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.

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.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Lions 2017: 5

I've decided that a man like me should take a position on spelling - so from now on it will be wagon not waggon despite what my proprietary spellchecker is telling me. Wagon, wagon, wagon. There, that's settled.

All of which leads us to the question of wheteher or not all the wheels are back on the Lions' wagon after today's 32-10 defeat of the New Zealand Maori. I tend to the view that they are not - I'm an old-fashioned boy and the mid-week results do matter to me and the fact is that these Lions haven't yet registered a mid-week victory.

But today was impressive enough - powerful up front, if still lacking precision in what they call the red zone. No Having A Mare Award today though, had he been on longer, Greg Laidlaw looked in the mood to make a challenge. This on the day that Scotland won in Australia wthout him. That Scotland result puts Gatland's decision to call up four more Welshmen to bolster his squad look rather parochial.

All roads led back to Auckland and the thunder of test rugby. Ben Te'o may well have forced himself into the starting line-up but, if fit, Farrell must surely start at 10. Now that Hogg has departed the scene, I like Halfpenny at fullback, kicking his goals and leaving Farrell free to bring his will-to-win to bear without any distraction. Kruis and Itoje to start at lock please. Warburton misses out I'm afraid. My fear is that Gatland will take that as his cue to pick Alun Wyn Jones and make him skipper. Make no mistake, Jones is a superb player, but Kruis has to play and he and Itoje are more than the sum of their parts. But what do I know?

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Mad Dogs And Englishmen

Good firm walking sand under my feet, the tide advancing but allowing me to navigate most of the bay. A dog barmily thrashes through the surf after the ball tossed by its owner, stripped to the waist and trousers rolled to the knee - I don't know for sure that either dog or man is English but it's a good line. Difficult to judge who is the more excited, man or dog. A sparsely populated summer beach in a warm light breeze. Few things are  better. I walk round to Red Wharf Bay and sit outside at the Ship Inn to down a glass of Shiraz, tannins not too overpowering. Nice.

Now I'm doing something I rarely do - listening to Rod Stewart's early albums on the Mercury label. What a voice. People rave about his live performances and I can quite imagine they are right. He does a residency at Caesar's Palace in Vegas. Now there's an idea.

I watched a film last night. Al Pacino in full-on catholic angst mode. No, not The Godfather. No it was a film of similar vintage, Serpico. Gritty and worthy and Pacino gives of his best but for all its good intentions the picture is somehow uninvolving. A curio of a soundtrack as well, featuring slugs of classical music over scenes of New York griminess. 6.5/10.

Every Democratic Cloud ...

Parliament is hung. Speaker Bercow was re-elected unopposed. But ... but, Alex Samond lost his seat and Tim Farron has resigned as Lib Dem leader. Is it too much to hope that the skids might indeed be under the dreadful Trump. I suspect that will be too much to ask. Oh well, I am in Mon and the sun is shining. Might go and dip my feet in the sea.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Lions 2017: 4

Well don't I feel a prat (or is that pratt - either will do apparently) - I signed off my last blog by saying that all four wheels were still just on the Lions' waggon (or wagon if you prefer - I'm ambivalent). Not so fast there Dave. The Lions went to the spiritual home of the ruck, Otago, and lost narrowly but, from where I sit, deservedly. The full-back position is seemingly cursed. Stuart Hogg is out of the tour after his collision last weekend with Conor Murray's elbow and Jared Payne now had a decidedly dodgy outing in the position. Not bad enough for the Bloke Having A Mare Award mind - nobody was quite that bad.

from the spiritual home of the ruck
The worrying thing for the Lions is that they were outpaced and out-driven (there's that home of the ruck thing you see) by a Highlanders team missing half of their regular starters. In The Land of the Long White Cloud there is no hiding place. Spines in lines please boys, as Coach Silverwood used to shout whilst tapping the errant on the head with a touch flag. You can't have too many rucking drills.

Talking of prats (or pratts), what about Stuart Barnes on Sky. Step away from the hyperbole please.

As we have already said, don't I feel a prat/pratt. I also ventured in that last blog that we seemed to have found ourselves a decent cricket team. Whatever happened to them - they got demolished in the Champions Trophy by Pakistan that's what happened. Oh well it's only a game, as they never say in New Zealand.

So three wheels on the waggon and we're still a week and a half away from the first test. It's not meant to be easy folks.

Outside bet? Patrick Reed at 80/1 to win the U.S. Open. You've got to speculate to accumulate.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Lions 2017: 3

It's back on track. Not a try in sight but a potent Crusaders team successfully strangled. Still not much sign of Howley's chaos theory but we can wait. More of chaos theory below.

