Monday, August 24, 2009


The Kangaroo Paw flower is a very attractive plant. It has even been selected as the floral representative for Western Australia, so emblematic is it. It is so named because in its unopened form it looks, surprise, surprise, like a Kangaroo’s Paw. Simple really. Except that I’ve never studied the paw of a Kangaroo.

Its medicinal benefits, I have to say even at my advanced age, have bypassed my attention and awareness for greater than 60 years. Still you live and learn.

I was showering away this morning, and grabbed the bottle of shampoo to wash my hair. Purchased, I submit in my defence, by the other person who lives in my house, it was called “Aussie – Mega Shampoo”. No, I don’t understand either.

The small writing on the front of the bottle soothes me with the vital information that it “cleanses without the build up that causes the hair to droop.” That will be very handy, since, following a session with Shirley, my hairdresser late last week, there isn’t one hair on my head longer than a quarter of an inch. The longer we talk, the more she cuts my hair, and we had a very long conversation last Saturday about me being on the television and radio during the week. And as I kept talking, she kept cutting. Hence the virtual baldness.

The front of the bottle goes on – “Hair will be bouncy and clean”. Mmmmm, I think not. Clean, perhaps, Bouncy – no bloody chance. It looks like a less frenetic Shane Warne, and I don’t think that’s much of a compliment, since I last described his hair as looking like an explosion in a Mattress Factory.

Anyway, off we go. We squeeze some out. I have to say this is the first time I’ve had a really good look at it. I know this is a family website, but the only way I can describe it uses an analogy that involves the description of the colour, texture, and, I suspect, feel of the contents of a well used condom. Ugh!

And I’m just about to rub it vigorously into my beautiful recently coiffured follicles! And then, even worse, into those hairs about 30 inches nearer the ground which don’t see the light of day quite so often. Yikes.

And I’ve got it all on my hand.

Things are going from bad to worse now.

So I turn the bottle round to see what’s on the back. Something, I idly anticipate, about the tender process where nubile Australian lasses gently masticate the Kangaroo Paw flowers between their toes to extract the delicate juices, mix it with rare and beautiful herbs and spices, and add a touch of soft soapy something or other, so they can then ship it all off to a gratefully waiting collection of ardent customers on the other side of the world?

Ah well, you know there had to be a problem didn’t you?

The really small print on the other side tells you what’s inside the bottle. Now, call me old fashioned, but this lot sounds like something that would result from Macbeth’s Witches being seconded to the Development branch of the Iranian Nuclear Bomb Team.

I did Chemistry to a reasonably high level when I was at school, but none of the names (alright, I agree not “Aqua” or “Sodium Chloride” – why in heaven’s name do I need Salt in my shampoo?) meant anything to me. There were 31 substances – that’s the only word I can think of here – in the bottle apart from the “Aqua”. And two of the really scary ones were not even allowed a name using alphabetic characters.

We had CI 19140, and CI 14700. Shades of Agent Orange here. Actually that’s nearly right, because when later you Google them, you find they are colourants which as far as I am aware can be dangerous if injested, ones we try really hard to avoid our children getting anywhere near. And I’m about to smear the stuff all over my most sensitive parts.

So I’m standing there wondering what to do and thinking evil thoughts about the Australians. Is this a subversive act by some miserable Australian gits to get back at those Pommie Bastards who sent them over to the other side of the world as penalties for their crimes two hundred years ago, as well as, at the same time, anticipating a 2-1 England win in the Ashes at the Oval?

And then you read the even smaller print, and down to earth we come. This potion – Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog etc. is actually produced in England by a company whose Head Office is in Weybridge in Surrey, a sleepy town where I spent three years of my education learning about aeroplanes.

Just to make my day, I suppose someone will now write in to say that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. Perhaps I should do what the manufacturers ask in the smallest print on the bottle.

"... Put pen to paper. We like getting letters, no-one does it these days, and it makes us feel special."

Yeah, Right.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I sat on the sofa late last night just before heading off to bed, idly flicking through the TV programmes we had recorded on the Sky Box. A Mark Knopfler concert caught my attention from the list. Now Mr Knopfler, and his band, Dire Straits have been one of my three favourite bands through most of my adult life. I’ve got all of their CDs, and have seen them in concert several times. He is one of the greatest guitar players ever, as well as writing some of the most distinctive and evocative pop songs I know.

Private Investigations, Tobacco Road, Tunnel of Love, Romeo and Juliet, Walk of Life, Money for Nothing – what a collection, two of which are in my all time favourite Top ten Songs.

The concert was recorded recently in Basel in Switzerland, and, I have to say, was a bit of a disappointment to me. Too laid back, no passion, and too many new songs, which didn’t seem to mean that much.

Now it must be a real pain if you are a singer/songwriter, when you play your latest set of songs, and get polite applause, only to see the difference when you bring back one of the Oldies, which the audience has really come to hear. You must feel a sense of utter frustration, standing up there thinking “Listen to this one, you miserable lot. I’ve just written it and This is Me. Here and Now. Those old songs have gone. They’re the past, and I’m sick of singing them.”

