The Rif Files

Sports – Films – Reviews – Life Stories – Video Games It's all here on The Rif Files.

Just readin’ them books!

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You guys know what I’m like. I tend to review movies, talk about nostalgic video games or write about that weird shit where men in their underpants pretend to fight (I thinks it’s pronounced rasslin’, not 100% sure, answers on a postcard please) but I never talk about me. I’m a private person as I mention in my blog entitled “The story so far”. So that’s why I’m doing this new series, Rif’s Life Stories.

This topic is about books. Books? What are those? Nowadays we have various forms of entertainment like video games and movies and not many people tend to read anymore, it’. One of my favourite past times is reading. I love it. There’s nothing better than losing yourself in a good book now is there?  From what I gather younger people aren’t buying books as much as younger people did in the eighties or even the nineties and that’s a sad fact. I feel that the Kindle is responsible for that as it’s not just appealing to a technology obsessed generation, but it frees the house from being cluttered with books. Books will never die out. When you think about how long books have existed (the oldest in existence dates from 3000 BC) it’s hard to think that they will ever die out. I believe that any reader will always find comfort in holding a book, feeling the texture of the paper and taking in the aroma of its pages.

Now this isn’t going to about fine literature but books that made an impact on my life growing up or even in recent years. Think of it as a show & tell of some of my personal recommendations.

Gazza: My Story – Paul Gascoigne

When this book was released in 2004 Paul Gascoigne had overcome his addiction to alcohol. Fast forward to today and Gazza is back on the booze. That just breaks my heart. From what I can gather, an incident occurred in his childhood where a friend got knocked over by a car and Paul felt an enormous amount of gilt over it which contributed to a number of mental problems he has. His addictions began around the time he joined Glasgow Rangers. He started drinking more excessively and was stealing pills from the physio’s room, and when he joined Middlesbrough he made an attempt to commit suicide (his plan was to jump in front of a train but by the time he reached the train station the last train had just left the platform). He talks about physically assaulting his wife with deep regret and if he were able to turn back time that would have been the one occasion he would change.

There are some funny stories as you would expect with Gazza. The chapters dedicated to Italia ’90 sounds more like a lads holiday to Ibiza rather than a group of footballers participating in a prestigious football tournament. The team had a session where they were watching matches of their quarter final opponents and the surprise package of the tournament, Cameroon. Gazza was bored so to pass the time, whenever Cameroon made a good pass, he would go “Mmmmmmm”, giving somewhat of a low hum of appreciation, but if the opposite happened he would groan “Ohhhh” in disappointment. His Spurs teammate, Chris Waddle, joined in and eventually the entire squad was joining in. It didn’t take long for Bobby Robson to twig what was going on and gave Gazza a right bollocking.

There’s this chapter where Gazza is addressing certain rumours about his career and whether they were genuine or not.  There are 50 rumours listed and conformation from Gazza regarding the legitimacy of them. Some of these rumours are:

He once paid £300 for a Mars bar from a newsagent in his hometown of Gateshead and told the shop keeper to spend the change on sweets for the local kids (False)

He crashed the Middlesbrough team bus at the training ground (True)

He took a documentary team to a Scottish cottage which he claimed was his new home, he pretended to have forgotten his key so he knocked on the door. When the door opened, he told the housewife that he was doing a TV advert and wanted to know if she was wanted to do the “Daz Doorstep Challenge” (True)

He was banned from going to a nightclub in Liverpool which was owned by Everton fans so he could remain fit and avoid temptation (False)

He sent Vinnie Jones a red rose after the infamous ball squeezing incident and got a toilet brush in return. (True)

Although he played for Newcastle (I’m a Sunderland fan), Gazza was an immense player. I’ll even go as far to say he was the greatest player in the world at one point in his career.  I hope he can get his life back on track again. I’m not a psychologist but he needs to start with his mental problems first before tackling his alcoholism. Like the incident from his childhood which I previously mentioned. I’m not the type of person to kick them while their down; I wish Paul Gascoigne every bit of success on the road to recovery.

Yes Man – Danny Wallace

What a fun story this is. Can you imagine what life would be like if you said “yes” to everything? Well that’s what Danny Wallace did for six months and the results were incredible. Why did he do it? He was saying “no” too often. Not going out or doing anything much, so after a strange encounter with a man on a Bus who suggest that he “should say yes more”, he decided to say yes more to make his life more interesting and positive. He said yes to adverts on the Tube, those annoying charity fundraisers, a new car, a nursing degree, “The Amazing Penis Patch” and even yes to an internet scam which saw him visit the Netherlands!

