Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The drama in "Rage against the Machine No.1" (10/8/06) takes a new twist.

The saga of Mel Smith’s “Will he, Won’t he” (in the end, he didn’t!) light up the infidel weed in a Scottish public place, to whit one theatre, steps up a level. It’s now getting serious.

The Players - Glasgow City Council vs Keith Richards.

The Match – Smoking in a Public Space – since March 2006, a new deadly offence in nicotine teetotal Scotland.

The Rolling Stones, in the middle of a world tour, played Hampden Park last Friday night. Allegedly, Keef “appeared” to light up, AND SMOKE, a cigarette on stage during the performance, an offence for which he can now be fined up to £50.

The Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health Scotland, one Maureen Moore, said “If Mr Richards has broken the law, he has to pay the penalty like anyone else.” Note it’s “Mr Richards”, not “Keith” - clearly a common criminal! I don’t know why, but something tells me going out for a beer with Ms Moore wouldn’t be a bundle of laughs.

This crime, for that is what it would be, was reported to the evangelists of the local authority, who issued a statement saying “This has been brought to our attention and we will be looking into it.” Cripes!

I simply can't imagine there is any doubt as to whether Keef lit up - of course he did. That's not the issue - what we don't know is whether he did it to wave two fingers at the local council, or he genuinely hadn't boned up on the latest Scottish law, or even, he was under the influence of something far more effective than a Marlboro Lite, and had absolutely no idea of what he was doing.

You choose, but I know where my money's going.

You can just imagine the massed troops of the Glasgow City Environmentalists meeting last Friday night deciding to go to Hampden Park and stop Mr Richards in the act, or to close the offending venue in the middle of the concert. The vision of assorted Council Jobsworths stumbling off stage later that evening, each with a Fender Stratocaster protruding from one of their bodily orifices at least offers a bit of light relief in this farce.

I Can’t get No Satisfaction? – Oh, I think you could.

Who’s next? Perhaps what should happen is that a renegade Scottish MP should, having formally alerted the Massed Pipers of the Tobacco Stormtroopers, light up in the Scottish Parliament and refuse to pay the fine. We could then enjoy the sight of the whole of the Scottish Political system being closed down.

At £50, it’s a snip!

Monday, August 28, 2006


"Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you."
It’s a great shame the author of that little gem is “Unknown”, as it’s really worth a nod of acknowledgement. Following the unfolding comedy of errors after last Sunday’s Test Match Bad Hair Day, this phrase kept coming into my mind.

It is very difficult to “know” what people are really like when you see them on TV or read about them in the newspapers, but I cannot believe Darryl Hair is a devious man. But the events of last week, involving his e-mail spat with the Cricketing Mafiosa have done his case no good at all.

The upper echelons of the bodies which run cricket are packed with legal eagles and career Diplomats. They would all say this is inevitable, but the simple issue of making cricket interesting and exciting for fans across the world rarely seems to sit at No. 1 on their agenda. Consequently, we look with morbid fascination at the saga of the e-mails which were released by the ICC last week, and cringe.

I would imagine that the furore after last Sunday came as a genuine surprise to Hair, as I suspect he is also a bit naïve, and not at all streetwise in the wider ways of the world.

The “authorities” however, are not like this. To them, politics and international diplomacy are centre stage. So what we’ve seen is a set of e-mails intentionally made public, when I am in no doubt Darryl Hair expected the private nature of them to be respected. I suspect they would have remained so, if it had suited the ICC’s case. When are people going to realise that they should equate the “Send” button on an e-mail with reading it out on News at Ten? Ask Jo (September 11 Good Day to Bury Bad News) Moore - my guess is that she would probably agree with this.

One can only assume that Hair did talk to a lawyer before firing off e-mail No.1 – some of the words of the e-mails can only have come out of the mouth of a lawyer, not a cricket umpire. If, as I suspect, Hair had just seen the rather daunting enormity and inevitability of what was facing him, and decided that his card was now totally marked, it is very understandable that he would want to seek a reasonable way out.

What a pity his lawyer didn’t insist on conducting what were clearly going to be sensitive negotiations in a different and much more subtle way. This could have been done without leaving any obvious trail. But it was not to be, and the ICC has now been handed a sitting duck opportunity to find a political way out. I doubt we will ever know “the truth” now.

This was a major, major error on Hair’s part. Until that point, think what you like about his decisions, no-one could doubt his position on the top of the moral high ground. When the ICC gave out the e-mails for inspection, this blew him off that moral summit immediately. From the ICC’s point of view, how extremely convenient was that!

When you read them, it is quite clear that significant discussions had already been held between ICC Officials (and high-up ones at that) and Darryl Hair. One construction which could be placed on it is that someone has been playing “Good Cop, Bad Cop” with him to get it all down in e-mail form and inevitably into the public domain – this being followed by a whiff of moral indignation and Malcolm Speed’s abrupt rejection. You do find it a bit difficult to believe that the boss of the ICC could not have known what was going on. You might say that, on probably the biggest issue of his Cricketing Year, if the CEO didn’t know, and hadn’t been involved, then he jolly well should have been. If he did know, well, you fill in the gaps …….. .

So, what now? The One Day Matches will go on – so that’s sorted the money side out. The hearing will go on after them, and I suspect now that Pakistan will not be found guilty. Hair’s career will end, and - Which way’s the Sunset?

Cynical, moi?

How sad.

Anyway, always leave them smiling - I know it’s irrelevant, but I did grin a wry little bit when I noticed the ICC’s lawyer’s name is Pannick - “Double N” said Malcolm Speed at the Press Conference. On the basis that there should be a joke in every speech, I think that was his.

Actually, having just read that again, I don’t find it at all funny.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Eldrick “Tiger” Woods is a truly remarkable sportsman.

