Monday, 28 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 5 & 6

An unimaginative choice but we went back to basics yesterday and had a mini Star Wars fest. We couldn't face the ridiculousness of Jar Jar Binks so started at the actual birth of the franchise rather than at the commencement of its internal chronology.

The original Star Wars (also nowadays referred to by some completists as A New Hope but never so known in its heyday) retains its power to involve. Darth Vader is a great dramatic creation and the power of the back-story covers for some of the clunky dialogue. 8/10 though this is a slightly generous rating based upon its impact and cultural importance.

The Empire Strikes Back has always been my favourite and stands with Godfather Part II as the most frequently posited candidate for sequel which betters its progenitor. I greatly enjoyed The Force Awakens but marginally I just take The Empire Strikes Back as the better. It contains one of cinema's greatest lines and also has the venerable Yoda. 8.5/10.

Now I have to decide whether to give the emotional sloppiness of Return of the Jedi a go (I probably will) and, much harder whether to give the three prequels another chance, if only for the sake of the integrity of the saga. Life may well be too short.  

Sunday, 27 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 4

Yesterday was my first time in the Gold Club at Star City - now this is the way to watch films, huge reclining seats and no bloody half-wits making a racket. Definitely worth the extra spondulicks.

Here's the good news - The Force Awakens sees the Star Wars franchise back in prime form, its best since 1980, all the way back to The Empire Strikes Back.

Themes (in fact even plot lines) are borrowed from the original films, but it is none the weaker for that. The dialogue benefits from not being penned by Georgs Lucas and the action keeps coming thick and fast. Harrison Ford reanimates Han Solo and Daisy Ridley as Rey gives us the new heroine we need. I had a great time. No spoilers - go and see it for yourself. 8/10.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Happy Christmas

I had a rather lovely Christmas Day. This of course was largely due to the Groupie's organisational and culinary skills and to the presence of almost the full Roberts clan. My job was to look ornamental and get mildly drunk. I managed the latter of these tasks.

Local holy man
The day had started with mass at Holy Trinity Sutton Coldfield conducted by the very amusing and pleasingly holy Father Michael Ho. He fled Vietnam in 1982 and he tells good jokes. He exudes a resolute happiness and has charisma.

I have been a critic of Barak Obama's pieties but I must confess you could not be other than impressed by the President's television walk on the wild side with the bonkers Bear Grylls. Grylls was gushingly in awe of Obama and it is undeniable that the President has mega charisma. Much as I  might be underwhelmed by his politics he is an ornament to the American Dream - a thought which drags me back to reality and the wretched Donald Trump. May his downfall be the political story of 2016. Any other outcome is too miserable to contemplate.

The girls are taking me to see the new Star Wars later today as part of my Christmas present. Report to follow.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 3

Alan Partridge:Alpha Papa. I seem to have been lucky so far. I'm an admirer of Steve Coogan but had my doubts that the studiedly awful Alan Partridge would survive expansion into feature length. No need to worry. The writers (including the enviably able Armando Iannucci) resisted the temptation to go all expansive and retained the parochialism that is central to the Partridge character. Made me laugh. 7/10.

Advent 24

I've just done a rough count and by my reckoning we will have had fifteen British productions, four American, one Danish/Swedish, one French, one sporting item, two current affairs, three children's programmes, seven comedies and eleven dramas. There is a mixture of ancient and modern with a discernible mid 70's bias.

So. Drumroll. We finish with another fond memory of adolescence. Of its period and perhaps betraying some outmoded attitudes, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? is comic writing and playing of the top order. It is perhaps a tad blokeish but then I'm a bloke. James Bolam was given the gift of a great comic creation in Terry Collier and took it with both hands - a favourite line is when he is fishing solitarily and is joined dockside by a wistful Bob - gesturing to the cans by his side Terry says, "I'd offer you a beer but I've only got six." Believable and beautiful.

The co-writers, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, also wrote Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen Pet amongst others. Now that is a body of work.

I am embedding the link to the Christmas Special, not in fact the very best of the Lads but it gives you a seasonal taste of Bob and Terry.

Happy Christmas to all our readers and may your God go with you.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 2

I had managed to go forty-five years without seeing Love Story, one of the most watched and derided films of my youth. Do you know what, it's actually rather good at what it does. It is the tragedy of Ryan O'Neal's Oliver and his father wrapped into a romance. Not overlong and it quite properly doesn't set out to answer the various questions it poses. No I didn't cry. 7/10.

Advent 23

Christmas has started - we've just picked up Daughter Number One from the airport, returning from a wedding in Adelaide.

Today's entry can just occasionally seem preachy and biased, certainly it is improbably wordy and erudite. However it is much more often plain inspiring and certainly the most adroitly scripted political drama ever made. This is The West Wing - an advertisement for the good possibilities of America. I know I keep banging on about him but once again I have to draw attention to the odious, immoral, intellectually bankrupt Donald Trump. Again I repeat myself, but he simply must not happen to the America I know and love - a land of contradictions and frustrations but at its heart a force in the search after truth. The clip is of Bartlett as intellect primus inter pares. God Bless America. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Advent 22

This particular clip has appeared in a previous advent calendar but now it serves to illustrate the entire series of Green Wing. I give you the 'dead box' featuring the scabrous, brilliant, disturbingly sexy Michelle Gomez as Sue White. This is the single funniest scene in the history of television. Trust me, I'm a lawyer.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Advent 21

Today we highlight the full dramatic possibilities of television. Made on a high budget and with the heroic ambition to honour the generation of Americans who saved Europe from itself, Band of Brothers is the peak of high production tv.

It was churlishly criticised by some observers for 'ignoring' the British contribution to D Day and beyond. Rot. It was an American celebration of American heroes. It is balanced and brilliant and properly moving. Donald Trump should be made to watch it on permanent loop until he understands that his should be the land of the free not the land of the blind.

As an incidental point of interest watch out for David Schwimmer playing against type in an unsympathetic role as a martinet career officer.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Advent 20

It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas. This afternoon the Groupie and I make our annual trip to the Symphony Hall for the CBSO Christmas concert - a lovely, warm, mushy event.

Today's entry represents writing of the highest stamp and near faultless playing across the whole extended cast - take, for example, Joe from next door in his limited appearances. The Royle Family manages to be provocative but affecting. Here we have the incident of Dave's van but I could equally have chosen any of the occasional mentions of Beverley Macca - ranking alongside Frasier's Maris as the best unseen character of all time.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Advent 19

Today the masterwork of a bona fide national treasure, Peter Kay. Phoenix Nights is plain brilliant. Funny, funny, funny. "Put 'im in t'Pennine Suite!"

Friday, 18 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 1

I've started early with my Christmas film viewing, having flicked onto the beginning of Rocky yesterday afternoon. Sylvester Stallone can be made out as ridiculous, particularly in the tiresome longeurs of the Rocky and Rambo franchises. However that analysis overlooks that both sequences started strongly with Rocky itself and the much underrated First Blood.

Rocky is a skilfully made film, scripted by Stallone himself and affectingly played by him and Talia Shire. It is of course not really a boxing movie but a love story and as such it works tidily. 7.5/10

Advent 18

For a night of engrossing television you can't beat a close run general election. We had one this year which gloriously confounded the smug pollsters. However my favourite was 1992 which saw two relative mediocrities, Major and Kinnock, competing to be Prime Minister. Rather as happened with Ed Miliband (remember him) the country finally couldn't see its way clear to having Kinnock as first minister. He has always struck me as the political leader with whom it would be most tolerable to have a beer. I've attached a sample of the BBC coverage (with the trumpeting of the gash exit poll) but there's all sorts of election clips on YouTube which might take your fancy. A particular gem is an interview with Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn offering their diagnosis of why Labour lost. They were as barking then as they are now and Red Ken as snide as he remains. One rather gets the feeling that Corbyn is by far the nicer man.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Advent 17

I've given this some serious thought (the only sort I do these days - no time for fripperies) and today's offfering is the greatest British tv drama ever made. Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong, Daniel Craig and Gina McKee have all had stellar careers on the back of it. I was lucky enough to see McKee as a terrifyingly brilliant Goneril in the Jacobi King Lear. 

