Thursday, 29 July 2010

Easy Virtue

I gave blood again today. I had forgotten how easy and painless it is to make yourself feel virtuous.
Plus everyone is so nice to you and you get a free drink and a good choice of biscuit. I went for the Club Orange which reminded me of boyhood Saturday tea-times. An underrated piece of biscuitage.


Saturday, 24 July 2010

Sporting Greatness

Been hooked on the Tour de France. Bloody incredible. Should anyone be surprised if they are all on drugs. On Thursday Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador rode away from the field up a mountain, the Col du Tourmalet. This was a match for Watson v Nicklaus '77 and Ali v Frazier. Awe inspiring. Take a look at the frightening details of the stage and check the video of the two of them battling through the mountain mist. At the end Contador chose not to outsprint Schleck. Perhaps he simply couldn't but I prefer to see it as a piece of sporting nobility.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Eastwood and Westwood, Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet

Sorry about the terrible title of today's blog but the East/West thing came to me last night and I can't resist using it. Not sure Rudyard would be terribly impressed. All will become clear.

Couch Potato Dave had a change of heart and persona yesterday afternoon. He became Running Man Dave again. The bottle of rioja did get drunk (as I suppose did I) but only after I had run in atrocious weather. This change of mind can be traced back to the moment when Paul Casey missed his birdie putt on the first green of his final round in  the Open. At this point I knew he would not win and my interest waned. In fact Casey stayed nominally in contention until he played the 12th like a right handed version of me but somehow I had known this was coming. Noone else was close enough to challenge the superb and surprising Louis Oosthuizen who duly cantered to victory. You could almost see the adrenaline seep out of Casey after the pig's ear he made of the 12th and he subsided to a share of third place. The Westwood of our title inherited second place but he was never in with a shout of winning. Pleased to say that both Casey and Westwood gave sane and generous interviews afterwards. There is a rather deflating tendency for Englishmen not to win major titles but for now I am giving Casey the benefit of the doubt and will bet on him to win soon. Those looking for sane betting advice may wish to look elsewhere.
What is any rational analyst to make of Oosthuizen's brilliant win? He had never previously made the cut in a major championship. He had won a fairly minor European title earlier this year but has spent the last couple of months finishing down the field or missing cuts. His win is not so left field as, say, Ben Curtis's but the fact is that he was ranked outside the world's top fifty until yesterday and was (not over-generously I would have said) priced at 200/1 before the tournament. If you had told me last week a young South African would win the Open I would have nodded sagely and gone out and backed Charl Schwartzel.

Anyway, like I said I stayed off the bottle until the evening and went out for a run when the golf was over. I made a couple of rookie mistakes. I wanted to replicate the feeling of righteousness from last week's long run so I retraced the route - round to St David's Park and back via the coastal path. I measure my running by the time I spend on my feet not by the distance covered. If, as yesterday, you run the course more quickly you of course run for less time. So I stopped the watch in the tipping rain and felt an irrational disappointment that I had taken a full five minutes less than last week! My more serious error was to ignore the message of Friday's slight calf strain in my right leg. The message is rest you pratt. This is not what rugby players ever want to hear so off I went. The right leg was fine but I must have been favouring it because I have now re-injured the left calf which gave me so much annoyance last year when refereeing. Just as I am really back into this running lark I find myself lame. Don't anyone dare tell me this is symptomatic of advancing age.

Soaked and sore I showered and luxuriated in an evening of television, cheese on toast, crisps (Walkers naturally) and red wine. This will bring us eventually to Eastwood I promise. But first public service broadcasting. No, first of all free-to-air digital television. Now that the wondrous £17.99 box is working properly I can most definitely say that I am a fan. There is even a positive side to the absence of the vastness of the Sky menu - it means I am persuaded to watch something other than the sports. Last night I was driven into the arms of  BBC4 for a couple of hours and most edifying it was. Inside John Lewis was the acceptable face of the fly-on-the-wall documentary. The John Lewis business model is an unusual one and it is a matter of proper interest how such an organisation is reacting to the recession. This was followed by another documentary, Who Killed Caravaggio? Now old Caravaggio was apparently a bit of a lad and the speculation on how he met his death reminded me of nothing so much as the tales of Christopher Marlowe's killing at much the same time. Both of these programmes struck me as proper contributions to public service broadcasting and a good use of the licence fee. Certainly far better than the small fortune expended on retaining Jonathon Ross and better than whatever they pay Jeremy Paxman to be gratuitously ill-mannered to people.

