence-splitting passes. They will cry and gasp in awe at Chris Caddick’s one-two. They will recall in shock Lambeth’s actual goal.

For the team itself, the bonding they achieved off the pitch cemented their quality. One particularly harrowing moment was when Neil Jackson had to be surgically removed after lodging his ample leg down a protruding manhole. ‘It was madness. All they had covered it with was a large, orange traffic cone. And a sign. And a 24/7 attendant who forcibly tried to remove me from the premises. I should have sued,’ Jackson says today. ‘I’ve got a metal knee, so the thought of my copper calf scraping against manhole metal makes me feel sick.’

There were moments of levity. Lambeth found love – briefly – and restraining orders – permanently – from three Cannock-based barmaids. New goalkeeper Cal Pascoe would cheer up flagging faces by ordering baby-sized espressos, causing chuckles from the lads and signs of excitement from Cad.

As 2019 draws to a close, the same set of boys have been reassembled for another hard winter slog. Little has changed – Wiley is still considering moving to Germany (though has rejected a coaching role at Hitler Youth). Dixon aims for a better life across the pond…in Reading. Palmer has promised to stay 20 feet away from all referees, even though he hates playing in defence. After so many years, what keeps the Sov coming back for more?

‘Loneliness,’ laughs Lambeth. ‘And the fact if I don’t show up, Aust might take my place.’

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Lana Del Rage

There is often an assumption that to become a music journalist, you must first become a failed musician. When you are a music journo, there can be times when active musicians see your opinion as irrelevant and riddled with resentment. It’s a fair cop – after all, most writers would rather be spending their Friday night snorting cocaine off of a groupie’s gumdrops than scribbling down setlists. And, lest we forget, journalists cannot resist the occasional slice of sensationalism.

That notwithstanding, the musician-journalist relationship can become particularly tempestuous if the artist is issued with a bad review. Lana Del Rey, the sullen chanteuse whose post-birth wail must have been drenched in reverb, is the most recent example. Her new record Norman Fucking Rockwell! is replete with her usual atmospheric, stormy sentiments. Journalist Ann Powers, however, was unmoved, criticising the record for being “undercooked” and “derivative”.

Such scathing slights did not go unnoticed, and Del Rey took to Twitter to issue lengthy ripostes and epithets. While I sympathise with Del Rey – and I’m sure hearing that will be of great comfort to her – I feel that such salacious comebacks could be avoided. Whether you’re a professional footballer, musician or politician, taking flak comes with the territory and the most dignified way to respond is with stoic silence. Not everyone is going to like what you do, and in my case as a musician not anyone liked it, but taking to Twitter to vent feels like the petty kvetching of a 14-year-old whose YouTube makeup tutorial got a thumbs down.

I can see it from both perspectives. As a musician, if I’d have reached the dazzling heights of my own private toilet roll I might have let the reviews go unread. But as an unsigned artist, I was always curious and a good review from a good publication can garner quite a bit of traction (or, in my case, a Facebook like from your Nan). Even this summer, my Best Of album – yes, you read that right – had one review which just moaned for three paragraphs about the length. If the journalist was reviewing a product where the length was essential, such as a table or a penis, then fair enough, but could you have at least mentioned one lousy lyric?

One review labelled my first band “for those who find Travis too edgy”, another branded us a “poor man’s Busted” and my voice like “a trapped Disney character”. The most egregious of all, though, occurred when I made love to a journalist the evening before a big headline gig. It was not, naturally, a testosterone-fuelled attempt at securing a solid ten-star review, but if it had have been, it would have failed spectacularly. I hoped my performance between the sheets made my performance between the strings even better for her and that I’d, at least, get a solid seven.

Instead, I opened the review to find thinly-veiled insults at my sexual prowess. It was obvious to me that the statements about my onstage performance – “short, rushed and thrashy”, “anti-climactic”, “the encore was non-existent” – were actually jabs about my bedroom antics. Suffice to say, we did not become intimate again, mainly because I was dreading what she’d say about our Destiny’s Child cover.

As a journalist, I have received it, too, from being banned from a Facebook group consisting of portly Ocean Colour Scene fans (my crime? Writing a review that was over 300 words long) to being disallowed entry to a band’s gig for fear I’d “say something I’d regret”, as if I was a drunk grandfather at a Jewish colleague’s birthday.

