Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Advent 14

Possessed by a Faldoesque craving for perfection, Jonny Wilkinson is an altogether more lovable icon than the golfer. But make no mistake, both were possessed by a devilish attention to detail.

He was self-endangeringly committed to his cause and combined this with a technique honed by hours of practice. That drop-goal says it all - delivered clinically and decisively off the 'wrong' foot. A genuine hero - as revered in his adopted Toulon as on this side of the Channel.


Advent 13

There is no gainsaying the record of Tiger Woods but in all honesty I have never warmed to the man. He dominated golf in an unparalleled manner but it would seem the golfing gods are not to be mocked and his fall from grace was spectacular. He will be back but without his previous psychological edge.

I start with the case of Woods because when I admit my coolness to him it makes my next choice on the list seem a little contrary. I choose a player nowhere near as talented or prolific though nonetheless a titan of the sport. This man had and even more tetchy relationship with the press and he could behave with a stunning lack of grace. However this is what he was: a completely dedicated sportsman who got the utmost out of his game. He was thoroughly un-English in his commitment to professional sport and I admired him for it. Nick Faldo always gave us the spectacle of someone doing his damnedest to win. The contrast between him and Greg Norman in that Masters final round of 1996 was as telling a moment as the crucible of top sport can provide.

Tomorrow another slave to his profession/art.  

Monday, 11 December 2017

Advent 12

I promised you that this boy has a good engine, in fact some of his less charitable critics have alleged that Chris Froome must have a secret motor on his bike.

It is all too easy to be sceptical about cycling's grand tours, what with the industrial scale cheating in which Lance Armstrong participated. However a part of me has to say that you'd practically need to be on drugs to contemplate tackling these races.



Froome won his fourth Tour de France this year, but more enthralling still was his victory in La Vuelta in Spain. This was unfinished business for Froome and by landing that title he embedded himself amongst the modern greats. Not Eddie Mercx but still bloody impressive. Arise Sir Chris?  

Advent 11

The snow is lying all around, deep and crisp and even.

At number 10 we had Bryan Robson, of whom it was surely said (by Ron Atkinson you would expect) that the boy had a a good engine. Well, today's great has possibly the best engine of all time. Sir Mo Farah who can run the last lap of a 10000 metre race far faster than most humans can run that lap fresh. A great champion and a proud immigrant to and advocate for this tired old island of ours. His mien is generally uplifting and it is sad that our beastly press can sometimes be seen to bring down his mood. GOAT? In British terms undoubtedly.


Tomorrow, another good engine who has had trouble with certain elements of the press.

Advent 10

A great pub debate is to name the best player you ever saw playing. ICW and I have played this game about the best players we saw playing for West Bromwich Albion. For him it is the late Laurie Cunnigham. I think that's a good call but there is one even better in my mind. Bryan Robson was athletic, ridiculously brave and, like Martin Johnson in a different sport, a leader by example. He might, in my view, have been England's greatest centre back had he been deployed there but instead he dominated the hub of midfield and scored a lot more than his fair share of goals. He may be best remembered for his Manchester United achievements but he remains my favourite Albion legend.

  

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Advent 9

It's the almost legendary Roberts Christmas party tonight so I'm in preparation mode and have little time to blog. I'll be brief. For those familiar with my opinions on rugby football, today's nominee will come as no surprise. For technical grasp of her position coupled with physical equipment, I have never seen a better player than Maggie Alphonsi. I'm not a big one for nicknames but Maggie "the Machine" does convey something of her relentlessness.


Friday, 8 December 2017

Advent 8

Yesterday we had the image that has come to haunt English football. Today we have the picture that warms the heart of English rugby fans but with every passing year makes those fans yearn for the good old days: Martin Johnson lets out a triumphal roar and holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft.


Of all the achievements of Northern Hemisphere rugby (and I include in this the astounding Lions teams of the seventies) I just about rate the 2003 world Cup win as the pinnacle. Johnson was at the forefront - indomitable and suitably vicious, the man others followed unquestioningly. The team was put together with obsessive drive by the frankly bonkers Clive Woodward. Luck played its part - for example Johnson was not Woodward's first choice as captain - that was Dallaglio who got blown out of the water (but not out of the team - Woodward always knew which side his bread was buttered) by that unlamented journalistic coup, a New of the World entrapment. As Millwall fans and Brian Moore have been known to say: no one likes us, we don't care. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Advent 7

A picture tells a thousand tales. Here is the image that has come to haunt English football. Today's choice, Bobby Moore, holds aloft the unprepossessing Jules Rimet Trophy. Moore was an elegant and unhurried defender who was judged the player of that World Cup of 1966. Arguably he touched even greater heights as a player in Mexico four years later. Take a look at that photograph - not a splash of branding on show. We've never had it so good?


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Recommended Reading

A couple of things I struggle with: Booker Prize winning novels; authorial ventures into the demotic - the former tend to the overwritten and the latter can be embarrassing. But both these prejudices are triumphantly defeated by Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. In a thrilling exercise in literary ventriloquism, Carey gives Ned Kelly a plausible voice, a voice that can be affectingly beautiful:
That is the agony of the Great Transportation that our parents would rather forget so we currency lads is left alone ignorant as tadpoles spawned in puddles on the moon.
To maltreat someone else's joke, if I could write that well I would never go out, I'd stay at home reading my own words. This is a mighty novel. 
 

What's Another Word For "Inept"?

I ask because in casual discussion I am running out of descriptors for our government's handling of bloody Brexit. We are being taken to the cleaners by an arrogant cartel that thinks itself invincible. In charge of our project of exit is an impuissant Prime Minister who never believed we should leave in the first place. At this stage we have the inglorious spectacle of the Taoiseach doing Sinn Fein's republican dirty work for it and proving that in the world of the EU a little bitty piss-ant country can, when the mood suits the grand panjandrums, hold another to ransom.

For a bit of insight on how badly we have played this read Lionel Shriver in The Spectator - EU Divorce Bill

The EU would seem to be like the Hotel California - you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. It doesn't have to be this way but we need some sodding strong leadership rather than the craven appeasement which keeps getting chucked back in our face. And my argument here is not with those Remainers who so patronisingly question my sanity (I'm sorry boys and girls but honestly I'm not a political mentalist) but with the soggy middle grounders who can't be arsed to do any job properly. For the record I go back to what I was saying two years ago: I believe in the nation state and I am that annoying hybrid, a Catholic Unionist. The greatest chance of my constitutional nirvana lies outside the EU, just as does the greatest hope for true Corbynite socialism. That's a democratic risk I am content to run. My respect for Corbyn might be greatly increased if he would stand up and admit this truth - a truth he stuck to for all those rebellious years on the back benches but which now conveniently eludes him.

Oh well, there's always Christmas to look forward to. Cheers all.

