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Fake news….tell the B.B.C. (Xmas thoughts no 1)

12 Dec

We are in the season of Goodwill to all Men (and Women) but I notice that the sport headlines this week have been about beer poured over Jimmy Anderson’s head by a chap called Ben Duckett and a fracas involving milk being thrown at Jose Mourinho after the Manchester derby. The BBC led on these items on all its sport bulletins for several days – including this morning when the memory of City’s 2-1 win had already faded into the tears provoked by Cheggers’s demise.

Never mind fake news, how about getting things in proportion? There is an initiative to teach what is and isn’t ‘fake’ to kids in school- because they are apparently exposed and vulnerable through their huge consumption of social media. When senior journalists and editors rail about lies and damned lies they ought to take a hard look at their own choices. Perspective, proportion, balance and integrity are all in short supply. The lowest common denominator becomes the highest common factor – sleaze, scandal and tale-telling to titillate.

The aforementioned James Anderson has pointed out that the story of 5 England cricketers visiting a sick cricket fan who is too ill to get to the upcoming test in Perth, got no coverage whatsoever. The frenzied paparazzi and the junkie journos from the mainstream media don’t hang out around hospitals, only bars and football tunnels, hoping for an ‘incident’.

The real fakery is distortion. Lies are lies in any language but the selection of a story and the hype it is given is a subtle way, over time, of grooming a nation into Daily Maildom. And the BBC are culpable.

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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.

A Labour of Love…

5 Oct

Will these hands ne’er be clean cried the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth. I felt similarly yesterday lunchtime as the media-vultures fed on the coughing carcass of Mother Theresa and the National Rifle Association continued its murderously inexplicable defence of a madman’s right to buy an arsenal of weaponry great enough to arm a small nation.

Luckily we had tickets for a matinee performance of Labour of Love, a new play by James Graham, starring the ubiquitous Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig. Govia-Thameslink (who run Southern) provided the unusual delight of a punctual service. So it was that, with time to kill, we managed coffee in St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ crypt prior to the performance. I sat on the gravestone of Angus Wacher and wondered if his 300year-old bones could ever have imagined a man sitting on his grave supping an Americano firing WatsApp messages across the globe.

On to the Noel Coward theatre in St. Martin’s Lane. Formerly the Albery, this is a charming little theatre built in 1903 as a companion space to Wyndham’s. Sybil Thorndike’s St. Joan and Gielgud’s, Hamlet were early triumphs, as was Coward’s first play I’ll Leave it to You. The 1930s saw its heyday and the large assortment of posters and billboards adorning the bars and staircases pay tribute to a great and varied theatrical history. Now a part of Cameron MacIntosh’s empire, it seems to have a steady income and, like the Royal Court is a testing ground for new plays as well as established hits.

Labour of Love is about the Labour Party, since the war and, most particularly, the last 27years. That is the span of employment for both the Blairite MP David Lyons (Freeman) and his long-suffering and idealistic agent Jean (Greig). The play opens, earlier this year (James Graham ever catching the zeitgeist) as the election results in the small Nottinghamshire constituency are about to be announced. Things don’t look good for David in this ex-mining, chippy, disappointed community. Despite Corbyn’s momentum, Freeman’s  David Lyons has lost his roar. Poignantly, very humorously and quite cleverly we track back in time. Digital, costume and set cleverness enable a scrolling back through the years to Thatcher, Kinnock,Major, Blair, Brown and the rest. The dialogue crackles with echoes of Yes, Minister, The Thick of It and, quite obviously, Much Ado bout Nothing. Greig (who only had two weeks to learn the quick-fire script) and Freeman bounce along, he playing a pragmatic straight man to her feisty, earthy, sad-black humour. It works wonderfully well.

As an exposure of Labour’s journey it seems a work in progress but for the casual observer it’s a brilliant, theatrical Gerald Scarfe of the last three decades for socialism in the UK.

Aspects of theatre-going which enhance the experience include my eschewing of alcohol lest I snore during the early exchanges. It was liberating to dance through the circle bar without a glance at the bubbles being proffered by the predatory barpersons. We took our seats in the balcony – surely the best balcony experience in London – audibility, vision and legroom – wow! I looked around. Hmm. At this matinee the majority were claiming their pensions. I hoped that the evening show might see a greater variety of punter. An aproned usher, more camp than a tent,  held up two identical cards: No photography. He was ignored by the grey brigade, too intent on snapping the Rococo ceiling or checking iphones for facebook stuff. In the gents’ loo an octogenarian was scrolling something with one hand while the other was handling a different tool.

Martin Freeman has very white teeth. Along with Jimmy Carr and other strange people he has seen fit to peroxide his gnashers to give the illusion of cleanliness. It gets in the way of authenticity at times. Even from row C of the balcony I was dazzled by his tombstones. Easy enough to escape the Bilbo Baggins thing or even Dr Watson. There’s still plenty of Tim (The Office) in there and he invests David Lyons MP with that vulnerability and pragmatism and humour.