You can see that the yeses have a chain reaction and each yes always lead to something positive like a promotion at work, but the best example was when he won £45,000! How did that happen? It started off when a man asked him for some change, Danny didn’t have any so he withdrew £10 from the cashpoint, bought a newspaper and gave this guy some change. Inside this newspaper was a scratch card. He scratched off the numbers printed in the paper and before he knew it, he was the winner of £45,000. You see what I mean by the chain? By saying yes to getting change, he ended up with £45,000! Amazing, right? But then, he lost £45K, read the book to find out more.

Have I had a go saying yes? Yes. I didn’t win £45,000 through but I did get some sweets for a quid and a 1p bag at WH Smiths. Not exactly setting the world alight are we? The way the book is written makes it a pick up and read kind of story. It’s something special. It will make you laugh out loud, it might even make you cry, and what’s probably more important, it can teach you, as it taught me, something very important about life. Life is for living. A closed mind is a diseased mind. I don’t think most people know or ever think about how a decision they make today can impact on their lives in 2 or 3 months’ time. I know I’ve never thought about life in those terms before. Give it a try, just say “yes”.

Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks – Mick Foley

“I can’t believe I lost my fucking ear”!

That’s the opening sentence in this book. Unique I know. It grips you from the word go and before you know it, you’re halfway through this 503 page masterpiece. When it hit the shelves in 1999, it was touted as the wrestling fan’s version of the Bible. I was a huge fan of Mick Foley so this was a must have. Foley mentions from the start that he isn’t going to insult the fans intelligence by pretending it’s all “real”, instead, he goes into full detail about how everything works behind the scenes. On the back of the book, there’s a list of all the injuries Foley has received throughout his years in the business. The injuries are:

Two-thirds of his ear ripped off

8 concussions

Broken nose twice

Broken jaw

Dislocated left shoulder

54 stiches in left arm

Fractured left shoulder

Broken left thumb

5 broken ribs

Bruised Kidney

Broken toe

Over 325 stitches in his entire body

Torn Meniscus

Torn abdominal

Broken right wrist

Bone chips in elbow

2 Herniated discs

Second degree burns on arm and shoulder

Separated right shoulder

Broken cheekbone

4 front teeth knocked out.

And they say no one gets hurt, huh?

What makes this book even more remarkable is that the entire book was handwritten by Foley within three months over 760 pages of notebook paper without the aid of a ghost-writer as originally planned. Considering the schedule he was working for the WWE at the time and all the blows to the head he’s received (if you’re not a wrestling fan, search for “Hell in a Cell 1998” on YouTube now), this book has got to rank highly on Foley’s list of achievements. At chapter 26, Foley breaks chronological history at a point writing about Owen Hart’s death on the night it happened, rather than editing the news into a later chapter to fit in with chronology.  Foley shares this one story where he got pranked by Owen and this is how it goes:

 

“Owen got me one night in Toledo, Ohio, after I’d bragged to him about what a great rate I’d gotten at the Red Roof Inn. We would always tip each other off as to where the good deals were, because, like me, Owen liked to save his money, but also like me, he’d spare no expense on his family. I was about to drift off when the phone rang, and a pleasant-sounding man with a soft English accent said, ‘Hello, Mr. Foley, how are you this evening?’ I could literally picture this guy with grey hair and glasses, and a thick wool sweater. The man continued in his pleasant way. ‘Mr. Foley, I’m afraid that after checking our accounts, we have found that we did not charge you enough money for your room.’ I was stunned. I had been in wrestling for over 13 years at that point and had never heard of raising a rate after checking in. ‘Sir, I don’t think you can do that,’ I politely stated. ‘Oh, young man, I’m afraid I can and . . . wait, wait, wait . . . are you one of the wrestlers?’ the old gentleman wanted to know. ‘Yes sir, I am’ I was glad to tell him. The old man spoke again, ‘Wrestling . . .hmmm. . . isn’t that all fake?’ I was kind of perplexed, but I wasn’t about to lose my rate, and besides, I knew how to handle this. ‘Well sir,’ I pleasantly began, ‘it’s about 67% real, one guy got down to 62, and they had to let him go.’ But the old man wasn’t buying my line. ‘Oh, Mr. Foley, you’re very funny, but just last week, I saw you stomping your foot on the mat instead of really hitting somebody. I used to box, you know.’ Now I was starting to become perturbed. ‘Sir, I really don’t think you should be calling up customers and insulting their livelihood.’ The old man instantly apologised. ‘Oh Mr. Foley, I’m so sorry . . . please forgive me.’ After I did and assured him everything was fine, he spoke up one more time. ‘I’m afraid I’m still going to have to raise your rate.’ ‘WHAT?’ I yelled, when suddenly I heard laughter on the other end of the line. I knew I’d been had by the best. ‘Owen,’ I yelled, ‘you prick!’.”

