Friday, October 28, 2011

Hold On

I arsed about with the layout and that, one night while I was somewhat worse for wear. Christ knows what I've done.

I'm going to talk a bit about Blues and a bit about me. I've tended not to talk about me on this blog, but I've not been very fucking well, and I'm told that, in trying to introduce a bit of change, it's good to keep a bit of a journal. So, I will use a highly public forum to shame my bastard self.

Perversely, it's a good time to be a Blues fan. No pot in which to piss, a team made up of players who have been tossed out of the bargain bin into the skip outside, and I am enjoying watching them more than at any time since the Jim Smith years, and so is every other rational Blues fan. Even those who were not born in the Jim Smith years. Our neighbours, as I said at the time, did us a massive favour taking Eck off our hands, and while I am not grateful to them for much, I am grateful to them for that. We may have lost a manager and practically a whole premiership squad, (not to mention an owner) but we have gained a soul. Football can be fun, and it can be exhilarating. Who'd have thunk it?

Right. I have an ego, but I'm not a vain man. I don't worry over much about my appearance, and never have, so, as I got older, and fatter, it didn't bother me; there was always another size of waist band to aspire to. But I get migraines, I always feel like shit, I don't tend to sleep well, I am a snoring bastard, and I keep getting fucking gout, painful, disabling gout.

My employer sent me to occ health, because, when I can't stand, walk or drive, I don't go into work, although I do turn up when I can hobble, however painfully. Last time, I got a lift in, could barely weight bear, but got there. Not good enough, I had taken 2 days off, which work found intolerable.  The occ health was a bit of a curates egg. She agreed that I couldn't help it, told my employer that they shouldn't be harsh on me and should do all they could to help, said I was covered by disability discrimination act (result!), but also gave me an almighty and lengthy bollocking about my lifestyle.

I could have been dishonest about my lifestyle, but it would have been pointless; you don't need me to tell you about it, you just have to look at me, and the story is there, in glorious technicolour. She wasn't the only one to issue a lengthy finger wagging, the GP did too, a couple of weeks ago. Went in for some gout tablets, she took my BP, it was really, really fucking high, So. I am fed up of getting bollocked by women who I don't happen to be wedded too, and I'm a bit fed up of being a physical wreck, so, I'm having a go.

Not much of a go, to be honest. I'm getting stuck into the vino as I type, but great oaks from little acorns and all that.

A go is a go though. Last Thursday I made a huge salad. A raw veg salad. Dunno what was in it altogether, but it included cauliflower, peppers, chicory, fennel and fuck knows what else (I can feel a recipe book coming on) all chopped up small and put in a box, ready for dinner at work, with a simple sumac dressing that I took along. It was delicious, but took some munching, it took about an hour to get through it, but it filled me up, and I didn't feel all bloated and lethargic. I've done a similar thing twice this week. It's not much, but it's a start. I've even bought a groovy little lunch box, with 3 compartments and  an integral little pot so you can take your dressing with you, rather than let your leaves go all soggy and revolting.

I'm not revolutionising my diet: fuck that for a game of tin soldiers, it's too hard. It's much harder to prepare a load of raw veg and make it nice than knock out a bacon and egg sarnie, and I'm a busy man, but I will make some effort, a bit more than a token effort. Today I had a bacon sarnie for breakfast, a load of raw veg followed by loads of fruit for dinner and a huge, fuck off bag of Doritos for my tea. With wine for pudding. And supper. Believe it or not, this is progress, by my standards.

I should exercise too, but at the moment that seems like a scary step too far. The truth is, when I eat all this raw shit, I feel better, and  energised, but I just love all the shit stuff too much. I can't see me ever giving it up………. but I do intend to balance it with good food, proper good food, food that feeds, and nourishes, rather than fills, and I will try a bit of exercise too. I've tried before, but it's always been my guilty secret. This time I've gone public, and I shall share and I shall be brutally honest with myself.

Should be fun.

Now, does anyone know where I put that hair shirt?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Gentle Spirit

I have recently read Scream If You Want To Faster, by Russ Litten, in one of my periodic ambles away from the crime genre. I really, really fucking dug it. It's an account of the lives of various people in Hull, with Hull Fair and the big flood taking centre stage. It reminded me a bit of the film Crash, not too much though, as I suspect you would be staring at Hull for some time before the city of Los Angeles entered into your consciousness.

There's no real story or plot to it; it is an episodic ramble among the denizens of a run down city and an exploration of the ways in which the bastard universe can always find a way to blow a bit of sand into a sandwich. It focuses on those at the bottom of the social scale, those earning an honest but poor living, or not earning a living at all, and finding ways to get through the working week, so that they can piss it all up the wall at the weekend. It's a bit like one of those Jimmy Mcgovern dramas but without the piety and sanctimony. I'd love to see it on the telly, actually, it would make several great "Plays For Today". They don't do that sort of thing any more though.

Iv'e been sat here in the back yard, drinking a nice bottle of white, surfing the net and listening to the brilliant Jonathan Wilson, with his summery yet dark vibe. And it's about time too.............bastard weather.

We need to talk about Blues. Some Blues fans are taking this whole, lets pretend we don't care that we are shit shtick a bit far. It's becoming a cliche, like singing we want seven when the opposition have stuck 6 past you.

I had high hopes of Chris Hughton, still do, I like the cut of his jib, and unlike his predecessor, the hilarious Scot, he puts his money where his mouth is, but we are a very tattered and ravaged sows ear, no silk purse will be made from the players we have at our disposal. It is ironic, nay, it is fucking tragic that after the cold porridge served up be Eck, Hughton is trying to give us more sophisticated fare, but we still couldn't score in a barrel of fannies. We have a few nice salad leaves, livened up here and there wwith the odd caper or spring onion, but it all lacks a bit of zing and a bit of punch.

I can see why people are pretending to be happy, but they are letting their determination to be seen to be true to the cause cloud their judgement. For all the talk on message boards that players like Spector and Caldwell and Elliot are good enough, the sad fact is, they ain't. And neither are the scrag ends that couldn't be offloaded in the summer. The chumps that got us relegated would have been good enough, just about, cast offs from the Scottish league and 19 year old Kiwis won't be.

Fair enough, it is fun. Fair enough, it is better to watch. Fair enough, some awfully boring cunts no longer seem to want to watch us, but we are deeply fucking wounded and are sleepwalking into catastrophe. The Yeung situation is diabolical. The less credulous among us wondered about him before his arrest, but since, well, what a bleeding embarrassment. We clearly have no pot to piss in, not even a pot with holes, and we have no idea if we ever will again, while we have theses owners. Other teams get relegated and don't find themselves in this pickle; they keep some players, they manage to sign some players, for a fee.

This is a scratch team and it is difficult to know what to make of them, difficult to understand why they are here. It is difficult to believe that any of them would want to be with us if they had better offers. Marlon King evidently saw us as more attractive than Coventry, but that was before Yeungs arrest. This is the thing. Before the arrest, we seemed to be doing aright, getting players in early and talking of not giving the failures away for fuck all. As soon as Yeung was arrested though, that was it. Taps turned off.

I'm enjoying the moment, the Maribor win was a brilliant sideshow, and we might even flatter to deceive until Christmas, but I would not be surprised to see the rest of last years failures, plus Burke and any other player who shows a bit of form depart, come January

Friday, August 19, 2011

Coast to Coast

DUCKS DELUXE - Coast To Coast (OGWT, 1974) by newcanadian

I’ve been reading Pete Dexter’s Spooner. I knew Dexter was a brilliant writer……….Deadwood is brilliant (and, if David Milch didn’t read that before making his telly programme, I will eat my hat), Paris Trout is brilliant, and Train is the second best sports book I have ever read. I have read a lot of sports books, but only one about golf; I can’t stand golf, so for a book about a golfer to be my second favourite sport book gives you a hint about how magnificent it is. So it didn’t come as a surprise that I should like Spooner.

