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Puff on this Grandad…

25 Apr

Josh Glancy, writing in the Sunday times this week, said of Ronan Farrow the boy-genius reporter and son of the unholy alliance between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen: ” He is typically millennial: woke, phone obsessed, social-media savvy, arch and sexually ambiguous.” Of these six descriptions my grandfather would only have recognised ‘arch’. I myself struggled with ‘woke’ but now my urban dictionary has put me right.

The night before reading this my weekend confusion had been initiated by the banality of the Queen’s birthday bash at the Albert Hall. Shaggy and Sting were grandstanding incoherently; Craig David sang something inappropriate about shagging; Alfie Boe screamed frantically into his microphone and Tom Jones croaked his way through It’s Not Unusual in a particularly arthritic way.

The Queen, with Camilla and Charlie boy alongside, barely broke into anything but a sneer. When she did smile it was of the private joke variety, “Don’t tell me, I bet it’s Kylie Minogue next.” And so it was.

I couldn’t think of a more confusing and unappealing night for our 92year old monarch. Zoe Ball seems to have risen via the Peter Principle to a job that she can’t do – i.e. host a major event. The whole thing was rescued by the BBC Concert Orchestra and the magnificent Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Their humble, brilliant harmonies – particularly on that wonderful lament Homeless – were captivating. They even rescued Sir Tom as he sang The Green, Green Grass of Home, the uplifting ditty of a man about to be executed.

The shots of Queenie going back in time were an effective distraction. She didn’t want to be reminded, however, that she once was in the thrall of George Formby. The sight and sound of Harry Hill, Frank Skinner and Ed. the Gangnam Balls strumming ukuleles and belting out When I’m Cleaning Windows set the seal on a night of bemusement. Bizarre.

And so we moved on this week to Amber Rudd desperately trying to mop up the Windrush  mess in her kitchen while the dishwasher continues to leak. The only response of any opposition these days is to froth at the mouth and bellow ‘Resign’. Amber is in mid-grovel as I type. She’s on to a lose-lose but I hope the Windrushers end up with a win-win..or at least turn their lose into a win.

Jezza meanwhile had a meeting with Jewish leaders where he seems to have convinced them that his party is more anti-Semitic than was the case before the meeting. How does that happen?

And then Liverpool go and score 5 goals against Roma.

Now I see Macron holding hands with the Donald. Confusing or what?

My Grandad would say, “Now let me light my pipe and let’s think about it.”

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Snow..

28 Feb

I like what snow does to people. As I type I can hear children and their mums and the odd dad squealing with delight outside. Duffled, bobbled and booted they are sliding and sledging and snowballing down the road.

Their sounds are muffled by the six inches of white stuff. The sun is glaring off it and surprises the eye with the sharp intensity of light. My neighbours have taken the day off; school’s out for a while and there’s a delightful truancy in the air.

The lovely blizzards which have hit my corner of Kent and much of the east of the UK make us pause. Our routine is gloriously disrupted. I meet people in the local supermarket who would not normally be about in the middle of a working Wednesday. Happy tales of iced-up windows, impossibility of getting to work and child-minding sprinkle the giggling conversations. The world that is too much with us takes a backseat for a few precious hours. Time to stop and think and breathe.

Turn on radio and TV and the machine guns rattle. Florida student mayhem (arm the teachers!), Syria, Brexit politics, Charity workers. Madness is restored. I turn the media off quickly. I feel like Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m safer here in snowy Hawkhurst than complying with the Nurse Ratcheds of the world out there.

It’s 3pm. Time for Escape to the Country, a nice little show on the BBC about people wanting a better life somewhere rural. Wordsworth knew a thing or two about this. Today’s snow has been a timely reminder.

Things fall apart…

5 Feb

I was enjoying the birthday party of a female friend recently when a naked stallion of a waiter offered me a canapé. His appendage was swinging beneath a skimpy apron. Most of the women present were taking detours to check out his buttocks and pecs. This burlesque seemed to amuse – and in my case bemuse – the party goers without shrieks of outrage bouncing off the walls. Recent stuff leapt to mind : The Presidents’ Club; #Me Too, in black dresses; Payback time at the BBC; Jenny Murray in overdrive on Women’s Hour; F1 dolly-girls losing their jobs.

