No more heroes

So sung the stranglers. They sung something about Trotsky getting an ice-pick in his head too; all very ‘Basic Instinct’, there’s really nothing original about these Russians. Still, it’s better than OMD singing about the atomic bomb, or Boney M’s homage to Rasputin.

But back to heroes. I reckon that anyone when asked to name someone they consider to be a hero would be able to do so without a second’s thought. We all have heroes; some last a lifetime, and others come and go. So how to define? Well, admiration must be a good start-point; either admiration for the person themselves, or for their achievements. Then comes the divergance: some people are heroes because we aspire to be like them, others we realise that we’re never going to get close to, and these we tend to admire from afar. People we know would tend to fall into the former category, whereas famous figures might tend to fall into the latter.

For me, two from the latter category are David Gower and George Orwell. I’ve taken such an interest in both at one point or another that I actually do feel like I know them, or at least that I’d be comfortable in their company. Gower was the batsman I most wanted to watch as I grew up, and I didn’t really mind that England were hopeless through much of the 1980s and early 90s, because Gower made it all worthwhile. An elegant 30 from Gower was worth a ton from the austere Victorian look-alike Graham Gooch, in my book at least. Gower never seemed to lose sight of the fact that cricket was entertainment, and he provided that in spades. The fact he was a hapless captain, enjoyed his wine, did the Cresta run drunk and ‘buzzed’ his team-mates in a tiger-moth bi-plane only served to make me admire him more. I could never aspire to play like that. Even at the very moderate standard at which I play, the elegance eludes me. Orwell is a writer who draws you in like no other, and his own passion, conviction, vision and dichotomous personality all come through strongly in all his writing. He’d hate to be thought of like this, as he believed that not a glimpse of the writer should come through in the story, but what did he know? I went on a solo pilgrimage once to Sutton Courtenay, the Oxfordshire Village where he’s buried. He has a simple stone, marked with ‘Eric Arthur Blair, 1903-1950’, nothing else. There was no-one else there the whole time, and I got to spend some time with one of my heroes, albeit I was the only one gaining anything from this meeting.

Do I have any heroes from the former category? It’s not a term I’d use readily. My friends aren’t heroes of mine (perish the thought) and to use it for family almost seems to distance me from them. Admiration: certainly. Hero-worship: it just sounds a bit wrong to me. Having said that, we can find heroes in what people used to be. When my Grandfather died in 1998 (I was 21), his funeral drew in a whole lot of people that I’d never met. Nothing unusual in that, as I saw my Grandparents less regularly since I’d been away up North at university. Many of the crew that had flown Lancaster bombers with him during the war were there, which proved the strength of the bond that had existed between these men for over 50 years. Stories were told of heroic deeds that had been done by my Grandfather all those years ago, and suddenly the old man with the handlebar moustache, who used to serve up easy half-volleys in the garden and who tried to keep a lid on things as I smashed another plant pot with a clumsy sweep, became in my eyes the hero he had been to them all those years ago.

Beat the Budget

After my rantings about football and mindless TV, I thought it was high time that I started helping my fellow man, rather than use this particular medium merely to let off steam. Seeing as this is *emergency* budget day, which makes it sound all the more exciting, and there’s a whole lot of belt tightening in the air, I’ve decided to produce my five point plan to help all those people most affected by VAT increases and other such things. I assume that all people who are poor fall into this category, so it’s also my chance to feel good about myself by giving a few tips to those less fortunate than I (and you, because if you’re reading this, you must have a computer, or a friend that has one, or you’re in an internet cafe; hang on, that means you might be poor…)

Anyway, here goes:

1. Don’t smoke. Smoking was last cool in the 1990s, when I smoked (coincidentally), and back then cigarettes were also about £2 per pack. Hanging around outside a dingy office block with four other drones, trying to light up with one hand and hold an umbrella with another doesn’t make you look like the marlboro cowboy. Total saving: about a fiver a week.

2. Don’t buy a lottery ticket. When the BSE crisis was in full flow, the chances of you contracting it from diseased beefy spinal cord was about 1 in 11 million – Government tag line: you’ve nothign to worry about. When the lottery first came on the scene, the chance of winning the thing was estimated at about 1 in 14 million – tag line: ‘it could be you’. No it won’t be. And you’ve got to sit through 40 minutes of Nick Knowles just to get to the numbers. And there is just as much of a chance of 1,2,3,4,5,6 coming up as any other combination. Except you’ll only win about 75p even if these are your numbers. Total saving: a pound a week.

