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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.

The real truth….made in Chelsea.

17 Apr

I found myself, yesterday, in a sports pub, not far from Stamford Bridge. The clock ticked round to kick-off time. The big game, Man. Utd v Chelsea. Atmosphere, convivial – despite a clutch of red supporters on San Miguel. The locals were on Stella.

I was alone, at the bar, enjoying eavesdropping. There were some tough ladies bantering leeringly with hairy-armed, tattooed men. The balls on the two pool tables were clacking away and young turks brandishing their cues were impolite in asking me to shift for their potting. I noted that they didn’t brave the impertinence of a request to the thicker-set Stella men. They wouldn’t have taken kindly to moving at all.

The players were coming out at Old Trafford. I counted six screens. The regulars had commandeered seats and stools with good sound and vision of at least two. Don’t watch the projection mate, definition’s shit and the speaker’s fucked. I dared not take the advice so warmly offered and found myself a bar stool next to a tight group of four or five burly men engaged in animated conversation. Kim Jong-un’s a fuckin’ nutter/ So’s fuckin’ Trump/ Let’s face it, the world’s run by fuckin’ nutters/ Putin’s the worst and there’s the Turkish guy who’s power-mad/ What about the Chinese?/ Makes Brexit look small beer/ I voted Brexit, bloody good job/ Don’t make no fuckin’ difference what anyone voted, bastards at the top get more and we get less/Players are coming out/ C’mon Chelsea…

More Stella was ordered before kick-off and as Chelsea began in the lacklustre fashion that was to continue for the rest of the match, the United supporters in front of the big screen were quite content that the HD wasn’t in good order and they couldn’t hear the commentary. They happily spilt their San Miguels with wild cheers as Rashford opened the scoring; the boys near me fulminated. I fuckin’ hate Man Utd, summed it up.

By half time the writing was on the wall and the Chelsea boys seemed strangely resigned to defeat. The toilet was crowded with lager being expelled to make room for more. The bar remained convivial. A woman had joined my group. Four Stellas and a large Chardonnay for the lady..Her analysis of the match was accurate and incisive: They want it more and Hazzard can’t cope with a bloke up his arse the whole time..Pretty much what I thought, actually.

When Herrera scored United’s second, the game was all but done. The lady finished her Chardonnay. I’m off to get the kids’ tea. Can’t piss it up all afternoon. If we’re goin’ down Brighton tomorrow there’s a few things need doin’. So don’t hang about. She was staring at one of the more menacing individuals who smiled and offered: Yeh, See you soon, babe..

Indeed as the match ended, he drained his beer and said his farewells. He had to be home, jobs to do, an outing tomorrow and work on Tuesday. I wondered how a  Trump or Putin or Kim Yong-un or Assad or Erdogan would have responded to a sports-pub ultimatum issued by such a woman. A woman who doesn’t back down.

Silence is Golden..

14 Oct

This was a 60s hit for the Tremeloes. The chorus: Silence is golden/but my eyes still see tells the tale of my blog-absence these past few weeks. What has occurred – and is still occurring – on both sides of the Atlantic, beggars belief. I’m sick to the stomach of it all. And now Theresa Maybe is flexing her awkward muscles and we sit in wide-eyed dumbfoundedness as the horror-shows play out.

This week I have been celebrating Sir Bobby Charlton’s 79th birthday. He is lucky to share the same day – 11th October – as me. I am a mere 14years younger but he could work magic with his feet; I can just about walk straight. More importantly, he behaved impeccably in the heat of battle…do you get where I’m going?

I had to shut out the Trump/Hard-Brexit noise. I turned to Facebook for some silent succour. Well what with it being my birthday and all…

A Golden Treasury emerged. I have a truckload of FB friends, many of whom I never see or speak with. Accumulations, you might say, over the years. There are those I taught over nigh on 40 years at the black/whiteboard/sports pitch/boarding house(s). They are far flung and have made what they could of their lives on their own merits. I remember their youth and talent and enthusiasms and hope that they retain much of that zest. If their FB stories are anything to go by, they do. I love seeing their families grow and discovering their latest exploits. What a social voyeur!

I have family FB friends, ex-colleagues, the sporting fraternity of a lifetime, close buddies and not-so close buddies, And more. When my birthday comes around, I love hearing from them all because each and every one stirs a memory – and with that memory, a smile.