Soho is just the ticket for a post-theatre meal. Teeming life, good food and wine and time to chat over what we had just seen. When I came to this morning the analysis of Theresa’s coughing has reached epidemic proportions (shame on you BBC) and some wanker was still prattling on about the right to bear arms and how we Brits didn’t understand, so butt out.

I reflected again on our Labour of Love the night before. I felt informed, entertained…and a little bit better about politicians…and life.

What’s a retrofit?

20 Sep

Retrofit was last week’s new word. I speculated that it could mean a spasm that someone has when wearing flared trousers. Then someone told me that it was the word for fitting sprinklers into buildings that might have been fitted in the first place. Well, why not just use the word ‘fit’? Adding retro adds blame, the finger-pointing of hindsight; the implication that budgets for social housing are pared to the bone. Hmm.

I caught Farridge at the European Parliament fulminating about how awful the Eurocrats were for not caving in to Cameron’s pleas for a better deal for the UK. He may have a glimmer of a point but why is he still there, taking his fat Eurosalary and expenses, when all the while he is avowedly anti-European? It beats me. I have a retrofit every time I catch the man on telly.

I noticed that Diane Abbot used the N-word t’other morning, explaining how she is regularly abused, I assume both on social media and in the street. Susanna Reid leapt to apologise to the vast numbers of children watching Diane Abbot at 7.15am; indeed she told Ms A that she should not use such language. Shortly afterwards the same Ms Reid, interviewing the great Dione Warwick, tried to turn the chatter about Ms Warwick’s charity concert to Witney Houston’s (a cousin of La Warwick) tragic life and death. The great dame put Ms Reid to the sword. ‘Why would you want to hurt me like that in an interview? I only came on to talk about my children’s charity.’ Cue Reid-squirming. Retroapology.

I thought that I would do something retro after the breakfast TV excitement and planned to catch a bus, a rural bus, into Cranbrook, my local town. The 9.37, to be precise. Well the no 5 to Maidstone (via Cranbrook) had broken down and, being in deepest darkest Kent, the next omnibus (notice the retrolingo) was just over an hour away. Reluctantly I got the car out and passed dozens of the senior bus-pass brigade shivering in the rain waiting for Godot and the no 5 that was never to appear. I know that Southern Rail commuters would have sympathy with the plight of countryfolk. I just wish our local MP, the Thunderbird Greg Clark, could manage some.

Moving on to more important matters than the Trumpmeister’s latest infinitive-splitting threat ‘to totally destroy’ North Korea, I find myself seeking solace and , yes, meaning, in matters more trivial. After golf yesterday me and my buddies were commenting on the well-judged volume of the music in the club bar. Mick Jagger was pumping out to our Satisfaction because we could hear ourselves speak. This is a rarity in many pubs, clubs and restaurants up and down the land. And yet we spend fortunes on booze and food, sitting or standing in crowded, littered venues, shouting conversation at eachother over the detritus of the previous customers’ lunch. If a table can be found in Café Nero or most Youngs pubs I go in, it invariable has a wonky leg to which bar-mat repair is urgently required so as to avoid precious spillage of an overpriced latte or pint of Special. This is all made worse if it is your date-night and you are sitting next to a Bose speaker, beneath arctic aircon and wrestling with a wobbly table on uneven floor. The chilly-shouty-wobbly experience comes in around £50 per head. Real retrovalue can be found by staying in and watching Not Going Out…geddit?

 

It’s All Relative…

19 Aug

I see Theresa Maybe has condemned the Trumpmeister for slating both left and right wing protesters at Charlottesville. She was on board our new £3billion aircraft carrier which, it is hoped, will get to the world’s troublespots faster than a Southern train to Waterloo. Further, it is hoped that the cost of putting the giant vessel on the ocean waves will not escalate beyond that of the newly-priced season tickets for commuters.

After Wimbledon and the Lions and the major golf tournaments and England’s women’s great cricketing win – and our men beating South Africa and Tom Daley and Adam Peaty and Sir Mo and those relay teams and the wonder that is/was Usain – even with cramp – isn’t it great to slide back down to the start of the Premiership? Multi-million-pound transfer nonsense, sendings-off and the petulance of boys chucking their toys out over exorbitant pay-deals. Ugh.

The World Athletics caused a stair in our house, memories of 2012 and all that. Despite the relative paucity of our British individual performances, those who attended the sell-out sessions were full of the excitement generated by the world’s best – and the mastery of the stadium presentation and commentary headed up by Iwan Thomas. For those of us sitting at home the menu was dire. Denise Lewis talking bollocks, closely followed by Paula Radcliffe. Thank God for Michael Johnson. Have a good retirement Brendan. You’re quitting at the right time.