3. Don’t put flags on your car. Even if they are free, and you only do it every two years, any effort you make to support your country, whilst instead looking like a total tit and embarrassing said country in the process is a waste of time, money, effort and all those minutes your mother spend squeezing you out. Total saving: Coppers per two years.

4. Don’t buy ready meals/eat less food. Even the cheap readies from Iceland are relatively expensive for what crap goes into them. And incidentally, the way you do a dinner party is not to make five different frozen microwave meals, and then serve them all at once to your guests. ‘What’s for supper?’ ‘Well, you’re having chicken Korma, but Mandy’s having lasagne’. Even dinner party novices might smell a rat. If you do the cooking yourself, and don’t eat like a Texan expecting the nuclear winter, you should be able to scrape a few more pennies together each week. Total saving: about a tenner a week.

5. Radio over TV. It’s better, and you don’t need a license. Radio has TMS, 6 music, bbc 7, radio 4 and Milton Jones. TV has Jeremy Kyle, Jim Rosenthal, James Corden and live from studio 5. No contest. Total saving: about 3 pounds per week.

Right – I make that just under £20 you could save with my ‘beat the budget’ plan. Which equates to about 6 large bottles of white lightning. And go on, my son, you really deserve it.

Rationality Versus Emotion

Rationality is defined by the free dictionary (I don’t believe that I own an actual dictionary) as:

1. the state or quality of being rational or logical
2. the possession or utilization of reason or logic
3. a reasonable or logical opinion

This is pretty much what I thought it would say, but it’s nice to start a post with some back-up. Emotion is perhaps the opposite of rationality, at least in the sense that when emotion takes over rationality is what it takes over from.

The big question for today is: can the two exist peacefully together? The answer (as a way of getting round to what I really want to talk about) is: where one examines this nation’s love with football, certainly not. I do apologise for writing about football now for 66% of my blog posts, but I continue to be amazed by how seemingly intelligent rational people are able to lose control of their faculties when the conversation turns to the World Cup and England.

Now I’m not talking about the drivel that gets talked in the heat of the moment, when one’s actually watching the game in the pub, alcohol clouding the senses as one wills England on to glory. I’m talking about the stuff that gets talked about in the aftermath, when the so called ‘expert analysis’ kicks in. The three most striking examples follow, and anyone that disagrees with me, please tell me why, because I’m currently very bemused of Oundle…

1. Fabio Capello: Two weeks ago he was flavour of the month. He was the man for England. He was discipline, strucutre, in control of the wayward, fun-loving, anything-shagging England footballer. He banned the WAGs, he dropped JT for his immoral escapades. Above all, he got England winning again. But England have now played badly for one, maybe one and a half games. Now Fabio is too controlling, he doesn’t let the players express themselves, he puts them too much under pressure. For goodness sakes. These are exactly the character traits that we were praising him for ten days ago. Has he changed markedly? No, but eleven players have had a bad game, and something must be to blame.

Rationality 0 – 1 Sports reporters, TV news and people in pub…

2. The fan’s money: how many more times do we have to hear about the fans, and in particular the fact that they’ve ‘paid good money to be out here’. Of course they have. It’s in South Africa, which is a long way away. I went to SA in February, it cost £900, and I had an amazing time. of course my ability to enjoy myself isn’t controlled by eleven man that I’ll never get to meet, but I digress…when I went to the most Southerly point, and it rained, I didn’t complain to the Park Steward that I’d paid a lot of money to come out here; I was well aware that there was a chance that it would rain, and somehow I managed to cope. Why do these fans expect that because they have paid some money to follow England, it is a God-given right that England will win football matches? Here’s a thought: in every game of football, there are two teams, and some of the Algerian fans may also have paid a lot of money to get there. Or maybe they paid less money, so we should win. By two goals. And if they come from closer in Africa, it should be three goals because they’ve hardly paid anything to get there. If, by some miracle, Scotland had made it to the finals, we should have a draw, bearing in mind that flights cost about the same from Edinburgh as London.