The Stuart Hogg Bloke Having A Mare Award sadly has to go to Hogg himself once again - not his fault this time but he had to be helped from the field after colliding with a stray elbow from his own scrum-half. As for those emerging with plaudits it is good to report quite a few. People are gratifyingly starting to get just how good a player George Kruis is. The front five all shone and behind them Murray and Farrell at half-back were effective. When Watson came on for the unfortunate Hogg, he too was impressive. The wagon rolls on to Dunedin with all its wheels intact. Just.

friendly fire
As for chaotic rugby, did you see the Argentina v England match on Saturday night - England (missing thirty players to a combination of the Lions and injury) won by the stupefying scoreline of 38-34, the final decisive try being scored by a Rugby League convert winning his first cap whose only prior contribution had been two missed tackles. He was one of ten debutants on the night, one of them an eighteen year old flanker. Bloody impressive. Bloody chaotic.

Adding to a somewhat surreal atmosphere of English competence, the country seems to have found a half decent cricket team (albeit coached by an Australian and led by an Irishman), and we have just won the Under 20 World Cup at football. Who needs a functioning government? Given that the opposition to our footballers came from Venezuela, the answer would appear to be no one.

I've Been Avoiding The Subject

I went to bed last Thursday with a bad feeling about the whole election farrago. I awoke on Friday to find my unease was fully justified. In surely the most catastrophic act of hubris since Edward Heath had the temerity to ask the unions who governed the country, Theresa May managed to lose the moral high ground to a third rate terrorist apologist and his sidekicks Madame Stupid and the Smiling Larcenist. Apparently the young are to blame - perhaps they will have to live with rampant inflation and a stony-broke Treasury before they realise just how shit a place Britain can be. Perhaps they might like to take a look at how Venezuela has ended up - why it seems only yesterday that Citizen Ken was using taxpayer money to laud the 'achievements'of Hugo Chavez. Corbyn was another cheerleader, natch.

Actually I don't blame the young. I've totted it all up and I blame ... Theresa May and the boneheads who advised her that this was the right time to open the Pandora's Box marked 'Dementia Tax'. Still the good thing about a hung parliament is that the shit-for-brains politicians will find their legislative ambitions stymied and might just leave us alone to order our lives as we see fit. Fat chance. And if I hear one more pudding-brained cretin telling me that all that is required is for the 'rich to pay their fair share' I might swing for someone. I'm not particularly rich (despite rumours to the contrary that I may have started by my irresponsible lifestyle) but I am one of Larcenist McDonnell's target group and I can tell you this, John Boy, I've always paid my due and it has felt like plenty. The problem is the use to which successive politicians of all hues have put it.

When in doubt reach for a quotation from a nineteenth century French economist:
Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.
All is well in the world - beer is being brewed
But not to worry, ICW and I had a long and liquid lunch on Friday and if we didn't put the world to rights we at least agreed that between us we could do a better job at practically everything - governing, running the Lions tour, and so on and so forth. We were fuelled by Sutton Pale Ale at the Brewhouse and Kitchen in Sutton Coldfield. Politics is only politics but mates are for life.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Lions 2017: 2

Well that didn't last long did it - the unbeaten record I mean. The Lions came up against what would appear to be the weakest of the NZ Super franchises and came up six points short. Worse things happen at sea but all the same it makes for a bleak outlook.

Award winner
We have instigated a new award - instead of the Ronan O'Gara Gobshite Award we now have the Stuart Hogg Bloke Having A Mare Award. This prize has been endowed in honour of the shocker said Hogg (a recipient of the O'Gara Award in the past) had last Saturday. Two contenders today, both of whom I rather like as players: Liam Williams came off the bench and practically the first thing he did was to  get sin-binned; however for a sheer shocker he couldn't quite match poor old Jack Nowell. Whatever defensive system Andy Farrell has got them playing, Nowell obviously missed the memo. Like I say, he's a wholehearted player I like, but facts is facts.

Where does this leave the tour? The omens are not propitious but all is not yet lost. Owens, Itoje, Lawes, Tipuric and Stander impressed in the pack and, despite his gobshite tendencies (I mean he is a 9 after all), I am an admirer of Rhys Webb's game. Of the remaining backs Elliot Daly had moments, but the remainder looked prisoners of the apparent lack of an attacking scheme. Perhaps Gatland and Howley are keeping their powder dry. Incidentally, Howley had talked of chaos theory and rugby before the game. Friend of this site, the divine Gary Street, will I hope confirm that I was venturing my own chaos theory of the game as long ago as 1989, backed up by my own scratchy collection of game tapes. I used to be a prophet.

Talking of genius (Street not me) it is worth mentioning that I passed the morning in the company of the cleverest man I know - he is my doppelganger (or am I his?) Professor David Roberts. His sagacity rather daunts me but he left me with fresh enthusiasm for the long slog of the PhD. Next stop is my chapter on everybody's favourite slasher play, Titus Andronicus.     

Monday, 5 June 2017

Lions 2017: 1

Twelve years ago JRS and I went on our rugby follower trip of a lifetime and watched the inept Lions getting mauled by the All Blacks. Despite the poverty of the Lions' rugby, it was a fantastic outing - and we were privileged to be at Wellington for Daniel Carter's defining masterclass on how to play the game.

