Thursday, August 27, 2009

Short cuts

The physiotherapist feels the surgeon has done a bang on job with my shoulder and he reckons, once I've built the withered muscles up again, it should be a 95% minimum successful operation. Mr S***** saw it two days later and went one better - he reckons it's 100% cured!

Is that the fucking bee's knees or what?

To be fair, my shoulder has been remarkably excellent for the last week; yes there have been aches and pains, but the majority of them are through use after constant inactivity. There was also the minor gunge fest that happened when I thought everything was finished, but now I just have this small hole and a reluctance to study it in any detail...

It's just a shame that the new me has been condemned to doing what the old pre-op me spent so much time doing - nothing! It appears the fates have transpired against me all week, to prevent me from doing things I'd planned; which led me to examine this whole 'planning' lark.

I think anyone who knows me will agree that I'm not a control freak, by any stretch of the imagination, but at certain times I become the champion of control freaks. these are usually when I plan something. I'm a bit meticulous about my preparation; I like to make sure that everything is in place before venturing forth. If there's one thing that pisses me off it's when the best laid plans go awry. I hate it when they go wrong from something related to me, so imagine what I'm like when it's something that could be avoidable and involving the target of my plan? Take this week as an example; at least three things I had planned ended up not happening. There were three very logical reasons for them not happening, but it still left me at a loose end, unexpectedly.

I probably wouldn't mind so much, but the last 12 weeks have been hell, either because of or the recuperation of my shoulder, has meant that I've been housebound and the few occasions I have been out have been few and far between. Some one said to me last week, "Hey, you've had the entire summer off, what are you moaning about?" ... Yeah, I have haven't I? I managed the garden most days; the corner shop became a real highlight of the day - I'd try to have to go there at least daily. I became an expert at losing free money on Facebook's Texas Hold'Em and during July I sat and watched it rain... If you'll pardon the obvious comedy value remark - I'd have given my left arm to have had a summer where I could have been free of pain and able to have achieved all the things I might have planned. As it is, the summer (and it has been better than last year) simply floated past my office window like the grains of sand in an hourglass.

I also had a pretty good week last week, so this week has been an anti-climax of sorts. But I did eventually get to meet up with an old friend; who just seems to get better with age.

I hate Bank Holidays, mainly because we end up doing nothing on them. Normally, had I been at work for any period of time, I treat a bank holiday a bit like Christmas day - a chance to have a lie in. But this time around, because I've got itchy feet and an urge to actually do something before I go back to work, I'm a little disappointed that all we have planned is a possible trip to a pub this evening (Saturday). I appreciate that as this weekend is the busiest of the year and any thoughts I might have of travelling anywhere on Monday should be curtailed, but...

Of course when plans go awry, I normally find something to do in their wake; however, because I've already plumbed new depths of boredom over the last 3 months, finding an alternative is a little like trying to find a needle on Jupiter. However, I have at least been writing again. I finished a 3000 word synopsis of a story I'm pretty desperate to make a move on. I'm approaching it in a different way than usual and I sort of have it tagged as a teenagers book, although one of the characters is foul-mouthed, so I'm having a small quandary about that. The peculiar thing about this idea is that it contains a lot of ideas and characters I have used in other ill-fated and came-to-nothing projects - proving indubitably that there is a value in writing anything, even if it never comes to anything.

I've also been working on another story, something completely different - in terms of genre - for me. I'm doing it as an experiment more than anything. The bottom line is this - I have to exercise my left arm because the muscles have withered - I also have to exercise my brain, because the most taxing thing I've done with it in recent months has been to play Scrabble. Which is why I'm probably popping up all over the place at the moment - I have loads of words that have built up like a dam and they're just bursting to get out on the page - regardless of whether they make any sense or not. It's one of the most positive feelings I've had for months.

Right... I have a weekend of nothing to liven up!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wild Horses (contains made up words)

Despite the death of Morris the duck (saved from someone's Christmas table a few years ago and given a fitting retirement surrounded by girls, a nice pond and plenty of food), this has been a week where I've been trying to extol the virtues of being positive. Me and optimism have always had an uneasy relationship; normally it all goes a bit the way of the pear just around the time I start thinking, 'hey, things are looking up'.