So, you lucky people, here is the climactic final scene of the superb Our Friends in the North. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Advent 16

When I consider the entries in this list thus far it is hard to escape the conclusion that I perhaps spent more time than your average teenager watching BBC2 in the 1970's. So it goes and here is another example. From 1976 the top class filth that was I Claudius. Influential and racy, witty and watchable. This sort of stuff is arguably the precursor of the Game of Thrones et al phenomenon but done less salaciously and more classically. As an aside, it was one of the early acting credits for the excellent Kevin McNally who had the good fortune to be a pupil of my father at Central Grammar School. As another aside it may or may not be interesting (I suspect it depends on your politics) to note that Central Grammar School also produced Tony Garnett and Nicol Williamson and was exterminated by political vandalism in 1974.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Advent 15

Favourite sporting moments is perhaps for another year but I do have to include the coverage of the 1970 World Cup Final in any list of television monuments. I was just too young to take on board the 66 World Cup but by 70 I was an avid follower - sticker albums, Esso coins, wall charts, the lot. I watched the big games in the company of Mr Gould down the road because he had a a colour tele and he had played for QPR. Colour television took another dozen years to reach the Roberts household.

I am at heart a rugby man but the 'beautiful game' soubriquet is earned by football such as that played by 1970's Brazil. Enjoy in particular the poetry in motion of the final goal.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Advent 14

Yesterday we had an American version of a Danish crime thriller. Today we go the full subtitled hog and celebrate a Danish/Swedish original. The Bridge is spell-binding but above all else it has at its centre a great dramatic character, the autistic detective Saga Noren. And that character is given to us by what is categorically a great piece of acting - take a bow Sofia Helin.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Advent 13

The Danish original of The Killing was good but the American version was even better. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman as the principals, Linden and Holder, quite brilliant. Troubled, compromised and flawed people but suffused with an underlying goodness. A good metaphor for the good old U S of A. Donald Trump please note.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Advent 12

There are only twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers but they amount to a near perfect televisual tour de force. Cleese and Booth's finest hour. Brilliant performances and several great comic creations, not least the raging Basil. Here we have the fabulous wildebeest scene. Priceless.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Advent 11

Education, education, education. Before the patronising inanities of modern yoof programming, we had Blue Peter. We were all the better for it. I am, of course, a Blue Peter badge holder though far too modest to tell you why. Here is an indisputably great television moment - the incident of the incontinent baby elephant.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Advent 10

There have been times when I thought Brideshead Revisited my favourite novel. Now I'm not so sure but unequivocally Waugh is the modern writer I most admire.

The 1981 television Brideshead soon acquired an almost legendary status. Again, I'm not so sure. It has its faults - Simon Raven would have done a better job than John Mortimer with the script which too readily falls back on a voice over of Waugh's brilliant words. But those reservations aside, this is still easily a piece of landmark television and Anthony Andrews as Sebastian never did anything remotely as good again.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Advent 9

Back in November 1982 we were all agog at the wonder of having a shiny new fourth television channel. Channel 4 was born and on its second night of existence it transmitted a glorious, affectionate and funny film, P'Tang Yang Kipperbang. Has it ever passed this high water mark?

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Beyond A Joke

This has now gone past the point where we can laugh about it. The outrageous shitbag Donald Trump should be condemned for the bigot he is. I love America but people you're sleep-walking into moral oblivion and I'm damned if you're taking me with you. Trump Fascist

Advent 8

With today's choice we have to make a particular distinction between seasons 1 and 2. Season 1 was up there with the best television ever made. Season 2 was, all things considered, a very major disappointment - overwrought, poorly researched and under-written. A major fall from grace. But never mind because the first season of Broadchurch stands alone and is brilliant. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Advent 7

1974 once again, clearly a year for great television. This time it is Shoulder to Shoulder the BBC's compelling dramatisation of the women's suffrage movement. Educational and entertaining.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Advent 6

Beware of pale modern imitations. There will only ever be one authentic Thunderbirds. This fired my infant imagination. 5,4,3,2,1 ... Thunderbirds are go. FAB

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Art School Canteen

A gem of a programme on BBC4 last night - I'm Not In Love - the Story of 10cc. 10cc were one of the great bands of the 1970's, whimsical, witty, clever, melodic. Catch it on iPlayer while you can and then go to Spotify (other providers are available) and sample the classic 70's albums - my personal favourite is How Dare You!, the last one before Godley and Creme left the band.

gatefold - from an age when album covers mattered

Advent 5

To those of us of a certain age this series just cries out summer holidays. In our unreliable memories this seemed to be on every year. The theme tune alone (sampled here) takes me back to a gloriously innocent and happy age. All day television was still aeons away so we used to watch this early morning offering and then roar out into sun-drenched summer days of friendship. It must have rained sometimes but I can't remember when. Robinson Crusoe.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Advent 4

The Fast Show. Very British. Very funny. Everyone has their favourite characters but in the end I have plumped for a very brief extract from the "Which was nice" collection.

It is sometimes difficult to put your finger on why things are funny, this being a case in point. Mark Williams gets the required mixture of innocence and smugness spot on. As they used to say elsewhere in the show - nice.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Advent 3

Now for some comedy. This is the smoothest and most educated example of mass-produced, multi-authored American comedy. It ran for years and only got stale for one series when they struggled to surpass the Niles/Daphne unrequited love theme.

The writing on Frasier was never less than tight and the depth of characterisation was impressive, not least the minor characters. As an example I've attached a link to some clips highlighting Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe.

Tomorrow something funny and British. Very British.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Advent 2

Simon Raven - the pen of an angel and the mind of a cad. I've blogged about him before - one of my favourite writers, most particularly for the brilliant roman fleuve Alms for Oblivion. He wrote to make money and Spike Milligan quipped that Raven would have adapted the phone book for television if someone had paid him. Good on him. Raven's most monumental achievement in that field was his twenty-six part adaptation of Trollope's Palliser novels for the BBC, screened in and around elections, power cuts and broadcast union strikes in 1974. Yes you did read that correctly, twenty-six episodes. The sort of thing that British television just doesn't do anymore.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Advent 1

I am not old enough to have lived through the alleged first great shared (British) television experience, the 1953 Coronation. What I can remember vividly is how in 1970 the entire earth seemed to be living through Apollo 13's improbable return to earth. Here is a sample of the BBC coverage that held us all in thrall.

Tomorrow we will have something fictional and connected to an old friend of this blog.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Mens Sana

Feeling better and a tad younger today. After much deliberation and delay I went for a run this afternoon in the wind and the rain. Blew the mental and physical cobwebs away.

It's that time of year again fans - tomorrow sees the start of the Overgraduate advent calendar. And this year we will have my twenty-four most favoured television moments. Not necessarily the best or most edifying television but my favourite bits and pieces.

We were at Speech Day at King Edward's Aston last Friday. This served to start lifting my spirits and not merely because I got to sing the school song. The School Captain is an Aston lad of Asian descent and he finished his vote of thanks with an unforced and unaffected plea for tolerance and decency.  Gets my vote every time.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Feeling Old

I feel old most of the time these days. I lack energy and rather more worryingly I have to search around for optimism. It seems to be a condition of encroaching decrepitude that one feels that the world is, despite best efforts, going to hell in a hand cart. What follows is likely to be a disorganised ramble over the state of my world.

On 11 November I happened to mention the "muderous misogynists of ISIS". I did so disparagingly and perhaps flippantly. Two days later these barbarous scumbags massacred 129 souls in Paris. Less than a week later football fans of England and France together sang La Marseillaise. There is always hope.