Well the Lions are back in New Zealand and, judging on Saturday's evidence, they are going to have a crack at being even less effectual than their ill-starred predecessors. Let us hope the half-baked display was an aberration.

Let's be optimistic. Who came out of it with any credit? Kyle Sinckler perhaps (though I couldn't detect any scrummaging superiority). Ben Te'o definitely. Ross Moriarty very definitely. That's it I think. And as for the much vaunted Stuart Hogg, well best to gloss over his game. He seemed to have conscripted Johnny Sexton into his personal Hell.

Do I wish I was out there in a rugby crazed land to watch the Lions getting crapped on? Too bloody right I do.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Isn't It Nice When Things Work Properly

Whilst British Airways spent the weekend looking like the most disorganised company in the world - BA IT meltdown - and the Conservative Party continued in its self-inflicted death spiral, we had a nice couple of days at the old country estate. Things worked properly.

The drive to Mon took less than three hours without a single traffic jam. The journey home also came in at less than three hours including a stop to buy safety snacks (this is family slang for emergency rations) which included very satisfactory chicken balls. Not sure how much actual chicken was in them but they tasted great.

Even the bank holiday weather worked with us. We walked round to Red Wharf Bay, enjoyed a couple of outdoor drinks at The Ship Inn and the rain left us alone. Glorious. Main object of the visit was to firm up plans for the kitchen extension and allied works of improvement. Meetings with both kitchen designer and builder were fruitful so it's full steam ahead.

Nice. And we drank champagne while watching a silly but enjoyable film, Jack Reacher. He may be as mad as a box of frogs but you have to concede that Tom Cruise has presence. 6/10.  

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Clowns Are Still With Us

The forthcoming election appears cursed. Never before in the field of electoral combat has such unremitting drivel issued forth from so many.

If polls are to be believed a third of the country is content to wake up on 9 June and find Diane Abbott as Home Secretary. Meanwhile four tenths of the country can find it in their hearts to renew power in the hands of whichever clown came up with the Tory policy on social care. Give me strength. To cap it all we are asked to take Nicola Sturgeon (leaderene of a provincial faction) seriously - this a woman who is not even a candidate in the election.

One is left to sift the rubble of a collapsed citadel of good sense for the least bad option. To help you, here is a link to a clip of Corbyn's mash-brained moral relativism on his mates in the IRA. Corbyn Equivocates (Note also the BBC's craven and inaccurate captioning of the piece). "Clown" is a decidedly generous appellation.

Still, things could be a lot worse - Donald Trump could be President of the USA.  

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Hence! Wilt Thou Lift Up Olympus?

The revolting events in Manchester need no commenatry from me. I did start to pen something but it was plainly inadequate. Damn them all to Hell.

To more cheerful things: a trip yesterday to Sheffield to see Julius Caesar at The Crucible. This was the first Shakespeare I ever studied seriously, back in 'O'Level days. I have heard it said that it is an unsatisfactory play, what with the titular charcter getting brutally bumped off by half-time. This misses the point - it is replete with fascinating characters aside from Caesar himself. Brutus is tragic, Cassius intriguing and, on the periphery, Lepidus's lack of substance sets us up nicely for what is to come in the even better Antony and Cleopatra.

The Crucible is a great viewing theatre and this is an excellent production - the first segment chillingly political and the second searingly military. I even sort of enjoyed the steamy rail travel that allowed me to have a couple of glasses of perfectly passable sauvignon blanc.

And isn't it a small world? As I was quaffing first of the said glasses I spotted S with whom I had worked at London 2012. Of all the gin joints, in all the places etc. We chatted amiably and parted to watch the play, presumably never to meet again. Rather British, I call it.   

Monday, 22 May 2017

That London; Hell Is Other People; Lives Of The Rich And Famous

An interesting and, on balance, most enjoyable Sunday. On the train to That London with Joey Barton sitting in our carriage, presumably en route to watch his boyhood team, Everton, who were at Arsenal. He behaved himself. So did I. Tempting to know what the odds on that double would have been. Should have asked him.

Rather bloody lovely
Once in That London we went for a longish walk on Hampstead Heath in the company of Daughters One and Two (I say that as if there might be more - there aren't). Now, I'm ashamed to admit it but notwithstanding my time at university in the Big Smoke, I'd never made it to Hampstead before. Rather bloody lovely - the sort of place where people can afford to be liberal. I pinched that line from an old friend from college days.

We rewarded our exertions with a late lunch at The Holly Bush: nice pub, good food, notably good service. recommended.

Hell is other people, most particularly on crowded trains going back to Liverpool full of football fans. At least they don't smash the trains up like they used to. Joey Barton was in our carriage again. What were the odds? Oh sorry already done that gag. Is Barton stalking me? Am I stalking him? He was not the only footballer on the train - two coaches of first-class had been commandeered for the Everton team and sundry hangers-on. They denied entry to autograph seekers but Barton duly signed for two youngsters. good on him.

