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.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Matter Of Attitude To Coffee

OG is on the road. In Bologna with the Groupie. Great place - masses of churches (see what I did there?) and Europe's oldest university. We've been here less than a day and already had two good meals out - most notably lunch today at Trattoria Leonida. Top grade risotto, decent pinot grigio, all washed down with an espresso and a limoncello. Top banana as they don't say round here.

marker of civilisation
The flight over was fine but I can't completely get over my hatred of crowds in a place like Heathrow - all those people nervously making their way somewhere else and temporarily losing contact with their manners. Why do people stand up as soon as the plane comes to a halt, even though they know full well they can't get off yet and that they are going to have to queue just like everyone else for their baggage? Mass hysteria? And don't gey me started on excess hand baggage - make the bastards walk, that's what I say.

We're staying in an apartment in the centre of the city. You can tell you are in a civilised place when you get advice about the best way to prepare your coffee - the stove top is thankfully better than the formidable looking machine. Once again, top banana.

6N17 - Week 3. Of Acuity And Dullness

Acuity - meaning sharpness, keenness, and as demonstrated by both Scotland and Italy in very different manners this past weekend. Dullness - meaning quite the opposite and as exemplified by England's muscular disappointments on Sunday.

Scotland first. They are playing with an alacrity which papers over the cracks of a creaking scrummage and they have that most important (and unlearnable) asset - pace. If England are as slow out of the blocks as they have thus far been then I like Scotland's chances in a fortnight. I did not expect to be writing that sentence.

man of the week
England next - oh dear, dear me. Italy's exploitation of the tackle law is a negative tactic but it was beautifully conceived and executed and made England's highly paid professionals look plain daft. They should have known what was required in response - pick and go, pick and go ad infinitum just like the great Scotland sides of the 80's and early 90's. Still the poor little darlings worked it out when they were reunited with the coaching staff at half-time (oh for the old days when they would have had to fathom it for themselves) and they won going away. After the game the usually ultra-savvy Eddie Jones got it all wrong and indulged in an hubristic moan-fest. Not attractive. By the way, can someone come up with a convincing explanation why May starts ahead of the excellent Nowell on the wing.

Ireland and France had a good old-fashioned arm wrestle in which the impressive Irish team prevailed. They are a well-made side, alert and well-coached.

Wales - the less said the better. This team is going backwards notwithstanding its considerable talent.

No Gobshite Award this week. Instead extra plaudits to Romain Poite who handled Italy's ploy with wit and wisdom and isssued forth the statement of the weekend: "I am only the referee, not a coach."  

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Still The Best Game In The World

Rugby Union Football of course. The game I was originally carded to watch yesterday was a second team fixture at King's Norton. To no one's particular surprise it was cancelled due to shortage of players. Such is modern rugby. However the powers that be sent me on a new mission to Camp Hill. I arrived and went in search of the lower team referee I was to advise and, there in the referee's changing room I found a Berkshire Society official preparing to handle the first team game - none other than my former vice-captain and all around good egg, Julian Rainford. He still looks in game shape. Is it really twenty years since that magical season when he scored forty-three tries?

Jules meets Big Fat Pig
Fair do's to Camps who treated me like minor royalty. The beer was good (Ubu) as were the scratchings. After Jules had dealt with his watcher we had time for a brief chat and he got a local to take our picture. Once were warriors. Some day I must tell you about that December afternoon when we beat Sutton Coldfield. Better still get Gary Street to tell you - because in his version he did it on his own. Nearly true but Jules got the decisive try - which Gary duly converted from the touchline. I left Camp Hill felling well-disposed to my fellow man and grateful to be a member of rugby's citizenry.

And now I am sitting in our rather lovely kitchen and am sipping L'Extra par Langlois - a Loire sparkler which was put in our way by the ever reliable staff at Majestic. Donald Trump, Tony Blair (whose recent hubristic bollocks on the subject of Brexit I am choosing to rise above) and other assembled gits seem joyously distant. But then, tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

In Which Our Hero Breaks His Precious Jag, Gets It Mended And Experiences Great Art

No sooner had the breakage on the precious Bike been fixed (lovely new derailleur and chain set) than the Precious Jag came out in sympathy. No shearing metal this time just a terminally sick battery ("terminally" - see what I did there?) - cured by replacement courtesy of the AA's estimable mobile service (discount for members).

