Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stay With Me

Bugger me, Russia is in the news again and funnily enough, it has been like living in Soviet era Russia for the last few weeks. There is only one truth, and the truth is that the Olympics are unequivocally a good thing. It might be true, but it is very strange and a bit unnerving not to hear or read one dissenting opinion. What is even stranger is that outside of the papers and the telly and the radio I have not heard the thing discussed; no one seems to give much of a bugger. Hurray and good for the chaps that did so well, but, you know, life goes on, and life isn't all that good.

Is it me, or has the media lost all sense of reason in reporting Britains glory? I'm sure that I read that the athletics coaches job is under threat because our performance was so poor. Take away the cycling medals and the hooray henry type sports and we didn't exactly cover ourselves in glory did we? Especially as most of the buggers are professionals.

You may have surmised, I am going on about sport again. The 5 live phone in today focussed on competitive sports in schools. Gordon Brown (who, for a man who wrote a whole series of articles on brave politicians is proving himself to be a sorry disappointment) has said we need more competition, as he jumped on the nearest passing bandwagon. Some Labour politicians have been pointing this out for years, so he is a bit late to this particular party. The 5 live phonees were pretty unanimous that limp wristed leftie councils had ruined the nation with their anti competitive ways. I didn't hear any mention of the selling off of school playing fields having a detrimental effect.

Despite the national euphoria, I will not budge from my stance that competition kills kids interest in sport, especially at an early age. Nor will I budge from my stance that the first thing that our nippers should be taught is that sport is good, that sport is fun and and that exercise is a good thing, in and of itself. I won't go on about this nation of couch potatoes again, nor about Finland, but to use a phrase that usually makes me want to throw up, how about a bit of joined up thinking?

On this hand we are urged to be more active, to try this sport, this activity, on that hand we are assailed by articles in the press on age specific activities, public spaces urge us to get off our behinds, it's good for us, our families, the nation, yet the facilities on offer are shit and people who were put off sport at an early age are discouraged from participating. JOIN. UP.THE. THINKING. The Pippas of this world will find their own way: the rest of us, the big wobbly mass, won't.

There were several themes in this mornings phone in, one of them being that the elite athletes need even more public money spent on them. We need to give them the best equipment, pay for them to spend most of the year abroad, honing their skills and pay them a handsome wage on top. Fair enough, up to a point, but as professionals, operating in a market, if they can't sustain themselves, well, tough. I am sure that most of these supreme individuals would want the laws of the free market to apply to the rest of us.

The biggest theme though, was that we were killing our kids with kindness and I just don't buy into this theory. We weren't actually awash with glory through the 30's 40's and 50's, and, as mentioned, the selling off of playing fields has probably had a bigger effect on the nations sporting prowess as political correctness gone mad.

I am not against competition, far from it, but I do believe that we need to foster a love of sport first. Despite my current fat bastard status I was good at all sports as a nipper and could handle myself in a scrap, so this is not the bleating of a life long weakling (just the bleating of a middle aged weakling!) I truly believe that if we encourage all nippers to enjoy sports and give them good facilities and coaches, and emphasise that it is, above all else, fun, we will breed winners and we will breed a generally fitter nation.

My eldest gave up football because the training was crap and he, along with about 30 others were marginalised within the club, at the expense of about 10 or twelve stars, who coincidentally, were the sons and friends of the sons of the coaches. He would get to touch a ball about ten times in a 2 hour session.

My youngsest recently joined his first club, the other side of town from his brothers alma mater. Because he joined late last season, he has also been marginalised, but in a good way. He is stuck with about 10-12 other late comers, so they have 2 hours of really intense, small sided games, and he loves it, because he is always involved. They have had a couple of games, and they have been hammered, but come Monday, they are back at training, raring to go, and week by week you can see them improving. The coaches will leech this sense of joy out of them in time; they absolutely hate it when they lose, but, in the meantime, these kids are learning to play the game and love the game, and they are having a laugh while they do it.

The head coach has been complaining that next year they will only be allowed to play seven a side games and he thinks it is wrong, whereas I rejoice, as this is how the little buggers will learn to love the ball and play the game. The chap doesn't seem to appreciate that the game is about the kids, rather than him, although, he does more than I am prepared to. This country has a bigger number of teenage dropouts from football that any other, because it is not fun. The Dutch have it right, small sided, non competitive games, which encourage a deep understanding of the game and a honing of skills. I suspect that most of those football coaches who phoned Victoria Derbyshire this morning saying that they had to subvert the prevailing ethos would be happy to turn out players in the same way that the Dutch do, but I fear we will never get through to them, and we will always rely on the hooray Henrys to provide us with our short lived Olympic joy.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My Girls Pussy

Blues win at a canter to maintain our unbeaten run, while the Villa get stuffed at Stoke. It might be puerile to delight in such trifling matters; some might even call it facile..................I call it a small slice of heaven.

