Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Prediction: postponement of the revelation of your ignorance until it matures.
Synergy: neutrality that occurs when two opposing idiocies cancel each other out.
Facebook: global back-scratching competition.
Parkour: jumping frogs.
Here’s one Nige didn’t mention:
Predicament: The wage of consistency.
Concise, insightful and brilliant. I suspect that consistency might be greatly overrated as a virtue. Consistency, after all, is why free speech champions always find themselves in such predicaments as defending scumbags like the BNP. Fortunately I’m becoming consistently less consistent with every passing day.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Although I will watch international rugby and enjoy it, inasmuch as I enjoy virtually all sports and am a sporting patriot (the 2003 World Cup win, led by Johnson and Wilkinson, was terrific stuff), I confess that I have trouble with the game. That is, with Rugby Union specifically– my objections don’t apply to League, which is a simple and exciting game to watch (though must be absolute murder to play).
Partly my troubles with rugby could be attributed to my childhood. I grew up initially in Portsmouth, which like all urban areas is footballing, but moved later to Devon, which like many rural areas is rugby-playing. School rugby thus irritated me by wasting valuable footballing time. Rugby shouldn’t take this personally, mind – at that time I considered most things that didn’t happen in the cricket season to be a waste of valuable footballing time. But rugby was particularly frustrating because there we all were, out in the school playing fields on perfectly good Wednesday afternoons and virtually wearing football kit, but chasing around after an absurd, skill-defeating oval ball, instead of a round one with which I could show off. And have you ever seen schoolboy rugby? It’s farcical. Futile mud-wrestling amongst the forwards (all of whom are picked purely on the basis of their physical shape and size), and endless knock-ons, ill-directed kicks and ball-droppings amongst the backs. And nobody has a bally clue about the rules, it’s all stop-start-stop-start, trudging from line-out to scrum while the backs stand and catch pneumonia a mile from the action. There was one game at our school once that finished 0-0. Imagine how dismal a spectacle that must have been!
Anyway, I forgave school rugby ages ago, but I still have three major objections to Union which prevent me from fully enjoying it. The first is the all-pervading pomposity. Of course, other sports such as soccer and boxing are massively overhyped, primarily by competitive television companies – but no other sport takes itself quite so seriously as does Rugby Union. No other sport’s pundits are as eager to pronounce players, even after just one or two matches, as legendary and one of the All-Time Greats. No other sport’s commentators are as quick to push the Epic button, or to describe a successful incident as For the Ages. Even as the winning South African penalty was sailing through the air yesterday, Sky’s man was asking not “Has he won the match?” but “Has he written himself into the history books?”
To some extent we can put this hyperbole-disease down to the relative scarcity of international fixtures, especially compared with the endless, cheapening treadmills of football and cricket. And certainly the Lions tours, which only take place every four years, are the apotheosis of the ‘historic’ shtick. But it’s primarily about the culture (by contrast, cricket is undercut by self-deprecating humour, while football is determinedly stupid and anti-pretension). The annual Six Nations is no different, being at base the only genuine sporting outlet for anti-English fervour amongst the other home nations (the presence of France and Italy in the competition is a mere distraction; years when France win don’t really ‘count’). The pre-match build-ups to Wales-England matches are nauseating. Damp-eyed moustachioed Taffys wax lyrical about JPR (“ohhhhh, he could rrrun like the whind, could Jay-pee-arrrrr”) while smirking English rugger-buggers tell homoerotic tales of each other’s gigantic balls.
Part and parcel of this rugby pomposity is - my second objection - a sneering disdain for football. Rugger, with its World Cup, tries to be a global game but makes an even feebler attempt than cricket (which can at least boast the sub-continent as well as the white ex-colonies). But the fact is that football is the international game, and it is also the national game, and rugby copes with this brute fact by cultivating a huge superiority complex. Soccer has fans; rugby has ‘connoisseurs’. Soccer players are pansies, whingers, cowards and cheats. Of course, rugby players gouge each other’s eyeballs and stamp on each other’s throats under the cover of rolling mauls, but only football commits the unforgivable sin of Diving. And then there is the rugger bugger’s ultimate trump card: unlike spoilt, obnoxious footballers, rugby players respect the referee.
