And so this was Christmas…
December 29, 2010

And so this was Christmas …

The festive season began with a blanket of snow and the mercury dipping as low as -12˚C over the Christmas weekend. There had been concerns that the weather might cause problems for those travelling to the Shire but thankfully not so.

During the last two days the Wintersmith has released his icy grip and overnight rain has all but erased the Christmas card backdrop against which the Yuletide festivities have been acted out.  

December 2010 may turn out to be the coldest since records began but comparisons with the long hard winters of ’46-’47 and ’62-’63 may have been a trifle premature – all will be revealed over the next few weeks.   

As always, I was pleased to find that Santa had left me a couple of books beneath the Christmas tree:

The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, has been hailed the greatest modern work on Africa and a dazzling literary masterpiece. It contains the correspondent’s work covering a forty-year period, following his first visit to the Dark Continent in 1957, and was first published in English in 2001.

I have already dipped into it. The author has the easy style of an accomplished story-teller coupled with a reporter’s eye for detail.  His evocative writing will resonate with anybody who has spent time in Africa.            

For obvious reasons I was immediately drawn to the piece entitled A Lecture on Rwanda. In seventeen pages Kapuscinski manages to distil the historical complexities of the Rwandan crisis, leading up to and including the genocide, in an account that provides greater clarity than any I have previously read.     

Duncan Hamilton was a Nottingham sports journalist. Last Christmas I received his first book, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, an honest, sensitive and extremely personal biography of the great man.

This year I was delighted to get a copy of Hamilton’s authorised biography of another Nottinghamshire legend, and the world’s fastest bowler, Harold Larwood.

I’m already well into it and the author clearly deserved to pick up the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year  award for his moving portrayal of the Nottinghamshire miner who later became synonymous with the controversial Bodyline bowling tactics used by England to nullify Donald Bradman and his Australian team mates in the 1932-3 Ashes series.  

England won the series 4-1 amidst a huge diplomatic row that threatened Anglo-Australian relations. Larwood, a working class national hero who had merely bowled in line with captain Douglas Jardine’s orders, was made the scapegoat. When requested,  by the MCC, to apologise he refused effectively bringing his international career to an end.

Ironically, Larwood later emigrated to Australia where he was welcomed, respected and held in high esteem for the rest of his days.         

I didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the holiday period but couldn’t miss the annual Christmas Day helping from the Royle Family. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Christmas Specials, material that would have made a good thirty minute show was over stretched to fill an hour slot, compromising its overall quality.

Along with 10 million viewers nationwide, I also tuned in to the latest offering from Mat Lucas and David Walliams, Come Fly With Me. I found this spoof documentary, set in an airport, mildly amusing but probably less so than the antics portrayed in the Airport series about actual day-to-day life at Heathrow.

Lucas and Walliams have been criticised in the media for their use of racial stereotypes. The blacked up faces and accents were certainly a throw back to 1970’s comic offerings such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Mind Your Language.  However I didn’t consider the humour racist, simply a little dated, and I certainly don’t think it warrants a six part series.   

Another Christmas TV highlight had to be the business minister, Vince Cable, temporarily putting his and the coalition government’s problems to one side for a moment, and taking time out to show some nifty footwork dancing a lively Foxtrot with  the lovely Erin Boag, in the Christmas celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing.  Well you have to get your priorities right!    

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I crawled out of bed on Boxing Day morning to catch the latter stages of the first day’s play in the 4th Ashes Test in Melbourne.  Australia had been dismissed for a meagre 98 and England were already fifty or so ahead, without loss, in their first innings.

I had been expecting a buoyant Australia, after their recent victory in Perth, to push England really hard for the rest of the series but they have fallen apart. England are now so firmly in the ascendancy again, barring an act of God, they should wrap up a four-day innings victory, and retain the Ashes, some time in the early hours of  tomorrow.   

Jonathon Trott seems to love playing the old enemy, having followed up his match winning century, on debut, at the Oval in 2009 with two more in this series. But, at the highest level, there are fine margins between success and failure.

Trott threw himself full length to avoid being run out, by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, when he had scored only 46 of his eventual 168 not out. Another wicket at that stage might have brought Australia right back into the game.

‘Punter’ of course, is having a nightmare series with the bat and is about to become the first ever Aussie captain to lead his side to three Ashes series defeats.

