Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Our Next Prime Minister - Making Britain Shite Again

There’s a scene which opens Aaron Sorkin’s far too short-lived TV drama ‘The Newsroom’ in which Jeff Daniels’ TV news anchor Will McAvoy is speaking in a debate. One of the questions asked by an audience member, a female student, is about why America is the greatest country in the world.

“It’s not the greatest country in the world. That’s my answer…” Will says. Turning to a fellow panellist he adds;

“With a straight face, you’re gonna tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom! There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

“Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! It sure used to be. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior.”

Will is talking about the United States of America here but he could easily have been responding to similarly bogus claims about Britain. The feeling that we have some kind of divine right to be world leaders prevails. Fifty-two percent of people voted to ‘take back control’ with Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum since when far right meatheads like Tommy Robinson have gained an alarming level of traction even if the other half of the population have held them up to the ridicule they deserve. The Tory leadership contest otherwise known as the race to become the next Prime Minister takes place against the backdrop of three years of this country tearing itself apart over the question of whether or not to leave the European Union. We are almost at the point of civil war and last night’s BBC TV debate between the leadership candidates, helpfully entitled ‘Our Next Prime Minister’ did the sum total of fuck all to allay my fears.

Will MacAvoy’s words are of course an entirely fictional dose of self-analysis. I cannot bring to mind any instance of any politician speaking with such disarming honesty about the state of his or her nation. Of the gruesome cast of this TV unspectacular only newcomer Rory Stewart appeared capable of anything but delusionary waffle. Emily Maitliss could not have been more out of her depth hosting if she had been presenting it under water, while hot-favourite Boris Johnson had clearly entered the whole thing determined to stick to his ill-conceived strategy of ignoring anything asked of him even or especially if it was a little bit awkward like….oh….I don’t know….do you accept that words have consequences after you compared Muslim women with letter-boxes? It needed a stronger personality than Maitliss to press this group of absolute frauds who have somehow managed to convince some that they are political heavyweights. Even when she pointed out that Johnson had compared the very sensitive Irish border situation to congestion charges in Islington he just chunnered on regardless, half-smirking the whole time as if appearing on the debate was just another public school jape. What time were we breaking for champers and a spot of rugger? Johnson could not have been playing the whole thing more for laughs if he had been filming another of his appearances on Have I Got News For You. If ever anyone should have stuck to comedy and left politics well alone it is this blathering buffoon. Prime Minister? Get directly to fuck and do not pass Go.

Coming into the debate Stewart was the only hope for anyone whose political leanings do not sit somewhere to the right of Steve Bannon. Yet having almost doubled his support in the latest ballot earlier in the day and so knocking Brexit-botching Dominic Raab out of the race the general consensus is that Stewart rather blew his opportunity. Displaying the kind of honesty not seen in a politician since Anne Widdecombe admitted she couldn’t dance Stewart spoke to BBC Newsnight’s Political Editor Nicholas Watt immediately after the debate and agreed that he had been ‘lacklustre’ and that he did not think the format worked for him. There was no live audience with questions posed by vetted very carefully selected individuals via video links from around the country. One such, James from Oxford, accused Stewart of being ‘out of touch’ when the only candidate that I would not willingly smash in the face with Eoin Morgan’s bat explained that tax cuts were not the best way to raise the money needed to increase the public spending which has been all but obliterated in Theresa, Dave and George’s austerity politics.

The candidates apparently drew lots to determine the order of seating from left to right of the screen. For once finding himself on the far right (as we looked) of Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid Stewart looked uncomfortable throughout. He had the look of….well…..someone who had been forced to spend an hour trying to convince four self-important preeners that you can’t just ‘get on with Brexit’ and that there is something called Parliament. He was exasperated enough to remove his tie midway through the hour, while at one point the bizarre open-legged sitting position he had chosen was dispensed with so that he could put a hand to his face to express his dismay at wasting an otherwise perfectly good Tuesday evening. Five point seven million people watching on TV felt they had done exactly the same, no doubt.

If TV debates are any indication of which way the vote will go then the next Prime Minister is not going to be Stewart. So where does that leave us? Like Johnson, Hunt Gove and Javid all boasted that if they absolutely had to they would take Britain out of the EU without a deal. Even a question from a lady in Southampton about how a no deal Brexit could destroy her family’s livelihood did not deter them from their course. The trouble is they talk in terms of a little pain for long term gain when it comes to a no deal Brexit but they do so fully in the knowledge that they personally will not be affected one iota by any damage to the UK economy. These are the poster boys for the ‘I’m Alright Jack’ brand of politics that has prevailed since Thatcherism turned us all into total and utter twats.