So all well in the world and I have taken the PJ on the run to Anglesey to do a few errands on the country estate. And it was here in Anglesey that I last night (Netflix as ever) watched a magnificent film - Son of Saul. This won last year's Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It is most definitely not a popcorn movie. Laszlo Nemes's Hungarian film is set in Auschwitz and follows in disturbing close focus the efforts of one inmate to effect a proper burial for a boy who may (or may not) be his son. Its star, Geza Rohrig, is barely out of shot for the entire disquieting piece. The whole film is testimony to what can be achieved by great cinema. 9/10.

Monday, 13 February 2017

6N17 - Week 2

I suppose two out of three ain't bad. Ireland duly and truly demolished Italy; France wobbled past Scotland; but (the one I got wrong) England outlasted the Welsh and won a classic in Cardiff. All in all a good weekend and as a result I will forebear awarding the Ronan O'Gara Gobshite Award on this occasion. There were candidates (including some usual suspects) but we will leave them alone.

I watched BBC Wales' Scrum V with wry amusement last night. England did not win apparently - Wales lost. The answer my people is that both are true. Quite properly much was made of Rob Howley's substitution of the titanic Ross Moriarty. Mind you he should have been yellow-carded for that late tackle on Owen Farrell. 

England are an interesting side - damnably difficult to beat but a study in imperfection. On Saturday they were outplayed at the breakdown by a masterful Welsh back-row and were notably clumsy with the ball, yet still they prevailed. This even with Elliot Daly (who has that sprinkling of stardust) carrying the ball under the wrong arm for his try. The game was an ornament to a tournament which is shaping nicely. I'm old fashioned and therefore sceptical about bonus points (the object is to win - period) but it is worth noting that thus far four games (all but those featuring poor old Italy) have yielded losing bonuses.

So we catch our breath. The report cards thus far: England forge on, the team best embodied in the teak hard pragmatism of Farrell; Wales have moved forward but remain enigmatic; Ireland are good; Scotland bear the laudable imprint of their phlegmatic coach; France are on the cusp of being formidable - they can beat you up but have yet to master the art of scoring; poor old Italy are left trailing in the wake of the progress the rest of the championship has made.

And just to finish the weekend's taste of rugby's lusty perfections, I had preceded watching the internationals by standing on a freezing Kidderminster touchline to advise a promising referee. And yes I had a pint of ale afterwards along with a bag of scratchings. A good weekend.    

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Big Fat Pig Breaks His Bike

Keen readers will recall that my garage contains not one but two objects of my affection. The prime example is the Precious Jag, but one should not overlook the Precious Bike, my Cannondale CAAD 8.

Well today was a bad day for the PB. I had taken it for a spin and was feeling the self-righteous burn as I churned out of Worcester Lane onto the familiar slight incline. I dropped it down a cog and was greeted by the sound of shearing metal. Now I'm no expert but even I could immediately see that the rear derailleur was utterly bollocksed - Big Fat Pig (aka the Overgraduate) had bost the Precious Bike. I walked the sorry machine home and phoned an engineer. He was doing his shopping at Mere Green so made a quick detour to inspect the damage. He's coming to fix it on Friday. Good lad. Mind you, do you know how he described the PB? "Entry level"! That's me told. He did at least admire the PJ.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Trump Conundrum

Donald J. Trump is the duly elected President of the United States of America. Said country is our most important ally in a disturbed world. Now clearly I've never met the Boy Trump but he seems to me to be an unforgivably ignorant bully.

John Bercow is somebody I did once meet - over lunch as it happens. He was then a tyro MP for an unelectable Conservative Party. He came across as a prig. I don't suppose he liked me either.

Yesterday Mr Bercow, long risen to the Speaker's chair, let it be known that he does not approve of the Boy Trump. So we agree. The problem is this: no matter how right Bercow is about the worthiness of snubbing Trump, he should keep his mouth shut and preserve the dignity of his office. Two wrongs do not make a right - sometimes only a well-worn cliche will do.


