Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Methinks they doth protest...

I’d been looking forward to a rant-free day today following yesterday’s diatribe about sports administrators and their jealously guarded powers. But now we have a crisis in that most gentlemanly of sports – cricket. The dreaded umpire Hair – that’s his name not his coiffure – decided that the Pakistan team had tampered with the ball to make it swing more. (You’re allowed to polish one side, but not to scuff the other.) Without further discussion he reduced their score by five runs. Not a very severe punishment - less than 1% of their score in fact – but they expressed their displeasure by not coming out after the tea interval. Hair expressed his by calling the game off and awarding it to England – who had already won the series anyway. In the letter of the law he was entitled to do this – I'm not sure about the spirit.
As if we didn’t have enough problems with Pakistan, Mr Hair has now upset the president, and Pakistani pols are calling it a slur on the whole nation. But you can bet that the cricket bigwigs will back Hair.
Meanwhile the ‘faceless amateurs’ of the Football Association have banned Rooney for three weeks for being sent off during a pre-season friendly match. Well, we don’t want players to start getting above themselves. They’ll start to think that people pay to watch them – when in fact it is the officials who are the main attraction. The Roon protests, but it’s not worth it.
The blazers always win.

They flirted with flower power and bankrolled the Beatles. Some of them claim that they invented rock festivals and CND and won the 1966 World Cup for England. Some even think they created women’s lib (200 years after Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman) and gay rights. They also stormed the Bastille, built the Suez Canal, invented the polio vaccine and abolished slavery.
OK, maybe the baby boomers did achieve a few things, (I guess they had plenty of time on their hands, not having to fight a war) but they did not do it in silence. Roland White in the Sunday Times calls them the most self-regarding generation for generations.
On the other hand, some of them are the most caring, loving, generous people in the world.
I should know - I married one.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Send in the clowns

How do you know when Andy Murray has arrived in your country? When the ‘plane switches off its engines you can still hear the whining.
The athletically-challenged Scottish tennis player who supports any team playing against England at any sport, beat the world number one, Roger Federer, on his way to the quarter-finals of the Cincinatti Masters, then succumbed to Pete Roddick. It was, he said, the humidity: ‘I’m dying out here’, he shouted to his new coach.
We have this Scottish Home Secretary who, when the police are shown conclusively to be not doing their job, complains that the public are not reporting enough suspicious characters. If he doesn’t become the next Prime Minister, it will be another Scot, the Chancellor, who complains that we don’t pay enough tax, or the Minister of Defence (yes, you guessed it) who complains about everything. As the headline in Saturday’s Times leader put it, ‘There are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman complaining’.
So it seems I’m not the only one. There’s a video blog on YouTube by someone who calls himself ‘McRant’ who complains about the crassness of those who still think that the land north of Hadrian’s wall can support intelligent life. He argues that all the intelligent Scots have fled to England – which doesn’t say much for the ones who stayed behind.
McRant complains that every time he goes there, ‘I get this sense of meanness, lack of spirit, lack of identity, lack of people’, and that ‘holding parties to celebrate England’s defeat in the World Cup is unbelievable meanness.’
The funny thing is that McRant is a Scot.

Saturday’s opening day of the football season was impressive, and not just because Everton won and for 24 hours were above Man U and Chelsea in the table. (They didn’t play until Sunday.) The games were competitive but clean, there was no diving – a real treat after the histrionics of the World Cup this summer. There was only one thing wrong: the refereeing. Poor refereeing was crucial to the outcome of more than half of the games. Everton were given a penalty because Peter Walton thought that a player who was hit on the head by a ball had handled it. Liverpool were given one because Rob Styles had the impression that a defender intended to bring down Steve Gerrard. There were more examples, but you get the idea.
How is it that the same bad referees are allowed to come back into the top divisions year after year? You’ll have to ask the blazered buffoons at the FA. Who are they? No one knows - the England team manager calls them the ‘faceless amateurs’.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Because I'm worth it

It’s annual school cliché day – the day when kids get their A-level exam results and TV newscasters who’ve had a whole year to think how they could present the subject in a different way repeat the old worn-out shots of postmen arriving, students opening results letters on camera and going ecstatic and hugging each other at the results - which researchers have already checked out to make sure that no one says ‘Oooh shit’.
Such a situation would be unusual because the pass rate has increased every year for the last 24 and is now 97%. By 2008 it will be impossible to fail. Cue next cliché, which is head teacher and/or Education minister denying that the exam is getting easier.
It’s just another cinematic cliché, like those multiple pipettes (or whatever they’re called) that you always see on research stories, or those canisters with what looks like steam coming out that go with artificial insemination pieces.
Director, needing 35 seconds for an NHS item: ‘Nottingham today guys – get Boots to let you shoot one of those girls in white hats filling bottles with pills – coloured if possible. The pills, not the girls’.
Crew: ‘Aw c’mon Gary, we’ve got miles of that stuff on file’.
Director: ‘It’s got to be authentic. Nottingham - you can charge dinner and two nights’ hotel.’

