Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Overgraduate Shames Blatter Into Climbdown

The Overgraduate is delighted to note that no sooner has it spoken (see 28 June) than FIFA's shocking President is cowed into reconsidering his position:
We now await considered retractions from Barack Obama, David Cameron and everyone else we have whinged about.

Monday, 28 June 2010

.... Are Brilliant Mark II

Green Wing generally but especially episode 5 of series1. This contains the single funniest scene in the history of British comedy - between Sue White and Martin Dear on the subject of Martin's wardrobe. Watched it again last night and it still works.

Also last night (favourite comedy night for Sharon's birthday) re-watched the last episode of Summer Heights High. This isn't just funny but poignant - watch the whole series but then check out the scene in which Jonah says goodbye to the remedial English teacher. Beautifully observed and played.

Unlucky England Robbed in World Cup Scandal - Not

I will now publish the photograph which categorically must not be allowed to serve as an excuse for England's pitiful exit from the World Cup.

For those living in a parallel universe or reading this for a school project in the future (which would mean that I have achieved some sort of celebrity, in which case well done me) I should explain that the dastardly Germans beat our gallant boys 4-1. There was not even the bitter solace of losing on penalties. We were utterly outplayed and perhaps the only pertinent criticism of the Germans is that they should have scored a couple more. 'English defence' must now join 'Scottish Amicable' as a great comedy oxymoron. Our guileless millionaire superstars were, in technical terms, total pants. But enough of my cutting-edge analysis and back to that photo. It shows what was indisputably a goal scored by Frank Lampard (who thus proved that he actually was at the World Cup) except of course that it wasn't a goal because the referee (the sole arbiter of fact) didn't give it. Now at the time it happened I was furious because it would have levelled the scores, albeit undeservedly, at 2-2, but please, please, please, do not let it become a distraction from the reality of the situation - which is that we're not terribly good at football. Neither are we terribly bad. Mediocre would be the mot juste as the French might have it - and it is with the French that we can find some crumb of comfort in this whole footballing misadventure. Why? Because the French, God bless 'em, exited at the group stage in a splenetic mood of self-loathing and recrimination which made the England camp seem settled and sane.

Back again to the goal that never was. Along with a palpably offside goal scored by Argentina later in the day, this served to advance the cause of video evidence being used in major football. There are actually quite good arguments against such a development but they are not as good as the arguments for it and I will not therefore bore you with them. Suffice to say that the clinching point in favour of video referees is that that prize knob Sepp Blatter is opposed. He, you will recall, is the President of FIFA, worthy successor to a line of self-aggrandising sporting panjandrums. Congratulations Sepp, you are this year's winner of the Samaranch Award for being totally up your own behind in the administration of what is only a bloody game, but as it happens a very important one.

Anyway, my tip for the World Cup? Haven't a clue. In all my years of gambling I don't think I've ever bet on football and I'm not starting now. But my sentimental choice is Ghana. Love the shirts boys.     

Friday, 25 June 2010

Alternative Vote

I was actually doing a bit of devilling about my beloved Harriet Harman when I came across this demonstration of precisely how the alternative vote system works http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labour_Party_(UK)_deputy_leadership_election,_2007
I'm not sure what this proves other than that things are never as simple as people make them out to be. Is this a way of finding the favourite candidate or the least disliked? Beats me.

A Pleasant Surprise

A new tyre fitted without fuss, without any accompanying sales pitch and within an hour of me turning up on spec. Only forty-four of your English pounds. I repeat, £44. Garages can strike terror into the hearts of the ignorant (among whose number I definitely count myself) but this was a pleasant experience. There is much I can moan about (admit it, you've noticed haven't you) but praise where praise is due - National Tyres at Mere Green you did what I asked and did it quickly and politely. Your reward is product endorsement on The Overgraduate, an accolade only previously granted to Guinness. My faith in my fellow man is almost restored. I did say almost.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The World Cup, Patriotism and Stuff

The mighty England demolished Slovenia 1-0 this afternoon and march triumphantly into the last 16 of the World Cup. I shouldn't carp because they played far better this time and might easily have won by more. Nonetheless the last ten minutes were pretty nerve-wracking with England needing to win to progress. The country goes through the emotional wringer again on Sunday.