A prejudice confirmed by yesterday's lunch: fish and chips should always be haddock rather than cod.

Friday, 19 May 2017

A Frenzy Of Righteous Apathy

I was wrong - turns out politics hadn't got interesting again. It has just got infuriating.

A snap election and Trump under constant scrutiny, this ought to be meat and drink to a rent-a-mouth like Big Fat Pig/OG/the Boy Roberts. But instead I simply haven't got the energy to emote. They've worn me down, the whole shameless shower of them.

The Labour Party has produced a manifesto to trump their elongated suicide note of 1983. Into the market-bashing space on the left that Labour has vacated comes no less a figure than Mrs May. Hands up for the managed economy anyone. All the Lib Dems can offer me is Tim Farron - and I can't quite put my finger on the reason but if I had to punch just one politico in the face, it would be him. Oh hang on I was forgetting bloody Trump. Mind you, I'm not taken in by the synthetic rage of certain Democrats who still seem to be in denial about the fact they lost to the shit-bag in the first place.

I recommend that you turn off the news and go to iPlayer and watch a nearly fifty year old masterpiece of television - Kenneth Clark's wondrous Civilisation.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Of Samosas, Pork Pies, Haggis And Rugby Football

Oh and I should have mentioned the beer because there was plenty of that as well.

Just back from the European Finals Weekend in Edinburgh. A bloody great trip. So first of all big thanks to our organiser JRS - good hotel, good driving, looked after the kitty and even got us kitted out in matching shirts and rain tops - tops which have what AW (who couldn't remember the word 'hood' - it's his age) termed an 'integrated hat'. I think AW might very well be the funniest man in the world. What great company - blessings to aforesaid JRS and AW and also to AS, AO and BH.

Food of kings - or should that be maharajas?
Samosas: BH had brought a megabox of Indian provender. I had samosas for lunch on Friday, supper on Friday (actually the wee hours of Saturday) and breakfast on Sunday. I like samosas.

Pork pies: AO is a titan in the pork pie industry - and no, I'm not making that up. He brought a megabox of pork pie based provender. I had pork pies for lunch on Friday and for lunch on Sunday. I have also had a pork pie back at home today. I like pork pies.

Haggis: AS (who has claims to be the most civilised front row forward in history) had booked us into Howies for lunch on match day. This sheltered us from the rain (although we did, of course, all have integrated hats with us) and the provender was excellent. I had the cullen skink as a starter and the haggis for main. I like haggis.

The rugby? Well, Friday's Challenge Cup was a poorish game between two sides, Gloucester and Stade Francais, who looked terrified of winning. Still, the ultimate Stade victory was a reward for the titan that is Sergio Parisse. And I had samosas for supper so not a bad day at the office.

Saturday, and the Champions Cup Final was a different cup of tea. Played at a giddying pace and full of thunderous defence, Saracens and Clermont Auvergne served up a treat, deservedly won by Saracens whose athletic professionalism really ought to be admired, not cavilled at by the jealous. I had a Macdonalds for my late supper. Which was nice, but not as good, in the wider scale of things, as either samosas or pork pies. Or indeed haggis.

Life is good.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Send In The Clowns

Politics, bloody politics. They're all over the place, these politician clowns.

Plankton brain - went to Cambridge
Please tell me there is not a more asinine, plankton brained pile of uselessness than Diane Abbott. If you haven't heard it yet track down her car crash of an interview on LBC earlier this week. At last the world begins to realise just what a berk this woman is. She is the Shadow Home Secretary. Nuff said.

Graduate of the Bercow Likeability School

But worse, although no longer an active politician, there is still Gorgeous George Osborne, bizarrely transfigured into editor of The London Evening Standard. He now stands outside Westminster lugging rocks at those (principally Theresa May) he deems to have diverted him from his manifest destiny. Sad and funny. At least Abbot isn't getting paid the fortune that Osborne's grimy paws are raking in.

If I ruled the world
And just to ensure that we at the OG are not accused of provincialism, it is right that we should alert you to a bloke strutting around Europe showing the modesty and self-awareness that used to be the sole preserve of Juan-Antonio Samaranch, the fascist who ran the Olympics. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you His Supreme Smugness Jean-Claude Juncker.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Children's Films That Adults Can Enjoy

Exhibit A: the Pixar imprimatur.

Exhibit B: Finding Dory. It finds time to be both funny and moving and the climactic car chase (yes, an animated car chase) is especially good.

Watched it last night with the Groupie and a sadly ill Daughter Number Two. 7.5/10.

The Kindness Of A Stranger

It is the second night of the Dunmore East Golf Classic and the boys are eating at the Azzurro restaurant. Their fellow diners are all golfers.