In today’s world, the gap between individual’s sporting capabilities is getting closer and closer. We see improved training methods, increased levels of practice, higher levels of diet, attitude training, psychological support and equipment being applied to every form of sport, and the result is a seemingly inexorable improvement in the levels of achievement. But then, someone comes along who blows that trend totally out of the water.

It seems to happen on a random basis, with no real pattern as to which sport is affected. You think of Cassius Clay, Don Bradman, Jonah Lomu and if you know a bit more about other sports than I do, you’d probably add a couple more. But that would be it.

Apart, in my view, from Tiger Woods.

You can wince a bit at the way his whole life was fashioned by his father to be a great golfer if you like, but, in the end, the argument comes down to looking at what someone achieves, rather than how they did it or what sort of person they were.

Woods plays in a sport which excites interest in the most sophisticated parts of the world, and, as a consequence, one where a huge number of people aspire to the untold riches and adulation that the game can provide. With all that level of competition, it is quite amazing that Woods has been able to stamp his presence so absolutely and dominantly on the game for such a long time.

At the time Woods exploded onto the golfing scene in 1997, almost everyone would agree that Jack Nicklaus was the best golfer the world had ever seen. This is the sort of discussion that keeps Pubs permanently in business. Nicklaus had been the man to beat for so long, partly because he had amassed an unassailable total of 18 Major Title wins over his career, and partly because of the way he dominated his opponents. Conventional wisdom was that the golfing world had changed so dramatically since Nicklaus started that no-one, even someone as potentially good as Woods, would ever be able to match the scale of Nicklaus’s achievements.

Then Woods started to win, starting with the Masters in 1998, where he finished a hysterical 12 shots in front of the second placed man. What a way to present your credentials. And several of his other Major wins have also been by margins that make you wonder about the dedication of the other players in the field.

Nicklaus took 25 years to build his 18 Major titles, and as we speak, Woods, in spite of a couple of lean years when rebuilding his swing and knee surgery intervened, has a current total of 12, and he has only just turned 30. Since his surgery, he has won 7 of the last 11 Major Tournaments played – just read that sentence again – utterly remarkable. Can you imagine what other members of the Tour must think when someone of Wood’s calibre takes a year off to remodel his swing to make further improvements, when he had already reached the No.1 spot in 4 Majors already.

He does seem to have a unique ability to withstand the huge “last day” pressure of a Major almost without tripping up. On the 11-12 occasions he has led a Major Tournament after 3 rounds, he has won every single one! Even when he has “failed” and ended up in a play-off, he has won these 14 times out of 16. If that’s not domination of your opponent, I don’t know what is.

If you choose to trawl through the statistics on the game, you cannot cease to be utterly astounded by what he has achieved. Anyone who doesn’t think he is currently the best golfer on the planet by a massive margin, will need to present his case very interestingly and very inventively.

As a comparison, a bit closer to home, let’s compare Woods to Colin Montgomerie. Monty has been on the scene longer than Woods, and for a few years was regarded as the No.2 golfer in the world. His record compared to Woods looks much less impressive, but he has won the European Tour of Merit 8 times – in itself a truly staggering achievement. No-one seems to mention this, since all they harp on about is that he is the best golfer never to have won a Major.

Tellingly, he has been second in Major Tournaments no less than 5 times – but second is a million miles away from winning. So, unless you live in Monty’s home town, or your name is also Mongomerie, very few people would come down on the Scotsman’s side when asked who they thought was the World’s Best Golfer.

So that’s sorted then. Woods, by a mile. End of sentence. New paragraph.

And now as I write this approaching September, our golfing thoughts turn to the Ryder Cup – in this writer’s opinion, simply the greatest sporting event on the planet. Ever since some genius in 1979 decided to expand the UK team to include the rest of Europe, this 3 day match has consistently delivered the highest voltage sporting emotion you could imagine.

Here again, just like in the World’s Major Tournaments, Woods’s and Montgomerie’s scoring records, since 1997, also show hugely dramatic differences. They are summarised below.

Played 20 vs 19

Won 7 vs 13

Lost 11 vs 3

Drawn 2 vs 3

The fascinating fact about the figures you see above is that Monty’s results are the one’s in red on the right, and Woods are the blue ones on the left. In what is the most pressurised, televised tournament in the whole game, Mongomerie’s record is truly heroic, and Woods’s is, and this is being very generous, extremely poor.

Why is this? Is it that Wood’s intense personal focus does not sit well with the need for team involvement? Is it that he has to team up with people he spends the rest of his life trying to demolish? Is it that he cannot bring himself to talk to his partners? As one American commentator very elegantly put it just the other day, - “The hangman doesn’t play on the prison softball team.”

You’d have thought that with all the “God Bless America”-ing that goes on at the Ryder Cup, the whole of the USA team would be prepared to die in the attempt to win, but it simply doesn’t seem to play out that way. They really envy out “teamness”, and I still harbour a little hope that Woods will, even though he will try not to, remember that in the last 4 Ryder Cup Tournaments, his total contribution, at the end of Day 1 was 1 point out of 8.

It’s quite nice to realise that, in someone who has developed invincibility to an artform on the big Golfing Day, there is one part of his game where, to date, he’s actually not even good enough to be called ordinary. You must wonder why Woods is unable to approach each Ryder Cup match as if it was the last day of a Major tournament, and equally you might wonder why Monty is unable to treat the last day of Major as if it was a Ryder Cup match. If that had happened, the golfing universe over the last 10 years would have been a very, very different place.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


A classic phrase which has been in our language for many, many years. It seems very succinctly, and, Oh so neatly, to sum up the shenanigans following the 4th day of the last Test against Pakistan. We seem to have seen a torrent of comments and thoughts from the Great and the Good, as well as some from the Not so Good.