What did come as a surprise was the sheer enormity and brilliance of it. I had to spend a few moments alone once I’d finished it, just to gather my thoughts, and, once I had gathered my thoughts, I was pissed off that I had finished it.

I got into Dexter years ago, probably before the internet was invented, certainly before the likes of me had access to it, but, as you do when you really like an author, you find out what you can. What I could find was all a bit bitty and scrappy, but it was clear that he had lived a very interesting life, and is quite a character. What makes Spooner particularly interesting is that it puts substantial meat on the bones of the bits and pieces that you already know. What makes it special is the writing, which is typically deadpan and matter of fact, but which is capable of making you piss yourself laughing and force you to suppress the odd unmanly tear.

I kid you not about the humour. One bit had me reflecting back throughout the day last Friday, and, every time I reflected back, I had a giggling fit………in work twice, and standing in the queue at Sainsburys, once. And again now, typing this. If you buy it, or borrow it, and you would be mad not to, don’t pass over the acknowledgements at the end, they are masterful.

Usually, once I finish a book as good as Spooner, I struggle to get into another one, but this time I had the good luck to pick up Gene Kerrigans “Rage”. This is a compeletely different kind of book, being an Irish thriller, but it is fucking cracking, as Kerrigans books tend to be. I haven’t finished it yet, but is keeping me up nights, with the familiar mantra………”just one more page”. If a Martian descends and want to know about life at is experienced they will gain more insight from seemingly slight thrillers like this than any number of middle class mediations by the likes of Julian Barnes.

The main thing that Kerrigan does well in this book is write a brilliant, page turning thriller. What he also does well is take a long, hard gaze at Ireland in the aftermath of the great crash. The best writers recognise that there are no moral absolutes, and the best writers, write in the genre of crime. In this book, Kerrigan spares the people who milked Ireland dry no mercy, but recognises that they were greedy, flawed human beings, not all bad, not all good. He extends the same sympathy to the more brutal, common or garden, villains, who are given a history and a hinterland and are mot portrayed simple as evil monsters (take note James Lee Burke) and the good guy, the extremely likeable good cop, also exists in a dubious moral universe.

Kerrigan, incidentally, wrote one of the better pieces I read on the riots last week.

Most of my favourite writers at the moment are from, or write about, the margins; the bits that the mainstream either ignores, or demonises. Thank god for the internet, because it doesn’t matter how brilliantly these people write, you are unlikely to see their work reviewed in the weekend supplements.

There is Kerrigan, obviously, and the peerless Ken Bruen as well as others, like Stuart Neville and Brian McGilloway from Ireland, There is Niall Giffiths, who is not from Wales but may as well be and Robert Lewis who is. There is Ray Banks, Tony Black Alan Guthrie and fucking loads of others from Scotland, and there are people like Ron Rash, Daniell Woodrell, Philipp Mayer, and William Gay. There is not a bad writer among that lot, and there are plenty more where they come from. Unfortunately for them, they write uncomfortable truths, from the heartlands and the hinterlands, from the broken towns and valleys that few people wish to hear about, so will remain as marginalised as the people and the towns they write about.

Blues played in Europe last night. Yes. Blues. In Europe. I emphasise it only because it seems to have become compulsory. The great Bluenose Diaspora is beside itself because we played Nacional, in Madeira, in a competition that no one gives a shit about, with a team that, in the main, contributed nothing to us qualifying for the competition. Don’t get me wrong, I am chuffed about it, and it was good to watch, on a slightly dodgy internet feed, but fuck me, lets have a bit of perspective. Every time Blues achieve something our fans lose all sense of reason. First cup final since……….highest finish since……….first European game since…………….on and on it goes. We have been in Europe before, playing and getting good results against serious opposition, I really don’t think there is any need to come over all unnecessary on account of a glorified friendly.

Someone mentioned on a message board that a Portuguese report described us as quality opposition. Interesting word that: quality. Even the most diehard Blues fan would be staring at last nights team sheet for a long time before the word quality sprang to mind. Few of the starters last night, or in any other game so far this season, would even have made the bench last year. Let’s not forget, last year we were shit. Last years lot were frequently excused on the grounds that if they were any good, they wouldn’t be playing for Birmingham City.

So, in terms of the league we find ourselves in, and the league from which we recently and so indecorously departed, our players, with the best of all wills, cannot be described as quality. But, there is a fucking BUT to consider. Despite the lack of innate quality in the individuals, our new manger seems to be intent on getting them to play quality football, and, incredibly, seems to be succeeding. Forget all the lachrymose bollocks about the great European adventure, this seems like a bright new morning for another reason………we are passing the ball………….to each other!

I’m not daft, these players have been offloaded by teams as mediocre as us, so they will make mistakes, miss easy chances, and give away silly goals, but I don’t care. I accept that we are in the shit, but, playing the game with a bit of élan and purpose, even if it doesn’t always produce the desired result, makes our predicament a hell of a lot easier to bear.

A good man, nay, a great man, asked what I had been listening too lately, and I nevr need a second invite, so here goes, if they are on spotify I will provide a spotify link, but most of these berks aren't millionaires, so it would be courteous to buy a track or three.

Low Anthem: Smart Flesh. Can't really say much about it,more of the same good shit that went before. Not particularly recommended if you need cheering up on a Friday night, not that they are imelancholy, it just sounds like it sometimes

The Felice Brothers: Celebration Florida. Mixed reviews, but there are some fucking classic Felice tracks on there

Gillian Welch: The Harrow and the Harvest: the more you listen, the better it gets

Doug Paisley: constant Companion. Mellow Americana, you have to be in the mood, really.

Mickey Newberry: American Trilogy. Genius at work. Loads of Newberry on spotify, but not this album. Go to his website and you will be able to download 4 tracks, for free.

Danny and the Champions of the World: Hearts and Arrows. A bit of a change of pace and outlook for the Champ. He's gone all pub rock on us, but it's ace. Fucking nothing wrong with a bit of pub rock

Israel Nash Gripka: Barn Doors and Concrete Floors. Ace Americana. Not glum.

Musikanto: Sky of Dresses. Brilliant, low key, quirky Americana

Aiden Moffat and Bill Wells: Everythings Getting Older. Morose but humorous brilliance. Best record I've heard in ages. Not for the delicate.

Robyn G Shiels: The Great Depression. God knows where this bloke has been hiding. Some kind of maverick genius

Mick Terry: The Grown Ups. Found via twitter. Lovely, er cockney troubador stuff, more than worth a listen.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Where Only The Graves Are Real

I recently read “Slipping Into Darkness” by Peter Blauner. I think I paid a pound for it from an Amazon seller. It’s a great book, as all of his are. He recognises that life is generally lived in a grey moral area, he acknowledges that when faced with difficult choices, sometimes wrong choices are made, he recognises that sometimes, we are faced with impossible choices, and he does not shirk from exploring the consequences of them. He recognises that people may do bad things for good reasons, but does not then excuse them from the consequences of their actions. Most of all though, he writes brilliant prose. I’m surprised he is not better known. His writings at his website are well worth a look
I mention it because the first book of his that I read, many years ago, was “Slow Motion Riot”, and, certain parts of our capital city have been subject to some rioting over the weekend. The point Blauner makes in his book, is that when the actuall riot occurs, it is the culmination of series of much smaller events.The particular community had been enduring a slow motion riot, that had gone unnoticed, because no one cared. A community had been steadily brutalised by the indifference of big government, by the actions of the police and by the actions of some of its own members. No one noticed, no one cared, until the headline event.
Like a fool, I listen to 5live and I read football message boards and I see and hear the debate that goes on. It seems that there can only be two viewpoints, either: big government demonstrates a cruel indifference to those on the lower rungs of the ladder and the police are nothing more than oppressors, or, every rioter is nothing more than a thug and a thief, just out enjoying himself.  I don’t think it as simple or as black and white as that. I do think that if the people that rioted felt that they had a chance in life they would be less inclined to burn the place down, but I’m not daft, I realise that there are people who love a good tear will see ‘em at football matches every week. 
What is lacking in this piecemeal national debate is any recognition that all these different acts, by all these different actors, are perpetrated by individuals, with different moral and economic viewpoints, different standards. These riots didn’t just happen, they evolved, over time, as result of all those small actions, good and bad that have happened over time. Injustices visited upon the yoof, real or percieved, economic or otherwise, have, over time, contributed to the explosion of anger that occurred over the weekend. This shit needs to be dealt with. Big government and little government should pay more attention to what the fuck is going on outside its own rarified atmosphere, and someone, somewhere, needs to penetrate the skulls of the seriously disaffected and teach them that, however downtrodden they are, they can make their own choices, and they need to exercise some responsibility for themselves.
The good news is that the football season has started. Blues lost, but the important thing is not the result, the important thing is that the bastard close season is over. Football is back.