That’s not just me, some lefty keyboard masher offering that opinion. Let’s take a look at their voting records shall we? Starting with Hunt, a man who as Health Secretary inspired the first strike by junior doctors in over 40 years. Terrifyingly, Hunt was Shadow Minister for the Disabled in 2005 when thankfully we did not have to suffer a Tory government. He once co-authored a book calling for the NHS to be replaced by a scheme which would involve paying into a personal health account with the proviso that those who could not afford it would have it funded by the state. All of which has the unpleasant whiff of a two-tier health system but anyway, what other villainy has this bug-eyed blert been up to?

In 2012 he said he was in favour of reducing the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks, another bloke who will never have to give birth who nevertheless feels he has an opinion worth listening to on what women should do with their bodies. Worse than that was his 2013 plan to charge foreign nationals to use the NHS. The mind boggles at what his definition of a foreign national might be, but having claimed that they cost the NHS £200million it was later discovered that the figure was closer to £33million, £21million of which has been recouped. Maths experts will have worked out that this leaves £12million, which is less than Hunt’s planned revamp would have cost.

Hunt has consistently voted against increasing welfare benefits at least in line with the increase in prices, against increases in benefits for those unable to work through illness or disability (that’s not me I hasten to add so no personal agenda there), and has generally voted against tax increases for the rich and in particular the bankers (with a ‘b’) that caused the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Victoria Derbyshire’s recent Freudian slip was about more than just the sound of this man’s name.

Then there is Gove, Education Secretary from 2010 to 2014 and currently the man responsible for ‘Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’. Like Stewart, Gove is a former Labour man who has had that moment of clarity that successful people enjoy when they realise that they can only become incredibly rich by supporting Labour politics. To become absurdly, pointlessly rich you have to rely on the Conservatives and their disaster capitalism.

Gove described himself in 2012 as ‘consitutionally incapable’ of leading the Conservative Party and yet here we are just seven short years later glued to our sets as he outlines exactly how totally different he is not from his supposed rival Johnson and the mirky, snake-like Hunt. Both think they can get Brexit ‘done’ as they would have it by the sheer force of their will. As Stewart put it earlier in the debate they are sitting in a room which contains one door to Brexit. The door runs through Parliament but instead of going through that door Gove and his ilk are sitting in the room shouting ‘Believe in Britain’. Exactly the kind of arrogant and baseless imperialism that Will MacAvoy was talking about in the opening scene of ‘The Newsroom’.

Talking of newsrooms another thing that Gove has in common with Johnson is that he has a background in journalism. He has transformed, Anakin Skywalker-like from the sort of person who goes out on strike with the trade unions in the 1990s to the sort who later describes evil overlord Rupert Murdoch as “one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years.” Gove is quite evidently someone whose opinion on any given subject depends entirely on what will be of most benefit to Michael Gove at the time. After this unedifying TV spectacle he laughably told Watt that he had won the debate, to which Watt retorted ‘how scientific is that? I have to admit at this point that I laughed out loud. Almost snorted. The kind of laugh I haven’t let out since 63 Up’s Paul fell flat on his face as a 7-year-old in 1964. Gove’s outlandish claim is about as scientific as Believe In Britain, I’d say.

There are some things that Gove is certain of and on which he will not be easily moved. Like Hunt, Gove has consistently voted against allowing European nationals to remain in the UK even if they had already been living here before the referendum. He has Hunt-esque views on what to do with welfare benefits and how much of them to distribute to the sick and disabled, and like Hunt he is rather fond of the idea of reducing social benefit to housing tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need. The bedroom tax is what Labour calls this policy. Gove wants that, but he doesn’t want an annual tax on expensive homes otherwise known as the mansion tax. The most worrying thing about Gove considering that he is the current man in charge of the government’s environmental policy is that he has often voted against the introduction of measures to prevent further climate change. He’s also not the man to vote for if you are a badger, as he has voted to have your lot culled on a couple of occasions.

Luckily for him, like the vast majority of us badgers have no say on who will become the next Tory leader. There have been many people who, quite understandably, have ignored the two television debates that have so far taken place because in the end the result will be decided not by the general public at large but by around 100,000-150,000 Conservative Party members. Aged, upstanding-member-of-the-community types who wear sensible sweaters and tank tops, go crown green bowling but never if their wives aren’t with them and think post-war rationing was the ‘good old days’. I can understand the view that none of this matters and so why don’t the television companies just leave them to sort out their own squabble and come back to us when they have come up with a new Prime Minister. I must admit that was my initial thought when I saw that the major television broadcasters would each be hosting their own debates between the ever-shrinking list of candidates (five will become four at the most later on today and, depending on how it goes, possibly even fewer). But on the other hand I don’t think it will do the rest of us, the people who wouldn’t vote Tory if our lives depended on it, any harm to keep an eye out and learn more about the men who aspire to take over from the absolute shit show that has been Theresa May.

