Monday, November 27, 2006

Well, the bit about England having to start well obviously struck a chord, although not with the people it was supposed to! It's going to be an uphill battle now.

On an entirely separate note, those who know me will be well aware I don't watch much in the way of TV but I've finally found a show I really like. 'Lead Balloon', starring Jack Dee on BBC2 is outstanding - extremely funny in a slightly depressing way - the main character is a comedian, disillusioned with the way his work is turning out, with an agent wife, stroppy daughter and downright rude home help. He's a total neurotic, who can't bear the thought that people might think he's fat, gay, or simply not very funny. And there but for the grace of God goes nearly every 30- or 40-something bloke I know, especially me!

I understand that it owes a lot to the US show 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. But as I've never seen that, I can't recommend it and must content myself with thoroughly endorsing 'Lead Balloon', Thursday nights on BBC2.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It all begins tonight. It's 124 years since a full-strength England first lost to Australia on home soil, whereupon the body of English cricket was cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.

Battle will be rejoined at 11pm in the UK and I simply cannot wait. Australia are unbeaten in nearly 20 years at the Gabba ground in Brisbane, the traditional venue for the opening Test of an Ashes series. If England are to maintain their fragile hold on the urn, a good start at the fortress of Australian cricket is essential.

Australia will start as favourites and justifiably so after England's winning team of last year has been decimated by injury and illness. Can the replacements - the likes of Alistair Cook, Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson - repeat those heroics?

For what it's worth, I think Australia will fulfil their burning desire to right last year's wrongs and prevail by a victory margin of 3-1. Good luck to both sides and let the games begin!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A footnote to the last entry. The Australian cricket team has a victory song - 'Under The Southern Cross' - which is sung by the entire team after a Test match win. One member of the team has the honour of leading the team in the song, and this honour is passed down reverently as time passes, players retire and a younger team member, now established in the side, takes the baton. It's not a difficult hymn.....

Under the southern cross I stand
A twig of wattle in my hand
A native of my native land
Australia, you bloody beauty

I only mention it because, on my trip to Australia in 2002, I took a yacht trip out in the Whitsunday Islands, off Queensland. Moored up in a bay on a warm clear night with the heavens resembling a glittering sheet of silver, I asked the skipper to show me the Southern Cross, the constellation that appears on the flags of Australia and New Zealand. Lying on deck gazing at it, surrounded by unimaginable silence and beauty, even this Pom found himself muttering the verse and uttering the immortal words 'Australia, you bloody beauty'....

Last song on the iPod: Sarah McLachlan - I Love You

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The contest for the Ashes begins in just over a week. Cricket's oldest rivals will go head-to-head in a series that means more to both teams than for many years. England, finally the holders once again, must prove they are worthy and ready to step up to challenge the Aussies for the title of 'best team in the world'. Australia, wounded by their first defeat since 1986/87, will be burning to show their sport-mad countrymen that last year was just a blip. Looking forward to it, as I do every series.

What is it about Australia that makes their sportsmen and women so competitive? Is it that they are a relatively young country and are therefore desperate to be noticed on the world stage? Is it the concept of 'mateship' that's drummed into them from an early age and team sports are a natural progression from that, underpinned by the ideal that you never ever let your mates down? Or is it the climate, which encourages young people especially to spend a large amount of time outside?

It's probably a mixture of all three and more but there's no doubt that a nation of only 20m punches well above its weight on the sporting front. Sir Don Bradman, Dawn Fraser, Cathy Freeman, Kieron Perkins, Ian Thorpe, David Campese, Mal Meninga, Shane Warne and many more - these are some of the great names of sport. The Aussies are our rivals but in most cases, rather than hating them, I reckon we see them as our slightly irritating but essentially good-natured cousins - the ones we're secretly jealous of cos they're younger and fitter than us!
A rather bizarre question struck me today as I sat in traffic on my way to Bristol. Which town appears the most in songs? It only occurred to me today as I had my Beatles' compilation CD going in the car and listened to 'Get Back', which mentions Tucson, Arizona in the first verse. The same town appears in Paul Simon's 'Under African Skies' from the album 'Graceland', which incidentally might just be my favourite album.

What is it about Tucson that means it appears in two wholly different songs nearly twenty years apart? What's in Tucson that makes it popular? Does the town appear in any other tracks? I know the likes of New York, Chicago and San Francisco are so famous that they have their own tracks recorded in tribute but what about the smaller towns? I once went to Chicago with work and the hotel I stayed at made all employees wear badges carrying their name and home town. My contact came from Saginaw, Michigan - which appears in another track by Simon, this time 'America'.