Advent 6


 My contention yesterday was that Martina Navratilova is the greatest tennis player of all time. I can hear justifiable grumbles on behalf of other notables, but what the hell. It's my list

On the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) front I suspect that today's bold assertion may be less troublesome. Jerry Rice is the GOAT amongst wide receivers. If you ever get the chance, find out about the murderous off-season regime that Rice put himself through to assure his enduring physical prowess.

A tad prickly off the field, Rice was devastatingly elegant on it. And all of this having been drafted out of unfashionable Mississipi Valley State University. Poetry in motion.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Advent 5


Fifty-nine, count them, fifty-nine Grand Slam titles, including eighteen singles titles. Here's a bold assertion - Martina Navratilova is the greatest tennis player in history. Athletic and using the classic one-handed back hand, she was nevr less than compelling to watch in action. Off the court this political refugee from the privations of the old Czechoslovakia became a standard bearer for the inclusivity that marks America at its best. These days this sane, generous commentator can be found railing on her Twitter feed about that arch git Donald Trump. More power to her tennis elbow.

  

Monday, 4 December 2017

Advent 4

I'm afraid I fear for cricket - proper cricket that is. Apologies for repeating myself but the ghastly charade that is Twenty20 is nothing less than the bastard child that will devour its own parent. Along with much else this is one of those things about which Michael Holding is right. Holding, by the way and despite his murderous grace, does not make the countdown. Instead we have a bowler at the other extreme of velocity. Shane Warne was the magician responsible for the single best delivery in my lifetime. Always worth another look.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent 3

There will, you will not be surprised, be more rugby players in this list than from other sports, but today's entry is the only one from the thirteen man code. So you might mischievously argue that amongst the many prejudices overcome by Mal Meninga is my own inborn prejudice in favour of rugby union.

Of South Sea parentage Meninga had the double handicap of being a Queenslander in the days of separate Premierships. Having conquered all in his home state, Meninga moved on to the Sydney league and did it all again. He fitted in a still fondly remembered spell at St Helens and was the goalkicking fulcrum of two undefeated touring Kangaroo squads. His was the last hurrah for straight on toe-poke kicking but the accumulation of kicked points should not obscure the magisterial centre play that is his legacy.

Just yesterday the Australian team he coaches won the World Cup with a hard-fought 6-0 defeat of England. YouTube has plenty of evidence of his talents - give it a look.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Advent 2

Part Canadian (he won his Olympic gold as a Canadian), part Englishman (he was born and initially schooled in London), Lennox Lewis sometimes struggled to enthuse his British audience but the fact is that he was the last undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, unifying the alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies and honourably standing above the machinations of the crook Don King. He lost twice in his professional career and avenged both defeats.

Boxing always leaves one grubbily sceptical - should we really be entertained by the sight of men (and women these days) battering each other around the head? Possibly not, but notwithstanding the brutality and the promotional excess, it can give us a rugged nobility. Lewis got out with his marbles and his fortune intact and by the standards of the sport behaved at all times with an outstanding dignity. And eventually he won over the British public who acclaimed him Sports Personality of the Year in 1999. Quite right too.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Advent 1

Horse racing may not be, as is sometimes claimed, the only sport where the competitors are followed round by an ambulance, but I think we can agree that it is bloody dangerous. That danger does add a frisson to the spectacle, an uplifting (both literal and metaphorical) alliance of man and beast.

I cannot see that it is really possible to argue against the formidable Sir Tony McCoy as the greatest to have been legged up, but my list is based rather more on the emotional involvement I feel/felt in the endeavours of my subjects. Which brings us to that supreme and courageous stylist, John Francome. He carried his gifts into the realms of television and fiction after retiring from the saddle and I can confirm (don't you just hate name-dropping) that he is as wry and amusing in person as he is on screen. At least he was for the fifteen minutes I spent with him. They say you should never meet your heroes, but in this case they would seem to be wrong.

He rode (at 5/1) the first on-course winner I ever backed and that financial gain - one pound blissfully transformed into six - had me hooked. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Advent Calendar 2017

Yes it's that time of the year again and I can just tell that you are yearning to know what this year's theme will be. Pregnant pause, drum roll, further pregnant pause.

This year I will give you my twenty-four sporting heroes. No, not the greatest sportsmen (or for that matter women) but those whose stories/efforts/art most captivate my imagination. I will apologise at the outset in the face of my bias. After all it is my bloody list. We will start on Friday with one of the two chosen I have actually had the honour to meet.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

I Think I've Just Been Exploited

In fact I know I have. We've just watched Love Actually again. It is clever, knowing and cloying but it is so very well done. in amongst the ensemble cast we have Hugh Grant doing a good Hugh Grant impression (comme toujours) and Emma Thompson doing a masterclass in one particular scene in the power of silent screen acting. If you've seen it you know what I mean and if you haven't then  this enjoyable film is worth it for that scene alone. Makes you feel Christmassy as well. 7/10.

Is There Any Sight Better Than A Whingeing Aussie?

We may as well take comfort while we can, because I'm pretty sure that being an Englishman is going to become uncomfortable once the Ashes cricket starts later this week. In the absence of the fabulous Ben Stokes, England are in for a hiding. I hope I'm wrong because it would be nice to laugh in the face of Australia's gifted gobshite in chief, David Warner.

No matter, for now we have the rugby and a 'lucky' thirty points to six victory at Twickenham yesterday. Here's the news boys - nobody ever lost by that sort of margin entirely because of bad luck. England did get the rub of the green, but good sides do. Whingers in chief were the talented but chippy Hooper and Genia. I think I read somewhere that Hooper became the most frequently yellow-carded player in test history - again, these sorts of stats don't lie.

Elsewhere Scotland got close to a New Zealand side who remain the benchmark in world rugby but have lost that sheen of indomitability. Interesting times in the world's best sport. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

More Films - Great Ones This Time

And I use the term advisedly.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (did you know that the alternative 'dwarves' was Tolkien's invention to give his dwarfs more literary dignity - no, neither did I) changed the face and direction of cinema. It remains an alluring culteral artefact - beautifully drawn, funny and, yes, competently scary. 9.5/10.

Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951) is quite brilliant. An innocent man (one of only two such in the film) is trapped underground and a vulpine journalist (Kirk Douglas magnificent) connives to keep him there so that he can prolong the story. An early condemnation of the gutter press and the vile public that sustains it. Find it in Sky Cinema. 9/10.

Here's a bit of news - I'm rehearsing for a very minor role in panto at the moment - Snow White as it happens. Now my usual place as the baddy wasn't available, what with the Queen being female and all, so I'm the largely absent King (I blame him for the whole thing - poor parenting etc) who comes on at the end and dispenses good will. And here's  a tip - don't agree to do the props for a panto. It's bloody murder.  

Monday, 13 November 2017

Fiddler On The Roof

Another moderately ancient film that I have managed not to see until one of those late Autumn afternoons when it is cold outside and you fancy hunkering down in front of something undemanding.

I like musicals and this is a good one. The expansion of a stage hit onto the screen can oddly diminish the whole but this seemed to me not to be the case, not that I've ever seen it on stage either.