And very loosely the World Cup brings me to the subject of the day - patriotism. I was out running this morning and you have to find something to keep your mind off the pain and boredom. I ranged over flag-flying, Harriett Harman, Barack Obama (I know, it's an obsession) and leftiness and rightness in general. It seems to me that someone should do some research into why men don't think about sex every seven seconds when they are running. The methodology of any study would be interesting.

As is now the norm during sporting festivals the St George's flags are flying from cars, from windows, from trees. English patriotism is everywhere. I encountered an internet joke site the other day where the jibe of the day was along the lines of: how can you tell a man with a penis less than 2 inches long? By the small white flag with a red cross flying from his car. Now this offends the first rule of good jokes, namely that it should actually be funny, but we will let that pass for the purposes of the current debate. There had been a flurry of indignant comments posted on the website, mostly from outraged and over-sensitive Englishmen. The poster of the joke had responded with a confession that yes he was indeed Scottish and that the English were pathetic and ought to lighten up. Now I'm with the Scot on this one but I'm also fairly convinced that he would be a better man if he didn't think this so damned funny in the first place. As I laboured round the streets of Four Oaks I also wondered what would be the reaction if the roles in the joke were reversed. Now this would require one to imagine that Scotland had actually qualified for the World Cup, an act easier for those of my generation who remember such things happening with a cheerful frequency. But to return to my original point - I suspect the Englishman making the joke would be deemed by certain sensitive souls as ignorant, arrogant and even racist. Which makes you think. Or does when you're out running. Instead of sex I suppose.

Now as the sweat dripped down my nose (a sensation I rather enjoy, feeling as it does a signifier of virtue) I constructed a little theory, no a hypothesis. This brings me to the difficult subject of Harriet Harman. Why does she hate us all so much? Why is she so angry? I had heard her berating David Cameron in parliament, not of itself a bad thing but why so preachy and charmless? Now you know that I am distinctly underwhelmed by Barack Obama but I think there is an important difference between him and La Harman - like most Americans he is instinctively a patriot. He is comfortable in his nationality. He does that hand on heart thing during the national anthem and he means it whereas a Brit doing it can only look a bit of a prick. And there we have the distinction between the American left and the British left - our prototypical strident  lefties (Harmans) are deeply ashamed of being British. They don't approve of themselves and feel the need to apologise for all sorts of things they never did. Which is a real pity because I don't like to think of all these essentially decent people being so unhappy.

Bad news. As I have been posting this the Germans have won and England's next match will now be against them on Sunday. This cannot be a good thing. We will lose. On penalties. And on Monday all the flags will look rather sad and Scotsmen (and Harriet Harman?) will be happy. Which just sucks.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

All the Pretty Horses: Cormac McCarthy

it is the ultimate Western, not to be surpassed
So says Harold Bloom, so I suppose I had better not disagree. Nor will I. Anthony Mellors raved about McCarthy when teaching us Fiction last year and McCarthy seems to be a hero to many other writers besides. Are they right? A year ago I wasn't so sure but now I am.

All the Pretty Horses is the first instalment of the Border trilogy and I have ended up tackling it in the wrong order. This is not perversity but a product of being instructed to read the second part (The Crossing) as part of the degree. I struggled to get on with The Crossing but this may have been partly due to distractions of other set books. As I have progressed as a student I have got better at juggling the multiple texts and still reading for pleasure. A measure of how I enjoyed All the Pretty Horses is that as soon as I had finished it I embarked on the final part of the trilogy, Cities of the Plain.

Joe Grady Cole is a cowboy born too late. The world he wants to inhabit is disappearing. We admire his stoic acceptance of this fact as we endure the intensity of his doomed love and brutal misadventures. McCarthy does wondrously clever things with his prose, does them so beautifully that we are beguiled by the results and not the techniques. He is particularly good on the mechanics and primitive pleasures of eating and smoking. It made me want to smoke again. Haunting and grimly beautiful. Read it.