Strange times. ‘Seems’, madam. Nay it is. I know not ‘seems’. Hamlet’s response to his newly remarried mother suggests that he knows the truth of the tangled web of human motivation but, as his tale plays out it is his confusion, the wrecking of order, which deranges him.

We tread on eggshells these days, a false word here or there draws disapproving looks – and worse. The abuse and shaming of headteacher Neena Lall and the sacking of West Ham’s director of recruitment, Tony Henry are examples of how our little corner of the world is closing in on us. All our sayings and doings must be cleansed and sanitized by the right-on police from the sex-politics-race-religion gestapo which seeks to root out and stone any voice which counters its one-eyed, sanctimonious and febrile self-righteousness.

 

Much as I like to snort with derision at Colonel Blimp-Rees-Mogg, the jostling and condemnation which he suffered last week is part of a growing trend to silence those whose views don’t fit with a militant concensus. Brexit and Trump and the instabilities across the world have given way to an intolerance of which only a fraction is worthy. It’s right to want equality for men and women, it’s right to support religious tolerance – but the way in which the good fight is fought is as important as the cause.

That means understanding and tolerating context, history, old and young, culture, national identities, ethnicity, sex, race…the lot. The mildest of views are condemned on social media. Truth has become something to fear in some cases – or at least shy away from. If I say that the Welsh are more passionate about rugby than the English, I am likely to get away with it. If I pass comment  on different ethnic, cultural, sexually oriented or religious groups, my views can be deemed illegitimate and I will be attacked, abused and might lose my job. Eggshells indeed.

Hamlet’s confusion at seeing his mother leap into bed with his father’s murderer, scrambles his mind. His grasp of reality and the values of decency and love and honour with which he grew are blown apart. His world has become virtual where nothing is what it seems. Something catastrophic has to happen for order to be restored. A blood-letting.

The title of this little essay is Things Fall Apart, taken from W.B. Yeats’s famous poem, The Second Coming. Yeats speculates on what sort of world Jesus Christ would find if he chose to visit us for a second time. Written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War, the opening stanza seems prescient. In the post-truth age are we able to sort out the real from the unreal?

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

VAR – Virtually Assured Reprobates

19 Jan

A reprobate, as my Shorter Oxford tells me, is a person cast off by God, hardened in sin, of abandoned character, immoral. For my purposes we’ll call him a Premiership footballer, specifically say Mr  Morata or Mr Pedro.

The introduction of Video Assistant Referee to the global game is set to cause mayhem. This isn’t because video replays are a bad thing, it is because premiership soccer players enjoy cheating more than most other sportsmen and women. Add to this that referees in this sport don’t want their authority to be undermined, so they want the final say. Add to this the scepticism of the old guard – Alan Shearer et al – that errors are ‘part and parcel’ of the game. Controversy causes argument and makes hype and headlines.

Video referral systems have been used widely and successfully in many sports – both individual and team. For the most part they have worked well and enhanced the game. After all don’t we want accurate decisions? Isn’t the truth what we are all after?

Take rugby. Has the ego of the best ref in the world, Nigel Owens, taken a knock from having to ask for the video ref’s advice? You’re joking! Ah but do top rugby players seek to deceive, to cheat, to distort in the same way as Messrs Morata and Pedro did for Chelsea? Not a chance.

Simulation is the new word on the block in soccer circles. It means diving, yes cheating. Strange that no such word exists in the lexicon of rugby, hockey, cricket, tennis, American football.. and the other sports which use video-checks.

Klose, the Norwich defender who looked to have brought down Chelsea’s Willian – yet the referee Graham Scott chose not to video-refer had this to say. “VAR would help the referee sometimes in some situations but I’m not a fan of it. Football is all about these situations. We remember Diego Maradona’s Hand of God …etc Football needs these situations, it puts emotions on, you can write about it, the TV stations have something to talk about…”

So there we have it – at least some players and many pundits are sceptical of VAR. They want it to fail because the drama of cheating and getting decisions wrong creates uproar and fulminating punditry. Does soccer really prefer gamesmanship to sportsmanship? Until the great game changes its attitude to the truth it will continue, in my book, to be less than great.

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.

Words are all we have…..