Good tunes and a none too saccharine treatment of serious issues. A Sunday afternoon well-passed. 7/10.
 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Three Films .. Or 'Movies' If You Must

Nothing of earth-shattering credentials but three films that can handily fill a spare afternoon or evening.

The worst first, though only of the three. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, has no pretensions that I could detect. It's an action thriller with some quaint personal background thrown in. I've said it before and will doubtless have cause to say it again - Tom Cruise does a brilliant impersonation of Tom Cruise. You can never accuse him of not trying. The whole thing rattles along and every time it might get bogged down in the back-story, another fight breaks out. OG liked it. 6/10.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter prequels, set in a deftly realised 1920's New York. Whisper it if you must, but I actually thought this better than the overdone later Potter instalments. Eddie Redmayne stars and I thought his performance on the mildly annoying side of winsome. Better to zero in on his co-star Dan Fogler who delivers a great turn as the bumbling No-maj (which is what American wizards call Muggles - and if you don't know what a Muggle is then this may not be for you). 6.5/10.

The best for last. The new Paddington sequel is just out so it is only fitting that OG has finally caught up with the original. I was mildy trepidatious about this because of fondness both for the books and the old television adaptations, voiced by Michael Hordern. As it turns out, no worries. This is a generous, warm fuzzy-feeling sort of a film. 7/10.   

Thursday, 26 October 2017

What's The Collective Noun For Tossers?

A certain Chris Heaton-Harris has written on House of Commons notepaper (so far so good - he is an MP so he's entitled to use the stationery) asking university vice-chancellors to kindly let him know who is teaching European Studies and what they are teaching about our old friend Brexit. You can find a copy of the letter here: Heaton-Harris letter

I've had a good think about it and on balance, all things considered, looked at from all angles, I've decided that this man must, charitably, be a tosser. The information he seeks would be interesting but his method of trying to assemble it is disingenous in the extreme. As I say, tosser.

However, the reaction to it from certain universities is a little pathetic - rise above it, let him do his own research. Bin the bloody thing.

And here's something that isn't a secret - yes our universities are a hotbed of self-pitying leftist tosh. They have been for all of my life and I suspect it will be ever thus - and I include in that disparagement both of my almae matres, the both of which I regard with proud affection. It is always open to people to go against the flow - I did and lost no friends through it. It is when they won't let you speak you should be worried. And I strongly suspect that this is what is in Heaton-Harris's tiny little mind. Certainly the shrill reaction to his tossery suggests that they fear that that tool of the assinine left, no platforming, is to be turned on them by the big bad bear that is the government. Don't worry yourselves my dears - this government has trouble in breweries, piss-up wise.

How about a 'throw' of tossers?  

Monday, 23 October 2017

There Ain't No Party Like ...

OG and Groupie bust some moves
An Irish party. Went to a proper old hoolie on Friday night. A sad event (car crash/serious injuries etc) had provoked a life-affirming benefit evening of drinking, dance and music. Daughters 1 and 2 were both back to attend and it was nice to see old friends. Even did some quasi-dancing myself - throwing shapes is, one believes, the vernacular. Once you've got rhythm it never leaves you. Stop laughing at the back!

I'd actually worked quite hard last week on the old thesis - who'd know that Antonio Gramsci could be so diverting. That's the thing with those old Euro-Communists - they had a good story to tell and for all that they were wrong, at least they had some optimism. And that in a world that can give us Trump is some solace. Here is Gramsci on Caesarism:
Caesarism can be said to express a situation in which the forces in conflict balance each other in a catastrophic  manner.
Something in that when you come to think of it.

Well anyway, what I was going to say was that after my alco/dancefloor endeavours I had a fabulously lazy weekend watching lots of televised rugby. First up was the pleasing sight of the Australians beating the All Blacks. I say this not because I find it anything other than weird to support Australia but because the New Zealand hegemony has spawned some hubris and it needs deflating (if that's what you do to hubris). Wayne Barnes was refereeing and it was quite funny to hear the half-blind Aussie commentators trying to rein in their instinctive (and ignorant) disapproval of his officiating. Talking of hubris and ignorance, we can hardly complain about the antipodeans whilst Stuart Barnes is still taking the Murdoch dollar - I loved him as a player but, really, what a pain he has become. Only Austin Healey comes close and I rather suspect he knows exactly what he's doing.

Also spotted this weekend: a top class official giving a free-kick for a crooked feed into the scrum. About bloody time. Hardly surprisingly it was Nigel Owens. Sometimes the wisdom of crowds is right - Owens is the best referee in the world.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

God Was In His Heaven

The sun shone, God was in his Heaven, The 1st XV won, and all around was the company of good men. I took Dad to the rugby club yesterday and it made me feel glad to be alive and to be part of the brotherhood that is Aston Old Edwardians. We are far from consistently perfect but the small moments of perfection still thrill me.

Where is rugby football at? Well, the administrators in their attempts to confect things for television have bound themselves into an injury crisis born of the supposed ingenuity of coaching. The way I was taught to tackle by that great man of Neath Ray John (still going strong - I saw him earlier this week) has become unfashionable, notwithstanding that it is the safest and most effective way of grounding an opponent. Oh well, what do I know?
not actual gameplay footage

To continue the theme of satisfying experiences, today I have cut the lawn. Stripes a-go-go.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Back On The Chain Gang Again

Holiday well and truly over. Post-holiday sulking almost over, situation not assisted by the bloody right calf straining itself when out for a run on Tuesday. Doesn't seem too bad, certainly not as marked as the repeated injuries I used to suffer, but all intimations of mortality are unwelcome. Particularly unwelcome as the wider Aston Edwardian community tries to negotiate two significant deaths.

Harold Jessop was described to me (by a man who would know) as 'the first modern school teacher'. But he was so much more than that - as a rugby master he inspired umpteen generations and was counted by the genius that is Gary Street as his greatest influence. But above all else, he was a complete and unmediated gentleman. He led a full life but the world is nonetheless harsher for his passing.

Terry Green was another schoolmaster, not one who taught at Aston but a man who played his rugby at Aston Old Edwardians - an inspired and beguiling captain of lower teams, an urbane referee, and a cheerful and always encouraging chairman of the club in my year of captaincy. He was serving as a governor at School when he was taken too soon from us. His funeral was a celebration of a life well-lived, and definitely the only such occasion I have encountered where an Elvis impersonator was part of the proceedings. Beautiful. Terry was one of the two most artfully amusing men I have known - both are now dead. As I've had cause to quote before: ' I have the only cure for life/ and the cure life is joy/ I'm the crying man that everyone calls laughing boy.'

Saturday, 7 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 9

We're back at home now after a drive that couldn't have been much different from the difficult journey up to Northumberland. Then we seemed to be in one traffic jam occupying most of Yorkshire whereas yesterday we sailed home with minimal delay. We had pizza for tea to ward off post-holiday blues. I washed it down with a nice chianti.