A Tale of Two Englands

World Cup 2010, South Africa, had been going on for eight days before I yesterday watched my first game. Big mistake. Woeful England: 0 - Mighty Algeria: 0. This was a baleful end to a good couple of days which had seen both France and Germany lose. Neville Cardus wrote aeons ago of the different reactions of English and Australian cricketers when elevated to test status. Where the English became diffident and underperformed, Australians would excel and thrive. My inexpert observation is that the modern pampered English footballer suffers from the same malaise. What else can explain the sad incompetence of so good and generally admirable a player as Wayne Rooney. It sets everything up for the final group match next Wednesday against that footballing powerhouse Slovenia. Should I watch or should we use the opportunity to get a table and excellent service at a deserted restaurant? Watch this space.

This morning a much more appetising result (and one has to say an unexpected one) in Sydney where our hitherto justly maligned rugby union team beat Australia 20-21. Almost as important as the result (but not quite as important - please note Stuart Barnes you knob head) England scored two tries in open play. I like to think I am entitled to an opinion on this code and a few observations are therefore called for:
  1. Lewis Moody is a player I have long admired. He was one of the few who came out of the 2005 Lions series with an enhanced reputation so far as I was concerned, though the professional pundits seemed not to share my view. But I was there in New Zealand (what a great trip) and I am sticking to my opinion. Moody is now the England captain (inherited from the hapless Borthwick) and he should keep the job. End of.
  2. Stuart Barnes (who can't help jizzing his pants every time a southern hemisphere player does something competent) will, I'm sure, be quick to highlight the absence of Australia's first choice front row forwards. In fact the Aussies did a fair imitation at points of a nation with no props at all. But so bloody what. This was a game between the best players the two countries could field on the day. England won. Just. Enjoy it and keep it in context - a context which includes the absence through injury of arguably England's most influential scrummager, Andrew Sheridan, and their best back, Ricki Flutey.
  3. There is a certain sort of player who when upped in standard simply takes to it. This rule applies at all levels of rugby. At AOE I could name you a hatful of players who were brilliant 2nd team players but shrank at 1st team level. There were others who seemed nothing special at the lower level but who were conspicuously competent higher up. The greater pace of senior team rugby makes competence all the more noticeable. Ben Youngs strikes me as that most cherishable of types - a player who simply 'gets' international rugby. Lucky boy.
  4. Tom Croft at blind-side is a good honest player and the man around whom England should build a line-out, much as France and Biarritz do around Harinordoquy. He is a far better player than James Haskell whose move to France seems to have diminished him.
  5. Martin Johnson, God bless him, has deservedly fielded a lot of flak about recent performances. In victory he remained admirably sane and underwhelmed by it all. Top grade rugby (actually all competitive rugby) is a matter of small margins and big hearts. Johnson understands this. 
So well done the England rugby boys and shame on you footballers. Get a grip lads!

Completed my fifth run of the week after the rugby had ended. Feeling ridiculously good about it.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Big Fat Pig Hits the Road

Saturday - Yew Tree Inn at Newbury; Sunday - grazing all day; Monday - Cock Inn at Wishaw (girls both home); Tuesday - pizza delivered. Outcome = one fat pig. But I have managed to keep up the running. Out five times last week, managing to increase the distance each day and crossing the boundary (arbitrarily laid down by me) between jogging and running, 20 minutes. Out again yesterday and today in the sun but feeling very conscious of my belly trembling as I proceed. Very difficult to eat sensibly when the girls are both here because it feels like we are on holiday and holidays and discipline do not mix. It's tough being me.
I have just realised that I am blogging as a way of avoiding doing the two things which are preying on my mind - the magazine at university and the Aston Edwardian Association incorporation. Going to stop now and do some bloody work.

The Yew Tree Inn

Another dining trip and another good experience. J and N had bought us a gift voucher for Marco Pierre White's Yew Tree Inn for our silver wedding and we still owed them a promised meal out for their tenth anniversary, five years ago - time flies. We combined the two and headed for Newbury last Saturday.
This was an experience more grounded in the normal than Blumenthal's Fat Duck and mercifully nowhere near as expensive. Nonetheless it was bloody good. As the name suggests this is a traditional pub building and I suppose that means it is what one would term a gastro-pub. Reasonable prices for recognisable food and a good wine list.
Captain Greedy here had a pre-starter (the waitress entrapped me) of gulls' eggs. For my proper starter I had potted shrimps and then belly pork Marco Polo (slow cooked and honey glazed) - both terrific. To finish, a very good rice pudding.
Not that you will care but I would recommend this place. It is definitely beyond the ordinary in terms of the food and the atmosphere. A bit special. And no Marco himself was not there but we were assured he had dined there the night before. He had a chip butty and mushy peas.