On the evening before the Paris atrocity I happened to have watched Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow's engrossing procedural on the decade long hunt for Bin Laden. It begs questions about the propriety of "enhanced interrogation" aka torture and, indeed, questions about the value of the whole enterprise to kill Bin Laden. A very good film and proof, as if it were needed, that Bigelow is several times better a director than her over-lauded ex-husband James "Titanic" Cameron. 8/10. America makes films about these issues for commercial release. ISIS (or whatever one must fashionably call them in the post Parisian angst) obliterate ancient monuments. Go figure.

This entry is lacking direction, a product of my malaise. Today we have had the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, notable not so much for Osborne's abandonment of his plans for wretched Tax Credits but for the utter poverty of the Opposition response to it. The Labour Party, author at its best of the post-war welfare consensus, is currently a dangerous joke, led by an intellectul make-weight. This is a bad thing and it rather depresses me.

Traffic in Birmingham. What on earth is going on? This is also a bad thing.

Still, the panto went quite well last week, at least the audiences seemed to enjoy it. I found it pathetically enervating. This may be my malaise or may be the cause of my malaise. Hopefully the latter and a good snooze will prod me out of it.

For a few days I have been out of love with literary theory. This is a bad thing if you're trying to do a PhD. Is the theory industry not in danger of self-indulgence bordering on fraud?

A new series of The Bridge is screening on BBC4. This is a good thing. Saga Noren - what a creation.

Our central heating is playing up. This is a bad thing.

Russia and Turkey, neither terribly sympathetic countries, have been having a stab this week at starting World War III. Kindly get a grip. There are bigger fish to fry than each other.

Time for Grumpy to have that snooze. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Pantomime As A Theatrical Form

Here I am talking about the peculiarly British pantomime, that melange of fairytale, slapstick, music, loose plot, audience participation and mild innuendo. I'm in one this week which has rather got me thinking about this peculiar beast. Despite my role as Abanazar (another for my career collection of grumpy middle aged men) I have to confess that I am not a completely convinced advocate but I think I need to set aside any snobbery and acknowledge that is the only form of live theatre that many Brits are ever exposed to, or want to be exposed to. It is thus important.

As with most things it needs to be done well. Done badly it is execrable. I would even go so far as to say that the margin for error is smaller than with straight theatre. Our Aladdin is at the point of final dress rehearsal and thus far ours is not done well. We have tonight to get our shit together - that's a luvvie term. The biggest danger is self-indulgence by the performers, most particularly the dame and the villain. Even broad comedy requires a deft touch to be enjoyable. The other great danger is taking it for granted and treating the production of it with anything other than minute care and attention. This realisation has all come to me a bit late in the day and I am healthily terrified about the impending process. Oh yes I am. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Nation States

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

So says naive multi-millionaire John Lennon. I wonder what he would have made of the murderous misogynists of ISIS. All of which childish speculation is my clumsy way of morphing into a consideration of the nation state in modern Europe.

The nation state is not a firm concept and to the extent that such states exist I concede that they flow in and around other competing  repositories of sovereignty. See The Myth of the Nation State for a sociological perespective. If we confine ourselves to the purely British condition we have all these states, sub-states and super states to consider: the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales, Nothern Ireland, the city state that is London, and the super state (empire?) that is the European Union. Depending on your point of view, I've probably missed a few although I do draw the line at Cornish Separatism. I have left England off the list since that remains non-existent in political terms.

These competing entities manage, to varying degrees, to co-exist. The United Kingdom has fluxed and thrived for three hundred plus years but is now pulled to its limits by the burgeoning self-assertiveness of Scotland and the mass delusion of a united Europe. Scotland rather wants to have its cake and eat it and patrician English Tories tolerate this out of an outmoded loyalty. Wales would like as much cake as Scotland but is too meek to push its way to the front of the cake queue. Northern Ireland, well enough said. London is another country, alluring, contrary, expensive. Which brings us to the EU. Ah yes the EU. Le Grand Projet with its porous borders and many tongues. There is a magnificent irony in the emergence of English as the closest thing the EU has to a lingua franca. Ironic because the British (actually most notably the English) are as a breed ambivalent bordering hostile about the whole shooting match.

Any sentient lawyer understands that the EU (EEC as it was less portentously known when the process really got into gear) has long since been ceded great chunks of sovereignty by the UK's dim parliamentarians. And of course sovereignty is like virginity - it's bloody hard to get back once gifted away. So, to cut a long, sorry story short, we get the undignified spectacle of our Prime Minister asking the EU pretty please for the return of a little bit of our virginity - Cameron letter  

Cameron is asking for very little. In this one might conclude that he is at least being realistic. The nation state of the United Kingdom does still exist but in denuded form, hacked away from below and above. Eventually the realisation will come that the nation state has to be revived as the self-deceiving superstructure of Le Grand Projet tumbles in on itself. C'est la vie as we say in Birmingham.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

You Have To Listen To This

In their pomp and looking pretty fly
Listen while it is available - Pete and Clive - this is a little tribute to the matchless collaboration of Pete Atkin and Clive James. After listening, search out the 1970's Pete Atkin albums - this can involve a little looking under internet rocks but it can be done. Bloody brilliant. The most recent stuff is available on Spotify for free, but the true glory (at least to my tin ear) is in the early output. National treasures both.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Out Of The Past/Build My Gallows High

Uk poster
Out of the Past is a classic film noir and for completists we should note that its British release was as Build My Gallows High. I'm not sure of the reasons for this change in nomenclature but the British denomination seems to me to suggest a Western. Which this definitely isn't. Robert Mitchum is uber cool and the amount of sultry cigarette smoking has to be seen to be believed. 7/10.

Another Good Day - Winter Golf

Big Willy and I completed our brief North Wales tour with a round at Conwy Golf Club on Monday. The weather again benign although not quite as bright as the two previous days. Altogether a lucky trip. As if to emphasise our good fortune it rained copiously out of foggy skies as soon as I got back home.

OG advises avoiding the bunkers
Conwy is a proper links and a proper grown-up test of golf, not as pleasing on the eye as Holyhead but, if you get my drift, probably a 'better' course. Yet again the hospitality was notable. As is only right and proper Big Willy won on all three days. It's only a game (I refer you to my last blog on that particular topic).

RWC Bulletin 10 - England Even Manage To Lose The Aftermath

The final was decorated by the conscious competence of an outstanding New Zealand team - Ma'a Nonu's clinching try summing up beautifully the muscular possibilities of great rugby. Their 20011 win was sketchy (ditching twenty-four years of emotional baggage?) but this time they emerged utterly triumphant and must be praised. They beat each of the next three best teams in the competition (Australia, Argentina, South Africa) on their journey. Simply brilliant.

As for England, well as organisers we put on a great show - the full grounds bounced with energy,and the play was often compelling. As competitors we were abject. My view on this has hardened with the passage of time. Unprofessional and inexcusable. Heads should roll, not merely Lancaster but those around him and the clowns who appointed him. Don't hold your breath. As if to pollute yet further the air of decay we now have the stench of the tragi-comic end to the Burgess Experiment. After twenty-six games of Union Sam Burgess heads back to antipodean League with his tail between his legs and those who supervised the whole benighted project looking even more stupid than before, as if that were possible. Hey ho, it's only a game - in response to which inanity Ray Prosser used cannily to explete 'In that case what the f*** do we have points for?'