This week, after the car-crash that was the Trump/Clinton debate and the Tory Conference, I retreated to the silence of Facebook and the comfort of friends near and far; some last seen yesterday, some many years since. I salute you all, you nourish me from a distance. And, just for now, the silence is golden.

Proper Charlies ……..

4 Aug

My son’s name is Charlie. A few years ago his passport expired and he missed meeting up with me on holiday. He took the consequences on the chin – along with suitable admonishments and savage subtle banter. ‘You d***head’ was my favourite. Lizzie Armistead’s going AWOL when three testers came calling is beyond careless, beyond banter. Her excuses shame her further: ‘…he didn’t do enough to find me.’ she said of her third avoidance.  She shouldn’t be at the Olympics.

Steve Woolfe is a potential UKIP leadership challenger. Not any more. He filed his nomination papers 17 minutes late. An important phone call got in the way, apparently. Another d***head. Now he’s crying foul. I do know some people who would put life on hold for an episode of the Archers but for the leadership of a party, I might prioritise: 1. Give papers to secretary, 2. Go to hotel room for cuppa and iPlayer.

I have been considering nominating my barber Louie for a knighthood. I understand that anyone who has done my hair or been on my side or given me money can get one. So my Mum should have featured by now and I can’t understand why she hasn’t. As she’s dead I remain hopeful of a posthumous award. I suppose all those worthy recipients of years gone by might carp at my indulgent, self-seeking, narcissistic, myopic, pretentious, cronyism but I don’t really give a s**t.

My recent protégé Kevin Roberts, Saatchi and Saatchi’s CEO, has resigned after his ludicrous, appalling remarks about women in the advertising business. He said to that important organ, the Business Insider Website, “Women say ‘Actually guys, I’m way happier than you,'” explaining that some women’s ambition is circular not vertical. Shock, horror, the female right-on mafia went for his jugular! Much like Charles Saatchi had done with Nigella. Gardening leave first followed by honourable hari-kari. He has fallen on his sword, saying “Fail fast, fix fast, learn fast.”

Would that a few other Charlies could follow Kevin’s lead. And he didn’t do much wrong in the first place.

Music to my Ears..

28 Apr

Two star-crossed lovers in a novel I read recently shared their ‘moments of beauty’ each day while their flame of passion burned. It was their way of rescuing something fine and untainted from the carnage of the dead and broken. They drove blood-drenched ambulances from the battlefields of Northern France during WWI. Cows canoodling in the sunshine, unaware of man’s inhumanity; a child’s song coming from a farmhouse; a hot bath; silence.

I woke this morning to more news about the Hillsborough verdict fallout. A woman said that the rest of the country was against them. That wasn’t true. The Sun maybe; the South Yorkshire police hierarchy maybe. Perhaps a siege-mentality was needed to keep the great fight going all these years. I admire the fortitude and bravery of the families and the wider Liverpudlian community. But they didn’t walk alone.

I was intrigued by the news that we are going to scrap what Cuba owes us and, what’s more, give them £350million for unspecified ‘good works’ to boost their economy. Hmm. Methinks the Yanks have been pressing our buttons. I’ll ask my economist friends what all this is about.

Further scans of the news brought no moments of beauty. Much news is shabby stuff. Edginess, controversy, scandal, disaster and death prevail. A Muslim MP is anti-Semitic. A cycling guru calls disabled bikers ‘gimps’. Greedy entrepreneurs raid BHS pension pots. I needed some beauty. I turned on radio 2.

Now my relationship with music compares, I am sure, with plenty of my generation of 50s children. Buying singles of the Beatles and Dusty Springfield were rare pocket-money treats. Pop music was in short supply and the BBC struggled to find airspace. Radio Luxembourg filed the black hole and I gobbled up whatever was on offer for the first three decades of my life. And then I stopped. Life, work, children, TV…I’m not quite sure what really got in the way but my encyclopaediac knowledge finished around 1978. I can identify my children’s music (80s/90s) – but only the stuff that blared from their bedrooms. Naturally I couldn’t make out the words but the creeping realisation that much of it was very good sat uneasily with my stance that the 60s couldn’t be bettered. And so I am sad that too much great music has flowed under my bridge and I have let it go downstream without a thought. I do have my old-man modern favourites (Coldplay, Keane, Killers…you know the type) but I’m a CD in the car man and tend to watch Newsnight rather than relax in the arms of Ed Sheeran. You know what I mean.