Bad reviews come and go, but Lana Del Rey and co need to take it on the chin. Or do what I did and stop making music and start learning to plaster.

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Bake up the nation

You can’t help but feel those that voted for Brexit for anachronistic reasons – a return to the values of old and a distinctly English heritage – should have instead been forced to watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off. Think about it. For an hour, the tempestuous world of smart phones, anal bleaching and Jeremy Corbyn is wiped away like excess sugar on a marzipan cottage. All that remains is a gang of people that look like they’ve just got back from a Belle & Sebastian concert, creating old-fashioned British cakes and old-fashioned British smut.

            I had never really watched the show before but even I had a solid grasp on the concept, as well as the clientele. It is, I assumed before watching Tuesday’s premiere, the equivalent of spending a Sunday afternoon with your ruddy-faced grandmother. You get sugary goodness, the stiff upper lip only baby boomers protest to possess and servings of superannuated comedy.

            However, I must confess that my own Nan hadn’t indulged in the show, and her description of it left a lot to be desired. “Oh, that’s the thing with the tent, isn’t it?” she began. “The one where the rough Scouse guy and the three lesbians judge cakes.” I guess, to her credit, she’s almost there when describing Paul Hollywood and Sandi Toksvig.

            When I made the decision to watch the show, it didn’t come easy. I had grown pig sick of staring into the piercing, ageing eyes of Hollywood every time I passed the tabloids. I knew that he had a penchant for pursuing much younger women, who seemed to desire much more than just him fingering their fig roll. So much so that I remember reading an article where they stated Hollywood liked to “lure children into his gingerbread house”. I, like most people, tired quickly of the antics of a fifty-something philanderer and the various younger gold (or perhaps that should be flour?) diggers that allowed him to rise quicker than Russian yeast.

            Nevertheless, I indulged in watching the first episode of the tenth season. As I stated earlier, the participants often fall into a few neat categories. There’s usually an aloof, detached younger man with an underlying sense of creepiness and an almost Asperger’s-like appreciation of all things baked (Henry). Then there’s the working-class ne’er-do-well who was saved from a life of lorry driving when his wife first made him bake a Victoria sponge (Phil). Throw into the bowl a clutch of twee, twentysomething teacher-types with twinkling eyes and Laura Ashley vouchers (Alice, Steph), a hipster that looks like he’d bake your severed penis into a soufflé (Dan), and a common-or-garden mom from somewhere rural (Michelle), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success.

            What did surprise me, however, were the Leslie Phillips levels of bawdiness. “This is small and delicate so I’ve really got to get my hands around it,” mused Phil, as suggestive shots showed him massaging his phallic cake like an outtake from Fake Taxi. Then there was one contestant saying what sounded like “furry garden”, which awoke Hollywood’s dormant delight quicker than a 20-year-old with a rolling pin. When Steph said that her late great grandmother could locate anything, Paul Hollywood quipped: “Well, I’ve lost my mind”. I was then praying that Steph would fire back with “and your missus!” However, I remembered that she probably wants to win the competition.

            Suffice to say, after my first full episode of …Bake Off, I have been suckered in. I have yet to reach dangerous levels, placing bets on cake width and amount of times Noel Fielding says “get set” in his Boosh theatrical voice, but I am getting there. Although I see this week that Noel will be sporting a Dinosaur Jr. jumper and I am now seriously hoping there’ll be a baking montage set to the thumping grunge of ‘Feel the Pain’.

As Biscuit Week approaches, all I can think of are the various filthy one-liners that will be gleaned from a contestant using a pack of Fingers.

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Bake up the nation

You can’t help but feel those that voted for Brexit for anachronistic reasons – a return to the values of old and a distinctly English heritage – should have instead been forced to watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off. Think about it. For an hour, the tempestuous world of smart phones, anal bleaching and Jeremy Corbyn is wiped away like excess sugar on a marzipan cottage. All that remains is a gang of people that look like they’ve just got back from a Belle & Sebastian concert, creating old-fashioned British cakes and old-fashioned British smut.