Of course the audience doesn’t think like this, and so goes mad when the Old Songs make their appearance. And so it was here. “Brothers in Arms” with its deceptively gentle introduction floated into existence, and the audience changed from polite applause to Full Attention.

I have to say that, to these ears, Knopfler’s rendition of the song was not that great. It was so laid back, it was untrue. This is a serious song, with an important message, and a gentle feeling to it does it no favours at all. Knopfler had his 60th Birthday 3 days ago (Happy Birthday, Mark!), and you have to wonder whether, like all performers, whether he will ever recapture the power and passion he had when he was younger. Maybe it’s me, because I’m not getting any younger, or maybe it’s him, because he’s got less to say today than he had 20 years ago. Probably a bit of both. I just don’t know.

But just listening to him, my mind flashed back over 20 years. Nelson Mandela was still in jail, and the pop world had got together in London to pay their own tribute to this remarkable man. It took place in front of 75,000 people on 11th June 1988 at Wembley in London, and was the most political pop concert ever staged up to that time. The aim was to raise the world’s awareness of Mandela’s plight, and to put pressure on South Africa to release him, which they did 18 months later.

The concert included many of the more politically aware pop singers, with Peter Gabriel, Sting, Simple Minds, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, and – Dire Straits.

Dire Straits were last to perform, and their 45 minute set was the work of genius. I’ve never seen or heard them play better than that night.

It was filmed very atmospherically and movingly and I still watch it with great affection and admiration. Two of the songs on it, Romeo and Juliet and Brothers in Arms will live in my mind for ever. It is this performance of Brothers in Arms which lasted some 9 minutes, and had Knopfler at the peak of his powers which jumped into my mind last night, in comparison to the one which he gave on the TV recording. I’ve dug it out on YouTube, so you can watch it. The atmosphere that night was electric, and you can get that feeling coming across even though the video is not of the best quality. You can feel the power, feeling and conviction pulsing through Knopfler’s body and pouring out through his hands as his fingers played the guitar. He’s literally in another world, and it brings me up in goose bumps every time I hear it.

Such a simple song. Simple words, hardly any clever chord sequences, just a pure, straightforward message put over so poetically and powerfully. Perhaps that’s the key to such great pieces of music.

Off goes my mind again. Devotees of this blog (please tell me there is one out there!!) will know of my love of “The West Wing”. One of the best series television has ever produced. Each series ends with a cliff-hanger, and the one in Series 2 is an absolute blinder. I won’t give the game away if you’ve not seen it, but the last few minutes are simply TV drama at its very best.

And guess what music they choose to use for the closing action. Mark Knopfler singing “Brothers in Arms”. It is as good a mix of drama and music as you will ever find, in film or anywhere else.

The shots of Bartlet striding through the West Wing to the critical Press Conference, the Storm, Charlie taking his coat off to match the President, the shot of the perfectly and very theatrically lit Negro janitor cleaning the Cathedral up after the President to the line in the song “… There’s so many different worlds …” (Don’t even try to tell me that wasn’t deliberate), the way Martin Sheen puts his hands in his pockets (flashback to the younger Mrs Landingham), Leo’s whispered “Watch this …”, and CJ’s deliberately ignored “Front Row on Your right” aside as Bartlet strides past her. And just look at the last shot, with Bartlet framed against the Union Flag. Wow.

It’s pure Wagner with leitmotivs galore and allusions threaded through it all.

And to end it all, the bastards who produced the show cutting you off 1 second before you hear Bartlet’s reply to the question that’s set all this up over the last dozen or so episodes, so you’ve got to wait 6 months to find out how he replied. Thank God for the Box Set DVDs.

To my simple mind, 5 minutes of the most utterly perfect drama I’ve ever seen. Every time I watch it, I get a lump in my throat. And playing in the background – Brothers in Arms. Whoever chose that song for that moment will go to heaven.


Friday, August 14, 2009


In spite of what you may think, this is not a Cricket Blog, although it does seem to crop up more often than it should if a sensible balance is what’s expected. Put it down to England playing Australia in England as we speak – something that only happens every 4 years. The Ashes are, to this Englishman at least, the Olympics in this, my favourite of sports.

And, forgetting how the England team got where it is over the last couple of weeks, it’s all down to a "Must Win" last Test at the Oval starting next Thursday. That, at least, must be good for the moneymen at the Oval, but not, I think, for my nerves. You can’t help but wonder, however, at the state of England’s game as we come into the most important match we’ve played since 2005, and there are so many loose ends surrounding the home side.

I don’t know how we’ve got where we’ve got to, but, with the Australians seeming to improve and settle their side as the series goes on, the English sporting press has been scribbling at immense lengths over the last 10 days, over this and that, especially who should be in the team.

You can’t help but wonder at the way the sport is run in this country. There is a continuously expanding raft of very highly paid individuals who run English Cricket, and you can only ask yourself who, among the whole lot of them, has actually done the business at the sharp end for England over the last 20 years. Someone who understands and can respond to the special pressures which an Ashes Test Series puts on the players.