But this brings me on to my third and final problem with rugby. For the fact is that, unless players did uncomplainingly accept every refereeing decision, the game would cease to function. Complexity and subjectivity are the critical flaws in rugby as a spectator sport; no other game is so utterly determined by the whim of the official. Have you ever watched a match live? Without explanatory TV commentary (which is nearly always as confused as the rest of us, but feigns understanding), penalties are just an unfolding series of mysteries. Like the supposed tactics, the officiating is wholly impenetrable to the outsider. For the most part, there’s a big melee and then, apparently arbitrarily, the referee awards a penalty kick and the game is decided. And then some damp-eyed Jock or Taffy describes it as ‘historic’.
All that said, there’s still a lot to be said for Union. The players are almost insanely physically courageous and close matches can be thrilling. But cricket wallops it for genuine tactical complexity and depth, and for excitement, skill and unpredictability you can give me the footballing pansies over the wet towel-whipping rugger buggers any day. Sorry, Gaw.
Friday, June 26, 2009
But I've often thought that I Want You Back is the best pop song ever made, and Billie Jean isn't too far behind. All complete rubbish after Bad... but before that, dear me, he really was a star, wasn't he?
Afterthought: In fact, perhaps the finest Jacko moment was provided by Jarvis Cocker. Heh heh, rarely have I felt more proud to be British than then. Maybe that time we threw stuff at that tedious fool David Blaine when he was in the glass box, that was good too.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
So much for progress and so much for Dawkins. Science can’t kill off even the crudest quackery, never mind bonedeep religions. And technology has only given us ever more effective ways to distribute horoscopes and absurd urban myths.
A couple of years ago I went into one of those little health food-type stores to buy some tea. I waited at the counter while the owner, a tubby man with cropped grey hair, exploited a vulnerable member of the public. She, it seemed, had been trying to conceive but was running out of time and options. He sold her at least four items of ‘alternative medicine’ all the while keeping up a classic quack’s patter about ‘some people have found this to be very effective’ and 'one lady came in here just like you, tried this and the next week she was pregnant'. All smothered in a screed of soft-voiced pseudoscience which I don’t have the will to recreate here.
I felt myself becoming surprisingly angry. When he sold her the silver ‘health bracelet’ I chucked my packet of tea on the nearest shelf and stormed out, vowing never to set foot in the place again. Afterwards I wished I’d said something to him or her, but what? I even thought about coming back at midnight and smashing his windows and daubing ‘Quack’ on his door, but of course I never did.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The advantage of first class over standard is that you get free stuff and legroom, but the drawback is that the phone conversations of your fellow passengers are more annoying. A lawyeress talked all the way from Temple Meads to Chippenham about what she was going to put to the people ahead of the meeting with the other people before they met with the people from the States.
Then, as soon as she finished, some suit started up about selling something or other. His conversation was sprinkled – peppered, if you like – with food references: there’s a real appetite for this out there; I don’t see any hunger for a career there; let’s put it out there and see if anyone bites. I don’t think he actually said anything about eating someone for breakfast, but he may as well have, you get the idea. Aha, I thought, this man is hungry and his subconscious is messing with his conversation. So when he finished I peeped round to see if he was availing himself of the free firstclass grub. And sure enough, he wasn’t. Oh well.
Anyway, the point of this post is that at Didcot Parkway I spotted some trainspotters. Nothing unusual about that per se, but something about the scene made me uneasy. Eventually I twigged what it was, and was so struck by it that I took this photo.
Can you see it? They were all standing at equidistant intervals along the platform, about twenty feet apart. Just enough, in other words, to be separate from each other, individuals rather than a group, and to spend the entire day spotting trains without the need to converse or acknowledge one another’s presence.
And this, presumably, is the really significant symptom of their peculiar mental illness. The actual trainspotting is a relatively minor one.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Had dinner in Bayswater with a couple of old codgers, scandalous conversation about elephants and flamingos. The next morning, with almost a whole day free to be an entirely selfish tourist in London and only a mild hangover, I decided to head to St John's Wood and have a look round Lord's, the Home of Cricket.