I’ve got this new doctor – the old one retired. The new one is young, eager and apparently competent - Dirk Bogarde to the old one’s James Robertson Justice. (Wait a minute, aren’t they both dead?) The old one had ‘Ah well’ disease - when you complained of an age-related symptom he would glance at his screen, tell you your age, and start to talk like a garage mechanic, as in ‘Ah well, what do you expect? You’re – how many? - x years old…’
Look, Doc, already know how old I am – I just want it fixed.

When I worked in France I had this cartoon on my desk showing two Roman centurions trudging through pouring rain in the process of invading Britain. Says one Roman, ‘Have you been in Britain before?’ The other says, ‘No’. And the first one says, ‘If you like the weather you’ll like the food’. French colleagues would often remark on this treason. There was this Frenchman on Radio Four today – Antoine de Cohn I think. He has a programme, Eurotrash, which takes the piss out of the British - on British television. The interviewer asked if there was a parallel programme on French TV. ‘No’, he said. ‘It couldn’t happen in France. They don’t laugh at themselves.’ When you think about it, few nations do. The last American to do it was Al Capp, and he’s been dead thirty years. A United flight to Washington was diverted to Boston and tailed by military fighters because a woman had smuggled some face cream on board. Did that mean she could do less damage in Boston?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Caid mille failte

What's Irish for 'politically correct'?
Now I’m as big a fan of the Emerald Isle as anyone. They were one of, if not the, first countries in Europe to ban smoking in public places, my mother was Irish, and I was married there. I’ve even kissed the Blarney Stone, twice, without having to pay. (The first time I was too young – ten - and the second time I was a pensioner.) So it can't be all bad. But they’ve gone too far this time.
They have managed to persuade the European Parliament that the Gaelic should be recognised as an official language. As of next year, members will be allowed to address the EU assembly in a language that only five MEPs claim to be able to understand. In addition, all documents and legal papers will have to be translated into Irish, adding a million Euros to a translation budget which already exceeds a billion.
To recognise a minority language of a country that has (albeit wisely) not yet ratified the European Constitution seems to be the start of a slippery slope. I don’t know what criteria they use in making such decisions, but many languages that are much more widely used: Welsh, Catalan, Scouse… are not yet recognised. Do I smell a deal to persuade the Irish to ratify the Constitution?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Everton and walking on water

Gerry and the Pacemakers did it by ferry, but yesterday a guy became the first man to WALK across the River Mersey.
He set off just before 8am and took just over an hour to cover the two miles from Ince Banks, near Ellesmere Port in Cheshire to Oglet Shore near Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport, with only a helicopter and a hovercraft for company
‘You just have to keep moving all the time and go for it,' he said. 'It's unbelievably difficult as the currents are quite strong in the Mersey’.
I must say I’m not too happy about this record and may have to raise an objection. First of all, he did not walk ON the water in true biblical fashion, but THROUGH it. Second, he had an unfair advantage - he did it at low tide and his head stuck out above the water, (he’s 6ft 9 - 2.06 metres – tall). Third, he refused a doping test. And finally, he’s a Yorkshireman. Were no Scouses available?
But I guess it’s all right: he was hoping to raise £100,000 for a charity for people with the genetic skin blistering condition, Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). I hope he didn’t put the word on poor Sir Paul – he’s down to his last £600 million and will need it all for the lawyers.

Four days, 20 hours and 15 minutes to go. The big kick-off is at 3pm Saturday. We have a new striker - well, not new exactly, but only slightly used - and we're playing at home against one of the newly-promoted teams from what used to be called the second division. We won't get a better chance. Allez les bleus!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Glorious Twelfth

In those little diaries you were given as a kid at Christmas time, under August 12 it used to say ‘Grouse shooting begins’. This information was of limited value to a kid living in one of the less salubrious quarters of Liverpool. (On a recent visit I tried to find Arthur Street, my natal residence, but it wasn’t there. Neither was the next street, Herbert Street. It says something about the living space in those houses if I tell you that Liverpool City Council, after bull-dozing the bits that the Luftwaffe had left standing, built them into a single street of reasonably sized houses and subtly named it Herbarth Street.)
When I asked my Dad what ‘Grouse shooting begins’ meant, he, not wishing me to know that we lived in a lace-curtained jungle, explained that it was the date after which one was allowed to shoot grouse for the table. When I asked him if he would point out to me the next grouse to fly over Arthur Street, he told me that grouse prefer to nest in heather and bracken and that concrete and tarmac were not their natural habitat. He suggested that if I were to go to nearby Walton Jail I would hear nothing but grouse... Bit of a punster, my old man.
I've still never tasted grouse - and doubt I ever will. I hear they're running at £4,000 a brace - and you don't get them at Tesco's. You have to go all the way to Scotland yourself to shoot them, which puts it out of the question.
It may be a bad day if you’re a grouse, but it’s a good one for lepers: this is the day of their patron saint, Louis of Toulouse. He was a bishop at 20 and a saint – albeit dead – at 23. I’m not sure how he managed this fast-track promotion when old John Paul II hasn’t made it yet, but I guess being the son of the King of Sicily didn’t do him any harm. He must have made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I'm a professional poet

I sent this poem to an American writers' magazine:


My words are vines
The grapes they bear
Harvested with tender care.

