Monday, 26 November 2007

There’s A Man I Meet Walks Up Our Street

Last night I took myself along to the New Theatre in Oxford to see Deacon Blue. It was a terrific gig. The band are technically excellent and play with a lot of soul, and the crowd was comprised of massive fans (or very quick converts) who cheered, danced and sang along merrily. It was a smashing night.

But it sure would have been nice to have been there with someone else. I may have made a hideous error – and if so I apologise – but I couldn’t think of any available friends who would want to join me. I’m glad that I went, but the night would really have sparkled if I’d shared the experience with someone.

I have a wealth of friends (if I may be permitted to use an economic term in such a context) and they enrich (there I go again) my life beyond measure. It would be nice to have another half, but there’s plenty of time for that. I’m very lucky. (And tremendously good company.)

Loneliness – real, profound loneliness – must be deeply painful.

I flatter myself that I don’t tend to preach on this blog. I acknowledge that the pressures of time and poor organisation mean that I sometimes neglect my friends, so I’m no saint. But I might I implore you all to do something? Have a think about someone you know, and like, and make an effort to extend the hand of friendship to them this week. It is overwhelmingly likely that you will both be grateful for it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

For Scott Carson

'It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.'

Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

Football v. Rugby

As England prepare to take on Croatia tonight for a place in the European Championships, herewith a piece I meant to write around the time of the Rugby World Cup.

The relative merits of football and rugby are much discussed. This is my take on the issues.

(I’m going to focus on rugby union here, even though I always wished I’d had a chance to play rugby league.)

Professional rugby is indeed more civilised than professional football

There’s no doubt that this is true. The players are more intelligent, the fans don’t have to be segregated, the whole family can go without any worries about idiots ruining the day out, and there is a real focus on the sporting nature of the event, not mere tribalism and oafishness.

This isn’t a class thing – it is a complete falsehood that rugby is posh. It is also straightforwardly untrue that football isn’t played in private schools. And quite a few football hooligans would actually qualify as being middle-class.

Rugby players are harder than footballers

They are stratospherically harder. Even a supposedly small player like Jonny Wilkinson would eat up pretty much any footballer. And footballers who fancy themselves as hard wouldn’t last a few minutes on a rugby pitch. They’re too small, most of them are all mouth, and they just wouldn’t be tolerated by the other team.

Rugby players are also a lot mentally tougher than footballers, many of whom are complete ponces.

As a sport, rugby is more violent than football

It is certainly true that footballers sometimes commit outrageous fouls on the pitch. But so do rugby players. And I do mean fouls – I’m not talking about legitimate physical combat. Gouging, stamping and punching are commonplace in the game. They are gentlemen – it’s a widely accepted aspect of the sport – but they are not gentle.

Football requires far more skill than rugby

Sorry, but it’s true. The aforementioned Jonny Wilkinson is highly skilful. Most of his team-mates are highly athletic and tough – but not skilful. Of course there are tactics involved. Yes, for example, smaller props can get an advantage over bigger opponents through clever use of leverage. But in terms of pure skill, nothing in rugby compares with the otherworldly ability of a top flight footballer.

Rugby is a game for big strong boys who aren’t any good at football. That’s why I played it.

England winning the World Cup again would be a much bigger deal than England winning the Rugby World Cup again

Football’s World Cup is known simply as ‘the World Cup’ for a reason. It’s the world’s number one sport. That’s it.

Both games can be played casually by anyone

Five-a-side football annoys me because the ball can’t go over head height, but kickarounds with friends are fantastic. Rugby can also be played socially, as a touch game with limited physical contact. Both are great fun.