There’s little point worrying about Blues. I don’t trust our owners to tell us the truth, but then, what’s new? It is now obvious that we cannot afford to buy anyone to replace all the stars journeymen that have left and will leave, and we are back to giving trials to jobbing Brazilians who seem to make a good living travelling around Europe, making no impression at all. The fact that neither the parachute payment, nor the fees and savings accruing from sales is helping, indicates that we are in some deep shit.
It’s a bit of a shame because Chris Hughton seems to be a manager who isn’t afraid of getting the ball and men forward, and, if he had been in a position to get some quality in, we might have been looking forward to a good season, full of goals and entertainment. It will still be fun, and, by the look of it we will still at least try to create chances, but it looks like it could be a bit of slog. 
Judgement, is of course reserved. I remember Eck coming in with fine talk of changing our style to a passing game, and then, after his first game saying,"they passed it too much". Early indications are that Hughton has a commitment to passing and getting players forward in practice, as well as theory though. He seems to be inclined to change things around early enough to give the subs a chance to make a difference. I have accepted that we aren’t likely to make much of an impression this season, and, on that basis, I’m really looking forward to it

That video up there, it's worth a look, Otis Gibbs is a serious talent. He is touring the UK soon and you would be mad not to go see him. I urge a visit to his website too, it's full of good stuff, including a free stream of his latest, wonderful album.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tree By A River

Iron and Wine | Tree by the river | A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Well. It’s been a rum old world since I could last be arsed to blog. The Arab Spring hasn’t developed into a summer, there is drought in Somalia, The Mad Hatters and their Tea party are intent upon visiting ruination upon the U.S, our dear coalition has been seen to be in the pocket of News International, a right wing nutter has massacred children in Norway and Christ knows what else has been going on. Far too much to mention.
Given all that, it is quite understandable that events down the Blues have been dominating my thinking. I’ll come to that later.
First, the wonder of the internet. I feel a bit sorry for my kids, who don’t realise what a miracle it is. All they know is that if they want something, it is instantly available, by fair means or foul. I was telling my youngest about dial a disc the other day, which we all thought was brilliant at the time, as it gave us instant expensive access to a menu of about 6 songs. I didn’t bother telling him how we listen to the chart show of a Sunday night, attempting to tape songs we liked from a tinny little transistor.
Now we have artists streaming full versions albums prior to release, we have artists tweeting that tracks or videos are being streamed for free, we have youtube, we have spotify. Best of all we have access to like minded individuals all over the world, who will point us in the direction of good shit, who will point us in the direction of radio shows, which we would not otherwise know about or have access to.
The same applies to books. I was searching for something the other week, dunno what, when I ended up on the US Amazon site, where a Peter Blauner was being recommended.
I like Peter Blauner, have done ever since Slow Motion Riot came out many years ago, but I was unaware of this particular book. I took myself off to Amazon UK and ordered the thing, I think it cost a quid. It arrived very quickly and I read it very quickly. It’s brilliant. Blauner is brilliant, if you don’t know him you should seek him out. As far as I know, this book hasn’t been released in the UK, but there you go, I haerd about it, ordered it and it was delivered within days. My poor nippers canot understand what a privilege this is. 15 years ago, I would never have known this book had even been written, never mind had more or less instant, and very cheap access to it access to it   
Modern life is bostin’, unless, of course, one is a Blues fan, in which case, bostin’ may not be the first word that comes to mind. Where does one start? Not at the beginning, it’s difficult to know anymore where the beginning is, so I will start at the latest news and drop in a few random thoughts.
Since we won that bastard cup, apart from Ecks defection to the neighbours, we Blues fans have had only bad news. Day by day, drip by drip. Bad news follows bad news, yet the fans still turn up in large numbers to watch Blues away from home in meaningless friendlies, and still have fun. Hereford last Saturday was the most fun I’ve had watching the Blues for years. I fear we may have more fun filled days like that ahead, because the future is not looking too bright.
Firing up the PC this morning the first news I read was that Ben Foster had turned up late for training, objected to being to task by our new coach, delivered a volley of abuse at said coach, and then drove away. It may be true, it may not. It probably is.
This seemingly trivial matter is a huge disappointment. I have a few issues with Foster anyway and this has just about put the tin lid on it. First off, before the League Cup Final he spoke of how at Man Utd they would win a trophy, then carry on as if it was just another game. They didn’t spend days on the lash. Now, I don’t mind players having a bit of a piss up, but this demonstrates a gulf in approach, between those who achieve a lot, and those who achieve very little. You don’t want your players to be joyless automatons, but you do want them to behave like highly paid professional athletes, not a pub team.
I don’t know how Blues celebrated that win, nor for how long, but this is a bullshit blog, not a journal of record, and I do recall at the time many fans talking of benders that carried on into the next week. It might be wrong, but I don’t recall anyone rushing to deny it. What I do know is that following that win, our form dropped alarmingly, and large numbers of players were unavailable or playing whilst not fully fit. It is hardly a secret that players are advised on lifestyle and diet, and it is hardly a secret that those who pay attention to lifestyle and diet endure a bit longer than those who don’t. I can’t shake the feeling that once the cup had been won, some of our players decided that it was holiday time. It smacks of a piss poor attitude towards the club and the fans. Of course, I might be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time, and may not be the last!
If what the Daily Mail has written about Foster and Trollope is true, this also smacks of a piss poor attitude. I don’t know what time training commences, but I doubt if any of them has to rise at 5.30 a.m in order to catch 3 buses for a 7.30 start. I very much doubt that they have to worry much about getting home in time for their tea either. If Foster was late he was late, if it was only 10 minutes it was only 10 minutes, these things happen. But a quiet little apology wouldn’t have hurt.
What we don’t know is how Trollope approached it. He may well have decided that as the new sheriff in town he needed to assert his authority, but there are ways of doing this too. A quiet word away from the gaze of others would suffice: if he decided to make Foster look like a twat in front of his mates, well, it’s poor management.
Whatever the ins, whatever the outs, it’s piss poor. Despite the daily drip of bad news, despite the fact that the club isn’t really telling us anything, despite the fact that our owner might well end up in chokie, despite the fact that we cannot hold on to board members or administrators, despite the fact the we seem to be selling players at below market value (it will be buy one get one free next) and despite the fact that the failures that have jumped ship are being replaced by free transfers from fucking Scotland, the fans are turning up; the fans are turning in large enough numbers to pre season friendlies that hundreds are getting locked out. 
The fans deserve better. The one constant that this bastard club has is the fans, we have been going 120 odd years, and, when this is all over we will still be going, as long as there is a club to support. It is obvious that the club is in deep shit. This is not the fault of the fans. It is the fault of the board, it is the fault of Eck, and it is the fault of players like Foster who, against the odds, managed to get us relegated. Frankly, I am pissed off with Foster. He should be full of contrition, not arrogance. He failed us last year, and with his recent behaviour he is failing us again.
I am not a child. Nor am I a cry baby. I don’t mind that we got relegated, I won’t mind, in the circumstances, if we get relegated again, but I do mind that Foster, who, ultimately, failed us so badly last year, displays such arrogance, such a lack of commitment to the cause, such an inability to stick together with his mates, and such a cavalier disregard for us fucking mugs who pay his wages.

