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Tiers of a Clown

26 Nov

Now if there’s a smile on my face/ It’s only there trying to fool the public..

I confess that I was rather taken with this link to Smokey Robinson’s famous lyric, given that plenty of hospitality tears are being shed owing to tiers announced a few minutes ago. Even our Tory MP, Greg Clarke, pointed out the sledgehammer tactic of putting the vast county of Kent into tier 3 when the local stupidity (says their mayor) of Swale has led to a spike in the north of the county. Yet three miles south of Tunbridge Wells the greater infection rates of East Sussex are rewarded with a tier 2. I will be able to travel a couple of miles for beer and food at the White Dog in Ewhurst Green while my village locals are boarded up. C’est la vie? Indeed.

I didn’t come to my keyboard to tap out my misery; rather to praise Maradona. Flawed hero certainly but a sublime talent. The outpourings of grief from a stunned Argentina leave us in no doubt as to his lasting deification by his countrymen and women. Most of us here in the UK now smile at the Hand of God, cheating as it was. Strangely it played into our self-image as the hard done by losers, heroic in defeat. Truth is we were beaten by a genius. Any montage of his career highlights leaves me gasping in admiration. Even the Hand of God. Diego’s rise and fall is the stuff of legend. From Buenos Aires shanty town poverty to global superstardom. With his meteoric rise came a catalogue of marital, alcohol and drug problems which peppered his life. Also many, many sublime performances, one of which I was privileged to see.

January 8th 1984. Barcelona. I was the coach of Kent College 1st X1 hockey team, a school side invited to play in the prestigious tournament hosted by the Real Club de Polo in the great city. On a day off from playing, we managed tickets at the Nou Camp to watch Barcelona play Seville. The great man was playing, aged 23. He scored two stunning goals in the first 20minutes; one a quicksilver one-two and a finish to burst the net, the other a dribble and shot which demeaned three hapless defenders before finding an angle that the keeper couldn’t protect. After thirty minutes he was substituted; the expensive investment had done his job and needed protecting for the next game. Barca won 3 – 1 in a canter but the schoolboys from the UK would be fans of the little man for life. Fans too of the tots of Fundador brandy which was served on the terraces to warm the cockles of 80,000 fans.

There’s something about the hero, flawed or otherwise, who leaves the stage before his/her time. No time to grow old and decrepid and …average. We can rattle off our personal lists from Byron to Best, Buddy Holly to Hendrix. Their flaws or early departure from the stage make them, somehow, the more alluring. They give us hope that for however short a time we may survive on this planet, we can live with a little panache, leave a mark, albeit with less fanfare than Diego.

When Major Robert Gregory, at 36, was shot down over Italy in 1918, W.B. Yeats, his great friend wrote of this fine sportsman, artist, academic, renaissance man, the following:

Some burn damp faggots, others may consume 

The entire combustible world in one small room 

As though dried straw, and if we turn about 

The bare chimney is gone black out 

Because the work had finished in that flare. 

Soldier, scholar, horseman, he, 

As ’twere all life’s epitome. 

What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?

Something for the Weekend?

3 Nov

As Lockdown 2 approaches, I thought my readers would like an isolation recommendation. Or an early invitation to stocking-fill. Or indeed something akin to the old barber-provided remedy for an exciting weekend. The astute among you will already have guessed that this is my lame attempt to entice punters to buy my witty romp of a book that is Eye2i. An eye-catching title, if somewhat cryptic, it is the tale of three old men who, last year, took to their bikes and pedalled from London to Istanbul.

My marketing abilities are limited, save for arm-twisting friends and family or touting my bookywook around social media. I have exhausted the former and am now flogging the latter (dead horse). Please excuse, therefore, this obvious plug for Eye2i.

There are many reasons for me recording our adventure. Firstly there is the fun of reliving the saga for the three of us and our connections (as the horse racing fraternity would describe those with a vested interest) and to have a permanent record, of sorts. Secondly I wanted to keep the name BeatSCAD, the charity for which we raised a little money, in the public domain. It is one of so many small charities struggling for investment in these strange times. I was able, also, to reflect on what was going on back home – Brexit, Boris, Trump – while we were cycling across the continent whose union we had rejected. While writing during Lockdown 1, I added further thoughts from as recently as October 2020, to give a perspective on how our world has been shaken and yet how much strength one can get from the kindness of strangers.

