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.