Take this comment, for instance - “What a wonderful sight it is to see cricket between Pakistan, a Muslim Country, and England, where the majority are Christian. Why destroy this over a technicality?”

The words of a Pakistan or British politician? You’d probably think so, but No. This was the post-match comment of Shahriyar Khan, the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, following last Monday’s events.

Another one – To accuse Pakistan of cheating brings these tensions (recent terrorist activities – REC) to the fore. I wonder whether Darryl realizes the consequences of his actions.” – this from Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan Coach.

Where are they both coming from? How do we get from a flare-up in a Cricket match, to something heading towards a conflict in religious politics and forebodings of international terrorism?

An amazing number of words has poured out from all manner of people giving their opinion on what happened, but, from the viewpoint of a very simple mind (mine!), the whole thing boils down to a couple of clear issues. Whether “those in power” turn these “simple issues” into a “simple solution” remains to be seen. The omens are not as bright as one would like.

The issue that started it all is very simple. It’s about cheating in a Cricket Match. It’s about breaking the rules of the game, and not liking the effects of the penalties levied by the Umpires.

Let’s for a moment do a John Major, and get “Back to Basics” – the Rules of the Game. The Rules were last changed in 2000, with the main change being the addition of two pages which have now been included at the very beginning of the Rules, before you even get to Law 1, and simply called – The Preamble – The Spirit of Cricket.

The first thought that comes to mind is – Why, some 250 years after Issue 1 of The Rules, did “those in power” deem this addition to be required at all? I think we probably all know the answer to that, but the fact is that they have been written, honed, agreed (including, presumably, the Pakistan Cricket Authorities, by the way) and have become Cricket Law. They now form an integral part of the way the game is now played. Everyone knows this, and presumably, at Test level, the highest form of the game, it is implicit among all the players that the game is played with these attitudes in mind.

I know it’s a bore, but just read them – the red highlighting is mine.

Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains.

1. There are two Laws which place the responsibility for the team's conduct firmly on the captain.

Responsibility of captains
The captains are responsible at all times for ensuring that play is conducted within the Spirit of the Game as well as within the Laws.

Player's conduct
In the event of a player failing to comply with instructions by an umpire, or criticising by word or action the decisions of an umpire, or showing dissent, or generally behaving in a manner which might bring the game into disrepute, the umpire concerned shall in the first place report the matter to the other umpire and to the player's captain, and instruct the latter to take action.

2. Fair and unfair play
According to the Laws the umpires are the sole judges of fair and unfair play.
The umpires may intervene at any time and it is the responsibility of the captain to take action where required.

3. The umpires are authorised to intervene in cases of:
■ Time wasting
■ Damaging the pitch
■ Dangerous or unfair bowling
■ Tampering with the ball
■ Any other action that they consider to be unfair

4. The Spirit of the Game involves RESPECT for:
■ Your opponents
■ Your own captain and team
■ The role of the umpires
■ The game's traditional values

5. It is against the Spirit of the Game:
■ To dispute an umpire's decision by word, action or gesture
■ To direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire
■ To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance:
(a) to appeal knowing that the batsman is not out
(b) to advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing
(c) to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent clapping or unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one's own side

6. Violence
There is no place for any act of violence on the field of play.

7. Players
Captains and umpires together set the tone for the conduct of a cricket match.
Every player is expected to make an important contribution to this.

So, the Umpires are the sole judges of fair and unfair play. Not the Chairman of either of the team’s Cricket Boards, any politician, any outside Sports Writer, the team coaches or Managers, Nasser Hussain, Ian Botham, Michael Atherton (I’ll come back to him in a minute), David Lloyd, Sky Television, Dickie Bird, or even, I suppose, me!

It is SOLELY down to the umpires (note the plural). The Rules do not require that they have to be absolutely right, or have to obtain a signed confession from the parties they believe to be guilty. It is “in their opinion ….” – and no more. That rule is clear, unambiguous and sets the tone for the way the game is played as well as being the base on which the Rules have been drafted.

Now Darryl Hair, and Billy Docktrode are two members of a panel of ten Umpires, selected, and approved (including Pakistan). They are presumably considered to be the ten best umpires in the World. Darryl Hair is no stranger to controversy – it was he who “called” Muralitharan in 1995 for “chucking”, at that time bringing down hell fire and damnation onto his broad shoulders. He must have felt quite isolated around that time, and yet, it would also seem he was right – the laws on throwing being subsequently changed. So he is quite clearly a man who is prepared to go out on a limb for something he believes to be right.

No-one has yet suggested that Darryl Hair, or Billy Docktrode, do not know what they’re doing, or are making things up. You have to recognize that to say otherwise is to suggest that both umpires, not just Darryl Hair, came to the wrong decision, or are cheats. This “ball tampering” decision was not one requiring a judgement taken in a momentary flash, like an LBW or a catch off a glove – this was a considered, deliberate decision taken over a significant period of time by both individuals.

It is difficult then to see the grounds anyone has to dispute the Umpires’ decision. In the event, Inzamam, with a good deal of dignity, played on after the actual event for a good hour or so, and it was only after being ensconsed in the dressing room for tea, that the second charge of Inzamam and his team not taking the field (after two requests from Umpire Hair) occurred – Do we perhaps sniff a touch of outside political influence here?

It is difficult to understand why the situation on both counts isn’t simple – On the first count, the umpires believed that “ball tampering” had taken place, and it is on their authority, and theirs alone to come to that conclusion – therefore GUILTY. You cannot imagine either umpire not realizing how dramatic such a decision would be, so you must believe that they were as certain as they could be. Secondly, it is absolutely clear that Inzamam did not bring his team onto the field within the time allowed in the Rules (in spite of two warnings) – therefore GUILTY again.