1 Mar

Lies

Lying to the young is wrong

Proving to them

that lies are true

is wrong…

Forgive no error

You recognise

it will repeat itself

a hundredfold

and afterward

our pupils

will not forgive in us

what we forgave.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote this a year before Stalin died. It became a poem I used as part of a GCSE English course. The theme was Lies.

The Donald has banned certain journalists from press conferences because they question his perversions-of-truth. It’s a smart move, given that CNN, the BBC and others have affiliations not only to a liberal, left-leaning, intelligent-elite but also to the truth. It is hard to find a world leader who is less articulate than The Trumpmeister. Assad, for example, is smooth as silk in his second language.

It is interesting that articulating a powerful message requires neither elegant language nor truth. Language – and how we speak – has cultural identifiers. We either trust smooth-talkers or we don’t. In the days of Churchill and MacMillan we trusted their accent and background and believed that they were in the politics game to serve, rather than line their own pockets. Trust has become a fickle commodity. Recently vast numbers have chosen to vote on an anti-instinct. That is, many have wanted to kick the political elite (seen as self-serving), Europe (seen as a monolithic expenses-heavy, bureaucracy) and immigration (seen as the root of all evil and terrorism) into touch.

The language, the millions of words spoken and printed may have made a difference. Sensationalised out-of-context headlines, bare-faced lies and opportunistic politicians have persuaded the many that Westminster doesn’t do it for them. The coining of ‘post-truth’ is spot on.

America is set on a McCarthyist path, except it’s not Reds under the beds but Muslims and Mexicans. The UK is heading for a split; too many honest politicians don’t think politics is worth wasting time and words on. Better on books and speeches. Integrity is a distant hope. If anyone watched the first Meet the Lords last night, our upper chamber, supposedly the check on Parliament, looked more like a gentlemen’s club enjoying ermine and champagne-privilege at our expense. ‘Twas ever thus, some say. I still cling to the hope that there are a few honest Joes and Josephines (more of the latter probably) who want to do a proper job.

We know that language gets changed, abused, scrambled and perverted daily. It’s been well-documented that the truth, going forward, is rudely unhealthy. News is, apparently, fake. Hyperbole is our new default mode. Awesome, obscene and amazing lead a new vocabulary which demands the sensational over the accurate. Examples of the galloping blurring of clarity include: exclamation marks (OMG!!!); the ubiquitous misuse of apostrophes; ignorance of verb tenses; restricted and inaccurate vocabulary; thinking semi-colons are half-arses. When clarity and accuracy with language matter less than the force of the message, we become prey to dangerous predators. Enemies of the People! Of course social media is almost made for exaggeration but when the discourse is serious, we should rise to the occasion.

Spinning is both a fitness activity and a massaging of truth. Neither was in my lexicon growing up. The former does a lot more good than the latter. I spent a working life trying to tell the truth to schoolchildren. Messages in schools tend to be honest and simple:be kind to others; tolerate, indeed embrace difference; work hard; speak properly; obey simple rules; scrutinize claims; have fun. As an English teacher there was a world of language and literature to explore. All human life, so much richness. As a sports guy there was teamwork and spirit and sportsmanship and skill. William Blake signalled how the world can be a very different place when youth metamorphoses into adulthood. The bubble of Innocence become the sea of experience. Language is hi-jacked for self-seeking intentions and what seems to be the case, no longer is.

Scrutiny of claims, of so-called facts, of evidence, of language is vital to our well-being. I note the many European politicians who speak English with a precision and clarity rivalling, or bettering some of our own political movers and shakers. We have been distracted by soundbites. We need to return to proper scrutiny of our leaders and their language. Why do TV and radio journalists accept evasions by politicians, for example? Just end the interview. Why accept any alternative versions of fact other than the independently accredited ones? We have allowed a state of affairs where facts are malleable, versions of reality to be bashed into a different shape to suit a spurious cause. Shame on us all.

As often happens when I’m on a roll, the Bee Gees jump to mind. How Barry Gibb manages his hair and teeth these days, goodness only knows. The legacy of this Aussie-Brit trio, now sadly solo, goes beyond Travolta gyrations, Summer Lovin’ and the Steps’ cover of Tragedy. Plenty of memorable, simple language.

You think that I don’t even mean

A single word I say.

It’s only words

And words are all I have

To take your heart away.

 

 

 

 

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