Friday, June 17, 2011

All Men Are Liars

Not much of interest has happened in the last week. Villa managed to get themselves a new manager, but it was all a bit low key and uncontroversial, so you probably never heard about it.

Enough has been said already (most of it idiotic, to be honest), so there's no need for me to dwell on it, but, as you might expect, there are a couple of points I would like to share.

Villa fans; I have always felt sorry for them, and I still do, the poor, deluded, arrogant fools. We Blues fans have always tolerated their irrational, grandiose sense of self worth and superiority with a wry smile, and thanked the good lord above that he allowed us to be born on the right side of the tracks. Now the rest of the footballing nation has seen them for the planks they are. They won't be as tolerant as us. This is the best close season ever. I can't remember laughing so much.

Morals; This doesn't reflect on Eck or Villa so much. Although they are the actors in this case, it reflects on the dubious ethics of every fucker involved in football, because they are all the same, in the end.

Eck should have been down on his knees thanking the Blues for not sacking him, after what we endured last season, and half the season before, and the season before that, and most fucking definitely the half season before that. I don't buy into all this lachrymose bollocks about him giving us the best day of our lives,  I have had loads of fantastic days with the Blues; that cup game was just another one, of many. OK. Not many.

Eck was not grateful though. Not only was he not grateful, he was fucking impertinent! That's all I'm saying on it.

Mark Hughes left Fulham, with everyone believing that he was going to Villa. Villa said, no he ain't, and didn't contradict all the national media that said it was because they didn't like the way he did it, because it was all a bit underhand. Then, after many rejections and humiliations, Villa approached Mclaren, only to unapproach him when the fans expressed a distaste for his obsession with combing his hair. Then they go for Eck, a man who showed a distinct lack of moral fibre in the way he resigned and whom the fans clearly hate. Go. Fucking. Figure.

It's obvious Eck was tapped up. God knows why. Apart from all the caterwauling, the best news is that Eck will take them down. Ask any psychologist. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

Now, I'm not a child and I'm not stupid. I don't actually care that Eck was tapped up. It amuses me though, that Villa can come over all high and mighty and perch themselves on top of the highest horse, whilst acting like  the sneakiest of opportunist pilferers. They have always been a bunch of hypocritical cunts though, so it come as no great surprise.

We Blues fans don't get off scot free though. Until last Sunday it was virtual sacrilege to criticise Eck, now, everyone is saying good riddance to the clueless, negative fucker. We had a good spell last season, a record breaking spell, and everyone was beside themselves with our brilliant team and our genius manager. There were very few dissenting voices, as the result, apparently, was all that mattered. Look back far enough on this blog and you will see I was a dissenter, a ranter, a leveller (I should have been born in the 17th century). Then, this season, he became our most revered manager because of the cup win. Anything was forgivable, including relegation and the purchase of Carlos Costly. Now he is the devil. I can't forgive the piss poor football he served up and which got us relegated twice,  I can forgive him leaving us, and, can actually love him for going to the Villa.

It all leaves Blues in a bit of limbo, not enough of a limbo to stop us signing random nonentities though. I can't be arsed with the speculation about who the new man will be. We will get who we get and he will do what he will do. We will still have a team to go and see, and bicker about, and we will still have the Villa to laugh at. We will always have the Villa to laugh at.

I have had a haircut, which is an unremarkable event, but it is a rare occurrence, for me, and, even rarer is the occasion when I have a huge fucking shearing. It has caused comment. Lots of comment. People have felt free to make merry with the comments. The commenting  motherfuckers. Most people like it, and say it's nice that I no longer look like  a dirty stinking tramp. I was feeling good. I was feeling handsome. Then someone said, talking about a case: "what they did to that girls hair was abuse never mind anything else" and someone said, "what did it look like"? She replied, "like that"…….. pointing at my head. You either have it or you don't.

We have a person who works with us, rather sensitive. Lovely, but sensitive. She did a cat ridden visit this morning and came back worrying that she stank of cat. She worried all the day long, and everyone reassured her that there was absolutely no odour of pussy about her person. Our assurances may not have been true.  But we are sensitive souls. About 4 oclock, a Merthyr boy who had been out all day, came back, and, walking past her said, "what's that smell?" and the lady said, "oh no, it's not me smelling of cat is it?" and he said, "it's not so much cat, as cat piss".

Cue hilarity.  I've never been so proud of the boy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Drag Queens in Limousines

I'm listening to Ralph Macleans classic albums as I type. Just started, so don't how good it will be, but it is usually brilliant. He is pleasingly loose with his definition of classic.

I mentioned Swedish author Hakan Nesser the other week. I am nearing the end of another one. I like Scandinavian crime. I know it's become a bit uncool, but if you look beyond the obvious, there is some brilliant stuff, and most of the obvious stuff is alright too. Nesser is ace, light but dark, playful but serious and Van Veeteren has become my favourite fictional copper.

Blues have been shopping for soiled goods again. Welcome Marlon King, a gentleman and a scholar.

Meanwhile, Villa are compiling the longest shortlist in history. No one wants anything to do with them. I can't say I'm surprised, what with their extremely fickle and violent fans. Who would want to be associated with that shower of shit?

It's a bit after the event, but I came across a brilliant appreciation of Messi the other day. It seems to be a bit uncool all of a sudden to profess a liking for either Messi or Barcelona, but those of us with eyes to see and hearts to swell know how to appreciate art when we see it. Anyway, the only reason I am blogging tonight is so that I can link to it.

Addendum: so far, this Maclean show is a bit shit. Don't let that put you off though, we are all allowed an off day! His country programme consistently brillant.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Miss You Now

There is an appreciation in the Guardian today of the film Cutters Way. It's nice to see it lauded, because it is a good film, but it is not a patch on the book. Few films are, but I mention this, because the book Cutter and Bone is a masterpiece. I don't understand how it is not recognised as a classic. I love this book so much that I regularly buy it for people, and I have  yet to come across anyone who has not been moved by it, and who hasn't fallen in love with it. If you haven't read it, read it, I urge you: buy the damn book. Buy it twice! You can get it on Amazon for 1 single penny. How ridiculous is that?

I'm cooking like a maniac again on this sunny Saturday. There is a highly spiced shoulder of lamb cooking very, very slowly in the oven………it will be in there for seven hours. The aroma coming off it is something else. I had a glance through an old Marcella Hazan book while enjoying a coffee in the garden, and came across a recipe for spaghetti salad, with a roasted aubergine and pepper dressing, so had to make that too, and then it struck me that the kids needed a bit of dinner before they all disappear, so I knocked up, in 20 minutes flat, some pasta with a tuna sauce. It's so simple, and so fucking delicious, I'm blogging the recipe. This is for my own benefit, because by 5 o'clock I will have no idea how I made it. I should blog my recipes more often, as I can never remember the fuckers.

Here we go, what I used:

1 tin of Tuna
I shallot
I clove garlic
2 rashers pancetta
Zest of half a lemon
A bit of chilli
Sherry vinegar, but any will do
big spoon of sugar
big squirt of tomato puree
tin of tomatoes
half a pint of chicken stock

Until I did this, I could never stand a tuna sauce, but by God, I've cracked it. First thing, obviously is to get a big pan of salted water on the go.

Get the pancetta and shallot going in some olive oil, then drain the tuna, really drain it, squeeze all that bastard brine or water or oil or whatever out, then break it up, almost shred it, into your pan with the pancetta and immediately add some chopped garlic. You can add the garlic first if you like, I don't care.