The tour guide, a member though at least two decades less crusty and decrepit than the average, showed me and a bunch of disappointingly deferential Aussies around the place: the museum and Ashes urn, the dressing rooms and famous balcony, the Long Room, the Real Tennis court and the spaceship media centre, ending, inevitably, at the Gift Shop. Another member tagged along with a female guest and he had the most extraordinarily lengthy and conspicuous nasal hair I have ever clapped eyes on. It was most distracting, at least for me, but the guide was commendably unfazed and reeled off an entertaining spiel riddled with stats. How he remembered all the dates and run rates and five-fers is beyond me, but cricket is a game of artistry and drama which floats on a great sea of statistics. As a fan, you can choose to cruise along the surface of that sea or to dive in and utterly immerse yourself. I’m a cruiser, but each to their own. Wonderful, wonderful place Lords, but as well as being the Home of Cricket it's the Home of Almighty Priggishness. I’m ambivalent.
Having done the tour and bought some expensive tat, I bussed down to Oxford Circus for a pub lunch and wondered how to fill my remaining couple of hours before I had to head to Paddington. My mind wandered back to the sight of my niece carrying her father’s shoe and in a flash I knew what I wanted to do… exactly the same thing I always do in London!
I tubed to Charing Cross, dashed across Trafalgar Square, through the portico entrance of the National Gallery, up the steps and turn right, past the Van Goghs to gaze once more on my favourite painting. For the shoe my one year-old niece was wielding was exactly the same as the ones in the middle of Seurat’s seminal work of pointillism, Bathers at Asnières.
I cannot tell you why this is my favourite painting, it just makes me happy. I have a print above the mantelpiece but the original is so big and glowy. Having drunk my fill of it I flopped onto the leather seat opposite the quartet of Turners including The Fighting Temeraire and, my second favourite painting, Rain, Steam and Speed.
A swarm of humanity flows through the National Gallery. To my left a middle-aged Mancunian lady called out excitedly for her friend to hurry over, because she had found The Hay Wain. Of course there was no need to hurry, The Hay Wain wasn’t going anywhere, but still, this is humanity swarming at its best.
Some people feel underwhelmed when they view extremely famous masterpieces at first hand (it was only a bunch of sunflowers, Whistlejacket is nice, but it’s a big horse). Not me. I always find it tremendously moving to see these things; first because one is reminded that there have lived on this very planet humans capable of creating them, and second because they are right here, given to us to look at any time we have a few hours to kill before the train leaves, free of charge.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
This happens surprisingly often if I’m in a good mood and the sun is shining. The extent to which weather determines mood is pathetic, really, isn’t it? So much for free will. Last night we met a well-known Alaska-based blogger and his family and went with them to Jamie’s Italian restaurant (a nice place, I give it a rating of four pukkas) in Bath. Skipper’s kids are strikingly bright and well-mannered. This is the second time I’ve met an American blogger whose kids are strikingly bright and well-mannered. It makes me wonder if we’ve stopped making such kids in Britain. No of course we haven’t, but we are tediously and irresponsibly critical of our teenagers; we treat them like children then complain that they aren’t adults. Look at this daft sod for example.
Mrs Skipper reckons that the British countryside is the most beautiful in the world, when the sun is shining. Important caveat that, but of course without all the rain the countryside wouldn’t be so green and pleasant. Nothing’s ever easy, is it? Always something in the way. George Emerson’s father said that there is only one perfect view, that of the sky over our heads. An uncluttered Blue Savannah.
Do you remember that song? It’s the second best pop song of the last thirty years featuring lyrics about the Orange Side.
Monday, June 15, 2009
I was going to write a review, but it seems that the Times’s Rachel Campbell Johnston has said pretty much everything I was going to say, and better. She’s spot on, if you want to read her.
A nightmarishly real animatronic greets you as you enter...
… but otherwise it’s mostly gags, beautifully done and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, especially when they’re tucked in amongst the museum’s permanent collection. I enjoyed Millet’s Gleaner taking a fag break.
