Monday, December 28, 2015

Maigret's Boyhood Friend by Georges Simenon (Harcourt Books 1968)

The fly circled three times around his head before alighting on the top left-hand corner of the report on which he was making notes.

With pencil poised, Maigret eyed it with amused curiosity. The fly had repeated this maneuver over and over again in the past half-hour. At any rate, Maigret presumed that it was the same fly. It seemed to be the only one in the office.

Each time, it circled once or twice in a patch of sunlight, then buzzed around the Chief Superintendent’s head, and finally came to rest on the papers on his desk. And there it stayed for a while, lazily rubbing its legs together and looking at him with an air of defiance.

Was it really looking at him? And if so, what did it take this huge mound of flesh to be—for that was how he must appear to it.

He was at pains not to frighten it away. He sat motionless, with pencil still poised above his papers, until, quite suddenly, the fly took off and vanished through the open window.

It was the middle of June. From time to time a gentle breeze stirred the air in the office, where Maigret, in shirt sleeves, sat contentedly smoking his pipe. He had set aside this afternoon to read through his inspectors’ reports, and was doing so with exemplary patience.

Nine or ten times, the fly had returned to alight on his papers, always on the same spot. It was almost as though it had established a kind of relationship with him.

It was an odd coincidence. The sunshine, the little gusts of cooler air blowing through the window, the intriguing antics of the fly, all served to remind him of his schooldays, when a fly on his desk had often engaged a larger share of his interest than the teacher who had the class.

There was a discreet knock at the door. It was old Joseph, the messenger, bearing an engraved visiting card, which read: Léon Florentin, Antique Dealer.

“How old would you say he was?”

“About your age.”

“Tall and thin?”

“That’s right. Very tall and thin, with a real mop of gray hair.”

Yes, that was the man, all right. Florentin, who had been at school with him, at the Lycée Banville in Moulins, the clown of the class.

“Send him in.”

He had forgotten the fly, which, feeling slighted perhaps, seemed to have gone for good. There was a brief, embarrassed silence as the two men looked at one another. This was only their second meeting since their school days in Moulins. The first had been a chance encounter in the street about twenty years ago. Florentin, very well groomed, had been accompanied by an attractive and elegant woman.

“This is my old school friend, Maigret. He’s a police officer.”

Then, to Maigret:

“Allow me to introduce my wife, Monique.”

Then, as now, the sun was shining. They had really had nothing to say to one another.

“How are things? Still happy in your work?”

“Yes. And you?”

“Can’t complain.”

“Are you living in Paris?”

“Yes. Sixty-two Boulevard Haussmann. But I travel a good deal on business. I’ve just come back from Istanbul. We must get together some time, the two of us, and you and Madame Maigret… I suppose you’re married?”

The encounter had been something of an embarrassment to both of them. The couple’s pale green, open sports car had been parked nearby, and they had got into it and driven off, leaving Maigret to continue on his way.

The Florentin now facing Maigret across his desk was more seedy than the dashing figure he had seemed to be on the Place de la Madeleine. He was wearing a rather shabby gray suit, and his manner was a good deal less self-assured.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Even Dogs In The Wild by Ian Rankin (Orion Books 2015)

Darryl Christie wasn’t a huge fan of Glasgow. It sprawled in a way his own city didn’t. And there were still traces of the old enmity between Catholic and Protestant – of course that existed in Edinburgh too, but it had never quite defined the place the way it did Glasgow. The people spoke differently here, and had a garrulousness to them that spilled over into physical swagger. They were, as they chanted on the football terraces, ‘the people’. But they were not Darryl Christie’s people. Edinburgh could seem tame by comparison, head always below the parapet, keeping itself to itself. In the independence referendum, Edinburgh had voted No and Glasgow Yes, the latter parading its saltired allegiance around George Square night after night, or else protesting media bias outside the BBC headquarters. The political debate had melted into a blend of carnival and stairheid rammy, so that you never knew if people were joyous or furious.