We all know that in a British Court of Law, bringing a defendant’s “previous” into the case is not allowed. It is worth spelling it out here though – Inzamam has “form”. Look it up, and four or five instances quickly appear where he does not seem to be as pure white as his “kissing the pitch” demeanour would suggest.

If he felt that strongly about the decision, why didn’t he leave the field immediately after the incident, or even come back on the pitch after tea, and make some form of protest on the field. At least, he could have prevented one of the two charges against him being raised.

And then we get the response from the Sky pundits. We now know that there were 26 cameras around the ground, and that subsequent examination of all the video footage from all the cameras, has not yet revealed any sharp-practice. It seemed that all the Sky Commentators, to a man, believed that this lack of TV evidence was sufficient to find the Umpire guilty.
I have to say, the sight of Michael Atherton, giving me his considered opinion on the ball tampering charge was, to say the least, a bit rich. None of his fellow commentators, to my knowledge, mentioned anything about “dirt in the pocket”, and he managed to go through the discussion without a hint of a red face. I didn’t see the way he was introduced – so perhaps David Gower pulled him in to comment on the basis of him being an “expert witness”. They all seemed to miss the point that their opinion was irrelevant, 26 cameras meant nothing, and Darryl Hair and Billy Docktrode’s opinions were the only two that meant anything at all.

So, what now?

You could suggest, using a bit of beneficial hindsight, that it wasn’t the brightest move, even though Darryl Hair was on the Top Ten Panel, to put him up for these tests. It does look a bit like asking for trouble. Well, they got it, and the words Irresistible Force, and Immovable Objects jump into one’s mind. Clearly, money has now started to raise its head, and the Pakistan authorities are clearly now of the opinion that they want the rest of the tour to go ahead.

The hearing, helpfully benefiting from the unavailability of the ICC’s Chief Match Referee to take charge on Friday, will surely not now take place until after the One day matches have been safely played, and all the money is in. The only dissenter so far is Inzamam, who, understandably wants it held as soon as possible. But we all know it won’t be.

Tempers will be cooled, memories will fade a bit, and it will slide down the Editors’ priority lists for Front Page Headlines. Then it will take place. Inzamam will be found guilty or guilty-ish. He will probably show an appropriate smidgin of humility, enough for justice just to be seen to have been done, but not enough to humiliate him totally. A small, exquisitely balanced punishment will be handed out, and we all then wait until England visit Pakistan next to see how everyone really feels. What bets that the first Pakistan ball bowled in the First Test will be a bouncer?

All that is supposition, but you can guarantee that the offending ball will never see the light of day again, and that Daryll Hair will not be standing in that match.

One does hope however, that his action will act as a long term reminder to all who play the game that The Spirit of Cricket, as enshrined in The Preamble, remains a Principle to be honoured.

The Rules ARE the Game.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Deborah Harry on the set of "Heart of Glass" © OvoWorks - Roberta Bayley

Fan worship, if we are grown-up about it (and we are all grown-up about it, aren’t we?) is not very logical. But then, I suspect it’s not meant to be. You’re actually responding to a myth or someone’s manufactured image rather than to a real individual, and that’s asking for trouble. So we don’t do it.

However, we’re talking about the heart here, and not the head, and there are always a few exceptions to every rule. This short piece is about one of them pictured above – one Deborah Ann Harry, aka Debbie, aka Blondie.

For those of us “of a certain age”, that’s between 50 and 60 as I write, Debbie Harry was quite simply IT.

Around the early 70’s, every adolescent had at least one picture of her on their Bedroom wall. If the academic researchers ever start to look for a reason why there is a blip in the occurrence of Early Onset Short-Sightedness among Middle Aged Males in the Western World, it will not take them long to work out the underlying cause.

Deborahitis, it will be dubbed – with extremely good reason. She was outrageously attractive, and (before the word had even been invented) – the utter epitome of COOL.

The good lady is now over 60, and watching recently (just out of academic interest, of course) a film about the band, she still has something about her which keeps you riveted to the screen.

She had an unusual upbringing, which, without a doubt, goes some way to explain why she is like she is. Adopted at an early age, and living in the suburbs not too far away from New York, she was attracted to the bright lights, and would take the Subway into the city each week-end. Apparently for a time, she went through a phase of really believing that Marilyn Monroe was her mother.

By her own admission, at a very early age, she really got her own share of the bright light lifestyle – Vocalist, Waitress, Bunny girl – get the picture? Almost inevitably, she ended up in the New York music scene, just when the punk scene was taking off there. After a couple of false starts, she met Chris Stein, and over a short period they clicked, and together with a couple of other guys Blondie was formed.

Now, you can argue that no Pop Group will ever plumb the ultimate depths of human emotion, but that’s not the issue here – Pop music is about excitement, insanely loud and addictive upfront sounds, glamour, the “Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll” thing and generally being something your parents, usually tutting, look disapprovingly over their spectacles at. Rule 1 of Pop Music is that your parents mustn’t like it.

So, with Blondie, trailing a whole stream of these “unacceptable” attributes along with them, the stage was well and truly set for them to be another budding band. Except, however, that this band was fronted by a stunning looking girl rather than some Neanderthal Missing Link Male figure. Her super-cool attitude and upfront streetwise style set her way apart from anyone else singing at the time. Immediately 50% of the population, strangely all male, become instant admirers. And oddly, the band was also accepted by the young female set as well. Instant popularity – very simple!

As a band, they were not on the intellectual wing of the Rock Band spectrum, although there is a thread of irony, strange for an American band, running through their lyrics.

