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Friday, February 6, 2009

The Bidding for Television Rights

If football were like any other business then the TV bidding war might have gone something like this:
a) Sky, aware that the recession must hit even them and that a year's subscription to the sports channel costs the same as a week's family holiday at the fashionable Phwelli Pontins, decide that now is not the time to come across as flash and bid a shade under £1 billion.
b) Richard 'King of Debt' Scudamore, aware that such a bid means that his primary bonus clause will not be triggered, knocks them back with a “£99,999,999.00 for the live and exclusive rights to getting on for a hundred Premiership matches! Are you out of your tiny minds?'
c)The Scud puts in calls to Setanta and ESPN.
d) Setanta and ESPN scratch their heads. If the Scud is calling them rather than waiting for them to come grovelling to Soho Square something is afoot. They put their mobiles on silent and bide their time.
e) Meanwhile back at the Beeb a consultation process which has involved five department heads, seventeen deputies, thirty-two core staff, the entire in-house legal department and a workie has, after five months, decided (on a split vote with the workie's ballot being decisive) to maintain the status quo and offer exactly the same amount as they did when the rights were last available.
f) The Scud, with a harrumph and much 'is that your best shot' ing, accepts the BBC offer (thereby triggering a subsidiary bonus clause) and bollocks his secretary for failing to have got through to Setanta and ESPN.
g) Rupert Murdoch, a man of principle, hears about the events outlined in b) and instructs his minions (sons) to withdraw from broadcasting Premiership football and concentrate on Twenty20 cricket instead. They instruct their minions (crash hot executives on seven figure salaries) to communicate this information to Scudamore. The executives instruct their minions....
h) While all this delegating is going on Murdoch types a quick e-mail (To '') and hits send.
i) The Scud on receiving an e-mail from an R.Murdoch Esq assumes it is a prank by a 'commie' journalist and ignores it. Harrumphing and with much 'do I have to do everything around here' ing he calls Setanta and ESPN and leaves a message saying that the deadline will not be extended and goes out for lunch.
j) Setanta and ESPN, after prolonged consultation, both decide to 'go low'.
k) The Scud returns from lunch in a filthy mood and it only worsens when his secretary informs him that Setanta and ESPN have finally come back to her and both have, coincidentally, bid exactly a tenth of a billion. 'Magnificent,' says Scudamore, 'get on the phone right now, Cheryl, and tell them both to fuck right off'.
l) Cheryl does as instructed.
m) The Scud rings his friends in the Press to inform them that Sky have come in with an offer which 'to all intents and purposes' matches the £1.3 billion they paid last time, the remaining rights are being tussled over by, entre nous, Setanta and ESPN, and, of course, good old aunty has been lumbered with the highlights. He then calls it a day.
n) As the Scud sits behind his desk reading his own quotes in the papers the process which was initiated in h) reaches fruition and that bloke with three phones who is the star of deadline day makes 'the difficult call.'
o) The Scud is dumbfounded. He is of half a mind not to believe it but then, ineluctably, on the screen that is forever tuned to Sky Sports News pops up BREAKING NEWS ALERT: SKY AXE FOOTBALL
p) The phone begins to ring off the hook.
q)  The Scud, with quiet dignity, informs his secretary that he is 'not in' and retreats into his office to lie under his desk.
r) The BBC celebrate the 'bargain of the century'.
s)  The Mail calls it an outrage.

5:03 pm gmt 

Joint Job Application

It is usually Norfolk that is considered cut off and remote. Yet over the last week it has been the rest of the country that has been detached with Norfolk seemingly the only place not to be brought to a standstill by snow. This has led to a strange dislocation with the pictures on the news bearing no relation to what could be seen outside our windows. It is as if we belong to another country.

This sense of otherness being compounded by completely bonkers coverage of THE SNOW. The newspaper websites have been full of 'Snow Watch – See The Snow As It Happens' as if a quick glance out of the window could not confirm what you could see on the screen. One 'award-winning site' even posted up:
 'Snow hits Britain, day two - LIVE
Last updated 11 minutes ago
News blog: Minute by minute coverage of the travel disruption and your snow and ice stories.'
I particularly like that 'LIVE' which distinguishes it, of course, from the edited highlights of the snow (entitled Flake of the Day and introduced by Gary Lineker with expert analysis from Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson).