It’s a light-heated read for the most part; see the Amazon reviews if you don’t believe me! It’s also, at 140 pages long, not too daunting for the sluggish reader. Profits, if there are any, will go to BeatSCAD, so you can feel that you have done a little bit to help the cause of this dangerous condition about which we still know too little.

Strangers on Covid-secure trains..

11 Sep

As I stood on West Sutton station yesterday morning, humming Land of Hope and Glory into my face mask, my head was filled with much more than the carbon monoxide bounce-back effect of my Colgate breath. There were six fellow travellers awaiting the typically late arrival of the Thameslink train to Wimbledon. You would think that, with the vast decrease in passenger numbers and the cutting back on services, the 10.22 might have flirted with punctuality. Reliably unreliable. A slogan for many things these days: Covid pronoucements; upholding the rule of law; England’s football fortunes.

I was curious  about Covid observance. All six put on masks as the tardy Thameslink creaked in. The eight-coach choo-choo was virtually uninhabited. The stench of cleaning fluids rose to meet us as we found socially distanced seats without bother. We chugged along picking up passengers in single figure numbers at Sutton Common and St. Helier. All were beautifully behaved. At Morden South a bloke who looked about as gnarled as me, got on without a mask. As we trundled towards Wimbledon Chase, I wondered if anything would be said. I peered at this guy from about ten yards away but my natural reserve prevented me from challenging the outrage. A young lad (well he was about thirty but that’s a child in my book) spoke out. Haven’t you got a mask, mate? Measured, clear, unthreatening. Only going two stops, no point, came the curt reply.

It’s just worth saying that you’re putting others at risk. Still measured. I liked this young man.

No I’m not. And with that shaft of intelligence the conversation ended and we masked bandits turned to other things. We sped past youngsters enjoying a P.E. lesson in the fresh air and sunshine. The young man walked away down the snaking corridor and, with me, alighted at Wimbledon.

On the tube to Edgware Road a couple of ladies pulled masks to below chins to relieve condensation on their specs. Covid awareness behaviour was impressive. I tend to be a mask remover when out and about but there are plenty who do the ‘neck thing’ as if they have had a tracheotomy or are doing that thing which Victorian men did to keep their beards in good order. Whatever works.

In Bayswater the streets were pleasantly mottled with shoppers. London is such a wonderful place to be at the moment. You can move, you can breathe. I know. I know that we need it teeming so that the economy can pick up. If Brandon Lewis’s stark admission of how our government is prepared to renege on signed agreements, the short term apparent gain will be long term pain, not to say disgrace. I mulled over Michael Howard’s unusual condemnation, in the Lords,  of his right wing Tory mates. I mulled too over the increasing numbers of civil servants who must keep their mouths shut when idiocies are proposed and integrity is chucked out of the window – or lose their jobs.

I took an Uber with my little grandson. We headed for Lord’s (the other one) for a cricket coaching session. Nice driver from Albania; spotless car. At the home of cricket I stood a social distance away from the yummy mummies and yummy daddies, while the six and seven year olds ran amok with the joy of a Ben Stokes superover. Weirdly my mind turned to Joe Biden. A man who has had so much tragedy in his life and still wants to fight for something better for his country. This led to Ed Davey – another man with tragedy in his past but a man who just might take the Lib Dems a little to the left so as to engage with the sanity of Starmer ( well, at the moment but who knows).

As I stood watching children play, I reflected on how my my head space has been consumed by politics and the social upheavals of the recent past. Significant certainties in our lives have been flushed away, some rightly perhaps, but much debate has been of the absolute, unnuanced, he-who-shouts-loudest type. The truth, the law, the complexity of arguments have been, at times, subsumed by the expediency of rashness and self interest. The vast numbers of moderates on left or right – lose their majority voice for fear of ostracism. We also recognise our impotence.