The answer, almost inevitably, is None of them.

As a contrast, on TV, we have Michael Atherton, who, in my simple view, has the best strategic brain on English Cricket today. We also have Nasser Hussain and even David Lloyd, who between them, seem to me to talk so much sense that you wonder why their views on being there and doing that are not seen as fundamental to the future success of the team. But they seem to be kept on the outside by the powers that be, when they are the guys who have the most meaningful experience available. Very, very odd!

So, call me old fashioned, but the skill and knowledge of recent England players should be fundamental to getting the team into the best possible shape. Their views are vital, but we simply don’t use them. At this level, it’s only so much about cricketing skills. The key issues beyond and above basic skills are attitude, confidence, mental toughness, resilience to pressure and being able to deliver under an almost intolerable load on an individual. Character, for want of a better word.

I remember, in another sport, watching the players in the Piccadilly World Match Play Golf Tournament at Wentworth in 1966 or so. On the practice ground, every player could hit the ball perfectly , with their caddies catching the golf-balls metronomically, almost without moving their feet, at a distance of 250 yards. But that was practice, and the real way the “Greats” showed why they were so good, is when they had to do exactly the same thing on the last 9 holes of the tournament on the Sunday afternoon. When you had one chance at the shot, and only perfection would be good enough. When your hands were shaking, your mind was scrambled but you still had to deliver. How different that was. Step forward the Jack Nicklauses and the Gary Players of this world.

The same is true of cricket at the highest level. Only the absolute best players make it happen in these hugely stressful situations. And quite frankly most of the England team is just not at that level.

So what should England do, having been thrashed by the Aussies in the last game? It needs strong nerves if you are a selector at this time, given the range of problems facing them.

Most importantly and specifically, we have a middle order (Nos. 3, 4 and 5) who amassed (if that’s the right word here) 16 runs between them in the six innings in the game. They should have scored nearer 300, which goes a long way to explain the current England predicament.

Everyone with an interest in Cricket in this country has their own view of what should be done, because it’s the sort of game which gets people talking. The first thing to accept is that SOMETHING must be done. But it would be too easy to make wholesale changes, to put up a brand new team which has then got to play brilliantly straight out of the box. It simply doesn’t work like that. So, here’s my four pennyworth.

Strauss and Cook are the best we’ve got as openers. Strauss has held the England batting together this year, and is the key wicket the Australians want to get each time England bats. And he's the captain.

Cook always looks as if he’s going to go next ball to me. It’s really wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Trescothick felt he was in a situation where he could return to Test Cricket and be part of the team? I’ve just watched him single-handedly demolish Gloucestershire in a 40 over game, scoring 80 out of 112 to win the game. A man in a different class from every other player on the field. Immense power, huge presence, with a simple but utterly solid batting technique.

You could cry about his mental problems, it seems such a shame. I’ll bet if you asked the Australians who they least wanted to have batting against them, they’d say Trescothick, maybe even above Pietersen. But he’s thought about it, and said No. How sad. So we’re stuck with Cook, including his flaws – waft outside the off-stump, get a snick, caught in the slips. Thank you and Good night.

Number 3 needs to be changed. It has been a bit unfair on Bopara during the Ashes. He came out of the West Indies tour having hit three centuries off them, and looking for all the world like he owned the spot. But Number 3 against the Australians is a massively different and difficult batting position. The West Indian bowlers, apart from Fidel Edwards are not world class, so perhaps Bopara flattered to deceive. No-one of his age, to my knowledge has ever managed to make it work at Number 3. And, in the last four games, he hasn’t. At his present state, he’s more like a decent No 5 or 6, but you can’t drop him down there for the Oval, that just looks like weakness, so he has to be dropped for a while. He’ll come back, because he’s a good player, but not for the next game.

So, is it Trott, or Key? Or both? Or someone else? I’m not sure if someone like Trott will be able to withstand the pressure of a Must Win game at the end of an Ashes Series. But he has scored a pile of runs and, with no England baggage, he must fancy his chances. Robert Key must deserve a go. He’s got the arrogance, the wisdom and his captaincy skills would be a real added benefit to Strauss who often looks very lonely out there. Also, just ask yourself who, currently playing in English Cricket has ever scored a double hundred against the Australians. Answer - Collingwood, and … Key. Robert Key, to coin a phrase is the key. I’d put him in.

With no Pietersen, the other alternative you’ve got is Ian Bell. To my mind, he’s a good stylist, but his mental make-up always seems to me to be too introverted for such a position. He’s definitely not the man you’d get out of bed for knowing he’s going to bat, and he’s also definitely not one of those players who can change a game single handedly. He has a fatal flaw, in that he gets his front leg across the line, and then can’t get the bat round it when he gets an inswinger. The Aussies have got this down to a T, and look how he’s been dismissed so far this year by them. So why should you keep on with him? I wouldn't.