This is all entirely Nuts in May and yet another example of people who live within the M25 assuming that every one else's lives are the same as their own. Their particular is deemed to be our general.

Most amusing, or perhaps sad, has been the gushy, slushy stuff about the quiet brought by the snow, the sense of community, the realization 'LIVE – Last updated 11 minutes ago' that there might be more to life than work. The boasts of those who had skived off a day's work for the first time in their lives not hugely impressing those of us who have spent our lives avoiding a full day's work.

At least I'm assuming that the M25ers have been off work because the one constant, along with other people's snow, of the last week has been the 'you have 0 unread messages' message which greets me every time I try to kick-start my business career.
This tends to dampen the enthusiasm. How many e-mails can one send without inspiring a reply? A hundred? A thousand? More?

My e-mails have failed to elicit a response and, more significantly, so have Gronnie's job applications. It beggaring my, and her, belief that in this age of mass communication no one in certain organizations has the grace to acknowledge an application which has been sweated over for days, if not weeks. Do they really care so little?

If these silences continue there may be no option but to seek employment as a husband and wife team. Gronnie being dynamic, industrious, organized and good with people. And me being the flip side. This employ one get one free approach to job hunting would offer potential employers many benefits. For a start, there would be the relief of having someone around who could do the job (Gronnie) combined with the comfort that comes from having an incompetent co-employee (me) who will obviously be the first one to be jettisoned when there is sacking to be done.

Then there would be the further bonus of having someone who will sensitively listen to your problems (Gronnie) and someone who you can, without feeling any guilt, slag off behind their backs (me). Finally, when you go to the pub there will be two people to buy you a pint before you make your excuses and leave without having bought your round. Everyone is a winner with this new approach to employment,  particularly you.
To take advantage of this splendid offer simply e-mail me at Indeed, even if you are not interested an e-mail would be appreciated just so that I could be afforded the fillip that is given to the start of the working week by the magic 'you have 1 unread message' message.

Small bit

A benefit to taking early retirement (and 44 has to be considered early) is that it allows one to give of one's time to good causes - in my case, the campaign to KEEP ARCHERY OUT OF WHITLINGHAM!

Norfolk is a big, largely underpopulated, county so it surely would not take too much imagination to find somewhere else to erratically fire off bows and arrows than slap bang in the middle of my walk. If this proves too difficult then I suggest that archery be banned. It is, after all, only Outside Darts and lacks both the humour and the sense of camaraderie offered by the indoor version of the sport.


5:01 pm gmt 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Darts Watching (Obs)


There are three stages to darts watching:

1)Pre-Christmas – a strong indicator that life is awry. It may be bleak but there must be someone you might see or something you might do other than watch the opening round of 64 at the WDC. A stage so lacking in drama that even Sky stopped televising one of the matches and time-filled with highlights.

2)Between Christmas and New Year – essential viewing. This year with Barney's nine darter (Barney Army!) and the Power's world record three dart scoring average (Beyond Bradmanesque!) it put even World Strongest Man (The Globe's Campest Sport just got Camper!) in the shade.

3)In the New Year – not a good sign. It is understandable, perhaps inevitable, that having tasted the high octane fare from the Ally Pally punters will hoover up a bit of free stuff from Frimley. This usually proves to be a disappointment. First, BBC sport, nothing if not earnest, makes the category error of treating darts seriously. This is a mistake because we watch darts to be entertained not informed. (Or misinformed last week when in a so-dim-it's embarrassing attempt to pretend the corporation's darters were the equal of Sky's they claimed a player's average was over a ton by conveniently ignoring his last three darts in every leg. This is the equivalent of saying a batsman has a Test average over 50 as long as you fail to count all his scores under ten.) The need for such chicanery arises because the chasm in skill between the two organisations is wide and getting wider. You pay for premium, you receive a simulacrum for free -  a strap-line for our recessionary times. No one is fooled. Not the audience at Frimley (who, small quibble maybe, strike me as being insufficiently drunk), nor those resting at home. A nadir occurring when Ted 'The Count' Hankey failed to hit not treble one, not double one, but big one, and still the seventh seed won the match. Incidentally, despite the cape and the whole shtick, sources close to Hankey say he is called 'The 'Count' (sic), not in reference to Dracula, but as a slurred shortening of the Accountant, which was his nom de darts during the days when he was number-crunching his way to success on the Home Counties circuit dispensing with such highly-regarded rivals as  Philip 'The (Loss) Adjuster' Reeve and Andy 'Human Resources' Cross. Golden days.