Our penultimate full day on holiday took us to Alnwick Castle. Fabulous - don't be tempted to do the garden and the castle together in one afternoon. If you must do both on the same day, make sure it is a full day. The state rooms in the castle are particularly impressive - monumental spaces and magnificent art on the walls. Also some of the most knowledgeable and approachable room attendants known to man. As you can probably tell I really liked the place. Hats off to the resident Percy family who seem to me to be handling their great good fortune with an appropriate touch. Oh, and don't worry - they don't overdo the Harry Potter connection.
Dining Room at Alnwick Castle


Our last day took in some beach walks in high winds and an evening meal at the Potted Lobster in Bamburgh. Bloody good, most particularly the salt chilli squid I had as a starter - The Potted Lobster

Final thoughts - Northumberland, a magical county, particularly in the lucky weather we encountered. I have had a monopoly over the company of the Groupie for a fortnight and that can make a magical place seem even more enchanted. Am I glad to be back in the luxuries of home? Not quite yet, but I'm getting there. And anyway we're making a very swift run up to Anglesey tonight to see how the installation of new kitchen and bathroom is going. Not exactly the Percy family but we should count our blessings.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 8

Back to Cragside today, not to revisit the house but to attempt to do justice to the massive estate. You could quite profitably spend the best part of a week getting to know the forests and lakes. There is a six mile road around the estate with numerous parking areas with intersecting walks commencing in them. We found time to do five walks from four of the car parks. Best views are from the Maroon Trail from the Crozier Car Park. What a place.
What a place
We indulged our habit of breaking the journey back here to have a pint of Black Sheep and a large sauvignon blanc at the Victoria Inn. Also a delicious but unnecessary portion of chunky chips. This really is a great part of the world. Gavi going down nicely - will be eating hunter's chicken shortly. As little orphan Annie used to say - it's a hard knock life.

Monday, 2 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 7

Kelso Abbey
We conducted a whistlestop tour of the Scottish Borders today, pride of place going to Kelso which (and I may be miles wide of the mark here because I have done no research) exudes an atmosphere of dignified affluence, nowhere better exemplified than in the strikingly well maintained Garden of Remembrance. Kelso may very well be the pie capital of the world - only £1.10 for a chicken curry pie, this a full seventeen pence less than the excellent chicken and mushroom pie I had in Alnwick last week. Can we take these prices home with us please?

We crossed back into England for dinner and on that subject I have some exciting news for you. It is official, OG has spoken and the Groupie will verify his claim - Lewis's in Seahouses is the best chip shop in the world. Yes even better than the Golden Fry in Benllech. Fabulous chips and divine haddock. Fizzy wine for pudding I think.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 6

Yesterday back to Alnwick but this time to visit the Alnwick Garden, a modern wonder of creativity and monumentalism.
The Grand Cascade at the Alnwick Garden
Today has been one of sporadic rain and high winds but in the face of my lethargy I plodded for four miles this morning. Coupled with our walk this afternoon from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle I now feel ready for pesto pasta and vinous accompaniment. Judging by the clatter of bottles we delivered to the bottle bank at Craster we have been doing well by the vintners of the world.  I'm also doing my bit for brewers - two pints of Black Sheep at the Jolly Sailor in Craster. Bosting.

A two week holiday still doesn't feel like enough to do justice to this fabulous area. It's a hard life being me.


Friday, 29 September 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 5

Unwooded, ergo imitation chablis
Two days to report. First up we went to Warkworth. Cracking castle, cracking beach. Northumberland really is, well, cracking. On our way back to base camp here in Bamburgh we had a couple of false starts in sourcing an impromptu early dinner (it is out of peak season after all and publicans have better things to do than keep kitchen staff primed for stray Brummies) but got lucky when we found the Joiners Arms at Newton-by-the-Sea. Now styling yourself a "gastropub" can be a hostage to fortune but they carried it off. Only slightly flaccid chips stopped this being a full-on five star encounter. The Groupie and I shared a stellar baked camembert, served with rustic toast. None of the components is difficult to produce passably but to get it as right as this deserves plaudits. Interesting wine list also, including a Chilean unwooded chardonnay, Campesino 2016. A nice change from habitual sauvignon blanc. Altogether worthy of a detour - Joiners Arms

We awoke to rain today, the first daylight precipitation we have seen. This suggested a take it easy sort of  a day so that is what we did. We ventured to Alnwick so that I could indulge my passion for second-hand books - Barter Books in Alnwick is simply bloody enormous. A good outing for me - found a first edition of Friends In Low Places by Simon Raven to add to my unimpressive collection. Also picked up a massive biography of Don Bradman and an early Piers Paul Read - I do love my catholic authors. After taking in downtown Alnwick we accidentally (well we knew we were going somewhere but we weren't aways sure which somewhere it would turn out to be) lighted upon Alnmouth. Quelle surprise, another cracking beach.

Tonight I will mostly be drinking malbec while the Groupie takes part in a terribly important conference call. I must say I'm rather glad that 'Dave the Mogul Years' is behind me.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 4

I'm such a good boy. I roused myself from another sound slumber and warded off the worst effects of over-eating (says he hopefully) by taking on another four mile run - this time into the dunes and out again (via someone's drive - sorry about that, I got lost) and then round the village green a few times with the castle lowering over me. Back to base for coffee and a bowl of Shredded Wheat. Breakfast of champions.

The Groupie had to do some work (boo) but when that was done we went for a good walk - into the village and over the golf course for  a couple of hours. There are people who know stuff who think Bamburgh Castle Golf Club the most picturesque in Britain. Who am I to argue? I played there years ago with my late and lamented mate Rod Meere.


We stopped off on our return journey at the Victoria Inn to reward our efforts. The Groupie had her usual sauvignon blanc and I went for the Black Sheep Bitter, which as any fule kno is damned fine beer. Damned fine thick-cut chips with our drinks. Naughty but nice and we are on our hols after all. Curry for tea - I may have to run more than four miles next time.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 3

Or to be more precise, what I finished reading on my holidays: All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. I recommend this cheerfully, darkly, weird novel. It mixes multiple points of view with a bit of science, outbreaks of violence and even a smidgen of fantasy. Made me laugh and cry - well not literally but you know what I'm getting at.

Today we went to what is officially (OG has spoken and the Groupie endorses his view) the best National Trust property - the phantasmagorical Cragside, a wild architectural experiment perched halfway up a hill and with massive introduced forestry and gardens sprawling at its feet. It was the brainchild of the first Lord Armstrong, one of those polymath Victorians who leaves you feeling utterly inadequate - he was a solicitor turned engineer/industrialist who made his home the first in the world to be lit by hydrolectricity. I remember being gobsmacked when first we visited twenty years ago and it did not disappointment on return viewing.

Drinking rioja and about to have a mince pie - it will soon be Christmas you know.