But once you’ve got the joke the artwork holds little further interest. Where Banksy goes political with his paintings and vandalisms, the messages are pretty trite (Rich West vs Third World, MPs as chimps, animal exploitation). He’s vandalised a real Damien Hirst spot painting, which is funny, but displayed it next to Weschke’s extraordinary Leda and the Swan. The contrast illuminates Banksy’s shortcomings as an artist. Most of his pieces could be described in words: you get it then you can forget it. Leda and the Swan is haunting, uncanny and its effect is indescribable. Proper art, in other words.
Of course, Banksy sidesteps the problem by being fully aware of his own shortcomings. But the best of his stencil graffiti was proper art; it stopped you in the street and made you think. The messages were puzzling, ambiguous, suprising. Perhaps the closest Banksy gets in this exhibition is the painting of an anarchist being fussed over by his mother, which is oddly touching and vaguely disturbing.
Otherwise this exhibition is basically a fun afternoon out. Nothing wrong with that; it's well worth the trip. Everyone wants to see it; my colleagues are going to take their kids ‘when it quietens down a bit’. Banksy is fantastically mainstream in Bristol. Most of his art here won’t last, I suspect, but the best of his brilliant graffiti (The Mild Mild West, the Naked Man on Park Street and the Thekla ghost) probably will.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Bristol Rovers director of football Lennie Lawrence says the £80 million fee for Cristiano Ronaldo is further evidence that a handful of super-rich clubs are now dominating European football.
"It's an astonishing amount of money and probably a figure that would only be possible for four or four five clubs in the whole of Europe to contemplate spending," said Lawrence.
...The £80 million fee is almost 14 times Rovers' annual turnover …and more than 200 times their club record transfer fee. That was the £375,000 they paid to land Andy Tillson from QPR in 1992.
It goes on like that. That story ate time. Writing, typesetting, printing, proof-reading, conversion to HTML, reading. Time, time and paper and time and energy and self-respect. The story ate those things and chewed them up and spat them into a Beckettian pit of nothing.
I suppose you can hang almost any verbiage on an £80 million transfer story. Most of the Idiot Boards are clogged with variations on “£80 million for kicking a bag of wind around - think how many hospitals and schools - is the world crazy?” Well of course the world is crazy, it was crazy from the start. The world is crazy and markets are crazy and £80 million for a footballer is crazy and so is the £375,000 Bristol Rovers record transfer fee. So what? Go and shout your complaint at the big blank wall called Reality.
Mind you, almost everything anyone writes and utters about football is rubbish anyway. Such as that ‘winning is everything’. No it isn’t, winning is only everything to juveniles and certain screwed-up fanatics. Sport and soul are much more important than winning. Even winning and trophies are forgotten and confused in the memory but the soul, the feel, the essence of a team is not.
Or that Manchester United were the best English team last season because they finished top of the league and the league doesn’t lie. But Man Utd were only the ‘best’ in the sense that they had a gigantic squad capable of eking out slightly more referee-assisted one-goal wins against mediocre opposition over a season than could either Liverpool or Chelsea. If the Premier League had a rugby-style end-of-season play-off with the top teams, Man Utd would have been third favourites, as their record against their closest rivals was dreadful. But sadly hardly any pundits or writers have the imagination to see anything outside of the received wisdom. Football is a beautiful game played and written about by morons.
All the papers should immediately sack their football correspondents (except for Gabriel Marcotti at the Times, the shining exception who proves the rule) and replace them with cricket writers, who are universally superior.
Either that or bloggers. Check out Elberry on Derrida. Finest post I’ve read since the Yard went into a gun shop.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
One chap in particular, a laid-back cheeky loudmouth in jeans and trendy sandals who gets as close as is humanly possible to lying down on a rigid schoolchair (his back dead straight to form the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle with the seat’s L-shape) has, over the five weeks, developed an unsightly splat of stubble into a full-grown manly beard.
Beards are creeping back in, have you noticed? Even Elberry is growing one. Two of my oldest friends have gained them in recent years, both with marked success. One has a devilish little goatee which certainly spices up an otherwise unthreatening visage, while the other’s curly chin-froth positively screams ‘hip Eng Lit professor’. Caliban and Taliban, in other words. Well done, lads.