And finally to Eastwood, Clint. Feeling a bit over-cultured after Caravaggio I turned to ITV4 and watched Dirty Harry. Eastwood is so routinely viewed as iconic these days that it can be hard to recall that at the time of his early popularity he was a divisive figure. Dilys Powell in The Sunday Times was a notable early champion.

I'm not quite sure what to say about the film but I think we can assert without controversy that Eastwood is compelling. Like all the proper movie stars he fills the screen and makes you watch him. He can be good in bad films - See for example Any Which Way But Loose (which I did on a transatlantic flight in 1981) a distinctly awful product. What of Dirty Harry then? It is one of those 70s cop shows but on cinematic steroids, violent and uncompromising. It makes heavy handed but relevant comments about the Miranda laws on admissibility of evidence. It ends with the crude symbolism of Harry throwing his police badge into a river, an act from which the character presumably resiles in the two sequels which became commercially inevitable. It is not a film with even a tad of optimism but it has its uses as a signifier of the cynical pessimism of an America still mired in Vietnam. And to think the shock of Watergate was still to come.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Too Wet To Run

It's pissing down, really pissing down. And it's blowing a gale. So plans to get out for a run have been postponed and the day is earmarked for eating, drinking, watching the golf and more reading. I will postpone going home until tomorrow so that I can give proper attention to the rioja.

Comedy Dave was in charge yesterday afternoon. He is continuing to experience difficulty with the digital signal and his expert diagnosis is that the bullet should be bitten and an external aerial should be erected - the old one blew down in storms years ago. Dave scours the Yellow Pages and lights on Anglesey Aerials of nearby Pentraeth. Comedy Dave is most concerned about the prospect of having to watch the golf on the jerky internet feed to the tiny screen of the Samsung notebook and so he phones and asks if Anglesey Aerials do compassionate short notice, Saturday visits. There follows a very pleasant customer experience. Out comes garrulous Huw Williams who climbs onto the roof, fixes a new aerial, drills through the wall and then shares Comedy Dave's concern that the picture is still breaking up. Huw takes this as a personal affront and remounts the roof to experiment with different alignments. Still no better. Huw, now positively angry, examines the Freeview box and disconsolately pronounces it a piece of crap. Would he recommend a replacement brand? Anything but this rubbish and Comedy Dave need only spend about £18 at the local (well Bangor) branch of Comet. Huw thinks it is open till 8.00. For all his hard work and wisdom Huw sheepishly delivers a bill for £70. Comedy Dave can only say that this would be cheap at twice the price. Thus The Overgraduate can now make its third retail recommendation - if you are on the island and need an aerial or satellite dish go to Anglesey Aerials, they're bloody brilliant. Dave waves Huw on his way (to another mercy mission to a caravan in Pentraeth) but only after Huw has extracted a promise to phone him to confirm that a new box has solved the problem. If not he will be back to remedy things - he sees this as a personal thing. Now Comedy Dave takes over.

Dave has ample time to get to Comet so he does. He tells the assistant that he wants a plain and simple Freeview box, nothing fancy like the vilified current box, for Huw's theory is that the Metronic Digi-Scart is too clever by half. Dave leaves with £17.99 worth of ProLine equipment and rushes back to the house to enjoy the remaining hours of the golf. He plugs in the new box, connects it to the television, puts the batteries in the remote, points it at the box and .... nothing. No lights on the display. Perhaps it's the plug. No. The batteries. No. Reluctant conclusion, it's a dud. Deep breath. Back to Comet. During these journeys back and forth Dave hears commentary on his favourite Paul Casey making five birdies in the Open. Never mind, it will all be worth it. It is at this stage that we discover that Huw Williams is in fact human after all. Comet is not open until 8.00 but closes at 6.00. Comedy Dave duly arrives at 6.01 and stands forlornly at the doors. Bugger he says.

He returns to Benllech and settles for that internet feed. By now Casey has stopped making birdies. Dave will go back to Comet on Sunday morning - he has checked the opening hours (pity he didn't do that first time) and will be on the doorstep at 10.30. Not renowned for doing so CD has this time kept his temper in check but during a lull in the golf he wonders - perhaps, just perhaps, he should give the box one last chance. He plugs it in again, links it up, points the remote. Nothing. Just for good luck and because he is now mightily pissed off, he gives the offending implement a mild thump. Only mild mind you, after all it has to go back to Comet in the morning.  The bloody light comes on. The bloody screen displays an unblemished picture and carries on doing so until CD goes to bed at midnight. It is working again now as the golf resumes. So follows a product review. Metronic Digi-Scart  bad, ProLine Digibox good.