If you look at their output, they tended to follow trends rather than forge new ones. But they did it bloody well. With a lot of help along the way from a far sighted Sound Engineer, Mike Chapman, they started off in Punk, graduated (or defected as some Punk die-hards saw it) to Disco when that came on the scene, and ended up in the latter part of Phase 1 of their life, heading towards Rap.

What they did extremely well was to write and perform outrageously catchy Pop Songs which, for more than two decades, caught the fleeting moment and feel of the times superbly. Without getting anywhere near to putting my anorak on, they are without doubt the best band fronted by a girl EVER – 6 Number 1 Hits, the first in 1977 and the most recent in 1999, 30 million records sold and so on …..

If you trawl through the band’s personnel history, you start to get a flavour of the delicious internecine fighting, rivalries, battles (both drug and legal) that went on not just below the surface, but all around them. The list of band members is quite long, with frequent comings and goings of bass players, drummers etc. Their one time manager, for instance, who on the one hand could be seen as a real key driver creating the group’s changing style, seems (at least if you listen to the good lady herself) to have taken most of the money they had earned previously, and the future as well, leaving the band’s members hugely in debt. They needed to keep on playing into their 60’s just to get their finances back into the black. But that’s Pop Music, isn’t it?

One thing which does shine out quite virtuously, in a business where Mother Theresa type moral attitudes are a bit rare, is Debbie Harry’s reaction when Chris Stein became very ill. Over a long period, you could be forgiven for thinking that here was another victim of the dreaded white powder, as you watched him physically wasting away. In fact he was suffering from Pemphigus, a rare form of auto immune disease.

Although their powers were by then, a bit on the wane, they were still Division 1 material, but she in effect gave up singing to nurse him through what was to come. They all thought he was going to die, but over a period of 5 years or so, he slowly recovered.

“Time and tide” played its inevitable part, and when they were all back on the rails, the Pop Train was several stations up the line, and they had to play catch up. This left them as a less global presence on the Music scene, but still a great band. She still managed (pass me that anorak again, will you?) to grab another record in 1999 which she still holds, by becoming the oldest female, at 53, to release a UK No.1 record – and that was when No. 1’s still meant something!

So there we are. The brighter ones among you will see a slight buzz of adolescent Pop fan in me coming out here. It’s not normal for me – my usual Pop fare is more Dinosaur waddling along the white line in the exact middle of the road – Pink Floyd, Genesis, Dire Straits (he says in a whisper).

But when I compile (and those who know me will possibly recognise a history of compilation!) the list of my personal 8 Pop Records to go with me to my Desert Island, Debbie Harry and Blondie are near the top. With her heavily backlit blonde hair (or most of it blonde at least!) wafting around, her long legs seemingly stretching way above the top of her head, her beautifully featured face, and the lady herself languorously, but O so Coooolly, blasting out “Heart of Glass” with its gnawingly addictive disco beat - her position in my Top 8 has never been in the slightest doubt.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Driving back from Norfolk recently, we came across some lengthy roadworks in the country, just outside a converted barn which housed a rural Veterinary Practice.

One of the ever diligent road repairers had helpfully erected signs telling traffic what the delay was caused by. The roadsign, mounted on the verge just outside the Vets, simply said -




Wednesday, August 16, 2006


You see things, they amuse you, and, because of advancing years, over a worryingly short period of time, you forget them.

Until now. One of the benefits of a blog, it seems to me, is that you can now commit them to cyberpaper, and, providing your advancing years don't also prevent you from remembering the name of your blog (!), it's there for ever.

So, seen in Shrewsbury Town Centre very recently. A Hells Angel type Biker, wearing Yes, a black Leather Jacket (how original is that - I do like a show of individuality). On the back it said, in beautifully embroidered colours -

"If you can read this, the Bitch fell off."

Very good!


Monday, August 14, 2006


* Please delete as appropriate.

Why, when no-one argues that music and drama, to name but two, are both Art forms, is there nothing like the same level of universal agreement about Photography?

I have to declare a sizeable interest here, as to me, Landscape Photography is not simply an interest, but something approaching a passion – so unbiased I most certainly am not. But I still ponder on the question.

In reality, taking a photograph is absurdly easy. You fire up a camera, whether it be film or digitally based, point it at a subject, and press the shutter – hey, presto, a picture. So, at first sight, there is next to no technical skill involved. Some people who equate Art with those things which are technically difficult, cite this “Anyone can do it” argument as one reason why it cannot be Art.

Most of the mainstream Artforms, however, actually also require very simple actions. Most of us can write – all it demands is a pencil and some paper. Most of us can sing, most of us can dance a bit and most of us can use a paintbrush. In all these, the underlying basic actions are very, very simple. In most cases, however, we would not want to share the results of our actions with anyone. The issue here is that it is what the final result amounts to, rather than the technical difficulty of the process creating it, which results in a piece of Art, rather than something which is destined for the waste bin.

If you try to distinguish what IS Art from What is NOT, the key question which you end up having to answer is simple – “What actually do you mean by Art?”. Once you have defined it to your satisfaction, then measuring photography, or ballet, or architecture, or any other contender against this answer leads you to the answer to the original question.

This approach is by no means new. Those of us no longer in the first flush of youth will remember a Radio Programme called the “Brains Trust” which was broadcast just after the war. One of the panel answering listener’s questions was a philosopher named C E M Joad, who famously used to respond to most questions like this one, with what today you’d call a catchphrase – “Well, it all depends what you mean by ……..”. Boring it may be, but it remains absolutely true. And so it is here.