The scene of the drama
A senior gent at the table next to ours starts to cough uncontrollably. It dawns on the rest of us that he is choking. Big Fat Pig gets to his feet just in case he has to administer the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Both he and the victim are relieved when the lady at the third table betrays her medical training and skilfully performs said Manoeuvre. The gobbet of steak is ejected. Gratitude is expressed and everyone returns to their food. The manager brings a glass of Prosecco to the good lady and thanks her for saving the man's life. He then produces a glass of the same for the choker and thanks him for not dying in the restaurant. The room rings with applause. The food is good.

God is in his heaven and all is well with the world.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Lads On Tour II

It's over - and we partied like men on a mission, which was justified because we may not be back. There has been sensible talk of knocking it on the head and Big Fat Pig will definitely be missing because he has promised to be with the Groupie to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of their meeting.

Well how was the golf? I opened with a display of near competence at Dunmore East, a result made all the more remarkable by my being scandalously hung-over. As the alcohol coursed less thickly with the passing hours so I found myself with a minor case of the shakes which made teeing the ball a matter of high comedy.

Dunmore East Golf Club - Big Fat Pig had six pars
Next was the dreaded Faithlegg. The Pig has been known to suggest that the site should be bulldozed. Nothing this year caused a reversal of this opinion. Played like a clown; course was a bit tatty and the administration was woeful.

Tramore was in good nick but the Pig's game was not. Last up was Waterford Castle and the Pig played much better if still without anything remotely like distinction.

Good food was eaten, drinks were drunk in good company. I will miss it if we don't do it again. The thought of never chatting again to 'Flat Top' Pat from Dublin is mildly vexing. Thanks as ever to Big Willy who had the thankless task of marshalling the Pig and Viperjohn.

One last thing  - I greatly enjoyed the confit of rabbit at the Lemon Tree Cafe.  

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Lads On Tour

On the ferry as I write this, probably my last missive until I am back on board next Friday. It is not that they don't have Internet access at the places in which I will be drinking in Ireland, but rather that I can't risk leaving the computer in a bar somewhere. I know my weaknesses.

Mention of weaknesses brings me nicely onto my golf at Bull Bay yesterday. Actually not totally terrible but definitely not totally good. Big Willy naturally won the Bull Bay Classic playing off his ludicrously generous new handicap. Viperjohn and I trailed in his wake, as is our destiny.

The Irish Sea is mill-pond still which bodes well for the week to come. We leave behind the banalities of a British election campaign. Ahead lie fun and laughter and, who knows, maybe even odd incursions into golfing competence. Don't hold your breath.

Bull Bay Golf Club as photographed from my private jet

Friday, 21 April 2017

And So It Starts Again ... For The Last Time

Nobody's keeping score but I reckon this will be my seventeenth year attending the Dunmore East Golf Classic. Big Willy and Viperjohn have been at it for even longer. Well, sad to say, old time is on our track boys and it has been resolved that this will be our last trip. Things ain't what they used to be. No doubt we will think of something else to take its place - presumably something mildly less ruinous of liver and wallet.

We start tomorrow with the traditional warm-up at the glorious Bull Bay on Anglesey. Then it is the ferry on Sunday, succeeded by four days of what one must laughably call competition in Ireland's sunny South East. My golf game degenerated many years ago but I will set out with the usual ludicrous optimism that this could be the year I don't make an arse of myself. I've cleaned my clubs specially.

Bring it on!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Another Poem

The Gradated Death of a Local Hero

1. In the Pink

And – which is more – you’ll be a man my son.
His quest for finished fullness never won
He bequeathed it to me
Not from any harshness but affection
That any loss at pitch and toss might be redone.

No island entire of itself and yet he stood
Craggy proud in spirit’s fatherhood
Gifts borne hero proper lightly
And regiven burnished to his tribe
Pretty burdens urged and not misunderstood.

2. Faded Shaded

He hosts his thieving illness
Though always searching
Yet cannot find his keys
Terrified of stillness.
For stock questions
He learns stock answers
Yet cannot find his keys
Resents helpful suggestions.
At all meals’ end he tidies
Meticulous in stacking
Yet cannot find his keys
Nor tell Sundays from Fridays.
The form is an abandoned shell
How often must we say farewell?

3. Palimpsest White

loud character overwritten
in grey
and lighter
and overscribed again until
in white
finally undetected unpersoned
in spite at our winnowed out grief
nothing can be read
of a local hero.
God mocks us.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Politics Just Got Interesting Again ... But Then Again

We're having a general election in June. Good. Should give me something to whine on about for the next few weeks.

Mind you the hurdle of the dreadful Fixed Term Parliament Act has first to be jumped. That Act, you will recall, is a monument to the hubris of Dave 'Boy' Cameron and his little mate Nick Clegg. I suggest, with all due deference, that history will judge the pair of them as smug tossers.