I’m still scraping mine off with a Gillette MegaFusion Wallet-Breaker or whatever it’s called (I tried the Azor but for some reason it kept cutting me to ribbons). I’ve also been having exactly the same haircut for 13 years. These patterns are hard to break. Perhaps you need a complete lifestyle upheaval to make the change, which would explain why they might appear amongst fathers-to-be: the beard as statement of maturation.
Possibly. I chatted to the cheeky loud-mouth chair-recliner after the class while our wives exchanged mobile numbers. We got on to What Do You Do For A Living and he explained that he trained as a solicitor but now works full-time for his local church. Instantly I saw the beard and sandals in a whole new light. First impressions are nearly always wrong, yet we persist with them. Blink, my arse.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
A happy constant in England’s thus far wildly erratic Twenty20 World Cup campaign has been the excellent batting form of Luke Wright (pictured right).
I’m following Luke Wright’s career development with some interest because about 10 months ago I happened to bump into him in the spa facilities at the Cheltenham Chase Hotel, and one feels a sort of manly bond with a fellow if you’ve passed the time of day whilst luxuriating in a steaming hot jacuzzi (pictured below*).
I mentioned this little titbit to the Old Batsman the other day, and he suggested it worthy of a post or possibly even a poem. Well, it isn’t, but that’s never stopped me before. But really there’s not much to tell except that the jacuzzi was nice and warm and that Mr Wright was a very personable chap – eager to chat about Kevin Pietersen’s captaincy skills, Sussex’s one-day form and the uselessness of Gloucestershire – and alarmingly young. That is, he’s eight years my junior and obviously so, but whereas I expect to be obviously eight years older than, say, international footballers, cricketers usually seem preternaturally aged – haggard and careworn from the endless stress of batting averages, run rates and golden ducks. And whereas I have now officially given up my dream of playing in the FA Cup final, even for a small team such as Manchester City or Everton, there's still a vague hope somewhere that I might one day take up leg-spin bowling again and get picked to play in the Ashes. Well, that hope took a beating in the Cheltenham Chase Hotel jacuzzi.
The rest of the Sussex team were also at the hotel, but again I have no gossip to relate other than that all the players ate their dinner together except Mushtaq Ahmed, who sat apart, at his own little table, with his family. But still, what I would say is... (and here I sip a debonair G&T with one hand and casually toss a cricket ball with the other, as Richard Stilgoe begins to tickle the ivories)...that...
...Discussing matters cricket
(Of balls red and trousers white,
Or of whether the Oval wicket
will offer bounce and bite,
Or if Panesar’s the ticket,
Once he gets his action right,
To induce Ponting to nick it,
By deceiving in the flight,
Or if Harmison’s chin stubble
is a substitute for fight)
Can cast away all troubles,
and make your cares seem slight.
And to be sure, the pleasure doubles –
As well you’d think it might –
When reclining in the bubbles
with the delightful
A da-dee-da, thank-you-ever-so-much.
(*not actual jacuzzi)
Monday, June 08, 2009
A lot of hoo-ha now that Britain has sent a couple of fascists to Europe.
However, closer inspection reveals that fewer people voted for Nick Griffin this time than in 2004, so any sorrowful explanations for Britain’s descent into race-hate you might find on the internet are irrelevant. If anything, it follows that Britiain is slighly less fascist and racist than it was five years ago.
(Not that the BNP’s squalid little victory isn’t a rotten thing – as Nick Cohen explained to me, even though there isn’t a serious threat of the BNP ‘sweeping the nation’, the BNP should be seriously opposed first because if you’re an Asian and a BNP member gets elected in your neighbourhood you will feel that your neighbours hate you, and second because extremist ideas can infect the mainstream.)
Anyway, the BNP succeeded only because Labour’s vote collapsed, thus increasing their share and giving them two seats under the Proportional Representation system.
Labour’s vote collapse is purely a protest against Emperor Guano’s exploding clown car of a Government, and although admittedly people are more likely to protest in an EU Parliament election because they don’t take it seriously (it’s the UEFA Cup of elections), the result does give you a glimpse of what PR would be like if applied to the Commons: a choice selection of noisy nutters, plus wholly disproportionate power to swing policy for the Lib Dems, plus a complete inability ever to get rid of the messy compromise Governments.