What about towns in the UK? Again, the likes of London are mentioned in hundreds of songs - but are there any that mention the likes of Clitheroe, Dewsbury, Evesham and Stirling? Answers on the proverbial (and metaphorical) postcard...

Monday, November 13, 2006

This is the time of year when we offer our tributes to those who have sacrificed their lives for their country in the great conflicts of the twentieth century.

Having grown up in Rugby, Warwickshire, I make no apologies for selecting Rupert Brooke's poem 'The Soldier' as one that has particular poignance for those who love their country (and it is possible to love it without resorting to jingoism, xenophobia or nationalistic fervour, I promise....) Brooke was born in Rugby and attended Rugby School and his statue adorns the town centre. I reckon that millions of schoolchildren must have grown up quoting the first few lines of The Soldier and it probably still brings a tear to their eye.

If I should die, think only this of me
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be,
In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware
Gave once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam
A body of England's, breathing English air
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death. The latest chapter in a pretty sorry chain of events which the UK helped to bring about. It won't bring about an end to the violence that we see on a daily basis.

Nobody would deny that Saddam Hussein is a vile human being. He deserves no compassion or sympathy. But surely a life sentence would have been the best way to make him pay for his crimes, left to rot, forgotten. This way, quite apart from the fact that the UK does not support the death penalty, (although we can hardly trumpet the 'fledgling Iraqi democracy' we claim to have created and then condemn its findings), it surely just allows him one more moment in the spotlight and risks making him a martyr?

What also appears to have gone unnoticed by those who have hailed yesterday as a 'good day for Iraq' was that Saddam will go to the gallows as a result of a massacre in the village of Dujail in 1982. That was in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war when Saddam was backed wholeheartedly by both the US and the UK. Our favourite Middle Eastern son, battling against the evil Islamic clerics in Tehran. Oh, the bitter bitter irony.......
A fun weekend to lift a little of last week's gloom. Friday saw a visit to a bonfire party in the Wiltshire village of Broughton Gifford with my colleague and good friend Max. Saturday and Sunday saw a rugby fest with the highlight a trip to Twickenham to watch England take on the might of the All Blacks. I'm pretty neutral when it comes to international sport, far less tribal and partisan than club rugby or football, so was happy to sit back and enjoy the All Blacks sweep to a deserved victory.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The US mid-term elections take place on 7th November. With the President's Iraq woes growing by the day, surely the Democrats should be looking forward to a good night?

Well, indeed they might, but if this article by the author and journalsit Sharon Smith is anything to go by,, we'll be waiting a long time for a reversal of the intolerant, illiberal policies that have been a feature of the last few years, not just in the US but the UK as well.

How utterly depressing....

Last song on the iPod: Pet Shop Boys - So Hard
Been away for ages. Way too long. Lots of stuff been happening, not all of it good.

The world has just kept on turning in my absence though - and look where we are. The Stern report is released and finally confirms what we all knew - that global warming, if left unchecked, will be utterly catastrophic and 'business' will not escape. So what happens? Mr Blair pops up and says 'why, this is terrible - something must be done!' And yet just last week, I could have sworn he said that setting targets for cutting carbon emissions was unhelpful becasue the targets could never be met - and that any agreement on cutting emissions must be 'good for business'. Suddenly, when it's his beloved 'business' that's staring down the barrel, he's all over the television.

Of course, I'm not really complaining that he's suddenly developed such a passion for all things green. But this relentless drive for 'growth' - across all peoples, companies and governments worldwide - is so pernicious. Is it really so awful that some folk should be happy with their lot? Obviously there are great many nations worldwide who suffer from abject poverty and drought, I'm not talking about them - but the UK is better off than most.

Would it really be so terrible if UK PLC stood still for a couple of years and simply redistributed its not inconsiderable wealth to aid its relatively few poverty-stricken citizens?

I'm speaking from a personal viewpoint here as well as from a global economic one. My beloved employers will make a profit of something in the region of £12m - £15m this year. That's not too shabby, you might say - and you'd be right. But it's not enough for them - and they have made the requisite 'restructure' to their business....with the result that a small number of people whom I care about deeply have lost their jobs.

All this applies to individuals too and I cannot help but think that this relentless desire for 'more, more, more' makes fools of us all. I still have a job, which pays the mortgage on the property I will one day own. I'm married, I own a car and in short, though by no means wealthy, I am comfortable. So why the hell am I so bloody disillusioned........