My view is we should go with Trott and Key at 3 and 4. Key has the swagger which will irritate the Aussies and the maturity, and Trott is a man in great form, albeit at County level. It’s not an ideal situation, ie the selectors should not have got us into this position, but in the words of an ex Boss of mine – “We are where we are.”

But it’s a hell of a risk, and it could be the downfall of the team if neither of them get their act together. But, just keep reminding yourself of the 16 runs the current Nos. 3, 4 and 5 got in the last game. Anything has got to be better than that.

Collingwood deserves to keep his place at 5. He’s a gritty, workmanlike player. Remember, if it hadn’t have been for his Atherton-like defensive innings earlier this year, we’d have lost the Ashes already.

Prior has been the great success of the series for England in my eyes. He’s kept wicket well, and has now, against one of the best teams in the world, proved himself with his batting to be a genuine all rounder. He selects himself, so thank Goodness he at least doesn’t present a problem.

Number 7. Flintoff, fitness willing, returns for his last ever match playing for England. His figures, seen in the cold light of day, are not of the highest quality, but that doesn’t tell the story at all. His physical presence, his ability to inspire, and occasionally his ability, on his own, to turn the game England’s way in a couple of hours is unparalleled in the game. Even if he is only 80-odd % fit, he will make the other players feel better. They will feel more comfortable that, if they get out, Freddy is there later in the order to pick up the bits. So they feel more secure, so they play better.

Apart from being a lethal bowler like at Lords, or a fantastic batsman, as in Edgbaston, he looms over the game like few others. He is the last player the Aussies want to see in the side, which is a perfect reason for him playing, whether fully fit or not. His ability as an all-rounder makes the team selection so much easier. Play Flintoff, and with four other proper bowlers, you can play 6 recognised batsmen. It’s like playing with 12 men. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

So what about the bowlers?

Apart from Lords, they haven’t covered themselves in glory. And to win the game, it's very simple - you’ve got to take 20 wickets.

James Anderson, on his day, is the best bowler in the world. Give him a bit of swing in the air, and he can be unplayable now he’s developed the ability to swing it both ways. It’s just that, somedays, it’s just not his day, or the ball isn't swinging. His batting though continues to amaze. No-one in the history of Test Cricket, has had more consecutive innings without scoring a Duck. I think he’s up to 54. For a Number 10 batsman, that is simply the most ridiculously endearing record.

Steve Harmison. Now, here’s an intriguing player. Mercurial might be the word coined especially to describe him. He’s just as likely to destroy the opposition with his high bouncing vicious ball, as he is to send it careering towards Second Slip. The problem is you don’t know which of the two Harmisons is going to be on the field on any given day. He must be the most frustrating player to have under you, never quite knowing if he’s with you or with the fairies at any given moment. But, my own gut feeling is that, without him, you aren’t going to do the business, and with him you might, not will – Might. So put him in. You’ve got to take 20 wickets.

Broad is, as far as the Ashes this year are concerned, the least effective of the fast bowlers, but he’s still pretty decent, and you've still got to think of someone better. He got a 6 wicket haul in the last match, but that was only because the others were so poor. He’s still young, and is turning into a decent batsman, and I can’t think of a better bowler instead of him (which is a bit of a worry) so let’s include him.

And we need a spinner. Panesar can’t buy a wicket at the moment, he’s a liability as a fielder, and, Cardiff apart, his batting is non existent. Swann to me is better in every facet of the game, and therefore gets my vote. He’s a chirpy, extrovert individual who is capable of giving the Aussies a bit of their own medicine. They don’t like that – another good reason to have him there. He can bowl well, turns the ball a lot, and is a very handy bat. There’s no-one in the country to touch him in the spinner role at present.

So that’s it. My team is – Strauss (Captain), Cook, Key, Trott, Collingwood, Prior, Flintoff, Broad, Swann, Anderson and Harmison.

Let’s see what the selectors do.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Enough of moaning about life’s problems. It’s summer, and summer means long evenings and (for some of the time at least in England!) warm days.

Over in Norfolk, we’ve just spent a few months rebuilding a bit of our little house to give us a better sized kitchen. At least, that’s how it started. It turned out to be a real personal demonstration of “Mission Creep”, the way what starts out as a little project surreptitiously turns into a much larger one. The “better sized kitchen” ended up with all the downstairs tiled floors being replaced, most of the furniture being changed, and the whole house, inside and out being repainted, recarpeted and recurtained. Oh, and we had a new Front Door. Oh, and the front courtyard was regravelled, as well.

So, with it all finished, we’ve finally managed to spend a couple of weeks over there just pottering around, doing not very much. I’ve managed to get out for a couple of photographic jaunts, so, in my unpaid capacity as North Norfolk Council’s Marketing Consultant, I’ll show a few of the pictures of the area here on the blog. Not the cleverest idea I’ve ever had actually, because one of the place’s great benefits is the lack of people around, even in high season. If you want to get away from it all, come here!