Comedy Dave is having a day off today but his alter ego Couch Potato Dave is here. The golf is purportedly on now but the BBC is doing what I think they call colour pieces but what Dave calls bollocks. Show the sport you morons. On other subjects Dave is delighted that the Archers had the good sense to get rid of the monstrous Jude, ex boyfriend of Pip Archer and arch knob. Dave also saw Lord Mandelson being interviewed  by Andrew Marr this morning and for reasons of decency will not tell you what he thinks of the noble lord.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Sometimes People Disagree With Me

Shocking I know but not everyone always agrees with me. A less enthused review of Cities of the Plain can be found at

This review is, of course, wrong.

A Rather Good Friday

Still in Anglesey and had a rather decent day yesterday, the only bugbear being the vagaries of the digital television signal which disrupted my watching of the Open. Life can be very tough.

I finished  Cities of the Plain, the final instalment of The Border Trilogy last night. I have raved previously about Cormac McCarthy but my admiration is now even stronger. This is a magnificent, beautiful and affecting novel. Before I started blogging today I amended my profile to include the trilogy in my list of favourite books. It's that good. You should read it if you haven't already done so and I won't spoil the ending for you but suffice it to say that it is painful, moving and quite superbly written. The only problem with writing this good is that it puts you off writing yourself because you can never hold a candle to it.

From one great American to another. Tom Watson bade farewell to St Andrews late last night, signing off with a birdie and prompting from Mark James, commentating on BBC, the entirely apt observation that his reception signified not only admiration but also affection. By the way, whoever enforces these things should make James the star commentator on the BBC and should thank Peter Alliss very much for all his work and tell him gently that it is time to retire before he makes a fool of himself. One more observation on the golf. Tiger Woods was out in the worst of the weather but held on grimly and showed at the last hole just why he is so great - close to a hole in one on a par four. I doubt he can ever inspire affection as Watson does but his personal failings should not diminish his status as a sportsman. He is eight shots off the lead this morning but if I was near a bookies (Benllech doesn't have one - the nearest is in Menia Bridge) I would be writing his name on a betting slip.

As the golf endured a break for unplayable conditions yesterday afternoon the guilt took over and I headed off for another run. Rather optimistically I had originally been planning to go out in the evening but, in truth, I think I was getting so desperate for a glass of malbec that I had to bring the torture forward. I'm afraid my vaulting ambition rather o'erleapt itself, most particularly I had greatly overestimated my capacity to run up hills. The result was a strained calf muscle which should act as a decent excuse not to inflict my lycra on the locals today. I will treat it by the internal application of rioja. This has never been known to fail and is strongly recommended by the athletic class I inhabit.

A bit of politics to finish. Listened to Any Questions whilst washing up and I've found someone who annoys me even more than Harriet Harman. At least she gives every impression that she would know how to behave if she came to your house. Derek Simpson (Joint General Secretary of Unite - 200k pa plus grace and favour house for life) was on the panel and one is forced to say, what a prize git. He clearly hadn't even troubled to learn the names of his fellow panellists and in his delivery he came across as ignorant, aggressive and bigoted. I learn that he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain until its dissolution in the early 90s. God preserve us. He made me long to hear that other git Charlie Whelan instead. Noone has ever previously had this effect.  

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Don't You Just Hate It?

When someone says what you think but says it so much more concisely and eloquently than you can?

I brought a pile of magazines with me to Anglesey to catch up with my reading and I've had a lovely vinous night ploughing through the back numbers. Found a topping article in the Spectator of 3 July.

Now I have to confess it does include a little bit of gratuitous Harriet Harman bashing but that is not what makes it so good. It takes issue with what it aptly terms a 'pernicious new orthodoxy.' I've said before (in the context of proportional representation I think it was) that you need to be careful what you wish for and that applies equally to this topic. Mind you I am looking forward to the imposition of a quota of talentless 50 year olds in the England rugby team. Just think how proud Dad will be when I stride out to earn my utterly undeserved cap. It's my human right after all. Nobody can deny that I worked awfully hard to be as crap as I was.

The Open

If pressed I would nominate the Open golf as my favourite annual sports event. Please note it is THE Open not the British Open.

Years ago I used to book the first two days of the championship off from work and hide myself away at Bert's house in Handsworth with a store of Indian food and a stash of beer. The first two days are the best - eleven hours of coverage each day. I like the final two days as well but more so if someone I like is in contention. Those I have rooted for are a disparate bunch, including the boorish but brilliant Faldo and the plain brilliant Ballesteros. There was a genuinely moving little feature about Seve on the tele last night. He is fighting a brain tumour but retains his charisma and sheer charm. 