Darryl Christie had considered all the implications for his various business interests and come to the conclusion that either outcome would probably suit him just fine, so in the end he hadn’t voted at all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The House of Twenty Thousand Books by Sasha Abramsky (New York Review Books 2015)

What Chimen did do, though, was pen a series of memoranda about how he had acquired some of his rarest prizes. He wrote, for example, about how, in the early 1950s, he had managed to buy William Morris’s complete collection of the Socialist League’s journal, The Commonweal, along with the wooden box, with a rexine cover dyed blue and lined with a white felt like material, that Morris himself had constructed to house a 1539 Bible, and in which, ultimately, he kept his copies of the revolutionary paper. The pages of the publication—its words printed in double columns originally on a monthly basis, then later weekly, from 1886 until 1895, and filled with the revolutionary musings of Morris, Marx’s daughter Eleanor, and other radical luminaries of the late-Victorian years—had passed from Morris to his close friend, the typographer Emery Walker; from Walker to his daughter and from her to a poet named Norman Hidson. Chimen eventually bought it from Hidden for £50. And there they stayed, in their Bible box, high on a wooden shelf in the upstairs hallway at 5 Hillway, for more than half a century.

Those pages were some of Chimen’s most treasured possessions, their crinkly texture and age-browned color conjuring images of the cultured, tea-drinking revolutionaries who had made up Morris’s coterie. I imagine that, in many ways, Chimen saw himself in their stories. The front-page manifesto in The Commonweal’s first issue, sold to readers for one penny in February 1886 and signed by the twenty-three founders of the Socialist League, put the mission simply: “We come before you as a body advocating the principles of Revolutionary International Socialism; that is, we seek a change in the basis of Society—a change which would destroy the distinctions of classes and nationalities.” On May Day the following year, the date on which it was announced that the paper would be published weekly, Morris and his friend Ernest Belfort Bax wrote an editorial: “We are but few, as all those who stand by principles must be until inevitable necessity forces the world to practise those principles. We are few, and have our own work to do, which no one but ourselves can do, and every atom of intelligence and energy that there is amongst us will be needed for that work."

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Kindest Thing by Cath Staincliffe (2010)

It’s my birthday tomorrow. Fifty. The big five-oh. I’m not having a party – I’ll be in court. The charge is murder. More than one way to make the occasion memorable. Sorry. I’m being flippant. Fear does that to me. While it squeezes my insides and tightens my spine, my brain seizes on irreverent wisecracks and sarky comments. A defence mechanism, I guess. To hide how close I am to dissolving in terror at my situation.

The authorities find this verbal bravado very difficult to deal with. My lawyer soon cottoned on and told me to button it. Menopausal women with dead husbands are not meant to offer up smart remarks. Too bold. Too hard. It makes people uncomfortable – not least because for a nanosecond they share the humour. An expression of delight and hilarity flashes across their faces, chased away by frowns and winces. They wriggle in their seats, swallow and ease their stiff shirt collars with the hook of a finger. They expect a victim, all soft sighs and shame, begging for mercy. Not a backchatting bitch having a laugh. Different century and I’d have been fitted with a scold’s bridle or floated on the village pond. Instead it’s the Crown Court and the front pages of the nationals.

When the fear gets too large, when it threatens to devour me, like now, I drag my thoughts back to Neil, to what we had, what we shared before it was all narrowed down to one infamous act. The good old bad old days.

I wish he were here with me. He could still me with a look. In his gaze I would find strength and love and an edge of amusement. No matter how dark things got, he always had that sardonic half-smile in him. And things got dark; they are dark. It’s an illogical wish – if Neil were here, I wouldn’t be. He’s the reason I’m here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Silence of the Bams

Absolute genius. Had me in tears when I watched it for the seventh time. Better than the original.


Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina (Orion Books 2015)

She’d been as biddable as a heifer for the two days they had her. She came willingly when they picked her up in the van. She asked no favours, made no appeals for mercy while they waited for Wee Paul to give the final word: kill her or let her go.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Marxism in a Lost Century: A Biography of Paul Mattick by Gary Roth (Brill Publishing 2015)

The Charlottenburg branch (Mattick’s) organised the production of the group’s monthly paper, Rote Jugend [Red Youth]. Mattick contributed short pieces and progressively turned his attention to writing. When he withdrew from view, friends assumed it was because he was composing something new. Radicalism meant that politics and creativity were pursued simultaneously, that protest and expression prefigured one another. The youth group publicised open forums through posters pasted on the sides of buildings. If a wall was wide enough, they displayed their entire newspaper. Small teams set out at night, careful not to get caught. Two people would watch for the police at the respective corners while someone else carried the glue pot and another the poster. Wheat paste (flour dissolved in water) was inexpensive, easy to mix, and nearly permanent as an adhesive. Mattick especially liked the easy-going camaraderie where everyone got along.