Celebrate this most satisfying days by wrapping your ears around The Real Tuesday Weld.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cobham Blues

There is a piece in the Guradian today on cult bands, I won't link to it, because it's garbage, but being me, I had to come up with my own favourite cult

76 civilians, many of them children, were killed today by a US air strike,I suppose good buddies will claim that there is no moral equivalence between their actions in countries to which they have not been invited, and the evil Russia.

Agnes Poirier writes a slightly snide article in todays about the reluctance of the British nipper to learn a language. My eldest, who started what I can only understand as his second year last year, was really, really keen to take German, but, as he didn't do well enough in Welsh, he was denied the opportunity. I am sure Welsh nippers are given a raw deal............Welsh has been compulsory for donkeys years and still no bugger can speak it. Throw money at it by all means, for those who want it, but don't deny kids who have the sense to see that it is pointless and irrelevant other, more meaningful learning opportunities.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Little Boxes

There is a superb article in the Guardian on Richard Price, who has written several fantastic books, including The Wanderer as well as a couple of superb screenplays, including the vastly under rated Sea of Love and has been a contributor The Wire. If you aren't familiar with him, you are in for a treat and I recommend that you read Clockers and Samaritan before anything else, then proceed with caution, as some of his early stuff is a bit crap.

The first chapter of his latest, Lush Life.

Years ago, I read The Grass Arena, by John Healy, which was an astonishing book. Healy had led a thoroughly miserable life and as a tale of redemption and as a story that should bring hope to anyone, whatever their background and circumstances, this ranks up there alongside Jimmy Boyle. It has now been reissued and if you haven't read it, I urge you too, this man has earned every single penny of royalty he gets.

There is a very good piece on Healy here, by another reformed bad boy.

Having a little browse around the consistently superb Cwmbran Library the other day, I came across the new James Kelman. I was a bit surprised, because I am a huge fan of Kelman and consider him to be the nations best writer, by some distance. I had remained completely unaware that he had published a new novel though. It had slipped completely beneath my radar, and it's not a slight thing, it is bloody huge. How can this be; do you think that huge new novels by the likes of Rushdie, or Amis or Mcewan, detailing the minutiae of middle class life would be issued with so little fanfare? I don't.

A very good piece on snobbery towards Scottish writers.

It would take someone much more curmudgeonly than me not to be delighted for the athletes who have been winning medals for the nation in China, not that I have seen much of it as the radio tells me everything I need to know before I even rise from my pit, plus, in the sports that we have done well in............ well. I wasn't interested in them 4 weeks ago and I'm not really interested in them now and I certainly won't be interested in them in two weeks time,however much the media circus insists that we are all showjumping, sailing, rowing and cycling aficianados now.

I don't think it's over curmudgeonly to feel pretty nauseated by the BBC's coverage either; the next time they bleat about the licence fee, I hope someone has totted up the cost of the corporations Olympic coverage, which has been bloated, to say the least. How many ex athletes are being paid to offer banal insights? Jesus, is too much to ask for a bit of critical analysis as to opposed to endless cheerleading for "Team GB"?

Still, the cycling has been superb.

For all the success, I will not deviate from my position that the London Olympics are a waste of money and that if we genuinely want to create a lasting sporting legacy for the nation, all that money would have been better spent on creating and improving facilities in every community in the land; in providing facilities in state schools that are comparable to those found in public schools and in ensuring that access to clean, warm, welcoming facilities is easy and cheap, and to providing access to sports that are not necessarily competitive, for the old, the fat and the feeble amongst us...................that's me, that is.

We are a nation of couch potatoes, fatties and diabetics. We drink too much, we smoke too much, we eat shit all day long and we sit on our fat behinds exacerbating our health problems, building up cholesterol and raising our blood pressure. Our youth is disaffected and rat like, hanging around trying their best to look menacing. Many of us would prefer to type gibberish on the internet than go for a run. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, but it is a problem that affects mainly those in the lowest income groups, who lack motivation, who lack access to good facilities; who can't afford membership fees. All that money spent on the London Olympics would have gone a long way to addressing and resolving these issues.