Monday, 25 September 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 2

No running today. Another great night's sleep. Weather a tad gloomy but no rain on the righteous - it all fell before we set out for Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Tasted fine to me but what do I know?
Visited the regimental museum of the King's Own Scottish Borderers - such places are always good for administering a healthy dollop of humility. Walked the town walls and had coffee and dime bar cake before heading back to Bamburgh. Stopped off in the village for a pint of VIP Village Bike, brewed in Alnwick. Went down well enough with this non-expert. Groupie stuck to sauvignon blanc. Will be having chilli con carne for us tea.

We have been treating ourselves to old episodes of Phoenix Nights. Peter Kay - bloody genius.

All still well in the world.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 1

We started by spending far too much time in the car - problems on the A1(M), lots of problems. Got here in the dark and struggled with the key safe so had brief visions of sleeping in the car, but the Groupie intervened and all got sorted. Accommodation is plush - bloody enormous television. Slept like a baby.

Awoke to enjoy the views of the Bamburgh dunes, possibly my favourite vista in the world. I love this place. Went shopping in Alnwick - you can always rely on Sainsbury's. Ate and drank a lot and fitted in one walk along the world's best beach. Groupie made Mediterranean tray bake chicken for tea - top notch tonto. Swilled down some Dao Agenda. Slept like a baby.

This morning - four mile run down to the golf course and back. Richly deserved bacon sarnies for breakfast. Costa Rican Tarrazu coffee. Most excellent.

Embleton
We were going to walk from Embleton down to Dunstanburgh Castle but the path was overgrown so we we headed off in the opposite direction on the coast path - start along the sixth fairway of Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club; onto the beach going North; to Newton-on-Sea and beyond; track inland on the way back, finishing via the Embleton dunes; Guinness and  a fruit scone in the golf clubhouse. Most excellent - legs stiff now, first glass of wine now half done. Groupie watching Great British Bake Off - in which regard we have to say well done to Channel 4 who have stuck to the tried and tested format and done the right thing by a modern British institution.

Just to make sure that I don't get too happy, as I channel-surfed I came upon Diane Abbott addressing the Labour conference. I mean really, what a five star, designer plonker. Worse than Theresa May even. I'm going to think about something nicer - the evening is drawing in but I can still just about see those Bamburgh Dunes. Life is good, soon be dinner time, first glass now finished.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Disney now own the Star Wars franchise (and that term is properly applied here) and there have been mutterings that this cannot be a good thing. Well, after the dross of Episodes One, Two and Three, methinks the anoraks do protest too much. Episode Seven was very good and, having finally got around to watching it, I must say that the spin-off Rogue One, is very far from being the opportunistic money-grubber it could so easily have been. Actually I'll rephrase that - of course it's opportunistic and will doubtless have grubbed up plenty of dosh but, and here's the rub, it's rather bloody good. It even has a little to say about the blurred areas between good and bad in any conflict. I like a bit of nuance. Not too much mind. 7.5/10.

You can overlook the good things on your doorstep. So with Aston Hall, stately in the park and a couple of healthy stone throws from my alma mater. I hadn't been there since my teens. If you're at a loss for something to do and you're in the vicinity go and check it out. The Groupie and I were there courtesy of the Birmingham Independent Food Festival - food outlets dotted around the grounds of the Hall with booze and music also on offer. The weather was kind (to us at least - it rained only as we went home) and we Brummies were out in force. Luigi's Pizza was excellent and so was the curry (I know, we're pigs - at least I am) and the two bottles of Italian fizz. Don't worry I wasn't driving.
Welcome to sunny Aston
 
More good news - I'm still running and the calf muscles are still behaving. Mind you it took me an age to reach and overtake the pensioner walking his dog ahead of me this morning. I began to wonder if he was taking the piss.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Plus Ca Change

I have three pieces of recreational reading on the go at most times: early evening non-fiction; daytime fiction; nighttime fiction. From the first of these the following caught my eye:
"The Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950, called for a 'supranational community' to be established in Europe. The first stage was to pool coal and steel resources in order to improve the efficiency of the European economy. From this would eventually emerge a project with the professed aim of establishing 'ever closer' political union in Europe." Citizen Clem, John Bew
Prime Minister Attlee's government is described as 'squirming' at Schuman's proposal - Schuman, by the way, was the Foreign Minister of the West German government. At least Attlee understood what this all meant - later governments practised wilful ignorance or plain deceit. Take your pick. And we are now squirming all over again, which probably serves us right.

My musical tastes puzzle me - today I have been listening to John Denver, a voice as clear as those mountian streams he sang about. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Played With An Oval Ball

We are ... Penn State. 109,898 - I'll put it in words as well so that you can see I mean it - one hundred and nine thousand, eight hundred and ninety eight. That was the announced attendance as Penn State downed Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon at Beaver Stadium. Raucous and joyous.

Perhaps twenty people (I didn't count them) watched the lower team game at Sunnybank Avenue earlier in the day. Dad and I were amongst them. We repaired to the bar in the second half and the throng greeted dad like the hero he is - one of Aston Old Edwardians' Honorary Life Vice Presidents, an honour we don't just fritter away. Where else would you rather be?

I was fulsome in praise of the start to the Aviva Premiership last weekend. Weather and human weakness intervened this weekend although there were exceptions - not all was as dire as Friday's Sale v Newcastle. Still the best sport in the world mind. No matter what all those people at Penn State might think.  

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

To Hell In A Handcart

That's the way the world is going but there's no spiritual profit in saying it anymore. Everyone can tell we're absolutely buggered and there's no novel spin I can bring to bear. It is all souring my mood so I'm going to change the subject.

I'm listening to Seventh Sojourn, the 1972 Moody Blues album. This is making me feel all nostalgic for that other dire political decade and it reminds me that I had a bloody great time in the 70s despite all the degaradations that life chucked at us. So I'm trying to be positive and I'm going to walk on the sunny side of the street. In that spirit I have been running again and I was like one of those boxers toiling to make the weight - I had put on my rainproof jacket (didn't need it as things turned out) so ended up sweating like a Big Fat Tonky Pig. I'll tell you what, water tastes bleeding lovely when you've been for a run. Water as soon as I finish the run, then a shower and a cup of damned fine coffee after that. Next on the menu could be some red wine but it's s a bit early yet.

What else can I tell you? Rugby - an exuberant start to the Aviva Premiership with high skills and high ambition on display. This bodes well. Also exuberant are the Currie Cup in South Africa and the NPC in New Zealand, but where oh where are the crowds? So far as one can judge there's no bugger turning up to watch, which, in rugby's bible belts, does not bode well.

I'm going to forswear the red wine just for the next couple of hours but might have a slug with the pork steaks I'm cooking for tea - plain grilled with steamed vegetables. Less is more.