Picture my rage
When on the page
The vintage is vin ordinaire.

They sent me $5 (£3) – net of postage, less than $4.
That's 15 cents a word.

I could give up my day job - if I had one.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No fireworks, please

As Stevie Wonder would say, it’s celebration time. If I were a cricketer people would be on their feet applauding. If I were a few years older I’d get a telegram from the Queen.

We have this former neighbour in Liverpool who as kids we always thought was a relative. It turns out she’s no relation to us at all but we still go and visit her is if she were, (let’s face it, ageing relatives – even pretend ones – are hard to find these days). We went to see her last week. She’s 94, has eight children, the youngest of which is 52, and she can’t wait to get the Queen’s telegram – she even pretends she’s 95 . As we get near her house, DG asks how long we should stay. ‘She’ll tell you’, I say.
Winnie, a devout Catholic, proudly shows us the postcard she’s received from Rome: a picture of Pope John Paul with Mother Teresa – her two favourite people. ‘I know’, I say. ‘We sent it to you.’ This does not deter her from reading to us – without glasses - the message that we wrote to her.
We chat and drink tea, and after 35 minutes she asks me to open a cupboard and take out a video cassette. Then she asks me to put it on without the sound – ‘I just like the colour in the background’. Five minutes later asks us to turn up the sound because she can’t hear it. We get the message and leave. There are some benefits to being 94 - sorry. 95.

But for me there won’t be applause or telegram. I don’t even expect a cake - I’m not sure the occasion merits one. Don't know whether it demonstrates stamina or lethargy - my hundredth post.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tony Goes to Hollywood

He’s on his way to that secret destination in Barbados, but before he left, he had to leave the world crises on hold to go to California to attend the annual bunfight of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, owners of our best and worst newspapers - which makes Rupert a pretty important person. Not that the which Blair project went all the way to CA just for Rupert: he also had to attend the party thrown by Adidas to celebrate its new contract to supply Chelsea’s football kit - not a gig to be treated lightly. AND, to ensure that the trip will be chargeable to the taxpayers, he dropped in on his California opposite number, that well-known socialist, Arnie Schwartzenegger, to discuss global warming.

As regulars will know, I have no grudge against Scots – only an objection to their increasing influence in the administration of the country from which they seceded because they wanted to control their own affairs. Especially as the system does not work in reverse: non-Scottish Britons have no say in what happens north of the border. Thus Scottish students get free college fees, and elderly Scots free home care – paid for by British taxpayers, who do not enjoy these privileges.
A certain SMP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) just sued one of our tabloid pooper-scoopers for libel because it said he made a habit of extramarital activities with ladies of dubious moral turpitude. He won his case and came out with an unblemished character and £300,000 damages – surprising in view of the fact that the News of the World had assembled 18 witnesses. Why did the jury decide that the SMP was innocent? Did he have an alibi? Did he prove that it was someone else? Or that all 18 sworn witnesses had perjured themselves? Well no, but one wonders if the fact that the NotW is English and the case was tried in Scotland might have been factors.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Duckbilled Platitudes

Do you get annoyed at sports commentators and their leading questions? You know: ‘Double century – pretty good score, Ian?’ or ‘’45,000, Gary – good crowd?’ What the hell else can Ian and Gary do but agree? But there’s a way to stop it: for the commentator to say, ‘Pretty good round, Clive – three holes in one?’ – and Clive to say, ‘Not really, he was crap. Went in the duck pond on the twelfth’.
Brilliant idea?

The competition as to which of the competing Phoenix serial killers – the Baseline Killer or the Serial Shooter - is ahead in the body count gets more complicated as the cops start to pin earlier, unsolved, cases on them, and to advertise in Spanish to find out if anyone in that community is missing someone they haven’t mentioned yet. And the reward has been doubled. $200,000 should fix it.

Talking about serial killers, as the number of Lebanese deaths approaches three figures, our leader seems finally to have got things in hand. Is he shuttling around the Middle East brokering cease-fires and peace deals? Well, not exactly: he is fulfilling his promise to change the copyright laws so that wealthy pop singers like Cliff Richard will not start to lose their copyrights 50 years after publication.
But not right now. First he’s off on holiday to Barbados. For security reasons, we don't know exactly where he's staying, but he usually roughs it at the sumptuous seaside home of *

A glance at the DG’s blog will explain why the posts are fewer and briefer these days. When on Rob watch 40 miles from here, we listen, and catch some sleep in a bed intended for a single bloke with a pronounced dip in the middle (the bed, not the bloke) forcing us to be rather more friendly than we would prefer to be in this hot weather. On our days off we sleep, and when not sleeping the DG is either on the phone or waiting for it to ring. We’re not complaining – it’s just so you’ll excuse us if we owe you a phone call, text, letter or other social contact.

* - Sir Cliff Richard