Certain critics seem to have been underwhelmed by this film. I was not. The mise-en-scene may be unsensational but the events it depicts need no sensationalism. Carey Mulligan is magnificent as the central character converted to civil dsobedience and there is stellar support from Helena Bonham Carter (is she ever less than good?), Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson.

Don't turn away from the screen too early in case you miss a list of the dates on which suffrage rights were granted to women in various jursidictions. Switzerland, hang your head in shame. 7.5/10 (that's for the film, not for Switzerland).

Monday, 6 February 2017

6N17 - Week 1

It is only now that I realise that I overlooked doing my Nostradamus bit by letting you have my predictions for this year's Six Nations. A bit late now but what I have been telling anyone unfortunate enough to get within earshot is this: The England euphoria is overplayed - they have been remarkably resilient but have key injuries and a worrying propensity to start games badly; Ireland are both highly professional and well-motivated; Wales have the strongest core of quality players but are mentally fragile; France are the ones to watch - massive players and a returning resolution; Scotland are also well coached and will be a handful; Italy are going to get thraped I'm afraid. All in all the strongest tournament for many years.

Has week one changed my mind at all? Not really. England were straight-up bloody awful for large portions of the match against France but somehow hung on and the poor old French just couldn't turn their forward superiority into scoring chances. Scotland got skinned up front but won an adrenaline fuelled thriller. Ireland will bounce back. Wales took an age to get going but won comfortably. Italy - it's going to be a long season.

Some observations on individuals: I would exclude Joe Marler (of whom I am not generally a fan) from the criticism of England - he played well. As indeed did his replacement, Matt Mullan, son of a gifted Aston Old Ed who had the misfortune to play a little rugby with me. George Kruis is one of those players you appreciate all the more when he is not there. Sadly we today learn that he will miss the entire championship. Jonny Gray had a simply stupendous game for Scotland. Those who have already anointed Alun Wyn Jones as Lions captain might want to ponder that such an appointment will preclude a Gray/Itoje engine-room. I'm not sure what the answer is to that conundrum but it makes you think.

The greatest sadness of the weekend - I have to give the Ronan O'Gara Gobshite award to the otherwise heroic Sergio Parisse. Shut your mouth please Sergio.

I played a mental game yesterday evening by comparing the entire twenty-three man squads of England and Wales and picking my composite team. My resultant squad holds thirteen Englishmen and ten Welsh. However the starting lineup contains nine of those Welshmen. This one is too close to call. The bookies have Wales priced at 9/5 and that strikes me as ridiculously generous in a competitive two horse race. The draw is 17/1 for those looking to back a hunch. If pushed: Wales to win, France to beat the Scots and Ireland to demolish Italy I'm afraid.

Then again, I might just be wrong. 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Are Brilliant ... Mark XXIII

food of the Midland gods
Rugby union football, to give it it's full name. I will write elsewhere about the start of the Six Nations but for now I'm on about plain old amateur rugger played by muddied oafs. I was at Edwardians yesterday afternoon to advise a young referee. A muddy pitch, a sparse crowd (more people in the bar watching the internationals - shame on you) and , all in all, a feeling of remarkable wellbeing.

Real ale - in this case the pint of carefully drawn Black Sheep in the bar after the game.

Pork scratchings - which I had with the beer. Black Country cordon bleu.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Man With The President's Mind

No, don't worry, I'm not going off on another tirade about bloody Trump. Although whilst I'm on the subject... No, Dave, step away from the keyboard.

What I really am talking about is Ted Allbeury's 1977 Cold War spy thriller, The Man With the President's Mind. I have a weakness for this genre and an affection for Allbeury's novels which is not unrelated to his being a King Edward's Aston alumnus -  a fact he always made clear on his dustjacket blurb. I even met him once and briefly. Nice chap. If you find one in a library sale (why are they getting rid of so many books), cough up a few pence and give it a try. Boy could write.

Is Almost Brilliant

I will just hold back from absolute approval but I do have to say that we are getting much of our television these days via Netflix. Of particular merit is their self-generated content. This seems to be the future, or at the very least a big part of it.