Anyway, firstly, two miles down the road from where we live - an evening out in Wells. Or to give it its proper name, Wells-Next-the-Sea. Note no “to” in the name, just to confuse you. And of course, because this is Norfolk, it’s not next to the sea, or even next the sea. It was, when it was named a few hundred years ago, but the gradual silting up of the coast around here now means that the sea is around a mile north of the centre of the town. You can still get boats up to the quay in the middle of the town, but if it’s a sandy beach you want, you walk or get in your car, or climb aboard a little narrow gauge railway if you want to get into the holiday spirit.

The beach at Wells, like most of the coast in this part of Norfolk, faces North, so the sun sets all along it during the summer. It’s lined with one of those most English of seaside pleasures – Beach Huts. They’re all different colours, and, to my eyes, they make a perfect holiday image.













Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Much Wenlock is one of those lovely little English towns for which the adjective “sleepy” could well have been specifically coined. It sits at the edge of an escarpment at the end of the Welsh Mountains, and nestles quite beautifully in the ups and downs of the Shropshire Landscape. 3,000 people live there, and it has a history which stretches back almost 1,500 years.

A few hundred yards outside the town is Wenlock Edge, from the top of which vast tracts of the beautiful Shropshire countryside are laid out before you. This has been the inspiration for some of Vaughan Williams’s music and AE Houseman’s poetry. You only have to be there to understand why.

It’s where I take my dogs to walk most days, and I never fail to be affected by its calm and peaceful atmosphere.

The town’s Priory was founded in 680 AD, and, although it was almost destroyed by Henry VIII in the Middle Ages, it still remains a most impressive place. Over 100 meters long, you can’t fail to imagine what life there would have been like when you walk around the remains.

William Penny-Brookes, who was one of the main instigators of the current Olympic Games Movement, lived as a GP in the town in the late Nineteenth century, and every year, Much Wenlock’s version of the games, much truer, I think, to the Olympian ideals than Beijing, are held in July. Paddy Ryan, who runs a marvellous butcher’s shop in the High Street and sponsors the Clay Pigeon shooting event gets it spot on – “Beijing has Coca-Cola, Wenlock has me”.

I live about 3 miles from the town, and it never fails to please and satisfy me when I’m there. It’s one of these narrow street-ed, Black and White Building-ed places where the road names reek of Times Past.

The motor car doesn’t quite fit, and none of the roads are quite wide enough for today’s world. But what the hell. People are still polite and still talk to you and help you there, and many of the Olde Worlde courtesies are still practiced. Shops still shut over lunchtime, and the local car park costs 20 p per hour.

Try that in London or Birmingham.

Here’s a few pictures of the place to give a feel of what it’s like.










Sunday, August 09, 2009


The last few days have not been at all pleasant for our family. Senior Dog collapsed on the floor in front of us following a visit to the vet mid week. We rushed back (at somewhat illegal speed I might add) to find that she had a tumour on her spleen, and this had just burst, necessitating a 3 hour emergency operation. Her life held by a thread for a couple of days, and it is only now, five days on that she’s showing decent signs of recovery.

Now, the world is divided into two parts – those who love dogs and those who don’t. To us, they’re a bit like children, and we love them to bits. Seeing them like we have over the last few days stops you dead in your tracks, and you have to look around for something to take your mind off the waiting.

Ah, methinks – the 4th Ashes Test is on at Headingley – I’ll watch that, and see England beat the hell out of the Australians. That will make me feel better.

Oh dear, Oh Dear, Oh Dear.

Over the last three days I’ve been gawping, and that is the word, at the television in what I can only describe as morbid fascination. Rabbits in Headlights, in the way you can’t take your eyes off it all. The car smash on the other side of the Motorway. A performance from England of consummate and award winning ineptitude and spinelessness, with long periods of chicken livered, yellow bellied incompetence thrown in. Batsmen who give up the ghost – 9 of the 11 players (let’s excuse Cook and Prior here) made 18 runs between them in the first innings. None of the 9 even got into double figures and they all languished way behind Extras who, in comparison with the 9, played an absolute blinder.

And then the bowling. At least, they would have seen at first, very close hand precisely how to get a side out on this pitch. In a 34 over masterclass, the Aussies had shown them exactly how to do it. Tight line, off-stump, fullish length bowling. Get it there, give it time to swing a bit in either direction, get the batsman coming forward, get the snick into the slips or gully, and Bob’s your Uncle, they’ll be out for 100 or so as well. Nine of the England wickets fell like that.

So, what do we get? Short pitched deliveries, all over the place with bags of width for people like Ricky Ponting to have an absolute field day with. If you’d asked Ponting where precisely he would love you to bowl at him he’d have said “Keep it exactly where you are at the moment, Old Son. That’s just about perfect”.

So they did. The Australians must have thought it was Christmas, and all their birthdays, all at once. Anderson, at least could say he’d got an injury, but I seriously wanted someone to hit Harmison over the head with a bat, and a very heavy one at that. His gormless stare, with an inane, quizzical look on his face, as the ball disappeared yet again to the boundary made you wonder if his brain was actually capable of functioning.