Let that fry up a bit on a highish heat, you want the shredded tuna sizzling. When it's really hot, chuck in a spoon of vinegar and the sugar, and give it a quick stir, keep on high until the burning sensation the vinegar puts in your nostrils has gone……….add the lemon zest and chilli, give it a good old stir, add the tomato puree, give it a stir, add the tomatoes, maybe chuck in a slug of worcester sauce too, it won't hurt, season the bleeder, and add the chicken stock. Get it all bubbling and reduce to a fairly vigorous simmer.

Whilst that's doing put your pasta on, when that done, mix it all together. Give it a squirt of lemon juice and add a load of chopped basil, and Fannie's yer aunt. Done in no time and the kids love it. All the kids love it, which is a very rare occurrence.

That ain't the end of my cooking though…………I'll be doing a tabouleh, a raw veg salad, some marinated aubergine, and a differently marinated and bloody spicy broccoli. I hope the weather stays nice, because all of the above are designed to be eaten at room temperature; I can prepare it all and then just sit back, relax. and enjoy the afternoon and evening reading in the garden, with a few drinks, some mellow music and a nibble or 3 as the fancy takes me.

Bon bleeding appetit!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Set Guitars To Kill

It's a day that usually I would be very excited about, the first ay of the Wychwood Festival, but I'm not there, I'm here, for a variety of reasons, although, with the weather, if I found several hundred quid tucked down the back of a settee I would be on my way. The main reason we aren't going is the line up, which has a few gems, but is a bit, well, retro as it has increasingly become. It's a shame, because the kids love it (and so do the adults) and it is a better festival for kids than EOTR, but it's got to be about the music, and it just doesn't compare with EOTR, so EOTR it has to be.

I mention it because there was an article in the paper today, all about the rise of nostalgia……a phenomenon that has been getting on my nerves for several years. The article is very harsh, actually, far harsher than I would be, but I liked it anyway.  He dismisses Dexy Midnight Runnners as nostalgists, but I think he does them a disservice; they brought a freshness and energy to their tunes and quickly moved on from the Stax type stuff……….and they created one of the best albums ever made, by anyone, anywhere, in any genre……the bizarrely neglected, not to mention criminally unavailable, "Don't Stand Me Down".

I'm not against nostalgia. It's OK, in it's place. A couple of years ago I saw the Beat at Wychwood. I used to like the Beat, I saw 'em plenty of times at The Barrel Organ before anyone had ever heard of 'em and considered myself a fan, but I was not enthused prior to this festival performance. Needn't have been so glum, they were ace, even though Ranking Roger was the only original member, and they had the place jumping, singing and grinning from ear to ear……. it's just high class karaoke though really, innit? The Men They Couldn't Hang also performed at the festival that weekend and they were brilliant, I loved 'em, again, but they played on the Saturday afternoon, waking up a slightly elderly, slightly hungover crowd.

So, nostalgia has its place, and that place is a working mans club, or the end of the pier, or a cruise ship. as part of a package. What irks me is the prominence that nostalgia now gets. The Specials reform to play some festivals and the world goes fucking mad, broadsheets have big articles on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday; meanwhile, Jerry Dammers, who continues to make new and interesting music is ignored. God help us if the Smiths ever reform, half the population will spontaneously combust.

The whole world seems to have bought into it, proper music magazines do it, proper writers do it, intelligent, as well as idiotic d.j's do it. It's baffling, We live in an era where there is so much good new stuff about, and is easily available, that it's enough to make your head spin; but the mainstream can think of nothing but the past. We should not forget the past, and there is nothing wrong with revering it, but we are all becoming slaves to it.

Roger Daltrey is playing in Newport later in the year. Newport and environs is excited. Big star coming to play.  I think the cheapest ticket is 45 quid. Lets face it, he is an old man, who will be backed by a bunch of session musicians. Imagine if you had seen Daltrey as a young man, in all his energetic and fiery pomp, before anyone else had heard of him, or when the Who hadn't quite broke through and you could still see them in small venues, ripping it up. Just imagine that.

Well, you don't really have to imagine it, because there are brilliant bands playing in most towns every night. Some town have several brilliant bands playing every night. I would rather spend a fiver or a tenner taking a chance on some unknown or little known band and seeing 5 or 6 of them than seeing an ancient Roger Daltrey creak his way through his greatest hits just the once, for the same money. You don't even have to take a chance, the internet will give you more than a flavour of what to expect before you part with your cash, and you might just be seeing someone who in a years time will be the talk of Later With Jools Holland. It has to make more sense.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kiss Me Again

Sorry. I'm going to bang on about Eck again. There are those, myself occasionally included, who will defend Eck's negativity on the basis of horses for courses. We don't have the players to play a flowing, expansive game, so we have to make the best of the talents that the players do possess (Whether Eck achived this is a bit of a moot point). This is fair enough, but then I recall the year he took us up (not forgetting that it was him who took us down in the first place). We probably had the best squad in the division and we were certainly better resourced than most other club in the divison, but we still played negatively. So much so that there were howls of protest and calls for his head.

This coming season will be interesting. Assuming he is still with us. Forget all the talk of losing the telly money and losing players. Most of the departed were either not good enough or past it anyway, and we should be able to replace them easily enough; of those that are left, well, they were part of a team that won a cup, and, so their apologists tell us, were unlucky to go down, so they should be more than good enough. We get a 16 milion quid head start on most of the others, plus substantial sums for the likes of Johnson, Dann and Foster, at least 2 of whom will go. In the context of the division, we will be in a very privileged position, so we will see what Eck is made of. If we don't have a team that can compete, and play with a bit of elan (it's all relative!), it will put me in a very fucking bad mood.

Swansea play Reading today in what is hyped as the richest game in the world, given the prize. I'm looking forward to it. Both teams play attractive football and have nice kits. I like the cut of the jib of both managers.

I mentioned the other day, that to an extent, Eck seems to settle for the mediocre in his players, and can be overly loyal to them, if he likes them. I saw an interesting article with Brian McDermott the other day, in which he talked of his team settling for draws too easily. To make a run for the play offs, they had to rise above the mediocre. He held brain storming sessions with his coaching staff, and got the players to hold their own session, they then met to discuss the outcomes and came up with a plan to get into the play offs. Clearly, it worked. I know David Moyes did a similar thing a few years ago, when Everton were rooted to the bottom after about 12 games, and it worked then too. Obviously, it wouldn't do any good if everyone came up with shit ideas!

The point is, I suppose, to recognise when players and the people around them are settling for the mediocre and to do something positive about it. One of McDermott's inspirations was Mathew Syed's book, "Bounce". I haven't read it, but I have heard Syed talk a lot about it, as he seems to be a permanent fixture on Radio 4. He says that it is no good constantly telling people they are the best, because how can you then expect them to improve? He and McDermott talk about putting in the hours, doing a hell of a lot more than the bare minimum, and they refer to Alex Ferguson who would remark upon the astonishing amount of extra training that Cantona would put in. Blues best recent striker was known for it, even practising on his own in a local park.

For all I know, Eck does all this, but keeps it quiet. I am a bit of an adherent of positive psychology, and, believe it or not, I do tend to accentuate the positive, but that doesn't mean that you should ignore the negative. If something isn't working, you have to look at why it isn't working, and change or get rid of the negative aspects, Sometimes a situation looks disastrous, but only needs a bit of fine tuning to improve things, which doesn't mean that a drastic overhaul isn't sometimes required. There is a famous quote by a famous golfer "the harder I work, the luckier I get", I'm sure our players adhere to that philosophy.

I keep reading Eck extol the virtues of Cameron Jerome. This is good, it is necessary, but, as well as praising him, I hope he is also gently pointing out his faults, and helping him to work out ways in which he can improve. I hope that he does it with all of them, as individuals and as a collective. I hope that,despite appearance, he isn't willing to settle for mediocrity.

According to the recently departed chain smoker and philospher César Luis Menotti, there is a right wing and a left wing way to play the game. Eck is a right winger. Menooti has said, "Right-wing football wants to suggest that life is struggle. It demands sacrifices. We have to become of steel and win by any method … obey and function, that's what those with power want from the players". That is Eck, in a nutshell.