What then do we make of today's shenanigans? Well first up has to be the most over-publicised politician in the realm, Nicola Sturgeon. Having (correctly if a tad maliciously) taunted May as unelected and lacking a 'mandate' (surely the most overused word in modern politics) a few weeks ago, La Sturgeon now affects to bewail the snappiness of this snap election. Don't worry folks she's chuffed really because the SNP estimation is that this turn of events makes independence more attainable. And 'Good riddance' comes the chorus from the English shires - don't mention it out loud but this is very possibly part of May's calculation.

Jeremy Corbyn has professed that he welcomes the fight. I bet he does - at least when the election is lost he can resign with some degree of dignity and go back to doing whatever he did before we were asked to take him seriously.

Tim Farron. Twerp. His presence lends Corbyn gravitas.

Bloody hell, I'm sick to the back teeth of the entire shower already. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

This Caught My Eye

Apropos of my last blog, this is from John Bew's highly readable Attlee biography, Citizen Clem:
In other words, Attlee's instinctive and immediate response to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan was that Britain must have this weapon for itself. In a brutally realistic assessment, he came to the conclusion that there was no alternative. He had  heard a suggestion that, in a new Geneva Convention, all nations might agree to abstain from the use of the atomic bomb. Yet while gas was forbidden in the First World War it was still used. Indeed the British were quite prepared to use it on Germans if they had landed on British beaches in 1940. Attlee himself had been the minister responsible for stockpiling thousands of gallons of poison gas against this eventuality.
Nothing is truly simple. Happy Easter.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Asymmetric Warfare

In an early episode of The West Wing, the tyro President Bartlett agonises over military action and muses angrily that some day someone is going to have to explain to him the meaning of  a 'proportionate response". I wonder if the Donald was similarly vexed when ordering the air strikes on Syria. We can only pray so because one has to say that the world makes precious litle sense to anyone in these fractured times. Just why does the use of chemical weapons tip the balance of atrocity to one that demands western action? I'm only asking because it is not obvious to me. War is shitty, however one wages it - full stop.

If you press me I will shamingly concede that the American strikes make a warped sense in a warped world. We welcome America back to the world stage after it had been so poignantly vacated by Obama, vacated moreover in favour of a gangster like Putin. The trouble is, one wishes these decisions rested in hands more dextrous than Trump's.

Listening to now
But enough of all that. I'm listening to a bit of Belle and Sebastian as I write. One of Scotland's better exports. The other platters that have mattered recently have included Stevie Wonder's masterful Songs in the Key of Life. Why was that not in my advent countdown? I think you should demand a recount.

Have been listening to
I have decided to be pleased that Sergio Garcia won the Masters. I didn't back him (don't ask - I'm still mired in my losing streak) but in the final measuring it is nice to see a man wrestle with and defeat his demons. Never mind the birdies he made - best of all was the par he made from under a bush at the thirteenth. OG style golf one might say, only good. I wouldn't look good in a green blazer anyway. Not my colour. Mind you I do believe that my dear friend Big Will Macfarlane owns such a garment - a permanent reminder of his richly deserved captaincy of the Royal Chav (Cavendish Golf Club to the uninitiated). To re-coin an old phrase is, Big Willy is a man who looks good in anything - except clothes. Mind you I have seen him in the showers and you have to say he looks pretty rubbish in the buff as well. Too much information?

Talking of golf, the annual pilgrimage to Ireland hoves into view. Yet again I have thought long and hard and have solved the puzzle of how to be good at golf. I really have cracked it this time. I'd tell you but then I would have to kill you. On that very subject (golf not murder) I do seem to have been bombarded with junk mail informing me that the key to golfing success is to buy a wondrous new club called the GX7. All I have to do is part with $200 and success will be mine. Not bloody likely - I've had cars that cost less than that.     

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Learning Lines/Forgetting Lines

Be careful what you wish for. As I faced the second night of The Winslow Boy I had spoken of second night over-confidence. Well sure enough one line completely eluded me in the second act and there was no one to cover for me this time. The dreaded prompt was needed. Bollocks.

Nights three and four were, however, much better. Perfect would be a misnomer but at least I got a representation of every line out and into the play. A Good play. All in all a good run. Well knackered by its end.

A picture which should be seen
The world can seem a mad, bad place so there is much for people to get agitated about. But people seem drawn to misapplying their intelligence - read this for starters - Open Casket. The museum curator in this scary little story is, of course, one hundred percent correct. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Learning Lines 2

Well last night went well enough thankyou. However my diagnosis of yesterday (that my brain has space enough only for all but two lines of the text) was proven correct. I didn't so much go blank as jump a couple of lines altogether in order to accommodate my handicap. Others managed to work around the defect so it will have looked to the unknowing as if I had a good night.

Which lines will get the old heave-ho tonight I wonder. After a good first night, the second night is always the most dangerous as over-confidence works its evil ways.