I have just heard that Sir Brucie has gone. I can’t say that I was a huge fan but his old fashioned brand of corn with song and dance has been the backdrop of variety TV – weekend wallpaper – all my life. Sunday Night at the London Palladium on our black and white TV was wholesome, fun, fare for the family in the 50s and 60s, a lifetime ago. A man who offended so few and entertained so many.

As another right wing white supremacist, Steve Bannon, steps away from the White House, for how much longer will we see the phallic red tie stepping out of Air Force One?

On the BBC sports website I had to search and search – and search – for anything on the Hockey European Championships, currently being played in Amsterdam. Try it. Loads about Countinho, Conte and Costa but zilch on our Olympic Champions.

And as more dire news comes in from Barcelona and Finland we turn to the nutty problem of whether Big Ben’s bongs should be silenced. Mankind can take only so much reality. It’s a relative judgement.

 

 

 

 

Where have all the good men (and women) gone?

14 Jul

I haven’t Simplysorroed for a while because I have been, simply, sorrowful. Matters serious and profound of  late took all my heart for speech. It started with Brexit, then Trump trumped that, then Mother Theresa called an election, then the DUP were bribed with taxpayers’ money and then awful murder in Manchester and London..and then Grenfell.

What follows seismic stuff combines the heroic with the grubby; the magnificent and the mean. You know what I am talking about. From Ariana Grande to the firefighters picking their way through the unimaginable carnage of a tower block. The eye-blinking speed of the London Bridge police and emergency services to the heroism of individuals who put their lives on the line. Much more could and should be said here but I find myself dispirited by the blame culture and political chicanery which characterises the response of those who should know better. For all Corbyn’s ascendant star, his unworthy delight in grabbing the opportunity to blame everything Tory for each tragedy, is pretty shabby. Basically the rich are to blame.

He isn’t the only one, of course but where should we mere mortals look for moral leadership and measured, helpful responses to crises which are without a self-serving agenda? The title line of my article is a nod to that great songstress, Bonnie Tyler. Her classic, raucous rocket-fuelled hit Holding out for a Hero opens with Where have all the good men gone/And where are all the gods? Where indeed?

Thankfully I can think of those worthies who have, unbidden, served the Grenfell dead and living without thought of advancement; so too so many others of late. Jermain Defoe, today, flew back from Spain to the funeral of that poor lad, Bradley Lowery. He was the boy’s hero in life – and proved it by deeds, not just words.

And we turn to other things don’t we? The summer heralds good weather and our sporting heroes come to rescue us – in Auckland where Owen Farrell kicked the Lions to a thrilling tied series; in cricket where Joe Root raised his cap at Lords to accept the ovation for his century in his first match as England’s captain; at Wimbledon as Johanna Konta bowed out to the serene power of a 37year old champion.

So far this summer of sport has raised my spirits. The manner in which so much high level competition is conducted is admirable. Sportsmanship – and sporting heroism – is alive and kicking. Of course there are a few dark corners but the honesty and generosity in triumph and defeat suggest behaviour which our real leaders would do well to ape. Sport may be ‘non-serious’ but tell that to a first round player at Wimbledon who gets £35k for turning up. It is a part of life where individuals and groups are held up to a moral microscope. Soccer players, – and their FIFA masters – sometimes fail the rather simple tests. More often they don’t.

It’s Wimbledon finals this weekend followed by the Open Golf. Exciting! All sports require adherence to clear rules and strict codes of conduct. If you slag off your opponent (s) you get banned and fined. If you cheat, you face disqualification. I don’t expect anything other than the fiercest gladiatorial confrontations – but competition wrapped in respect. When the All-Black Sonny Boy Williams was red-carded for a silly shoulder challenge to Anthony Watson’s head, he was rightly red carded. His response was not to bleat about the injustice of it all, but to offer sincere apology man to man.

Our political masters seem miles away from hero-status. They are a rag-bag of evasive, poison-pen, back-stabbing, conniving, selfish, dogmatic, tub thumping, naïve, corruptible, lying, opportunist,….stop! I’m getting depressed again.

Where have all the good men (and women) gone? C’mon Venus! C’mon Roger!

Sexagenarians Cycle Coast to Coast – Shock Horror!

5 Jun

A neat review of our great cycling efforts by the mastermind, Sir Clive..

Diary of a Rockell-powered OAP

Isn’t it true that the ‘exception proves the rule?’ Okay, so one of our nine cyclists was 59 years old, but the other eight were well into their sixties so we’re happy that an aggregated age of 570 meets the group criteria for ‘sexagenarians.’ Five men, four women – all of whom displayed their own particular strengths throughout the five days.

C2C

Our task? To dip our back tyres into the Irish Sea at Whitehaven on a Tuesday afternoon and to dip our front tyres into the North Sea at Tynemouth the following Saturday morning. This entails, of course, a tough 140 miles cycle over The Pennines with hard-to-resist real ale quaffing stations,  in hotels of varying quality, in between. To be fair, there was commendable restraint on the quaffing front at least until the Friday night in Gateshead. The fact is that this was a demanding event for each and every one of us and though…

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