Rationality 0 – 1 England fans in SA…

3. Wayne Rooney’s ‘outburst’: Now I’m not a particular fan of Wayne, the Granny-shagging tattooed scouser, whose face resembles a bucket-full of smashed crabs, but…his ‘outburst’, and the media frenzy that followed was absolutely non-sensical. The England team weren’t very good, and so they got booed (incidentally, when a team get booed, does anyone actually say ‘boo’?). Wayne replied ‘nice to get booed by your own fans’. Sarcastically. And so he had every right to do so. Admittedly, some of these people had paid a lot to be out there, but when you’ve run yourself into the ground for 90 minutes, it must hurt to feel zero appreciation. He didn’t swear. He didn’t even shout. Passionate, yes, and that’s what we ask for in our footballers. What did the cameras thing they were going to pick up, an apology? But that’s what our Wayne has been forced to produce: a grovelling retrospective apology that everyone knows is meaningless anyway. Ludicrous.

Rationality 0 – 1 outraged England football-watching public

Anyway – here’s the real thing. England aren’t that good. We’ve simply got the best league in the world, and a few of our players are key players in some of the best teams in that league. But not James, or Johnson, or Carragher, or Lennon, or Barry, or Heskey, or Wright-Phillips, or Crouch. Simple. And rational. And we still might win. And then we can talk about it forever. And all have flags of St George on our cars. Don’t get me started on that one…

Good bad TV

George Orwell once wrote an essay on those works of literature that G K Chesterton termed ‘good bad books’. These are the kind of books that have no literary pretensions, but remain readable when more serious productions have perished. Orwell specifically mentioned Kipling as an author who specialised in this field, but Conan Doyle is perhaps the master of the art. Anyway, all this can be brought up to the minute by transferring the theory to the modern version of a book: TV. What makes for ‘good bad TV’, and what is simply ‘bad bad TV’? I enjoy books more than TV, but maybe I’ve already sounded pretentious enough, so now I’d really like to slag off some of the outrageous tosh that arrows its way out of the googlebox each day, hence this rather roundabout way of doing so.

So, let’s get some rules out of the way first. We’ll discount most of daytime TV, as this is always bad, and that’s kind of a rule. There’s no point in putting anything good, or even anything that’s ‘good bad’ when your audience is made up of old people, students and teachers. Likewise, we’ll discount anything on Five, for the reason that they almost take a perverse pleasure in producing crap.

So here’s my list, compiling the top three of each:

Good bad:

Come dine with me: Okay, everyone likes this, but I discovered it first (maybe). This is perfect good-bad TV. It’s a shallow as a hydrophobe’s swimming pool, but everyone likes watching people arguing, and people getting their comeuppance, and there’s several every episode. It’s not all about Dave Lamb either; his twitter isn’t very good, so maybe he’s a real one-trick pony, and can only do witty sideswipes on culinary-based reality TV. So it’s lucky for him that one came along.

Jeremy Kyle: Very tricky one this. It’s so bad that it almost has to qualify for ‘bad bad’, but with shows entitled ‘I pawned her engagement ring to buy lager’, it has a shabby class all of it’s own. The questions linger on: why do chavs say ‘at the end of the day’ with such regularity, why do none of them ever bother to dress up for their moment on national TV, how come they’re all so fertile (especially given their poor diet) and why do they spend all their time arguing/having affairs *by text*?

Eggheads: This is a shoo-in. So many reasons to choose this as ‘good bad’: it’s been on for 11 series, it’s got uber-gilf Judith Keppel, Chris knows a lot about narrow-gauge railways, everyone in the world hates CJ, Daphne might croak at any moment, Pat looks like he might have eaten Barry, and Kevin once talked about eating ‘gash’ (apparently it’s a type of fish – catch the clip on youtube). Masterful. And I was on it, so it’s going in this category.

Bad bad:

The X factor: This is all wrong. It’s Pop Idol, but with the occasional fatty. You need a ‘life story’, but none of your life story ever make it into the music. Everyone is more interested by the process than the product. Steve Brookstein; though my brother did buy his album, which makes me chuckle.

Britain’s got talent: Actually, this would be okay if it admitted to being a kind of end of the pier variety show, such as seemed to be de rigeur through the 70s. Instead, it’s marketed as a kind of talent-fest, where Emperor Cowell thumbs up or down on a load of acts that the British public just have to lap up. Man eating snooker balls: no thanks. Those expectant faces, straining with desperation as the three talentless arbiters cast their verdict is simply pathetic to watch.

Casualty/Holby City/Waterloo Road etc: Lazy, formulaic and cheap. The public’s insatiable appetite for watching the very slightly glammed-up everyday grind seems never to dim. People think ‘neighbours’ is crap; wait a minute, it is, but at least it’s not pretending to be otherwise.