Financing their paper was a huge challenge. KAPD members like Max Hoelz and Karl Plättner, whose exploits received considerable attention from the bourgeois press during the Kapp Putsch, served as models. Hoelz mobilised a small army of 2500 to help with heists at banks, factory pay windows, and post offices, even commandeering a tank at one point. Plättner, a KAPD member from the beginning, attracted as many as 100 armed adherents, although the core group included fifteen-odd people who weaved in and out of participation. Members received regular wages in order to support their families and also to prevent personal gain and plundering as motivations. Inordinately scrupulous as to the use of force, they often threatened physical harm but never actually committed it. Couriers transferred expropriated funds between the field operations and KAPD colleagues in Berlin, with official receipts and proper paperwork to conduct the transactions. These radical leftists adhered to standard business practices whenever they handled money. Other KAPDists attempted to bomb Berlin’s Siegessäule, the tall victory column erected to celebrate Prussia’s crushing of the Paris Commune (and defeat of the French), albeit without success.

Class-conscious crimes aimed at the business world, the government, and the possessions of the upper and middle classes were considered proper and legitimate activities. The radicals determined from whom and how they would steal by means of a politicised ethics which guided the choice of targets and the possible uses for the proceeds. Mattick teamed up with friends to sneak into the common areas of apartment buildings where they absconded with things like the brass rods used to hold the staircase carpeting in place. Mattick’s expertise in metal recycling, learned during the war, was put to good use. They discovered, though, that much of the brass wasn’t real brass, only brass-plated. With the platinum lightning rods they took off rooftops, they uncovered something similar. Many of them were counterfeit, affording the buildings no protection whatsoever. For all the hoopla about expropriations, all they had done was to mimic everyday occurrences within the business arena. In the real world, theft and commerce were complimentary phenomena. At Siemens, Mattick carted lead, brass, and copper through the factory gates to sell to the salvage dealers, his contribution to the rampant employee theft during this period.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We've been here before . . .

Facial hair - check.
No tie - check.
Looking messianically into the distance - check,
Pointing out the class traitors in the audience - cheka.

Shame on me. Not for the piss-poor Cheka pun but because it's my first mention of Corbyn on the blog, and, then, it's only to post my half-arsed attempt at a political meme.

There is a silver lining, however.  I'm thinking of trying to sell the above pic - with the accompanying bad Cheka joke, naturally. Do you think the Daily Mail and Left Foot Forward might enter into a bidding war for the exclusive rights? I won't sell it for less than $2.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Flawed Genius: Scottish Football's Self-Destructive Mavericks by Stephen McGowan (Birlinn Ltd 2009)

'Big Jock couldn't believe it. "Do you really want to go to that elephant's graveyard?" he asked me.

'But Haldane Y Stewart could sell sand to the Arabs and he'd convinced me I was the best player since Pele.'
Stewart may not actually have believed that much. Within two seasons, however, there were plenty around Greenock who did. Initially, the reception and first impressions were underwhelming. A leaking gas fire created the impression of a gas chamber in the old Cappielow main stand when the new signing arrived on the morning of his debut against a Clydebank side featuring the late Davie Cooper. An air of decay hung over Cappielow and circulated the corridors.

'I remember meeting my great boyhood hero, the former Motherwell striker John Goldthorpe, as I walked in.

' "Andy, what you doing down here?" he asked me.

' "I'm playing against Clydebank tonight, John," I replied.

' "You're whit?" he asked me. "What? Are you down on loan?"

' "Naw," I said, "I signed for Morton this afternoon."

' "What the f*** did you sign down here for?" he asked me. That wasn't the best of starts.

'But the real culture shock arrived on the Saturday, when we went to Love Street to play St Mirren, our greatest rivals. We lost 5-1 to a team managed by a certain Alex Ferguson. That Saturday night, I drove home saying to myself, You'd better get your finger out; you don't want to be hanging about here too blinkin' long.'

Yet when the goals started flowing with a double against Montrose the following Wednesday, including a trademark free-kick, Ritchie settled. So well, indeed, that within weeks Celtic - unbeknown to the great man himself - tried to take him back for £170,000.

'Had I known at the time, I would have created merry hell to secure my return to full-time football. It was only many years after I had finished as a football player that I even learned of the bid from Sean Fallon, Jock's old assistant.

'As part of the deal, Morton would be duty bound to clarify that I had only ever been on loan. It's difficult to explain in words how I felt about it years later. I just wish to Christ I had known at the time.

'I quickly realised at Morton that I had never really wanted to leave Celtic. But Brings had gone so far, relations had soured so badly, that I had to. I was putting pressure on myself to succeed and I had to get away, to reinvent myself.'

To a large extent, he succeeded brilliantly. After scoring the goals which took Morton to the Premier League in a season-and-a-half, Ritchie became that rarest of entities: a Player of the Year plying his trade outwith the Old Firm.

When he earned his accolade from the Scottish Football Writers' Association in the Albany Hotel, Glasgow on an April night in 1979, he was just 22. The pride he took from having his father and grandfather in the grand room that evening was palpable. By his own admission, however, the award prompted a downward spiral rather than an unstoppable ascent.

In the days before footballers enjoyed rock star status, the celebrity that followed was difficult for a young working-class man with an attitude and a healthy slice of self-conceit to absorb.

'Things began to change after that,' he recalls. 'I parked my car outside a primary school in Greenock one day and young boys were playing football in the playground. One of the lads scored a screamer past the obligatory fat kid in goals. And as I turned the lock in my car door, I heard the shout, "And Ritchie scores!" I thought he was taking the piss. He wasn't, the kid hadn't even seen me. But at that time my reputation was growing all over the place. I was being recognised everywhere I went, from Laurencekirk to Lochee.'

What had also changed was Ritchie's attitude. The good habits bred at Celtic had flown out of the window to be replaced by heavy drinking, major gambling and a 40-a-day nicotine addiction. By his own admission, he played many of his best - and worst - games nursing a hangover. Friday night sessions in the Windmill Tavern in Lanarkshire would be followed on Saturday morning by a panicked search for the family car, a missing wallet and a phone call to an obliging teammate to get him to Greenock for the prematch meal, where manager Benny Rooney would be pacing around a hotel foyer checking his watch.

'I always remember Johnny Goldthorpe driving me to training at Morton one evening in our promotion season in 1978.

'Johnny was 32, had been a good pro and knew a thing or two. I had always looked up to him until the day he turned to me in the car and said, "You'll not last until you're 27 in this game."

'I was angry, furious in fact. I wasn't having that, not even from Johnny Goldthorpe. I was only in my early twenties at that time and I was flying. I was scoring goals, winning rave write-ups and was the best player in the country. What did this old fella know? Well, one thing he did know was the smell of drink - and I was in that car passenger seat steaming drunk. I'd been drinking all afternoon, and some of the morning as well. And that wasn't especially unusual for me. I'd still be stinking of drink when I played games. And somehow I was still scoring goals.

' "I'll do whatever the f*** I want," summed up my attitude best.

'Big Jock Stein had told me towards the end of my time at Parkhead - because I had begun to develop an opinion - that the best thing I could do was take the cotton wool out of my ears and shove it in my f****** mouth.

'Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed every minute of all that. I didn't do it to blot out any pain or any crap like that. But I saw no need to change. I had been boozing, gambling and doing whatever and we had still gone to the top of the league.'

Morton finished seventh in the Premier League that season, after leading before Christmas. Part-time football remained a constant despite promises from the chairman, Hal Stewart, to go full-time. To the more ambitious members of the playing staff, it was a betrayal.

Desperate to play for Scotland and increase basic earnings of £50 a week bolstered by a new contract and an afternoon job as a Morton Lottery Ticket salesman, however, Ritchie wanted out. With his gambling now out of control, he needed out.

in the morning news

They just played the opening riff of The Jam's 'In The City' on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe'. The day won't get any weirder.

This song:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Rejoice, Rejoice!: Britain in the 1980s by Alwyn Turner (Aurum Press 2008)

With a few exceptions – the anonymous narrator of Raymond’s Factory novels, Rankin’s John Rebus exploring the seedier side of Edinburgh with ‘its crooks and bandits, its whore and gamblers, its perpetual losers and winners’ – these characters primarily inhabited the small towns and middle-class world that had characterized the golden age. Even in Taggart, firmly located in Glasgow, the murderers whose stories were told in the first three series included a couple of small businessmen, a guest-house owner, a doctor, a philosophy student, a dentist and an ex-probation worker, as well as a group of bereaved parents meting out justice to the drug dealer responsible for their children’s deaths. Despite the urban setting, this is a world away from The Sweeney; there are no car chases, just Sgt Livingston running after teenagers and getting bitten by the occasional dog, and there is little suggestion of a criminal class separate from society: these are just ordinary, respectable people caught up in their own lives. And, at the other extreme of television detection, there was Jim Bergerac, investigating much smaller problems on Jersey and learning ‘to take the smooth with the smooth’.

Though the backdrop might have suggested a retreat from the city to the closed communities of Agatha Christie (encapsulated by Colin Watson as Mayhem Parva), there was an edge, to the literature at least, that was far removed from the cosiness of Miss Marple, an engagement with society, a desire to comment on contemporary mores. And although the likes of Morse and Dalgliesh spent much of their time behaving as though they were still autonomous detectives in the tradition of Holmes and Poirot, capable of solving any case through the exercise of their intellect, the central characters were still police officers, and couldn’t fail to notice the changing role of the force in the modern world. In one of Rendell’s novels, Inspector Burden initiates the putting of coloured lights in the tree outside the police station ‘in the interest of promoting jollier relations with the public’. His boss, Wexford, disapproves of the gesture, but it’s revealing that there was a perceived need for such a move: ‘surely you couldn’t go on feeling antagonistic towards or afraid of or suspicious about a friendly body that hung fairy-lights in a tree in its front garden?’ Elsewhere Peter Robinson’s character Inspector Banks was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the new role of the force: ‘he had many objections to the way the government seemed to look upon the police as a private army of paid bully boys to pit against people with genuine grievances and a constitutional right to air them.’ He consoles himself with the thought that he’s a detective ‘and he didn’t have to go on crowd control, bashing the bonces of the proletariat.’ But even detectives are affected by the rise of what Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel refers to as ‘porkism’, as his own sergeant concludes: ‘A man’s got to be mad to stay in a job where the public hates you and Maggie Thatcher loves you.’
Most political of all was Derek Raymond’s detective sergeant, who reflects on the police powers promised in a new piece of legislation (presumably inspired by the controversial Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984): ‘It was what I thought of as banana laws – the law of a society in the process of breaking down. Once properly tightened up, it would have meant that I could stop and arrest a man in the street simply because I didn’t like the look on his face, or the way his pockets bulged. It would have synchronized nicely with the plastic ID cards that every citizen would be required to carry by then, and before long we would have turned the country into a birdcage.’

Monday, August 03, 2015

"I'm doing this for my mother . . ."

Incredibly powerful speech from Joe McDonald from the CFMEU trade union on a motion about domestic violence at the Australian Labor Party Conference:

If there was any justice, it would go viral.

Hat tip to Mike B. for the video.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Last Days of Disco by David F. Ross (Orenda Books 2014)

2ND FEBRUARY 1982: 2:26PM

Fat Franny Duncan loved the Godfather movies, but he did not belong to this new band of theorists who reckoned II was better than I. For Fat Franny, original was most certainly best, although, given the success of the films and the timelessness of the story, he was staggered that there hadn’t been a III, like there had been with Rocky. He also couldn’t comprehend why there had been no book spin-off, although, even if there had, he would certainly not be wasting his time reading it. He knew the dialogue from both films pretty much by heart, and used their most famous quotes as a design for life. Particularly the lines of Don Corleone, who Fat Franny felt certain he would resemble later in his life. He was, after all, fat. There was no denying this. Bulk for Brando’s most famous character helped afford him gravitas and – as a consequence – respect; a level of respect that Fat Franny felt was within his grasp. Michael was a skinny Tally bastard and, although he undoubtedly commanded reverence, it was driven by fear.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Living in America

♪Take it to the bridge.♪ Take it from the bridge . . . Brooklyn Bridge, I hardly knew ye.

10 years to the day. Wow!

I never did find a decent Cornish Pasty in 9 years 11 months of living in Brooklyn. Will Indianapolis also break my heart? It's not an occasion for such maudlin thoughts.

Have a classic from Brooklyn's finest, Neil Diamond, instead:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Do They Mean Us? #22

Bless my cotton socks, we're they're in the news. Trending even.

New entry at number nine, though I'm sure - Top of the Pops appearances not withstanding - the article will fall outside the top ten within hours minutes. Why the sudden fame? Did Russell Brand finally get round to reading one of the 1,307 tweets sent to him in recent months by Party members, urging him to click on the link?

Nothing so sweaty and rock 'n' roll. No, the BBC discovers that the SPGB is apparently loaded because it's sitting on prime property in London SW4. Cash rich but membership poor inquorate. I guess the piece by Brian Wheeler isn't too much of a hatchet job, and the Party spokesperson quoted is able to make our case for what we are about, and why it's not that much of an anomaly, despite the 'Life of Brian' aspects to it. However, I'll still make a point of battening down the hatches in anticipation of the brickbats that will be thrown the SPGB's way on social media over the next few days.

One quibble, however, about the piece. 52 Clapham wasn't purchased for £300 back in 1951. It was purchased for £3-4000, which was obviously a fair bit of wedge back in the days of Alma Coogan and Al Martino.

Now, if I could only work in a Rock the Kazbar pun into the post this latest 'Do They Mean Us?' would be sorted. Bear with me . . . Something will come eventually . . . for fuck's sake. My blogging mojo's has truly gone. Kilimanjaro, here I come

Monday, July 13, 2015

To Kill . . .

I love this New Yorker cartoon that turned up on my timeline on Facebook but I still want to read it, nonetheless . . .

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Starts Making Sense . . .

- Did I ever tell you that David Byrne is originally from Dumbarton?
- Yes
- I did?
- Yes, every time a Talking Heads song comes on the radio. [Before I ask Kara to turn the dial. I'm not a fan of DB.]

True story, so I can - in my own way - identify with this cruel but funny cartoon found on Facebook.

Hat tip to Grangemouth's very own A.S.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Hedge Knight: A Tale of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin (Voyager Books 1998)

The spring rains had softened the ground, so Dunk had no trouble digging the grave. He chose a spot on the western slope of a low hill, for the old man had always loved to watch the sunset. “Another day done,” he would sigh, “and who knows what the morrow will bring us, eh, Dunk?”

Well, one morrow had brought rains that soaked them to the bones, and the one after had brought wet gusty winds, and the next a chill. By the fourth day the old man was too weak to ride. And now he was gone. Only a few days past, “he had been singing as they rode, the old song about going to Gulltown to see a fair maid, but instead of Gulltown he’d sung of Ashford. Off to Ashford to see the fair maid, heighho, heigh-ho, Dunk thought miserably as he dug. When the hole was deep enough, he lifted the old man’s body in his arms and carried him there. He had been a small man, and slim; stripped of hauberk, helm, and sword belt, he seemed to weigh no more than a bag of leaves. Dunk was hugely tall for his age, a shambling, shaggy, big-boned boy of sixteen or seventeen years (no one was quite certain which) who stood closer to seven feet than to six, and had only just begun to fill out his frame. The old man had often praised his strength. He had always been generous in his praise. It was all he had to give.

Get In!!!!!

My third 180 in three months. If this was 1974, I'd be ranked number seven in the world.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The 10 Football Matches That Changed The World ... and the One That Didn't by Jim Murphy (Biteback Publishing 2014)

England’s victory over Germany in extra time didn’t win Wilson the 1966 election. But their extra-time defeat four years later to the same opponents is felt by many on the Labour side to have pushed the party towards its next defeat. As the 1970 teams kicked off in the Mexico quarter-final, Labour was 9 per cent ahead in the opinion polls. The reigning champions went into a 2-0 lead in a game played just five days before Britain chose its government. But Germany fought back to win 3-2 after extra time. England were out. So, later that week, was Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Former Labour minister and one of the party’s sharpest ever thinkers Tony Crosland blamed the defeat on ‘a mix of party complacency and the disgruntled Match of the Day millions’.
Complacency undoubtedly played its part. Politics seemed to take the Wolstenholme approach to the 1970 general election. The opinion polls, the pundits and the parties thought Labour were cruising to victory. But unfortunately for Harold Wilson, he didn’t have a Geoff Hurst in his team to put it beyond doubt.
So what went so badly wrong so late in Wilson’s campaign? This is the story of how a hat-trick of goalkeeping howlers in the Mexican sunshine 5,500 miles away from Downing Street, helped cause one of the biggest upsets in Britain’s electoral history. It’s the story of the unexpected humiliation of England’s football team and the part their defeat played in the humbling of Britain’s Prime Minister. After one of the research interviews, this chapter took an unexpected turn. It now includes the story of football and a second Prime Minister. During my discussions with Tony Blair, he told me the incredible true story of how football smoothed his path to Downing Street; but more of that later.

. . .

I don’t have much time to puzzle over it before Tony creaks his neck round his office door. He welcomes me with one of his broad gap-in-his-tooth smiles. As we sit down to talk, I ask him about a mix of football and politics. He stares off into the middle distance and thinks back more than thirty years. On 11 May 1983, five friends who were all Labour Party members gathered around a television in the north-east of England, to watch Aberdeen in their first ever European final. The team from Scotland’s North East were taking on the mighty Real Madrid. Those few hours in that living room helped change the UK pretty dramatically; and still do to this day. Alex Ferguson had guided the Scottish Cup holders and League runners-up into the final of the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. As Aberdeen and their 14,000 fans celebrated in Sweden, something even more dramatic was beginning in the world of politics. That victory propelled the now Sir Alex onto the footballing world stage; it also helped launch the career of a little known 31-year-old lawyer and would-be politician by the name of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
‘That was the night I first went to Sedgefield for the Labour Party nomination,’ the now sixty-year-old former PM tells me. Sensibly, most readers won’t have any insights into Labour’s processes for picking an election candidate. More often than not, you need a strong group of local people talking to others and speaking up for you, if you’re to have any chance of being selected. It’s a tactic that seems to have evaded the young Blair. There’s no polite way of saying it. He had become one of the party’s most accomplished serial losers when it came to the business of Labour selections.
I tried for about twelve seats before Sedgefield all over the north-east. I lost out in many places because of my attitude on the Militant Tendency. Pre-1983, a lot of people didn’t want them expelled. In those days in Sedgefield there was a majority of Labour Party people who were in favour of expelling Militant from the Labour Party.
Tony picks up the story of what happened on that 11 May evening, when he set out to recruit influential Sedgefield Labour members to his cause.
I met the critical people that night. I knocked on the door in Front Street South, which was the house that belonged to John Burton, who later became my election agent. And as he opened the door the Aberdeen match had literally just begun. I needed to see him but he basically said, ‘Sit down and shut up.’ Which I quickly realised was very important, because if I’d blabbered away throughout the game then it was obvious I wouldn’t have been suitable.
Blair had arrived too late to see Aberdeen’s Eric Black put his side into a fifth-minute lead from a corner. But he was able to join in the general sense of annoyance that they conceded their lead so quickly, just seven minutes later to a Juanito penalty.

The match went into extra time before Aberdeen’s John Hewitt, a substitute for Black, the injured scorer of the first goal, netted the winner. It meant a late night for the five Sunderland fans and their Newcastle-supporting visitor. Despite having a crowded mind, Blair remembers it pretty clearly: ‘It was a stellar achievement for Aberdeen even at the time, but today it would be impossible. I had a beer and made sure that most of the conversation was about football. We got on to politics after the game.’ When the youthful Blair had walked into Burton’s home, they had most of the ninety minutes plus extra time ahead of them. By contrast, Blair was really up against the electoral clock. ‘The election was on 9 June. The selection of the Labour candidate didn’t start until 18 April. I was chosen right at the last.’ With the official deadline for candidates to be selected being 23 May, Blair was right up against the wire and he knew it.
I was the last candidate of any of the parties, anywhere in the country to be selected. It had been a new seat created by the boundary changes. It was a packed thing with lots of candidates and I squeezed through. The reason I got through was partly because of that night watching the Aberdeen game.
It seems clear what would have happened if that night he hadn’t hit it off with Burton and the others over a drink discussing football. There’s no way he would have become the MP for Sedgefield. More than that, this was the final candidate selection open to him. Without the support of his newly discovered footballing friends, he wouldn’t have become an MP at all in the 1983 election.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Kinda genius

Following on from the recent disturbing events in Texas, a brilliant piece of barbed satire aimed at those in power:

The blurb accompanying the pic is as follows:
Coming soon from McKinney Texas Police Productions, it's the next summer horror science fiction cop flick, Attack of the 14 Year Old Black Girl! A frightening teen girl in a bikini terrorizes the police force of a small Texas suburb, making them respond with excessive force and brutality reserved only for the worst of America's swimming thugs! Who will protect our nation's pool parties from this monster? Rated R for Racist! Featuring Emma Stone as the Asian Neighbor.
Hat tip to Lalo Alcaraz over at Facebook. Original poster over here.

Sunday, June 07, 2015


However, the silver lining is that if the World Darts Federation decide to hold next year's World Professional Darts Championship in the kids' bedroom, I fancy my chances.

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Fun like this . . ."

I've finally worked out how to get 180s. (My second this year.) Before the third dart is thrown, you haven't realised that you've already hit two treble twenties with your first two darts. 

The upside of a bad prescription.

Stalag 17 (1953)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Way We Die Now by Charles Willeford (No Exit Press 1988)

Commander Bill Henderson, Homicide Division executive officer, Miami Police Department, entered Sergeant Hoke Moseley's cubicle, removed the -Miami Herald- from the chair beside the desk, tossed it toward the overflowing wastepaper basket, and sat down heavily. He looked at the sheet of paper on his clipboard and sighed.

