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Summer’s lease…

27 Aug

We know that summer is nearly done because the pouting, morose Mourinho drags himself into press conferences to bemoan his lot and BT Sport drool over his every utterance. We seem addicted to the pessimist, the downbeat, the prophet of doom. The smiling mouthful of teeth that is Jurgen Klopp gets far less attention than the sulking Jose.

A man called Bobby Duffy has written a book called ‘The Perils of Perception’. He points out that we crave bad news, and journalists love the maxim ‘If it bleeds, it leads!’ We have come to distrust politicians and the media and rely on our everyday experience from which to draw more general truths.

This doesn’t stop the Daily Mail hijacking our sense of insecurity and taking us up the garden path of misinformation. The Mail asserts: ‘Immigrants commit a quarter of all crime in London’. Given that 40% of the capital’s population is immigrant, it looks like they are remarkably law-abiding. Duffy goes on to cover a large range of misperceptions. Brits apparently think that 15% of the population is Muslim. Actually it’s 4.8%. We overestimate wildy, almost always to feed some idea of threat or gloom or prejudice. We are led in this by our leaders in Parliament and the media.

The truth is that life is miles better now that it was when I were a lad. By nearly all credible assessments poverty is decreasingly, crime is falling, terrorism is in decline and longevity is on the rise. There are still plenty of problems for us to sort out but we should resist what he calls ‘rational ignorance’ where we confirm our bias in the face of statistical and other truths.

‘Rational ignorance’ might explain the media’s devotion to the glum dirge of Mourinho. He’s having a laugh at our expense. Now bored with the Premiership he will seek a multi-million payout so that he can ply his gloomy trade in warmer climes. Perhaps he has twigged that the adventure and sparkle of Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino are things that he cannot match. He has lost his mojo. He’s rationally ignorant.


The trouble with with hair…

18 Jul

As I get older my troubles with hair multiply. Not on my head you’ll understand, that area diminishes day by day and the once lustrous mane of conditioned dark beauty becomes a thin, wispy, grey sadness. Elsewhere on my body unwanted sproutings abound. They have to be tracked and tamed with tweezer and blade. So it is that I have a sharp eye for the hirsute, the bald, the well-kempt and the shaggy when I am out and about in society.

What on earth is going on? No longer can I assess a man’s character by the visible filaments growing from head and chin. Standards have been scrambled. Stubble is sexy, bald is beautiful and dishevelled is delightful. The females of the species seem to have kept their dignity and style rather more admirably than the male. As they ‘suffragette’ their way to universal parity, smartness and elegance have been allies in the march of progress.

I hope that the hair-language that I grew up with doesn’t get sidelined along with the sideburns. Will we always be able to split hairs or keep our hair on? Will I continue to not turn a hair when I am in control or come within a hair’s breadth of disaster when I brake too late on the motorway? Hair raising! Perhaps in my attempts to make subtle distinctions, I will no longer split hairs. My temper, like the NRA’s guns may, thankfully, dispense with a hair-trigger. Dispense with the whole gun, I say.

Let me return, via a hairpin bend to my main theme. I judge people by their hair. No apologies. Plenty of evidence to support my theory. You are your hair. Back in the fifties when I first made hair observations, most men and women were neat and tidy up top. Brilliantine and brylcream and the barbers’s razor tamed the male thatch. Well-tamed curls and ubiquitous hairpins were the order of the day for females. The hair ‘salon’ became ubiquitous. Neatness was all, shabby was not chic. Mick Jagger and Joni Mitchell changed all that. We were plunged into an uncertain hair-world where the cut of a man’s jib and mane was no indication of his character.

I have spent years in deep study of the association between the barnet and the person. There is a direct link between hair (or lack of it) and competence/integrity. Baldness I rate highly. Gandhi, Harry Hill, Vince Cable (nearly) to name but a few. Proto-baldies such as  Elton John, Wayne Rooney and Rob Bryden also score well. Mussolini is the exception that proves the rule. Neaties like Obama, Mandela, Macron and Huw Edwards are beyond reproach. The Queen comes into this last category as does Fiona Bruce and Moira Stewart. Federer and Williams; Harry Kane. No place for Mother Theresa May, I fear.

You can see where I might be heading. Dishevelled. Boris. John Bercow – did you see him in the Commons yesterday? Scarecrow hair. Diane Abbot and Jezza Corbyn. Amber Rudd. No wonder she resigned. All dreadful. Let’s include those with an abundance of ‘products’. The gelled quiff, the narcissistic spray. Trump, Jeremy Rhyming Slang, David Dickinson.

Compare Michael Barnier with David Davis. Chic v Shabby. No wonder Brussels has London by the short and curlies. No wonder Pouty Gove has been to the barber to smarten himself up. Theresa is getting grooming to the top of her priority list. Greg Clarke, Jeremy, Sajid Javid, Philip Hammond and Esther McVey indicate that she has shifted her policy from the hedge to the hairdresser.

I have to blog like this for light relief, you’ll understand. While politicians on both sides seem to ignore the national interest in pursuit of low-minded in-fighting and the scoring of Westminster bubble-points, the rest of us watch in anguish. Mother Theresa, please address the nation and not just your party. Try to inform and engage us rather than mollify that jumped up twit-twat Rees-Mogg. His hair, by the way, reminds me of Adolf.

I’m off to have a shave.


Some people are on the pitch…

11 Jul

Tonight’s agony is softened by the knowledge that the journey is indeed, mercifully, over. I confess to switching over to Nadal v Del Potro for light relief – and that was as tense and brilliant a tennis match as anyone could wish to see. But I didn’t care as much – and that is why it was easier to view.

My enjoyment of the World Cup has been immeasurably enhanced by my stoic refusal to listen to the pre and post match punditry. What a revelation! When you just get the soccer- warts and all – you can almost enjoy the tedium of the sideways and backward passing which dominates the modern game, for the thrill of those occasional thrusts which result in a ‘set piece’, a penalty or the odd ‘open play goal’. As soon as Shearer et al get on the mic we are all doomed to be swamped in such verbal excrement that we pray for yet another interview with our next Prime Minister, Gareth ‘the God’ Southgate.

I confess to a few glasses of Viognier while our boys were succumbing. Croatia v France is a worthy final. Our boys falling at the semi-final hurdle has enabled me, somewhat hastily, to book Paul Simon at Hyde Park on Sunday. I’ll have Luca Modric on my iPhone and The Boy in the Bubble up close and personal. James Taylor will be crooning too. Heaven.

Wimbledon has been wonderful, they tell me, and I must now catch up. Someone said Roger lost today. It’s a wind-up surely?

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.

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