Monday, January 29, 2007

Sunday Blogger

When an admirer asked Philip Larkin if he would dedicate one of his books to her, he agreed, but said she would have to wait a long time, because he was only a Sunday writer. That’s what I am these days. Except that I suspect he only said that to convince the Hull City Library that he didn’t write poetry on payroll time. I never write in payroll time, but not because I'm writing immortal poetry: it's because no one pays me. Weekly blogging is not nearly as satisfying as the inspirational spur-of-the-moment kind: by the time Sunday comes around you’ve forgotten most of what pleased or angered you during the week – in fact you’ve almost forgotten how to blog. The solution, as every writer knows, is to carry a notebook and pen at all times – but my most brilliant thoughts come in the shower and the notes get soggy and unreadable.

Among the plethora of important anniversaries last week: Dixie Dean, Saint Sebastian, etc – one slipped by unnoticed except, understandably, by me. On January 15, 2006, I started this blog.
At dinner the other evening a friend wanted to know why we blog. A number of people have asked me that, but if I told you that this questioner is a writer whose opinion I respect, you would find it – as I did – surprising. It’s tempting to give the short answer, like Louis Armstrong’s to the person who asked him to explain jazz - ‘If you have to ask, you ain’t ever gonna know’. But the real answer is much longer.
Friend said it was self-indulgent. He’s dead right: of course it is - but then so are eating, drinking a crisp white Burgundy and lots of other things, yet no one asks us why we do it. I don't understand why people play golf, grow orchids, watch Big Brother, support Manchester United, sail and so on – but chacun á son indulgence.
Although RivieraWriter may now be a mere shadow of its former self (which some would say was already pretty shadowy), I have to say, 167 posts, 3,854 hits, 6,221 page views and 71, 361 words later, that I look back on my twelve months of blogging as - for me at least – a very enjoyable and satisfying experience. I’ve improved my typing rate if not its accuracy; had a lot of fun and met some wonderful and amazing people. Try it Mike, what have you got to lose?

Sky Television commentator on Arsenal game this week: ‘Arsène Wenger is not generally known as a man who lets his feelings show, but tonight he has run the whole gambit’.

Less is more. I was putting it out the rubbish last week when the postman handed me the mail. After one glance, it went straight into ‘Rrecycled Paper’. It must be frustrating to be a postie, delivering mail that no one wants.
There’s a great magazine called The Week It has no political leaning – it just selects the best writing from every paper and magazine in the world and I wouldn’t be without it. But last week it came with EIGHT pieces of junk mail - the junk weighed almost as much as the magazine.
One of the worst culprits seems to be Dell. Mr Dell, if you’re reading this, I don’t care how good your computers may be, I’ll never buy one because of what you’re doing to the planet.
Less is more in the junk mail business. It’s obvious to us, so why can’t the PR agencies see it? The answer is they can, but they have clients who want splash, and it’s their money. How can I get word to these people that every red envelope; every IMPORTANT MESSAGE!!!; every ‘free gift!’ of a 29p biro; every ’Chance to win a luxury holiday in Paris!’; and every 24-point exclamation mark; goes unopened into the recycling. If you want my attention, send something that looks like a letter and is addressed to me and I'll read it - especially if it has a postage stamp on it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Happy Hundredth Dixie!

I would have had to do this one even if I had not been given an official blog pass for weekends.