Hopefully this piece has engaged and annoyed you in equal measure.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Dancing With Molly

I had a smashing weekend.
I made my way by train (which was wholly reliable and pretty inexpensive) to Reigate, where I was met by James. He and I were at school together, and got back in contact a couple of years ago after losing touch for far too long. In that interim he married his girlfriend Sarah.
It is a real blessing that I have never disliked any of my friends' spouses. I suppose that day could come, and it would be rather awkward. Sarah is fantastic, and I'd certainly like to be friends with her even if I didn't know James. Perhaps her greatest quality is being funny and relaxed.
They have been joined by a baby daughter called Molly Rebecca. The name Rebecca is a touching tribute to a friend of James and Sarah.
I certainly HAVE been faced with the awkward situation of having to pretend (never to a friend, thank God) that a baby was cute. Molly most assuredly is, however, and I was reminded how endlessly fascinating babies are. A baby is a real person, to be sure - in fact they are particularly precious - and yet they are so toy-like in appearance.
I was afforded considerable cuddling time, which was indescribably enjoyable, and Molly twice fell asleep in my arms during the weekend. She also started crying if I ceased bouncing her, so I got a thorough arms and shoulders workout.
We had a sumptuous dinner, and I drank rather more than I had intended to, in fact a heroic amount more. James got out some old photo albums, and we were reminded of what callow youths we used to be. As always, I am the most physically changed of my contemporaries. I'm very relaxed about being bald - thankfully I have the right shaped head for it - and I don't wish I had hair per se, but I do miss my teenage hairstyle. It was a Morrissey type quiff, and ineffably cool.
But then Molly is a baldie, and she's very cool as well.

Friday, 9 November 2007

You Can't Win Darth

Sorry to have two You Tube links in a row, but you simply must watch this.

It is a tragedy that he didn't win.

Thanks to James St. John Smythe for the link.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

James Dowdeswell

James Dowdeswell and Sarah Bennetto are two of the nicest comedians I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Here’s a very good set from James.

Until Edinburgh, I hadn’t met a stand-up I didn’t like. It seems to be a very friendly world. James and Sarah, however, have really stood out as welcoming and nice. Needless to say they’re also very good at their craft.

Notice how relaxed James looks on stage. He combines massive likeability with excellent material, and the result is first-class stand-up comedy.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

It Really Did Just Slip Out

I have recently started a part-time job that involves some travel to London. Yesterday I had to get up at 5 am, an hour that I am willing to accept exists in theory, but have never yearned to experience firsthand. Oddly I felt no ill-effects at all during the day. But, as predicted, I am exhausted now.
Something strange happened as I was waiting for the bus on the way back. I had been standing at the stop for some time when a group of people arrived. I had an inkling that they would not join the queue, and so it proved. As the bus arrived they went straight for the door, so encouraging others to break rank.
(I feel obligated to report that the original queue jumpers were German, lest I become overwhelmed with guilt for being too politically correct to mention it.)
What happened next is all the more strange given the fact that I was ownly mildly annoyed. I am trying to be more patient in general (I know saying that it a hostage to fortune), and there seemed to be little danger of not getting a seat. Yet to my considerable surprise, and that of the woman in front of me, I found myself saying - in a clear and oddly high pitched voice - 'Cu*ts'.
I had no conscious intention of letting my thoughts be rendered in spoken word. I really wasn't that angry. It was a quite extraordinary phenomenon.
The oddness was embellished by the fact that a conservative looking middle-aged man turned to me and said - very affably - that he couldn't understand why people ignored the queue. He then asked me if I normally took the bus at that time of day, and if I knew how long it was likely to take. It was as though I had whispered 'Oh bother' so that only he could hear.
I don't think his attitude can be wholly explained by his being relaxed about swearing. Nor did he seem frightened of and eager to placate me. I apologised for my language and explained that there had been no gap between brain and mouth being engaged, and insisted that he went ahead of me.
This has happened to me once before. I was in a newsagent's in Westminster and the man behind the counter was taking an age to serve me. 'Come on Bitch', I implored him both in my mind and - without deliberation - with my voice. Mercifully he didn't hear. Or affected not to have done so.
What to do? I think it would be far too onerous and oppressive to try to control my thoughts. Indeed I very much share the view of my friend James Laurence that this isn't possible anyway. So I'll just have to hope that my loose tongue doesn't get me into trouble. Or that if it does, it will be funny trouble.
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