Deadline 1500 hours today

The first ever blog topic. Maybe the only ever blog topic. It needs to be a biggie; needs to be a head-turner; original, witty, thought-provoking. So why have I decided to write about football?

Well, it’s vaguely topical (there’s a world cup just around the corner), it’s certainly popular and it’s not every day that the club to which you have dedicated a fair amount of time and money goes out of business. But that looks like being the fate of Crystal Palace Football Club at 3pm today. A bit of background: I’ve supported Palace for about twenty years. When I was too young to know better, I supported Liverpool, as did most of my classmates in leafy Barnes, South West London. I remember one chap called Jeremy Rampling (found brief fame in Tom’s Midnight Garden way back when) supporting Brentford, but he was derided for it. Supporting Liverpool was very much about fitting in; if your team were the best in the Country, then you bathed in their reflected glory. If you supported Brentford (and none of us knew where they were, they might have been less local than Liverpool), that made you rubbish. Because Brentford were rubbish. You see? Hardly complex. Anyway, I digress…

Palace have given me pain and pleasure in roughly equal measure. There’s the 1990 cup run high, the 1997 play-off final win, the last day at Stockport, and the last day escape (2nd May 2010) at SWFC. On the flip side, there’s the 9-0 and 6-1 drubbings by Liverpool, the last day relegations (once at Charlton of all places) and the 1990 cup final (replay) defeat. I’ve stuck with them for 20 years, and there’s little else (save family) that I can say this about. Financial mismanagement and the collapse of the illusion that there’s any real money in football have now left Palace staring into the abyss, and unless there’s a dramatic turnaround by 3pm today (the official deadline for a deal to be struck to buy the club), Palace will be no more, the club will be wound up, and the players will be sold. Selhurst Park, the club’s home since the 1920s will be sold for development, or even worse, it will end up like Wimbledon’s old home at Plough Lane, which stood desolate for many years, with only a plaintive ‘Womble ’til I die’ painted on the gates to remind people of what was there once.

And yet – here’s the funny thing: I don’t really care that much. There, I said it. The club into which I’ve invested cash, time, emotion and terrible replica shirts is being expunged from the face of the earth and I’m not terribly bothered. I wish I was, but I’m not.

I have a complex relationship with football. I used to like it too much, now perhaps I don’t like it enough. It’s similar to the feeling one gets when reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’. One minute you’re gripped, in a world of your own, deeply immersed in the book, and the next you look up, look around and say to yourself ‘isn’t this all a bit silly’. For orcs and goblins, just replace Alan Lee and Sean Derry. They don’t care that I’m here, screaming my lungs out, trying to suck the ball into the goal. If I wasn’t here, it would make no difference, and I could have spend my £25 doing something more cerebral. But what if everyone thought like that? Would they still play the game if no-one turned up? Football gives one a sense of belonging. The club welcomes you (to a degree), expects nothing of you, and gives you an immediate family. It’s where you can find England’s last bit of truly tribal behaviour, and if I could remember the exact words that Colin Firth uses in ‘Fever Pitch’ I’d quote them now (you may need to youtube this, there really are some great reasons for being a football nut. I’ve just forgotten what they are). It’s where you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the bouncer who was intent on kicking you to death on Saturday night, but because you’re both wearing the red and blue, you’re comrades in arms, blood brothers for the next 90 minutes. And I think that’s the real crux. When I was growing up, lots of things change: you change, your appearance changes, your friends change; but your football club stays the same. It’s a nice piece of constancy in your life, and gives you a fulcrum around which you can balance all the uncertainty. The football club will play about 40 league games a season, it will appear in about 2 cup competitions, and Iain Dowie will still look like Jabba the Hut’s mate from Return of the Jedi. If you need that stability, mixed in with the escapism that football brings, then by all means stick with it if it works for you.

Something inside me has become detached from the club however, or at least the aura around the club. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m now older than most of the players, maybe it’s because they get paid too much, maybe it’s because lots of them have tattoos on the inside of their forearm. Whatever it is, I won’t be shedding a tear at 3pm, and the only thing I’m really sad about is that I may have drunk my last pint in the Thomas Farley and eaten my last saltfish pattie from Cornfield’s bakery: that’s real tradition for you, and it’s all my own. Oh, and the fact that I might have to go and watch Peterborough next season.