Sunday, August 11, 2019

Fulham away is different

Face in the crowd

Fulham away is different. I sat next to a woman eating a pie with chopsticks, in a shared stand, I chatted football to Fulham “geezers” on the way in through the park, we went to a nice pub before and bought burgers in brioche buns. Call me a middle class fop, but give me this any day over angry, boorish, snarling and bullying “real fans”.

I used to live just off New Kings Road in early the 1990s, and it was a real treat to discover that it still got the best kebab shop ever, Kebab Kid. Sadly our local pub The Jolly Brewer is now flats, while our old house is being rebuilt and is probably worth £1.3m plus.

As for the match, it was a decent first half from Rovers, but a failure to punish Fulham in that period of dominance cost us. I felt that in the second half we lacked a plan. Why was Lewis Travis subbed off again?

More importantly for us, it was a great day out with pals.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Football and identity

I had my football identity consciousness raising tonight. I sat with my Dad in the exact same place we sat in nearly 50 years ago at Giant Axe, home of Lancaster City, my local team where I grew up, and the first place he took me to for a football match, Lancaster City v Barrow, 1973.

Tonight the Dolly Blues played Blackburn Rovers Under 23s, which was why it was the first time I'd been back on the Axe in a long while. Also with us in the stand was Kevin Bradley, who took me to Ewood Park in 1977 and effectively recruited me to the Rovers cause, and two of my old mates from back in the day Paul Swinnerton and Dave Tinkler, both Blackpool fans and partners on several outriding days out with them in the 1980s. Tinks is now also my brother-in-law.

It's been said that your team finds you, rather than you hunting for the right team. Because my Dad wasn't a native Lancastrian, I didn't inherit a team connection. So all that convergence of circumstances has ended up in that place tonight, watching my club's reserve team against the home town club.

Even though I probably couldn't find my way out of Blackburn without a map, Rovers is unquestionably and defiantly my team. It's more than a colour or a badge, but an identity. For all the foibles, it sort of defines who I am more than anything else. I used to drift between all kinds of teams when I was younger, never quite sticking, never quite belonging. But I felt at home with Rovers, probably because I wanted to be part of that gang, initially, but it outlasted the patience the older lads had for me hanging around with them.

I've probably been to Giant Axe more than any other ground than Ewood Park. I even played on that pitch (or half of it) in the annual Easter Field schools football tournament when we got to the semi-final in 1977. It's in such a gorgeous setting, with the castle and the station overlooking it as you watch from the main stand.

But it's not my team. There's something about non-league football that doesn't quite do it for me. Tinks pointed out that one of the Lancaster players was off the Marsh, the estate right next to Giant Axe. But he was the only local one that he knew of. Town clubs should have a few faces at their core, back in the day it was Vaughan Williams, more recently the much mourned Neil Marshall. I hope they find a few more to walk in their shoes.

Rovers has been the constant in a life of movement and flux. And what a journey, what a time to be alive. So, here ends a month of blogging every day. I'll reflect on how it's gone by the end of the week, then we're on holiday,

(By the way, Rovers won 2-1)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Trust me, Tony Wilson never said: "This is Manchester, we do things differently here."

Trust me, Tony Wilson never said: "This is Manchester, we do things differently here."

There is no recorded evidence of him saying it, because he didn't.

It has become this slightly ridiculous marketing slogan, plastered on hotel reception walls, property marketing brochures, a health strategy and Andy Burnham's manifesto.

Steve Coogan said it, playing "Tony" in Michael Winterbottom's film, 24 Hour Party People. In a script entirely written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, a brilliant writer, and a Scouser, who knew what he was doing. It's a mesh of literary references, something Tony could have done, but didn't. Not those anyway.

It's a great film. I love it's warmth, I love the version of Tony that Coogan carries off for public consumption, and he liked it too. Others didn't, I remember Steve Morris describing it as 'Carry On Factory Records'.

Here are the roots of that quote though.

Half way through the film, in a delicious use of the theatrical technique of 'breaking the fourth wall' "Tony" reflects on the transition from one musical era to another, sort of quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon (subject to some dispute, by the way): There are no second acts in American lives.
The supposed Manchester quote is the reply, which itself is derived from ‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there,’ the first line of L. P. Hartley’s The Go Between.

Does any of this matter? No, probably not. Afterall, didn't Tony Wilson also say - 'faced with the choice between the truth and the legend, always print the legend?' Except, he didn't say that either. It comes from 'This is the West, Sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,' which is from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Quotes from the film, attributed to Tony appeared at his funeral, beamed on to a wall at the wake. It's a fitting allegory, because he's become one of these figures who people project their own version of an ideal reality onto. I asked Frank about all of this, and as a public intellectual Tony would never have referenced Fitzgerald, or WB Yeats, Frank said, pointing out that Tony was far more interested in philosophers like Derrida, Adorno, Deleuze and in his later days, Habermas.