It is noticeable that we have done better in sports where the initial outlay is pretty expensive, horse riding, boating, cycling and the like. I have no idea what the class profile of our winners is, but I strongly suspect that many of them had privileged backgrounds and had access to sporting facilities not readily available to the hoi polloi. Finland might not win many gold medals (where art thou, Lasse Vieran?) but it's citizens are much fitter and healthier than ours. I might be wrong though; not everyone called Pippa is necessarily a posh tart, I suppose.

None of which matters, because proper sport has been with us for two weeks now and Blues have managed to win three games on the trot, including a victory away from home having gone behind. So, hip hip hurrah for Team GB and come on you Blues my little chuffing lovelies.

Many Blues fans have been telling people like me, who think we should piss all over the Championship, that we know nothing, that the Championship is a tough league and that we will struggle. I acknowledge that it is early days yet, but I also acknowledge that they are all talking shit; this league is no good, last seasons excitement was due to most of the teams being rubbish, rather than good. Blues haven't even played well yet, and already we look comfortable; they may as well call a halt to proceedings now and just hand us the title.

Not that I'm over excited. Eck keeps telling us about the beautiful game that he wants us to play, but our players seem incapable of it and soon resort to the long ball, or, worse, to just shifting the ball on............ getting rid of it, rather than passing it, and Eck himself has complained that we indulge in too much tippy tappy. I think the problem (not that it is much of a problem in this league)is that our strikers remain divorced from the rest of the team; there is little coherence between midfield and attack; it is noticeable that our best moments have been when Larrson has come in from the wing and created an extra link. Of course we now have Quincy, who looks like he has the ability to unlock any cattenaccio, at will. Thank God we got relegated, this is going to be one hell of a season!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ain't No Sunshine

Driving to work the other day, listening to my daily ten minutes of 5 live, we were treated to an interview from the swimming pool with the aunt and uncle of a man who had just finished 4th in a race. The chap hadn't even won a medal, we didn't even get his mom and dad, we got his aunt and uncle and they were all from New bloody Zealand. What the chuff is going on?

When we are not being treated to hyperbole regarding a load of second rate athletes from obscure sports, the media is getting excited about the start of the new football season; they don't seem to have noticed that for the vast majority of football fans in this country, the season started last week. In fact Blues have played, and won, two games already.

We took a trip up last week to the big city, 7 of us in all, including 2 seven years olds making their first trips to a football match, one of whom was the son a Villa fan. Ho ho, ha ha, tee hee.

It was a wet and bedraggled bunch of Bluenoses who made their early way to the ground and I sensed very little excitement about the place, which was disappointing, if understandable. I remember my first game, getting on the choo choo at Tyesley with what seemed like hundreds of other Blues fans and then getting off at Bordesley and being carried along by a huge crowd, down the dark steps, into a tide of men and boys, all wearing Blues scarves, all happy, excited, laughing and larking about and full of optimism.

There didn't seem to be much of that about last week. It was almost as if people were turning up out of a sense of duty.

Much has been made lately (among Blues fans anyway) about the board and the match day experience, with most fans finally lacking gruntle. I say finally, because for far too long our fans have tolerated substandard fare, on and off the pitch. There have been articles in the local press, opinion has been sought, surveys have been compiled, so improvement was inevitable. I jest.

I don't buy programmes anymore, not for years and years and years, but when I did, you couldn't move for programme sellers inside or outside the ground. Two nippers were attending their first game, so a programme was required. I didn't think about it really, it was just sort of in my mind that I would get a couple as I passed one of the legion of vendors. Except there was no legion of vendors.

Not to worry, there is a little club shop near the main stand entrance, so I would go in, get a couple of hats and scarves and programmes. Asked for a programme, they don't sell them. In a club shop. Got the hats and there was no implement there to take the price tag off. A small thing, I know, but it might occur to someone that items bought on match days might actually be worn on match days. We didn't see a programme vendor at all after that.

I tried to smuggle two bottles of water in but Blues are on top of some things and I had no chance, and had to bid a fond farewell to the bottle tops. I had considered taking a camera, but I expect that the ever vigilant gateman would insist upon me removing the lens before I could gain entry. My brother went to the bog and while he was there decided to give his specs a little clean and went in search of bog roll. No bog roll. Twenty minutes before kick off at the first game of the season and no one had thought to put bog roll in the bogs. Mind you, you would have to be very desperate to take a shit in those bogs. First game or not, I did not go anywhere near the catering!

