Archive | October, 2015

Craig Joubert – a case for vilification?

20 Oct

Let’s hope that Craig Joubert’s infamy will soon be relegated from the cause celebre it appears to be. The rugby ref who made a mistake which arguably cost the Scots a quarter final victory has been vilified unforgiveably. His name is being spat upon by the tartan rugby army and many others who should know better.

Craig’s international career appears to be in tatters. Let’s examine what happened. In the final minute of a game in which Australia had dominated, scoring 5 tries to the one opportunistic interception try of the Scots, CJ awarded a penalty for offside against Scottish prop John Welsh. JW had caught a ball in an offside position in front of his team. Joubert had not seen the Aussie Nick Phipps’ contact with the ball which would have rendered the offside as ‘accidental’. A scrum, rather than a penalty should have been given – to Australia. They might have scored from the next phase of play. Who knows?

Joubert ran from the pitch. The speculation is that he felt intimidated and wanted safety. Perhaps he knew he’d cocked up. He didn’t used the video-ref (TMO) because it wasn’t a decision that warranted it. He could have asked his linesmen for advice. Radio and TV commentators ‘called it’ the same way as Joubert before they had the hindsight of slo-mo replay. OK, he made a mistake.

Had the error happened at any other time in the game apart from  the final minutes, I wouldn’t be writing this and thousands of column inches and media invective would not have been expended. Of course the Scots have a right to feel hard done by. There are countless occasions in sport when bad luck plays a part. But rugby had a proud tradition of respect – and in particular respect for referees. The game has pioneered the use of video back-up. There may be a little way to go but this latest, unsavoury witch hunt threatens to place professional rugby union alongside its far grubbier neighbour – soccer.

The Captain of Wales, Sam Warburton tweeted a nauseating  ‘we know what it’s like to be hard done by’ message. The England camp were too busy enrolling heavyweight judges for the trial of Stuart Lancaster. If only Robshaw had opted to kick the final penalty..Luckily the Irish had a dignity level which befits the emerald isle. They just said that the better team (the Argies) won.

Rugby is a sport. Winning is important but other things count, they really do. There are plenty of better targets for vilification than the hapless Craig Joubert. Armstrong, Blatter…the Frenchman who spat on Chris Froome. There are cheats everywhere and corruption in far too many high places. But on the rugby pitch there are players…and referees…and mistakes. Vilification is wrong.

This is sport. It’s not Syria.

Nail biting? Don’t cry for us Argentina!

18 Oct

To help celebrate my birthday I gave up biting my nails. 64years of chomping had reduced my slender fingers to unsightly, mutant stubs. I managed to conceal my carnivorous self-abuse with a range of tactics: unusual grip of cutlery, hands in pockets, fists balled when others were close. Only close observers and nearest and dearest – or manicurists – spotted my phalangeassaultism. It’s a common enough ailment. Check out hands on glasses at your local pub. Since smoking was banned, nail-biting has taken over as the go-to tension release.

The emerging beauty of those things at the end of my hands has given me a different world-view. Much has changed. Driving, watching TV, films, reading..all activities where my default was to chew my nails to the quicks. Now I have developed a deliberate ‘show’ of my hands, ensuring that others are drawn to checking my nails because, for the first time, I can allow them so to do. I have developed extravagant gestures, flaunting my new appendages. Pinkie fingers with wine.

My new world view also includes noticing the Corbyn effect. Jezza may turn out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing as he deselects those who don’t share his open and honest approach. For now, though, he has helped us look at politicians and politics afresh.

The migrant crisis has also pushed Europeans to examine our ‘We’re alright Jack’ smugness. We’re rethinking on the hoof – and we’re unsure quite which way our moral compass is pointing. Magnetic north?

The World Cup might be bathos in this context but having watched the four quarter finals this weekend shouldn’t we English be ashamed at our scapegoat-searching, grubby, finger-pointing press? Of course England punched below their weight but the cheap, soundbite-grabbing, dirt-peddling journos who sought out smear-stories with which to discredit Lancaster and his men made a serious miscalculation. The rugby public, after a day or two of bereavement, really do like watching good rugby, whoever is playing it. This year it’s the southern hemisphere which dominates. How brilliant were the Kiwis against France? And the pulsating Springboks tie against Wales was an edge of the seater. Now Argentina have put on a bravura performance against the lovely Irish. David matching Goliath. The effort, pace…the sheer brilliance was breathtaking. Rugby at this level should reveal the grubby intrigues of Premiership soccer as another country, another planet. The media were in danger of demeaning themselves further. The quarter final matches, so far, have put them in their place. Now I am settling down for Aussie v Scots. New nails, new view. Less of the emperor’s new clothes.