I suppose most people think that, or even are subjected to it, on a regular basis. The thing is I've never regarded myself as being a pessimist, despite supporting Tottenham Hotspur; and even when I've been whining about the crap things that have happened to me, either through no fault of my own or by the actions of others, deep down I've always thought 'it'll get better'. I might not say it; but maybe I'm superstitious and one of those people that thinks if you say it out loud it will have been heard by someone.

Which, in a weird way either suggests that I'm a Christian at the core of my being or I've been indoctrinated by religious icons for so long, I subconsciously think that if there is a God then knowing my luck he has a direct line to my vocal chords (not, as many will suggest, he'd need it with my booming voice). Because, I suppose being a pessimist is a bit like being the hired wailer at a funeral; you're there to illustrate the 'I told you so' approach to reactions. It's all gone tits up - I told you so. Pessimists are also here so that optimists and even-keeled people can be pissed off with someone other than God, especially if they are atheists.

But, despite all of this, I woke up earlier this week and thought: I've been bored beyond belief, I've been let down and abused and I've literally wasted the last 3 months of my life and the running thread through it all has been me sitting around feeling sorry for myself because I've got a disability, or because I've had an injury that has left me incapable of doing things I could do with aplomb 2 years ago. Shit happens and I know this better than most people and yet I'm still here to tell the tale, I'm still here to annoy and pester my friends and family and I'm still ready and willing to accept that as I get older, more shit is going to happen and there aint a lot I can do about it, so I might as well make the best of the situation (and if the last paragraph reads like it could be the lyrics to an old blues song, I do apologise).

So, faced with a limited time before I return to the daily grind and the knowledge that time goes even faster when you actually want to do things; I decided that between now and September 2nd I'm going to do some stuff. I've already made two new friends in the last week - I mean real friends, not just another so-and-so on Facebook; I've started work on a new story, which in a way is reworking of several elements from old stories that might have wormed their way into an infinitely better tale; I've decided that another new 'friend' should be given a little more leeway, because I've perhaps not been particularly fair to him, I've been to a gig and walked around town on a lovely summer's night. I've also been crowing about this year's horticultural successes, talking with the neighbours, going out with my Godson and his fiancee and speaking to old friends - again, actually contacting them or being contacted by, rather than through the medium of social networking. Surely 'social networking' should be called unsocial networking because you can literally have a relationship with a person without ever speaking to them in person or over the phone. The Internet allows people to make friends, but I'm betting the majority of them don't end up in each others gardens every summer for BBQs and wife swapping parties! But I'm betting if you speak to people directly, there's a better chance of it happening.

It does have it advantages though, I don't deny that. I've had a quote from my review of 2000 Trees, from this blog, used on a musician's website and possibly made a new friend out of said musician in the process. Plus, I even learned some priceless information about a guy that I know; which I'm sort of hoping will come back and not just haunt him but bite him so hard on his substantial arse that it leaves teeth marks on his pelvis!

There have been, as there always are, elements to the week that have put a dampener on what would otherwise have been the best week I've had this year! But, shit happens and even the wife has noticed that recently the histrionics and Victor Meldrewisms are being replaced by a far more Zen Phil. Shit happens and you know something? When it does, it's done - end of; move on.

Of course, this new approach to life might have the longevity of one of my many ill-fated attempts at stopping smoking, but equally, it might last as long as my vegetarianism and even longer. My eldest brother Ronnie, he doesn't smoke - never has, doesn't drink, apart from really sugary shit and is the world's biggest fretter and worrier; he's a passive road-rager (ie, he'd never chase anyone or start a fight, but he'd work himself into a frenzy of frustration and stress all on his own), he had a heart attack when he was my age. I've always joked that I've known how I was going to die - it would be from an aneurysm sustained from going apoplectic at some wanker in a Nissan Micra. Stress and sporadic pretend bi-polarism (one minute I'm lovely, the next I'm Robert De Niro in Raging Bull) in a car will be my downfall, but I've noticed in the 20 odd miles I've driven in the last week (yay!) that I've barely even noticed the arseholes. I have to keep this up.