The first port of call here is the Dictionary – so let’s look up "Art". The first three definitions I found, at random, were -

- the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful
- the activity of painting, drawing and making sculpture:
- an activity through which people express particular ideas

I think that all three versions miss the essential point totally. In my view, firstly Art does not have to be “beautiful”, it can just as easily be ugly, and you are still then left with defining "Beautiful" or "ugly". So that does't take you anywhere. Secondly, limiting it to “painting, drawing and sculpture” is clearly wrong – anybody heard of Music? And finally, the concept of “expressing particular ideas” can apply to almost anything. My own attempt at work, to build a new process to run the Company’s pension scheme fits in perfectly with this definition – but even I would not think of calling it Art!

In the end, the best way to get what you want here, is to do it yourself. So my own thought on “What is Art?” comes out as –

Noun - An activity by a human being or human beings, the primary intention of which is to affect the emotions of others.

To me the key, fundamental issue here is emotion – if its main aim isn’t meant to impact on other individual’s emotions, then it simply cannot be Art. Being arrogant enough personally to prefer my definition to that of the three Cambridge Dictionary versions, the next step is to see how Photography measures up against this definition.

There are many styles of image within Photography – Landscape, Sports, Record, Photojournalism, Portraiture, Still Life, Natural History or Pictorial, even the personal "Snap", to name but a few. If you match each of these differing styles against the definition, it becomes clear quickly that only some categories lead to thoughts of an Artistic intent.

Many of the Landscape, Portraiture, some Sports, some Natural History and a lot of Pictorial images qualify. Record photography, which is by definition an unemotive technical exercise, much of Photojournalism, which fails because its primary aim is to inform rather than to affect one’s emotions, Still Life and even the "snap" (in some ways the most important type of photograph of all!), all to my mind, do not qualify as Art. It's the same with Technical Drawing. - it uses the same basic techniques as Painting, but its clear aim is to inform rather than create an emotional response, so it's not Art.

Perhaps it is this situation where only some of the types of Photography match the definition, and some don't, which causes confusion. It really shouldn’t, since the same patchy position occurs in Painting/Drawing, Music (have you heard me singing in the shower? – I assure you it is NOT Art), writing (Shakespeare - Yes - vs the e-mail I sent at work yesterday - absolutely Not!) and so on. The real issue, to me, is – Does it affect the emotions, and is that the primary intent of the Photographer? If the answer’s yes, then it’s a piece of Art.

This leads us on to another utterly fundamental issue. All this comes down simply but totally, to subjective and personal opinion. My opinion, your opinion, a panel of judges’ opinion, but always someone’s opinion. There can be no absolute right or wrong here.

For instance, there is no such thing as the Best piece of Music ever written – that only exists when it is prefixed by the words “In my opinion, ….”. The same applies to Photography, it’s a bit like “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am – Descartes). If I think Photography is an Art, then it is. I may bring my definition above into play to support and argue my case, but it’s only in support. And it doesn't really matter if the majority of other people take a different view. That's called conventional wisdom, and we all know how often that proves to be unreliable! You can disagree, but that does not make me wrong – all it means is that we disagree.

Looking at photographs over the years by such people as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado, Ansel Adams, Bill Brandt, Elliot Erwitt and many, many others has certainly affected my emotions, be it elation, exultation, inspiration, fear, humour, depression, anger or any other. You name it and all these guys have between them produced images that elicits that reaction in me. I totally and firmly believe that was the Photographer’s intention when he pressed the shutter.

So it’s Art – simple really!


Thursday, August 10, 2006


Life moves on.

The first “Rage against the Machine No.1”, (posting 8th August), has our intrepid hero, Mel Smith, presenting two very Churchillian fingers to the Edinburgh City Council about smoking a (gasp) – actually there’s a bit of a joke in there somewhere– real cigar in a Show at the Festival in which he was playing Winnie.

Came the First Night, who should turn up but the good men from the Council, who apparently announced, in the joyous way given to Scottish local officials, that if he smoked the offending article, they would shut the show down.

So he didn’t, and they didn’t.

What would Churchill have done in these circumstances? You’d like to think he would have followed Kenny Everett’s American General’s lead (you know, the one with the six feet wide shoulders) – “We’re going round’em up, put’em in a field, and bomb the Bastards!”

But he didn’t.

The Show must go on? Or another nail in the coffin?



Who was it that said “Life imitates Art.”?

Almost inevitably, it was Oscar Wilde. Actually what he said was “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.”. This saying jumped into my mind the other day when reading about Blair and Bush inadvertently leaving the microphone on after their discussions in America recently, and getting into an embarrassing state as a result of what they thought were their private conversations becoming public.

One of my life’s great pleasures is watching “The West Wing” on TV. No Ifs and no Buts, I think it is the best series I have ever seen on television, and if ever anyone wants an example to show that America is not all about “Dumbing Down”, here is a classic case, in spades, of the USA “Dumbing Up”. I have still to watch the last ever two episodes, which are still untouched to date on my Video recorder, a bit like a child does with the last, best bit of an ice lolly by eating around the edge, leaving the bit with the thickest centre for the final mouthful.

One of the real joys of the programme is the way that the fictional storylines are often acted out and then months or years later, suddenly occur in real time in real life – part of the skill of Aaron Sorkin, a Grade 1 thinker and storyteller. Such a case is this with the Blair and Bush private/public dialogue getting out. Not one but two West Wing episodes, dating (how worryingly sad it is that I know this) from December 2000 and March 2002, some 4 years before the recent Blair/Bush gaffe, make me think immediately – “I’ve seen this before!”.

The first story starts with President Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) giving an interminable series of local US TV Station interviews, and at the end of one of them, he unwittingly does not notice the “live” recording light on the TV Camera, and passes some highly inappropriate comments about his prospective opponent in the forthcoming presidential elections, unaware that they are being broadcast. The rest of the programme deals with the developing political consequences of this error.

