Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Great Panini Sticker Swindle Scandal

Here we are, Steve Howe has joined the staff and treated us to a guided tour of the inside of his brain. I'd wear wellies and marigolds if I were you. In his first article Howe tackles the riots that have swept England in the last week & argues that Panini Stickers could have stopped the whole situation arising whilst revealing that his 'Nan' was buried alive... enjoy.

So back in the middle of the 1980s things were all quite rosy in my little world, summers lasted a hundred years, snowball fights would actually be fun, Gabriela Sabatini was sweating her way through to several Wimbledon quarter finals and the only things in the world I needed money for were tip-tops and Panini stickers.

Both of those last two items were very much a trending topic in the mid 1980s. If Twitter had been invented in the 1980s Panini Stickers would have been hashtagged and there would be a Facebook group dedicated to the collecting, swapping and completing of Panini Sticker Albums (“there is one now” Editor), the 80s were fun times, unless you were a miner, in which case they were quite shit. That’s one of the differences between the riots that happened in the 1980s and the ones we’ve all been ‘enjoying’ this week.

Rioting used to be a very political thing. You were angry and things kicked off, if you were a miner or a black teenager in Brixton or Tottenham you were angry about something and a policeman in a pointy hat would have given you a forceful clip round the ear.
What he wouldn’t have done was stand there while you set fire to a branch of Dixons. He probably would have clobbered you with a thick bit of wood and you’d have been carted off in a Black Maria and you’d be nursing a black eye and cursing Margaret Thatcher and her agents of getting her re-elected by the constituency of the Daily mail readership.

But a lot of things were different in the ‘80s. A Flock of Seagulls used the equivalent to the debt of Mexico on hair spray, Coventry City and Wimbledon won the F.A. Cup and if you wanted a retro cop show you had to make do with Juliet Bravo. Which brings me back to Panini Stickers.

For maybe two months every year a new Panini sticker collection would come out, 1986 was a good year because it had a World Cup and a league album. The Mexico 86 collection even had stickers of the grounds being used, which was a exciting little extra thing that was not only fun but informative as well, like getting one of those free DVD rentals from LoveFilm and choosing to use it to watch a Carl Sagan documentary.

But every year was a good year if you had Panini Stickers, if you had a fat bunch of swapsies you could do what you liked. If someone else had a sticker that you needed and you were down to the last 6 or 7 stickers you would have swapped nearly anything for that rare little footballer, or for one summer only Popstars, or for one other summer, comic book heroes, although any serious collector would tell you that neither of these things were quite the same.

All of which brings me on to a confession, Panini stickers were currency, in 1986/7/8 nothing would have stopped me trying to complete an album of Panini Stickers. Even now, I have daydreamy moments where I find myself accidentally watching the T.V. news, on which will be a terrifying report on the latest round of financial shitfuckery on the FTSE or the NASDAC or the CAK and the world seems to be only ever half an hour away from collapsing back into the dark ages or that Greece will be on fire because they once bought a Parthenon and forgot to pay the mortgage and I can’t help thinking (to myself, I’m not an idiot) that if the world had done what I suggested in 1989, and ditched the US dollar in favour of Panini stickers as the global currency of choice, then everyone would be in a far more secure place right now, and happier.

Just think, Steve Hodge or Peter Reid could get you a penny chew, or a combination of Arthur Albiston, Gary Gillespie, Luther Blissett, Remi Moses and Kerry Dixon would be worth maybe a pint, obviously we have to work on the conversion rate but I think you get the general idea. A new iPhone5 would cost maybe 7000 swapsies, a flight to Chicago maybe 30,000, a new Fiat 500 would cost say 150,000 swapsies, a three-bed semi in a leafy suburb near a good school may go for maybe 1,500,000 swapsies.

But as the global currency we would be able to go to Tokyo or Dubai or Sydney and know how much a beer and a packet of dry roasted peanuts costs in Stickers, easy peasy. The world is sorted, right? But that’s clearly not going to happen because the world’s smartest economists are still splashing around in the silly world of junk bonds, sovereign debts and sub-prime mortgage bundles, and we all know that’s gone so very well.

But I seem to have digressed somewhat from the main thrust of what my little tale actually is actually about. The main thrust isn’t the global financial mess or what to do to sort it out, I’m just not that smart.

The main thrust of what I’m trying to get to is this. In my world, Panini stickers were more valuable to me than gold in 1987. If you had a Paul McGrath and I needed it to complete the Manchester United page in my album I’d give you literally anything (except sexual favours), I would have traded my little sister for a Vince Hillaire or my dad’s Vauxhall Cavallier for a Steve Gritt and not given many thoughts about how he was supposed to get too work, too earn the money, to pay me my pocket money, so I could buy more stickers.

