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.