My own specs steamed up as I read the tap-screen menu in the Notting Hill Macdonald’s. My grandson’s simple delight was a Happy Meal and a discussion about whether Jofra Archer was a better bowler than James Anderson. No contest. Jimmy streets ahead. MacD’s have got their Covid act together with seating at every other table; gel stations abound. As we were munching our fries there was voluble chatter nearby about the rule of six.

So you can be six people from six different houses and that’s ok but if you have a large family granny can’t come round if the numbers go over six? More talk of what a beano weekend is coming up as, unlike holidaymakers returning from abroad, the notice given for the rule of six means that we have party time until Monday. My little lad raised his eyebrows when he thought that I might offer an opinion. I kept schtum.

Distressingly the 7.25 back to West Sutton was on time. I missed it by a few seconds. Bloody Thameslink. I had time to check social media on platform 9 at Wimbledon Station. Diana Rigg has died. What a talent. When boys were allowed to ‘fancy’ women, we all fancied Diana Rigg. Emma Peel would have sorted out Dominic Cummings. My glasses steamed up at the thought. RIP.


Lording it.

6 Aug

The House of Lords cost the taxpayer £158million in 2018-19. That was up from only £100million the year before. (source: House of Lords Annual Report 2018/19 – expense has been galloping way ahead of inflation. Now our political masters have invited yet another crop of unelected celebs, bankrollers and ‘wealth creators’ to join the 800+ club. Many in the club are, doubtless, tireless and intelligent do-gooders. Many are not. Our constitution is in a poor state and we, as taxpayers, have been duped into thinking that this chamber provides a proper 21st century scrutiny on the doings of the elected chamber.

Our government is about to lay before its chambers a bill to allow unfettered planning permissions to facilitate our desperate need for housing. Without dwelling on the high handed idiocy of this, playing into the hands of fast-buck winner-takes all property developers and get-even-richer landowners, the counterfeit argument hinges on the notion of ‘affordable housing’. Hundreds, nay thousands of houses have sprung up in my neck of the woods. At the first planning stage ‘affordable’ meant two incomes and saved for a deposit for a decade. By the end of the process the house price has moved into the very different world far out of reach of the majority in need. Local plans are a consultative farce – time and effort spent on producing even-handed strategies for the future which are not worth the ring-bound folders that local council produced before they shredded the contents, lest anyone refers back to the days when integrity and indeed democratic process, counted.

The dreadful events in Lebanon may be a very sad pointer to what can happen when political and business expedience prevails over honesty and truth. The fumblings of our own government over Coronavirus are a camouflage for a more ruthless, less accountable centralisation. Boris doesn’t give much of a shit about the people. We are not his people. His people see democracy as weakness. It stands in the way of getting things done. Those things are to do with wealth creation; don’t get in our way, we’re driving our juggernaut through. Cummings’ Law.

And, of course, it is our fault. We get the government, the leader, we deserve. Look around and ask yourself whom do you admire…or trust? Don’t get me started on the honours list, either. We edge towards the sort of corruption which we smirk about in other places. Our judiciary need to watch out. Enemies of the people? Who?

The lack of context and nuance and intelligence in recent debate over all manner of things has led to fear. Fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of saying anything lest outrageous offence is taken. We edge towards silence. The anodyne replace the trenchant. We stop holding those with powerful voices accountable. Think of child abuse by priests, think of Sir Jimmy Savile. Think of China, of Trump, Price Andrew…of..of of anyone you like who has, as an individual or large entity, denied others decent human freedoms. Money and power and privilege. Now think again about Boris. He’ll be a Lord some day.

Competence and charisma..and how does Newton fit in?

30 Apr

I’m down to one Coronavirus update per day. Well, post 5pm the news and comment is on a giddily spinning loop of repetition for the following 24hours anyway. So much to admire, plenty to sigh over and much to irritate. How will this devastating pandemic be remembered at home and abroad in years to come? Much will hinge on how, near and far, ‘success’ is measured. In whose hands will be the guidance for public perception and scrutiny? These hands are fashioned differently, across the world according to how differing regimes control or trust their subjects.

