Thursday, 23 June 2011

Great Sports Films

This afternoon I came across a gem of a documentary about American Football, The Best That Never Was. It was on ESPN (Sky 429) and no doubt it will be repeated. Here's a taster:

Watching it reminded me that two of my top ten films are about sport. Good sports films are rare but these two are beauties, one documentary and one fictional.

Hoop Dreams is an epic. Ostensibly a documentary about the ambitions of two high school basketball players, it is in fact no less than a gigantic interrogation of the American dream. This is a bizarre comparison to make on the face of it but in its intensity and scepticism it reminds of nothing so much as Godfather Part II. I love this film.
There are chick flicks and there are bloke films. Bull Durham is an incorrigible bloke film. No film has ever better explained why men play sport. It's not about the money stupid. It's the bloke stuff that really matters. Kevin Costner may very well be a bit of a dick in real life, but you cannot watch this film and tell me he's not cool. Any more than you can watch it and tell me Susan Sarandon isn't sexy.

Rory Mcilroy, Catholic Unionism And General Stupidity

First and foremost the boy done good. After his capitulation from a winning position a few short weeks ago at the Masters I have to admit I had written Mcilroy off as a bad betting proposition. Too short-priced given a professional record that included just two wins - and it needed to be remembered that he tried his damnedest to blow the first of those victories (in Dubai) and that in the second he bolted out of the pack on the final day without the pressure of having to lead. Well what do I know? Now he will definitely be an unappealing betting proposition, priced down to favouritism no doubt every time he turns up to play. Yep, just checked at the magic sign and he is 6/1 for the Open. If those odds are too skinny for your taste (they are for mine - I like to win big on the rare occasions I do win - adds to the fun) then have a look at Matt Kuchar at 33/1 and Henrik Stenson at 100/1. Stenson has been stinking the place out for a year or so now but he has been through these troughs previously and come back better than before. He showed some signs of form at the US Open as well as demonstrating his famous (and rather unswedish) bad temper by busting a shaft in two and then cutting himself on the offending implement. My sort of golfer. 

So well done the boy Mcilroy. Nice to stuff it to the American press who have taken to bitching about the world ranking system because they perceive it favours Europeans. Bollocks - it favours good golfers you one-eyed muppets. But a little something else caught my eye at the end of his triumphant process up the 18th hole and it is that I want to talk about. It seems I was not the only one to notice that some clown tried to foist an Irish tricolour on Mcilroy as he headed for the scorer's hut and our hero let it fall to the ground. To some rabid republican inhabitants of the ether this was apparently an act of disrespect, one presumably all the more wounding because Mcilroy happens to be a catholic and by some counts that should make him a knee-jerk supporter of the Free State. Fortunately no one was present to try to pin a Union Jack on him or worse still a Red Hand banner. Because you see these things matter to a certain stamp of Irishman. You can get a flavour of the emotions involved from the string of commentary appended to the innocuous footage of the incident:

Calm down lads. The boy's twenty-two years old and has spent all his formative years playing golf at which he happens to be bloody good. Mind you there is a mischievous bit of me that would rather like it if he turned out to be a member of a that motley awkward squad, the Catholic Unionists. Recusant aristos, Evelyn Waugh perhaps, Norman St John Stevas definitely, Tony Blair, Ann Widdecombe. Oh and me. In my mind a modern Enobarbus would be a Catholic Unionist, just for the sheer hell of it, or possibly the sheer heaven.

PS. Since posting the above it turns out Henrik Stenson shot 64 in the first round in Munich this afternoon and Ladbrokes have already reacted by cutting him to 50/1 for the Open. The Overgraduate has a small interest at 100/1. Which is, of course, very clever but utterly useless unless he wins. Still, you heard it here first.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Drowning But Not Waving