As examples, and from various places on the entertainment spectrum: the violent, hokey but fast paced Shooter - sort of West Wing meets 24; Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Twin Peaks meets the Marx Brothers if you will; House of Cards - West Wing (again) meets Richard III. Nice.

purveyor of television to the gentry

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Thou Mayest Rule Over Sin

Steinbeck's East Of Eden comes close to being my favourite novel, in part because of my personal circumstances when I read it. But you don't need to know about that. It's boring.

The 1955 filmed version is tersely (and accurately) described by my precious Halliwell as "Heavily over-directed and rousingly acted." It does not even attempt to include the full grand sweep of the novel but has a fair stab at condensing the biblical themes and it features James Dean in his first starring role. So not bad. 7/10. Mind you that means there is still space for someone to do a better job with a great source text.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

One Hundred Years Ago

On 25 January 1917 Lieutenant Robert Edwin Phillips effected the rescue of his heroic commanding officer from an open battlefield in Kut-el-Amara. He did so under intense fire and with no view as to his own safety. For valour he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His commanding officer (who sadly died of his wounds) was also awarded the V.C. - the only instance of a commanding officer and his adjutant receiving that highest medal for the same incident.

Robert Phillips was a native of West Bromwich and an alumnus of King Edward VI Grammar School Aston. I have mentioned him before but on this the centenary of his heroism I write with gratitude at having this morning attended a small but near perfect ceremony at a chilled but sunlit West Bromwich Cenotaph during which a plaque celebrating his heroism was unveiled by his family. Such remembrance is being accorded in the home towns of all six hundred and twenty-eight Great War Victoria Cross recipients. An under-publicised but dignified project. From the service this morning:
May God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest, to the church, the Queen, The Commonwealth and all people Peace and Concord, and to us and all the faithful, life everlasting, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you now and always. Amen.  

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Revenge Of The Fatted Calf ... But Reason To Be Cheerful

I started Friday by having a full English in the glad company of my mother. It was jolly nice but I felt guilty when I got back home, so waited a decent interval and then went for a run. This was ill-advised and sure enough the right calf muscle gave out warning signs as I hit the quarter hour. I stopped at the first sign but, as they say, it's deja vu all over again. Bollocks.

a most equable host
That reason to be cheerful? Well I'm going to let the idiocies of halfwits on both sides of the Trumpian commentariat wash over me. Good news for you I suppose. No, all I am going to do is to urge you to go on BBC iPlayer and catch up with Neil Brand's excellent Sound of Musicals. Another good advertisement for BBC 4's output but don't make me think about the licence fee. Too complicated. 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Old Ones Are The Best

I've been reading that Walter Bagehot again. In his masterwork, The English Constitution, he praises 'intelligible government'. What would my boy Walter make of the Donald? Try these for size:
If the highest post in conspicuous life were thrown open to public competition, this low sort of ambition and envy would be fearfully increased. Politics would offer a prize too dazzling for mankind; clever base people would strive for it, and stupid base people would envy it.
... the end of it always is, that you put a man at the head of society who very likely is remarkable for social defects, and is not eminent for social merits.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

What A Waste Of Words

A wise person told me that the proper response to the inaugurating of the Donald will be to shed a tear for the world. There is something in this. However the thought occurs to me that waking on Friday to a Hillary Clinton presidency would be almost as deadening for the soul - another wave in the cruel statist tide. Sad times.

Nichola Sturgeon. I mean bloody hell, talk about overstaying your fifteen minutes of fame. I care not what she thinks her little bitty piss-ant economy is entitled to over and above what the rest of us citizens have to put up with. Not being Alex Salmond is hardly a life skill, but I struggle to comprehend what else recommends her to us.

giants in the earth
Nick Clegg. Some people just don't get it do they? Here's an expensively well-educated polyglot and yet he has not lost his mastery of getting it wrong. Nick, son, don't (as you did on Radio 2 this morning) presume to tell me what I did or did not vote for in the referendum. Deal with it.

If we get the politicians we deserve then we must have done something pretty gruesome in a previous life. I am currently enjoying John Bew's Attlee biography Citizen Clem, which only serves to accentuate the intellectual poverty of our political times. There were giants in the earth.