Monday, 28 March 2011

The History Man

Here is a picture of the brilliant Anthony Sher as the stupendously odious Howard Kirk in the BBC dramatisation of Bradbury's The History Man. If you haven't seen it (and I admit it was a long time ago) try to look it out. I've searched YouTube in vain. Kirk is a great creation - sociologist, socialist, sociopath, university teacher and utter knob, a true representative of his age, the barren 1970s. The televised version ended with a delicious postscript informing us that in the 1979 general election Kirk would vote Conservative. I mention all this simply because sometimes a thing lurks in the back of your brain and the image of Kirk has been like that for me. Things have, of course, moved on and in the 2010 general election Howard Kirk most probably voted Liberal Democrat. Howard holds strongly to the view that the likes of The Overgraduate are irredeemably stupid and will fall before his superior wit. Well yes, to a degree Howard. I am a dullard but this morning I recognised you Howard. Through a glass darkly. I should have recognized you sooner but your rebirth had blinded me. I am a silly. But here's the news my old fruit, borrowed from advertising of an earlier age, Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. I, Howard, am your Weeble.

If you have read this and somehow think you may be Howard, don't worry you're not. Howard wouldn't get the allusion and most definitely would not recognize himself. Come to think of it there is no chance that he would deign to read the blog of a clueless mature student. Much less would he understand the proper lament of the middle-brow middle classes,
Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.

However we will labour the point a little further and musically at that. This one goes out to you Howard

The rest is silence. For the time being.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Two Down, Umpteen To Go

Let me refer you dear reader back to 19 January ( when The Overgraduate made his predictions for 2011. Well I thought you might like to share my triumph in two of the predictions coming true. I said I would pull my hamstring again and, as you already know, this duly struck on 5 March. It is indeed a wise child that knows his own hamstrings. You should see the bruise that has come out as evidence of my pain and suffering. Mind you I have taken it like a man, ie complainingly. As it happens the hamstring presaged some full-blown self-pity, one of my core strengths.

The Cheltenham Festival has come and gone for another year. This is the last great sporting event on earth. Not overtaken by corporate entertainment, not beholden to television and watched by people who want nothing more than to be 'right here right now.' Better even than the sport (well perhaps not but a close call) is the mood of ridiculous optimism and childish excitement in the bars of the town before racing is even under way. We went on Tuesday and Wednesday this year and on the Wednesday found a very satisfactory new haunt for morning and evening drinking - the Cheltenham Liberal Club believe it or not. £2 in and cheap beer which soon justifies the cost of admission plus a bloody good full English for £4 to line the stomach. Please don't tell anybody because I want to go back next year.

Festival winners? Rather like Sinatra's regrets, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention. Tuesday was mildly profitable but Wednesday was a wipe-out. Mind you this was my fault. I did pick a 22/1 winner but got embroiled at the bar and left it too late to get my bet on. Rookie mistake Dave, rookie mistake, and the difference between wipe-out and champagne. Oh well we live and learn. In fact I do more living and very little learning, part of my roguish charm hopefully.

If you doubt my contention that The Festival is magnificent just watch the video of the Gold Cup ( because this was a quite thrilling, even emotional piece of sport. A new young champion ridden by an amateur jockey beats off two great old champions. Simply wonderful. A particular mention for the second, Denman, a colossus of a beast and a friend to backers throughout his career, as this gambler will testify.

Back to predictions. I said England would win the Six Nations and this they have duly done but in an ultimately unsatisfactory manner, getting a good old-fashioned shellacking from the Irish last night - Match Highlights. A few observations on the championship generally:
  • Three terrific number 8s have been on display: Harinordoquy; Heaslip; Parisse. Nick Easter is an honest yeoman but falls short of this gold standard and this a problem for England. Hard school, international rugby. Ask Steve Borthwick.
  • England have unearthed a diamond in Wood on the blind-side.
  • last summer I identified Nick Youngs as a diamond, but he has had a poor championship and looks like he needs a rest. Fat chance in the modern professional maelstrom.
  • Ireland have issues. They were brilliant yesterday but have to get to the bottom of why they reserved this for England. The old guff about 800 years of oppression simply won't wash, not if they wish to be taken seriously on the wider stage. Much the same can be said of Wales but I'm afraid they will never learn.
  • Sort the bloody scrum out or our game will be killed.
  • International rugby is supposed to be bloody and brutal, referees and administrators please note and let the boys play. James Hook was yellow-carded last night for no reason other than legislative prissiness.
Drunk way too much last week and slumped into post-festivities blues but this morning I stumbled out for a pitifully short run but one that has had the necessary recuperative effect. Onwards and upwards.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Welsh Cheat, Welsh Win, Welsh Still Manifest Chip On Shoulder .. More Importantly, Italy Magnificent

Much going on in the world of rugby the past few weeks. I haven't been blogging because university assignments were due in and I had descended into my usual pre-deadline chaos.