Well sports fans, for those worried that blog inactivity signalled the failure of The Overgraduate to negotiate his first open water swim, the good news is that I am still here. Chastened but not defeated. I survived. I finished. But shit man it was hard work. Nothing prepares you for the sheer bloody panic of setting off in the freezing cold water to cross a lake while all around you is a frenzy of thrashing limbs belonging to people who seem to be far better equipped than you to cope with the ordeal. I had literally gone about twenty metres when I first considered quitting. It was cold, I couldn't see where I was going and I missed the comforting taste of chlorinated water which I associate with successful swimming. I tacked my way round the buoys with liberal resort to backstroke and must have covered a good twenty-five per cent extra distance. Still there were quite a few blokes behind me when I staggered out of the lake. However they had all ridden off into the distance by the time I had inexpertly fought my way out of the wet-suit. Bike ride was very hard with unreasonable hills. Run was bearable. I got a medal but no tee-shirt this time, which I thought was a bit of a chizz. Knackered. Chastened. Much more training required, not least practising looking where I'm bloody going. Story of my life.

Paging Doctor Faggot

For the last couple of weeks I have mostly been watching ... opera. Yes, me, opera. First up was WNO's production of Cosi Fan Tutte in the favourable surroundings of the Birmingham Hippodrome, courtesy of the largesse of WNO themselves. My composer (Jeremy Clay - I term him 'my composer' in the safe knowledge that he returns the compliment and refers to me as 'his writer' - we're like that us arty types) and I took up the free tickets due to us in our role as aspiring aria writers.

From what I can tell (and your internet search will back this up) the critics have not taken to this production. The action has been located in an English seaside town, for reasons which, even after mature reflection, have eluded me. Merchant of Venice in Las Vegas, that I get, but this just seemed deliberately perverse. Having said that, the actual realisation of the location was magnificent. Cracking set.

Despite the reservations my overriding reaction was one of pleasurable awe at the potency of the human voice. I could have done however without the enthusiastic grunts of the young conductor (looked like he used hair spray to me - never a good sign) close to whose den we were sitting. Jeremy shared this displeasure so perhaps I have some non-philistine genes after all. All in all a nice night out but I'm not convinced I would have felt so sanguine if I'd had to put my hand in my pocket.

If the jury was out in the case of Roberts v Opera, the verdict was irrevocably swayed by my attendance at the world premiere of Seven Angels. This was in the less salubrious surroundings of the concert room at the CBSO Centre. Music by Luke Bedford, words by Glyn Maxwell, both of whom I spoke to prior to the performance. Now I would never have been there but for the recommendation of my writer which does go to show that one of us knows what he's talking about. I've thought about this and, do you know what, I don't recall ever seeing anything on the stage quite so engaging, ever, ever, ever. The music added to the words, the words to the music. Synergy. 2+2=5. The singers could act, or perhaps the actors could sing. A very clever set by Japanese artist Tadasu Takamine. You could hear and comprehend the words, enunciated beautifully in English. Suddenly I get opera. Done properly the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I'll be back. And another thing - when Seven Angels becomes part of the standard repertoire I'll be the smart arse who got his programme signed by both composer and librettist at the world premiere. For a rather more po-faced review you can check out Telegraph Review

In case you missed it the tag line for this blog entry is my daughters' current favourite response to manifestations of my culture-vulturicity. I understand it is taken from The Hangover. The girls assure me I would like this film. I will report when I eventually get to see it.  

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Yesterday I Was Angry But Today I Am Merely A Little Sad

Yesterday in the mother of parliaments two young blokes who read PPE at that Oxford spat indignation at each other - so far as I could tell the one with the speech impediment was accusing the posher one of killing cancer patients by taking their benefits off them, and the posh one was suggesting that the dribbly one was a half-wit. Very possibly they were both right but they would be wrong if they felt many members of the public were taking much interest. If we get the politicians we deserve then the British must have done something awfully beastly. It wasn't me gov, honest.

So that made me a bit angry, which melted away to mere sadness. I was also angry that the polity (give or take the couple of people who agree with me - the people who always get to sit alone on the bus) so ardently refuses to see things as I do. This anger too has dimmed to tristesse because it is really too, too tiring being that vexed all the time. So let me share with you a list of things that seem bleeding obvious to The Overgraduate but elude most everyone else.