Ken Bruce played Sounds of Silence by Disturbed, the record of the week. I was transfixed, transported. It’s a beautifully chilling cover of the great Simon and Garfunkel classic. I sat very quietly. Uplifted. Disturbed. I listened on and Peter Skellern was singing You’re a Lady; I’m a Man. Nostalgia. I went to the radio 2 website to check on the BBC Folk awards and found myself watching Rufus Wainwright ‘s tribute to Sandy Denny – a gentle, mesmerising performance of Who Knows Where the Time Goes. He looked like a young, gently rolling Joe Cocker – and, along with the audience, I was spellbound.

Who knows where the time goes? Indeed. Music and Beauty. Made my day.

Hear, Hear!

31 Jul

The call of agreement with a point well-made is common in debating chambers, pretentious though it may be. More annoying is the smarmy I hear what you are saying.. to indicate a more profound understanding. Annoying really when Yes would do. In both examples listening is actually more important than hearing.

Hearing, listening and understanding are my themes. Yesterday I welcomed a new neighbour. She introduced herself and three children. I heard names but forgot to listen and as the conversation progressed I realised that I had lost those names. Embarrassed, I asked Emma to reintroduce herself.

I don’t much like meeting new people. I know plenty already. When I am forced to engage with an unknown, I am so often faced with someone whose idea of listening is to latch on to the conversational theme and butt in as soon as possible with some long, dull story about him/herself (or interminable stories about children and grandchildren). These boring narcissists lurk everywhere; plenty of my friends have similar tendencies but I forgive old buddies as they have bought me beer. I flatter myself that I am quite interested in what other people have to say but the art of listening seems in a precarious state these days as self-obsession runs riot. Would that we could fit a vibrating boring-alert on dullards which would trigger silence or possibly the exciting enquiry: My round! What are we having?

I have always enjoyed the oral and aural quality of poems. Rhyme, assonance, the combination of sounds that poets use rather deliberately to hit or caress the ear and enlarge the experience of reading the poem. Meaning becomes three-dimensional. Sound, vision – indeed all the senses. I was musing on this when I read the first few poems from Both Brittle and Beautiful, a new volume of poetry by my very old chum, John Trotman. It’s a meaty, full-value book of 60 poems, public and personal, nostalgic and modern, thought-provoking and witty, traditional and experimental by turns. Now I‘ve plugged it, I’ll come to the point. The poetry is wonderfully aural. Read, hear, listen, picture, reflect. Poetry could do with Bang and Olufsen speakers.

These days I seem not to be able to hear much in public places, even though I have wax-free drums. Why is it that important announcements in railway stations and trains, airports and planes are rendered inaudible by a vast range of factors?

Bang and Olufsen have clearly not got the contracts for departure lounges the world over; nor for any onboard PA system. So the world’s most sophisticated travel-machines loaded with extraordinary technical kit, have the amps and speakers of the Dansette that used to crackle out my Beatles singles in the 1960s.

If you’re munching a breakfast croissant at Jamie’s Italian in Gatwick North, you must stop masticating when the jingle presaging an announcement alerts. Any head-noise will severely limit your chances of receiving vital flight info. Luckily Jamie has installed updating information screens all around his cool Italiana pad. He clearly knows that quality audio isn’t going to hit our travel hubs any time soon.

And then you’re heading for the gate. If it’s a budget job the gate-lounge is bound to be Dansette-audio. Who can tell if Speedy Boarders, the aged, disabled or family groups – or the rest of us -are being called? The announcer’s accent and machine-gun delivery speed distorts the already distorted. And of course there is the lemming-like need for all Brits to get up at once and queue.

Once on board and sucking boiled sweets like mad to ensure the airwaves remain open, the flight attendant in charge of the cabin crew seems to have been selected on the basis of the impenetrable accent richter scale. Speed seems to be of the essence too. It’s an unhappy marriage. At least we can look forward to the calming welcome of our captain. Then we realise that the Airbus 370’s speakers are more than a match for the cool tones of Captain Peter Thompson from West Sussex. No wonder he and his first officer barely attempt another announcement. It’s embarrassing. His own sound system at home is, of course, B and O – and speaking into the Airbus PA gives him tinnitus.