Rest in peace Walter Becker who passed recently. Half of the brilliance that was Steely Dan - another reason to view the 70s with affection. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Au Jardin De Chez Nous

I sit in our garden typing and looking up to be transfixed by the parabola of the water sprinkler as it feeds what I have to concede is the rather nice planting. I can take no credit for the scheme, concocted as it was by the designer under instruction of the Groupie. My contribution is limited to destructive tasks (horticulturalists deem it pruning) and the cutting of the lawn. Still it is a nice place to be. I have a glass of chilled water to hand and, bad form I know, also a glass of cold red wine. This, of course, is one my rare social faux pas. The red in question is Porta 6, Vinho Regional Lisboa. Great label.

Summer will subside into Autumn, this mixed season perhaps my favourite time of year. Rugby will be back and over the long horizon comes Christmas, which, now I think about it, is also perhaps my favourite time of year. Actually, I like people better at Christmas and I like the weather as it is now.Then again, I love long sunlit June evenings and my best rugby was played in the mud of the new year. I shouldn't have started down this line, but I'm not deleting it.

We've watched another good film, in fact very good - Nocturnal Animals. A story within a story, the second layer of the confection bearing tones of Cormac McCarthy. That's very much a compliment in case you're wondering. The ever reliable Amy Adams and Jake Gylllenhaal star and this is a nicely creepy psycho-thriller, albeit I was not entirely convinced by the enigmatic ending - couldn't think of a better one mind. 7.5/10.

I'll tell you what's funny: That Theresa May that's what; that Donald Trump that's what. Satire. I'm here all week.


Monday, 21 August 2017

It's Just a Matter Of Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other

That's all there is to running, so I keep telling myself. Oh and you also have to pray (perhaps that's a bit strong - fervently hope then) that the bloody calf muscles hold up. And as you know the new orthotic insoles seem to be doing a job on the bloody calf muscles. So even on  a dank Monday morning after a dissolute weekend I was up to putting one foot in front of the other. Three miles of distance run. And it has the desired effect. Endorphins a-go-go.

But none of this improves, except on a very local level, the world at large. I heard that bloody Theresa May this morning giving forth on the enforced silencing of Big Ben (the tower needs refurbishing) - well quelle surprise, she even sounds ineffectual on that matter. Mind you, a good thing coming out of the confected silly season rage about that topic, is that John Bercow seems to be in the critical firing line. We don't like him - we've met him.

I have another film of merit to report: Disney Pixar's Inside Out. Honestly it is really sweet (not sure I've ever used that phrase before - too saccharine for the house style?) and one heart grabbing moment had Daughters Numbered One and Two (aka the Two Man Idiot Show - back in Brum for the weekend) reaching for the tissues. 8/10.

So often we come to good television late and courtesy of Netflix - thus with the bleak medical comedy Getting On. This is very dark stuff but with just enough human edge. Particularly brilliant is the jargon-fluent male Matron, Hilary Loftus played by Ricky Grover. If you haven't encountered one of his species, that is to say the over-promoted and clinically useless, then you are very lucky and have probably never worked in the health sector. If you don't laugh you have nowhere to go but to weep. Co-scripted by Jo Brand, Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan (all of whom are integral to the ensemble piece) this is one to track down if you managed to miss it on the first pass. 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

Not a plaintive cry for absent bin-men, but the title of the Coen brothers' film. In any case the much maligned bin-men have now made their first appearance of the month and the streets of Four Oaks are smelling a little sweeter - honestly, I could smell the refuse when out running.

Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Let no one tell you that Fargo is not one of that small coterie of genuinely great movies. From the same auteurs we get Oh Brother, and no it's not as good but that is hardly the point. It is still better than most run of the mill cinema. The credits claim inspiration from Homer's Odyssey - this is stretching it a tad, but adds to the fun. What we do have is a sequence of gently comic episodes tellingly shot and acted. It made me smile - and the bluegrass music is good. 7/10. 





Tuesday, 15 August 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

What I want and what I haven't yet been able to obtain is a copy of the article Presentism and Anachronism: the Case of Titus Andronicus. You  will, I am sure, understand my eagerness to read this page-turner. I'll get there eventually and will share the juicy bits with you. That should keep you logging on.

What I would also like is to have been a better athlete. Still I did manage a three miler today to add to yesterday's hilly four. This gives me a feeling of remarkable well-being. One method I have adopted to keep my sad old legs moving is to detour through a pub car park - the smell of food cooking is a great incentive. Do you think Mo Farah trains that way?

Monday, 14 August 2017

Admirable Stategy

Our bins haven't been emptied for three weeks now, courtesy of the industrial action ('strike' in good old fashioned parlance) by the City's binmen. But here's the clever part: they're only partially on strike; they down tools for an hour at a time but still take up their various entitlements to breaks etc. So they're still picking up a wage whilst managing to cause absolute havoc. As a strategy you have to admire it - it's pretty much flawless when ranged against the insubstantial intellectual might of a Labour controlled administration. Me? I relay my rubbish direct to the dump when taking the grass cuttings - the price of having a nice lawn (which thanks to the good people at Top Grass I now have) is that it needs to be cut weekly. It grows like Topsy and not a weed in sight.

you can't get me I'm part of the union
I have been listening to the Strawbs - who knew they were so good? Not I certainly but I have to confess that the more I try, the less I seem to know. Tempus will keep on bloody fugiting. Mind you I strode (alright shuffled) four miles on the hills of Four Oaks this afternoon. Mens sana in corpore sano and all that jazz. My expensive orthotic insoles (touch wood) have done the trick. What I need now is an expensive product that will magically prevent me from being unutterably shit at golf.

Ooh, forgot to tell you - Bridgnorth Golf Club - nice but OG not up to the job. Trounced by my little brother.   

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Donald Trump's Hair

I'm fascinated by Trump's hair. Try out this rather good article on the semiotics of the Trump mane - We shall overcomb

The irony should not be lost that this article appeared in a 'newspaper' that no longer appears in print. The post truth era is with us.

Things Ain't What They Used To Be

But what the hell, let's get on with it.

It is hardly a novel observation that the pair of wankers currently rattling nuclear sabres at one another have the very worst hair ever seen on a public stage. Nevertheless it is worth saying and I congratulate whoever produced the photoshop that transposes the two coiffures. Funny.

What has been cheering me up in these dire times? A few things actually. I have been running without triggering my calf injuries. Which is nice. We are enjoying the subtitled Spanish thriller Se Quien Eres (I know Who You Are) on BBC 4. Which is nice. I saw a cracking Titus Andronicus at the RSC this week. Bloody but not unfunny. Which is nice. We really enjoyed Brooklyn - a beautiful piece of cinema. 8/10. Which is nice. The garden looks good. Which is nice.


So keep on keeping on.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Ennui 2017

More precisely a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction. More bluntly - 2107, WTF?

Those of you paying attention (and I accept that there aren't hordes of you, but enough to constitute a gathering) will notice that I have been blogging only fitfully. Que causa (you see what I've done there - that's the second bit of foreign lingo I have gratuitously lobbed at you)? Well, I'm actually in quite good spirits so far as my own situation is concerned but boring you with gloating about what a lucky boy I am would be an abuse of this self-built platform. Mind since you ask: the Groupie is very well and building work at the country seat proceeds excitingly.