The game was a bit of a non event. Eck talks the passing game, but we see very little evidence of it and in the second half most of them resorted to their favoured tactic of just getting rid of the ball as quick as they could. Passing wasn't in it. But there can be no better way to win a dull game than with an injury time winner, when most rational people have long given up hope and headed home.

I felt a bit sorry for the nippers, because they are now surely condemned to a lifetime of misery, even the Vilers son went home clad head to foot in blue and white.

I was going to go on about the nauseating hypocrisy of America and our media in relation to to Georgia, but I can't, it's all too obvious and I am too tired and too forlorn, so you will have to make do with this article.

Monday, August 04, 2008

It's The Rich What Gets The Pleasure

Polly Toynbee meets the rich. Again, the equality gap raises it's ugly head; the focus of the article is not on facts and figures though, it is about the opinions that extremely hard working drivers of the economy hold. Anyone who reads football message boards will experience a depressing feeling of deja when they read the stunning vacuity of some of the statements.

Another addendum regarding the Don Easton book: don't bother with it!

Many of my favourite writers (the ones who aren't American anyway) are Scots and thanks to the wonders of the web one of my favourite papers is the Sunday Herald and my favourite radio programme is a Scottish one. I have wondered here before how it is that Scotland can consistently produce such great artists while Wales can't and neither can my dear beloved Brum. I have wondered why Brum, in particular, with it's immense size, history and multiculturalism can't produce art in the same way that Scotland can. Well, the old place isn't as shit as I had come to believe.

Here we go, another Guardian link, this one to an article by a Zen nun. Reading that I thought about how I took up yoga a few years ago and via the meditations that end the sessions explored meditative techniques and came to Buddhism. I must stress that I am not a practising Buddhist, very far from it, but I try to incorporate tenets of Buddhism into my daily life. From various Buddhist readings I came across positive psychology and the "new science of happiness", neither of which particularly convince me, but are interesting nonetheless. Which is a long winded way of introducing The Happiness Project.

Friday, August 01, 2008

No Spitting On The Bus

I need to add an addendum to my recommendation of the Eaton book: the quality of the book itself is rubbish and is really detracting from my enjoyment of it. It’s one of those small, tightly bound efforts that you have to bend right back to read. After one reading session the thing looked like it had been read and reread over a twenty year period. I wouldn’t recommend buying it second hand.

The Olympics haven’t started yet, and I’m sick of them already. I can’t understand how the nation can become obsessed by the physical frailties of various hop skip and jumpers and throwers and swimmers for 4 weeks and not give a stuff about them for the next 4 years. Radio 5 is exercising its usual right to go into overkill, which, once again, is rendering the station unlistenable.

Hopefully, we will get some good writing out of it. It's good to see Pete Davies mentioned in that article, his All Played Out remains the best book on sport that I have ever read..

David Conn had a decent article in the Guardian this week about the London Olympics, which more or less echoes my view that the money would be better spent on providing good quality grass roots sports in every community, rather than on concentrating it all on showpiece stadiums, and elite athletes. I have read about Finlands impressive efforts to get people involved in sport before and I am absolutely convinced that the more people that engage in sport from a young age and are encouraged and provided with good quality, pleasant facilities throughout their life, the better it will be for everyone.

Meanwhile, here in Wales: Wales’ flagship programme to boost activity rates and improve fitness levels has no action plan to achieve its targets.

I just heard on the radio that the police and CPS are a bit upset that Barry George has been found not guilty. I notice reports say he has been found not guilty, rather than that he is innocent. The poor old police will have to find the real culprit now, except that they still clearly believe that George is the guilty man.

The newish BBC I player is garbage. All I want to do of a Friday night is crack open a bottle of something nice, listen to a weeks worth of Iain Anderson, and arse about on the web, annoying people on message boards; but, over recent weeks, the i player hasn't let me do that; half the time it just doesn't load. Moreover, even when it does, you have to click an inordinate amount of times before you get to hear anything, and I usually end up looking at the playlist, rather than listening to the music, but that might just be me! It was much more straightforward before they improved it. Earlier I got fed up clicking on and off different Anderson shows which just wouldn't load and clicked on the I player tab. Bugger me, there was a Nick Lowe concert winking at me, so I clicked on it, and it was superb, so if you like the old bugger, go to the I player, it's there for us all to enjoy.