The second episode has President Bartlet and his entourage listening to a Christmas recital in the West Wing, with the world-class cellist Yo Yo Ma playing one of the Bach Cello Suites for the assembled gathering. The occasional involvement of “real” people such as Yo Yo Ma, Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor in what is a fictional drama gives an added reality to a programme which is, to many people, already very real.

Cue Bush and Blair a few weeks ago, at Camp David. Bush left the microphone on, and the glorious, previously unknown style of greeting between these two political giants immediately became public knowledge – “Yo, Blair…..”.

This was immediately picked up by the UK Conservatives in Parliament, who, to a man, rose when Blair entered the chamber for Prime Minister’s Question Time, and, in a Texan style unison drawl greeted him with, yes you’ve guessed it – “Yo Blair”. Apparently, the pundits couldn’t decide whether Blair’s subsequent facial expression was a smile or a wince.

This followed a similar episode a few days previously when John Prescott, who had been caught out “allegedly” accepting inappropriate favours, including the gift of a real Stetson and a pair of fully tooled Cowboy boots, from a rich American donor/investor – an image that tumbles around in one’s mind for quite a time. Once again, to a man, the whole of the Tory side of the House rose and welcomed him onto the front bench with a cry of “Howdy!” – both cases being hugely childish, but something to make you proud of being British. Can you, in your wildest dreams, imagine something similar happening in the USA if the circumstances had been the other way round. I think not.

Anyway, back to Batman and Robin (Which is which, you may ask?). Sitting here quite late at night, with a couple of gins circulating inside me, my thoughts, if that’s the right name for them, start to roam. What if instead of Blair, it had been Tim Yeo, ex-member of the Tory Shadow Cabinet, to whom Bush was talking. It would then have been “Yo Yeo.”

That’s even better. And, with another Gin in circulation, if they had both met at the Christmas West Wing Recital, it would have been better still – “Yo Yeo, Yo Yo Yo.”

And even better still if Andrew Marr had been there from the BBC to meet them and report the goings on, it could have been “Yo Yeo, Yo Yo Yo Ma, Yo Marr.”

Where did the man get his language skills from? There really is no-one quite like him. Except that having just said that, the thought of John Prescott, in a Stetson and Cowboy Boots, appeared and remained irremovably in my mind.

Actually, the real twist in the tale in the West Wing episode is that Bartlet’s last spoken line, coupled with a fleeting, knowing look from Martin Sheen, makes you realize that his “error” was not an error at all, but an exquisitely deliberate ploy to wrong foot the opposition and get them on the back foot – Excellent.

Now, I just wonder about Dubya……….. Does he watch the West Wing? I don't think so, he’s not that bright.

Or is he?


Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Mel Smith, of Smith and Jones and Not the Nine O’Clock News fame is currently playing Churchill in a play currently being put on at the Edinburgh Festival. Rather than puff away ineffectually on a stage cigar, Smith has decided to smoke the real thing whilst on stage, apparently in contravention of the Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005.

Smith, who is a cigar smoker off-stage, criticised the law which bans smoking in public spaces in his normal politically correct style – “It would have delighted Adolf Hitler. Congratulations, Scotland.”

He suggested that the audience could be warned before the show – “A third of a Romeo y Julieta will be smoked during this performance. If you find that offensive, F**k off.”

Apparently, although Edinburgh City Council had previously warned the Assembly Rooms, where the play is being performed, that they faced a fine of up to £5,000, as well as losing their Entertainment licence, no-one from the City Council was available for comment.


Monday, August 07, 2006


Last week, I rediscovered one of the personal pleasures of summer which had faded over recent years into the background in my life – watching, if only on television, long, indolent but very enjoyable periods of Test Cricket. Sitting with my Brother-in-law, a glass of wine in my hand, doing what can only be described as a “Man thing” watching England beating (actually, in this instance, the right word is “thrashing”) Pakistan. Very, very satisfying.

It was, rather pathetically, the first time I had watched Sky’s take on Test Cricket, and, completely against my prejudiced expectations, I was mightily impressed with their performance, particularly the commentators. It got me thinking about the part these guys play in putting sport over on TV.

The role of the commentator on television differs fundamentally from that of his radio colleague. On radio, the absolute cornerstone of the commentator’s job is to paint a continuous word picture of what is going on to the “blind” listener. Everything else is subservient to that – if there is time, but only if there is time, then comment and opinion can be added. Although it seems blindingly obvious, some television commentators seem unable to appreciate that the television picture really does allow the attentive viewer actually to see what is happening, and the need continuously to paint the word picture à la radio simply isn’t there. This puts fundamentally different demands on the man with the microphone. He has more time to add colour and shape to what is seen on the screen, and this means that different requirements exist for the commentator’s skills.

I have to declare here and now that my interest in sport is not universal – it is in fact very restricted. In fact, over the last 40 years, it has been severely limited to Golf, Cricket, a bit of Cycling, and Motor Racing. So, an expert I am not!

As an aside, I wonder what a psychologist would make of that list. All four sports have personal strategy high on the list of requirements, all are in the end individual rather than team sports, and three of them take place over a long period of time.

Answers on a postcard, please!

Within that narrow list, the TV commentator is an interesting beast. There is a fundamental divide at work in all of them – on one side, those who have “been there, done that”, and if they’ve had the sense to think ahead careerwise, have started the company that actually makes the T-Shirt, and, on the other side, those who come at the sport from outside. In all four disciplines, at least on TV, in my view, it is always the Man on the Inside who does the job best. The outsider can very often describe the action better and can perhaps put words together in a more seamless flow, but, to a large extent, the television image predominantly takes that skill over. It is the added thought provoking punditry which the ex-player can add and give something meaningful to the viewer, which makes all the difference.