 

There’s so many great, funny stories in this book. Mick has such an amazing writing style that it could rival the very best in the business. The way it’s written is excellent and it just flows perfectly from one story to another. I’ve had the honour of meeting Mick twice in person and you can just tell that that his heart is in the right place and is open for all. His warm personality shines right back at you throughout the pages in this book.

I Am Ozzy – Ozzy Osbourne

If you’re a fan of Ozzy or Black Sabbath then I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough. To say that Ozzy is crazy is putting it mildly; he’s fucking nuts. His life story has to be made into a film it really does. He has lived that Rock n’ Roll lifestyle and its evident here. When you read it it’s as if Ozzy himself is telling you these stories and you can hear them in his broad Brummie accent. At the beginning of the book he makes a joke about how this book should never of happened and that he should have been dead years ago. He’s not kidding around there guys. He must have taken every drug under the sun throughout his lifetime.

There’s one story that sticks out where Ozzy’s first wife bought him some chickens as an attempt to get him off the drink and drugs. It worked for a while but the novelty soon wore off because Ozzy claimed that they were “broken” (by broken he meant they were not laying eggs). He tried to find a reason to get rid of them but to no avail so he just neglected them. This took place at a time where Ozzy and his Black Sabbath band mates were clashing over creative differences, his addictions were getting the best of him and he was facing tax problems in the States. Finally he had enough of his wife going on about him to feed the chickens so he stormed off to the pub (whiles only wearing a pair of wellies, his Y-fronts and a dressing gown). On the way to the pub, he had a change of heart so he turned around and headed home. Once he got home (his wife went to pick up the kids from her mother’s at this point), all the stress Ozzy was under got the better of him and he had yet another change of heart. He got one of his shotguns and went on a chicken killing spree and burnt the bodies. There was one chicken that got away which drove Ozzy over the edge! So he got one of his swords and chased his chicken around the garden.

He bumped into a neighbour which snapped him out of it (the chicken escaped) but what would be going around in your head if you saw a drugged up, alcohol fuelled Ozzy Osbourne running around the garden chasing after a chicken whiles only wearing his underpants, wellies, a blood stained dressing gown with a shot-gun in one hand and a samurai sword in the other? You too will shit your pants right?

There was also another occasion when he thought he killed the Vicar. In the late 70’s it was common for Vicars in the countryside to make house visits. Ozzy was at the pub when the Vicar popped round. Ozzy’s wife made the Vicar a cup of tea and offered him a slice of this nasty looking cake she found in an old tin. What she didn’t know was that his “cake” was actually some dodgy hash Ozzy received from his dealer. It was crap to smoke, but was still as potent as ever. So rather than see it go to waste, he decided to make a cake from it but it tasted rank. Ozzy returned from the pub and saw the Vicar sitting on his sofa with a little plate on his lap and crumbs everywhere, he knew it was bad news. As the Vicar was about to leave, he felt a bit funny and passed out. Ozzy thought he was dead. So he took him back to his house and left him on the doorstep.

For the next few days, Ozzy was beside himself with gilt expecting the cops to turn up. No one in the village had heard from the Vicar and that put him further on edge. Then one day, Ozzy met the Vicar in the pub, sipping a cranberry juice. They exchange greetings and the Vicar mentioned that he had no idea how he got home from his house the other day but came down with a terrible flu the following day. Not only that, he had the munchies for three days straight and thought that Aliens were organising a tombola on his front lawn. What an experience!

Only Ozzy Osbourne can manage to give a Vicar the munchies!

Twisting My Melon – Shaun Ryder

If I talk about Ozzy Osbourne then I’ve got to talk about Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays. Like Ozzy, Ryder’s usage of drugs and alcohol has been well documented and it goes into gritty detail in his book. I knew bits about his life before reading the book but I never knew he was a Postman! Can you imagine Shaun Ryder posting letters through your door? That would be one crazy sight. He actually got sacked for biting a dog. First Ozzy Osbourne bite the head off a bat and now Shaun Ryder tried to eat a dog! Will this madness ever end?

I like how he goes into detail about how the songs originated. “Stinkin’ Thinkin’” came about from his time in rehab where an American guy talks about the things that happen when you’re coming down and you start thinking bad thoughts aka stinkin’ thinkin’. He latched on it and it was the lead single off ‘Yes Please’.  The story for how their most recognised song ‘Step On’ came about as a complete accident. Their American record label, Elektra, wanted all the bands under their label to do covers of another Elektra band for a 40th anniversary compilation. Ryder wasn’t interested in doing covers but went along with it anyway. The more they got into doing the cover, the more they thought it was too good to give to the compilation so they covered a different song and ‘Step On’ went on to become the song most associated with the Mondays.