            I had never really watched the show before but even I had a solid grasp on the concept, as well as the clientele. It is, I assumed before watching Tuesday’s premiere, the equivalent of spending a Sunday afternoon with your ruddy-faced grandmother. You get sugary goodness, the stiff upper lip only baby boomers protest to possess and servings of superannuated comedy.

            However, I must confess that my own Nan hadn’t indulged in the show, and her description of it left a lot to be desired. “Oh, that’s the thing with the tent, isn’t it?” she began. “The one where the rough Scouse guy and the three lesbians judge cakes.” I guess, to her credit, she’s almost there when describing Paul Hollywood and Sandi Toksvig.

            When I made the decision to watch the show, it didn’t come easy. I had grown pig sick of staring into the piercing, ageing eyes of Hollywood every time I passed the tabloids. I knew that he had a penchant for pursuing much younger women, who seemed to desire much more than just him fingering their fig roll. So much so that I remember reading an article where they stated Hollywood liked to “lure children into his gingerbread house”. I, like most people, tired quickly of the antics of a fifty-something philanderer and the various younger gold (or perhaps that should be flour?) diggers that allowed him to rise quicker than Russian yeast.

            Nevertheless, I indulged in watching the first episode of the tenth season. As I stated earlier, the participants often fall into a few neat categories. There’s usually an aloof, detached younger man with an underlying sense of creepiness and an almost Asperger’s-like appreciation of all things baked (Henry). Then there’s the working-class ne’er-do-well who was saved from a life of lorry driving when his wife first made him bake a Victoria sponge (Phil). Throw into the bowl a clutch of twee, twentysomething teacher-types with twinkling eyes and Laura Ashley vouchers (Alice, Steph), a hipster that looks like he’d bake your severed penis into a soufflé (Dan), and a common-or-garden mom from somewhere rural (Michelle), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success.

            What did surprise me, however, were the Leslie Phillips levels of bawdiness. “This is small and delicate so I’ve really got to get my hands around it,” mused Phil, as suggestive shots showed him massaging his phallic cake like an outtake from Fake Taxi. Then there was one contestant saying what sounded like “furry garden”, which awoke Hollywood’s dormant delight quicker than a 20-year-old with a rolling pin. When Steph said that her late great grandmother could locate anything, Paul Hollywood quipped: “Well, I’ve lost my mind”. I was then praying that Steph would fire back with “and your missus!” However, I remembered that she probably wants to win the competition.

            Suffice to say, after my first full episode of …Bake Off, I have been suckered in. I have yet to reach dangerous levels, placing bets on cake width and amount of times Noel Fielding says “get set” in his Boosh theatrical voice, but I am getting there. Although I see this week that Noel will be sporting a Dinosaur Jr. jumper and I am now seriously hoping there’ll be a baking montage set to the thumping grunge of ‘Feel the Pain’.

As Biscuit Week approaches, all I can think of are the various filthy one-liners that will be gleaned from a contestant using a pack of Fingers.

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Un-Hinged

The other day I found myself caught in a YouTube wormhole watching an interview with resident Hollywood weirdo Crispin Glover, as you do. For anyone that doesn’t know who Glover is, he comes from the troupe of teen stars that unsurprisingly became unilateral freaks in their forties. Here, in his Nineties pomp, he was asked what he looks for in a woman. Amid much stammering, he finally quipped: ‘I like women that like me, of course.’ Believe me, that’s a harder premise than it sounds.

            Over the years, I can honestly say that I have been ghosted more times than Derek Acorah and turned down more times than an Ed Sheeran record. It has now gotten to the stage where I just address myself as a ‘pulse man’. I did have a girlfriend once, but it was more of a hostage situation than a relationship and when we split up it was a mutual decision, in the sense that she and the multiple guys she was seeing mutually decided she should be single.

            Now, I am happy on my own. I enjoy being able to do what I want when I want – depending on whether my mom needs me to walk the dog, of course. But as my twenties begin to betray me, my closest friends have all settled into long-term relationships and Jameela Jamil refuses to return my calls, I felt perhaps the time was right to plunge into the murky depths of online dating.

            Just like how VAR has ruined modern football, I feel that dating apps have ruined the serendipity and sparkle of organic romance. I know it’s foolhardy to expect to meet a brunette over a burger and milkshake these days, but the concept of cyber simpaticos feels like a kind of cattle market where instead of eating the juiciest meat, you take it for a Nando’s.