Like so many leftish, progressive ideas, Proportional Representation sounds good in theory, but ends in tears.
Friday, June 05, 2009
This is the second time that Rifftrax has linked to Think of England, thus instantly (and briefly) increasing its hit rate by an order of magnitude. The other time was to that story about the bacon.
I feel a certain responsibility here, as an ambassador for Britain. I don’t want to create the impression that Britain is just all lunatic soccer fans and bacon butties. Admittedly, lunatic soccer fans and bacon butties do make up a good part of it, but we also have other stuff here, such as Nectar points, Basil Brush, Dame Judi Dench and lots of mostly crap pop music.
Better get used to it, too, America. If Gordon Brown doesn’t throw in the towel in the next few weeks, we’ll all be coming over to live with you and Obama.
We will all cram aboard an enormous fore-and-aft rigged three-mast barque, Jamie Oliver in the galley, Sir Ian McKellan in the crow’s nest, Stephen Fry at the mizzen and John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood as the furious figurehead, ringing his bell and shrieking: “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
At least she’s got an excuse for her brain-scramble. I can only blame mine on this unwarranted blast of summer. Things are becoming fractious. Doors are sticking, paint is peeling. The shower, for some reason, is refusing to settle at a reasonable temperature; the only way to manage is to continually switch between a low heat on the high setting and a high heat on the low setting, and duck in there quick as it journeys back and forth between freeze and scald. Sleep is elusive and, even when you catch it, broken.
Today’s antenatal class was all about pain and complications. The attendance dwindles weekly, but only one more to go. Before moving on to the good stuff (drugs) the midwife ran perfunctorily through some ‘alternative’ pain strategies. Apparently you’re welcome to take in your own aromatherapy gunk, or even your own acupuncturist or hypnotherapist if you like (visions of Paul McKenna waving a watch-chain at writhing unmentionables). They’re all effective, if they’re effective for you, says our midwife, though she drew the line at chanting mantras.
“Some people believe that Positive Affirmation helps,” she said, and wrote Positive Affirmations on the board. Then she paused for a moment and added: “But no, that doesn’t really work.” She drew a cross next to it.
We emerged blinking and befuddled into the sunlight. The unfamiliar is all around us, but we have to build a little world to welcome our offspring. Whatever we make will be his or her norm. It’s an anxious prospect, when you think about it, though most of the time it feels like a treat is coming. I expect next week it will rain and sanity will return.
Mrs B rests her ice-lolly hand on her belly, which wriggles and beats in response. All the time and getting closer, the drumming, drumming in the deep…
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
And so my heart sank yet again when I saw that his latest (and Heath Ledger’s last) film sags under the title The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
Oh dear, such a clunk of leaden whimsy. Like Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.
As ever, The Simpsons nailed this one, when Troy McClure blows a rare run of success by agreeing to star in a movie called The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel.
Which, of course, flops. Specfabulously.
Monday, June 01, 2009
From the BBC's brave and unflinching investigation into men and hats, as brought to my attention by Martpol.
Meanwhile, Nige, the great disseminator of cultural arcanicity, points me to the memoirs of one Augustus Carp, Esq.
I was struck by Carp’s opening salvo, in which he decidedly makes no apology for writing his book:
It is customary, I have noticed, in publishing an autobiography to preface it with some sort of apology. But there are times, and surely the present is one of them, when to do so is manifestly unnecessary. In an age when every standard of decent conduct has either been torn down or is threatened with destruction; when every newspaper is daily reporting scenes of violence, divorce, and arson; when quite young girls smoke cigarettes and even, I am assured, sometimes cigars; when mature women, the mothers of unhappy children, enter the sea in one-piece bathing-costumes; and when married men, the heads of households, prefer the flicker of the cinematograph to the Athanasian Creed - then it is obviously a task, not to be justifiably avoided, to place some higher example before the world.
That was in 1924. It is comforting to know that the world always is, always has been, and always will be going to hell in a handcart.