Menotti, who reminds me of Gary Megson, a bit, also said, "I maintain that a team is above all an idea, and more than an idea it is a commitment, and more than a commitment it is the clear convictions that a coach must transmit to his players to defend that idea. So my concern is that we coaches don't arrogate to ourselves the right to remove from the spectacle the synonym of festival, in favour of a philosophical reading that cannot be sustained, which is to avoid taking risks. And in football there are risks because the only way you can avoid taking risks in any game is by not playing: and to those who say that all that matters is winning, I want to warn them that someone always wins. Therefore, in a 30-team championship, there are 29 who must ask themselves: what did I leave at this club, what did I bring to my players, what possibility of growth did I give to my footballers? I start from the premise that football is efficacy. I play to win, as much or more than any egoist who thinks he's going to win by other means. I want to win the match. But I don't give in to tactical reasoning as the only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty"

This a man who won the world cup. He knows shit.

Friday, May 27, 2011

When The Stars Go Blue

I've been banging on about Israel Nash Gripka in various places, and I shall continue to bang on about him, because his new album, is rather fucking good. If you liked Ryan Adams earlier work, you might like it, not that you should think he is anything like Adams, he isn't; he has a similar voice, but is very distinct. Actually, he is also similar in that he has no fear of changing tone and pace. It's magnificent, anyway. Don't tell anyone about him until I've had a chance to see him live. I don't want a bunch of lightweights turning up to harsh my mellow.

A couple of years ago, me and the Mrs and the kids and some pals and their kids stumbled drunkenly (only me and my mate were drunk, actually) into a tent late at night. It was a Friday night, and it had been a very long day, driving, putting tents up, drinking, watching ace bands. We only popped into the tent on a whim: we found that everyone in there was dancing and smiling and looking glad to be alive, and, soon enough, so were we, because Herman Dune were on, and lighting the place up. I mention it, because they have a new album out, and the Guardian is streaming it, for free, and it is currently lighting my kitchen up.

I passed a test today. It was an online test. It was ridiculous. I didn't read anything, didn't put any effort in, skipped every section until I got to the actual test part. Oo er, I thought, I need 80% to pass, maybe I should have read at least a couple of the modules. Didn't matter. Passed with 98%. Would have been a hundred if I hadn't inadvertently clicked the wrong answer on one of them. It wasn't a lark, it was a proper, work related test, which now puts me in a position of some distinction, and I tell you, it is a worthless test. Passing it signifies nothing. Don't tell anyone though, it might just drop me in the shit.

I mentioned the other day the dour Swedish thriller I started. It was Minds Eye by Hakan Nesser. It wasn't dour, it was ace, and it was great fun. I started at about 8 o'clock Wednesday night and had finished by 8 yesterday. I very rarely zip through books that quick, which shows how good it is; it shows that Scandinavian crime doesn't have to be bloated and in need of a good edit. It is a bit gloomy, but it is genuinely funny, in parts, and the hero and his subordinates are wonderfully droll characters. Written years ago, hopefully there is a whole back catalogue in translation. I put Nesser on a par with Camilleri, that's how much I enjoyed The Minds Eye.

I was going to say I won't post about the Blues again until August, but that would be ridiculous, especially as the European games probably start in July. I'm looking forward to an exotic trip to Neath, Besides that, I can't stop thinking about the fuckers anyway. I don't like Nick Hornby. I thought football was managing perfectly well before he stuck his middle class beak in. I can't begin to tell you the myriad ways in which his appalling book aggravated me. There is a moment in the even more wretched film of the book, when his lady asks him what is he thinking about, and he spouts some bullshit about poetry or philosophy. He then admits that he was thinking about Arsenal. That bit resonated. I empathised  with it

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wide Open Plain

I said, the other week, something along the lines that the internet still fills me full of wonder, and an example comes along straight away. Months ago, I was browsing Amazon; my guess is that I was looking for something similar to Daniel Woodrell, and I find the alternative suggestions that Amazon offer up pretty much on the mark, which is good news for Amazon and bad news for my bank account. Anyway, whatever I was searching for, one of the alternatives offered was "The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart" by M Glen Taylor. I bought it, on a whim, and it has sat there, unread for months, but it has been read now and it is for this that I thank the internet, as without it, I would have remained unaware of this brilliant book

From time time, you come across a book or an author that just knocks your socks off, Ken Bruen, Daniel Woodrell, Joe R Lansdale, Fred Willard, and in particular, Newton Thornburg spring to mind. Taylor is up there with that lot, I'm a bit pissed off that he has nothing else out that I can afford yet. I discovered Lansdale and Bruen late, and then had months of gleeful catching up to do.

It's a bit ironic that I wanted something to restore my good humour and faith in literature after my mood had been soured by John Irvin. I had ploughed through his massive, epic, tale of simple but brilliant, backwoods folk, always having to stay one step ahead of the law. So, what is this Trenchmouth about? Well, it's about a simple, but brilliant backwoods character who has to spend his life one step ahead of the law.

The two books couldn't be more different though (although the blurb recommends it to fans of Irvin). Trenchmouth is written with pace, vim and verve, his use of language is brilliant, and I kept finding myself re reading sentences, just to savour them. All the characters, apart from the scoundrels, are sympathetic, and you root for even minor players. It reads like an epic yarn, but it is funny in parts, it is profoundly poignant in parts, and it never hesitates to stick it to the motherfucking man. I loved this book, I read it too quickly, and now I'm trying to get stuck into another dour Swedish thriller, which, frankly, is putting me in another bad mood.

The football season may be over but the bickering and the endless analysing isn't, in fact, it has only just begun. Message board aficionados seem to have forgotten that Blues were relegated. We can't afford to lose Eck, the chief scout has been sacked and he was alright, according to some. We can't afford to lose Foster, we can't afford to lose Johnson , we can't afford to lose Ferguson, we can't afford to lose any 'em by the sound of it. It seems that to a lot of people, this bunch of chumps that we have managing us, coaching us, scouting for us, and playing for us are all blameless. They have become heroes. I'm fucking baffled by it, actually.

I've read a couple of things today that have reminded me of Ecks stubbornness, or, if you like, loyalty. I'm thinking here of Jerome and Ridgewell.  I really like Ridgewell, I think he has really improved as a player, I think we missed him when he was out, I think he tries really fucking hard but I don't think he will ever be a quality full back. Same with Jerome, runs fast, but will never be a top class footballer. But they have been first choice for us in their positions for a season and half in Ridgewells case, and longer than that in Jeromes.

Some might say that this shows admirable loyalty, and it probably does. Some might say that he has tried to buy or play different strikers, and he has, but  they don't get the same number of chances to settle  into the side as Jerome. The left back situation is really baffling though; it seems that he would rather play anyone there than the one bloke he actually bought as a left back, when he first arrived, 3 years ago. I dunno, maybe I'm being harsh, but to me it looks a little bit like complacency; like a willingness to settle for second best, to tolerate the mediocre, and it has got me a bit worried.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dead And Gone

I finally finished the John Irvin. God, what a slog. I wouldn’t recommend it. It all got a bit tedious and for large chunks of it, Irvin was just showing off. I find Martin Amis and Will Self do this a lot. They dazzle us with their skill and expertise as wordsmiths, and you spend half the book admiring their craft, as opposed to being engrossed by it.

The football season was a bit of a tedious slog as well, for Blues fans anyway. Not all Blues fans; some Blues fans will recall only the victory in the Carling Cup and will forget the sheer misery and drudgery of the long journey from August. That’s fine, I wouldn’t blame ‘em for that. It’s not as if our history is laden with trophies, and for most fans, a victory at Wembley in a major (OK, a little bit major, a little bit minor) final could well be the absolute highlight of their Blues supporting career.