England have recovered a bit of face this morning, with Broad and Swann showing a bit of skill and balls in facing up to what is still one of the least good Australian sides we’ve had here for a couple of decades. But they are England’s Nos. 7 and 8. What were the rest doing? Try Bopara 0, Bell 3 and Collingwood 4. Another non existent middle order performance. Yes, I know Flintoff and Pietersen are injured, but England need to get used to the idea that one of those is never coming back.

But I keep gawping at the endlessly repeated replays, not quite believing what I’ve seen, willing it to be different.

Gawp göp, (colloq) verb intransitive to gape in astonishment

That’s what I’ve been doing, except in my particular case there’s another meaning of the word which is not in the Dictionary. This one’s GAWP – the Generalised Ashes Watching Position. For explanation, see the pictures below.

The first is GAWP 1, the basic position adopted in this match whenever England are at the crease –


And GAWP 2 – the specialised Advanced version, only to be used when Ravi Bopara comes out to bat at No.3 – (you have to be very quick here, it doesn’t last very long), or when Steve Harmison gets the ball in his hand.


Not, I suspect though, for too much longer.

Friday, August 07, 2009

LOVE HURTS .........

Well, I’ve watched it twice now. Quite pathetic, really. I promise that this will positively be the last time I put pen to paper on this subject, but, here we go ......

A few days ago, I was worrying that 22 years after seeing “Tutti Frutti”, I might have changed so that, what I found hysterically funny in 1987, was no more than ordinary now.

Oh Ye, of little faith.

Once again, in 2009 I found myself laughing uncontrollably at the antics of The Majestics. It’s probably a decent interval, 22 years, so that you can completely forget some of the key twists in the story line. I could watch most of it as if I was seeing it for the first time. And strangely, unlike some programmes you watch on TV, this one seemed as up to date as you could imagine. Alright, they were watching CRT televisions, they drove around in a Morris Minor Estate and a first generation Transit and they used those old telephones with the dial that you put your finger in to dial the number, but the essence of the story is as “Today” as you could want.

The thing that I don’t remember so much from 1987, was the sexual chemistry which Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson wove between each other. She’s not classically particularly beautiful, although I have to admit I find her disturbingly attractive (it must be my age!), and he’s a 280 lb rotund guy, who at first sight, you can’t imagine anyone falling for.

But, how wrong can you be. Their relationship is the centrepiece of the series, and their exquisite acting, exploring the way a real and proper relationship can develop is quite wonderful. They play the development from their first meeting with great skill, true acting. The gradual erosion of the typically male Scottish defence mechanisms is played out perfectly by Robbie Coltrane. He does not move on from any emotional base without a clear hand on the next one along the line, just in case his advances do not meet with the response he wants. He is always looking for slight, however slight, and rejection where none should be found.

Just like real life, actually. To these eyes, the final scene between them is a piece of acting, writing and filming perfection. I loved it to bits.

When you look back, the whole programme was a bit of a watershed. I can’t recall seeing anything that I’d categorise as a “Black” comedy on TV before this. It’s the sort of programme that has you laughing completely without control at one moment, but a few seconds later you find yourself among moments of great sadness, death and disillusionment. You can be forgiven for wondering if these two polarised emotional states should be found together in what is called a comedy drama.

The answer, to me, is that it just seems so true to life. The people, their relationships, the misunderstandings that occur to us all and the consequences that follow on from these, the way we share part of our lives with, and protect other bits of the same life from, those around us, is captured so well by John Byrne, the writer. And he keeps a constant stream of great One Liners going, which you can just imagine coming out of the mouths of the Scottish people you’re watching. Just think what Billy Connolly must have been like 20 years ago, when he was still a welder in a Glasgow Shipyard, and you start to get on the board.

I’ve no idea what it could possibly be like to be in a (very) Second Rate Rock and Roll Band, whose success, such as it was, has clearly been many years in the past, and for whom the future looms depressingly downwards in front of them, but, I can well believe that this 6 hour series gets it spot on.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve watched it twice over the last few days, and I’m sitting here wondering whether to get Disc 1 out again to see it for a third time. I know there are many more important things in life that a TV series, but sometimes you just have to follow your heart.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


What makes a good photograph into a great one?

Most pictures that get published today are good photographs. They have to be otherwise Picture Editors would lose their jobs. The equipment that’s available today helps an awful lot, what with Autofocus, sophisticated auto exposure systems, machine gun like continuous shooting, and storage cards whose memories are almost infinite. The quality of the lenses are better than ever. What’s not to like?

But the art of turning out a “great” picture is something else. You can’t manufacture them, and that’s where the art comes in. Greatness, in almost all walks of life, is a very elusive thing, and no different in the realms of the photograph. They happen almost randomly, and I suspect that the author of the image probably doesn’t know at the time he’s taking it, just what a gem he may just have created.