Well done Argentina. Don’t cry for us.

Smokin’ Vienna

13 Oct

Source: Smokin’ Vienna

Smokin’ Vienna

13 Oct

I had not been to Vienna before last week. Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914, sparked the First World War. Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 – the Anschluss – was a murky prompt for the 2nd WW. The Austrians were major players in the 20th Century and their last Emperor Franz Joseph with his superstar wife Elizabeth (SiSi) were the darlings of late 19th century Europe. Now where is all this taking me?

Well Vienna, I thought, would be a rather upright, uptight formal place – you know riding schools, big boring buildings and plenty of cake and waltzing. And don’t mention the war – or at least don’t scratch away too much at the surface.

Not true. Well -there are plenty of nods to a grander past. Yes – huge show-off buildings built by this Kaiser or that. The Hofburg Palace complex alone outsizes anything we have in dear old Blighty. Even Blenheim seems like a poor relation in terms of large-scale masonry. But the cultural diet is an affecting blend of old and new. We stayed in the museum quarter where the chic Leopold museum and  The Mumok gallery, all black modernity, sits a stone’s throw from the enormous, palatial neo-classical Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches). Along with so many of Vienna’s grand buildings the big K was commissioned by old Franz Joseph in the 19th Century to celebrate and cement the longevity of the Hapsburgs. When you get over the fact that each street corner heralds another edifice of concrete at which you’re supposed to click your heels and salute the Kaiser, you discover that there’s a bar which has old-world charm and cheap Gosser beer running like water. Student dives abound and the babble of conversation and the great mix of ages makes stopping off regularly to get a buzz of modern life an infectious habit.

My favourite moments were mostly in bars and restaurants where people-watching and the unaffected charm of the Viennese made the wine or cocktail-  or even the overrated weinerschnitzel – go down so well. My clothes took an unexpected battering, however. Every bar – and we tested plenty – allowed all inmates license to chainsmoke. At the delightful Alt Wein Bar, the punters on the bar stools stacked up several  packs of 20 on  the assumption that a long Sunday lunchtime session would see their weedy resources decimated. And our jovial host had his lips clamped to a roll-up as he spat instructions to an overworked chef. The latter had the manners, at least, to have his fag in an ashtray at the kitchen door. The place heaved with life – families, oldies having liquid lunch, students, blue-rinsers…you name it. And two old friends who smiled and sank Gossers and Riesling all afternoon – long may the euro be subdued against our mighty £.

Two more mentions. The underrated ‘Arsenal’ – the Vienna War Museum – is a must. And at only 5euros a cheap shot of history. And what history. The first room has the car in which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was travelling with his wife Sophie, in Sarajevo on the fateful day in 1914. Opposite is his tunic, still spattered with his blood. Wow. Worth the entrance money. There’s much more and Austria’s darker moments during the second WW – and after – are given a natural light touch.

Secondly the Film and Novel The Third Man is a Viennese favourite. The central cinema reruns the Joseph Cotton/Orson Welles classic each Friday night. And my buddy, the eminent historian Terry Charman, took me on the famed Ferris Wheel ride where Harry Lime (Welles) was confronted by Holly Martins (Cotton). This is the main attraction at the revamped Prater, Vienna’s Tivoli. The views, the rattle of a century old rotting wooden cabin and thoughts of Harry Lime were a treat for my birthday. Happy hour martinis later in the day completed a memorable excursion into Graham Greene’s murky world.

Back to smoking. Vienna airport – all modern and shoppy, in the Dubai give-us-yer-money sense. Cheek by jowl with Versace are smoking booths. Telephone boxes redesignated as cancer coffins. The chic bar at our departure gate had a smoking pod into which two people could squeeze. It was Perspex so as its inhabitants drew on their fags the windows fogged up The incumbents disappeared in the mist of their own nicotined carbon monoxide. Extraordinary. Just an element of ‘Whatever they tell us to do in Brussels, we’ll do what we bloody well want anyway.’ Nigel Farage would love it.

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