Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Acupuncture II

Excellent news, it doesn't hurt. I had to ask if the needles had actually gone in yet. Maybe I was the victim of a cunning oriental scam and in fact nothing had been inserted because I was lying face down and couldn't see the evidence.

Does it work? Who knows. Certainly the massage which followed the needles hit the spot and I felt that some progress had been made. Rather humbling as well to engage in conversation with the needle-wielder who had fled northern China ten years ago to start a new life in the west. If I am to be treated by a charlatan give me a charming inscrutable one. Further medical bulletins to follow.


The dedicated reader will be concerned about my calf muscles particularly as we stand at the dawn of a new rugby season and I am required to referee on Satrurday. All orthodox cures having failed I will in twenty minutes be acupunctured for the first time in my life. Report to follow.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Lord Bloody Prescott

Does anything better sum up the slovenly mess we are in than the three words above? Of course I have never met John Prescott but feel entitled to dislike him on account of his having inflicted his nasty, ignorant, peevish, inarticulate and plain wrong opinions on me for the past couple of decades. If you're reading this Your Lordship here's some advice. Listen to Jim Hood on Radio 4 last Saturday - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00th8xd
Jim Hood is the Labour MP for Lanark and Hamilton South, he may even be a mate of yours. He was serious, courteous and dignified. When, with the exception of your appearance in Gavin and Stacey, were you last any of these? Now I strongly suspect that if Jim and I took up conversation in a bar we would agree on practically nothing but I get the distinct impression that I would respect him. So John (is it ok if I call you that?) please take note that civilised human beings can disagree with you and it is not just because of their class or the bloody school they went to. You are an anachronism and for the record I went to a state school and had my university tuition (first time round) paid by the City of Birmingham, for which I will be eternally grateful. As my side of the social contract I have paid a small mountain of taxes (national and local) on time and without rancour even as my elected representatives have pissed a fair deal of it up the wall. So John while I've got you - if you bump into Vince Cable in the corridors of power please tell him where he can stick his graduate tax.

Overgraduate Confesses Error And Extends The Benefit Of The Doubt

I have discovered that there are two ways of dealing with errors in a blog. The first is what we might call the 1984 method whereby you go back into the blog and edit the original entry thus removing the error from the historical record. This is very tempting but bad. I will confess to succumbing on occasions but only to deal with spelling and grammatical crimes which offend my eye on rereading. The better method is to 'fess up and admit you were wrong.

Which brings us to my blog of 20 August 2010 - How Rude. Factual error - the New Zealand women's rugby team is known not as the Silver Ferns but as the Black Ferns. I have a strong suspicion that the Silver Ferns are the equally formidable netball players. Sorry.

Also on 20 August I criticized the said Ferns for their impolite attitude towards their vanquished opponents. Delighted to report that there has been no second sighting of such boorishness in subsequent games. Perhaps I imagined the original offence.

the talented Mr Street
Big Fat Pig (who exceeded two, yes two, hours in the saddle today - that's bike not horse for those new to these pages - I bet on horses but don't sit on them) is now in a state of ascending excitement about a lads' trip to London next weekend to watch the WRWC final. It will be a weekend of contrasts. On Saturday I am being sent to referee a 2nd XV match at one of my favourite rugby clubs. This, one suspects, will not be one for the faint of heart or sensitive souls. On Sunday we will see the great game played passionately and skillfully but without flabby machismo. We will also hopefully see England win and can then anticipate the elevation to the aristocracy of Citizen Street.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


The girls are all away again but I've been looking after myself better than I usually do in these circumstances because I'm in the midst of one of my periodic fitness fetishes, this time centring around the vague ambition to do a triathlon. In fact it is only the cycling I am doing at present because the swimming will have to wait on the lessons I have booked for September and a calf strain is still keeping me from running. I'm even eating well and enjoying doing a bit of cooking with my trusty wok. Sharon will be amused if she reads that in view of my noted love of cookery television and incongruous absence from the actual kitchen. Current favoutites are The Hairy Bikers on their good-natured food tour of Great Britain.

But it is not all exercise, good food and good sense. I am indulging myself with wine and film, taken together. Thanks to the combined wonders of the satellite dish and the hard disc drive I watched a bizarre mishmash of films over the weekend.
  The Magnificent Ambersons - a film principally famous for not being Citizen Kane which is a pity because it's rather bloody good. That Orson Welles had rather more talent than was good for him.

Next came a film I would not have chosen to watch - Kill Bill Volume II - but it was on the movie channel just as I finished with the Ambersons. I'm afraid Tarantino leaves me cold as a rule, perhaps it's my age. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this quite wry, albeit gory. Perhaps I should try Pulp Fiction again.