As one of my little pleasures in life, I sporadically visit Photographic Societies to talk about this. Camera Clubs can be a bit narrow in their view of the photograph. Many people there like a set of “Rules” to govern the “good” photograph, the formulaic, churn it out type of approach which can result in lots of good pictures, but very few “great” ones. So, I worked up a lecture entitled “The Best Photograph Ever Taken”, where I selected 100 famous images starting from the first time Daguerre and Fox-Talbot created the photographic image (around 1830) until the present day. Most people will recall many of the images – they’re the sort to which the word “iconic” is applied. It proved quite popular, so I did a follow up, which covered the “Best Sports Photograph Ever Taken”.

When you look at all these pictures, intriguingly, the first thing that hits you is that many of them do not “obey” the “Good Photograph” rules. They are not pin sharp, they do not necessarily have the subject in the “right” place. Bits of the subject are cut-off in the frame. Often the subject is dead centre. And, and, and. All of which “break” the rules. But it’s still “great”.

So there’s something else which attracts us to these images – which makes us want to have them on our walls, and look at them over and over again. In my humble view, it’s little to do with the quality of the equipment, and it’s all to do with the individual behind the camera, deciding where to point the lens, and when to press the shutter. It’s so often, the emotion that the picture captures which makes it so good. The photographer needs to have that in his mind all the time he’s snapping away. You need to be an artist, in the same way that Turner, or Monet were. They saw what was in front of them, but then turned it into something special and individual – a personal shaft of light onto something we’d all probably seen before, but never trapped it in the way they did.

The same applies to the great photograph. Sometimes these images stand on their own, and sometimes they need a bit of explanation – this one I’ve chosen needs a few words.

You may have gleaned from this blog that I am partial to cricket, and cricket provides here one of the very best sporting pictures ever taken. The reason it gets mentioned now is that, 4 years on to the day, we’ve just finished the 3rd Ashes Test match against Australia in Birmingham, and my mind can’t help but flash back to that Sunday in 2005 when the picture was taken. We had the best Ashes Series ever here in that year, and there is one image from it, which sums it all up for me, and is as perfect as it gets.

It was the nail biting-est finish you could ever imagine. Both teams had been going at it, hammer and tongs, and on the last day, Australia had what seemed like the forlorn chase of around 100 runs to win the match, with only 2 bottom of the order wickets left to fall. Except the Cricketing Gods had other ideas.

It was going to be the matter of a few minutes work that morning, a couple of decent balls and there you go. Bang, bang, job done. Only, of course, it didn’t turn out like that. Shane Warne, and Brett Lee, the Australian batsmen remorselessly hit their way towards the target, until Warne was out, bizarrely Hit Wicket, to be replaced by Kasprovich, the last Aussie batsman standing. Now Kasprovich is NOT a batsman. But, snicks here, a dropped catch there, and the deficit was reduced to less than 20, then down to single figures. The crowd was so quiet, you could have been in church.

There were people in the crowd with their heads in their hands. A colleague, who was there, and works in the next office to me, tells of grown men, who had paid good money to see England thrash the Aussies that day, sitting resolutely facing the outer wall of the ground, completely unable to watch what was going on. The deficit came down and down, until they needed just 2 runs to win, and then Kasprovich nicked one off his gloves from Harmison, clearly going for 4, down the leg side, and Jones, the Wicket Keeper held on to it brilliantly. The crowd, according to the commentator, went “ballistic”, and, to a man (at least all the English ones!) they rose up as one, exultantly. The England team were in a state of utter shock, one running aimlessly round in circles on the boundary, and the rest of them jumping on top of each other completely out of control.

The two Australian Batsmen were totally distraught. So, so near that they’d both probably come to believe in the final few moments of the game that they were going to pull off the greatest “against the tide” win ever, and yet, at the last gasp, the merest touch of a glove on the ball meant that they’d failed. Brett Lee was crouched down on the pitch in tears, and Andrew Flintoff, who’s not normally known for his sensitivity, broke off from his personal celebrations. He went over and crouched down beside Lee, put his arm round him, one fast bowler to another, and spent a few priceless seconds commiserating with him. A beautiful, emotional and very moving sporting moment.

Someone had his camera at the ready, was in exactly the right place, realised the significance of the moment, pressed the shutter exactly at the right time and captured it to perfection. Here you have the culmination of a great sporting event, one of the greatest I ever expect to see, frozen for ever in one single image. One picture which, every time I look at it, brings me out in goosebumps.
Just to build on that, who was it that did exactly the same to the Australians after they had lost another exiting test. Yes - Andrew Flintoff.


In reality of course, there’s no such thing as the Greatest “anything” if it all comes down to a subjective judgement. If we’re talking about running the 100 yards, then Usain Bolt gets it, no argument. The clock says so. But, if it comes down to one person’s opinion, well that’s it, a matter of simple personal, subjective judgement. You may be very knowledgeable and have a degree on the subject, and a lot of people may either agree with you or be persuaded by you, but that doesn’t make you “right”. You can explain until the cows come home why you think that Bethoven’s Eroica or the Sex Pistol’s “God Save the Queen” is the greatest piece of music ever written. But if I think it’s Rolf Harris singing “Jake the Peg”, your opinion, to me, is quite irrelevant. Jake The Peg gets it.