The lack of quality in the action does have the unintended benefit of giving the darts watcher more thinking time and I am pre-occupied by who will emerge as the Damien Hirst of football. That is to say which player will make the last best deal and become, in all probability, the best paid British footballer of our and our children's lifetime. Hirst, in a grand masterstroke of timing, went to market in September, weeks before Lehman brothers collapsed. Even more cannily he cut his agent and gallery owner, Jay Jopling, out of the deal. This had twin benefits. First, he received 100% of the profits rather than sharing them 50-50 with Jopling. Second, Jopling had to contribute to these profits because, being long on Hirsts, it was vital for him to shore up the prices in Hirsts. Game, set and match to Hirst; Lily Allen to Jopling.

The art world is not dissimilar to the football world as both were awash with money and still employ idiots near the top. Sotheby's head of contemporary art is Tobias Meyer  who said in June, 'for the first time since 1914 we are in a non-cyclical market' and then watched his company share price cyclically slide 75%. And the Premier League has Richard 'The King of Debt' Scudamore.

Football's Joplings are easy to spot but who will be its Damien? One would have thought it would be a Man City signing except to get a record deal you need a competing club to up the price and Chelsea's pleas of relative impoverishment seem to be not bluff but reality. Therefore, it is more than likely that best ever deal has already been done. And the man who did it, topping JT and spurning Jose, was Frank 'The 'Count' Lampard.

3:49 pm gmt 

Celebrating giving up Smoking (EDP)

To celebrate giving up smoking cigarettes for just over two and a quarter years I decided, counter-intuitively or desperately erratically, to take up smoking cigars. This habit kicked in during the pre Christmas party season and hit its zenith at Christmas when, having smoked one on the day and two on Boxing Day, I awoke on the 27th, realized that logically it was looking like a three cigar day and felt somewhat sick (these cigars, I should perhaps add, are no enfeebled cheroots from the newsagents but fully formed Partagas Number 4's all the way from Havana). Possessing an iron will I promptly gave up. Only, oddly, to take up the habit again the next day.

It has been a mere fortnight and the patterns of addiction are already apparent. There is the denial: at its strongest when the children enter my den and accuse me of smoking and I, puffing on a cigar, stolidly maintain that I am not smoking. It's not their fault. They are only thirteen. How can they be expected to know the difference between inhaling and not inhaling? The differences are Clintonian in their subtlety.

There is the desire: Up until last November I would not have thought about having a cigar. Now, at a certain time of night, I can think of little else. Ridiculously I tell myself that a quick – or at an hour or so not so quick – Partagas No 4 will solve all the problems rattling around my head. And ease my digestive tracts. What a miracle worker is this little – or not so little – Partagas No 4. It lifts the spirits and soothes the stomach. It tummies could talk they would ask for Partagas No 4. It is Rennies and Prozac, Cuban hand-rolled into one cheap – or not so cheap – product. What can be the harm in that?

Well, there's mouth cancer, I suppose, and then there is the slippery slope argument and it is true that I have started looking at people standing outside in sub zero temperatures smoking cigarettes with a certain longing. But then I knock such nonsense on the head by reasoning that if I went and joined them and sparked up a Partagas No 4 I would surely die, not from cancer but cold, before the cigar was out.

At core, it is a question of addiction. Either one is an addict, and with age we can spot each other within a glance, or one is not. If one is, and if one is not careful, life pleasures can be reduced to feeding one's addictions. The morning coffees to make up for the alcohol the night before, followed by the afternoon coffees to keep one going through the day, followed by the alcohol needed to calm one down into the evening, and more alcohol to get one to sleep at night, followed by morning coffees...All of the above washed down by one, two or three packets of cigarettes. That's how it used to be and, without the cigarette, to a certain extent still is. The problem being a life without any addictions to feed seems both improbable and crushingly boring. A life without treats would, one fears, be intolerable. All addicts replace one addiction with another one. Recovering alcoholics drink the strongest coffee. Cigarette smokers move on to cigars.