The next week brings a physiotherapist appointment, two days prior to my surgical check up with Mr S*****; a lunch date with an old (as in from a long time ago rather than her age) and exceptionally lovely colleague; two days with the missus - we're planning a day trip on Monday and a duck rescue mission on Tuesday. We've got a lunch date on Sunday with my nephew; a meal at my favourite restaurant tomorrow, beer on Tuesday and Thursday night; the first episode of season 4 of Dexter to watch, an impending Bank Holiday weekend and suddenly I have 2 days and 2 evenings free between now and returning to keep kids on the straight and narrow.

I also love the fact that even though I'm still getting some discomfort with my shoulder, I can, for the first time in as long as I care to remember, sit down and type 5,000 words in a single sitting. This is about 4,500 words more than I've managed since last year. My brain, that has been raging with ideas all summer, finally has its outlet back. I need both hands to type, otherwise I'd never keep up with myself. It's a good job that every time I had an idea I remembered to write it down - some of them will wither and die, but one of two might just be the right ones to let in.

Of course, it all might change tomorrow and something is sure to go wrong and on Sunday Tottenham's great start to the season will come to a thundering halt at the hands of the wife's own football preference, so by Monday, when we're due to go out for the day I might be reaching for antidepressants again and prophesying the end of civilisation as we know it... but until then, you're all fucking lovely! MWAH!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Positive negativity

It is now over 3 week since I went under the knife - the time has flown by slowly...

I sometimes wonder if there's some divine spirit who follows me around waiting for something to fuck up my day. You know what I mean; you're standing in the queue at the supermarket and either the till breaks down or the person in front of you has decided to pay for an entire months shopping with pennies; or worse still they're friends with the person on the checkout and you stand and watch while every other queue slowly disappear out of the exits. Or you've been told by a utilities company that they can call between 8 am and 6pm, no specific time - in this day of modern technology, they can't give you less than a six hour window - so you're desperate for a pint of milk, some tobacco, a paper, anything that requires you to nip down the corner shop for 90 seconds, during which time they have managed to arrive, wait and then write a card out saying they missed you! These are just a couple of things that seem to dog me; but even little things have a habit of accumulating until something insignificant makes you go ballistic.

July 31st, I arrived at the spic and span Woodlands Hospital, situated on the A14 between Kettering and Rothwell - itself not very convenient for me, but it would have been had I been at work. It was the day of my operation, the one that would sort out my shoulder. I was admitted at 12.20, was in my room by 12.25 and for the first 20 minutes I was fussed over, visited by physios, anaesthetists, nurses and the pre-op surgical team. I was told the op would be done about 3pm, so that from about 2pm I'd need to get myself ready - slip out of my clothes and into a gown - it did up at the back, I had one usable arm - this was slightly ironic.

At 12.45, I sent the wife home; she doesn't like hospitals and I didn't see the point of her sitting there watching the test match with me when she could be with the dogs or doing something constructive. When she left, we had not seen another hospital staff member since 12.35. A nurse poked her head round my door at 2.05 to check to see if I had my gown on. The next time I saw anyone from the hospital was at 5.25...

I was cold, I was getting very hungry and more than anything else, as every 15 minutes ticked by I got increasingly angry. At 5.00, I decided that if someone hadn't been to see me by 5.30 I was going home. I decided to go and have a piss - I had an en suite, it was a private hospital despite me being an NHS patient. I had barely been in the toilet, didn't bother switching the light on, when someone was in my room, switching the toilet light on and barging into the loo, while I had my old man in my hand. "What are you doing?" I asked, rather perplexed.
"Just checking to see if you're alright," as she walked past me into the cubicle.
"I can manage a piss, thank you."
"I've seen it all before," she said while doing something behind my back.
"I don't care, that's not the point. I've not had my op, I'd like some privacy please." She ignored me and I could feel the red mist descending. I finished up and turned to face her. "I'd like you to find out why I've been waiting so long for my operation? I've been sitting here since midday and I've not heard anything."
"There's probably been some delay."
"Well, find out and tell me, please." She left and I started to feel like minutes were lasting hours.

At 5.15, I walked out of my room for the first time and to the nurses station, where the woman who had barged into my loo was doing some filing. "Well?" I said to her, but she had no answer for me, she hadn't been able to find out for me because she had been doing other things. I stormed back to my room, tore the gown off of me, got my clothes back on and walked out of the room. I walked up to the nurses station where three nurses were looking at me confused. "I think this is fucking disgusting! If Mr S***** wants to operate on me, tell him he's going to have to chase me down the road, I've phoned my wife, I'm going home. This is as unprofessional as I've ever seen!" Turned on my heels and left. I was apoplectic - I mean, I was raging so fucking hard that if anyone had tried to stop me I think I would have decked them with my good arm.