I don’t know why but somehow the phrase shit show has just reminded me of our final contender, the boy Javid. Sajid Javid is currently the Home Secretary but he is an outsider for the top job. He received the lowest number of votes possible to survive (33) in Tuesday’s ballot and many think that as a result of that and his performance in the TV debate that he will quietly fall away and throw his weight behind Johnson’s campaign. Similar noises are being made about Stewart who has admitted to holding talks with Gove about some sort of alliance, although such a move looks unlikely given that Stewart still insists that he would only enter into an agreement on condition that it was he and not Gove leading the challenge to Johnson. For now all of that is speculation and conjecture so we have to assume that Javid will continue in the race. So what do we know about him?

Some would describe him as a class traitor. He was born in Rochdale in 1969, the son of a bus driver. His family moved to Bristol and lived in a flat above a shop, even though he was one of five brothers. He’s certainly a man who knows what it is like to go without, if he can remember that far back. And in any case, can there be such a thing as a class traitor when the whole idea of social mobility is to make it possible for someone to move between the different classes? Nobody is advocating that people should refrain from self-improvement. It is the gluttony and the who-gives-a-shit attitude to those left behind which sticks in what used to be termed the craw.

Javid’s election as Tory leader would be quite a social breakthrough. He would be the first Muslim to hold the position and of course the first to be Prime Minister. This might very well make the Tommy Robinson fans on Twitter illuminate with rage and could well lead to all kinds of milkshake-related rioting on the streets of Thanet South and Warrington. It might be worth grinning and bearing a couple of years of Tory rule until another General Election just for that. Tellingly all five candidates were adamant that there would be no General Election in the immediate aftermath of the Conservative leadership vote. Even Johnson, who Maitliss pointed out had demanded that Gordon Brown face the public vote when he took over the Premiership from Tony Blair in 2007, managed to cobble together some lame explanation about how circumstances are different this time because Brown was not taking over in the midst of a crisis like Brexit. Yes Boris, a crisis which you and your crony Gove went most of the way towards creating. Is anyone seeing an evil plot forming? It all seems to be transpiring exactly how Emperor Johnson has foreseen it.

He might be a Muslim but Javid is scandalously not above the perverse practice of racialising the issue of grooming. He has been in very steamy waters for tweeting about Asian paedophiles, the argument being that focusing on the ethnicity of the perpetrators does nothing to ascertain how and why the victims ended up vulnerable to these types of predators. It is also a type of prejudice which ignores the equally and maybe even more vast numbers of white British people who commit heinous sex crimes and other violent crimes in our society. The systematic abuse of children is not a race or religion issue and in any case, Islam is no more repulsive as a belief system than any other type of religion, all of which should be reserved purely for the hard of thinking. If there was a God, do you really fucking think he would have made this world? And put fucking me and you in it? Fuck off.

The irony appears completely lost on Javid that if the kind of immigration policies that his party wishes to introduce were in place when his family came over then he would not have been born in Rochdale and would not be in the privileged position in which he finds himself now. Like the politicians who benefitted from free higher education before voting en masse to introduce tuition fees Javid is a drawbridge-puller. Taking the passage offered to him and then doing his best to ensure that the opportunity is denied to countless others. Some might call him a Hunt.

The truth is actually that there isn’t a decent one among this group, described by several newspapers and wags on social media as the worst boy band ever assembled. No Direction. Even Stewart’s voting record is completely at odds with his on-screen nice-guy persona. He’s against the same welfare reforms and increases that Johnson, Hunt, Gove and Javid find so disagreeable and he is very much in their camp also on the issue of who gets to stay in the country post-apocalypse-Brexit. The single and only reason to hope that he comes out on top is that he isn’t one of the other four and, beyond that, appears to hold each of them in the same amount of contempt as most of the rest of us do. Throughout the hour he tried to distance himself from the others especially over Brexit and lowering taxes. Yet all that seemed to achieve was to make it easier for the others, self-appointed high-flyers of British politics, to gang up on him and make him look as out of touch as James from Oxford suspects he is. As a side note James from Oxford didn’t get much screen time but in the few minutes he had he came across as instantly unlikeable.