The advantage of a good cigar being that, combined with the current smoking legislation and the children's hectoring, it is only available during a small window. No one wants a Partagas for breakfast, you cannot smoke them in either restaurants or pubs, which rules out lunch and early evening, and leaves open only the late night slot. It is a nightcap addiction ruled incapable of developing into a daily grind.

As with many addictions it offers escape. Not from dismal mundanity and nagging pressures, but working and family noise. The advent of mobiles and e-mail and mutant combinations of the two have made life more cluttered. Everyone is too busy communicating (or more often failing to communicate) to ever sit down and think. Thoughtlessness abounds. The new addictions, and I make none of the following up, are Blogaholism, Twitteritis, Reviewing Addiction, RSS Dependency and Status Update Disorder.

In the face of all that noise a contemplative cigar, in front of an open fire with a Bach cantata for company, seems not the desperate act of an addict but an action of rare sanity. The long slow puffs providing punctuation to assorted thoughts, the heavy smoke proving sufficient deterrent to repel intruders. Decades ago the famous advertising slogan used to peddle cigarettes was 'You Are Never Alone with a Strand'. Now, if they could advertise, perhaps they would sell cigars with 'You Are Always Alone with a Partagas'.

3:48 pm gmt 

Being a Fan


One of the many benefits of retiring from writing football match reports after a scarcely credible (for reader perhaps even more so than writer) two decades is that I can return to being a fan again. This is not to say that football writers are not supporters of particular clubs, nearly every one of them is, although, bog-standardly, the people who graffiti anonymous comments below the line at the end of articles (the online community?) nearly always fail to match writer with club. It is just that writing about  football tends to discolour the simple business of fandom

They say you should never meet your heroes and you can double that for your heroes' agent, triple it for their PR, and quadruple it for 'their eyes and ears in the dressing-room'. Any lingering affection I may have felt for Chelsea (it was downhill all the way once the darn fools started winning things) dissipated as quickly as it takes to empty an early bath when Gwen Williams puffed himself up to his full height (around about five foot six) and announced to a motley representation of working journalists hanging around Cobham on the off chance they might be granted a few minutes in the company of Mario Melchiot (the glamour! the glamour!!) that 'Whatever you say the answer is no'. Public relations does not come more contrary. There had been a small dispute about whether Claudio Ranieri could be asked about whether he was 'concerned' that the fans were not singing his name (Ranieri happy to talk; Williams incandescent) and now we were facing the Wall of No. Infantile is one word for it.

But then no sensible person goes to a football club in the hope of hearing anyone say something interesting or memorable. I must have attended over five hundred post-match press conferences and nothing remains in the mind. There is just a blurred vision of one grown man looking seriously at a group of grown man and saying 'Clive's done a bit of a groin, but we're hoping he'll be alright for Tuesday' and the group of men religiously writing this wisdom down so that other grown men might read it.

That's not to say there was no entertainment to be derived from these 'meeting of minds'. There were the earnest journalists whose knowledge of the club bordered on the pathological. There were the time-efficient who would start a question 'Ron, would you say?' and then read out their own opening paragraphs. And there was always fun to be had when Brian Glanville was in the house. Brian is not only the country's pre-eminent football writer he is also the game's top linguist. It was always a pleasure when he would raise the tone early doors (it was rare for twenty seconds to pass before Brian opened his account) with a flurry of Italian/Spanish/Esperanto. The only time he came unstuck was when he confuddled his Matt with his di Matteo and reeled off a question in perfect Italian only to elicit the response 'Why's this fella speaking Welsh to me.'

So, Brian aside, I won't miss the press conferences and I won't miss overhearing people giving marks out of ten down the phone and I certainly won't miss formation dialogue (the technical term for a conversation, often lasting the whole ninety minutes, revolving around whether a team is playing 4-4-3, 4-5-1, or...could this be 4-1-2-1-2). And having made my escape I will relish being able to jump to my feet and start a chorus of 'Roeder (or whoever) out', something which when done from the press seats used to drive the in-house PRs bananas.

All I hope is that the standard of chants has improved. In the moralising about the Tottenham XI one of the more depressing aspects was football writers trying to come up with examples of crowd wit to serve as a contrast the chants of the 'moronic scum'. They struggled. 'He's big, he's Red, his feet hang out the bed – Peter Crouch' is, at best, nearly funny. And if that's as good as it has got in the last two decades you begin to suspect the game gets the press it deserves.