I got out the front of the hospital; phoned my GP's office, it was 5.30, but I hoped someone would be there, I needed to a) off load and b) get some help. Fortunately my mate Christine was on reception and she told me to calm down, to breath, count to 10 and just take it easy, they would sort it out, but I needed to calm down. Suddenly, Mr S***** appeared at the window, beckoning me back in; while I had the doctor's office on the phone still, I bellowed at the surgeon, "If you fucking want to talk to me, talk to me here!".

Anyhow, Christine calmed me down, Mr S***** managed to coax me back into the hospital and we went and sat down in his office and he started to apologise profusely; this was probably designed as a stress reliever and anger pacifier - I was far to angry for either to work. "Damned right you should be sorry, this is disgusting. Nearly 5 hours freezing my arse off, starving hungry and nobody could be arsed to come and tell me that there was a delay. I'll be fucked if I'm having the op now, I'm hungry, I'm furious and I feel that this is a private hospital treating an NHS patient like shit." To be fair, he took on board everything I said and agreed with me, actually encouraged me, to make a formal complaint - which I did, right there and then, in writing - it took me 10 minutes, but it outlined all of the above and the terrible attitude of the nursing assistant who appeared to want to see my cock.

I left with the information that it probably wouldn't be until the beginning of September before the operation could be rescheduled. I walked up towards the A14 with the intention of meeting the missus and a man in an Audi pulled next to me. "Are you the shoulder man?" He asked quite passively, I was still fuming. I nodded, and he launched into an apology, very similar to Mr S***** - the table needed for my keyhole surgery was double booked and the other surgeon was essentially monopolising the table. My op, scheduled for 3pm, was put back to 4, then 5 and eventually to 7pm, which would have meant an overnight stay, which I wasn't prepared to do. I said that I didn't feel it was his or Mr S*****'s fault (the man I was talking to was the assistant surgeon) but I was disgusted by the fact that I was just seemingly abandoned, it wasn't like they'd been forewarned that I was liable to lose my rag.

I got picked up; I wasn't happy and I went home. I pity the wife, she had 30 minutes of me venting my frustration - but, she is used to it by now.

As I walked through the front door, the phone was ringing. It was the Theatre Manager from the Woodlands. She also attempted to tell me what I'd been told twice before; I told her that I knew the reasons, it was the lack of communication and attitude of some of the ancillary staff that pissed me off. I could have said I wanted all the nurses to beat themselves with sticks as retribution and I think she might have agreed. Contrite is too simple a word for the hospital's new found attitude. Subsequently, I was offered the first operation the next morning. I would need to fast after 10pm; I would be expected to be at the hospital by 6.30 - we renegotiated to 7.30 and they would get it done first thing. I agreed, the wife agreed to take me. Game on.

Half an hour later, the Woodlands General manager called; she too could not apologise enough; in fact the apologies were coming so thick and fast that there almost seemed like a falsity to them. Half an hour after I got off the phone to her, another call from the hospital - just to go through with me what I needed to do again. I was apologised to again.

Fast forward a few hours; it's now 7.35 on Saturday morning and I was being readmitted and attended to by a new bunch of nurses. I was in my gown by 8pm and being walked down to theatre at 8.07. By 8.20 I was out like a light and at just after 10am I was woken up in the recovery room. Much of the next few hours were a bit of a blur; but I was home by 3.30.

Mr S***** declared the operation to be a success. I had a 2cm section of shoulder blade removed, which was impinging on my upper arm and shoulder muscles; it was cleaned up and realigned, all through a keyhole!

And to be fair, the recovery has been good and the immense pain I was warned about didn't really appear. There have, however, been more cock-ups. I was supposed to attend physiotherapy, starting a week after the op, but because of the ... unfortunate events... things got confused; I asked the physio - a different one - I'd seen on the Saturday if there was any way my physio could be moved to Northampton, as I am literally 20 minutes walk from it, whereas Rothwell was a long haul and I wasn't to drive a car for a fortnight. The Saturday physio said she's find out all I asked her and get back to me with answers before I left. Did she? Did she fuck!