And it’s the same with these pictures. On the basis that, if you gave me a choice of one, and one only, sporting image I’d like to have hanging on my wall at home, this is the one I’d pick, then that’s good enough for me. End of story.

The Greatest Sports picture ever – unless you know differently!

Saturday, August 01, 2009


The DVDs of “Tutti Frutti” have arrived from Ama**n. I can’t tell you the full name of the supplier, because it’s turned up 2 days before the official release date, and if I watch it within the next 48 hours, someone will have to kill me. This is quite pathetic really. I’ve just taken a photograph of the unopened box. I’m 63, for God’s sake, and I’m behaving like a child.

But before we get to see it all, we’ve got to open it. Ah yes, the DVD packaging. What is it about DVD packaging that makes me want to stab someone deeply through the heart? You’d think, for a product that costs some £30, they’d set out to look after the customer, make it easy for him, and put one of those little strips of narrow plastic that you simply pull all around the box leaving the plastic film in two easily separated parts. A bit like they do on a 40p Kit Kat bar. Oh No – that would be too helpful.

So we start the assault on the box. Firstly, it’s the shrink-wrapped plastic that’s so tight that you can’t begin to get a purchase on it to pull it apart like you do with a packet of crisps. The tension in the cellophane is so strong that you wonder that the DVDs can withstand the forces being applied to them. All you get here is a few bruise marks on the DVD box where your nails have skidded across the virgin surface of the box. So it’s secondhand before you’ve even opened it. Excellent.

So you give that one up and try to pick the edges of the folded over bits at each end apart so you can get into it that way. But they’re way ahead of you - they’ve thought of that one ages ago, and got it totally covered. The glue they use is quite impregnable, and has welded the two folds together so well that separating them again is quite out of the question. The brilliant malevolence of the adhesive technology they use has meant that the glue reaches absolutely to the edge of the plastic film all the way round the packaging, so there’s no weak link to allow you even the slightest iota of purchase for your despairing finger. All you get is worn nails and an equally worn temper.

So, desperate measures - out comes the LeatherMan. We now have to use our skills in keyhole surgery now, and make a deep incision along one edge of the box to allow us to release the tension and allow us in. But there’s a last trick, a booby trap they used here. The plastic film is just strong enough to resist a gentle pressure from the sharp blade of the Leatherman, so you have to really give it some welly. The result is that it gives up almost explosively and you push all the way through the film, and stab a hole in the box, just where you’re going to be able to see it for ever.

Your pleasure in looking forward to some hours of utter joy has now been changed into a simmering resentment at the manufacturers, whose name, wouldn’t you know it, is written is such small print on the box as to be undecipherable. Quelle surprise!

Anyway, with my confident, firm-handed surgeon’s approach, I’ve made the incision and by dint of immense control, and the use of a freshly sharpened blade, the cellophane is now off, and we’re into the box. Swab, nurse.

I look inside for a profuse and detailed apology from the BBC for making me wait 22 years for all this. Absolutely nothing. There’s actually no insert to explain anything about the DVDs. No cast list, no history, no extras, no episode listing, absolutely bloody nothing! Just 2 DVDs and four postcards each with a (rather good, I have to say) drawing of a member of the cast. Ho, Hum. Someone at the Beeb is really on a cost cutting roll, or are they really determined to piss off the customers. So, what’s new?

I’ve written about this 6 part TV series before. How it was shown twice in very quick succession on TV in 1987, at which time I, together with a whole raft of very discerning viewers, raved about it as an absolute classic. Then - nothing. We had all the rumours as to why it was never shown again, but it’s taken 22 years for whatever machinery had to be set in motion, to get it available for a new generation of people who’ve never even heard of it.

This far on now it's finally in my hands, I now get those doubts creeping in. Was it really as good as I thought it was? Have the rose coloured spectacles of 22 years bent my critical judgement faculties? A bit like the way the never ending length of summer as a child has changed now I’m over 60 – it’s over in a flash today. Have I moved on over that time, so that what I thought was brilliant then, no longer excites me? Has the humour simply dated? I’m worried, but something makes me think it’ll be alright.

I’ve built this up in my mind to be quite a thing. I’ve written a couple of times about it all on this blog, eulogising and putting it firmly in my Top 5 TV series ever. So, if the idea of wallowing in the disastrous but hilarious antics of a group of aging, delusional and failed Scottish musicians and the women who love and support them despite their manifest failures arouses your interest, then go out and buy it. John Byrne’s script is acerbic, black and terrific. To paraphrase Peter Kay – it’s the best thing to come out of Scotland since the M6 – or is it the A1?

So, if you don’t mind, I’m off round the Dark Side of the Moon for a while to join Danny, Suzi Kettles, Fud, Bom-ber, Vincent, Dennis, Janice (Miss Tonerrrrr!) and the most miserable record producer the world has ever seen - Eddie Clockerty.

I may be some time.