3:47 pm gmt 

Derren Brown (EDP)


It is important that you pick your battles as well as your enemies and I was therefore doubly negligent when I leaned back in 'the telly chair'  and said “I could do that” as on the screen an entire West End audience shuddered with disbelief after one of their number was informed by Derren Brown, correctly as it transpired, that she had dreamed the night before that she was married to Alan Titchmarch.

Little Mo, unaccountably still up at 11.00pm and on a school night, too, kept her counsel until on Gronnie returning from the kitchen she falsely announced 'Daddy thinks he is cleverer than Derren Brown'. I thought about correcting her but eleven at night was no time to be having a argument in semantics with Little Mo, particularly on a school night when technically she should be tucked up in bed. So I let the slander stand and sat watching as the man the Times would call the next day “the greatest cold reader Britain has ever produced” pulled trick after trick. Each stunt being greeted by a “that's impressive, but Dad's cleverer than him” from Mum and Mo. And as I squirmed in the telly chair followed up with the inevitable, “so, Mister Cleverer than Derren Brown, how did he do that?”

Nothing if not argumentative I boldly attempted to come up with plausible answers, along the way making the following very smart points.

a)  The majority of the audience will have purchased their tickets by credit card so he will know the name of people in specific seats.

b) From there it is the work of a jiffy to order a minion to bring Facebook and Google into play and discover details such as date of birth so you can predict people's star signs and earn a really cheap gasp of awe from the audience.

c)Such is the proliferation of social networking sites and so great is the penchant for sharing private details on public platforms an extraordinary amount of private information is in the public domain. This can be used to enable one to create the impression of omniscience.

d)It is also a doddle to employ a team of eavesdroppers to hang around the bars before the show, and at the interval, listening out for tidbits that can be relayed to the great Master upon the stage.

e) Alternatively, a gang of pickpockets could lift a variety of wallets from which could be extracted nuggets of information priot to the wallets being returned with their owners none the wiser.

f)  Finally, and as if I needed to go on, the fact that Brown is making such a large and unconvincing play of not having an earpiece is obviously beyond reasonable doubt evidence that he does have one. Why protest so much otherwise? Who would bother to deny something that wasn't true?

g) Wires.

All of the above you might have thought would have swung the vote my way but Little Mo was having none of it. 'Jealous Dadda,' being her typical response to points a) through g). And then to top, or bottom, it all Derren did something so complicated that it is a struggle to explain what he did, let alone how he did it. I think he added together four numbers given to him from the audience in some complicated fashion and that the sum of these numbers was not only the date but, coincidentally, surely, the number he had on a badge which had been on his lapel all evening. Baffling. There was only one thing to say to that: 'Bedtime, Mo. Now. It is ridiculous you are up so late. And on a school night, too.' And then stand in front of her in pale imitation of a referee pointing towards her room – as if she might have suddenly forgotten its location – scurry her along, return to the telly chair and say to Gronnie 'isn't Newsnight on the other side?'


3:47 pm gmt 

The Morality of Football (Obs)


January is not yet out and already I have had my fill of 'the morality of football'. The non-subject first appeared when it seemed that Kaka might move to City and a heft of  sportswriters demanded that he stay in Milan 'for the good of the game'. Kaka's individual rights being blithely over-ridden by the sportswriters' need to show that the  sport which they cover is 'better' than it actually is.

This is a common misconception. After all if you are dim-witted enough to consider football a religion it is only consistent to believe that it is imbued with a particular moral quality. In reality, it is as morally neutral as money itself. Kaka could have taken the Sheikh's money and diverted it into building a children's hospital in Moss side (an action many would consider worthy) or he could have taken the money and blown it on hookers (an action many would consider profligate) but either way it would say nothing about the morality of football (yet something about Kaka's personal morality). Morals are an individual's concern, not the state's, and certainly not the press-pack's.

Yet, before the week was out, an even more absurd figure - Garry Cook who has a CV containing stints with Thaksin 'a great guy to play golf with' Shinawatra and (in ital) Nike – started twittering on about the morality of football and trying to claim that Milan were 'bad for the game'. So far, so absurd. He then topped the lot by responding to questions about Nike's 'child-labour issues' with a 'morally, I felt comfortable in that environment'. Of course, he did. He's a marketing man. They have their own language and belief system, drummed into them during endless team bonding exercises.

Cook's chuntering was ridiculed by two excellent articles by Marina Hyde (for our big sister paper) and Michael Henderson (in the process becoming the first sports hack to receive a rave from popbitch). Their thrust was similar but the reaction of the online community could not have been more different. On the Guardian website they rushed to praise Marina; on the Telegraph they hurried to bury Michael, even going so far as to demand he be sacked (A but de trop given the number of sportswriters already 'let go' by that organisation). As with the online community, so with the rest of us, we all have different opinions...and morals.

On to weightier issues and the revelation that Alastair Campbell (Burnley fan, political aide, and, scarcely credibly, novelist) receives more text messages from the rich and famous per second than the neediest micro-celeb. On Wednesday night, for example, he received 'messages' (plural!) from Andy Gray ('he may be paid to be neutral but he was far from it once our third goal went in' writes Campbell) and one from Alex Ferguson ('keep playing as you have been and you're there' texts Ferguson).

All of which is fascinating on a number of levels. First, Campbell is clearly one of those irritating man-child who can no longer go to a sporting event without succumbing to the temptation to group-text everyone in his address book as to his whereabouts and follow up with minute-by-minute updates on the 'Super Clarets'. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to discover he owned a Blackberry. Second, the long pauses that are increasingly a feature of Gray's analyses are obviously not for thought but to provide him with the space to text his roster of 'good muckers'. Third, as in so many things, Ferguson is a traditionalist when it comes to texting. Many of us would have responded to yet another text from Campbell with a brusque 'ur' but Fergie not only spelled out the word but 'went upstairs' for the apostrophe.

3:46 pm gmt 

Men of Norfolk (EDP)


It has been a mixed week for men of Norfolk. The beneficiary was a man described, wonderfully, in an article by the journalist Ben Macintyre as 'a drunken, dishevelled pamphleteer from Norfolk'. A man who, in a varied career, Macintyre tells us, was a pirate, maker of ladies corsets, teacher, failed tobacconist, jailbird and journalist. A man who was born in Thetford and whose words were used by President Obama to conclude a speech witnessed by more people than any in human history. Take a bow, Thomas Paine, who may have died two hundred years ago but still exerted a greater influence on Obama's thinking than the 27 year old operating out of Starbucks who is his official speechwriter.

It was a monumental occasion. Less for the oratory which, by Obama's high standards, was reined in but for the size of the crowd gathered in the Mall. Usually one associates such a turn out with totalitarian states, where attendance is as voluntary as compulsory supporting of the school rugby team. Therefore, to see so many from such diverse backgrounds gather willingly was remarkable. For a giddy moment, and to be hyperbolic, the moronic inferno appeared to be calmed and at ease with itself. It was as if the grace of Obama had stilled millions of fears. Anyhow that's how it appeared to me, many pints in, watching on a screen normally reserved for football in some pub or other in London.

The man who had a less good week was Stephen Fry. He is, and will be ever more, a national treasure. He is a man of many qualities as comfortable playing the starring role in gritty solicitor drama Kingdom as he is hosting the dauntingly rigourous parlour game QI. He is all things to all people, which is lovely but slightly detracts from his credentials to be Britain's Most Intelligent Man (Copyright: All British Media)

A claim which has taken another dent thanks to his enthusiasm for Twitter (a messaging device which makes e-mail and MSN seem considered and thoughtful). So great is his fondness for this device that he published his twitterings last week, which is the equivalent of placing in the public domain a series of savagely edited postcards. Here is a sample of the work:

All over. Won't reveal too much as press seem anxious to be all over
this. JR & I discussed Twitter. Hope it makes the cut. Cruise
charming about 3 hours ago from Tweetie*
Better power down the iPhone now. Catcherlayder x about 6 hours ago
from Tweetie
Now on the sofa with Franz Ferdinand -band not archduke. Tom en
route. Not long now x about 6 hours ago from Tweetie
Show is recording earlier than usual to suit: a) Me, b) Lee Evans or
c) Tom Cruise? Answers on a tweetcard. about 8 hours ago from Tweetie
Big queue outside TVC already - including TV cameras interviewing the
audience as they line up. Overkill? Of course not. about 8 hours ago
from Tweetie
Ax many entries as you like, by the way x 9:23 AM yesterday from TweetDeck
RT “ @spkr4thedead51: @stephenfry you can keep track of them all here ” Thanks @spkr4thedead51 x 9:22 AM
yesterday from TweetDeck' **

*Tweetie, presumably, is the name he gives to his Tweeter machine.
** I do not understand this entry.