Then when Kill Bill had finished came another unlooked for treat, Team America World Police. I had seen this before but had forgotten how ridiculously funny it is. Completely indiscriminate in its targets, it has no political bias that I can detect merely a complete disregard for all that is blithely assumed to be decent. Most excellent.

There is more. Sunday night started with There Will Be Blood. This has pretensions to being a great film. It is not quite that but it is very good - a sort of Giant with balls. Daniel Day-Lewis compelling. I followed it up with another movie that is definitely not great but very interesting - Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Stone has rather more than a penchant for the melodramatic but this is nowhere as silly a film as, say, JFK or as nasty as Natural Born Killers. Michael Douglas' portrayal of the all too believable Gordon Gekko is an impressive realisation of attitudes which those of us who had a glimpse into money markets in the 80s can confirm were prevalent. A certain type of knob-head still regards Gekko as a hero but the famous 'greed is good' speech is generally lazily misquoted and wilfully misread. Watch it and note Gekko's wholly correct denigration of the board of Teldar Paper. I understand Stone's latest effort is a hagiography of Hugo Chavez. Oh dear.

Monday had a very varied menu:
A Man For All Seasons - proof that stage plays can make great films. All young lawyers should be made to listen More's speeches - perhaps then they would understand the morality of legal practice.

1984 - I found this very disconcerting. The actress playing Julia kept taking her clothes off and since I remember her playing Susan in Swallows and Amazons this just seemed wrong.

The Baader Meinhoff Complex - had seen this previously but enjoyed (is that the right word?) it again. A grimly effective evocation of terrorist angst and 70s grime.

No Country For Old Men - an uncompromising and worthy adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel - given how highly I rate McCarthy this is great praise.   

Saturday, 21 August 2010

.... Are Brilliant Mark IV

Maggie Alphonsi. After I first saw her play in 2007 I rather glibly suggested that I had never seen a better rugby player - and please remember that I was present that night in Wellington when Daniel Carter played probably the single greatest game of rugby a man has ever played. Remember also that I played with the incomparable Martin Smith. Yet more, please note that my absolute all time heroes are Tony Neary and Richard Hill, both magnificent back-row forwards. So on this one I know what I'm talking about and I'm telling you there can never have been, pound for pound, a more effective rugby player. Not Michael Jones, not Waka Nathan, not Watcyn Thomas (who incidentally taught my dad to play), not Wavell Wakefield, not anybody. She was stellar in England's imperfect 27-0 win (doesn't that read better than England 0 Algeria 0?) in WRWC last night. The England coach is a recent contributor to this blog and he will know that there is more to come from his team but he needn't worry about his open-side, she's bloody brilliant.

Proper bloody rugby. Not the vainglorious pap of the Super 14. Proper brutal, skillful, glorious, stupid, life-affirming rugby union football. Just like this afternoon's South Africa 22, New  Zealand 29. This was so good that the shit-for-brains who run world rugby will doubtless conclude that we need even more international rugby. Wrong, wrong, wrong. This match was notable because it stood out from the run-of-the-mill tired internationals we usually see.This was due to its venue (Soweto) and its context (John Smit's 100th cap). You can't just order up that sort of atmosphere but you can make it more likely if you leave the audience wanting more. For those who haven't grasped it - less is more.

Now this one pains me a little. Richie McCaw is brilliant. He's also an incorrigible cheat which rather spoils the effect. It's also the reason he's not as good as Maggie Alphonsi. Been said before but is he invisible? Why do referees not just card him at the outset to save everyone a load of indignation? Brilliant. Unloveable.

Another star of the SA/NZ match was Nigel Owens. Brilliant referee. But Nigel, why oh why the white boots? This is an indulgence best left to daft young players, mostly backs one would hope. Gary Street could have carried it off but then again he was a genius.

And finally - prawn curry is brilliant, specifically the one I made myself this evening.

No, Finally finally, cycling is brilliant. Fat Pig did 1 hour 40 minutes on the mean streets of Sutton Coldfield this morning and is feeling pretty bloody smug which is why he's now going to get further stuck into a bottle of wine. Even top grade triathletes have to relax you know. TTFN as JY used to say. 

Friday, 20 August 2010

How Rude.