Monday, 2 November 2015

Some Nights It's Good To Be Alive

Still the same day as it was before but now I have to add praise of the evening meal at the Ship Inn and the top shelf goodness that Big Willy and I hit after the meal. Willy taught me a lesson in life (one that he had learned from a wise man) namely that you should allow one second on the palate for each year of ageing of a whisky. This works and out of the goodness of my heart I share it with you. Tomorrow we will set forth on the links at Conwy. It will do well to match today but Hell we'll do our best. Good night all.  
Welcome to the pleasure dome

Some Days It's Good To Be Alive

On a clear day you can see for ever
And today is certifiably such a day. My esteemed friend Big Willy and I are snatching a golf break in Anglesey and today we have laughed in the face of the gods. Much of the country, we learn, is shrouded in fog and yet we have played in bright sunshine (shirt sleeve order) at Holyhead Golf Club. As they would have it in the vernacular, a distinctly tidy golf course. Seriously, pay it a visit. James Braid design, not remotely long, several notable short par fours and very good par threes. We will return. 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

RWC Bulletin 9

Simply the best
Not that much need be said really. The two best teams (notwithstanding Scotland's peculiar ill luck) have reached the final and that game will be refereed by the best referee. So good luck to Australia, to New Zealand and to Nigel Owens. May they between them conspire to give the world a game it can cherish, to the benefit of my precious sport.

I had some hunches before the tournament, most of which have been wide of the mark. I always feared that England would lose to Wales and I near as dammit knew Wales would lose to Australia, but I figured that England would beat Australia and that Wales would be eliminated to nurse yet another persecution complex. As it turned out Australia produced one of the three seminal performances of the competition to floor England and England went out because they were too stupid/arrogant (take your pick) to kick a goal against Wales. The other two seminal achievements? Japan's heroics against South Africa and the All Black evisceration of the poor old French.

My other wayward hunches: Ireland went out tamely and were feebler than I had predicted; Argentina have taken a meaningful step forward in their method - I hadn't seen that coming, probably because I wasn't looking very closely.

The final? Really can't call it. New Zealand are the better team but it is difficult not to admire what Cheika has done with his Australian team and David Pocock is my player of the tournament. One to watch rather than bet on. Enjoy.

By the way I have discovered the joys of Spotify and am currently listening to 10cc's back catalogue. Nice. I will be breaking away shortly to try to get my head around Bourdieu's The Field of Cultural Production. Will the Boy Bourdieu be able to hold a philsophical candle to my favourite Frenchman, Roland Barthes? I wouldn't bet on that either. Cheery bye.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Crimson Peak

You can't beat a bit of gothic from time to time. And who better to deliver it than Guillermo del Toro, he who brought us the matchless Pan's Labyrinth. His latest effort is one of his English language offerings and although nowhere near as good as Pan it is stll pretty diverting. A litlle slow to burn it comes to a frantic and gory crescendo. I saw it in full Imax splendour with DN2. It reminded me of that Renaissance gorefest 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, which is another of my favourites. 6.5/10.

Finally dragged myself out for my first run since the half marathon and sensibly kept it to thirty minutes. The calf feels a little stiff  but blessedly usable. I've actually missed the exercise although I have been enjoying the eating and drinking. Big Fat Pig is alive and well and living in Four Oaks.

By the way this is blog number 600. Is there anybody out there?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

All Is Not Well In The World

Last week you were no doubt surprised to find me confessing common cause with John McDonnell. As an aside I do note that McDonnell is a fellow alumnus of God's own University of London, though not, of course, of King's - we didn't really do lefties. Anyway my inner political correctness is nagging away at me once again. Surely I can't be the only died in the wool capitalist who is queasy about this undignified toadying up to the Chinese that our esteemed government deems fitting - Where is the morality?

The tiger who came to tea
I am considering inviting the Dalai Lama round for tea so that he can be assured that we're not all like George Osborne.

I wouldn't mind our creeping to the Chinese if I felt we were on the upside of a cunning plan to exploit the one party statists and their loathsome fellow travellers and thereby precipitate their downfall. But I am left with the unpalatable conviction that our new found mates will simply shit on us again and again, much as they have already shat on our steel industry. Nobody sane is an absolutist about foreign policy but you do have to draw the line somewhere. Don't you?

At times like this I read my tattered volume of Bernard Levin's journalism (a thrift shop find) and wonder what the great man would make of it all. He was close to a lone public voice predicting that the Soviet 'evil empire' would collapse under its own odious weight. I hope the same is true of China's project but it will occur all the more slowly if we underpin the superstructure.

As another aside, Levin was another London graduate - LSE in his case, a place that really did produce lefties of heft. It was with a little sigh of regret that I read last week that the LSE is these days one of the country's most conservative colleges. Bloody hell, where will I be without my cultural stereotypes? 

Middle Aged Rockers

A splendid night at Oxford's New Theatre to see John Cooper Clarke and Squeeze. Pot bellies and dad dancing much in evidence as the ancient audience got into the swing of things but there is no denying that both acts have worn well. I was accompanied by Daughter Number Two, JE and AE. DN2 must have been one of the youngest there but she seemed to enjoy it.

Cooper Clarke is laconic, amusing and, yes, poetic. He had an album to promote (actually what we used to call a box set - Anthologia) which I am pleased to note (not quite sure why - ridiculous nostalgia?) is available on vinyl. The likes of Jeremy Hardy, Marcus Brigstock and the other legions of the bigoted left might learn a lesson from Clarke - it is possible to be right on without being hateful. Clarke even made a reference to the tour he made with Richard Hell and the Voidoids back in '78 which pleased me no end because that was when I had last seen him. Good then, good now.

Squeeze also have an album to flog, Cradle to the Grave, their first for seventeen years. The show perhaps inevitably lagged when they did the new material but the old classics were rapturously received and no one could be in any doubt about the talent and musicality of the band. Glenn Tillbrook's voice was strong and I had never quite appreciated how good a guitarist he is. And as for the new material, I'm going to buy that album so that in future I can sing along to that as well. 

A good night for ageing dancing bones.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

RWC Bulletin 8 - Correction

Viperjohn (my wise commentator - see comments on last blog) is of course correct. My summation of the RWC quarter finals should have said "Scotland aside" the Welsh had made the best fist of it.

As for the Joubert fiasco, well it seems that the powers that be have given official approval of my conclusion that it should have been a scrum, but in doing so they have hung the ref out to dry and yet not commented on the most culpable element of his conduct, that is to say his flight from the locus in quo.

Time to move on. We are all Argentinians now!

Off to see Squeeze and John Cooper Clarke tonight. I last saw Cooper Clarke at the Hammersmith Palais in 1978 when he was on a bill with Elvis Costello and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Costello was rubbish, the two supporting acts far superior. Review to follow.

Monday, 19 October 2015

RWC Bulletin 8 - An Unfortunate Sequence Of Events

Argentina deeply impressive. Ireland beaten by a better team, as they graciously conceded.

Poor old Craig Joubert did himself no favours officiating the Scotland v Australia match. The yellow card he gave Maitland seemed out of proportion, although Joubert may have found himself prisoner of the Third Match Official in his ear. But worse was to come as the game reached its denouement. The fateful sequence of events was murky and the options open to Joubert ranged , at one extreme, from allowing play to continue (this would have required that he detected no knock-on by Scotland) and, at the other, penalising Scotland. In the heat of the moment he went for the latter. Was there a knock on? Even if there was, did an Australian hand intervene before the next Scot played the ball? Forensic hindsight tells us that he would have been better served by justifying to himself the middle course and acting on the first offence, namely a perceived Scottish knock-on. Australia might very well have scored from the resulting scrum, indeed their resourcefulness almost makes this seem likely. As for the plaintive cries that he should have asked the TMO to help him out, well the IRB have (completely predictably) hidden behind the match regulations and emphasised that such reference would have been improper. But, would Joubert seriously have attracted anything but praise had he stepped outside the regulations? All of this is academic and my sympathies instinctively sit with the referee but Joubert's flight a la scalded cat from the pitch at the final whistle was plain wrong. Had there been hostility towards him from the Scots then this would have diminished them but for him somehow to anticipate such a reaction ill fits rugby football.