Life's compensations
No, what it is, I just have the feeling of the world going ingloriously down the shitter. The man who ought to be the leader of the free world is a boastful ignoramus - such small credit as he might be due for some anti-statist sentiments is more than negated by his unbelievable crassness. The woman who ought to be the leader of the free British (and I don't mean the Queen) is plain and simple not up to the job. Jeremy Corbyn is, well, Jeremy Corbyn - trust me on this, the man has the intellectual acuity of a plank.

But worse than that - what the bloody hell has happened to the top order batting of the England test team. This afternoon Joe Root has made a fifty in his tenth consecutive match for England. Only two of the fifties have been converted to centuries. He's a a terrific player but, I'm sorry, that pattern doesn't win tests consistently. Just as pop will eat itself, so the inelegant monster of Twenty20 will, if we are not very careful, devour proper cricket. Just look at the mess that is the former glory of West Indies cricket.

Hey, ho, this is a nice rioja.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Great Unloved

I've allowed the dust to settle on Chris Froome's latest Tour de France victory to see if it might garner more praise for him than the three previous triumphs. It has not. This remarkable professional earned a mere £400,000 for his three weeks and two thousand miles of toil - compare this to the more than three times as much that the equally steely (and similarly unloved) Jordan Spieth accrued at the Open golf. That's market forces for you.

The French like (the emphasis being on that 'like') to think that Froome is a drug cheat, their principal ground for that conclusion being that he is not French. There is no evidence to support this taint but then again I suppose that we do have to concede that we were all duped by the remarkable and villainous Lance Armstrong for the best part of a decade.

Heroic
For my part I find Froome heroic, as on reflection I do Spieth. It is no crime to be stoically and obdurately bloody good at your job. Chapeau.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Golfing Extremes

Away with the boys last week for QMT Golf Tour (it's a long story and I won't bore you with the background to the name) in Cheltenham. Great fun and a deserved victory for my little brother WJR.

We played at the quaint and challenging Cleeve Hill Golf Club, perched atop the hills outside the town and buffeted (this is an understatement) by strong winds. Not a tree in sight but lots of sheep and the challenge was definitely too much for your correspondent. Great fun. My back is killing me.

Cleeve Hill - twinned with the Moon
Yesterday I watched the final round of the Open, golf's finest tournament. Rory McIlroy had spent the week casting shots to the wind but still rallied to finish fourth. He has talent to burn, but seems rather too intent on actually burning it. Contrast with the less gifted Jordan Spieth. He is not one of the long bombers who can make your average tour event so dull, but he is a thorough professional who ekes the maximum out of what he has got. Plus, of course, he is quite the best putter I have ever seen. I must confess that until he took that excursion onto the practice ground to play his third to the thirteenth (after a drive that would even have shamed me) I found him difficult to warm to, but that was the point when I twigged that he is a thoroughgoing tradesman. This is admirable where McIlroy is I'm, afraid, annoying.  

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Cafe Society

Woody Allen's films can be mistaken as slight. They are not. Just as The Great Gatsby should not be judged by the number of pages, Allen's cinematic novellas should not be disdained as lacking the epic. He is a master of his own very particular craft.

Cafe Society is (another Allen characteristic) wistful and affectionate if still cynical. Allen scripts for Jesse Eisenberg exactly the sort of role he would have written for himself three decades ago. Eisenberg is very good. New York is at the heart of the film, or perhaps more accurately, New Yorkers are at the core. Los Angeles gets a mention and is beautifully shot (this is Allen's first venture into digital cinematography) but the characters get their full rounding when back in New York.

What Allen does, he does masterfully. This is a rather beautiful little film. 7.5/10. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Old Soldiers

A couple of old voices have been heard again this weekend. Voices of men I have railed at in the past.

Let's get the more tiresome of them out of the way. St Vince of Twickenham aka Sir Vincent Cable is back in the House of Commons and is once again spouting paternalistic drivel. He now ventures that he can see Brexit being still-born and that the status quo ante will assert itself. This is what C.H. Sisson deemed the loathsome 'apologetics of fact'. Cable comes across as reasoned and sensible - which is quite a stunt when you are offering up tired statist bilge. You have to admire his chutzpah I suppose.

Another man who likes the sound of his own voice is Lord Digby Jones. However when circumstances confine him to the broad question of commerce as the only engine for growth, he does us all a favour. He was on Week in Westminster yesterday and you should track it down on iPlayer. Nice one Digby. Not bad for a Brummie lawyer. 

Lions 2017: 10

And so it all ends level, one test match each and a drawn final test. Modernists are bleating that we should have had extra time. They miss the point.

JRS and I sat together in his lounge clad in our vintage Lions shirts and he fuelled me with damn fine coffee and bacon rolls. We were a lot drier than tweve years ago when we also sat together through a final test at Eden Park in the teeming New Zealand rain.

a force for the good of the game
Well done the Lions and we should not stint in congratulating Warren Gatland - I have never shied away from my view that his record with a talented Welsh genereation has been disappointing but on this tour he was single-minded in his negotiation of a murderous schedule and he put his eggs in the test basket. He did it well. Mind you his decision to leave Itoje out of the starting lineup in the first test still seems misguided.

Some observations. Owen Farrell had a testing time at centre but didn't miss a kick at goal. He would always be my first name on the team sheet. There was a moment early in the second half when the All Blacks scorned a kick at goal. Had an England team taken that decision it would be derided as arrogance - an accurate estimation. Sam Warburton comes over as a thoroughly decent cove. The put-in to the scrum has become a joke. This needs addressing or else we will hear again the Aussie cant about 'depowering' the scrum. The forward pass seems to be legal if you happen to be New Zealand. This also needs adddressing.

Overall it will do world rugby no harm for there to be a dent in the All Black hegemony. The voices of club rugby in England who seek to diminish Lions tours should be ashamed of themselves. The Lions 'brand' (as we are encouraged to see it) has a power to benefit the game at large - look beyond your own narrow horizons boys.

Oh and finally, who was the blogger who advised that the draw was an interesting bet? Yes that was your old friend the Overgraduate. Did he remember to have a bet himself? Did he bollocks. Oh well, it's only a game. 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Phew What A Scorcher

Big Fat Pig and the Groupie are in that London for a couple of days. It's bloody warm out on those mean streets. We ate Greek last night accompanied by some surprising and pleasant Macedonian wines. Big Fat Pig went back to being Very Big Fat Pig. Such is life.

worn ironically natch
After eating we took a moonlight stroll to the top of Primrose Hill and looked out over the lights of that London. There was the smell of illegal substance in the air - reminded me of the odour of a Wishbone Ash concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978. Far out man.