I’m a bit less forgiving. There are fans out there who are more tolerant than me, who point out that the injuries we have had endured, the signings that didn’t quite come off, and the untimely bans, have all hit us hard. I say that apart from one purple patch last season, we have been awful to watch, and we weren't exactly pretty in the purple patch. Even yesterday, fighting for our lives, we were ultra cautious. It is our lack of goals that got us into this mess, so what did we do in the deciding game of the season? We tried to avoid defeat. We put all our efforts into not conceding. Even when we equalised, Eck was about to bring Murphy on, even though it was extremely likely we would need another goal. In the end he realised we did need another goal, and sent men forward, but the last 5 minutes of an away game, in the last game of the season isn’t really the time to start swashing yer’s a bit late in the day.

Being a Blues fan, I’m used to disappointment. I’m well acquainted with the Immutable Law that the bastards will always let you down, and, having been gutted for about half an hour after the final whistle, I adjusted. We Blues fans aren’t in it for the glory. I don’t really care who we play, so long as we are playing. I enjoy supporting the Blues, I enjoy going to the Blues, I enjoy the matchday experience, I really don’t care who we are playing. So it’s OK.

Except it might not be OK. It might be, but it might not, no one really knows. Our owners seem to be a bit secretive when it comes to finance. There have been reports that they don’t have a pot in which to piss, and they really haven’t done or said much to persuade me that these reports are inaccurate. Blues fans with bigger brains than me have analysed whatever financial information is out there, and have declared that these reports are nonsense, and that big London media is simply engaging in a witch hunt against little old us. I’m not convinced, and I would like the board to now tell us what their plans are for the coming season. It would be nice to know what’s coming. Good or bad.

The position of Eck also concerns me. The press has been muttering over the last week that he will be on his bike whatever the outcome of yesterdays game. I won’t shed any tears, either way. Bad luck hasn’t got us relegated, our ultra cautious style of play has and Eck is responsible for that. Someone pointed out that we scored less goals last season in finishing 9th than we did this season. That is not a stat I feel particularly proud of. So, if he goes, he goes, but I wouldn’t urge it. If he stays, I hope he realises that we need to be a bit more potent, but I can’t see it happening; he seems a bit stubborn.

I mentioned the other day that when Eck arrived I like his honesty and his dignity, but he said a couple of things this season that have baffled me. Sometime around January, he had a little moan about the strikers, and said that we create enough chances, we just don’t take them often enough. This is just plain wrong, and, if he really believes what he said, it is worrying, because our problem has been creating chances. I’m not a huge admirer of Cameron Jerome, but sympathy has to be extended to him, as every chance he misses is magnified, because it means more than it would for other clubs, because it might be 3 fucking weeks before another chance comes his way. Then, yesterday, he said relegation “is not a fail” Well, that’s just barking. I’m getting a bit worried about his mind set.

Whether he stays or goes, I hope a decision is made very quickly. This is no time to fuck about. We need to get on, and plan for the coming season. Those that are going should go, quickly, those that are arriving should arrive, quickly. We need a cohesive squad and we need them all together from day one of pre season training. We don’t want a bunch of strangers lining up with each other on the first day of the new season.

Some fans are worried that we might lose our stars, which begs the question, what stars? I genuinely believe that our biggest problem will be getting shot of them, not keeping them. Foster and Johnson apart, which of these players, who have barely created a chance, never mind a goal, for two seasons, will be in demand? Which of them have enhanced their reputation? Gardner, possibly, but I couldn’t see him being more than a squad player in any other team.

You could almost have an intermediate league, between the prem and the championship, made up of about 10 to 15 teams like us, made up of players who aren’t quite good enough for the top half of the prem. Most of our current players fit that bill, so, if we keep most of ‘em, as I suspect we will, we should be really strong next year, but who know what will happen? Yesterday is over, today is a new day, and a new beginning, I have no idea what is around the corner, but fuck me, I’m looking forward to it.

Onwards, boys, if not necessarily upwards!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Country Blues

Last year, I think it was last year anyway, (my whole existence is a bit vague, to be honest), I saw the Canadian band, Elliot Brood at the End of the Road festival. They were the first band I saw, at about 5 o'clockish, having spent the afternoon sitting by the tent, in the sunshine, gently pickling the liver. Blown away is a much overused, not to mention retro, phrase and I don't like it, but I was blown away. They were as good a band as I have ever seen and they had the couple of hundred who witnessed it absolutely bouncing.  Bouncing like crazy. At fucking 5 o'clock in the afternoon! As far as I know, it was their only UK gig so far, the bastards; but, I can forgive them their absenteeism, because they are allowing us to download their new single, for free. I recommend you give it a whirl. It only gives you a flavour, but it is some flavour.

As I type I am listening to the new album by 17 Hippies, and to coin another retro phrase, I am really digging it. It is great stuff. If you remember Edward 11 and the Red Hot Polkas, or if you like Manu Chao, it will be right up your street. Obviously, none of the 3 sound remotely like each other, but it is that crazy mixing up of genres, and lovely vibe, a vibe born of love for what they do, that they share. Very highly recommended.

The Felice Brothers are geniuses, as everyone knows and Simone is already one of the all time greats. Not just a brilliant songwriter and seriously enigmatic performer though, he is also a very good writer. If you don't believe me have a listen to this story, which was commissioned by the BBC as part of it's Bob Dylan massive fucking overkill. Only available until next Wednesday though.

We need to talk about Eck. When Sully went after Eck, I thought he was aiming a bit high, but doing so deliberately (I think he's doing it now, vis a vis West Ham). I don't think he believed that a national team manager would actually join us, but it was good publicity for him and an indication to the fans that he was aiming high. I think Eck surprised him when he bit Sully's fucking hand off. I was dismayed. I don't know if it's my catholic upbringing, but I didn't like the fucker. I knew nothing about him, the proddy bastard, but I didn't like him anyway. Mostly, I believed he played negative football and also thought that he got a bit lucky with Scotland.  (please note there is a jocular remark in the above, and nothing to get upset about)

When he arrived, I decided I liked him after all. I liked the cut of his jib. He presented himself very well and seemed honest and dignified. He didn't regard the fans as idiots (he may have changed his mind since) and unlike the previous manager, didn't label his critics on the terraces (if only) as disgraceful. He also looked like a dapper gent, again, unlike the previous manager, who tended to look like a pantomime dame, after a particularly rough night in some house of scrumpy.

His first result was a good one, a very unlikely win away at fucking Tottenham. YES! A WIN! AWAY! AT TOTTENHAM!  It can be done………….come on all you merchants of doom. you masters of misery, show some fucking belief……….anything is possible and it ain't fucking over yet.

Sorry. Got a bit sidetracked there. In the end, Eck took us down. We forgave him. The team was in freefall when he arrived, and he was dapper, and he gave good interview. Already though, there were worrying signs of his negativity. When he arrived he said he wanted to see the team pass the ball, then after the Totenham game, he said he was happy to see 'em pass the ball but he didn't want to see 'em pass it that much! We had Zarate at the time, a very exciting player who caused panic in every defence he played against; trouble is, not too many defences were required to panic, as Eck barely played him

There were those who said he was an idiot on account of this, others said that this was no time for inexperienced dilettantes . No one knows the answer, but it was a sign of his mind set. The following season was interesting. Eck got us up, but it was possibly the most miserable promotion campaign in history, with many calling for Eck's head half way through the season. The problem was negativity. We played very negative football, but managed to grind out enough results to get automatic promotion, by the tiniest of gnats cocks.

Nevertheless, everybody loved Eck again. We started the  season, and progressed through the new season, playing very negative football. But, in the middle of it, we set a record for avoiding defeat. Eck was now a heroic figure. Everybody revered him. One might have been tempted to point out that, as impressive as the achievement was, we had hardly been slaughtering teams. It was not Real Madrid circa 1963. It was catenaccio  writ large. It would have been foolhardy to point this out though. One cannot argue with success, and, to have had a little whinge would have led to one being strung from the nearest lamppost by ones own innards.