Everton are celebrating Dixie Dean Day this weekend. William Ralph Dean – universally known as Dixie - was the star of the Everton team during its glory years: the late 1920s and early 1930s, when over a five-year period they won the second division championship, two first division championships and the FA Cup.If he were alive he would be 100 years old on Monday.
My Dad (who would be 120) was an Everton fan. Our house was a museum of Everton iconography: ties, scarves, tea cosies and hot water bottle covers, all knitted by Mum in royal blue and white. My eldest brother went to the school next door to the ground, and my brothers and I, when we couldn’t afford the seven old pence it cost to get in, would stand outside the ground to listen for the roar that meant that we had scored – and at three-quarters time, when the gates would be opened for early leavers, we would rush in to see the end of the game.
Dad’s greatest moment was his trip to Wembley in 1933 with his brother - my Uncle Bert - to see Everton win the FA cup. Both were passionate Blues. What else could they be - the 1901 census shows their address as “Newsboys’ Home, Everton Road, Everton Valley, Everton”? (Media was obviously in the DNA.)
If Everton was our faith, Dixie was our high priest. I was brought up on the legend of Dixie: the goal-scoring genius who could shoot with either foot, head like a trench mortar – half of his goals were from headers – and turn water into wine. My earliest literature was yellowing clips from the Liverpool Echo recording Dixie’s greatest performance, when at the age of 21 he scored more League goals in a season than anyone else, before or since.
With three matches of that season still to go, few thought that Dixie could get the 9 goals he needed to beat the record of 59 goals in a season. But he hit six goals in the next two games – helping Everton win the First Division Championship in the process - and people started to hope. But he needed three goals in the last game - and it was against Arsenal, the cash-rich ‘Chelsea of the 1920s', who had already beaten us twice that season.
On May 5, 1928, despite the fact that the Championship was already in the bag, Goodison Park was packed with the Faithful, come to see if Dixie could do it. He scored in the first five minutes, then, mid-way through the first half, he cracked in a penalty – equalling the record. But with eight minutes to go, the score at 2-all, and 60,000 people looking anxiously at the clock, it began to look as though he wouldn’t make it. Then Alec Troup sent in a corner kick. I have a grainy picture of Dixie soaring above the Arsenal defence. When he came down, football history had been made.
Dad used to get out old newspaper photographs showing an open-topped bus besieged by ecstatic fans, and point himself out in the sea of faces. Pity he never met his grandson or great-grandson, Evertonians both.
Dixie’s record of 60 goals in 39 matches has stood for 80 years, and is unlikely ever to be beaten. He scored almost 500 goals in his career, including 37 hat tricks, before retiring to run a pub in Chester. The pub, the “Dublin Packet”, became a Mecca for former fans: my Uncle Bert was one of the many who made the pilgrimage from Liverpool. I made my own many years later, but by then Dixie was long gone.
His death was so appropriate it might have been cued by Max Clifford: suddenly, at age 73, at Goodison Park, watching the Blues play the Reds - our historic rivals. The only flaw was that Liverpool won 2-1. At the funeral, huge crowds lined the streets of Liverpool in silent tribute.
One of the series of postage stamps commemorating the 2000 European Cup featured a typical Dean header, and is captioned “Football Legend: Dixie Dean, 1907-1980” – long-overdue recognition of the football legend who transferred to Everton from Tranmere Rovers for £3,000, and at the peak of his career earned £8 a week.

Little-known fact: Dixie played baseball for Liverpool Caledonians. In the year before Dixie scored his 60th, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs - and came to watch Dixie play against Spurs at White Hart Lane. The two legends met - but The Babe's record only lasted 34 years.

Happy Centennial, Dixie.

In a Private Member's Bill before Parliament today an MP is trying to give local people more say over local planning. One of its aims is to stop High Street globalisation – Windsor’s, for example, used to have two fishmongers, a shop catering exclusively for left-handed people, a saddler's, plus independent bakers, bookshops etc. Now I don’t think there’s anything that isn’t a chain store. There even used to be a real coffee blender's that you could smell the length of the street: Starbucks plan to open a thousand new shops in UK this year.
OK., so we vote with our feet - people must like them or they wouldn’t be there, etc. But France and Italy have chain stores and supermarkets – yet they still have independent shops and street markets.

Talking about France, some once-secret papers from the National Archive have just been released under the 50-year rule, and it seems that in 1956 the French Prime Minister Guy Mollet came to London to discuss the possibility of a merger between France, who were having a tough time economically, and Britain.
(The media are leaving no cliché unexploited, outdoing each other in inane conjecture: if it had gone through, would we all be eating frogs’ legs and snails by now – and they fish and chips? - and so on. The Mirror cartoon: kid says, 'Daddy, can I have a pony?' Father: 'You've already eaten'.)
We turned Mollet down, so he came back with another proposal: that France be allowed to join the British Commonwealth. He even said they would accept the Queen as Mrs Big. Quote: "there need be no difficulty over France accepting the headship of Her Majesty".
Which was probably where he blew his case . It's that word 'headship' - we know what the French do to Kings and Queens.

Sylvester Stallone was at Goodison Park last Sunday – and not only wore an Everton scarf but was still wearing it when he got to the opening of Rocky 11 or 12 in Paris. I wonder if he got to chat with Tim Howard, our American goalie. Americans tend to make good goalies – there are several in English clubs – because they can catch. (All except Tim, who has some difficulty with that aspect of his game.)
Sly was a goalie once – remember Escape to Victory? A film about a bunch of prisoners of war that included, incredibly, Pele, Bobby Moore, Pusckas, and, even more incredibly, a paunchy Michael Caine. It gets even less credible: they form a team that beats the cream of the Wehrmacht at the Parc des Princes in Paris in a ‘friendly’ match and escape under the Germans’ noses while the crowd sing the Marseillaise. I saw it on an Air France flight from JFK to Paris and there wasn’t a dry eye on the flight.
Sly stayed just long enough to see Andy Johnson’s equalizer and left. If he’d stayed longer we might have won. If Dixie had been playing we would have won.

Friday, January 12, 2007

New kid on the blog?