By the time you read this the list of candidates may have reduced by one or more. Even then we will be nowhere nearer to establishing ourselves as the ‘greatest country in the world’. Which is bad news for the growing number of imperialists who still lament the fact that we no longer rule countries several times bigger than our own.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

I Don’t Do Wheelchairs

I’m going on holiday in a couple of weeks. Thought you might like to know that. After all Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is meant to be at least partly a travel blog. We’re going back to Rhodes having been there in 2015. We don’t usually go back to a place we have been before, at least not one we have been to relatively recently. But with everything that’s been going on with my health over the last 18 months we wanted to take a bit of the stress out of it by choosing somewhere we know we have enjoyed before and will again.

Stress. I know. First world problems. Let’s downgrade that to anxiety. As much as going on holiday will always be a better experience than staying here and going to work every day, there’s still a little anxiety attached to going somewhere new. Will you like it? Will the weather be ok? The hotel? What is there to do there?

Most people don’t have to worry too much about whether they will be allowed on the plane. Short of a volcanic ash cloud, a major terrorist incident or a major Jagerbomb incident you’re getting on that plane. All you have to do is turn up on time, reasonably sober, don’t be a terrorist and you’re aboard.

A large percentage of my experience has been similar. Just turn up. I’ve had the odd mishap as longtime followers of MOAFH will know. It’s difficult when airport staff don’t feel able to talk to me and instead find themselves asking ‘what’s the wheelchair’s name?’. It’s worse still when the toilet on your American Airlines flight to New York (7 hours) is too narrow to accommodate the aisle chair that only exists for the purpose of moving people who cannot walk to where they need to be on a plane. If the inability to walk negated the need to urinate that would be a deal I might strike but sadly that is not how disability works. American Airlines aisle chairs are not fit for purpose. Like Esther McVey. They had to literally rip the toilet door off to allow my bladder any relief.

For all these problems I’ve never yet failed to get on board a plane altogether because of my disability. There’s always someone there to assist, even if at some airports in non-English speaking countries alert you to their presence by grunting at me and in some cases manhandling me. And while we’re about it, I am sad to have to point out that people are still putting their hands on me in the street here at home too. They see me pushing up a hill or getting out of my car and they offer their help. Now this is a kind gesture, but when it is politely declined (as it always is initially) it is not then cool to rush over and put your hands on me or my chair and begin propelling me to where you think I want to go at a pace you deem appropriate. What is wrong with people? If I started putting my hands on people who have politely declined my help I’d be risking a sexual assault charge.

If none of that convinces you then consider this next time you feel tempted to accost me over Saints Bridge. How likely is it that I only go out on my own on the off chance that you will help me? Some disabled people do need help, admittedly. And since education on disability is only a slight notch above education on Brexit in this country it is just about conceivable that you might not be able to tell the difference. People who refer to me as a ‘wheelchair’ don’t do so by accident. They do it because a wheelchair is genuinely all they see. I correct them every time. Some are rightly shamed by their ignorance and apologise. They’re the good ones. Others just shoot you a baffled look as if they genuinely don’t see a problem. In their world there are men, women, boys, girls and wheelchairs. And walkers, so it transpires.

Taxi drivers are the worst for it.

“I don’t do wheelchairs...” they protest.

“Bad back.”

The irony of using their own perceived disability to discriminate against the disabled is lost on them.

Where was I? I’ve gone off beam. Aeroplanes. I’ve never been refused permission and assistance to board an aeroplane, a fate that befell Matt Byrne from Nottingham last week. I know Matt a little from my time involved in wheelchair basketball but just to put you at ease I don’t know him so well as to have any bias towards him. I’m not fighting his corner because we’re acquainted. I’m fighting his corner because he’s been horribly treated in this instance. He was at Dublin Airport trying to board a flight back to Nottingham. As he waited for the assistance he needs to get on board he was informed that the pilot had taken the decision not to allow him on board because the plane was late. The plane was late. Matt wasn’t late. Nor was he drunk, aggressive or rude and nor is he a fucking shoe bomber. The plane left without him all the same and he had to catch another flight some hours later. And all this after he had been directed by airport staff to wait until all the other passengers were on board before getting his chance.

Not that any disabled person deserves this sort of treatment but it is noteworthy to add that Matt is a Paralympian, winner of two bronze medals with the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team. Where he not disabled he would be treated like a celebrity. Instead he is fobbed off by Ryanair - yes I’m naming you, don’t think I won’t - in the most shabby and unacceptable fashion.