Break another leg Big Fat Pig.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Learning Lines

It will be the first performance tonight of The Erdington Players production of The Winslow Boy. This is a seriously wordy but seriously good play. Now don't laugh but I have been cast as the arrogant, Tory barrister Sir Robert Morton. How do they make these decisions?

As old age creeps noisily upon me I have a theory about the learning of lines which has been borne out by two dress rehearsals. The theory goes like this: my head has room enough for all but two of the lines I have to learn. The problem is that there is no telling which two lines will have vacated the mental space at  any given juncture. All I can do is take to the stage in dread fear of that moment when the mind goes blank and you await the bloody prompt. There is no cure for this and it is too late to back out now. So it goes.

As a humbling example of the herculean rote learning of the professionals I note that in 1935 Olivier and Gielgud alternated nightly as Romeo and Mercutio. I'm not sure of the artistic purpose but hellish impressive nonetheless.

Break a leg Big Fat Pig.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

6N17: Week 5

All over for another year. Not a bad championship. All bar Italy can make some noise on the world stage and a fresh Italy side are nowhere near as inept as some patronisingly paint them - by the end of the tournament their resources (physical and mental) had been stretched tissue thin and they lost easily to a decent Scots side who gave their departing coach the send-off he deserved.

The France v Wales fixture came to a demeaning ending with a superfluity of added time and some dodgy looking behaviour from the French doctor. Had France yet mastered the art of scoring points they would have been clear before the comical denouement. Those criticising the performance of referee Wayne Barnes are miles wide of the mark - he is a prisoner of the laws and the directives and the botched application of video reviews.

And what of England? Eddie Jones was sane and generous in defeat. Ireland were both disciplined and ferocious - the game's hardest trick to master. Well done.

What do I draw from all we have seen over the past couple of months? This: France remain a generous 16/1 to win the next World Cup. They have made their first baby steps to recovery and if they can ally precision to their gargantuanism that is an interesting betting proposition.

Oh and amidst all the ballyhoo, don't forget - England won the championship. That counts. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Search Party On Look Out For That Twin Impostor

Triumph never did turn up at Cheltenham, or rather he did but he wasn't talking to the Overgraduate. It wasn't all despair but I do seem to have developed an unhealthy knack for backing horses that come second. A couple of reversed photo-finish results would have made a world of difference to the now unpopulated wallet. But, did we have fun? Of course we bloody did, notwithstanding the mildly troubling arrival of slut dropping in the marquee in the Best Mate enclosure. Why do these people bother coming racing? Mind you, the sporting view from the cheap end of the course, if positioned on the crown of the bend, makes you wonder at the wisdom of paying more than twice the price to be in the posh end.

slut dropping optional
And now I am settling down to enjoy the final afternoon of the Six Nations in the company of a bottle of rioja. I can always learn my lines tomorrow.

Oh by the way, as atonement I did pick the winner of the Gold Cup yesterday, an event I imbibed by radio whilst sitting in traffic on the M6. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Where's The Other Impostor?

Those twin impostors - triumph and disaster. Trouble is, in Festival betting terms, triumph seems to have gone awol. My run of losers goes right back to the first race of Cheltenham 2016 when Altior obliged. Since then the only relief has been a few each way pick-ups. It can't be my lack of skill and insight so what can the problem be? Oh well, tomorrow is another day. In fact tomorrow is the best day of the sporting year - the Wednesday of the Festival. This is the day on which our beguilement by the Festival started all those years ago. Deep Sensation at 12/1. Bill and I were on it. Days of wine and roses indeed.

I partook televisually today, ITV's first day of Festival coverage. They made a pretty good fist of it. Ed Chamberlin is a fine anchor and A.P. McCoy and Mick Fitzgerald add modest expertise. Not quite so good is that dreadful oik Matt Chapman. He clearly knows his stuff but has as much class as a bag of spanners. Nor does Victoria Pendleton add anything to the mix. But today was worth it, if only for the charming interview given by J.P. McManus. Being rich and unassuming is a difficult trick to pull. More power to his elbow.

I'll have £400k on the favourite please
I mention that my last Cheltenham winner was Altior. He won again today but at prohibitve odds on. Perhaps I should develop the cajones of the punter who risked £400k to win £100k. Or even the balls of the bookie who laid it.

You know what, in the warm glow of expectation I think I can feel my luck turning. Bring it on!

Monday, 13 March 2017

How Tiresome

Isn't politics just wearying at the moment? This was brought solidly to mind as I listened to the sound of a man drowning live on air this morning. It was of course the feeble Jeremy Corbyn. He must be the world's best-known nonentity. After the complete botch that 'Spreadsheet' Phil Hammond made of his Budget last week, savaging the government ought to be like shooting fish in a barrel, instead of which Jezza meekly climbs into the barrel himself.

Today that awful Nichola Sturgeon has piped up about having another independence referendum. I'm afraid I'm very much of the 'let them have their freedom' school of thinking. Just see what  a complete basket case SNP Scotland would become - such a scenario is the major hope for the renaissance of Scottish conservatism. And please don't start me on Northern Ireland - I love the place and the people but when it comes to politics, well, a plague on both your houses.