Friday, 11 June 2010

You Read It Here First

In the midst of my treatise on the 80s (June 2) I had a little dig at the sainted Barack Obama (the man who who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for no better reason than that he was not called Bush) and it seems that for once I was mildly ahead of the game in my unease at his sanctimonious attitude to the BP oil disaster. Let's get this straight - BP should pay for the damage they have caused, not least the eleven deaths on the oil rig, deaths which seem to me to get overlooked when the environmental 'tragedy' is being discussed. But have BP (or 'British Petroleum' as Obama has mischievously chosen to call them - they have not been called that for years, not in fact since they merged with the decidedly American Amoco) at any stage asserted that they will not be doing this? In the world's most litigious society would they have a prayer of doing so? Of course they bloody well wouldn't. If BP are doing such a lamentable job of trying to stop this calamity, why hasn't the federal government intervened to take over the operation? Well, because like it or not it is the oil companies who have the technological skills to operate in these waters.
This is a financial catastrophe for BP - does anyone seriously imagine that they don't want to stop the bleeding of money as quickly as possible? So it is not the business of American politicians to pontificate about whether or not BP should pay a dividend to its shareholders. There are already comprehensive regulations about the lawfulness of dividends without smug politicians grandstanding on the subject. BP employs 80300 people. There seems to be an unpleasant desire to see them punished.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Music In My Head

Some days the tune stuck in your mind is trying to tell you something. So what am I to make of Duran Duran taking up residence in my sub-conscious? I was never a fan, though the Birmingham office of AYMM (long since consumed by the monolith that is EY) acted as their accountants and Sharon was training there. Unaccountably it seems my sub-conscious has rather lower taste than I would wish. Bastard.
I think what has happened is that the recent 80s season on BBC2 has ambushed me, in particular the TOTP2 special on the Duran boys which I watched rather than bear the ten o'clock news. The news is unutterably depressing from a purely selfish point of view - we own BP shares (not a lot but I do feel vaguely proprietorial about it) and each day brings more news of our dividends being pumped unstoppably into the Gulf of Mexico. Just to rub it in there is usually some footage of that pious fake Obama doing a bit of faux sincere Brit bashing. Be the change indeed.
But this 80s malarkey (just had to check that one in the OED) has got me thinking about that maligned decade. I know I shouldn't admit this but I had a bloody fantastic time in the 80s. I graduated, I was on the dole for a year (a rite of passage for my generation of university leavers - one now beckoning the modern graduate), I played some of my best rugby, I definitely played my best golf, I got married, I became a father and Donald Fagen's The Nightfly was released. I mention this last one if only to illustrate that the decade was not quite the cultural desert so often portrayed. In fact I am listening to The Nightfly as I write this, partly to inspire me and also to try to dislodge bloody Duran Duran.
My old college room-mate (a Marxist as I recall - they were two a penny in those days) went into business after a bitter dalliance with teaching and wrote to me describing business as a 'fascinating dynamic.' I have no idea whether he coined this himself but anyway I purloined it and repeated it over those years when I made my living both by advising businesses and being in business myself - which is all commercial lawyering is about. A fascinating dynamic indeed - too bloody right. The 80s unleashed a wave of commercial ingenuity and originality. It spawned unthought of riches and left the rich free to abuse their position (or of course to use it wisely) as they saw fit. Now (depending on your point of view) this may have been a thoroughly bad thing but what it most definitely was not was the same as before. For some of us (probably not enough of us I grant you) it was a time when we felt we really could wrest influence away from the old guard. Ours was going to be a benign dictatorship of the state educated savants. We were to be wise and generous and use our authority lightly. As I look at it now I realise that we shouldn't have been trusted - we pissed the whole inheritance up the wall and now we have what we deserve - government by 'experts' and unelected bureaucrats. We didn't walk blindly into this mess, we did so knowingly when we should have been kicking and screaming obscenities. May our children damn us.