I'm not quite sure where I stand on the haka. In principle I would like to approve but I think the All Blacks see it as their right to intimidate their opponents by performing ever more tasteless versions of the dance and then get all precious when anybody has the effrontery either to reply in kind or, most heinous of crimes, to laugh at the pomposity of it all. And now I've seen the Silver Ferns (which seems to be the collective nomenclature of the NZ women's team) do their rather more decorous rendition of the haka. This preceded their demolition of South Africa's young side in the WRWC shown on Sky this afternoon. I quite liked this rather prim offering but unfortunately the New Zealanders found another way to upset me.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have long been a fervent admirer of the New Zealand method of rugby, most particularly the good old fashioned and brutal school of rucking so the style of the Silver Ferns' victory did not offend me. No what pissed me off was their behaviour at the end of the match. The players systematically hugged each of their teammates and utterly ignored the South Africans who had to slope off looking mildly bewildered. Bloody rude. Bloody arrogant. Much more fitting was the conduct at the end of the next match (on which I will blog separately) between England and Ireland. No style marks I'm afraid for New Zealand. A temporary aberration? Let's hope so.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A Tired Old Whinge

'A' level results day depresses me more each passing year. News bulletins will be full of joyful groups of teenagers celebrating their success. There will be arrant nonsense spouted about how children are getting cleverer and cleverer (though not I'm pleased to say from the children themselves) and there will be mischievous comments about a 'lack' of university places holding back our development of a 'knowledge based economy.' All of this masks the truth we seem unwilling to share with the exam candidates themselves , that a university education is not some magic passport to wealth and job security and nor should it be. Our political masters, most of them schooled at elite universities, deem the proper traditional liberal arts education to be something only their class deserves or can handle. For the rest there will be vacuous 'vocational' degrees which serve no more purpose than a chocolate teapot. They will be taught in unsuitably large classes and will be patronized by talk of them as 'consumers' of education services. A deception on a grand scale is being practised on our youth. Let me give you a list of the problems. I can't give you the solutions but it's not my job to do so. What I, as a current 'consumer' and as the father of another such, would appreciate is an outbreak of honesty. So here goes my list;
  • There are too many universities and not enough (any in fact) centres of technological and practical excellence.
  • The universities are criminally overcrowded - this is unfair on students and staff.
  • modern teenagers are over-examined and yet perversely under-extended by our public examination system. The joy of the Lower 6th (the best year in education) has been battered to death.
There is talent out there - I see it in my daughters' generation, I see it daily in my own university life. But the talented are being cheated and made to think that their entitlement is merely to be trained to take a place in the morass of mediocrity that is the 'knowledge based economy.' This is vile elitist bollocks. They talk of social mobility but have systematically kicked out the rungs from the ladder which so many of us were grateful to climb in the past. Who did this? We did. My own greedy, deluded and dishonest generation. Well not in my name you half-wits. I didn't ask for any of this and I'm fed up of being told what is good for me by people you wouldn't allow to run a whelk stall. As a bit of light relief there is a special Overgraduate  plaudit to be had for whoever can remember who notoriously came up with the whelk stall remark.

It saddens me to say it but some things really were better when I was a lad. Not the clothes though - man were they dreadful.

Monday, 16 August 2010

I Haven't Changed My Mind But

The Overgraduate is a critic of both Blair and Obama. There is a whiff of piety about both which is off-putting. But today I find myself in agreement with both. In this I seem perhaps out of step with the general populace so that much at least is reassuring.

The Divine Blairness first. Today it has been announced that all royalties from his memoirs, not to mention the £4.6m advance, will be donated to the British Legion. Good for him and shame on the moaners who have been so swift to bleat to the media about how this is nothing more than 'blood money.' No doubt they would have had something else to say if he had quietly pocketed the money. Dodgy war, nice gesture.

Obama next. Yesterday he spoke out in favour of the right of American muslims to build a mosque on ground they own at ground zero, the site of the fallen twin towers. What he actually said was that it is no business of the federal government to intervene in such plans provided no planning or local laws are contravened. Spot on. As a test of the rightness of his comments we need only apply the Sarah Palin test - because if she agrees with you then you are probably wrong. On this occasion she has condemned her president so for once he deserves my support.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Fat Pig Makes A Splash

Fat pig has been running regularly and getting distinctly self-righteous about it. But pride always comes before a fall and I have been laid low recently by the calf strain I picked up in Anglesey a couple of weeks ago. This is still playing me up but not so much that I haven't been able to get out on my refurbished mountain bike in my ludicrous black lycra and crash helmet. Being out on the bike has got me contemplating the challenge of the triathlon and hence I found myself at Wyndley baths at 6.30 this morning. This was a major mistake because the baths don't open until 7.30. However after that particular false-start I donned my trunks (beach bum style, most definitely not budgie smugglers) and my stylish goggles and nose clip and thrashed up and down the pool a very few times, being regularly passed by breast stroking pensioners. This triathlon business is not going to be as easy as I thought. The big problem is breathing. I can't swim and breathe at the same time so the technical conclusion has to be that I will drown.