I had Chinese food for lunch toady at Camden Market. Which was nice. I bought a tee shirt, a nice little Cold War chic number emblazoned 'CCCP'. I'm so hip. I may become a Corbynista. Don't fight it, just go with the flow man. BFP out.

Monday, 3 July 2017

This Week I Have Mostly Been Watching ...

House of Cards - which is back on Netflix and remains nicely acerbic. Who would you rather was President,  a psychotic utilitarian like Francis Underwood or a bombastic ignoramus like Trump? Tough call.

Sounds of Cinema - on BBC4, a series of documentaries by the brilliant Neil Brand. I urge you to catch this on iPlayer.

it rains a lot and people get killed
Hinterland - which brings gruesome murder and its concomitant the maverick cop to Aberystwyth of all places. It rains a lot.

Dicte - Danish crime. Not scandi-noir, more scandi-gris. It doesn't rain quite as much.

Gardeners' World - this is an age thing. And thank you BBC for the apostrophe.

Lions 2017: 9

Hands up, you got me. I really didn't see that coming. It was a 24-21 thriller edged by the Lions, so it is back to Auckland and all to play for. Wish I was there. The bookies still make the All Blacks a prohibitive odds-on favourite but the Lions have shortened a little and the draw at 22/1 looks a fun bet.

An oddity is that when you re-watch the match without the passion that accompanied the actual event, you have to say that the Lions didn't play that well. Yes there was passion and an impressive commitment but on another day the stream of penalties conceded would have put the Blacks out of sight. Mako Vuniploa had a mare and wins the Stuart Hogg Award for that distinction. He seemed to have caught brain-freeze from Sonny Bill Williams. Williams deservedly saw red but his dismissal oddly appeared to faze the Lions more than it did New Zealand.

Nice to report that we can make a presentation of the Ronan O'Gara Gobshite Award to T.J. Perenara, the All Black replacement scrum-half. Rugby knows no better comic irony than to watch an All Black's righteous indignation at alleged off the ball interference. Priceless.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The State Of The Union

I have been laid low for a couple of days by an unpleasant stomach bug. I'll spare you the details.

There's only so much sleeping and feeling sorry for yourself that you can do in these situations so instead I have been ruminating angrily on the state of the nation. I've looked at it from every conceivable angle and, do you know what, it's a sodding mess.

Theresa May missed a trick (something she transpires to be bloody good at) by wooing the DUP. Rather than getting into bed with the not entirely pleasant Ulster crew she should have made great play of governing without a majority, confined herself to moderate legislation and dared the newly emboldened socialists to be the ones who bring her down and pitch the nation into yet another unwanted election. Part of me actually wants us to have a Corbyn government if only so that I can commence a string of blogs under the title 'I told you so - welcome back to the 1970's.'

evidence of the social contract 1979
Schadenfreude - now there's a nice German word for the way the rest of the EU have responded to British electoral deadlock. We should let them have their day and remember that revenge is a dish best served cold. This is going to end in tears - everybody's bar the Germans who will, of course, win on penalties.   

As I say, a sodding mess.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Lions 2017: 7 & 8

Given how much I love rugby my state of ennui following last Saturday's first test comes as rather a surprise. The match was full of red-blooded endeavour and the Lions scored that magnificent try, but the truth is that the outcome was a product of that great enemy of top-class sport - inevitability. At no stage did I think it likely that the Lions would win.

The All Blacks are superb - they have taken basic skills and learned to perform them at pace and at the point of physical exhaustion. The experience for an opposition must be akin to standing in the path of an intractable threshing machine. Mistakes are forced, so that as estimable a player as George Kruis was made to look slow and clumsy. Why was Maro Itoje not on the field from the start?

And so on to Wellington, a fine and hospitable city. I have never known an atmosphere to match that in Wellington tweve years ago - an atmosphere that briefly tricked us into believing the threshing machine could be stopped. We were wrong, very wrong as it happened. Daniel Carter beat the Lions almost on his own. That, mind you, was an All Blacks team much less strong than the present incarnation.

This morning, a thriller as the dirt-trackers tossed away a healthy lead and were held to a thrilling 31-31 draws by the Hurricanes. The chatter is that Henderson, Lawes or possibly both may have forced their way into the test squad for Saturday. All I will say is that Itoje must surely start.

Finally, a word on cheating, more particularly All Black cheating. How come people have only just noticed that they cheat? I've known for years. All top sides cheat and it is only to be expected that the best team will have the most proficient cheats. What is disappointing is the licence that their sheer efficiency seems to win from referees. I rather suspect that your workaday international official is as daunted by the threshing machine as everyone else in its path.  

Thursday, 22 June 2017

On The Road

Driving to Anglesey to do final prep for the arrival of the builders. I switch the radio over to take in a bit of Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 - I find him tolerable. What do I get? Ed sodding Miliband that's what. Whoever thought that was a good idea - you're a moron.

Arrive on the island and Very Big Fat Pig drags himself out to pound the streets of Benllech. He gets dive-bombed by seagulls and generally feels pretty shit but this is the fourth consecutive day with exercise (two bike, two runs) so the fight is now in hand. Watch out beer belly (more wine belly these days I suppose) - your days are numbered. Hopefully.

Also I've been dipping back into The Archers. Is there any young member of the Archer extended family who isn't a wanker? The writers must hate yoof. Still nice to be back in Ambridge again.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Lions 2017: 6

That's better. The midweek side showed pride and no little panache in dispatching the Chiefs 34-6. Jack Nowell found salvation from the memory of the horror show that had been his Lions debut and took two tries with aplomb. The second was a particular beauty which showcased the pace and intelligence of three further good footballers - Tipuric, Williams and Daly. If the test team are better than even that, then there is some hope.

the end of a great move
So roadside assistance from the dirt-trackers and all four wheels are back on the wagon as we head to Auckland for the first test. Of course the All Blacks are favourites. They have pace and power to burn and even their cheating is better than ours (nice to see the lazy runner back in his native land) but there is hope. Paddy Power have the All Blacks at 1/5, Lions at 7/2 and the draw a mildly interesting 22/1. By my calculation the last drawn NZ v Lions test was seventeen matches and forty-six years ago, so perhaps we're due.

Stuart Hogg Bloke Having A Mare Award goes to the Chirefs' hooker Liam Poltart whose throwing went askew and whose scrummaging foundered on a mighty shift from Dan Cole. It is these things that maketh of you a man.

Changing the subject, Big Fat Pig managed to strain his groin (adductor longus for those who prefer their Latin) in the act of hitting a golf ball in Ireland all those weeks ago, Age being what it is, he has been suffering ever since and getting no exercise. He has however done a lot of eating. He is now a Very Big Fat Pig. The sheer bloated nastiness of his physique shamed him onto the Precious Bike for a short spin yesterday afternoon in the broiling sun. Today it is marginally less hot but close. In for a penny, in for a pound, VBFP is going to go for a short run. All great endeavours start with a small commitment - the mission is to lose the 'Very' and get back to the relative comfort of mere Big Fat Piggery.