Back on land and a trip on British Rail (is it?) does little to ameliorate the aural discontent. Again the combination of speed and sound is a toxic one – on platform or onboard my Thameslink pod. At Wimbledon station competing announcements on platforms 7 and 9 send commuters into an ear-hugging fit of frenzy. Then there’s the added nuisance of the driver explaining the reason we have stopped for ten seconds. I hear snatches…Sorry…red li…soon....but we are on our way before clarity is established. I read another Trotman poem and look out of the window. I check my fellow passengers. Most are plugged into their Ipods.

Bet the speakers are good.

Memento of Sorrento – 1

22 Jan

There is a romance about Italy that neither Spain nor France manages. The Italians don’t do as they are told; they’re charmingly corrupt and inefficient but steeped in a love of music and art and food and wine. They seem to sense that civilisation began somewhere near Rome, way, way back when.

The Italians are not proud of Silvio Berlusconi or the trash which lines the streets of Naples or Mussolini or the Mafia…but they smile knowingly if others try to take the higher moral ground. Let him who is without sin…Having already enjoyed the fantasies of childhood holidays in Diano Marina, the misted hills of Tuscany, the brilliance of Venice, Padua, Verona, Pisa…the lakes – I continued my love affair in the Spring of 2014 with a trip to Sorrento.

What follows is a diarised account which, I hope, captures the whole experience of travel and not just the sexy Italians doing what they do best – crashing cars and ogling women.

************

Dragging ourselves out of bed at 3.30a.m. is one of the questionable pleasures of cheapskate package tours. Thomson’s slot on the runway at Gatwick was 6.15 so a quick slurp of tea and we were on the road with that slightly fluey feeling you get when your body is reacting to the Godforsaken hour. We saw no other cars along the A 217 until we neared the M25 at Reigate. Then the London orbital woke us up and we were at the Gatwick Summer Parking Check-in in a trice. A group of early risers huddled on to the Airport bus. They were panicking. Only 15 minutes till check-in closed. A mother was chatting about her daughter needing 3 As for Bristol University. She should get them easily. Easily?! I thought – bloody grade inflation. In my day you were a genius if you got 3 As. Now it’s the requirement for Media Studies.

The Thomson check-in was all efficiency and smiles. Then security. There was some guy complaining about his hand luggage being searched. I wanted to say that that’s what security is all about but my attention was grabbed by a tiny child setting the bleepers off for no apparent reason. His little shoes were taken off for further examination with parents looking bewildered. More weird was the ageing English couple who complained they didn’t know that they couldn’t take a litre of vodka and a similar quantity of whisky through security. Voices were raised as the toxic liquids were confiscated. The grey couple were offered the chance to retrace their steps and recall their luggage to house the contraband but, all things considered, they wisely decided to eat humble pie and enter the departure lounge quietly, without alcohol in their satchels.

An hour to go before the flight. We headed for Jamie Oliver’s kitchen where Jamie is everywhere – on posters and screens and packaging. The display counter was groaning with carbo-loaded goodies:pastries, breakfast croissants stuffed with hams and cheeses – never mind healthy eating for kids in school, this was Jamie-fare for adults and we were in cholesterol city. I loved it and went for a £4.99 vast, ham-stuffed croissant. Magic.

The screens alternated video streams of Jamie in Italy with flight updates and soon enough our gate – 47 – flashed up. The Thomson clan trooped off and, as usual, there weren’t quite enough seats at the waiting area to accommodate the plane’s complement. We were Ok, though,  and that was all that mattered. We had numbered seats so unless something very unusual occurred, our places inside the tin cabin were designated and secure. This didn’t stop half the passengers eschewing what seating there was and standing in a snaked line in front of an unmanned checking station. When the Thomson uniforms arrived a painted woman screeched something that was barely audible because of her high frequency and the ensuing vibration in the speakers which served Gate 47. The gist was that passengers should sit down until the boarding was called. Moreover when boarding started passengers would be boarded in ascending seat number order. She didn’t use the word ascending, of course, but you get the idea. No one moved. Again, you won’t be surprised. The triumph of hope over reality when the Brits are queueing is one of life’s comforting certainties. When boarding actually started several high-pitched seat-number reminders had been barked by understandable irritated Thomson staff (appropriately clad in blue and purple). I counted five couples or groups being sent to the back of the dinner queue for misbehaviour.

