Archive | October, 2017

Happy 80th Birthday Sir Bobby. My hero!

11 Oct

I knew from a very young age that the great Bobby Charlton and I shared something special: our birthday. Mid-1950s I developed an infant-school passion for Manchester United and in particular two players: Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton. The Munich air crash of February 1958 found this little seven year old lad devastated at the loss of so many young, talented lives. The colossus that was Big Dunc had perished and I clung to the hope that Bobby would play on and that Manchester United would rise, phoenix-like from the ashes. And so they did.

On my tenth birthday my mother brought in the traditional breakfast-in-bed tray, filled with cards to open. A rush before school as I recall. Half now and half later, she had said; but there’s a special one which you should open first. Imagining that it was my parents’ offering, I carelessly tore at the envelope. Steady, she said, you might want to keep this one. Curious, I slowed down and a boysy soccer birthday card was revealed and a handwritten letter fell out.

Dear Paul,

Your mother wrote to me recently telling me that you and I share a birthday and you are a great supporter of Manchester United. Well done! Have a very good birthday as I hope I shall.

With all good wishes,

Bobby Charlton

My excitement knew no bounds. The card and letter sit proudly in my scrapbook 56years on. Now Sir Bobby, my hero, is 80.

I have many sporting and other heroes but Bobby eclipses them all. As I write, a few days before the day, Theresa Maybe’s colleagues are busily deciding whether to stab her in the front or the back. Doubtless there are Cassiuses with lean and hungry looks, envious of the female Caesar. There may be an honorable Brutus in there; intending the best but sticking the knife in anyway. Certainly there will be more than one Mark Antony, playing an insidious longer game for power. It’s all rather unseemly and great but tawdry fodder for the obsessive Laura Kuenssberg and her Westminster media bubblegummers.

Today the media frenzy is feeding on the odious Harvey Weinstein. The BBC have placed this sleazy story above the rumble in Barcelona. Power corrupts, absolute power …etc

How elevating is it, then, to think of the unimpeachable Bobby. His extraordinary record-breaking career was characterised by peerless skill, power, grace, achievement and, crucially, humility. Every championship he and his teams could win in global football, he – and they – did.

Bobby played with a crazy gang of charismatic characters for club and country.  The flawed genius that was George Best; the electric Denis Law; the fiery Nobby Stiles. Then there were the giants of 60s soccer: Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Greaves, Gordon Banks and Bobby Moore. It was a time of heroes. The 1966 World Cup win was followed by Manchester United’s epic European Cup victory over Benfica in 1968. Sir Matt Busby, Bill Foulkes and Bobby, survivors of the crash ten years earlier, had beaten their demons and lifted the trophy that had long been a cherished dream.

This was all fairy-tale stuff for me growing up. Bobby was larger than life – all power, speed and grace – and yet his  combover, his understatement and shyness, his integrity all built a picture of a man humble in his greatness. He was cautioned once in his international career, in the infamous ’66 World Cup game against Argentina. His response to being tackled brutally was ‘…to get a little bit excited.’ England won, of course but perhaps Maradona’s hand of God evened up the score a few years later – in a way that Sir Bobby would never have countenanced.

Today Sir Bobby is 80. I have enjoyed sport all my life and the past 60 years Bobby has been a guiding light, my hero. I could not have wished for better. Thank you Sir and have a wonderful day.

A Labour of Love…

5 Oct

Will these hands ne’er be clean cried the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth. I felt similarly yesterday lunchtime as the media-vultures fed on the coughing carcass of Mother Theresa and the National Rifle Association continued its murderously inexplicable defence of a madman’s right to buy an arsenal of weaponry great enough to arm a small nation.

Luckily we had tickets for a matinee performance of Labour of Love, a new play by James Graham, starring the ubiquitous Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig. Govia-Thameslink (who run Southern) provided the unusual delight of a punctual service. So it was that, with time to kill, we managed coffee in St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ crypt prior to the performance. I sat on the gravestone of Angus Wacher and wondered if his 300year-old bones could ever have imagined a man sitting on his grave supping an Americano firing WatsApp messages across the globe.

On to the Noel Coward theatre in St. Martin’s Lane. Formerly the Albery, this is a charming little theatre built in 1903 as a companion space to Wyndham’s. Sybil Thorndike’s St. Joan and Gielgud’s, Hamlet were early triumphs, as was Coward’s first play I’ll Leave it to You. The 1930s saw its heyday and the large assortment of posters and billboards adorning the bars and staircases pay tribute to a great and varied theatrical history. Now a part of Cameron MacIntosh’s empire, it seems to have a steady income and, like the Royal Court is a testing ground for new plays as well as established hits.

Labour of Love is about the Labour Party, since the war and, most particularly, the last 27years. That is the span of employment for both the Blairite MP David Lyons (Freeman) and his long-suffering and idealistic agent Jean (Greig). The play opens, earlier this year (James Graham ever catching the zeitgeist) as the election results in the small Nottinghamshire constituency are about to be announced. Things don’t look good for David in this ex-mining, chippy, disappointed community. Despite Corbyn’s momentum, Freeman’s  David Lyons has lost his roar. Poignantly, very humorously and quite cleverly we track back in time. Digital, costume and set cleverness enable a scrolling back through the years to Thatcher, Kinnock,Major, Blair, Brown and the rest. The dialogue crackles with echoes of Yes, Minister, The Thick of It and, quite obviously, Much Ado bout Nothing. Greig (who only had two weeks to learn the quick-fire script) and Freeman bounce along, he playing a pragmatic straight man to her feisty, earthy, sad-black humour. It works wonderfully well.

As an exposure of Labour’s journey it seems a work in progress but for the casual observer it’s a brilliant, theatrical Gerald Scarfe of the last three decades for socialism in the UK.

Aspects of theatre-going which enhance the experience include my eschewing of alcohol lest I snore during the early exchanges. It was liberating to dance through the circle bar without a glance at the bubbles being proffered by the predatory barpersons. We took our seats in the balcony – surely the best balcony experience in London – audibility, vision and legroom – wow! I looked around. Hmm. At this matinee the majority were claiming their pensions. I hoped that the evening show might see a greater variety of punter. An aproned usher, more camp than a tent,  held up two identical cards: No photography. He was ignored by the grey brigade, too intent on snapping the Rococo ceiling or checking iphones for facebook stuff. In the gents’ loo an octogenarian was scrolling something with one hand while the other was handling a different tool.

Martin Freeman has very white teeth. Along with Jimmy Carr and other strange people he has seen fit to peroxide his gnashers to give the illusion of cleanliness. It gets in the way of authenticity at times. Even from row C of the balcony I was dazzled by his tombstones. Easy enough to escape the Bilbo Baggins thing or even Dr Watson. There’s still plenty of Tim (The Office) in there and he invests David Lyons MP with that vulnerability and pragmatism and humour.

Soho is just the ticket for a post-theatre meal. Teeming life, good food and wine and time to chat over what we had just seen. When I came to this morning the analysis of Theresa’s coughing has reached epidemic proportions (shame on you BBC) and some wanker was still prattling on about the right to bear arms and how we Brits didn’t understand, so butt out.

I reflected again on our Labour of Love the night before. I felt informed, entertained…and a little bit better about politicians…and life.

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