Since the incident Ryanair have spent much of their time passing the blame on to OCS, the company responsible for providing assistance to passengers with mobility issues via lifts and undersized aisle chairs and so forth. In fact they seemed slightly affronted that the money they paid OCS did not secure the completion of the job. Yet it was their pilot, aviation’s answer to the St Helens taxi driver who ‘doesn’t do wheelchairs’ and who pulled the plug on Matt’s travel plans.

It’s not bloody good enough.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

63 Up

Time to dust off the keyboard. Well, what I mean is it is time to dust off the non-rugby league writing keyboard. I might not have cobbled anything together for this column in a while but I write about rugby league at least twice a week. They even let me speak about it on the radio too, which is bad news for fans of Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, expansionism and Eddie Hearn.

Today I want to talk to you about something off the telly. More and more we are developing into a society which, when it is not looking at its phone and entering into political debate with strangers on Twitter, is sat on its sofa watching one of the now gazillions of TV programmes that are at our disposal either live or on a multitude of catch-up platforms. Telly is a subject on which we all seem to have an opinion. Specifically I want to talk to you about 63 Up which is on ITV this week, starting its run on Tuesday (June 4) and broadcasting on consecutive nights up to and including Thursday (June 6).

ITV is normally full of rot. Piers Morgan make my eyes bleed and my ears swell. On the very same night that they launched the new run of 63 Up ITV threw another series of the irksome Love Island at us over on one of its sister stations. No doubt the viewing figures will show that our idiot nation was far more engaged with that than with 63 Up. Yet 63 Up is different from the normal, run of the mill reality shows that now dominate the schedules. This is genuinely compelling, ground-breaking telly that stays with you. The others are heavily edited and feature people just desperate to be on TV for whom Charlie Brooker’s memorable phrase ‘look at me turdhole’ was surely coined.

For those of you not familiar with the concept 63 Up is the latest instalment in a documentary film which was first made in 1964 charting the lives of 14 children through new episodes every seven years. The central idea behind it was to explore the old quote attributed to Aristotle that goes something like ‘give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man’. The notion that you can still see aspects of the children we were no matter how old we get and what life throws at us.

The first episode took up the story of four of our subjects. Firstly there was Tony, first seen in 1964 as a seven-year old falling flat on his face in one hilarious yet also slightly sad clip. You shouldn’t laugh at a child falling over and it does make you feel sorry for him but it is also undeniably funny. At that point he talks about his ambition to become a jockey, an ambition he fulfilled to an extent riding in the same race as legendary tax dodger Lester Piggott at Kempton Park. Yet Tony’s career in the sport never really took off and he ended up in Spain after various stints as a London cab driver. He also does some work as an extra, and will be appearing in an upcoming film about football called ’90 minutes’. I did wonder whether his involvement in the Up series over the last 56 years had anything to do with giving him a leg up in this regard, but I let the thought pass.

There’s an honesty about Tony that you can’t dislike. Previous episodes chronicled the trouble he got into with his marriage thanks to his own misdemeanours with other women, but he and his wife have come through all that and are still together today, living in a semi-retirement village for the over 50s in Essex. They have brought up their granddaughter as their own because of the personal problems experienced by their own daughter, though all of their other children have managed to find their own way in life and seem happy and healthy.

The one Tony moment that makes you want to put your fist through the TV is when director Michael Apted asks Tony’s opinion on Brexit. Seems a pertinent question to put to a man who has had to return from living in Spain for economic reasons, and in any case it is probably the most burning topic that has emerged since the show was last aired as 56 Up in 2012. Tony voted to leave the European Union, but regrets it because he doesn’t feel that leaving is now feasible. That seems a fairly sensible conclusion at which to arrive. Leaving might not have seemed like such a bad idea until it became clear that it would cause such economic uncertainty and that there would be no way of implementing it without risking the peace achieved in Northern Ireland.

The problem I have with Tony’s politics is that as we go back to old episodes of the Up series we repeatedly see him complain about how people from his working class background – he’s from the east end of London – don’t have the same opportunities as those born into wealth. Yet despite this he proudly states that he has always voted Tory. Only their failure to deliver Brexit has persuaded him not to vote Conservative. So on the one hand he is angered by the plight of the working class in a system set up so that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, yet on the other hand he votes Tory and has done all of his life. You just can’t help some people.

Andrew comes from a slightly more affluent background than Tony, and of all the four that we see in this first episode appears to me to be the one to have been through the least change since we first saw him as a 7-year-old singing Waltzing Matilda in Latin with his school friends. His family life is stable with his children all leading quiet, hard working lives just as he has. He is a lawyer and seems to understand and appreciate what his background, education and chosen occupation have given him. There’s even still a physical resemblance to 7-year-old Andrew, still thin, gawky looking but with significantly less hair and significantly more visible forehead.