There’s this other story where he was asked to participate in a photo shoot for Vox magazine and was asked to bring something that was particular significant to him over the last 12 months and explain why. He choose Kit Kats and explained that they “help him going through the long arduous tours” that year. It wasn’t the Kit Kats that got him through, it was the tinfoil (which was used to heat up various drugs he was taken). Think about it, why you can’t buy tin foil at an airport or a service station because it isn’t stocked everywhere, but Kit Kats are. He felt if he went into a shop buying rolls of tin foil then the people in the shop would have a pretty good idea what he was doing with it so a Kit Kat bar disguises that.  It was an in-joke which he thought everyone would get, but hardly anyone did. The joke backfired after Nestle mistook the photo thinking that Ryder was bang into Kit Kats so they ended up sending boxes and boxes of them to their record label as a thank you. Imagine all that tin foil Shaun!

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore

My interest in this book began when I saw the movie back in 2006. I thought it was great and the story was gripping. I re-watched it again in 2011 and discovered that it was actually based on a graphic novel. Bought the book and wow, it blew my mind! It’s about a vigilante standing up to a fascist like government by employing terrorist like tactics to fight the oppressors  and convince the people to rule themselves, while inspiring a young woman, Evey Hammond, to be his protégé.

I remember buying it and then reading the entire thing in a local park here in Sunderland. I could have waited until I got home but it was so gripping that you just couldn’t just put it down and wait until the next day or later on to read the rest of it. It had to be there and then.

There are so many great quotes in this book, my personal favourite has got to be “Beneath this mask, there is more than just flesh and blood, beneath this mask is an idea and ideas are bulletproof”. The only people who can kill your own ideas is you. Ideas ARE bulletproof! In fact, I have that very quote printed on a t-shirt, a t-shirt which I’m wearing right now! Another quote which sticks out is “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people”. That quote right there resumes the power of this story, a story of one man who can be everyone.

The beautiful irony of all which I find in reading V for Vendetta is since this story is all about anarchy, freedom and chaos; it’s done with a precision where nothing has been left to chance. Everything is where it’s supposed to be and nothing is left to chance. A strong political story highlighting the depressive nature of fascism accompanied with some impressive artwork and one of the greatest fictional characters in literature history. V for Vendetta is a must have in your graphic novel collection!

A Street Cat Named Bob – James Bowen

My favourite book of all time! If I could only recommend only one book for you to read before you die then this is that book. It’s so positive and inspiring, and it offers hope to those searching for hope.  When James Bowen found an injured, ginger tomcat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, would he ever have imagined just how much his life would change from that one moment? It was a complete 360! He went from living rough on the streets of London to becoming a bestselling author the world over to potentially having his life turned into a movie! How mental does that sound? It’s crazy but it’s true. The book details the harsh realities of living on the breadline and trying to make ends meet. They both meet each other when they were rock bottom and in due time, they built each other up.

James writes honestly about the life he led when he was a recovering heroin addict, about the battles he’s had to fight, about the loneliness of life on the streets and about how meeting Bob helped him turn his life around. I have nothing but admiration for him – it takes guts and a hell of a lot of determination to beat an addiction. It takes a special sort of bravery to pull yourself back up when you are alone and down.

Last November, I met James & Bob at a book signing in Gateshead. I turned up early and was first in the queue, which was a good job because over 250 people turned up to the signing. A load more had to be turned away! I just had to shake my head in disbelief. James is just so humbled by it all. He was very shy when talking to him which understandable considering the challenges he’s faced in the past. The money hasn’t changed him at all. He has a heart of gold which is open for all and gives back to charities and other organisations. The message of hope is certainly one that stays with you long after reading the book.

Batman: Year One – Frank Miller

Ten years ago, Batman Begins was released in cinemas. I recall going to see it and being mesmerised by it, it’s one of my favourite films ever and yes I will be reviewing it soon. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a movie talk about books you dumbass, but watching Batman Begins led to me reading this. Prior to BB, I wasn’t really into graphic novels but seeing the film gave the urge to read one. I did some jumped online to look up some recommendations and that’s how I discovered Year One. In fact, Year One was the graphic novel that inspired Batman Begins. I read it and after that, my love of graphic novels spiralled out of control.

Unlike other Batman comic before it, Year One captured the realism, the grit and the humanity of Gordon and Batman so perfectly. People would always associate Batman to the campy Adam West show of the 60’s but this quickly made people look at Batman in a different light. The artwork deserves praise also. It captures that grittiness of Gotham City perfectly. It’s not just Batman’s origins; they also shed light on Jim Gordon’s early days in the GCPD. The story begins with Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham after a 12 year absence whiles Gordon has been transferred to Gotham from Chicago. It gives you the idea that this was meant to be for the two to work together. The ending sees newly promoted Police captain Jim Gordon standing on the rooftop waiting to meet Batman to discuss somebody called “The Joker”, who is plotting to poison the reservoir.

If you’re new to the graphic novel scene and wanted somewhere to start, this and V for Vendetta are my recommendations.

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