            Nevertheless, I had a go. I boycotted Tinder and went straight for an app that judged personalities rather than looks (there are not many women, alas, swiping rapidly right on a man that looks like a cross between Simon Pegg and a Scandinavian schoolboy). Going by the name of Hinge, after an hour of scrolling, thumbing and liking, I felt cheated. Considering it’s supposed to be an app about personality, none of the women seemed to possess one.

            Each woman’s answers were tedious boilerplates where the key hobby was ‘travel’ (ironic considering conversations must go nowhere). One even said ‘boys, saying you own a dog doesn’t mean you’re cool’, while underneath her picture saw her proudly posing with a pug. Hinge and these other dating apps feels like opening a door to a key party where nobody can drive.

            When I did get to speak to someone, it was as stilted and as short-lived as making small talk with your Uber driver. And at least then you know you’re going to end up somewhere. Of course, I am sure women who use Hinge can attest that they suffer the same soporific platitudes that I got, and probably much worse all round.

            The fact is if you didn’t manage to find a long-term partner before 2012, you’re fucked, because all that is left are a gang of people that are too distracted, too choosy or too basic to sustain anything other than a wink-faced emoji. Dating has become some sort of weird sexual buffet, where you can pick, choose and reject. No one needs to date long-term because if one night out isn’t 100 percent perfect, you can be happy in the knowledge next week you might swipe right on someone that enjoys breathing oxygen, has eaten solids and been exposed to Jack Whitehall.

           I will delete Hinge tomorrow and go back to the relative comfort of bachelorhood, but I have decided to have some final fun with my profile. Sign of a great first date? Chlamydia. My greatest strength? Chlamydia. I take pride in? Chlamydia. Strange? Yes. But I have now become the most interesting person in the history of online dating.

            And I bet I still won’t get a look in.

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Shagging dog story

Most dog owners will tell you that raising a canine is a lot like raising a slightly hairier, faster child. For the most part they are like babies – blindly loyal, with their daily diary consisting of nothing but requesting food, fuss and faecal extraction (or in other words, my idea of a perfect Sunday). However, our dog has now bypassed that stage and has entered the teenage phase – I swear that if he had the apposable thumbs, he would be slamming a bedroom door and blasting out ‘Hounds of Love’ at full volume.

            At first, we thought that this transition into teen living was restricted to the odd rebellious run on his evening walk, his selective hearing and stealing slices of pizza from our very plates. Sadly, this was just the beginning. Last week, our beloved, two-year-old Henry descended into the kind of debauched devilry that would make the Dog Whisperer scream with anguish. I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill leg hump. No, Henry indulged in a spot of solo satisfaction while in deep slumber – the only thing about this dream that wasn’t wet was his nose.

            It wasn’t how I imagined it to be when the idea of catching our dog masturbating popped into my head (not that it did often). I half expected it to be like the secret slip ‘n’ grips we all enjoyed as testosterone-addled teens, where Henry would bark his goodnights, carry the laptop in his mouth and frantically google Fake Taxi.

            Speaking of Google, we brazenly searched ‘do dogs have wet dreams?’ without any fear of repercussion from cookies or adverts. The answer still leaves me stunned into silence for so many reasons, thus I can only repeat it ad infinitum – “in the same way that dogs are just as likely to have nightmares as humans do, so too is it conceivable that a dog’s resting mind may invent sexually satisfying scenarios.”

            Upon reading this, my mind was racing. At first, jealousy – in my life, there are no such things as sexually satisfying scenarios, either deep in my head or deep in my bed. The idea that a two-year-old mutt with bad breath and moulting hair is more sexually awakened than myself made me want to head straight for Pornhub. Secondly, I tried to imagine what kind of stimuli Henry would be using for his filthy forays – does he lie back and imagine a Cavalier Michelle Keegan? Does his bone tremble with anticipation at the girthy legs of a Great Dane?