Big Fat Pig's pension plan
Only one day until Cheltenham starts. Get on! I see they're predicting a Scoop 6 pool of £600k on the first day which I'm pretty sure I should be able to win, so that will be nice.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

6N17: Week 4

And lo it came to pass - two weeks later than scheduled England gave someone an honest to goodness shellacking at Twickenham. Rather than the hapless Italians, it was the, well, hapless Scots who copped it - 61 of your European points to 21. Who saw that coming? Well not this commentator - I spent last week telling anyone who engaged me on the topic (plus a few who didn't) that I gave Scotland a puncher's chance against an England team that had been finding ways to win without playing a full eighty minutes.

Why did this happen? The stars were aligned: Scotland were down to fourteen men for an early spell, (indeed should have been reduced for the duration - that was a red card tackle in the modern book - still I'm glad he dodged the permanent banishment); Farrell (allegedly injured - I wish I could be that hurt) kicked near as matters perfectly; Scotland lost men to injuries in the face of the barrage and thereby exposed their lack of depth; Jonathan Joseph played with the coruscating elegance of Jeremy Guscott; Lawes and Itoje imposed a dominance over the lineout that ingeniously sucked in the scavenging Scots back row. All in all pretty bloody impressive. Miles from perfect (I think one can justify churlishness about the three tries conceded) and not yet in the orbit of the All Blacks but, like I say, pretty bloody impressive. Will they win in Dublin next weekend? Too close to call. Notwithstanding their defeat in a blood curdling (in rugby's best sense) encounter with Wales on Friday night, I like this Irish team and they will be steaming next week. They ended New Zealand's run of victories at eighteen and will be more than a tad keen to do the same to England. These things are not meant to be easy.

coruscating elegance
The 6N Championship as a whole looks healthy - the French and their mojo seem on the cusp of reunification; the Welsh (as I keep explaining) have very good players (welcome back George North); Ireland have the best coach of the lot; Italy also have a savvy coach (and for now the matchless Parisse); Scotland are brave and intelligent if light in numbers; England are as England it seems must be - there to be shot at and mildly despised. Anglophobia remains the acceptable face of racism - one only has to listen to the rather sad Gavin Hastings for proof - didn't they learn you nothing at Cambridge mate? Let it go.

What a glorious week in prospect. Cheltenham looms large - I'm there for the middle two days. And at week's end there hoves into view the Anglesey coast and the joy of watching that Ireland v England encounter on the telly box. What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this? Name that tune in...?

Oooh, while I've got you, is anyone else watching Fortitude on Sky Atlantic? Bloody weird or what - Twin Peaks on Ice. I like it.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Arrivederci Bologna

Now on the train back to Brum at the end of our Bologna excursion - inspired by Rick Stein's televisual exploits and definitely worth the effort and moderate expense.

We finished on a high before we flew out yesterday evening by having a superb lunch at Va Mo La. The lesson is to listen to your host, in this case the diminutive Anna whose sister's apartment we had rented. We tried two of the restaurants she had recommended and each was superb. Which sums up Bologna nicely. Known as Italy's red city both because of its red buildings and because of its left politics; known also as The Fat due to its love of food - they're not wrong there.

So now it will be back to the grindstone of the thesis and the terror of learning my lines for The Winslow Boy at the end of the month. I will be playing Sir Robert Morton, the arrogant barrister - how do I get these parts?

Friday, 3 March 2017

498 Steps To Heaven

long before Manhattan
Bologna is a terrific place. We meandered around the colonnaded streets yesterday, having first climbed the 498 steps to the top of Torre degli Asinelli. This is a tilting medieval status symbol that rises 318 feet above the city. You ascend up worn wooden flights in conditions that would give a British Health and Safety Officer kittens. Particularly on a day as blameless as yesterday the views are stunning.

We rounded out the day with a fine meal at a recommended trattoria, La Montanara. Some days it's good to be alive.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Refreshingly Barmy

The production of top grade balsamic vinegar that is. The process takes years (decades even) and the output is exquisite but expensive. We inspected the batteria (the rows of barrels used in the process) at Villa San Donnino yesterday as part of a guided food tour and tasted the produce with ice cream of all things - it's fabulous. We had preceded this with a visit to a parmesan factory and followed it with a turn round a prosciutto factory where thay let me have a go on the slicing machine. A great day out courtesy of Italian Days . Highy recommended if you're in the area.

A process untouched by automation

The weather here in Bologna has been a blessing - clear blue Spring skies. We have been joined by Daughters Numbered 1 & 2 - I say that as if there are more than that, which there definitely are not. The Two Man Idiot Show (as the Groupie christened them in their youth) flew in last night and will be leading today's wanderings in the old city. There will be more food - this city creaks under the weight of its epicurean delights.