He has been a great player and competitor throughout his career and his current frustration is understandable but his behaviour towards the on field umpires, following an unsuccessful referral, was totally out of order. He was extremely lucky not to receive a ban from the next Test, in Sydney. But then again it’s quite likely to be his final game in the Baggy Green!

Finally, I would like to announce the arrival, at Orchard House, of Christmas Monkey.  He emerged from a seasonal package of PG tea bags  on Christmas morning  and we are now a two monkey family. 

A Monkey is not just for Christmas!

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‘Heroes’ and ‘Villains’
July 17, 2010

Definitions of a hero:

  1. A brave person
  2. A person noted for their courage or nobility of purpose especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life
  3. A person noted for special achievement in a particular field
  4. The main character in a drama or other literary work
  5. A celebrity

Definitions of a villain:

  1. A wicked or  evil person
  2. A mean, worthless character in a story or play
  3. A scoundrel
  4. An antagonist who has a negative effect on other people

The Facebook Fiasco!

I don’t agree with David Cameron’s political intervention, because you are never going to win in a situation like this. Firstly, you can’t control people’s opinions or take away their right to express them (not yet anyway!) and secondly, it only serves to draw attention to those misguided enough to have stated their support for Raoul Moat, as some kind of folk hero.      

Moat may have gained celebrity, in some quarters, as  an anti-hero but in actual fact he was a self pittying, wicked and evil villain.

He may also have been a victim whose cries for help went unheeded by the support services. That’s certainly the image being generated by edited extracts from his tapes which have been aired by the media. The verdict is still out on that one.

If there are heroes to come out of this whole sorry saga try PC Rathband who, in the line of public duty, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, was shot in the face and has lost his sight. And what about Moat’s children, who he supposedly loved so much? They have not only lost a father but will have to grow up with the legacy of his murderous exploits.    

Graduate Tax

I’m rather undecided about Vince Cable’s graduate tax but it’s certainly worth exploring further. On the face of it, it seems not a bad idea for students but less good for certain universities. Like everything the devil will be in the detail.

However I agree totally with his views on reducing some university courses to two years, flexible part-time modular degrees and raising the status of vocational training. University is not right for everyone and the previous government were misguided in implying it should be an aspiration for at least 50% of all school leavers.

Of course, modular degrees through distance learning are nothing new. I earned a degree that way back in the late 1970s through, what in my opinion is one of the greatest legacies of any Labour government, the Open University.  

Back to Vince Cable, it was reassuring to hear that voice of calm reason once again. His talents are clearly being wasted and I’m sure he would have made a far more considered and compassionate chancellor than Cameron’s buddy, Osborne. However I do concede there would be logistical difficulties having a PM and chancellor from different parties.       

In pantomime terms, which are probably those best suited to the coalition government at the moment, Vince cuts a lonely heroic figure surrounded by celebrity seeking villains!

The Famous Five

I admit to being rather ambivalent about the over hyped and much publicised Take That reunion but, back in the mid ’90s, as  a father of twelve and thirteen year old girls I remember well the female hysteria that accompanied Robbie’s dramatic exit and the subsequent break up of the boy band.

Ostensibly this was a consequence of an apparent disagreement over how the band should develop and the type of music they should be producing but quickly escalated into a battle of giant egos. Robbie and Garry were the main antagonists, and portrayed as the villains of the piece.    

Robbie, a celebrity hero to many in his solo career, has enjoyed his time in the sun including an 80 million pound recording contract with EMI, and whilst hardly on the bread line, his current standing and sales have somewhat slipped. And of course he never really conquered America did he?

Meanwhile, since 2006 the reformed Take That quartet has enjoyed meteoric success, sales are soaring, and their record-breaking The Circus Live has taken the USA by storm. Their heroic celebrity status of yesteryear has well and truly been re-established.  

Old cynics, like me, will say Robbie has got much more to gain than the rest of the boys by hitching his star to the Take That wagon.

The new album and the subsequent tour will undoubtedly be the music industry stories of the year and I am pleased for their legion of loyal fans, mostly in their late 20’s and 30 some things now I guess!

Their type of music never did and still doesn’t do anything for me other than by association with my kids growing up.        

I hope those five boys from yesteryear have matured into men who genuinely have buried their differences and that there is more to this reunion than pound signs!

Once the album is out, I have my doubts they will make it through the tour. Rumour has it Robbie suffers stage fright! Could that be his get out of jail card if he needs it?