Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Jules Rimet still gleaming..

11 Jul

With France in the final, the founder of FIFA and the World Cup, Jules Rimet, really is still gleaming. It’s Coming Home is, however being sung up and down our green and pleasant land. C’mon England! Tonight we meet Croatia’s Modric, et al to complete the final four showdown of the Euro teams who have been the best in Russia:England, Croatia, France and Belgium.

They have also been the least histrionic, the most manhandled, the most honest…give or take a Pogba prean or a Mandzukic moan. The nearly-forgotten group matches of VAR malfunction and South American brutality have given way to a greater integrity and excitement. It’s sad that the world’s best two players – Messi and Ronaldo – didn’t have one last hurrah but we have been mercifully relieved of the gurning Maradona and the rolling and writhing of Neymar. The cheats have been found out.

The comparison with Boris going the way of all flesh hasn’t escaped me. An expert in throwing his toys out and expecting acquiescence from his Brexit acolytes, he may find that rather too many are relieved that he has exited pursued by Davis. I noticed that two ‘Vice-chairs’ of the Conservative party Maria Caulfield and Ben Bradley have also gone. For two nobodies to resign while England is in the fever grip of World Cup hysteria hardly represents the fine-timing of media-savvy strategists.

No. Cometh the hour cometh the Southgate. How wonderful to have a man leading our national sports team of  whom we can be proud. He is sooo English! The humility, the intelligence and, of course, the waistcoat.

Will Mother Theresa and the ‘glam’ Kolinda of Croatia sit either side of Gianni Infantino, the smiling and rather less corrupt-than-Blatter FIFA President? Or will it be Prince Will our FA president? The dignitaries elbowing their way into vast Russian soccer stadia to grab self-promoting selfies has been an intriguing sideshow. Putin’s Russia has come out of it rather well.

Win or lose tonight, football has come home. It has been a tonic to see crowds gather for fun and passion and togetherness. Good riddance Boris. Gareth for Foreign Secretary. Jules Rimet still gleaming.


Lunatics and asylums..

13 Jun

As I saw Kim Jong-Un press his flesh into the small of the Trumpmeister’s lumbar region I had that sense of two Nurse Ratcheds going less than gently into a goodnight for the rest of us inmates in the world asylum. Somehow or other we have accepted electroconvulsive therapy and become, like Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, compliant vegetables while various forms of lunacy break out near and far.

The world’s attention is focused on a Korean madman and an inarticulate Yankee Doodle. Closer to home we have voted in one of the worst governments in memory – alongside one of the worst oppositions in memory. The reasonable, principled, humane centre of social democracy has been binned.

Self-interest and unthinking prejudice seems to have wormed their way into human consciousness around the globe – and compassion and reason are currencies which, along with sterling, have been seriously devalued of late. What a mess.

There are plenty of precedents, of course, for lunatics running asylums. Extremism in all things seems to work and enables lunatics to gain power. The moderate voice is drowned out by the white noise of lies and the power of wealth and self-interest. And the people, we are led to believe, enjoy the ‘fuck you’ attitude of a Putin, an Assad, an Erdogan nd so on. And here, we seem not to mind the callous ambition of Boris the Spider, Pouty Gove, Magenta McDonnell and the rest of our tawdry bunch of front-line politicians. We tend to sack the principled ones – or they retreat corners to lick wounds and write memoirs.

I am generalising wildly, of course but don’t you think, just occasionally, that we have allowed lunatics to run our lives? Indeed do we somehow welcome them in and, masochistically enjoy the cultural, economic and ethical turmoil that plays out before our eyes? Look around.

My next posts will pursue this theme but I will hope to leaven the diet of disaster with the yeast of hope.

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.


Darkest Hour…(Better luck this time)

16 Jan

My enjoyment of Gary Oldman’s brilliant Churchill, moodily navigating his way through the days which led up to Dunkirk was, as is regularly the case, diminished by cinema philistines. And in Epsom too!

The Odeon in Upper High Street – a stone’s throw from  the famed racecourse and a dose of salts – boasts machine-generated tickets and 8 super-screens. Popcorn and full-fat coke are dispensed by grim-looking students scraping their pennies so as to spend their summers as far from the Odeon as possible.

Large numbers poured into Screen 8. Far from silent, the hubbub of conversation and the dazzle of iphones suggested a cavernous wine bar. The trailers were already trailing. Why can’t people find their seats, settle and shut up? A toilet visit prior to entry would ensure comfort and the chance to silence the bloody mobile.

The couple next to us, circa 70, nattered and played with their phones as if they had been instructed that this was the very time and place to obsess with talk and twitter. Luckily they put a sock in it, for the most part, when the main feature started to roll.

Behind us a family – with kids too young to remember the crass errors of  Cameron, never mind the conciliatory chump that was Chamberlain – were set to cause further disturbance. Clearly smug parents were ticking the mind-improvement box and preparing their children for world domination. However learning to behave comes before learning to lead in my book.

Cinemas flog eats and drinks which have extraordinary decibel levels when opened and masticated or otherwise consumed. I need not list the snap, crackle and pop of sounds that cut through the inner ear of my calm. As the opening scenes lit up the screen, I was already a teeth-gnashing mess of ire; I knew that there was trouble ahead. Darkest hour indeed.

Joe Wright, the director, clearly felt that Oldman and Kristen Scott Thomas were likely to grab the headlines. He injected a range of camera tricks from aerial wizardry to close-ups to Oldman’s/Churchill’s nasal blackheads so as to persuade us that the director is worth his place on the credits.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is at its best in the in the tense war cabinet rooms with Churchill agonising whether to submit to Mussolini’s offer to broker a victory peace deal for Hitler. Halifax and Chamberlain push him to the brink of conceding. This tension – and the great speeches – are the real stuff of the film. The romantic scenes are distractions: meeting ‘real’ people on the tube; draining tumblers of scotch with the full English each morning while making world-changing decisions from his bed; the bullying-cum-flirtation with Lily James who plays his wet-behind-the-ears secretary. But it’s Hollywood-geared and Oscar-fashioned. And Oldman still steals the show – make no mistake.

I noted that the pathetic advice about phones and other nuisances arrived on screen immediately before the British Board of Film Classification Certificate heralding the main feature. Noooooo.

Put a sign at the front of the cinema which says: Turn your phones off now. No food or drink allowed in the auditorium but there will be a half-time comfort break (as in theatres). Silence in the cinema after taking your seats.

Sounds like I’m a bit of a Nazi (Nartzi) – or Naaaarsi as Churchill would have said.

Another reading year…

10 Jan

Here again my reading list for 2017. Fewer than previous years. I must have become distracted by the joy of world events. I still don’t get round to enough non-fiction but Martin Amis’s collection The Rub of Time is first on my list.

Friends of mine have done so well to publish in the last twelve months. I lag behind but 2018 may prove a watershed. Watch this space…

Books 2017

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: