Friday, December 30, 2011

Football, It's a Minging Life! by Rick Holden (DB Publishing 2010)

Let’s end with an amusing little anecdote at Watford. One weekend when Jean was away, a few of the players and I went out on the town after the game. We ended up at a night club in Hemel called the Living Room, which was renowned as a ‘grab a granny’ venue. Somehow, we’d been split up into two pairs. Myself and Lee Richardson, whose never-to-be-forgotten domestic skills included cleaning vomit up with the vacuum cleaner, and Tony Coton and Mel Rees, two daft ’keepers. Lee and I went for a curry, and the two rocket scientists went back to my house to wait for us to return. When we returned I found a cat-sized hole in the ceiling of my conservatory and Mingan sitting next to half a dozen empty lager cans. I was convinced for months that Mingan was the culprit; being a Leeds cat he would have no problem getting stuck into the drink. It hadn’t really occurred to me that the two stooges had got bored of waiting for me to return and had broken in through my bedroom window, putting their feet through the roof as they climbed. That’s goalkeepers for you. I cleared away the lager cans and, to this day, Jean thinks the hole was made by the cat jumping off the window ledge onto the conservatory roof.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Maigret's War of Nerves by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1931)

“He worked like a slave. His professors regarded him as their most promising pupil. He had no friends. He never spoke much, even to his fellow students.“
He was poor, but he was used to poverty. Often he went to his classes with no socks. More than once he worked in the market, unloading vegetables to earn a few centimes…“
Then came the catastrophe. His mother died. There was no more money.“
And suddenly, without any transition, he turned his back on his dream. He might have looked for work, as so many students do. But no, he didn’t lift a finger…“
Did he have a suspicion that he wasn’t quite the genius he’d imagined? Had he begun to lose confidence in himself? In any case, he did nothing. Nothing whatever. He merely loafed about in cafés, writing begging letters to distant relatives and appealing to charitable organizations. He sponged cynically on any Czechs he happened to meet in Paris, even flaunting his lack of gratitude.“
The world hadn’t understood him. So he hated the world. And he spent his time nursing his hatred. In the Montparnasse cafés he would sit among people who were rich, happy, and bursting with good health. He would sip his café crème while cocktails were being poured out by the gallon.“
Was he already toying with the idea of a crime? Perhaps… I really don’t know. But I know that twenty or thirty years ago he’d have been a militant anarchist tossing bombs at royalty. But that’s no longer fashionable these days…

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1931)

“By working ourselves up into a frenzy, we ended up as packs of nerves. Especially those of us who didn’t eat enough. Do you see what I mean? Little Émile Klein included. A kid who didn’t eat, but kept himself going with loads of drink.
“Naturally, we re-discovered the world. We had our own ideas about all the great problems! We scoffed at the middle-class, society, and all established truths…“
As soon as we’d gulped down a few drinks and the air was thick with smoke, we’d bandy the craziest ideas about! A mixture of Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Moses, Confucius, and Jesus Christ.“
For instance, let’s see… I can’t remember who it was who discovered that pain didn’t exist and that it was only a figment of the imagination. I was so taken with the idea that, one night, in the middle of a breathless group, I stuck the end of a penknife into the fleshy part of my arm and tried to smile…“
Then there were other things. We were an Élite, a little group of Geniuses brought together by chance. We soared above the conventional world of law and prejudice.“
A handful of gods, do you see? Gods who were sometimes starving to death, but who walked the streets proudly, dismissing the passers-by with contempt.“
We used to plan the future: Lecocq d’Arneville was to be a Tolstoy. Van Damme, who was doing a boring course at the School of Economics, was to revolutionize political economy and reverse all accepted ideas on the organization of the human race
“Each of us had his place. There were poets, painters, and future heads of state.“
All on drink! And how! In the end, we were so used to getting carried away, that we’d hardly have got here, in the light of the lamp, with the skull from which we all drank, before each of us would manage to achieve the little frenzy he wanted, on his own…“
Even the more modest of us could already see a marble plaque one day on the wall of the house: Here met the famous Companions of the Apocalypse.…“
It was a challenge to see who could bring the latest book, or come up with the most far-fetched ideas.“
It’s pure chance that we didn’t become anarchists. We used to discuss the question, solemnly. There had been an attempted assassination in Seville. We’d read the newspaper article out loud.“
I can’t remember which of us cried out: ‘True genius is destructive!’…

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Margrave of the Marshes by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft (Chicago Review Press 2005)

Although they saw less of one another in the last few years before Walters' death, John remained terribly fond of him. They had a closeness that was quite touching to observe. John frequently characterised their relationship as being like that of a man and his dog, but with each plainly believing the other to be the dog. Walters came up with his own analogy, likening John to Eeyore from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories. 'Everybody's having honey while he's in some damp corner of a field, alone and ignored, with nothing but thistles,' noted Walters. 'If I call to remind him that he has a programme on Bank Holiday, it's: "Everybody gets a holiday but me." If I say he's got the day off to make way for some sort of Radio 1 special, it's: "They're trying to get rid of me." Either way it's thistles and I suspect he finds them rather reassuring.'

Elf (2003)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Football Men: Up Close with the Giants of the Modern Game by Simon Kuper (Simon & Schuster 2011)

When Cruijff returned to Ajax in 1981, the Dutch were sceptical. The Calvinist Holland of the time distrusted anyone who thought he was special. Cruijff had never been very popular in his own country, where he was known as ‘Nose’ or ‘the Money Wolf’. By now he was thirty-four, with a broken body. Surely he was just coming back for the money?

He made his Second Coming in an Ajax–Haarlem game. Early in the first half, he turned two defenders and lobbed the keeper, who was barely off his line. For the next three years, Dutch stadiums sold out wherever Cruijff played, as people flocked to see him one last time. He gave us 30-yard passes with the outside of his foot that put teammates in front of the keeper so unexpectedly that sometimes the TV cameras couldn’t keep up.

But what he did on the field was only the half of it. The older Cruijff was the most interesting speaker on football I have ever heard. ‘Until I was thirty I did everything on feeling,’ Cruijff said. ‘After thirty I began to understand why I did the things I did.’ In 1981 I was twelve, living in Holland, and for the rest of my teens I imbibed everything he said about football. It was as if you could read a lucid conversation with Einstein in the paper every day or two.

Cruijff said things you could use at any level of football: don’t give a square ball, because if it’s intercepted the opposition has immediately beaten two men, you and the player you were passing to. Don’t pass to a teammate’s feet, but a yard in front of him, so he has to run on to the ball, which ups the pace of the game. If you’re having a bad game, just do simple things. Trap the ball and pass it to your nearest teammate. Do this a few times, and the feeling that you’re doing things right will restore your confidence. His wisdoms directly or indirectly improved almost every player in Holland. ‘That’s logical’ – the phrase he used to clinch arguments – became a Dutch cliché.

Cruijff had opinions on everything. He advised the golfer Ian Woosnam on his swing. He said the traffic lights in Amsterdam were in the wrong places, which gave him the right to ignore them. His old teammate Willem van Hanegem recalls Cruijff teaching him how to insert coins into a soft-drinks machine. Van Hanegem had been wrestling with the machine until Cruijff told him to use ‘a short, dry throw’. Maddeningly, the method worked.

(from 'Johan Cruijff - May 2009')

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Since The Layoffs by Iain Levison (Soho Press 2003)

Throughout the night I get customers and I learn things. An overweight woman in her fifties with unwashed, stringy black hair comes in at two in the morning and buys three gallons of whole milk. She hands me what looks like a credit card, but instead of a bank logo, this is plain white and has a faded government seal on it. I look at her suspiciously.

"Run it," she says.

I shrug and swipe it through the credit card machine. Nothing happens. She looks at me, I look at her.

"Are you new?" she asks me. She is wheezing with the effort of carrying the milk to the counter.


"That's an EFS card. You have to push the EFS button on the machine." She smiles at me patiently.

I figure she's a mental patient, and this card is probably an access card to a parking garage in Iowa. I decide to let her have the milk. She obviously likes milk a lot and we've got plenty.

"It's okay," I tell her. "Just take the milk."

"There's a switch, an EFS switch," she says, getting impatient, or annoyed at being treated like a charity case. Then I see a tiny switch at the bottom of the credit card machine marked "EFS." I click the switch, and I'm amazed when a receipt prints up. She signs a copy and walks off, limping under the weight of three gallons of milk which she appears to be carrying home through the cold. It must be for a family's breakfast. I look at the receipt, and it says, "Electronic Food Stamps, Inc."

Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. Not Electronic Food Stamps, but Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. This is a business. Somebody's making money designing ways to get government aid to people who have been tossed aside. Some money grubbing software designer has a government contract because we all lost our jobs.

That's the biggest insult of all, that we are being fed off. The destruction of my life, my town, represents a business opportunity to someone else. NIne months ago, this woman walking through the cold was probably a factory employee, or perhaps the wife of one, and her children had health insurance and she had a car and she bought milk in the daytime, with money. I am suddenly filled with the urge to find the fucker who owns the EFS company and shoot him right in the fucking face. I feel that someone owes me an explanation, not a corporate public relations-type explanation, but a down-on-your-knees-begging-for-your-life explanation, which is the only kind worth listening to.

But he's not the only one. From now on, I have to make a list of people who need to be shot in the face. There needs to be a real bloodbath, to equal the financial and emotional one which has just been drawn for all of us.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Working Stiff's Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can't Remember by Iain Levison (Random House 2002)

The hard part is learning the route. I'm working Philadelphia's Main Line, once again servicing rich people, many of whom have mansions for houses. Families of three or four live in eighteen-bedroom castles, with new sports cars in every driveway. I drive around and wonder what these people do for a living. Where do the rich come from? Do all these houses belong to geniuses, inventors of rocket engines and cures for diseases? Did they have one great idea, like Post-it notes, and capitalize on it? Is there some fascinating story behind this great surplus of money, or have they simply inherited a factory that makes toenail clippers for the armed forces?

One thing's for sure; they believe they deserve it. I don't know many rich people, but I've met enough to know that even the ones who were handed a trust fund think of themselves as special, not lucky. They reinvent the past to include details of their own forbearance and fortitude to anyone who'll listen, and someone always will because they're rich. It's always more entertaining listening to the rich, because there's always a chance you'll be asked along to the Bahamas or given a sports car for the weekend. The fact that they're usually stingier than the people I hang out with takes a while to sink in.

The other great fact about rich people is that their kids are always fuck-ups. Not the kind of lovable fuck-up who works down at the gas station and tells you he can fix your car and then destroys it. No, rich kids are shady. They're the kind that dream up a brilliant illegal plan, just to show their dad a thing or two; then when you all get caught, they beg their dad for a great lawyer and never talk to you again. They were born into money, and they know money will take care of them. This security gives them a whole different value system, one the rest of the world never quite gets.

These half-empty houses, I notice, are mostly dark and quiet, like the set from Citizen Kane. Housewives putter around in the kitchens, and I see their coiffed heads through the window as I hook up my hose to their oil fills. They are usually alone. They never wave. The third great fact about rich people is that they don't talk to the help. Lady Chatterley's Lover was bullshit.

Friday, December 09, 2011

March Violets by Philip Kerr (Viking 1989)

Driving west on Leipzigerstrasse, I met the torchlight parade of Brownshirt legions as it marched south down Wilhelmstrasse, and I was obliged to get out of my car and salute the passing standard. Not to have done so would have been to risk a beating. I guess there were others like me in that crowd, our right arms extended like so many traffic policemen, doing it just to avoid trouble and feeling a bit ridiculous. Who knows? But come to think of it, political parties were always big on salutes in Germany: the Social Democrats had their clenched fist raised high above the head; the Bolshies in the K P D had their clenched fist raised at shoulder level; the Centrists had their two-fingered, pistol-shaped hand signal, with the thumb cocked; and the Nazis had fingernail inspection. I can remember when we used to think it was all rather ridiculous and melodramatic, and maybe that's why none of us took it seriously. And here we all were now, saluting with the best of them. Crazy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller (Back Bay Books 2003)


I used to walk down the street with Bill Murray and have to stand there patiently for twenty minutes of like drooling and ass-kissing by people who would come up to him. And Murray would point to me and say, “Well, he’s the guy who writes the stuff,” but they would continue to ooh and ahh over him. Murray can be a real asshole, but the thing that keeps bringing me back to defend him is I’ve seen him be an asshole to people who could affect his career way more often than to people who couldn’t. Harry Shearer will shit on you to the precise degree that it’s cost-free; he’s a total ass-kisser with important people.

Back when neither of us was making much money, Murray and I would take these cheap flights to Hawaii. We had to stop in Chicago, and at the airport there’d be these baggage handlers just screaming at the sight of him, and he would take enormous amounts of time with them, and even get into like riffs with them. I enjoyed it, because it was really entertaining. We went down to see Audrey Peart Dickman once, and the toll guy on the Jersey turnpike looked in and recognized Murray and went crazy. We stopped and people were honking and Bill was doing autographs for the guy and his family.

I’ve yet to meet the celebrity who was universally nice to everyone. But the best at it is Murray — even to people who had nothing to do with career or the business (P.248)


Farley and this girl on the show were going out. She was really smart and pretty, and Farley really liked her a lot. But she couldn’t put up with any more of Farley’s stuff, so they broke up. And then she started dating Steve Martin. So one day Farley comes to me and he says, “Fred, I hear that she’s going out with some guy. What can you tell me about it?” And, you know, nobody wanted to tell Chris Farley that she was dating anyone else, particularly Steve Martin. So I just said, “Well, I haven’t heard. I don’t know.” And he goes, “I know she’s seeing somebody. You’ve got to tell me who it is.” And I said, “Well, I don’t want to get in the middle of any of that kind of stuff.” And Farley said, “Well, she may find somebody better looking than me, or she might find somebody richer than me, but she’s not going to find anybody funnier than me.” And what I couldn’t tell him was, he was wrong on all three counts. He had hit the hat trick of failure. Steve Martin was richer, better looking, and even funnier. (P.306)


I mean, the whole thing was weird to me. The whole thing. To me, what was fun about comedy and should have been exciting about Saturday Night Live was the whole generational thing, you know, a crazy bunch of people sittin’ around making each other laugh with casual chaos and a kind of democracy of chaos. And to go into a place where this one distant and cold guy is in charge and trying to run it the way he ran it decades ago is just weird to me (P.463)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Socrates - RIP

I was always Eder in the playground but I always had a soft spot for Socrates. I remember this goal as if it was yesterday:

Socrates - RIP.