Filling a sticker album would become the only thing of any real importance in my life. Finishing an album would became all consuming, even relegating Thundercats to a mere blip in my subconscious and making teatime conversation in my house, a series of indecipherable grunts, punctuated by the occasional burst of got-got-got-got-need as I went through the cards I’d traded during the day while I wolfed down my Chicken Nuggets, chips and beans.

The trade in playground swapsies was furious, only the NYSE and maybe the NFL draft have more in the way of tense negotiations and angry ructions to the unfair demands of a trade-off. I once swapped a whole stack of maybe 200 hundred swapsies for the one card I needed to complete an album. And 200 cards is an awful lot of financial outlay for someone whose pocket money was never more than £5 a week.

Which leads me to a scandalous revelation. The local corner shop, or Panini sticker dealer/emporium was always my first port of call on my route to school. My aim was to get in early, pick up a pounds worth of fresh stickers and see if I’d struck gold. But I soon realised that my puny £1 coin only bought me 5 packets, that’s only 25 stickers. This was never going to be enough to sate my avaricious need for more stickers so that I could complete an album. It was always going to leave me short of the harder to find stickers, clearly the shopkeeper was the 1980s equivalent of the salubrious owner of a filth ridden opium den, but I didn’t care because I needed my Panini sticker fix.

But, and this is where the tale descends very badly, the stickers were not housed behind the counter, this was the equivalent of your local Ferrari dealer leaving the keys in the car in the forecourt, and also the shopkeepers first mistake.

His second mistake was letting a jonesing-for-stickers teenager tell him how many sticker packets he had in his hand when he came to the till to pay for them. So when I said I had 5 packets, the man took my word as bond and the honour system was maintained. But it wasn’t, because if I had £1 it would be really quite rare to actually walk out of this customer friendly situation with only the five packets I’d claimed I was purchasing.
Now, I’m not a monster, I was a law abiding teenager with a need for stickers (don’t judge me) and because I was too scared to commit major crimes, I only really took six, or maybe seven packets if I was close to finishing an album.

The phrase “victimless crime” hadn’t been invented in the 1980s and the police, fresh from beating up miners and football hooligans still maintained an air of scary authority.
As such, my little one-man (small child) crime wave wasn’t a snub to society or a big V sign to the rozzers “who is always arresting me ‘n’ shit in’it”, it was a nerve wringing venture into a world that I didn’t want to be in.

I didn’t want to be a petty thief, I only wanted stickers. My murky little corner of the criminal underworld was hardly a threat to the system and nobody got set on fire. I think it’s important to point that out considering what stuff has been set on fire this week. I also didn’t loot the corner shop for stickers, I may have needed my stickers but I wasn’t prepared to throw scaffolding and street furniture through a window to get them.

Maybe In my mind I thought I was only one illicitly obtained packet of stickers away from going on the lamb and joining Ronnie Biggs on the beach in Rio. But in reality I was only ever one packet of illicitly obtained stickers away from crying in a puddle of my own piss. Imagine what sort of trembling, incontinent state I’d have been in if I was caught on camera dragging a 42in Plasma screen telly out of a smashed up branch of Dixons or setting fire to a police car.

I have no real answers to the rampages of the last week, I don’t think anyone does, inc’ the rioters. I think that politicians won’t and can’t do very much about it. For all the good that he’s done, David Cameron may as well have stayed on his sun-lounger in his £5,000 a week villa in Tuscany and ordered 10,000 extra riot police from there. If my Nan had been alive to see the way Boris Johnson handled that broom earlier in the week she’d have turned in her grave, and that’s before she got on to his hair.

I’ve seen dozens of droney talking heads trying to explain why they think the “world has gone to Hell in a fiery handcart” and all I hear are people making excuses for the rioters, they’re from bad estates, they’re from broken homes, they’re all greedy thugs and such like. Or rattling a copy of the Daily Mail and prescribing a dose of the SAS for anyone caught wearing a hoody or using a Blackberry.

I’ve heard people malign the public school system, as if no one from Eton ever set fire to, say a restaurant and then got their Dad to pay up for the damages so that it was all hushed up. People seem to be under the illusion that because schools don’t teach kids that setting fire to a furniture showroom or running over a man protecting his property is wrong then that means that it was always going to be inevitable that the “Yuff” would smash the country into the sea. To be fair to the young scallywags they did well to get round to it before we all went broke, got sold to China and the whole country was tugboated to the other side of the world so that our new owners could have a quirky new thing to gawp at.

But I think it’s fair to say that most of the shouty, gobshite, media trumpets, including various feckless politicians, who’s only real interest in the whole imbroglio is to be seen to be taking the least amount of blame for what’s been occurring, while making vacuous, kneejerk statements about water cannons, the lack of “Yuff clubs” and banning social networking, never saw any of it coming.

The looters are what they are, mindless scum. But if people have to think a little bit more about their neighbourhood and what to do with the bored, disaffected youth that clearly exists in large parts of the country then maybe it hasn’t all been bad.

I doubt they will though.

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