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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

No end in sight….so I’ll settle for a pint of Harvey’s

24 Feb

The last thing we Remoaners wanted was for Tony Blah to invade our camp. We haven’t got WMDs so leave us alone, Tone. Your track record for global shit-stirring makes you persona non grata. Take yourself and the spinning, conniving Peter-the cheater-Mandlebum, off to your next speaking engagement.

And as for John Berk Cow..and Paul Nutter-all. Well the political circus goes on here there and everywhere but without the McCartney melody it is now a grating discord. No wonder that Trumpers and Brexiteers smile smugly in self-righteous confirmation that their vote has kicked asss. The game is to watch the liberal and political and media elites run around like headless chickens. Trump and Sweden..what’s all that about? Truth is (or not) who the fuck cares as long as the BBC and CNN get in a paddy about it?

Trying to block out the white-noise of global lying is a tricky business but I can usually manage it. I haven’t been blogging of late because seeing the world through a prism sceptical humour seems too trivial in these days of lying and poses. But half-term shook me out of remisery and I met up with old university mates. We laughed and talked of less complicated times and house prices that were affordable for twenty-somethings.

I saw La La Land and smiled. I watched a fat Sutton United goalkeeper eat a pie and smiled. I watched a brilliant hockey match in Canterbury and smiled. Improbably I braved Pirates of Penzance at the Coliseum – and smiled. David Gower was sitting in front of us, also smiling. I ate an American Hottest at Pizza Express; more smiles. I played golf in the sun and lost..but still smiled. And so on..

Claudio Ranieri’s sacking and the fat goalie’s resignation dented my joie de vivre somewhat but soccer is a basket case, much like politics. There’s no end in sight for Greed and the ivory towers where the rich and famous live in their bubbles. At the Royal Oak tonight a pint of Harvey’s will be a pleasing antidote to the infection of the world beyond my ken.

You cannot be serious – or are you being literal?

4 Jan

We remember John McEnroe’s outburst at Wimbledon in 1981. Long forgotten is the umpire (Edward James), the opponent that day (Tom Gullickson), the winner that day (McEnroe of course).

The media love-in with another ballsy Yank – the Donald –  is well under way in this new year. They (we?) are loving his tweets which have shaken Ford, Mexican car workers, China and most other aspects of Obama’s foreign policy. And that’s just the last few days. The luvvie-networks (BBC being one) are revelling in the twitter-titter-feed from Trump Tower. The latest Wildeian quote to please the masses is: The people take Trump seriously but not literally; the political and media elites take him literally but not seriously. Evan Davis enjoyed pursuing this epigrammatic analysis on Newsnight with a bunch of worthies from both sides of the pond. Worthies might be stretching it but there was an articulate tree-hugger, Tamsin Omond,  who banged on, amongst many other things, about the cataclysmic danger of Trump reneging on the Paris Climate Agreement. A business prof. called Ted Malloch who might become one of Trump’s senior advisers chillingly countered: Trump plays chess two moves ahead of everyone else both home and overseas. He’s wise, no idiot. Take him seriously.

The chatter bounced around for a while before I began to resent Evan Davis’s revelling in the salacious speculation. My mind had to park the Donald for a little while as I worried about education, education, education. The secondary school where I used to teach has recently made several teachers and others redundant. Subjects such as music have been cut from the curriculum. Morale is low. This is not an isolated story. Budget cuts, which have been savage since the financial crisis of nearly a decade ago, along with successive Tory education ministers wanting to squeeze more blood from the stone, have landed most schools in some sort of financial trouble. My knowledge is of secondary education where politicians and their civil servants have long-sought funding models which prove that more can be got for less. With a protracted period of Tory government most social and educational funding will be savaged. The academies programme – a case of pointless rebranding if ever there was one – fell into the more-for-less agenda.

The effects of constant change and poorly prioritised targets have cost the taxpayer vast sums this last decade. Young primary teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Assessments and targets so often seem unrelated to any context other than the Whitehall ruminations of failed teachers and civil servants who went to the barking mad school for the over-privileged. Secondary teachers are just being sacked – ensuring that ill-equipped young teachers gain posts of responsibility well beyond their competence and acceptable stress levels. Education on the cheap. Literally, seriously.

When McEnroe felt hard done-by, he shouted about it. But it was only a game. Wimbledon is important but it’s not Aleppo. Now Mr Trump tells us that we shouldn’t believe his campaigning vitriol but we must take his presidency seriously. This isn’t a game. Nor is the education of 93% of the UK (the others being much-better funded in private schools).

McEnroe went on to win Wimbledon that year. Ronald Reagan had just become President. Seriously.

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