So, I've been without physio and all I've had have been some basic mobility exercises to do. That changed on Friday when I went to have the sutures removed and to see my doctor about another - related - problem. He phoned the Woodland, and I believe chewed them a new arsehole, I especially believe this by the stroppy woman who I spoke to yesterday on the phone, who clearly wasn't feeling as contrite as the rest of her colleagues. I, it is fair to say, put her right. She didn't like it, but she didn't really have an answer to any of my points. Suffice it to say, I have my first physio session, at the Woodland, next Wednesday morning - better late than never?

Maybe not. The other reason I went to see my own GP was because after a honeymoon period after the painkillers ran out, my shoulder had started to... hurt again. My doc put it down to bruising of the bone and secondary bruising which was only then beginning to come out - he also warned me that the pain would probably move down my arm before disappearing. This seemed totally feasible and he's a doctor and I'm not.

However, the pain is getting worse; much much worse. The original pain is gone; I have about 95% movement back in my shoulder and I can do things, like scratch the small of my back with my left hand, which I haven't been able to do for months and months. This is great news. However, I can't pick anything up without a sharp jolt of pain shooting through the top of my shoulder; it's also really really tender; far worse than it was 10n days after the op. It also doesn't like me twisting my arm, moving it in a fast manner; in fact, I can move it, but not much else... The pain is also different; instead of a thumping ache and stiffness, I get a sharp acute pain, like someone digging a knife into the top of my shoulder... and, as of this morning it's worse still. In fact, the pain when it happens pisses all over 90% of the pain I had suffered from my shoulder in the last 12 months. I am, justifiably a little bit worried...

Perhaps it has something to do with me not having had proper physiotherapy or it might just be a secondary problem that has now been brought to the fore by the fixing of the primary one. I don't know and I'm not seeing Mr S***** until August 28, this is 5 days before I'm due to return to work. I still have hardly driven a car since the I went off work; I'm not feeling particularly confident about it at the moment either. I also really can't afford more time off of work; it won't be long before I'm entering the realms of 50% pay and I really can't afford that.

Because I'm a glass half empty kind of guy, I'm now worrying that I might end up being at work with a problem that is actually more acute than the initial problem - you see, despite the fact I was advised not to drive, there have been a few weeks in the last 10 where I could easily have gone to work; I actually felt like a fraud. I'm now counting down the days to work and I am genuinely worried that I'll go back with a problem considerably worse than the one I went off with...

The problem is I need to get back to work - not for the money, but for my fucking sanity. I've been so bored recently that I've considered writing a blog entry about free on-line poker games and the complete and utter tosspots that inhabit these places (me included); how on-line Scrabble is both liberating and annoying and my friends theories that computers cannot randomly generate letters randomly enough. How my potato crop has been unbelievably better this year than last; my apricot tree and other horticultural tales.

I grew a beard; then shaved it off.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Big Bambu

Once upon a time, a blog entry almost got me the sack. Fortunately for me, I had enough friends to show me the error of my ways before it became totally public knowledge.

Catharsis is good for the soul.

Sometimes you should be allowed to say what you think or feel, especially if you are passionate about it, regardless of what others might think, or however subversive it might appear. Words have never killed anyone (people do that); and some people need to adopt thicker skins.

I'm drinking too much. I've increased my weekly input from about 10 units a week (five pints) to about 40 units (mucho more pints). I no longer get a hangover after 5 pints; I used to be a complete and utter mess after 4. Since May, or thereabouts, I've been consuming vast amounts of pot (again), this was mainly as a pain and stress reliever. I'm addicted to sex.

Psychologically, I'm corned beef hash. Physically, I'm actually on the verge of being better than I have for years; despite the fact I can't fucking breath very well.

I've actually explored new depths of boredom. I sat and stared at the computer screen on Monday for so long I thought I was going to explode with frustrated boredom. I have inspiration, but my inability for so long to turn that inspiration into words on a screen was down to the constant pain. Now, I can sit and write 3000 words again, in one sitting, and I'm barely getting a twinge from it. But, suddenly, a pain free (or near as damn it, it still hurts but only if I'm stupid or just plain over do it) existence has thrown me into turmoil. I have an urge to be insouciant. I want to make the most of the next few weeks; to do things with the days that I can look back on and say, 'thank fuck I did that otherwise my extended period of sick leave will have been for nought.'