I have been reticent in spouting my views. I feel too close to it all for any sensible perspective. I’m in observation mode. That said, I note the recent social media spats between those who carp each day at some deficiency of leadership or strategy implementation and those who want the detractors to button it and led the substitute skipper Raab and his mate Hancock, get on with steering the tricky course unfettered by background noise. Now Boris is back in the driving seat I fear more division rather than less.

I have not been a fan of the media these past few weeks but I do accept that they – and Keir Starmer – have a job to ask pertinent questions which ensure accountability. However the style of many inquisitors is determinedly adversarial. Political correspondents, even breakfast show hosts, see interviews with leading politicians as contests. Win or lose. Did I embarrass or skewer my opponent or not? No wonder politicians have become so well-versed in evasion and bluster. Thank God they can hide behind ‘the science’. Only Nicola Sturgeon can see off the clever sniping of a Kuenssberg or Marr.

My spies tell me that, in Germany, the media are less adversarial. Indeed politicians are not, in general, seen as celebrities. Charisma doesn’t count for so much. German politicians are rather dull functionaries of the state who, by and large, are considered competent and, of course, accountable. They don’t don suits of armour before going into battle with salivating journalists. As a result they feel more confidant in answering questions directly, without evasion.

Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As Piers Morgan goes on the attack; the twitterati shout foul. As we applaud NHS heroes some complain that the Blitz spirit detracts from the realities of underfunding and understaffing. While there is a clamour for Captain/Colonel Tom to be knighted, there is equal noise that the NHS shouldn’t need charity handouts. Matt Hancock is praised for his earnest, even Herculean efforts to ramp up testing and lead us out of the abyss of Covidity; equally there are many who suggest that we shouldn’t have been in such a mess to begin with. Why can fast food restaurants open and garden centres remain closed? Why X deaths here and Y deaths in Germany? And so the equal and opposite reactions go on.

In the cold light of a future day some of these arguments will be shown not to be equal. The lack of preparedness – equipment, staffing and a defined pandemic strategy – will probably be blamed on austerity; the squeezing of public services and the protection of investment banks. Closer to lockdown the slow reaction-time to the spreading danger. Air traffic, Cheltenham, Liverpool v Athletico Madrid. This points to a reactive government and leadership, not proactive. Of course this is easy criticism to make and a criticism which could be levied at many other nations. Our insularity and ‘we can go it alone’ attitude, post Brexit, may not have helped.

Boris, Raab, Hancock and the scientists and medics have much of the country behind them. They have stuck to their guns with vigour and sincerity. Indeed ‘following the science’ gives the politicians a get out of jail card as they lead the nation through lockdown. Whether that card remains ‘free’ in the months to come is far less certain. There will be a political price to pay. Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon may be sharpening their knives to exact that price. Buried in committee and cabinet minutes may well be the early warning sirens of the current crisis, buried for, probably, financial expediency. I wonder if Jeremy Hunt has thoughts on this?

For all my Newtonian speculation I am, for now, happy to clap the NHS heroes on a Thursday, zoom to friends and family, cheer Captain Tom, congratulate Boris on his latest issue, praise Mr Hancock for his rearguard action and so on. I read the press coverage and analytical articles online rather than fume at repetitive questioning and endlessly repeated news coverage.

The iPad and internet has saved many from isolation and near-insanity. However I would love a beer in  my local and a curry in the village and a cuddle with my grandchildren. Real contact is all. The blame game is inevitable.



Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?

13 Apr

A week after passing my driving test, sometime in 1969, I was enjoying the freedom of speeding down the A3 in my mother’s split-windscreen Morris Minor. Freedom. World at my feet. Until a Police Ford Anglia flagged me down and a burly, world-weary sergeant leaned in through the window. He growled the words of my title that my generation were so familiar with. In Formula 1 racing, indeed in any form of motor racing, Stirling Moss was a legend.

My childhood was evenly split between the grey compliance of the 1950s and the multicoloured social explosion of the 60s. From wireless to colour TV, Bing Crosby to the Beatles, ration books to the summer of love. My 1950s reading material was comic books and war stories, Treasure Island and Enid Blyton, boys’ own annuals and John Buchan’s Books of Sport for Boys. Without the ubiquitous reach of media, the printed page and pictures in books were all we had to fashion our heroes. Imagination filled in the gaps that YouTube now effortlessly provides.