There is nothing wrong with the above but you would be surprised if John Maynard Keynes or Bertrand Russell or John Stuart Mill had agreed to have their name attached to such twitterings. And there is a slightly desperate mid-life fawn to the youth element to the whole thing ('Catcherlayder x', for instance, is regrettable)

Of course, it is not Fry's fault that other people should label him Britain's greatest intellect. It is that of a culture which seems to consider a facility for answering general knowledge quiz questions to be intellectually superior to, say, discovering a cure for breast cancer or writing a definitive history of the One Hundred Years War. Fry's false position is almost entirely due to a series of sparkling performances on University Challenge, which attest merely to a photographic memory.

His position is sustained by the fact that he is so eminently likeable. He has whole counties of friends, many of whom revel in him being Britain's Most Intelligent man because, coincidentally, it follows they are friends with Britain's Most Intelligent man. In its way it is as much of a Ponzi scheme as that constructed by Bernard Madoff. And, as such, it only needs a prick of the bubble for the inflated reputation to come crashing back to earth. It may be that his love of Twitter will provide the needle and it may well be that Fry will be heartily relieved when it does its damage.

3:45 pm gmt 

Mickey Rourke (Obs)


It is good to see Mickey Rourke in the ascendant again, not only because it's always nice to see a proper drinker back on his feet but also because someone enterprising might ask him what he exactly meant by his eighties catchphrase, 'sometimes, you just gotta role the potato'. A gnomic phrase which is the centrepiece of Joe Queenan's essay 'Being Mickey Rourke For a Day', the highlight of his book 'If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble'.

Here's a sample: “6:25 Emulating Mickey, who regularly induces servile intermediaries to do the talking for him in public, I ask a friend to go into a Pakistani deli and tell the clerk: "Mr. Queenan would like you to sell him a pack of Marlboros.""

Queenan smokes 82 Marlboros during his day spent being the man who his co-star in 9 1/2 weeks Kim Bassinger called simply 'The Human Ashtray'. Whenever Queenan is at a loss for words he does that Rourke look and says 'sometimes, you just gotta roll the potato' and every last bum and loser, without quite knowing what he means, somehow catches the pseudo Rourke's drift. That is the power of the phrase.

Anyway, it has struck me that Rafa Benitez could learn a thing or two from late 80s Rourke:
Hack (Broadsheet): Leading 1-0, Rafa, and you take off the always dangerous Torres. Can you tell us what was going through your mind?
Benitez: (in thick Spanish accent) Sometimes, you just gotta roll the potato.
Second hack: (Liverpool Echo) Wigan equalise and you remove 'Pool lynchpin Stevie Gerrard. What was all that about?
Benitez: A veces, sólo tienes que rodar la patata.

That would have learned them. There would have been no talk of craziness just of potatoes and rolling. At the very least, if he had followed Mickey's example, Benitez might have confused, and perhaps alarmed, Ferguson. But, as it is, he blew it and also any chance his team had of winning the title (which, being realistic, has always been no chance at all).

The insight that dawns upon Queenan during his long day is just quite how hard work it is to be Mickey Rourke. Management consultants (my personal scapegoats for the global economic meltdown) may pull the occasional all-nighter and consider themselves Stakhanovite, but for Rourke every day is an all-nighter and every night is an all-dayer, which, making no sense at all, merely demonstrates the enormity of the challenge that is Being Mickey. The management consultant subsists on a diet of coffee, mineral water and apples; Rourke relies upon cider, red wine, bourbon and peanuts. The management consultant sits at his desk talking into his Dictaphone about 'restructuring'; Rourke gets off the floor to make - not great but,  given his circumstances, pretty remarkable – movies like 'Marlboro Man' and 'They Crawl'. It is Mickey not the MC who shows true perseverance.