I've become a strange mix of pent-up anger and frustration one day and a totally Zen kind of guy the next. Suddenly issues that would have got me almost apoplectic, have suddenly been overtaken by this slightly unbelievable urge to just accept shit for what it is. So, there's an arsehole in front of you; he's the arsehole, you don't have to be. I actually almost like this new 'shit happens, accept it' me. I notice the deep frown lines I've developed seem to smooth out when I'm in a Zen mood.

I also think I've become more left wing as I've got older, which is a weird juxtaposition because a) I've always been something of commie and b) most of my peers are slowly turning into obscene right wing fascist Tory scum and yet for all the new cars I have, I'm still as frugal as fuck.

I had a discussion with a good friend the other day and it was suggested that I wouldn't like her family because they might be a bit too bourgeoisie for my liking... One half of my family were goldsmiths for fuck's sake. I could have been as middle class as the rest of you, but my family - my dad specifically - was proud of its working class roots and while I hate the idea of working, I do believe that capitalism, consumerism and greed have changed this country so deeply that it will probably never ever understand the true concept of community ever again. I am a new communist; we're guaranteed to fail before we get the chance.

Anyhow, go away.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Passion of Lovers

WARNING: The following blog entry is about football and for that I make no apologies...

In less than a week, everyone that hates football will let out a collective groan as the beautiful game replaces cricket as the focal point and the Ashes will not even have been decided. I'm sure, when I was a lad, that the season started around the last weekend in August; but football will never be the same now that money rules it. Next year, there's a World Cup and that means soccer haters will have just 14 days when there will be no competitive football. Even as a fan, I'm thinking this is probably too much (not enough time off). By the time England get off the plane with the trophy, the team that finishes 7th in the Premier League will be getting ready for its Euro League qualifier.

But that's a year away and we have possibly one of the most interesting seasons ever about to unfold. Every year I throw my hat in the ring as a pundit and most of the time I get embarrassed and am glad I didn't make my forecasts that public. Well, that's changed... This is my pre-season prophecy:

Manchester United - the reigning champions will feel that they have enough strength in reserves to take the Premiership for a 4th consecutive season and it would be foolish to write them off, ever. But Antonio Valencia is no Portuguese Swan Diver and while ickle Michael Owen is capable of brilliance, he is injury-prone regardless of what his advertising brochure claimed. No Tevez puts more onus on Rooney and Berbatov and frankly, this is a team that should score goals for fun. There or thereabouts come May.

Chelsea - the most significant thing about Chelski has been the appointment of their manager. Ancelotti has a huge reputation and he does have a squad more than capable of wiping the floor with most opposition, but, I don't know, unless they have a great start, playing catch-up to Man U is just about impossible. They, and I can't believe I'm saying this, probably need to spend some more money to be there.

Liverpool - whenever I'm feeling down, I think about the Fat Spanish Waiter and how Liverpool fans believe he's some kind of brilliant tactician and mindgame specialist, when all he is, is a petulant bad sport who it appears has already laid the foundation for this coming season's failure by saying that all the best players have chosen money over the Red Shite. I have serious doubts about a title challenge; they've lost several players and do not have the strength in depth that the top two have. Plus Rafa shuffles his pack more times than a Las Vegas card shark and until he settles, he'll have to make do with miraculous cup comebacks to keep the pathetic scousers happy.

Arse-nal - write Wenger's boys off at your peril. As much as I hate them with a burning passion, they are better than my team and even having lost key players in the summer, the idea of Arsenal not contesting a top 4 place is inconceivable; yet, the gap between them and the lower level is narrowing and both Arse-nal and the Red Shite have to make sure they're on tip top form or other teams will have them in their sights.

Manchester City - money does buy you trophies - just ask Roman - but does Mark Hughes have the ability to turn Citeh into a force or are we, like so many times in the past, going to be laughing into our beer as they struggle to beat Port Vale in the cup and lose to Burnley at Eastlands? Mark Hughes might not be favourite for the sack, but I'm betting that if Citeh ain't in the top 4 at Christmas, he's going to be spending the early part of 2010 with his feet up (and wondering if the Chelsea job is on offer if Ancelotti is struggling). Despite the money, this team is going to struggle to gel and will probably struggle on the road yet again.