I’m not a good flyer so every bubble of turbulence sends butterflies racing round my intestines like Lewis Hamilton at Monaco. As we accelerate towards take-off I start counting, slowly – eyes closed. I don’t sit in window seats. By the time I reach 200 the captain has usually turned the seat-belt sign off which tells me that he doesn’t think we’ll crash for the time being. I open my eyes. On this occasion the suave Captain Harris warbled that we were going to rise to 38000 feet but at that height we would still be just sitting on the top of some cloud, so we ‘Might enjoy a bump or two’. I grimaced at his calm levity but couldn’t find much to smile about as we hopped across the Alps and my coffee slopped over my Kindle. Captain Harris’s landing left a lot to be desired. The disc brakes had to work overtime.  I remembered the emergency stop on my driving test and wondered idly whether the co-pilot had slapped his hand on the cockpit dashboard.

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Safe and sound we arrived to a dull but warm Naples airport and were met by James who was gay in every way. He directed us to a bright blue coach which was to whisk us from the grotty environs of the airport to the romance that would be Sorrento – about an hour around the bay. Sam was to be the rep. on board and she was an eyebrow-pencilled Geordie out of the very heartiest hi-di-hi stable. Say hello to Gennaro, our driver, everybody! No seat belts. Something about this pleased me and made me admire the Italians for their clear disregard of some EU Brussels directive. We rumbled on around the Bay of Naples which was built up and ugly. Every now and then a church or a lemon grove would awaken a thought of what was enduring. The rain came on quite heavily.

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As with most package deals punters are dropped off in hotel sequence and our Hotel Admiral was at the end of the line. So inaccessible by large transport was the Marina Grande in Sorrento, that we transferred to minibus and even this couldn’t take us to the front door. Our smart hotel was perched under cliffs at the furthest end of the improbably named marina, as it is by far the smaller of the two. The other – Marina Piccolo – is the large ferry harbour where jetfoils and other sizeable craft take cargo and humans to Capri, Sardinia and beyond, while ocean liners park offshore and cruise-trippers make their way in to Sorrento for the day.

Hotel Admiral lies right on the water. Directly across the bay Vesuvius rises clearly looming above the city of Naples. As we rumbled our luggage over the typical pockmarked black, large cobbles the last few steps to the door, the sun broke out.

 

Poems of my Life: My Grandmother

2 Jan

Grandmothers. We all have them. The pair allotted to me were rather distant. One didn’t intend to be, the other did. Nanna was my English granny, my mother’s mother; Farmor my Danish one. The former was a kindly but self-absorbed depressive lady; the latter a rather cold Cruella.

So many years on from their deaths, I find Elizabeth Jennings’s poem the first to come to mind when thinking of my grandmothers. It has nothing to do with them – and everything. Were I to write a granny-verse, I’d focus on my Nanna. She and my grandfather (Poppa) lived in a flat above a gentlemen’s outfitters. The sense-impressions of that poky pad teem. The mustiness of granny-smells: Gifty the mangy dog; old-lady perfume; cigarettes and pipes; over-steamed vegetables; seaweed by the front door; barometer to tap by the stairs; outside toilet an Bronco paper fro big jobs; damp blankets and counterpane, brylcream-stained antimacassars; ashtray stands with spin-away push buttons to make the stubs disappear; spare teeth in a glass by the bureau; complete Dickens and Encyclopedia Britannica hiding in a glass-front bookcase; ash hanging precipitously from Nanna’s lip (she would set herself alight more than once before her time was up)….I miss that stale, musty, can-only-be-Nanna smell. Despite not really being that close to her in her self-absorbtion, there are times when I catch a sense of her in a Victorian print, the scent as an elderly woman walks by, a look of despair. And in this poem.

MY GRANDMOTHER BY ELIZABETH JENNINGS

She kept an antique shop – or it kept her.
Among Apostle spoons and Bristol glass,
The faded silks, the heavy furniture,
She watched her own reflection in the brass
Salvers and silver bowls, as if to prove
Polish was all, there was no need of love.

And I remember how I once refused
To go out with her, since I was afraid.
It was perhaps a wish not to be used
Like antique objects. Though she never said
That she was hurt, I still could feel the guilt
Of that refusal, guessing how she felt.