Going back a fortnight, England played prosaically but highly professionally in beating France at Twickenham, thus answering another question on their way back to respectability after several dire seasons. The great news from this game however was the proof that the ruck lives after all. France spent the first half flooding the breakdown and hitting defensive rucks hard and low. This worked to their advantage. England, commendably adjusted to this and in the second half we saw a genuine and brutal contest for loose ball. Super 15 eat your bloody heart out. Highlights at England v France

Solihull School - damned fine coffee
The Overgraduate rugby show next moved on to Solihul School for the senior schools sevens which involved a very knackering amount of running around after well coached and skillful young men in my refereeing guise. I did nine, yes count them nine, matches and could hardly walk at the end. All in all a very good advert for posh kids rugby with the small exception of the master from Bedford Modern who seemed to feel that it could be the fault of a referee that his side had lost. Now this can happen I'm afraid (of which more anon) but not, matey boy, when the score is 41-0. I doubt somehow that the parents of the lucky pupils are paying their fees to have their offspring exposed to such knob-headery. Trouble is it cultivates a mood of victimhood in the young players and they are potentially polluted for life. As Spiderman said (and I have no doubt written before) with great power comes great responsibility. On the plus side I have reffed at Solihull several times now and can have nothing but praise for the way they look after us. Top staff. Top sandwiches. Good coffee.

Fat Pig Roadshow next moved to a muddy Bridgnorth to referee a Shropshire derby, the Bridgnorth v Ludlow 2nd XV fixture. Oh joy of joys, a 2nd team game that clearly meant something and peopled by players who knew what they were about. Sadly I pulled a hamstring (good and proper I'm afraid - bloody great bruise on the back of my thigh as a souvenir) quite early on and had to hobble my way through the rest of the match, no doubt doing some extra damage along the way. It was worth it. And this game most definitely had competition at the breakdown. Lovely. My thanks to  both teams. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

I had promised you a bit of slagging off the Wesh and here it comes. I take no real pleasure in this. You don't get a name like David Roberts without some Welsh ancestry and mine goes back a mere two generations. I am in fact qualified by birth to play for Wales and there was a time in the low years of the nineties when it was fair to wonder how I was the only qulaified player not to have been selected. This despite my stellar form for AOE 3rds at the time. Well yesterday the Welsh beat Ireland 19-13 and did so courtesy of a bit of cheating. Quite a big bit in fact. Had the English done this it would (quite properly) have been castigated as indefensible, just as it was indefensible when Neil Back helped Leicester cheat their way to a Heineken Cup by knocking the ball from Skinner's hands when the referee blind-sided himself. At a stretch you might defend Back by saying it was a spur of the moment thing, rather as afflicts forwards who see the ball on the floor in a ruck and can't help but handle it. Personally I don't buy that. Back knew precisely what he was doing rather as Richie McCaw does every time he kills the ball. Anyway the spur of the moment thing certainly doesn't work for the Wales try. The co-conspirators, Rees (the captain no less) and Phillips knew damned well what they were doing and that it was illegal. What then follows is a monumentally negligent piece of touch-judging which hangs poor old Kaplan (the referee) out to dry. Have a look and a listen at Cheats Prosper. Total bloody shambles. All of which I can live with but read Phillips' comments about how it was nice to get a bit of luck for once. Bloody muppet. Rather more dignified has been the reaction of the Irish coach. 'Sir' Alex Ferguson and footballing 'intellectual' Arsene Wenger might wish to take note.

New Roman emperor
The try that wasn't will soon be forgotten however and it should not detract from the real story, the best story in European rugby since England ended the southern hemisphere RWC hegemony. Italy - 22, France -21. I was only thinking yesterday morning as I conducted a numbing two hour cycle ride that what the 6 Nations really needed was for Italy to beat either England or France. I had no inkling it might happen yesterday. Embarrassing of course but the French will get over it, in fact you wouldn't much fancy being the Welsh going to Paris next weekend. Absolutely bloody marvellous. Sergio Parisse, great player. Rome - great city. Barolo - great wine. Silvio Berlusconi - oh well you can't have everything I suppose.

Darrell D'Silva as Antony
It hasn't been only rugby for the last month however. There has been other culture and some related stupidity. The culture has mostly been Shakespeare with a dose of Waugh thrown in (see the other blog for the latter). I ticked off Antony and Cleopatra in my I Spy book of the Bard when I saw the RSC production in the Swan Theatre at Stratford. This production really worked for me: the staging, the performances, and the theatrical space. I am developing a list of the Shakespearean characters I would like to play and so far it comprises: Aaron the fantastically evil baddie in Titus Andronicus; Kent in King Lear; Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra. You will note that in an unaccustomed fit of modesty none of these are leading roles. Enobarbus is particularly intriguing in the light of Jonathan Bate's comment that 'Enobarbus is as rewarding a role as any Shakespeare wrote. And it might just be the nearest thing anywhere in his complete works to a considered self-portrait.' 

Related stupidity? Mine of course. I did my usual trick of leaving the writing of assignments until too late and therefore had a literally sleepless night last Tuesday/Wednesday. Old dog, new tricks, incompatible.