When we meet up again with Sue there’s a rather bracing moment from when she was 14 and is asked about marriage. It’s bracing because it seems to infer that the most important question anyone can think of to ask a 14-year-old girl is whether or not she wants to be someone’s wife. This strikes me as a fairly old fashioned attitude towards women but let’s remember that Sue was 14 in 1970. Gender equality is not quite a done deal, not quite over the line in 2019. It was a million miles away in 1970 so it probably seemed like an obvious thing to talk to a young girl about. You would hope that if they began the series now and were interviewing 14-year-old girls about their aspirations they would not be confined to the companionship of some moody, male dependent.

Sue wasn’t big on marriage in 1970 but this did not prevent her from being divorced by the time she was 35. To be fair she has learned her lesson. She is currently engaged to a man called Glen and has been for the last 20 years. Neither are in any rush to get hitched. I can get on board with this approach. I have been with Emma for 20 years also, and neither of us have any interest in getting married. My view is that it is an outdated institution that has its roots not only in religion which I detest but also in ownership and control. It wasn’t until as recently as 1991 that a man was finally prosecuted for the crime of raping his wife. Until then the legal reality was that he was perfectly entitled to do so on the grounds that she had given her consent at all times upon committing to the marriage. If we are as civilised as we should be as a society then I would like to think that in a hundred or so years from now people will look back on the idea of marriage with wild-eyed wonder and befuddlement.

The final subject this week was Nick, a product of the Yorkshire Dales who became a nuclear physicist and now lives in the shit show that is Trump’s America. He’s a big fan of America but thankfully not of right wing, orange-raced sex offender Trump. There always seemed to be a sadness around Nick which comes across sharply when he describes the birth of his son as the one moment of pure, unadulterated joy in his life. Sadder still is the fact that Nick is now battling against throat cancer. Ever the teacher, Nick takes us through his treatments and the possible ramifications of them. It always seemed unlikely that all 14 of the children filmed back in 1964 would make it this far without any of them ever having to go through these kinds of horrors. Statistically they are all but inevitable. Yet as Nick explains his current philosophy on life which is to view things very much in the short term it’s still a shocking moment. An ‘oh-no’ moment that jars. That’s the beauty of the Up series versus the reality TV bile that it is accused of being a precursor to. You see the characters often enough and at various stages of their life to become really invested in what happens to them, but not so much that you want to take a swipe at their head with a spade. The latter is the effect of a summer spent watching 12 twats in a house or some such showing off in the relatively shorter time frame of one summer. Most reality TV shows are manufactured, fake and most of all total and utter overkill.

I can relate to Nick’s current view on the world. I don’t have cancer and never have, but I do have kidneys with all the usefulness of Dominic Raab. When you face the prospect of a transplant and possibly dialysis before that you do start to live your life in shorter chunks. You don’t plan too far ahead. At my last appointment with the renal psychologist we chatted for a good while about how nice it is that currently I can stop worrying about anything kidney-related until the end of July thanks to a slight upturn in function. Two stress-free months isn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. That wouldn’t have seemed all that comforting to me at one time, in fact it would probably have frightened me more than Anne Widdecombe does.

The difference of course is that I have every reason to believe that my transplant will be successful and that after that I will be able to live as full a life as I would had I never experienced any kidney disease. For Nick things are less certain it seems. Cancer survival rates have improved vastly over the course of his lifetime so perhaps he will be lucky, but there are no guarantees against such an awful, evil disease that still claims far too many lives.

Though I still have two more episodes to enjoy I hope Nick and the others, including the 78-year-old Apted who must be nearing retirement after a great career in film and television, is around for 70 Up in 2026.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Brexit - Won’t Somebody Think Of The Tories...?

Oh how brave and noble Theresa May is. After several decades of wrangling about the Tory-led shit show that is Brexit the Prime Minister came up with one last desperate ruse to get her half-arsedly negotiated deal through Parliament. She promised to leave office early.

As sacrifices go this was right up there with anything Jack Bauer came up with in seven seasons (or was it eight?) of 24. Anyone remember when he offered to fly the plane carrying the deadly weapon of mass destruction into the desert? Surely that was the end of Jack? But oh no because fortunately the terminally ill George Mason has sneaked on board the plane and offered to complete the mission. From there it was a no-brainer. Jack lived to fight another day of high-octane ant-terroring.