So European rugby has been humbled. Wales came closest to the semi-finals and an item on the ITV Wales coverage (I was in Anglesey for the weekend) perhaps summed up why they went no further - in a vox pop a group of demented middle-aged fans jumped around and deemed the situation acceptable because they had at least beaten the English. They do not mean this as a joke I'm afraid and it tells you all you need to know about Wales' failure to be as good as they could be. Which is a pity.   

Saturday, 17 October 2015

RWC Bulletin 7 - Bloody Hell!

I was privileged to be present in Wellington when the 2005 All Blacks dismantled Woodward's comically ill-prepared Lions. That was marked by the greatest single game of rugby union played by one man - Dan Carter. Tonight in team terms we saw the finest demonstration of what we might glibly call total rugby - New Zealand - 62, France - 13. Read that score again, I haven't got it wrong. In the television studio Clive Woodward churlishly highlighted the French shortcomings. Not remotely the point. New Zealand were magnificent. Simple things done accurately and at extremes of physicality. Next weekend they will face South Africa. It will be no country for old men.

At a less elevated level I took in Bath's televised victory over Exeter this afternoon in the Aviva Premiership - that's the competition for the top teams in England, a well known second tier nation. During the commentary it finally dawned on me that Austin Healey may just be as annoying a pillock as Stuart Barnes. On careful relection however I conclude that Healey knows he's doing it and cultivates the image. Barnes is, one fears, merely a tosser. Talented, but a tosser.

RWC Bulletin 6 - Postscript

The pair of Scottish players banned by the chumps on the RWC Disciplinary Committee have been reprieved on appeal. As the Scottish officials have sagely commented, 'justice delayed is justice denied'. The Scots faced challenge enough without having their preparations disrupted in this manner.

Just a thought - by my reckoning it was the fifth football World Cup before the tournament was won by a team that had lost a pool game. This is the eighth RWC and maybe, just maybe, the competition is ready for this signifier of depth to occur. So lump on South Africa?

Rogue Male + RWC Bulletin 6

Courtesy of ITV I watched Quantum of Solace last night. I had previously enjoyed Skyfall (quite a lot actually) and Casino Royale (less so but quite enough) so it was disappointing to find this Bond rather a mess. I suppose it did herald the darkening of Bond so notably continued in Skyfall but it was a bit too worthy in its painting all men (goody or baddy) in shades of grey and Bond himself was a rather a sulky rogue male.  The plot was a morass of non-sequiturs. Set pieces predictably bold but somehow uninvolving. 5/10.

Tonight we have one of those London Bus moments - you know the thing about them turning up in twos. Insofar as I follow a baseball team it is the New York Mets. Insofar as I follow a college football team it is Penn State. At 1.00 am tonight thanks to BT Sport (which we get courtesy of our broadband contract) both will be shown live - the Mets in the National League Championship Series against the Cubs; the troubled Penn State (the institution has still not fully recovered from a ghastly abuse scandal surrounding a former assistant coach) at the number one ranked Ohio State. What is a sports addict to do? All of this on the same weekend as the RWC quarter-finals, kicking-off of course without the pitiful host nation. If pushed to bet I would find it difficult to see beyond the bookies' favourite in each of the four matches, which would mean a semi-final line-up of Australia v Ireland and New Zealand v South Africa. However there are factors counting against this less than bold prediction: New Zealand seem habitually to be weaker at World Cups than they are between; France are a basket case capable of anything from heavenly to horrific; Argentina are ferocious; Sexton is missing for Ireland (and I count this an even heavier blow than the loss of O'Connell); Wales have the armoury (but possibly not the belief?) to down South Africa. The only one I cannot envisage going against the odds is Scotland v Australia. Don't get me wrong Scotland are an improving side but they have been cruelly dealt with by the laughing stock that is the RWC Disciplinary Committee and Australia have the wind in their sails. As for that Disciplinary Committee - well here's the news boys - it's a contact sport.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

John McDonnell Is Right

In case you've missed it, John McDonnell is the reliably barking, rabid red Shadow Chancellor, a bloke who makes Jeremy Corbyn look vaguely normal. So you will therefore be not a little taken aback by the title of this entry. But I'm sticking to my guns - John McDonnell is right in the limited but important context of tonight's business in the House of Commons.

I refer to Gorgeous George Osborne's positing of a "Fiscal Charter" which will purport to mandate a fiscal surplus in "normal" times whatever that may mean. I've looked at this from both sides now (in the words of the song) and, dear reader, it is nothing more than a political stunt along the lines of the wretched Fixed Term Parliament Act. The Queen in Parliament should remain sovereign. This goes for everything, including the even more wretched European Communities Act 1972. But you'd probably better not get me started on that particular Trojan horse.

If you want to know what should really be the thought about these species of political vainglory, do a bit of digging and look out Osborne's attitude to similar pieces of prestidigitation as practised by that prize donkey, Gordon Brown. Whatever happened to him? To save you time let me tell you that Osborne called it "vacuous and irrelevant". He was right, just as McDonnell is now. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Day After The Race - In Praise Of Neoprene

Well, we did it. Daughter Number Two and I both finished the Royal Parks Half Marathon, she in rather more style than I. All in all a great experience but not without the usual slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for the accident-prone Big Fat Pig.

My ten day taper for the event brought with it a cold, the after-effects of which are still with me. Not ideal but perfectly manageable. Much worse was an injury most curiously acquired. Last Friday I attended with a selection of old rugby buddies a sporting lunch at Veseyans Rugby Club - a club for whom I bear an affection even though the ignominy of my sole sending-off came against them. Because I have been on the wagon in preparation for the race, I had taken nothing more damaging than two pints of water at our rendezvous, the Three Tuns, when I essayed the short walk to the car park. It was at this innocent juncture that I felt the top of the bloody right calf muscle ping. I was only walking and not a drop of alcohol had passed my lips. Honest.

Now that I have got through it, it is safe to admit that in normal circumstances I would have stayed off the roads for at least a week in an effort to get over the injury. Bluntly however I was not giving way to this bloody upset, not after the training and the commitment to Rachel. So I delved into my collection of bandages and neoprene and devised a scheme to suffocate the strain under a neoprene elbow bandage, a bandage chosen to give more support than is I suppose recommended. Thus accoutered I set forth on Sunday and all went well enough for the first five miles, up in fact to the point where I passed the cheering Groupie and Daughter Number One. This was around Trafalgar Square and I even accepted a high five from a small child in the crowd. Rookie mistake, because as I left the Square I felt the familiar shooting pain in the lower portion of the right calf - the very site of my commonest injury. I stopped briefly, stretched and carried on. This wasn't working so on the Mall I slowed again and made a tactical decision - the neoprene had to be relocated at the locus of the new strain. Adrenaline would have to cope with the upper calf tear. Long story short, I got away with it and shuffled to the finish for an emotional reunion with Daughter Number Two who had finished twenty minutes earlier and returned to the finish line to look out for her old man. Between us we have raised fifteen hundred pounds for mental health charities and done wonders for our own self-esteem. You can't buy moments like that.

Can you see me?
You may recall my slightly jaundiced recollection of the London Marathon which a rather less fat pig did aeons ago. Well this was way better. Fabulous crowds and no dehydration this time, nor was the bloke in the rhino costume there to prove my nemesis in a sprint finish - I guess he had probably finished much earlier. If anything I had over-hydrated this time and had to take a call of nature at seven miles (don't worry I used the public toilets) so this was still not the perfect competitive run. Certainly I had runner better (and indeed further) in my last long training run but all in all I felt distinctly well-disposed to the world. A world that felt even more accommodating when I was reunited with alcohol by means of a glass of Pol Roger chez Daughter Number One, before I enjoyed the most welcome shower I can recall. Therafter it was on to pub and later restaurant to wallow in beer and a lobster dinner with  my absolute favourite people, The Groupie and Daughters Numbers One and Two. Late train home and still with the daft grin on my face. The calf muscle is shredded and I can barely walk today but when all is said and done this has been a worthwhile venture. Would I do it again? Ask me in a few weeks' time.    