Despite the risk of drowning I think I will investigate this triathlon thing a little further if for no other reason than that it is a chance to buy lots of new toys - better running gear, a proper bike, biking gear, a wetsuit. I love big boys' toys.  

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Death Of An Englishman

John Leonard King FCA JP was 69 when he died last month. I attended his funeral this morning. A great affair in its own charming way. As a catholic I have to concede that Anglicans have the best English churches - stolen from Rome one might say but we should let that pass. All Saints Alrewas was pretty, patrolled by two insouciant cats and reachable most easily by canal boat.

Above my head in what I like to call my study (I believe in the earliest incarnation of this much altered and stoically plain house it would have been the garage) hang three racing pictures - two are prints of the Champion Chase, my favourite race, presents for my 40th from a great friend and gambling accomplice; the third is a watercolour of a point-to-point meeting given to me by John King when I did some legal work for him. Most often I worked with Kingy rather than for him. I met him early in my days in Walsall and there must have been something he liked about my uncultured style because he became a major and generous source of introduced work. We had fun and as the Americans probably don't say, John definitely gave good lunch. He was my favourite kind of Englishman - self-made but not chippy, bloody-minded and fiercely loyal. He did the right thing by his clients and by his mates. He called a spade a spade but only after he had inspected it first. He was also the only accountant I worked with who could add long lists of figures in his head, a legacy of the family fruit and veg business. I saw him use this gift to intimidate a bumptious young type from Brum - teach him to play with the grown-ups I thought.

So the great and the good of Walsall said goodbye to Kingy this morning and did it just right. As well as the best churches you protestants also get the best hymns - I Vow To Thee My Country; Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer; Jerusalem. Who wouldn't want to go out to that lot? John's old business partner, Geoff Griffin, gave a wise and witty eulogy.

I was lamenting yesterday the awfulness of our political class and I'm afraid much the same goes for the professions - the hard-nosed competent decency is being replaced by self-serving and back-watching. This is, I know, a jaundiced view and echoes exactly what my forebears must have said about my generation. But there is an important difference - I am right.

One last thing about Kingy - he was a rugby man as player, referee, administrator and bar-room expert. If you have the stamina to stand at a rugby club bar long enough you will eventually hear some resounding good sense. All you have to do is master the art of distinguishing it from the good-natured but utter bollocks you will also endure. Talking to John was a shortcut to the good stuff.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Lap Dancer Wanted: Apply Within

One of those funny little items on the BBC news this evening that on first hearing seems perfectly inoffensive but when you pause to think about it, makes no sense. Some ConDem coalition minister (a Tory I think) has confirmed that Job Centres will henceforth be prohibited from displaying notices of vacancies for performers in lap-dancing clubs. This, we learn, has been decided after a 'public consultation' whatever that may mean. On the six o'clock bulletin on Radio 4 I heard this decision being lauded by a lady (or is it 'woman', 'person' perhaps? Genuinely, I never do know) from the 'pressure group' Object - Object, geddit? She related rather proudly how they had burnt something outside the Brixton Job Centre to draw attention to this very issue. Now the objectives of Object (see http://www.object.org.uk/) are actually rather civilised but this pillorying of the Job Centres misses the point and so does the empty-headed, focus group inspired government reaction. Bear with me on this one because I do have to confess that I am not a recent expert on either Job Centres or lap-dancing clubs - my last call on the former was, I think, in 1982 and my only (unknowing honestly - I was drunk and just followed my host) visit to a strip joint was in Springfield Massachusetts in 1981. I don't think we could dignify that dive with the title of a lap-dancing club but it's as near as I've been. Despite these notable holes in my cv I'm going to have a pop at this subject anyway.

The thing is this. We have to start with the question of whether the government really belongs in the employment agency business. Now since the government sees fit (and quite right too - I'm not that harsh you know) to spend the tax dollar on unemployment benefits I think we must concede that it has a legitimate interest in trying to see people and job vacancies brought together to their mutual benefit. But what the hell business of government is it what those jobs are, provided of course that they are lawful. I can see that 'good explosives man needed for major bank job' would be out of order but so long as strip joints are legal and presumably generating tax revenue why should their employment opportunities be spurned in this way? Because here's the news, being a stripper is not the only type of employment which certain people find offensive. I myself have a loathing of personal injury lawyers of the ambulance-chasing, money-grubbing scum bag school of operation but I do not for a minute think that my prejudice should be pandered to. What else is going to fail the Job Centre taste test? Halal slaughterman? Drayman? Tobacconist? Vicar - just in case Richard Dawkins finds himself on the dole and then gets all uppity about it? Yet again our political class demonstrates its mastery of the empty gesture. Where once there were giants in the hills now scuttle pygmies.