There has been little logic to my choice of golfers to support. As I have said I was always a Faldo fan despite his ill manners and gaucheness. There was something magnificently un-British about him in his single-minded pursuit of success. As a mantra I have always liked the old Oakland Raiders cliche 'Commitment to Excellence' and Faldo epitomised that. Quite why then I do not take to the even more competent Woods is puzzling but I think it has something to do with his cynical cultivation of an image, not something that one could ever accuse Faldo of doing. Faldo was rather of the Millwall FC school of PR - 'noone likes us, we don't care.' These days my eye first turns to the score of Paul Casey. He gives the ball an unearthly smack, walks after it, finds it and then smacks it again. Cool way of playing. My own method is to give the ball an ill-tempered smack, walk after it, fail to find it and give up in a foul temper. Uncool. Not that I actually play much these days. Golf has become something I watch and talk about. Last week I even chose not to play in the annual AOE v CHOE match which I had a hand in organising. I love the game but it has never loved me and somehow I can always find something better to do. At the moment my twin obsessions are running and reading. The running goes well by the standards of an elderly arthritic. I ran for forty minutes last week for the first time in years and repeated the dose a couple of days ago.

I am closeted away in Anglesey on my own for the duration of the golf and I am feeling pretty good at present, having been out for a run this morning and hit the bottle (chardonnay I found in the fridge) by 10.30. Bloody students.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

.... Are Brilliant Mark III

Y Fenni cheese. A Welsh cheese with ale and mustard seed. First encountered as a dollop floating in my lobscows and then tracked down in the new Waitrose at Menai Bridge (another good reason for spending more time on Anglesey). Great on its own but wicked toasted.

Ned Sauvignon Blanc - top grade everyday glugging wine. On offer at both Majestic and Waitrose. Buy loads and use it like table water:

Not A Duff Pint All Week - Oh And Food As Well

Now back from a great week in Anglesey (usual promises made to each other to spend more time there) and a surprise bonus was to rediscover the taste for real ale instead of my habitual Guinness. Maybe I was just lucky but not a bad pint all week.

First up was Robinson's Unicorn Bitter, a very welcome accompaniment to a brilliant lobscows (Welsh stew) at the Breeze Hill Inn in Benllech. Unfortunately the selection of wines here (ubiquitous bloody chardonnay) was limited which knocks a few marks off so far as Sharon is concerned. But terrific food and walking distance of the house so getting pissed a safe option. We'll be back.

Next day was a trip in the rain to Harlech, a simply marvellous place because it has a castle and a great golf course, twin pillars of man's subversion of the environment. Lunch on the way at the Royal Goat Hotel in Beddgelert. Prosaic but quite adequate food, very friendly service and a pint of a strong dark mild, Dark Side of the Moose from Snowdonia's Purple Moose Brewery. Cracking pint.

It was Robinson's again at the Kinmel Arms overlooking the harbour at Moelfre on Sunday evening. Again the wines were disappointing but the food was definitely up to scratch and the views out to sea beat the humdrum vista of the A5025  you get at the Breeze Hill.

Best of all was the Ship Inn at Red Wharf Bay/Traeth Coch on Monday evening. It was warm enough to walk along the coast path from Benllech and then to sit outside the pub looking out over the bay. Conwy Rampart bitter as an aperitif. Tidy. The food here is a station above pub grub and the wine list is good - a  sharp South African sauvignon blanc with the food and then a bottle of house champagne in lieu of dessert. Finally a taxi home for the princely sum of £4.50. Cheap at twice the price. 

Final night we went to The Cove Brasserie in Benllech only to discover that they weren't doing food. We had a bottle of pinot grigio to be polite and then walked down to the Golden Fryer chippie. Best chips I've had in ages, eaten sitting with my favourite person on the picnic bench down by the beach. The best nights are often unplanned. 

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Saying the Unfashionable

In Anglesey for a week with Sharon. Yesterday was a great day - sunny but a stiff sea breeze as we walked around the coves and inlets of Trearddur Bay. Lovely. Drove back round the top of the island and stopped for a stroll in Cemaes Bay which got me thinking about the two very contrasting forms of electricity generation which impose upon the landscape of the north of the island. There is the slab of the Wylfa nuclear power ststion and inland from there is the growing plague of the wind farm. Aside from their vastly different generating capacities I would venture the poilitically incorrect view that the power station is actually less intrusive on the landscape than the wind farm, The power station is confined in its scope, even rather magnificent in a brutalist way. The wind farm is a wider and less efficient blot.