Obviously, given how serious sport has become, the only Mickey Rourke left in sport  is former boxer and future WWF wrestler Mickey Rourke. However, I have hopes for Kent batsman Robert Key who was described by Graeme Fowler as liking 'a fag and a pint' and for this reason was and is often overlooked by the selectors. Now 'A fag and a pint' Key is a long way from  'A packet of Marlboro red and a pint of sour whiskey and that's just for breakfast' Rourke but at least he is making an effort. He also stands apart from the fitness freaks, like Ian Bell, whose press-up average is considerably higher than their Test average. Sure, Key may be slightly portly, but so was Inzamam Ul Haq (nickname sag aloo). The campaign for his selection starts here. Sometimes, you just gotta roll the potato.


3:43 pm gmt 

The Thetford Plan (EDP)


It is probably my favourite train journey and, thanks to technological advances, I can write about it as it takes place. It might be said that the station destination board (Wymondham, Attleborough, Thetford, Brandon, Ely, Waterbeach, Cambridge or, perhaps even more so, Wymondham....Ely, March, Whittlesea, Peterborough) is a little forbidding, but the more I have travelled along the line the greater the pleasures to be derived. Certainly, on the first few times, looking out over all that...nothingness could slide one's thoughts towards the depressive side, and that even before anyone has embarked at March, but, given time, there is much solace to be gained from the seeming desolation. The light, needless to say, is exceptional but it is the space, too, which gives one pause. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of the London Undeground.  My commute used to be a packaged hell punctuated by a flurry of tantrums which left  me exhausted on arrival. Now, travelling to work is a contemplative experience, allowing me time to order my thoughts, and I arrive refreshed.

Even better, if you have not done the work you need to do before you get to work then the train makes for an outstanding office. Where else do you get a table to yourself, coffee delivered to your desk, free heating, a remarkable, ever-shifting, view – all for the price of a single to Peterborough. It is not quite as good as St Peter Hungate – nothing could match that workplace – but it is considerably warmer.

The only drawback is that at weekends, because there are no commuters about, the train companies give up. There is no trolley, which for a five hour journey is punitive, although it does add some uncertainty to the journey as the only way to avoid starvation or dehydration is to do some frantic speed shopping at Peterborough. This lack of care on the part of the train operators is unforgiveable and yet another indicator of what happens when shareholder profit, rather than customer service, becomes your primary purpose. In short, you and I are denied a coffee on a Saturday so that others might enlarge their bonuses. Once profit becomes all, the only beneficiares are those whose who are motivated solely by money. This is why we are where we are now.

Change, however, may be in the air. The collapse of unthinking, and unquestioned, capitalism allows new ideas to come to the fore and, after prolonged staring out of window, I present you with the Thetford plan, or perhaps the Brandon plan is better, or even the Thetford-Brandon plan. Whatever history decides to call it the premise is that we remove the railways from the stockmarket and place them on the bondmarket.
Instead of allowing, say, National Express to sell shares in itself, with the result that profit maximisation becomes the be all and end all, the company would issue bonds redeemable at 3.5% or whatever a year. In this way it is to be hoped that the profit motive becomes one of many factors rather than the primary one. A 3.5% or whatever profit would be expected, but beyond that monies would be invested in improving the service and ensuring the product was good enough to generate future annual profits of 3.5% or whatever. Of course, this would mean that National Express, or whoever, ceases to be a cash cow milked by speculators and starts being a hybrid breed combining private and public sector instituted for the benefit of everyone. The Thetford-Brandon plan, in its simplicity and  adaptability,  might even prove to be the device which ushers in the fabled third way.

On second thoughts, and after considerable reflection, it might be a load of tosh. The Ely-Waterbeach plan, as it should strictly speaking now be called, may be utterly without merit. It seems unlikely, all things considered, that the world's economic woes might be eased by a man on a slow train to Cambridge knocking out a column for the EDP.

That said, staring out at the landscape and thinking economics has allowed me to forget about Black Tuesday, the traumatic day on which both boiler and automobile ceased to function, probably forever more. As the man of the house there was no dodging responsibility for this double calamity which rendered the family cold and immobile. The timing, it has to be said, is horrid with the 'Russian winter' arriving as you read this article and expected to last at least until a new boiler can be fitted.

Perhaps we should all relocate to my new office, buying a family ticket to Peterborough and back and back again for as long as it takes. And then once the new boiler is in we can stride down to the forecourt and become the first family to buy a car in the United Kingdom in 2009.


3:41 pm gmt 

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