Aston Villa - Now that Martin O'Neill is no longer the messiah, perhaps he can quietly go about improving his team. The smallest squad in the Prem last year still managed 6th and with the right buys there's no reason why they can't improve on that. Villa are a key team in this season's shake up. If they have what it takes they'll need to improve on their dismal record against the Sky Four; if they can do that and beat the teams around them, they are likeliest to break into the Champions League.

Everton - David Moyes band of journeymen, loanees, kids and shrewd transfer business continue to amaze and astound. It proves that if you play like a team then you don't need billions to earn respect and cause the odd shock; obviously if you want to win something you need a chairman whose name isn't Kenwright. Love seeing Liverpool's 'smaller club' doing so well, but I think they might struggle to maintain the consistency, especially if they decide they fancy their chances in a cup again.

West Ham - every neutrals' favourite team at the moment and for some weird reason, Chelsea fans' have stopped hating their east London rivals. It's because of that little Zola fellow and he can sit back and hope for another season of mid-table mediocrity and most people will be happy. If ever a club actually needed money more than Everton it's this mob and the incumbent owners look more like asset strippers than investors.

Fulham - and here lies the major dilemma; is this team actually better than it was or did last season's poor start by Tottenham and the inconsistency of West Ham, Man City and Blackburn mean they emerged out of the mire stinking less than the others? There are good players here, good average players; no stars, no big names, so probably no egos. They're either going to finish mid-table and consider it an achievement or will completely fall apart and be the surprise relegation package the year after everyone reckoned they would.

Blackburn - are pretty much shit; and I'm puzzled how they have managed to achieve so much (a testament to Mark Hughes I'm sure) in recent years. If it wasn't for the fact there are a lot worse teams in this division this year, I'd say they'd struggle; they still will, but not as much as everyone else.

Bolton - see Blackburn (substitute Allardyce for Hughes and I know, it starts to get confusing).

Portsmouth - this year's Bar Codes? This could be an embarrassment waiting to happen and the new boys will be hoping that Pompey self-destruct without any of their regular players. Expect the rest of the best to be gone by September and the owner cited for tax evasion and the first Premier League club to go into administration. Or they'll just struggle, but be better than the really crap teams.

Sunderland - ah, the first of the really crap teams, except they have Steve 'itchy feet' Bruce now and money to spend and a fetish with White Hart Lane (expect Bent to resign for Spurs in January for £6m because he can't settle). If Steve Bruce is as good as he thinks he is then Sunderland fans will be over the moon with a 10th place finish; the new American owners might be wondering why there are 9 betters teams!

Burnley - cup heroics are one thing; having a squad of 19 players and a donkey is going to win nothing but sympathy from fans, who will be saying how much the Burnley fans will be missed next season, blah blah blah. Owen Coyle's team will flatter to deceive; they might scrape into a second season; but it's going to be painful to watch. One of the prime reasons for some people wanting the Premiership limited to 10 teams, with no relegation. Burnley versus Stoke, your super Sunday game on Sky!

Wigan - I'd like to see the new manager do really well; he has a reputation to live up to and we need good upcoming managers to make good. Wigan, however, are about as inspiring as mud.

Birmingham City - how much ambition has this club got? They buy Aston Villa cast offs, that's how ambitious they are. Don't even deserve the label under-achievers because, to my memory, they've never actually achieved, have they?

Hull City - ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Phil Brown! Um... How many 6-0 thrashings will they receive and still hang onto 17th place? Not this year.

Stoke City - last year's 90s styled bruisers with a long throw rather than a long ball. Too many teams were caught out last season; most, with the exception of Spurs, will have learned their lessons.

Wolves - if ever a team felt they belonged in the top flight it this mob and if ever a team didn't deserve to be in the top flight it's these lot. They will struggle to win, McCarthy will be frantic by New Year and it'll just get worse...

Oh and Tottenham Hotspur - guaranteed to drop points against all three teams that will be relegated; will put together great runs, but lose matches they should win. Will end up staring up at least 5 teams arses come May and Harry will insist on rebuilding the team as well as the stadium. I will dig this out and use it again next year.