Trade Union leader
Fat clown

  • Bob Crow is an ignorant oik.
  • A private sector worker would have to make contributions of 37% of his annual wages throughout his career to purchase a pension equivalent to that of a public sector worker. As an economist might put it - this is not sustainable.
  • Nationalised industries tend to a condition where they are run for the benefit of their employees and not that of their customers. This state of affairs is arguably justifiable but the people who bring about this condition should be honest enough to admit it and should additionally be horse-whipped when they have the gall to plead that all that concerns them is patient care/education/[please insert platitude of choice].
  • Not all doctors and nurses are saints and angels. Many are. Some are lazy, vain, greedy etc. Same goes for all professions, not least my own.
  • As long as we choose to measure poverty by reference to a proportion of average earnings, the poor will always be with us.
  • Not all the rich are bastards. Some are quite nice. Others are lazy, vain, greedy etc, not least my own profession.
  • High rates of marginal tax serve only a punitive purpose. If that's what you want, fine, but be honest about your motives. And accept that it will not cure any economic ills, merely salve some consciences in the salons of Islington. 
  • Early retirement, low taxes, generous state pensions. These things can be achieved in unison. I mean bloody hell, Greece did it. Whoops. 
  • People are living far longer than they did at the time the welfare state was conceived. Failing to acknowledge this is plain thick.
  • Our railway system is a disgrace and an example of what happens when dogma dominates good sense. Surely we can do better.

That's all folks. Oh, no it's not actually. I did a brick (bike/run) yesterday and the calf held up so it is all systems go for triathlon number 2 on Sunday. Which I hope might better dispose me to the world. Briefly.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Return Of The Grumpy Old Man

For various reasons I have been well disposed towards my fellow men of late. Even, to a degree, Saint Vince of Twickenham, who got jeered by Luddite muppets at a public sector trade union conference the other day. Wake up and smell the coffee lads. You used to bark on about 'comparability' with the private sector. Two way street me old fruit. If you would like to know what pension poverty is, take a look at what Standard Life have done with my pissy little pot. This is my problem, not someone else's and that is the moral of the story.

But now a few things have pissed me off. Most tellingly I have injured my calf muscle again. This is part of some kind of divine conspiracy against my triathlon efforts. It is neither fair on me nor on the larger sporting public. As I have said before - will this setback prevent me from competing (this term is used broadly) in Yorkshire on 19 June? Will it bollocks.

Intolerance. Stupidity. Asininity. These have been bugging me as well. Perhaps because I don't pay enough attention, it has only recently come to my notice that the city authorities in New York have legislated to outlaw smoking outdoors - Central Park for example is a smoke free zone. Now there cannot be any earthly pretence that this is a health measure aimed at the effects of passive smoking. This is an example of a shrill and unpleasant minority imposing its prejudices on everybody else. May this law fester and poison the Big Apple as assuredly as did Prohibition. I can do no better than quote my old hero Simon Raven who wrote this in an Introduction to the re-issue of Alms for Oblivion:
Raven - brilliant and bitter
The cry, 'If I can't, you mustn't', had some trace of justification, however sullen and unlovely the sound of it. Nowadays we hear instead an even less lovely cry, 'If I don't want to, you mustn't' ie. 'It is just possible that I am, after all, missing out on something of value which you have been shrewd enough to detect and I haven't, and that wouldn't be fair and equal, now would it?' Once upon a time, however strong and righteous you considered your message, you scorned to become a pest: in 1998, however trivial your grievance, you find yourself encouraged and even 'morally obliged' to to become not just a pest but a pestilence.
In that same Introduction one finds the following example of Raven's brilliant acerbity - about the sad death of a woman and the shameful hysteria it triggered - the public egged on remember by a shamelessly lachrymose Prime Minister,
Who would have imagined that a flighty, pea-brained princess with an addiction to publicity should become a cult almost in the degree of sanctity?
Louis de Bernieres accurately describes depression as a state of estrangement from oneself. As it happened it was in the year of Diana's death that I had my first brush with the black dog. The events after her death meant that not only was I estranged from myself but also from the country I had loved. And I would be so presumptuous as to suggest that this is not just my problem but a problem for rather more of us. Because goodwill greases wheels and there's precious little of it left. No man is an island? Look around you.