Stirling Moss was one of the names, if not THE name of the 1950s and early 1960s. And he never won a world championship. His name was redolent of that fighter pilot charming heroism. He had effortless and sexy talent, the derring-do chancer, the brave yet foolhardy hero. He was fast, he was honourable, he was dangerous. At a time when racing drivers really did take their lives in their hands each time they leapt into their Lotuses or Vanwalls or Ferraris, Stirling Moss seemed to brush aside such trifles as personal safety. And he often nearly paid for it with his life.

But his story was the very stuff of  boyhood fantasy. He refused to complain about Mike Hawthorn’s rules-transgression in the 1959 Portuguese Grand Prix 1958, allowing Hawthorn to take the World title by a single point. Being a gentlemen trumped being a sneak. His popularity came from being the dashing old-fashioned hero and his  devil-may-care attitude won the hearts of many a young lad reading of him in sports books and watching the black and white newsreels.

Even today those of my generation are likely to use Stirling’s name in reference to fast driving but he is amongst the most famous British sportsmen of my lifetime – and as much for his style and integrity as for his statistics. RIP Sir Stirling and thanks for the feeding the imagination of so many young lads. Thanks too, to the burly police sergeant who told me to go on my way, “But just mind your speed Stirling.”

Pronouns and pronouncements.

18 Mar

Rishi Sunak is the unlikely name on the nation’s lips this morning. Just a month ago he was a somewhat unknown Chief Secretary to the Treasury; when Sajid Javid fell on his sword, Rishi was catapulted into the limelight. He has been groomed for it, of course. Married to a billionaire’s daughter and alumnus of Winchester, Oxford and Goldman Sachs, Rishi is to the manor born.

As we become used to the regular pronouncements from Boris and his henchmen-experts (shades of Falklands) and the media pick over the speed of response, efficacy of advice and the latest infection and death figures from home and abroad, those of us at home have little else to do but observe the blackly comic merry-go-round.

Boris is doing OK, I suppose, despite my feeling that he seems rather detached from his own press conferences. He is, of course, aided by the rather articulate medical and science heads, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. Save for chucking in the odd bit of vocab with which the proletariat would struggle with (..sedulously..), Boris seems content to stumble through the 5 o’clock show deferring to left and right. Yesterday it was Rishi’s turn to shine. Indeed he did.

Despite Corbyn’s carping about what had escaped the Chancellor’s attention, the Johnny-come-lately to No. 11 did as good a job as could be expected. His speech-writers clearly wanted to big him up. The ‘I’ certainly had it…’I can announce, …I’ll provide…I am making available..’ and so on. It was almost as if his hedge fund was doling out cash to the plebs. In the darkest hours of the 2nd WW dear old Winston managed the third person so much better. We certainly did fight them on the beaches. We never surrendered.

The social and political historians and analysts will forensically sort through the detail of what is happening to us. The media search each day for an edge, an angle to scrape up a criticism or controversy to keep the air waves alive with tension. I turned to a 2015 TED talk by Bill Gates in which he accurately predicted that the next big challenge for the world would be a pandemic. Amongst several sharp insights he suggested that investment in readiness was both essential and well-known to us. We pump vast sums into defence capabilities so as to mobilise at the drop of a hat. Some countries invested wisely in epidemiology and a degree of preparedness. Look at South Korea. Their testing exceeds that of any country of its size and larger. 5200 per million inhabitants compared with the US, 74 per million. Our figure is approaching 1000 now but we remain slow in this respect. Bill Gates was ahead of the game.

Of course there are positives to take out of this dire situation. A reassessing of values, a recognition of our interdependence, looking after others as well as ourselves. There is much to commend a wartime spirit but words don’t put food on the table, nor cash in the coffers. Rishi will do what it takes and that is the right response if he can follow it through for the long term. Strange that George Osborne tightened all belts post 2008 and now the war chest is being wrenched open by another Tory Chancellor. The main agenda remains the desperate attempt to keep the death toll down. We’re a long way off the Harold MacMillan’s famous (misquoted) second person pronoucement ‘You’ve never had it so good.’ Follow the advice. Better to trust the medics than the media.