By the way, I haven't said any of this in order to trash Tony's reputation. In fact, precisely the opposite. Here's what Frank says about Tony in David Nolan's candid and reflective biography: "He was a good device for driving a movie forward.  You have this idea when you're growing up that musicians are rock 'n' roll and suits are boring. Tony was massively more interesting than any musicians he worked with. I know he worked with geniuses. I'm sure Ian Curtis was an amazingly charismatic person and Shaun Ryder as well, but utterly boring compared to Tony. Musicians become fossilised; Tony was always moving forward. He was alive in a way most musicians aren't. And more romantic. He cared less about money than they did.  He was incredibly generous. He was like a perverse St Francis, he gave everything away. He was psychotically generous."

So, can we all stop now please. How about, Manchester, the psychotically generous city?

Monday, July 29, 2019

British politics - what's going on

The smirk

A mate of mine was involved in Boris Johnson's visit to Manchester on Saturday (from the Manchester civic side) and had one very clear message that he took away. Labour is screwed, he surmised. Johnson is in campaign mode, he was very, very good and if he delivers Brexit, Labour is out for two terms. It just layered on yet more evidence that this isn't a government, but a campaign. The old Vote Leave gang, back in business with the single aim of delivering Brexit. The speeches, the roadshows, the meeting today with Nicola Sturgeon, it's all just a show. All of that and everything else isn't even a dead cat, it's a dead duck, a dead parrot. A dead democracy.

Professionally I've been looking out for the announcements of various ministerial briefs. I'm wasting my time, there are no ministers. There are Johnson allies around the cabinet table with no actual work to do. People analysing that Gavin Williamson (or is it Grant Shapps?) might do something in Education is for the birds. Will Esther McVey (or is that Michael Green?) build more houses? None of it matters. He's brought his brother back to Higher Education, which isn't a bad result for the sector, but the chances of actions being taken over the Augar Review this year are slim to none.

There will be no votes in parliament, no government business, no reform agendas. Just Brexit.

Labour literally has no plan to confront this. Labour's core leadership is entirely focused on changing the make up of the Parliamentary Labour Party. All over the country Momentum activists are mobilising to get rid of their MPs via trigger ballots and deselection contests.  It is time consuming and energy sapping for activists, it is distracting for MPs. Don't expect sensible compromises and cross party working from those Labour MPs, they are too terrified of the knock.

And those who pledged to 'stay and fight' over anti-semitism are meekly posing with Jeremy and his true believers in photos, sounding for all the world like hostages.
and the scowl - complete with eyeroll and sneer

Corbyn isn't even trying to pretend he cares about the issue any more. His disgraceful interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News showed that. The aggressive eye roll and sneer he reserves for female interviewers who make him uncomfortable, and the general message that it's no more than a few people dipping into it by mistake.

All Labour's outriders and useful idiots have had to say this weekend has been to launch further attacks on the straw man construct of the 'centrists' who they believe have enabled Boris Johnson. Mocking people who celebrated the anniversary of Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce's tremendous opening ceremony at London 2012.

I slightly disagree with my mate's prognosis. Sure, Labour is knackered, but a clear path to stopping this madness is opening up. Enough Tories in parliament can make a stand against this capture of their party, rallying to sensible ones like Justin Greening, Dominic Grieve and Rory Stewart to effectively force an election and make a stand. If the Liberal Democrats and more brave independents can capture the non-maniacs in the Tory core vote with a Remain Alliance, and become the largest party, there's a deal to be done by Jo Swinson with the non-Corbyn element of what's left in the Labour Party.

Time to get busy people.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

How we pray

When I did my blog earlier in the month about why I'm still a Catholic (albeit a crap one), it got me thinking. It attracted a few questions as well. What's different about how I conduct my life? How is this blog, for example, a projection of Christian faith?

Today at church, the Gospel readings were about prayer and how to do it.

In a nutshell, it's this: Praise God, seek forgiveness, ask for what you need, then for good measure, offer thanks for all you have. Reading back through these daily thoughts over the last month, in their own way each one is a prayer. A musing, a doubt, a confession of weakness, an expression of human frailty and a plea for help and guidance.

And when we pray to ask for what we need, and for others. I don't ask for a Jaguar car, by the way, or anything material, but do I really need that Sunspel white t-shirt? or another book I might not read? But take the last two posts. Our really upsetting experience with the criminal justice system, something that we also thought isn't something nice people like us should ever have to deal with, has been a massive test for us. Humbling, terrifying, but strengthening too. Dealing with feelings of anger, vengeance, hatred, but we've tried to channel it, to make our experience have meaning. To act positively to what negative experience has taught us. Similarly, the exercise regime I wrote about yesterday, I wrestled with that all day and today and I've come to some firm conclusions about what I do and for who.

So, for Sunday, thank you for all my friends, my family, everyone who has been so kind to us, for everyone who takes the trouble to read these self-indulgent and rambling posts. Thank you. And please forgive my vanity, venality and that I can be quick to judge and condemn. And as for that Rovers away kit, lead us not into temptation...