This has been my view since the start of my sports viewing, and the constant thread of interest throughout the last 40 years has been to relish the insight and thought from the ex-player. They invariably say something that I hadn’t thought of which normally adds significantly to the pleasure of watching the various goings on. The list of those commentators who get a place in the list is not large – starting with Henry Longhurst, in my view the best ever Golf commentator, and ending yesterday with the immense pleasure I got from listening to the West Indian ex-Fast Bowler, Michael Holding.

Take Golf to start with.

Starting as far back as the start of TV Outside Broadcasts, Henry Longhurst was the absolute doyen of Golf commentators. He was a brilliant, brilliant writer, whose style could give P G Wodehouse a good run for his money. His back page Sunday Times Column was the first thing many people, including me, turned to when the paper arrived. Longhurst’s golfing credentials included winning the German Amateur Golf Championship just before World War II – not up with the Open, but it did mean that he really knew how to play, and more importantly, what went on in a player’s mind – the key to the inside track of adding to any Golf tournament on television, where mindgames are so crucial to success at the highest level.

Ever a stickler for etiquette, even on television, he would never talk when a player was putting, a situation which, when he started to commentate on the Major tournaments in America, had the TV companies over there frantically checking their wiring lines for breakages whenever he had the microphone in his hand.

To demonstrate how only a couple of words from him could get over so many subtle messages, I remember to this day listening to his commentary at the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews. Getting the words and the emotions exactly right, he gasped a heartfelt comment when Doug Sanders, with Jack Nicklaus in extremely hot pursuit, missed a 3 foot putt to win the tournament on the last hole. You just knew that Longhurst, who knew the line of the putt himself because he had probably missed it as well, knew that Sanders was going to miss. He kept absolutely silent until the ball slid past the cup. Longhurst gasped and simply, resignedly and worldly wisely just said “Oh… dear.” He knew what that miss meant to Sanders, and such a simple comment said it all. No histrionics, just the recognition of the frailty of a man under immense individual pressure, but Longhurst got it just right – you could hear him thinking “There but for the grace of God ….”.

Sanders never won another major tournament.

Longhurst’s comments were a model of tightness, precision and knowing accuracy, combined with a beautiful use of language – but underpinning it all was the absolute knowledge and certainty in the listener’s mind that his opinion actually meant something - he had actually felt what the hapless player on the screen was also feeling at that moment, and he had the verbal skills to put those thoughts into exquisite English.

He was followed by Peter Alliss, Ken Brown, Sam Torrance, Mark James and the like, all of whom could play a bit, and learned to put their inner thoughts into words for the benefit of the viewer. All were good, but although they understood the mindgame issues, they lacked Longhurst’s beautiful skill with words, which were similar (better in my opinion) in a way to those of John Arlott. Contrast individuals such as Steve Ryder, who is probably the best of the “all-round” presenters, but lacks the “I’ve been there” factor common to the ex-players. And Goodness knows whose idea it was to parachute Garry Lineker into Golf - he looks to be so embarrassingly lightweight and in the wrong sport. Football’s loss is not Golf’s gain!

As far as Motor Racing is concerned, you might think that Murray Walker was THE Commentator, having been there for what seems to be an eternity, and seeming to be the voice of the sport for as long as you can recall. There have been others, almost exclusively ex-racers, most of whom have actually filled in the detail which Murray Walker missed. He provided the emotion, the adrenalin, the buzz, and usually the mistakes. It was down to people like James Hunt (mercurial, but on his day, hugely perceptive), Jonathan Palmer (a bit distant, but very analytical), Mark Blundell (not the greatest intellect, but a grafter who knows all about driving racing cars), and, by a country mile, the best of the lot - Martin Brundle.

Martin is utterly perfect for his role. He is a very bright individual – he acts as Manager for people like David Coulthard, and is a grande fromage in the British Racing Drivers Club, so the seething snake-like issues of motor racing strategy and politics are second nature to him. He has the trust of all the big players in the sport and can talk to them on their level. He can sum up a highly technical situation simply and eloquently, with words that get across memorably to his audience. His use of language is exciting, apt, sharp, always robust and highly to the point.

Oh, and he’s an absolutely top class driver. You could not imagine a better commentator in any sport – he’s got the lot.

It is difficult to make a meaningful judgement on other sports which have lesser personal appeal, but it is quite clear that the pre-eminence of ex-players is almost a must for excellence in this other sports as well. Not all ex-players have it, and you can see there are more that don’t make it than do, but it is also clear that to make it to the Top of Division 1 in this area you ­must have been there – think Brendan Foster, John McEnroe, Jackie Charlton (now his brother didn’t make it, did he?)

Lastly however, Cricket, and back to the beginning of this piece. There I am, sitting watching the Test, and listening to a great commentary team, adding tremendously to the enjoyment of the action. Almost all the ex-players Sky use add real colour and shape to the pictures – Mike Atherton, David Lloyd, David Gower, Nasser Hussain and Ian Botham all do well, but for me, the star among them all is Michael Holding.

You simply don’t expect a West Indian ex-Fast Bowler to be as shrewd, enthusiastic, perceptive, accurate and on occasions extremely witty as he is. It was an absolute pleasure to sit and listen to his train of thought, completely different from mine. I lost count of the number of times over the match when I said “Bloody right, mate! I hadn’t thought of it like that” – and if that’s not the point of him being there, I don’t know what is. He talks well in a slow, considered mahogany West Indian drawl that is a total pleasure to listen to - a bit like an enthusiastic Richie Benaud, and praise doesn’t come much higher than that.
He’s another one on the list, by the way!