            What disturbed us further was that a few days earlier we had Googled – because we are, let’s face it, sad individuals – what dogs dream of. The answer was that as dogs are incredibly loyal to their owners, it’s most likely that they are imagining and seeing them in their dreams. While at first we thought this was overwhelmingly cute, after Henry’s wet dream we all suddenly felt like we needed a cold shower. When he came to lie by my side on the sofa a few nights after the incident occurred, I couldn’t work out if it was an act of loyal love or him attempting to add another deposit to the wank bank. All I know is, since my mother caught him enjoying his wet dream, she has refrained from shouting ‘come!’ on their morning walks.

            One week on and we have yet to catch him enjoying round two of his fur-dampening dreams. One can only assume it was a quick blast of boisterous bawdiness or he’s being more covert and enjoying a furry tug when the house is free. I am now living in fear that I’ll return from work and find Henry has raided my secret stash of FHM Magazines. Whatever the outcome, I can safely assume that Henry must have been imagining doing it doggy style. And if he wasn’t, I’m going to be even more disappointed.

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Loathe Island

I always dreaded this time of year. No, not because the sporadic summer period leaves my inner organs bloated by Piriton or because every beer garden is replete with the kind of people who would only usually set foot in their local boozer if their heavily pregnant wife’s waters had broken outside the entrance. In actual fact, my sun-drenched despair actually stems from the show Love Island, which dominates our screens and conversation for months on end and sees unnaturally muscle-bound boys pursue a succession of scantily-clad women. When people would ask me, which they inevitably did, if I followed Love Island, my answer would always be the same – ‘not so much follow, as flee.’

            This year, I decided to give in and surrender. After all, there’s nothing worse than someone whining about a show he’s never actually watched. Plus, owning a Fiat 500 meant I was automatically signposted as some sort of raving Love Island zealot – most passers-by were visibly disappointed when they saw my slouching frame saunter out the driver’s side, as opposed to an ample-thighed receptionist from Chelmsford.

            In two weeks, I became everything I’d ever hated. You see, I have what doctors have yet to define as RRSS – relapsed reality show syndrome. The signs are there – a prickly disposition around reality TV that can almost be attributed to seething jealousy. A yearning to find out what happens, usually by scoffing about the show to a colleague before innocently asking what became of the floppy-haired one. I have suffered with it for years. It began with Made in Chelsea. It’s trashy, I would say, it’s an escape from the hedonistic highs of part-time Starbucks work and the dizzying delights of a BA in English literature. But as the series progressed, I regressed – I’d miss social outings to catch Spencer at his. I fumed at Francis and joked with Jamie. Now Made in Chelsea is in its eightieth season and I’m the only able-minded male outside of Surrey still watching. Why? Because I was there at the beginning and I feel almost duty-bound to stick it out to the bitter end. Even if by the time the show has ended, I look as plastic and as disinterested as Mark-Francis.

            I feared the same plight with Love Island. As I became engrossed, I had to keep shaking myself to remember the sheer stupidity of what was unfolding in front of me. ‘I love it when it’s a slow-burner,’ said one of the contestants about a burgeoning relationship. Of course, this is Love Island, so a slow burner is when you’ve been speaking to someone for three days. The inevitable flight attendant with wonky lips and even wonkier accent proudly proclaimed that she had a ‘half-boyfriend’ in such a short amount of time you’d be scared to announce them as a business colleague.

            The de-facto star couple of this season are Tommy and Molly-Mae, names that make them more sound like Tennessee outlaws. The former has adopted the nice guy hardman oxymoron, a boxer outside of the island but a sensitive man-hunk while within it. However, for all his redeeming qualities, he is as heavy-set in his mind as he is in his trunks, unable to switch on a kettle or speak in anything other than pugilistic references (‘this is my title fight,’ he announced precisely 28 minutes after meeting a surfer chick).

            But they suck you in. If it’s not the housewives’ favourite Caroline Flack ravenously receiving an Uber Eats delivery (dressed in the complete opposite clothes any human being would wear when receiving such a bounty), its narrator Iain Stirling gently reminding you in his loveable Scottish burr just how silly and ridiculous it all is. Once you take note of these, you watch without guilt. You find yourself immeasurably immersed and spend the next morning speaking emphatically about the Irish one’s trouser tremors. And as the weeks go on, once the guilt has well and truly returned, it’s too late to do anything about it.

            I got out just in time. But watching Love Island has the potency and pain of a sexually transmitted disease. It then courses through your veins but, just like an STD, you enjoy it whole-heartedly.

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