"I'm running a little informal survey, Hoke."

"I'm busy right now, Bill. I think I've finally got a worthwhile lead on the Dr. Paul Russell killing."

Hoke's messy desk was littered with a half dozen sheets of bond typewriter paper, supplementary reports, and a red accordion file. He had been drawing diagrams on the bond

paper with a ruler and a ballpoint.

"This is an important survey."

"More important than solving a cold case homicide?"

Bill pulled his lips back, exposing large gold-capped teeth that were entwined with silver wire. "Depends on whether you smoke or not. Have you quit yet?"

"Not exactly, but I'm down to about ten a day. I've tried to quit cold turkey, but the longest I've managed to go was about six hours. Now I time it and smoke a Kool every four hours, with maybe a few extra at night when I watch the tube. If I can hold it down to only ten a day, it's almost like not smoking at all."

Bill shook his head. "I switched over to cigars, but I still inhale, so I'll probably have to go back to cigarettes. After five cigars my throat's raw as a bastard, and I've been coughing up all kinds of shit in the morning."

"Is that the end of the survey?" Hoke picked up a Telectron garage opener device, the size of a king-size pack of cigarettes, and showed it to Bill Henderson. "Know what this is?"

"No, I don't, and no, I'm not finished. This really is important. I attended the new chief's weekly briefing this morning, and he's come up with a terrible plan. He wants to stop all smoking inside the police station. His idea's to set up a smoking area in the parking lot, and anytime you want to smoke you have to sign out for personal time and go out to the lot. Then, when you finish your smoke, you sign back in again and return to your desk or whatever. A lot of guys have already quit smoking, you see, and they've complained to the new chief that smoke from heavy smokers is invading their space."

"What about the men's room?"

"No smoking inside the building, period. That includes interrogation rooms, suspect lockup, everywhere except the outside parking lot."

"It won't work, Bill. Lieutenant Ramirez, in Robbery, smokes at least three packs a day. He might as well move his fucking desk out to the parking lot."

"That's what we tried to tell the new chief. But he figures if he makes it hard on smokers, they'll either cut down radically or quit."

"Does the new chief smoke? I never noticed."

"Snoose. He dips Copenhagen. He usually has a lipful of snuff, but he doesn't spit. He swallows the spit instead."

"That figures. The rule won't bother him any, so the bastard doesn't give a shit about the rest of us. But I don't think a rule that dumb can be enforced. Guys'll sneak 'em in the john or even at their desks."

"Not if they get an automatic twenty-five-dollar fine they won't."

Jesus." Hoke took a Kool out of his pack and lighted it with his throwaway lighter. He took one drag and then butted it in his ashtray. "I lit that without thinking, and I've still got an hour to go." He returned the butt to his pack.

"That's why I'm running this survey, Hoke. If a big majority complains, he probably won't put in the rule. So I'll put you down as opposing the new rule, right?"

"Right. Now let me tell you about this little gadget--"

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Rules of the Game by Georges Simenon (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1955)

The vibration of the lawn mower's small motor passed into Higgins's arm, and through his arm into his whole body, giving him the feeling that he was living to the rhythm not of his own heart but of the machine. On this street alone there were three mowers, all more or less the same, all working at the same time, with the same angry sound, and whenever one of them stalled for a moment, others could be heard elsewhere in the neighbourhood.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Shoestring's Finest Hour by Paul Ableman (BBC Books 1980)

I put my ear to the door and listened. Not a sound. I'd already noted that there was no light showing under the door. Was it safe? I had to take that chance. I reached forwards for the door handle and grasped it without making any noise. Slowly, with infinite caution, I turned it and eased the door open. Mercifully, it didn't creak. I knew just were to find what I was after.But would I be caught? The consequences could be serious. I peered into the dark room. As far as I could tell it was empty. It had better be. I started across the floor. It was carpeted but the boards beneath the carpet creaked slightly. I froze. I listened. Not a sound. I took another two steps. This time there were no creaks. I paused again and listened. Safe to continue. I took four light but quick steps. Only the hint of a creak. One more advance and I should have it. I estimated it would take another three steps. I took a deep breath and then took those three steps.

Yes! I had it. It was in my grasp —

The light came on and Erica said:

'Put the whisky down, Eddie.'

'Hm? Whisky? What whisky?'

'That whisky - the whisky in the bottle that you're holding. My whisky.'

'I gave you this whisky.'

'Which is what it mine, Shoestring.'