Once the good run was over, the season petered out, annoyingly. We barely won another point. Still Eck is revered. He is revered for that run and he is revered for winning the league cup. He is sort of revered for getting us promotion too, most people seem to have forgotten that he took us down in the first place and ignore the misery he inflicted upon us, even in winning promotion. Now, he looks like taking us down again, and, even if he doesn't, our league form has been utter shit and our style of play has been embarrassing.

I don't think many would agree with my analysis, and I am happy to concede that I might be wrong, but, there is a question that is as persistent a beggar as any homeless dude with a scrawny dog and a bit of string. How does a bloke who has only had half a decent season get away with it? Even the half good season was fucking tedious, if we are being honest. No other fan but a Blues fan could possibly have gained any pleasure from that run. I doubt that there was a run on replica shirts in downtown Shanghai.

I don't count the promotion season as a good season, because in all honesty we really should have been getting promoted with the money we had available to us, compared to others, and I have not forgotten the howls of outrage at some of the piss poor performances we had to endure. I don't count the cup run either, because we played against type in those games and  actually had a bit of a go (is there fucking lesson there?)

So. Half a good season, and, possibly, another relegation. I never advocate sacking managers and I don't advocate sacking Eck, but, whether we survive or not, you would have to wonder if he can keep his job. He can stay or he can go for all I care. Blues don't even flatter to deceive all that often; we will always be also rans, and, to some extent, it doesn't matter which chump in the game of managerial musical chairs ends up in the seat with our name on it. They are all much of a muchness. It may as well be Eck as anyone else, but, to be honest I would prefer someone with a bit less dignity and a bit more imagination.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Old Tom Cat

I've been reading John Irvin's "Last Night in Twisted River". Bloody hell, what an absolute monster of a book. I don't seem to be able to finish it, and it's not for the want of trying. For the last 4 nights I have been convinced that there is only about 20 minutes worth left, but it just goes on and on: like driving down the M50 at midnight, after a Blues defeat, the this trip doesn't seem to have an end. Frankly, I am getting a bit pissed off with.

It's actually a good book, and it comes as no surprise that an Irving book is lengthy, but maybe his reputation is so great that no editor will touch it. Maybe it is a masterpiece and I am too dull to get it. If you like Irvin, you might like this. I hadn't read any of his for years and this came as a pleasant surprise. Until I lost patience it was immensely readable, populated with pretty recognisable, oddball, if not particularly likeable Irvin characters. It covers a huge sweep of history as it follows a father and son across states and decades, as they attempt to escape the murderous intentions of a crooked cop, and it has quite a lot of fairly profound stuff to say about the nature of families, and relationships, and love, and minor mistakes, and huge errors of judgement. Maybe it is the great American novel. There is no danger of me giving the end away, as I doubt I'll ever get to it.

For light relief, I have been dipping in and out of Shotgun Honey, and I recommend you do to.

Neither long, rambling novels, nor short sharp pulp is quite taking my mind off the Blues though. Now that I've calmed my mind, I'm really enjoying it. What a fantastic end to the season. We could have something riding on it until the last kick of the season. If we stay up it will be brilliant, if we go down, well, we've all got used to the idea by now. Last year everything just petered pointlessly out, Mcleish didn't even enliven proceedings by giving youngsters or fringe players a bit of experience. I'd much rather be enduring all this uncertainty. The close season is long enough, without it starting early because there is nothing to play for. Roll on Sunday.

There is actually a really positive side effect to the uncertainty; it has put a stop to all the endless posts on message boards advising that we should sign some lower league nonentity because he has just managed to pass a ball accurately in a play off game.

I've been hearing, and reading, rather a lot about David Brooks this week. I had never heard of him before but he turns out to be a celebrated right wing commentator at the New York Times, and he has written a book called "The Social Animal" which, apparently, is much beloved by tory brainboxes like Michael Gove.  It has had a fairly uncritical reaction so far (although it gets a right good kicking in the article I linked), it will be interesting to see how, or if, reaction changes as more people read it.

Just noting the blurb about Brooks book, it reminds me a bit of Martin Seligman, godfather of positive psychology. His new book seems to be getting panned left right and centre, but I find the book that made his name "Authentic Happiness" is invaluable, although it is much mocked. Reading the book won't make you happy, but I genuinely found that utilising just some of the techniques he advises changed peoples perception of me completely and some aspects of my life improved dramatically. It all looks like quackery, but, even though Brooks appears to be a right wing nutter, I won't dismiss him yet.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Restless Feet

Bugger me. It was a bit of a let down yesterday. Many Blues fans are in despair over it, which shows a bit of a lack of historical perspective. I was really, really pissed off yesterday and the more I drank the more pissed off I got, which, if nothing else, shows that alcohol is never the answer. I’m not so pissed off today, I have come to accept that, well, it’s the fucking Blues innit? 
Some people are saying that this relegation (many have already resigned themselves to it) has taken them completely by surprise and that is what is so upsetting, but it hasn’t taken me by surprise. Even before we started losing with alarming regularity, I was saying that we are drawing too may home games, and I recalled the season that Saunders took us down, when we drew game after game after game and slipped into the bottom 3 on the very last day of the season. Draws and goal difference did for us.
Since our record breaking run ended last season, we have been shit, and supporting Blues has been a pretty miserable experience: not because of the results, but because of the style of play. Fuck me, I support the Blues, I don’t expect glory, but I do expect us to show some spirit. I accept that at the moment panache is too much to expect, but it is the lack of this very quality that has been pissing me off.
There are those who are bemoaning the lack of fight and bite we showed yesterday and some are complaining that the players lacked courage. It’s true, we seemed utterly bewildered by events yesterday, right from the kick off and had no idea how to respond, and we certainly didn’t get snarlingly into Fulham faces, but I think we have lacked courage all season. Not courage in the sense of aggressive harrying and forceful tackling, but courage in the sense of being brave with the ball, and being brave in making attacking runs into the opposition half. We are not brave enough to take a chance, and to get on the front foot and anticipate half chances. 
It was evident yesterday that when we had the ball, we had no idea what to do with it. Tiki taki it was not. We constantly passed the ball sideways, or backwards or straight into an opposition midriff. We really needed to get at them, but we didn’t know how, and this has to be a legacy of our style of play, and the consequence of playing percentage football, looking to win free kicks, corners and throw ins. Jerome was out, so the usual tactic of booting it into the channels, in the hope that his muscular presence will gain us a set piece opportunity, wasn’t available, and we were demonstrably bereft of alternative ideas.
Some people are blaming the strikers, with the theme being that Phillips is too old and Derbyshire too shit, which is a bit unkind. Maybe their runs were not intelligent enough, maybe they didn’t have the wit to find space, but, maybe, the midfield just were not up to the job of adapting their style, and offering either enough guile or support to the front two. A front two who have barely started a game all season, a front two who we couldn’t really expect to be match sharp, or attuned to the nuances of each others play, or the play of the midfield.
We aren’t where we are because the cup run took it out of us, or because Derbyshire and Phillips found themselves in the team yesterday, or because of injuries, or because of bad luck, or because other teams have put together unlikely runs of results. We are where we are because, for at least a season and a half, we have been poor. We have not created enough chances; and, when we have taken a lead, we have lost all ambition and sat back and invited teams to find a way around or through us, which, with depressing predictability, they have usually managed to do. I don’t say we have played with fear, because at times we have been indomitable, but I do say that we have played without courage.
So it all comes down to the final game next week. Football is perverse enough, and Blues are certainly perverse enough for the outcome to be far from certain. I wouldn’t put it past Blues to win, and still get relegated, and I would not be at all surprised if we lost and still managed to stay up. If we do manage to survive, I hope the euphoria of an unlikely escape doesn’t blind either fans or staff to our deficiencies. We need a complete change of approach. Some fans will tolerate boring draws and narrow victories if it means premiership survival, but our style is not only unedifying, it is fucking undignified, and many people won’t be prepared to keep forking out to watch it.