Monday, 5 October 2015

RWC Bulletin 5

Yesterday commenced the mourning after the night before. England summarily despatched from their own tournament. There has already been much noise signifying very little so I might as well add my two-penneth. Let us concentrate on three topics which might shed some light on the English disease: back-row play; selection; restarts.

Back-Row Play
The king over the water
The more he goes unselected, the better a player Steffon Armitage becomes. But let us be clear - there is no unimpeachable and 'right' way to configure a back-row. David Pocock was awesome on Saturday but please don't start telling me that he is a a better No 8 than Read, Parisse, Picamoles. He is merely different and suits what Australia want to do. There are ways (though you would not have guessed it from watching England) of combating his style of play - if you want to see a master class go back to Richard Hill (playing as an open-side not on the blind-side where he won his greater fame) against Australia in the first Lions test of 2001. A very solid case can be made that Australia won that series not for any tactical reason but because Nathan Grey elbowed Hill in the head in the second test. But I digress. It is, in passing, interesting to note that Armitage often packs down at 8 for Toulon. Clive Woodward has long advocated that England should pick Armitage (at 7) and shift Robshaw to 8. I'm not sure but perhaps I have too much emotional investment in No 8 as a specialist position.

Where England have been found wanting is in their lack of a suitable pattern. What is Robshaw for? He is not a low scrabbler in the Armitage/Back/Pocock/Hooper mould, but neither is he an out and out athlete a la McCaw. Hitherto he has been a useful first receiver in attack but we hardly saw that on Saturday. There was rather an alarming air of hoping that something workable would turn up on the day. In stark contrast to Australia, England really didn't look as if they knew what they were doing. Which brings us on to selection.

Sometimes you are a prisoner of outrageous fortune, most particularly injuries, but England have suffered no more than others on that score. In the vital 10/12/13 axis England's selections betrayed a lack of certainty about what they were doing. Again, there seemed to be some blind hope that it would be alright on the night. In professional sport (actually in decent amateur sport as well) that is just not how it works. Sam Burgess was selected to learn how to play rugby union in the hurly burly of the toughest group the tournament has ever known. Henry Slade was selected for rich potential but was not trusted to play. From the combination of those circumstances came the decision to ditch George Ford at 10 - I strongly suspect that when push came to shove they simply didn't feel secure letting Burgess loose against Wales without the defensive comfort blanket of Farrell inside him.

I pick on this as a small example of the apparent lack of detailed preparation. England have not looked like a side who threaten to regain possession at restarts since Moody and Tindall retired. Not good enough.

Aside from all that - weren't Australia good? And let no one forget that their coach has been in situ for only a year. As I had mentioned in advance they have started to take scrummaging seriously again and they are chock full of good footballers. Others should watch out.      

Saturday, 3 October 2015

RWC Bulletin 4 - As Live

I'm greatly enjoying Japan v Samoa which stands 20-0 to Japan at half-time. Eddie Jones may have his clownish side when he indulges in the pre-match sledging/psycho-babble but one cannot dispute that Japan are a beautifully coached side. If (when?) England fail to beat Australia tonight how about Jones and Steve Borthwick being prised away from Tokyo to take over at Twickenham? I suspect that the RFU couldn't afford them, not this side of Japan hosting RWC 2019.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Strange Bedfellows

Obama and (God help us) Piers Morgan are both right. There, I've said it. Now you will all know that I love America (see my posts from July if you doubt it) but on gun control, I'm sorry folks, you're just getting it woefully wrong. Listen to your Commander In Chief. In this, if in nothing else, he gets it spot on. I say this as a friend and admirer.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

9 Days To Go - Knackered But Exultant

I've just managed to achieve that elusive thing, the fabled Runner's High. I awoke feeling mildly grotty (nascent sore throat) and first had some domestic duties to attend to, taking garden rubbish to the dump for the aged parents. I had it in mind to go for today's run in the afternoon but fought that lily-livered instinct and set forth in the late morning more in hope than expectation that this would be my projected longest training run. One hundred and fifty minutes later I was in full state of High, knackered but exultant. Now I can manage my taper. I will need to be careful that the training does not better the experience of the race itself - that was certainly what happened when I did the London Marathon nineteen years ago. I made all sorts of miscalculations on that occasion and finished badly dehydrated and diminished by the sprint finish in which I lost to a man in a rhino costume and a bloke with a prosthetic leg.

Time for one of our occasional consumer recommendations - this time for Mere Green Service Station to whom I have had recent cause to entrust both Helen's Precious Peugie (it's a Peugeot) and Rachel's Precious Fifi (Ford Fiesta). Swift, courteous, reasonably priced - you can't say much better than that - A Good Garage

The Overgraduate (who as any fule kno is a considerable intellectual) had a nasty moment the other day. He was surfing internet records of obscure second-hand books which might have a bearing on his studies when he was disturbed to find a listing for The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot. Now the received wisdom in the OG outpost of the halls of academe is that the Boy Walter died before he could pen any memoirs. Were this not to be the case, well I'm afraid OG would look not a little like a chump. We are therefore relieved to report that the said Memoirs are the recent confection of an Oxford historian Frank Prochaska. OG has a copy and has to say that it is rather good, a clever work of reconstruction. Here is a rather tasty morsel,
There is no method by which men can be both free and equal. If it be said that people are all alike, that the world is a plain with no natural valleys and no natural hills, the picturesqueness of existence is destroyed, and, what is worse, the instinctive emulation by which the dweller in the valley is stimulated to climb the hill is annihilated and becomes impossible. In contrast to our system of removable inequalities, there is an opposite system which prevails in the East - the system of irremovable inequalities, of hedged-in castes, which no one can enter but by birth, and from which no born member can isssue forth. In England, this system needs no attack, for it has no defenders. 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

RWC - Bulletin 3

Whoops! England ran into an implacable Welsh unit and now stand on the threshold of elimination from their own RWC. Wales were superb, Faletau and Biggar notably so. But it needn't have been like this. England froze in the face of the victory their first hour's play had seemed to earn. Their previously creaky scrummage was working splendidly and the line-out was good, the much lambasted Farrell was kicking faultlessly and all was well in the world. But actually it wasn't - for in amongst the polished muscularity one part of the collective English anatomy was not up to the job - this team lacks brains. A penalty was conceded in the very first passage of play and by the end they were no closer to learning the lesson. Unprofessional. As, I'm afraid was Robshaw's decision making in those final dramatic minutes. Kick your bloody goals - I was taught this by two wise men in my youth, my Dad and J.G. Smith my coach at school. And if you're not going to take the offered points then at least make a better fist of your line-out drive, rather than going down the narrowest (and thus easiest to defend) channel. If this was some sort of elaborate double bluff by England then it sure as Hell didn't work.

Overgraduate/BFP conveniently remembers his Welsh heritage 
Oh well. This is Dai Roberts signing off with a hearty Cymru am bloody byth. Oh and a reminder to my Welsh cousins that it is not alright just to beat the bloody English - there is further business to attend to.

Refereed a game of uncontested scrums yesterday, which is always a little unsatisfactory but it was a run-out for the dodgy legs. Those same legs did a two hour run/shuffle this morning and I'm feeling it now. Thirteen days to go.

Monday, 21 September 2015

RWC - Bulletin 2

Never ever before have I been so proud of my Japanese heritage. Well of course I made that bit up because I have no oriental connection of which I am aware. But my oh my, what a thing - quite simply and after all has been considered, the single most important result in the long history of international rugby union - South Africa 32, Japan 34. Nothing more need be said, just revel in our sport shattering its way out of parochialism.