As I write May has also survived her own offer to fall upon her metaphorical sword. That’s because the Speaker of the House John Bercow remains adamant that May’s twice defeated deal would not return for a third outing without significant change. And quite right too. You’re not fooling anyone with a trilogy in which parts two and three are exactly the same as part one. Even fans of superhero movies wouldn’t tolerate that level of audience insult.

Undeterred the major players in the race to succeed May if and when she does leave Downing Street rubbed their hands with movie villain glee at news of a possible Tory leadership contest. The 16th century’s Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man brilliantly described on Twitter earlier as a ‘haunted dildo’ threw his top hat into the ring straight away, pledging to back May’s deal ‘to save Brexit’, while just 24 hours on from declaring that May’s deal would leave us ‘screwed’ top screwer and all around buffoon Boris Johnson did likewise. A third player, Michael Gove, has not commented at the time of writing but no doubt he’s just waiting for his wife Sarah Vine to tell him which way to vote. There’s no accounting for tastes and love is blind but Vine must be a quite preposterous individual if we’re judging her on the basis that she chooses to wake up next to Gove every morning. Most people would rather be woken by the smell of their own body waste.

Eventually, one of these three absolute whoppers looks certain to replace May. Her entire three-year tenure has been dominated by trips to Brussels to try to negotiate a Brexit she campaigned against in the run up to David Cameron’s ill-advised referendum. She hasn’t been able to do it, not only because she’s an incompetent bell-end but also because it was a bloody difficult task. Even for a bloody difficult woman. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum Cameron had done a Reggie Perrin as it became quite clear that even the finest political and economic minds couldn’t predict the consequences of leaving the EU. What chance did Dave from Harrogate have of making an informed decision. All the referendum did was give Dave from Harrogate a voice with which to rail against foreigners because, after all, couldn’t everyone else see that if we continued with our EU membership we’d all be living under Sharia Law by a week next Tuesday?

Before the official ousting of May and a Tory leadership election can get under way there are still some annoying hurdles for the leading Tory boys to negotiate. Negotiate? Perhaps that’s the wrong choice of word. Anyway, no fewer than eight Brexit related solutions were voted on by MPs tonight, none of which were able to secure a majority, All of which means that we are likely to see May occupying number 10 for some time to come, much to the disgust of the circling vultures. That the Tory Party are trying to use the biggest political issue in the UK for a generation to sort out their own domestic squabbling is one of the most shameful scenarios in British history. There we were spending three years worrying about what the effects of Brexit might be and it turns out that the real issue was about which right wing narcissist will get to take over when the mess is finally cleaned up.

A Tory leadership election seems such a humdrum way to sort that dispute in any case. Why not reflect the times by having them compete in a televised baking contest instead. Something like the Great Celebri-Tory Snake Off. Prue Leith could announce the results 12 hours early just to give it that authentic Bake Off feel. And all the proceeds would of course go to good old Tory causes like The Already Massively Wealthy.

Failing that, and if I could choose my own method of who should replace May, it would be something more like The Hunger Games. A fight to the death within the grounds of the Palace of Westminster with the last man standing sent to Panem to face President Donald Sutherland to negotiate a trade deal. All the while not knowing whether fellow Tribute Peeta would be a help, a hindrance or else just tear off the new PM’s head in a fit of inexplicable rage.

So as we reach the end of March those wags in the gutter press that have helped whip up this Dog’s Brexit are already telling us it’s the end of May. Unless that happens by way of a General Election and the public get the chance to oust this medieval austerity-loving government, sat on the top of their cash pile telling poor people that their greed is crashing the economy, I’m not all that excited about it.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Roy

My first memory of attending a Saints game was around the early 1980s. The mind plays tricks when trying to recall events that happened so long ago, to the point where games start to merge into one and details get mixed up. Yet I’m fairly sure that it came against a pre-Rhino Leeds side.

Or was it Hull FC or Hull KR? I’m unsure but what I am sure of is that in the centres that sunny afternoon was one Roy Haggerty. He scored twice, rampaging through the defence with the bulldozing, high-kicking style that would become his trademark long after a loss of a yard or two of pace and the arrival of the great Mal Meninga forced Roy into the second row.

I wish I could remember the details more clearly now with the news that Roy has passed away at the age of just 58. When you are a child watching your heroes achieve what look like superhuman feats you never contemplate their vulnerability. You never think that one day you will be sitting at your keyboard trying to put into words what they mean to you after their passing. Yet now that he has gone all we have left of him are these cherished memories, fuzzy though they are. Roy scored 115 tries in 363 appearances for Saints between 1978 and 1991. He toured Australia and New Zealand with Great Britain in 1988 and played at Wembley in the Challenge Cup defeats of 1987 and 1989.

