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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

 

I read the news today…oh boy

21 Nov

…..About a lucky man who made the grade

And though the news was rather sad:

The good and great of Rochester and Strood

Had caught the media-nation mood

And made their choice – a man called Reckless,

A turning coat, now purple, feckless.

From his Farage he has persuaded

That Brits of Kent shall be invaded,

Swamped, trampled by the  immigrant,

Such a silly, sad…compelling rant.

The aftermath..well let’s just guess…

Dreadful news for the NHS.

 

And on to the Shadow Attorney General

Whose cabinet days have proved ephemeral.

Her name suggests both sharp and sweet

But bloody stupid, too, to tweet.

 

And next the rapist wants to play,

He’s done his time is what some say

But moral hackles, rising high

Have writ quite large on Sheffield’s sky:

If  that bastard isn’t banned

We’ll rename Jessica Ennis’s stand.

 

No need to move from home work station

To find bad news from other nations

Lots to keep us weeping here

Ne’er mind Hammas, Putin, North Korea.

I read the news today oh boy,

Let’s hope the morrow brings more joy.

 

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