International rugby's greatest moment
Another pleasant weekend surprise was to see Richie McCaw actually sin-binned for once. Not surprising was the forensic way that his New Zealand team unpicked the seams of their Argentinian opponents and constructed their victory. They are a highly impressive and ruthless outfit, but they can be beaten. By whom is not yet clear. England started fitfully, France well enough, South Africa woefully. As for Wales, we learned very little from the relative stroll against the amateurs of Uruguay, and as for Ireland, I am inclined to think that they are coming nicely to the boil, their physical peak having been very calculatedly scheduled for the crux of the group stages.

The unfairness inherent in five team groups is laid bare by Japan having to face Scotland only four days after the Herculean effort against the Boks. Fiji also suffer in having to take on the fresh Australians. Australia need to be watched - they arrive with a scrum that actually works, rather in the face of their own Union having fought a thankfully unsuccessful battle to 'depower' the scrummage to the point of extinction.

After Friday's wretched spectacle on the refereeeig front, things thankfully speeded up over the weekend and we were not subjected to quite as many unnecessary longeurs of video officiating. It is hardly an original comment (nor one that hasn't been made here before) but Nigel Owens is brilliant. I would not care a jot (and nor I suspect would the England camp) if he were to do the England/Wales match. And yes I do know that is not allowed - I'm just making the point.

Finally, am I the only one perplexed by the use of Cardiff as a venue? No doubt there was some financial imperative  or possibly some back-room deal over the voting for the hosting rights. Whatever, it was wrong when England and others got home advantage during Wales's RWC and it is wrong now.

Finally finally, and in case anyone is bothered, I got through my own refereeing appointment on Saturday without any new damage so BFP is still on the road, or at least he will be when Waitrose deliver the bloody shopping - already fifteen minutes outside the two hour window.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

RWC Bulletin 1

So it's here - Rugby World Cup 2015 kicked off last night with an indifferent England beating a determined Fiji.

For England: much to worry about, in particular some basics that should be in place by now if the team is to have any realistic chance of going deep into the tournament. For decades we have taken it as read that the England set-pieces will be strong. The current scrum is not strong. The current line-out is limited (ie whenever they throw long they lose the ball). On both counts one has to wonder if they are missing the brain-dead Dylan Hartley. Perhaps most distressing, why oh why is the passing of professional players so poor? Brad Barrit had a notably poor game in that respect - one attempt to put Johnny May away would have embarrassed a competent schoolboy.

But all is not lost. The bonus point was (just) secured. Nor should we be too disparaging of Fiji as opposition. Regrettably the injustices of a tournament structure that persists with pools of five are such that Fiji now get a limited turn-round before thay have to face a fresh Australia.

The worst aspect of the game was the video refereeing which added fully twenty minutes to the playing time. Yes, we want officals to get it right but for Heaven's sake boys get a bloody move on. 

A bit of bad news: BFP felt a twinge in the other calf yesterday and had to abandon a run. He has agreed to referee this afternoon so fingers crossed please. We are too close to the big day to tolerate any drama.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

On The Sofa With Walter And Jeremy

Today's guest on Dave's Sofa of Life are...
Walter Bagehot and Jeremy Corbyn of course, for Walter is seldom far from my mind and Jez is fascinating me. I watched Prime Miniser's Questions yesterday and was thoroughly stupified by the lack of any spark. The Boy Cameron could hardly believe his luck as the ordinarily baying crowds opposite were reduced to meek silence as Jez read out emails he had received from the public. This may have been an act of genius but I'm tending to another view for now.

What of our boy Walter? Well, it just so happens that I have been reading his articles filed from Paris during the 1851 coup d'etat. Those missives are provocative and vigorous, befitting a tyro writer finding his voice.
... even I can'tbelieve in a Government of barristers and newspaper editors, and also as against the Red party who, though not insincere, are too abstruse and theoretical for a plain man. It is easy to say what they would abolish, but horribly hard to say what they would leave, and what they would find.
Quite. Mind you I don't think I should push my luck by repeating Walter's views on universal suffrage or Jez and the boys will be picketing my local Waitrose to stop me buying Good Ordinary Claret.

Au revoir mes amis. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

25 Days To Go

Big Fat Pig is not counting his chickens but things seem to be coming together. I have been genuinely touched by the generosity of those willing to sponsor me and that spirit has kept me going in my training efforts.

Today we had another landmark - BFP dented the pavements for just over two hours, his longest run since way back in 1996 when a rather slimmer pig did the London Marathon.

My giving page can be found at

The State Of The World: Thoughts From The Sofa Of Life

Contrary to this Hegelian prognosis of 'standing at the end of history', which has been recently revived by Francis Fukuyama - this late student of Hegel as read through the eyes of Alexandre Kojeve - the present harbors [sic] many ironies, contradictions and perplexities. Ernst Bloch's phrase of 'non-contemporaneous contemporaneities', ... is more appropriate to capture the fractured spirit of our times. (Seyla Benhabib)
These perplexities are brought unhappily into focus by the religious and political background to the refugee crisis. As so often (a by-product of my reading him so much, rather, I suspect, than any unique brilliance on his part) Walter Bagehot got me trucking down this path.
I have just read (in a charge of Archdeacon Manning's) rather a good sentence on ecclesiastical history. 'The world persecuted the church in the beginning; espoused her in the middle ages; is disowning her now.' It must have been an immense gain in the middle ages that all their systematised thought was Christian and spiritual. (Walter Bagehot, 1847)
If Manning's analysis of ecclesiastical history is useful, it has to be remembered that it speaks only to the Judeo-Christian experience, and even then the timing of the phases has been different as between Judaism and Christianity. An application of the three stage test to Islam is intriguing. Which stage (stages?) is Islam in? Might I suggest that the extremists believe themselves at war with the infidel and the apostate and that this is the sole proper response to their persecution by a western 'end of history'. Secular Islam in the West struggles to deal with the simple appeal of this fundamentalism at one extreme and  gaudy faithless societies at another. As for the poor old godless western majority, having disowned faith ourselves we are speared by post-colonial guilt and inbred liberal tolerance. In the eye of the emotional storm pragmatism gets turfed out of the window.  There is no ready evidence of any politician having both the willingness and the intellectual heft to understand the situation, much less respond to it.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I Said It Would Be Interesting

I've just amused/terrified myself for an hour first reading an anodyne Robert Peston assessment of Corbyn's economic policies and the string of 'Have Your Say' responses to it - Would Corbyn balance the books?

The Peston article is of no great intrinsic merit, but the readers' comments are by turns hilarious and scary. One can hear the clatter of apoplectic keyboards all around the country. Very occasionally a shaft of light breaks through the stygian gloom of cant and shines like the rail at the end of the nave (I will confess the last simile is stolen from Clive James). One contributor even manages to quote from Hotel California, as if that could be relevant. Priceless stuff. Better than anything I can offer you, so I won't.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

A Couple Of Silly Films

I've not taxed the old grey matter too much with my film watching this week.

First up was The Recruit. This is one of the many films in which Al Pacino plays Al Pacino. It also has Colin Farrell, who undeniably has presence. Also undeniable is the implausibility of the plot but it does keep you sort of guessing. Mild fun. 5/10.

However if it is implausibility you want then go straight to Mission:Impossible II (what is it with the colon?). Now before you howl, I do know that this franchise is not about cinema verite. However this instalment  is just too knowing and, bluntly, silly. And what is the word I am looking for to describe Thandie Newton? Oh I know - rubbish. Plain bloody rubbish. 4.5/10.

Politics Just Got Interesting Again

As you will have noted (possibly with surprise) I have largely kept my nose out of the Labour leadership election, indeed I described any potential comment as being an intrusion on private grief. But now it's all done and dusted and they've done what would have seemed unimaginable six months ago - Jeremy Corbyn is to be the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

And on the whole I have decided that this is a good thing for me as a spectator. The sameness that has afflicted the last two decades of British politics will now be banished and we will encounter a different vision. It would be wrong to deny that I think Corbyn barking but it will be diverting to see in operation a man whose instincts are so deviant - his natural reaction is to favour the Arab over the Jew, unilateralism over multilateralism, Irish Nationalism over Unionism, collectivism over individualism. It all reminds me of my politically charged adolescence. Just don't make me wear flares and high heels, and please don't tax us at 80%.