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Goal setting and male body image

I was a bit disturbed when I first saw this picture of actor Simon Pegg uploaded to Instagram by his personal trainer. I too get unsettled by pics our PTs stick on the Facebook group, mostly because I seem to look like I've got a wok under my top and have sticks for legs.

There has been all sorts of commentary and judgement on Simon's transformation, but on further reading of his story to fitness over the last few years I found the journey a familiar one until this point he reached in March. So I simply don't have the time, the money or the capacity to set goals as ambitious as his - rapid weight loss in order to to look scrawny for a part in a film.

But I have reached a point where I'm struggling with goal setting. When my gym moves to a new site next month it will mark about two years since I started training. I wrote about it here, so it will be a useful juncture to weigh up where we are and what next.

On the plus side I'm the fittest I've ever been at 53 years of age. I suffer no shame in that. Getting into the habit of going to the gym about three times a week was a big step and I've stuck at that. It's also been 7 and a half years since I drank alcohol. I haven't weighed myself in ages, but if I say it now, it's there for the record, I'm just over 90 kilos (14 stone). I'm terrible with figures, but I think I've been almost two stone heavier. Putting that number into an NHS website, with my height and age, it flashes up - "you should cut down on your pork life mate, get some exercise". My Doctor isn't concerned.

There's the nub of it, the numbers don't tell me anything. How I feel does. I don't get as down as I used to. I'm not going into all of that, but there's a massive link between the endorphin rush of a training session and how well I feel mentally, and then how I sleep, and all these things are linked.

So what should I aim for - more weight loss? Dieting? I think I eat quite well. I don't want to give up a chippy tea and the odd pie. I like to think I've earned it.

I'm not going to get in a boxing ring and I don't want to run a marathon. My football days are over. So what's it for?

But how about going for a reduction on body fat and getting ripped like Simon? Can I? Should I? Then what? How much metal should I be shifting. Every single time I go, I record what I've done in my book, and right now I couldn't tell you accurately what my personal best is for deadlifting, bench pressing or squats. Even if I did, I wouldn't put it in a blog.

There was something the writer Tony Parsons says in his GQ column this month, "the work is never done." You don't stop when you reach these goals, or slide back, you carry on, until the next session and the one after that. Packing your bag, making sure the kit ready. It was the last of his ten commandments of the gym, my absolute favourite being "train with someone" which has been the biggest single joy of being a member of Body Box Mcr. It's the other people, my training partners, the expert personal trainers. But maybe that's all it is, keeping at it, loving it, staying happy with it, seeing others hit their goals, being part of that, committing to something greater than yourself for the benefit of others. Maybe that's it?

Friday, July 26, 2019

No justice, no peace

There's a great big gnawing hole in the middle of our society that many of us will never experience. It's one that all of us feel ferociously passionate about and have very little faith in. While the NHS is visible, we demand better and better of it, and we praise it when it works for us, for all its faults. And we will happily wear badges saying how much we love it.
But the criminal justice system has to be the worst public service of them all.

Let me caveat this piece with something personal. Today we have secured closure for something that has rocked our world for the last 21 months. But happy as I am about what has happened today, finally, my eyes have truly been opened over that time. I'm also going to leave out any detail about what we saw in court and that's partly the point.

The system doesn't work for victims of crime, it doesn't work for offenders, it frustrates the police, it is under-resourced, it operates in silos, there is a spectacular lack of trust between those silos, the flow of information and the protection of data is fragile. Despite being largely uncorrupted, compared to other broken systems in other countries, it is still held in contempt.

All public services have an element of being run for the benefit of the people that work in them, even the beloved NHS sometimes. But I've never witnessed 'computer says no' quite like it. 

I'm aware this runs the danger of me just spewing out my anecdotes, but there is a large scale debate going on around the system that seems to have identified one of the biggest barriers to justice reform, the lack of transparency. There are two issues as I see it.

One, in a world where information and data has never been more visible, or more freely available, in the justice world it is largely hidden, often restricted and subject to complex rules. If you know how, much of that data - court records and the like - exists in what we loosely and lazily call the public domain. The restrictions around its management and distribution presents an opportunity for better public services. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the tax system has got better in that regard.

Secondly, if it is accountability for the criminal justice system that lies at the very heart of its purpose - public consent - then tragically it has been outsourced to a tightly regulated media industry that to quote a technical term, is on its arse. Court reporters may have once provided a valuable public service, but frankly, in the exceptional high visibility cases, the reporting of crime is either non-existent, or distributed by a police press release. Why can't court transcripts, timetables, progress of cases and criminal records be there digitally for the public to see?

Amidst all of the urgent reform agendas going on in British society, the one to reshape justice has gone the same way as all the others, smothered by Brexit, or dressed up as reform when it's just a crude cost cutting device. There are some valiant efforts to push a debate on this, which will become ever more necessary. 

Finally, I just want to say I've seen the very best of the police and the judiciary in action today. But they are poorly served, hampered and tied up in knots at times. Digitisation provides the justice world with the opportunity not just for justice to be done, but for it to be seen to be done.