Unwanted emissions..

24 Jan

What pours forth from the various media platforms is difficult, as we know, to prioritise. The biggest news of last week was Harry and Megan. On my personal Richter scale the story rated about as low as my opinion of the Daily Mail. So too the ridiculous call by the Chair of the Labour Party, Ian Lavery for Sir Keir Starmer to stand down as a leadership candidate to ensure that a woman is selected. Alan Margham, who organizes the Durham Miners’ Gala, a strange anachronism in itself, I guess, doesn’t want any Conservatives attending the do despite the locals having voted the blues in. Gwyneth Paltrow has released a vagina candle. Prince Charles called for peace on his Bethlehem trip. Good luck with that. I was able to rank this last message considerably higher than his son’s unfortunate exile and Gwyneth’s fanny candle.

The Donald surprised none of us in his climate denials at the lavish, luvvie-fest that is Davos. I fear that the odd-but-brilliant Greta Thunberg will be consumed by the fires of global power. It suits the greenhouse gas brigade to tout her around – and impressive she certainly is. I hope that she’s Ok, though; this strange woman-child with a focus that drills into our consciousness but doesn’t penetrate the hearts of the mighty – much.

As we in the UK produce a tiny fraction of the world’s greenhouse gases, the market leaders in the planet’s defilement are China, USA, India and Russia. By a bloody mile. This is a big, big story.

Closer to home – and more personal – is the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We have learnt this week, the disgraceful way that successive governments have behaved over a debt of £400million owed to Iran. While nothing should condone any state imprisoning an individual for the wrongdoings of a government, what do we expect when our own intransigence and arrogance about an arms contract which we did not fulfil? Boris the Spider’s behaviour has been contemptuous. He’s not the only one. Meanwhile this poor woman and her wonderful family have been unacceptably and irrevocably damaged.

This too is a big story. Wheat from chaff.

Books…a load of crap? My list for 2019.

7 Jan

Philip Larkin’s oft-quoted line from his A Study of Reading Habits is an acerbic end to a short poem which, in fact, reveals that despite a life full of literature, he wished that, perhaps, he had had more of the action man about him. Having not been bespectacled and managing to hide my tendency to bookishness until puberty had come and gone, I have no such hang-ups about publishing my latest reading list. Another weird mix.BOOKS 2019

Good Morning from Bratislava

27 Sep

The three old men on bikes have been on the road since Sunday 15th relay-cycling from the London Eye. Destination Istanbul. So far we have pedalled through Holland and picked up the Rhine, the Main, the Danube Canal and, eventually the Danube. We have Rotterdammed, Frakfurted, Nuremburgered, Cologned and met up with our lovely partners in Vienna for a few days more gently cycling into Slovakia and on to Hungary and Budapest.

We have seen the beauty and the beast of the Rhine, the vineyards and forested hills along with the teeming traffic and cement works and all manner of industry which flanks the great river. So too the Danube with its cruise ships and tourism flowing majestically through a vast landscape of rolling countryside and industrial sprawl. The river Main is a gem, weaving its way through enchanting towns and villages with schlosses aplenty and tempting eateries which we had to bypass as the miles needed to be ridden.

We have camped on river and canal banks and been welcomed wherever. We pedalled the short 50miles or so from Vienna to Bratislava yesterday and the three couples, Clive and Karen, Chris and Satah and yours truly and Belinda are holed up in the delightful old town before heading for Gyor and Budapest today. There the girls will fly home and the boys wull plough on through Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and, finally into Turkey and the Blue Mosque at Istanbul. Eye to I, geddit?

Follow us on facebook Eye2i.Three old men on bikes or the occasionally updated website Read about our charity BeatSCAD and see what three old men whose ages total over 200 get up to when the day job stops. What a fine time we are having wearing our European Union t-shirts and distancing ourselves from the separatisr sqabbles of our divided nation. We have felt wonderfully european as we have sliced through this lovely continent.

See you in Istanbul.

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