Later, too frail to keep a shop, she put
All her best things in one narrow room.
The place smelt old, of things too long kept shut,
The smell of absences where shadows come
That can’t be polished. There was nothing then
To give her own reflection back again.

And when she died I felt no grief at all,
Only the guilt of what I once refused.
I walked into her room among the tall
Sideboards and cupboards – things she never used
But needed; and no finger marks were there,
Only the new dust falling through the air.

 

I’m resolute: no resolutions this year.

2 Jan

I mean what’s the point? Two days into the new year and resolve is crumbling. All over the civilized world, hapless souls in their millions have thought up life-changing new behaviours or privations to which they have committed. In the steeplechase of 2015 most will fall at the first fence but some will steer through the mess of fallen runners and riders and, as that luckiest of all steeplechasers, Foinavon did in the famous Grand National of 1967 , win against all the odds. At 100-1 and with his owner, Cyril Watkins, giving him no chance, the plucky steed navigated his way through the carnage of the 23rd fence and realised that 3/4 of the field were no longer in the race. Eleven only of 44 starters survived beyond that fence. The odds for new year resolutes are far, far longer. Just a few, a happy few, will be sitting smugly on NYE 2015 in the knowledge that they have scored some sort of victory. Pyrrhic? Probably. And who gives a toss?

I can hear do-gooders carping at my scepticism. They can trot out endless lists of genuinely life-enhancing changes that people can make. Cut out the bottle of vodka a day; phone granny once a week rather than once a month; actually give the Red Cross some money rather than using their Christmas card for free. The list is endless. Gym memberships soar in January, apparently; sales of chocolate, beer and cake plummet. Bicycles pour forth, de-rusted, from asbestos sheds; libraries experience a surge of borrowers; TV ratings fall. Simon Cowell and the Strictly crew aren’t stupid.They know that telly-sloth peaks before the old year is out so all reality and other banal TV fodder must, must, must be done and dusted before Big Ben chimes at midnight on the 31st.

I have friends who have serious faults which they should have addressed years ago. From tight-fistedness to cup-half-empty syndrome; from the unpunctual to the impolite; from sexist to other ‘ists’, I have a pretty full set of flawed acquaintances. The thing is, I like them like that. If any of them resolved not to be annoying for 2015, it wouldn’t be them would it?

Imagine my friend Geoff announcing, “I insist on buying the first beer every time I walk into a pub this year!” Or Gill proclaiming, “I know that I have been unreasonable about immigrants so I’m going to give my spare room, rent free, to a Polish builder.” It isn’t going to happen is it? Moreover Geoff and Gill wouldn’t be the same people if they made such seismic shifts. You might be thinking that my friends don’t sound very nice anyway. Well, as my Dad once told me, “You don’t pick your friends son; somehow they pick you.”

Resolutions should be made when the spirit is resolute, not when we are at our weakest, bloated with turkey sandwiches and midnight champers. The distractions of Ben Haenow, Ant and Dec, Sir Alan and Miranda are lost in the mists of Christmas past. We are prey to that dastardly of all illusions: hope. Now they say that it is better to travel in hope than to arrive. New Year resolutions work counter-intuitively, you arrive on 1st Jan before you’ve had time to travel in hope. Disaster.

 

(ps I hope my friends Geoff and Gill will forgive me)

Week – End

4 Nov

I did say, midweek, that I would return to the Odeon Epsom for more comment. You will recall Gone Girl – the movie, on which I briefly commented. Well the 25minutes of advertising preceding the blockbuster was wearily illuminating. Now I’m not on air-kissing terms with Germaine Greer but the shameless and shameful sexploitation is so much more apparent at big screen venues that on our little flatscreens at home. Loadsamoney spent on lavishly, digitally undressing gorgeous women who look as if they are about to orgasm over the leather seats of their new pink cars. Stubbled men (who invented this silly sandpaper? Do one thing or the other; shave or no shave) drool looking like cats who will get cream. Prudishly and rarely  I thought: what on earth are we doing to ourselves? I got over it pretty quickly, you’ll be glad to know.