No! Hey, it’s me! You remember me - Everton, Villefranche and all that?
How quickly people forget. I can’t tell you how much I’m missing blogging – blogless, I’ve felt at times that I don’t exist any more. I blog not, therefore I am not, as a drunken Descartes might have said - and although I still read my favourite bloggers and check out my hit rates (falling), it’s not the same. Oh - and I’ve rediscovered that writing is lonely.
But I’ve won a remission for good conduct and am permitted a brief weekly blogfix provided 3000 productive words have been written – so long as I don’t exceed 500 words.
The great British novel is taking shape, but it’s having a rough passage. Fiction’s hard after years of plagiarising – I mean researching - so I’ve devised a fiendishly cunning plan to acclimatise myself. I take a chapter of an earlier work that started out as a biography and fictionalise it into a complete short story. I’ve done that now – for better or for worse – and am almost ready to expose it to the ruthless but fair critics at my writers' group.
But the truth is, I never left you. The urge never went away, and I still find myself saying ‘that would make a neat blog’ – then forgetting what 'that' was.
You can’t plan a blog - blogging’s a sport, and has a similar affinity to jazz as sport. DG says that when we met she was surprised to find that I was a football fan. There she was – she says – thinking she'd found a bit of an intellectual, and he was a closet footy freak, and worse: a jazz fan! What a phoney – intellectuals don’t go for that stuff.
But there’s no difference between blogging and watching the teams run out at Goodison Park to the tune of Z-cars - the old Liverpool-based cops-and-robbers programme – or the moment Sonny Rollins ambles on stage, alone, tenor in hand. For the next 90 minutes you don’t know what’s going to happen - and neither does anyone else, even those most involved. The anticipation is the same. (Though you have to be prepared for it not working for you every time - just like blogs.)

Catching up on admin – even paid my tax 18 days early. There’s a questionnaire about on-line filing. Question 6: ‘Did you use the ‘Help’ button? Yes □ No □? I tick ‘No’. Q.7: ‘If you did, was it helpful?’ Yes □ No □? As there’s no ‘N/A’ box, I don’t tick anything`. You can guess the rest – they won’t accept it – ‘You have not answered Q.7!' Hope they’re not as pedantic when checking my return.

David who? David Beckham is heading for California on a 50-million-pounds – that’s pounds, not dollars - salary. Pity, I always wanted to watch him in Adidas whites at the Bernabeu and now I never will. He says he hopes to raise the profile of soccer in the US. I’d love to see it happen: there should be team sports for guys who are neither 20 stone (280lbs), nor giraffe-men.
When, in the 1951, the USA knocked England out of the World Cup, it was a national disgrace here, but no one in the USA even noticed. Some 20-odd years later, when I used to coach kids’ teams in Paoli, PA, things hadn’t changed much: the trainees were either immigrants’ children, like mine, or rejects from gridiron. Dads seldom came to watch, and, if they did, pretended they were walking the dog, even if they had to borrow a dog. The supporters freezing on the touchline were Moms. (Not quite as bad as New Zealand, where failure to make the grade in Rugby is grounds for disinheritance.)
Now I’m a bit of a fan of Becks: he can’t do many things on a football field, but what he does – pass, cross an early ball and take bendy free kicks – he does supremely well. But David, if the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer, di Stefano, George Best and many others couldn’t do it, I don’t think you’ve got a chance. Demi-god you might be in England or Japan, but US sport has its own. Good luck all the same.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Farewell to Blogs - or is it au revoir?

I’d like to say ‘Happy New Year’, but I fear that if this post is anything like as depressing to read as it is to write, you really ought to look away now – I’d hate to spoil your year. All this is because, as a prelim to writing this New Year’s resolutions, I thought I’d look at how I performed against last year’s, and I have to tell you that performance has been pretty abysmal. Some results were not bad: ‘to take more notice of the DG when it comes to personal relationships’ was even a qualified success, as was ‘drink better wine but less of it’. Even the one about the waistline - if it hasn't reduced much, it is not significantly increased either.
But the bad news, as the TV weather forecasters say - the deplorable news - was the one about writing the great British novel. Plan for 2006: to average 350 printable words per day. Actual: zilcho. In fact, it’s worse than zilch: since I’ve lost the thread of much that was already written in 2005, ‘net words completed’ is a reasonable figure - but a negative one. OK, family circumstances may have made a partial contribution, but in spite of this, over the same period I’ve blogged over 68,000 words: well on the way to a novel. The solution is obvious: less blogging, more fiction.
The problem is I love blogging – it’s cosy and friendly, while novel-writing is cold and lonely. And writing the book is only the beginning – you have to market it, get if published, proof-read etc. Blogging, to a writer, must be what, to an actor, is the difference between working on stage and in films – the reaction is immediate. Or, for a musician, the Nice Jazz Festival versus the recording studio. It must be the reason why Armstrong, Basie and Hampton did one-nighters all around the world until well into their 70s or 80s: instant response.
But what people will remember is the book on the shelf – or the CD or DVD - not the blog or the live performance. When I and my contemporaries are long gone, who will there be to remember Stan Kenton’s Accrington concert? Or The Duke at the Royal Albert Hall? Or Michel Petrucciani at the Festival Hall?
So it’s a temporary (I hope) goodbye to blogging – until either there’s some progress on the book, or I abandon the whole project. And goodbye to you long-suffering readers; I’ll miss your comments – posted, verbal and e-mailed. If anything exciting happens (like Everton getting into the Champions League) you'll hear it here first or on my website.