Oh, if only, if only, there was a credible libertarian voice in British politics. Now that really would be interesting. Bollocks to Cameron and Osborne and their shaming budget deficit. At least Corbyn, the poor deluded darling, is honest about his addiction to government debt - rather like that nice Mr Mugabe, Corbyn's view is that there is no moral imperative to honour national debts, hence they can be taken on with a clear conscience. So far as one can tell the Cameron/Osborne plan is to steal from those few barmy enough to have saved and to hope that interest rates never go up. Fat chance.

Man at C&A
One final problem with Corbyn, actually two. Number one - why does he clearly hate the affluent so much? They don't all hate him- you can trust me on this. Number two - on what one might take to be the biggest day of his political life, why did he not wear a tie? Would he wear one to a wedding? I'm not an habitual tie-wearer myself but there are certain occasions that merit it. The flouting of such conventions in public life is not cool, it is in fact a form of showing-off and an assertion of superiority. Think Gordon Brown in his lounge suit at the Mansion House. Whatever happened to him? He abolished boom and bust you know.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

32 Days, Optimism Restored

I ran for 108 minutes this afternoon which lifted me out of a mild depressive funk. I feel nicely knackered now. A couple of days of rest since the 10k on Sunday seems to have replenished the batteries and I have even started to make some vague attempts at fund-raising. If you think you could support BFP and more importantly the good people at Mind you will find the link in the margin of this blog.

I remembered to eat before running, mindful of Sunday's travails. I think I've settled on a bagel with peanut butter and jam. I also had one of the energy gels I got in Sunday's pre-race goody bag.  Perhaps I should also try one of the sachets of porridge they gave me.

Queen Elizabeth today became our longest serving monarch. The BBC described her as driven by service and sustained by faith which all sounds rather marvellous until you consider that this might well be how the leaders of toxic perverted Islam now see themselves. That is not meant as a side-swipe at the monarch because I'm a considerable fan, but rather as a glum observation on the pitiful refugee crisis that so besets Europe. On which topic a little light is shed (or more accurately the lack of light is analysed) by the estimable Matthew Parris in the Spectator Columnists . While you're there check out the top drawer rant by a back on form Rod Liddle.     

Monday, 7 September 2015

34 Days To Go And Much To Do

Team Roberts (pictured) comprising BFP and Daughter Number Two (DN2) did the City of Birmingham 10k yesterday and it proved a very useful wake-up-call as the Team enters the last five weeks of preparation for the Royal Parks Half Marathon. This was DN2's first organised race and my first for years. It was tough. The longish downhill drag at the start sent an enthusiastic five hundred runners charging off too fast, certainly for the liking of poor old BFP. Still we both finished and have our chunky medals to show for it - DN2 came in seven minutes ahead of her perspiring old man.

I had optimistically decided to use the 10k as part of a hard training week. I'd been out for three outings in the course of the week including one ninety minute stretch and then refereed a match at AOE on Saturday afternoon - my first officiating since March 2014. The accumulated miles certainly told as I struggled up the final hill on Sunday. The event also reminded me just how much nervous energy you can use up in the build-up to a race, worrying about just how much to eat (I elected abstinence and this proved a bad mistake), when/where to have pee, wondering how to respond when what seems like the entire field tears lemming-like down the first hill leaving our hero feeling that he was running alone at the back of the field. I wasn't literally at the back and certainly plenty of people paid for the early pace but it was difficult not to be disconcerted by it all. Hopefully the Royal Parks masses will include more people set on observing BFP's steady plod.

So what next? Some hastily convened experiments on pre-run eating and a series of steadily longer runs. Also there will be a proper taper before the big day. I won't be refereeing that week.

PS. I really enjoyed the refereeing. Sunnybank Avenue looked a picture and the players behaved themselves, as did, for the most part, the referee. All in all a tonic in what can seem a very gloomy world - I refer to the refugee crisis not to my own unimportant and passing moods. I had started a blog about the various pieces of hypocritical sanctimony spouting forth on this atrocious subject last week but binned it as inadequate to the subject matter. Just occasionally even I know my limits. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Disturbed Night

I slept poorly last Saturday, kept awake to a marked degree I suspect by my gluttony at our old favourite The Ship Inn. As is usual I listened to the radio as I endeavoured to fall asleep. This generally works but on this occasion rather than being lulled to sleep I was still listening in the small hours. I encountered an adaptation of Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head. Murdoch is not an author with whom I am familiar, one of the many lacunae in my reading.

I found the story both brilliant and disquieting and I suspect this reaction says rather more about me than it does about Murdoch. Despite my liberal arts veneer I do have trouble with casual immorality. I can't remember being quite so disturbed by something since reading Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden. That experience left me with admiration at the craft but with no desire to read any more of his output. In this I am almost undoubtedly wrong, a fact not least signified by his being one of the Groupie's favourites. 

Time for the OG to grow a pair.

On a lighter note I ran for ninety minutes this morning without mishap. We're getting there. Slowly. Very slowly. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Black Dog Leaps From Behind Metaphorical Bush

My depression has been in a lengthy remission - pretty much since I left my job. Funny that. In particular Summer 15 has been a notably happy one. So maybe it is the passing of the season (for on the Roberts calendar September is forever autumn) or maybe it is something deep and repressed but today has come as a bit of a shock. There was the old inability to get out of bed, or rather the old fear that doing so would only be to provoke some calamity. Eventually I hauled myself out and went for a run, which did me the world of good. Self-healing. Hardly earth-shattering I know but an advance for me.

Perhaps it is the price I pay for another great weekend (Anglesey) or perhaps it was foreboding at my commencing self-imposed exile from alcohol until after the half marathon. Perhaps, but no not really. It's just one of those things and it's a bloody nuisance.

That weekend? A strenuous and stunning walk on Saturday from Porth Eilian to Amlwch; a lazy Sunday; a brief stroll at Menai Bridge on the way home. And some televisual/filmic highlights. On Saturday night we watched Woody Allen's Zelig. Terrific and clever. One should never mistake brevity for slightness. 7.5/10. 

Better than pizza
Sunday evening flirted with farce but ended in fun. It turns out that the Benllech Pizza House takes only cash. It also turned out that the village's two cash machines were out of money. So I had to abandon the margherita and the pepperoni in the shop and we dined of bread and pate. The evening was rescued by rewatching five episodes of the estimable Hebburn. I can't recall if I've sung its praises before but if you've never encountered it, search it out. Funny and affecting.  

LIfe goes on. I'm going to do some therapeutic floor cleaning.

Friday, 28 August 2015

That's What Radio 4 Is For

Just heard it, today's apothegm.
Think like an engineer - in theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

46 Days And The Contrary Law Of Expanding Returns

Contrary to my carefully cultivated image as a champagne-swilling parvenu, I do love a good bargain. So today has been a good day.

tres satisfactoire
I cycled (without puncture - Heaven be praised) for ninety minutes this morning, even seeking out the hilly bits to push myself that little bit more. Tres satisfactoire. Then I took the old garden furniture to the recycling shop - it feels that much more satisfactory than consigning usable items to the ignominy of landfill. Tres satisfactoire. Then I bought some sweet potatoes because tonight I am essaying sweet potato fries. Hopefully tres satisfactoire. Then I visited Majestic Wine. I love Majestic - lots to choose from, enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, what's not to love. It's bin-end time at the moment and if you're thinking of going to Mere Green to scoop up the bargain Undurraga or ludicrously (£3.66 per bottle) cheap Pied Tanque Blanc, forget it. The OG/BFP has bought the lot. Tres, tres satisfactoire. And just to cap it all, because I had taken all the stock they even sent me on my way with the three-quarter full bottle from the tasting counter. Tres, tres, tres satisfactoire.