Excitingly old buddies from university days came to stay for the weekend. The weather held for a grand Saturday walk along the Pilgrims/South Downs Way above Reigate. Clear and heart-swelling views over the town and, turning 180degrees, there way Wembley Stadium, the Eye and Shard and the rest. Gatton Park was a joy to wander round despite the National Trust’s unforgiveable misuse of apostrophes. Beers at that great pub on Walton Heath, The Sportsman and back to select a feast from The Haweli, Sutton’s finest Indian takeaway.

We moderated our Saturday alcohol intake as Friday’s arrival of old friends had seen quite an assault of various bottles. The evening had taken its usual majestic course:the easy slipping back into college banter; incredulous reflections on how irresponsible fun-junkies of the 1970s became tolerably regarded members of the professional classes; disregard of body clocks and vitriolic contempt of a range of modern mores from the ubiquity of Apple-tech, ‘like’, silly children’s names, political correctness, tattoos, shit politicians, X-Factor, Jamie Oliver…..you get the picture. And fucking apostrophes.

It was Halloween night. That’s another thing. What’s happened to that estimable member of Catesby’s team who planned to obliterate James 1st and the whole rag bag of Parliament on Nov 5th, 1605? In the deeply grey 1950s and early 60s, I slogged for weeks (well days) making gruesome, scarecrow facsimiles of the would-be multi-murderer, to wheel around on old pushchairs extorting money for my personal charity. We’d buy firecrackers from the local tobacconists (that’s another moniker lost to the idiocy of pc) to scare our primary school girlfriends. Our back garden for a few minutes would sparkle with Catherine Wheels and sparklers. My father would put a few impossibly large rockets tiltingly in precariously placed milk bottles. The blue touch paper rarely responded with brilliant ignition so he always risked life and limb returning for another Swan Vestas relight. The resulting take-off and orbit was as unpredictable as Richard Branson’s tourist space rocket, though mercifully not as calamitous. Stories abounded of those who had filled hospital casualty departments on Bonfire Nights. No Sorro ever suffered but there were close shaves aplenty. This mightily wholesome activity has been replaced by wizards and witches and the execrable fraud of trick or treating, not to mention the waste of millions of nutricious pumpkins. You can imagine the bile effused by me and my mates, frighteningly articulate at 2am.

The came a knocking on the door. God, not more T or T’ing at this time. No, there stood a solitary shivering lass, clad in strips of wispy green looking like a  Robin Hood groupie with face paint. She was in some distress – let’s call her Maisie – and a certain amount of drink and/or drug-fuelled confusion. She had escaped, so she said, from a place, up the road, where she was being held captive. Could she come in? Crying, frightened creature she was too. Quite clear in speech but weirdly wired and making little sense. Had she been harmed? This prompted a flood of tears. Was she with friends? More tears. Clutching a completely empty  handbag and shivering rather cold turkily poor Maisie cut a pathetic and sad figure. We erstwhile complaining men sprouted arm hair and bravado. We walked her to where she thought the ‘party’ had been – and where her money, clothes, friends and phone (ie her life) were last seen. An open ground floor window. No sound, no sign of life. We knocked loudly. Nothing. We returned. Phone police.

Within 5 minutes two highly attractive young constables, he a ringer for Jude Law; she Cameron Diaz. perhaps I have just watched The Holiday far too much in my downtime moments – it’s on ALL the time isn’t it? Sorry – digressing. Anyway these guys were brilliant and took Maisie’s plight very seriously.What were the possibilities? Endless unfortunately- rape, rohypnol, mugging, theft, drink and drugs….and, of course -and hopefully- a girl who had got pissed, become disorientated and wandered off in fright but come to no harm.

The PCs wandered down the road to investigate. I contacted mother – in Coventry. She and her partner leapt into a car as I was speaking. A 3 hour drive to Sutton police station or near-hospital, ETA 5.30am? Back came the bravos in blue. The party was going on in the garden shed. Maisie had been put to bed by her friends when she peaked early- she had been ‘out of it’. No one had checked her and they were not a little surprised to hear she had gone AWOL. The blue-brigade decided she had better stay with the authorities (good choice) and await the arrival of bleary mummy.

The delightful constables took the tearful Maisie off and we were left having to revise our opinions of earlier on the quality of young professionals today. Jude and Cameron were quite outstanding.

Oh I forgot to say what Maisie did for a living. She is a 26year old teacher. Well I never.

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