That 1987 Cup final defeat to Halifax was my first visit to the national stadium. The following season Roy would kick 13 of the 20 drop-goals of his Saints career, yet I vividly remember him passing up the opportunity to have a pot-shot as Saints trailed by a point in one of the most dramatic cup finals ever played. I nearly blew one of my soon-to-be frail kidneys out from bellowing at him, pleading with him to have a go. Yet in many respects that was classic Roy. A thousand per cent endeavour and effort and no little skill, but never the shrewdest of operators. There are a gazillion urban myths about Roy, from talking to cash machines to informing Australian reporters on tour that he lived at the top of Elephant Lane. These may or may not be true, but they are very Roy and in that they have taken on a life of their own and become somehow plausible.

It certainly wasn’t all disappointments on the field, even if Roy played for Saints at a difficult time in their history. He played in the Lancashire Cup final victory over Wigan at Central Park in 1984, a Premiership Trophy final win over Hull KR at Old Trafford the following year and the memorable 15-14 John Player Trophy success over Leeds in 1988. In this period, the era of such relentless dominance from the mob over the lump, these wins were particularly glorious and sparked arguably even more crazed celebrations than some of the many that followed in the Super League era. By then we had become almost used to winning, and the expectancy and sense of entitlement we had developed could be a little numbing. It’s always more rewarding to taste success when expectations are lower and Roy helped deliver that for us. That alone is a reason to be eternally grateful to him.

Roy was a great player, but it was his accessibility and the time he had for everyone that marked him out as particularly special in my young eyes. In the days before full-time professionalism he would embark on training runs in the street where I grew up. Each and every time he jogged past us as we played whatever sport was on television at the time be it football, rugby, tennis, cricket or even American football there would be the same exchange between Roy and me and my mates;

“Alright Roy…” we’d enquire hopefully;

“Alright lads…” he would always shoot back. Every single time. It’s hard to quantify what even that little bit of interaction with a Saints player meant to a group of nine or ten year-olds but I think that Roy may have understood it. Either that or he genuinely did not feel that he was any different from anybody else in the community in or around the top of Elephant Lane. He was a regular in the off-license where my mum used to work during the 1980s and I have clear memories of her coming home with news of the birth of both of his rugby league playing sons Gareth and Kurt. The latter was, he told my mum, named after the former Widnes prop-forward Kurt Sorensen who Roy greatly admired. Not that it stopped him from bashing Sorensen as hard as he could whenever Saints met the Kiwi's then mighty Widnes side.

That was Roy. Live and die for the shirt which may seem obvious but is not something that you see exuding from everyone who has the privilege to pull on the red vee.

Roy Haggerty - 1960-2018

Sunday, 22 April 2018

5 Talking Points From Saints 66 Huddersfield Giants 4

Harsh Words From Holbrook Do The Trick

Let me take you back a week to the afternath of Saints 24-20 defeat at Wakefield Trinity. I know. You'd rather not relive it but it may have been an important signpost on the road to Friday's 12-try demolition of the Huddersfield Giants.

"They worked harder than us." said Holbrook of Chris Chester's side, adding;

"I was really disappointed with our effort today."

As assessments of performance go this is about as damning as it gets. It's one thing to criticise professional players for missing tackles or dropping easy passes, but quite another to suggest that they are not working hard enough. This could and should have stung the Saints players into the response they came up with against Chris Thorman's admittedly struggling side.
An early Jonny Lomax try gave little indication of the avalanche of points that was to follow in a fairly scruffy opening. It wasn't until Ben Barba scooted past half the Giants team for the kind of try seen on his NRL YouTube compilations that the gulf in class became apparent. Despite missing three of their four England squad regulars in Alex Walmsley, James Roby and the suspended Mark Percival Saints added four more tries before the break. At 34-0 at half-time all questions about their work rate had been answered. Six more tries in the second half underlined the point. Holbrook's words had produced the desired effect.

Do we want this kind of miss-match?

This time last year you would turn up to watch a Saints game with very little idea of whether Keiron Cunningham's side was going to win or not. While pithy wordsmiths like this one seethed about this and put the team's inconsistency down to the tactical shackles imposed on them by the then coach, the club party line was that in a salary capped sport the days of dismissing 90% of visitors who dared darken our crumbling old door were as gone as the Knowsley Road ground. We couldn't go back.

But on Friday night we did go back. Or at least it felt like it. Back to the sunny Sunday afternoons of my youth when the fascination was not in whether we would win, but in wondering by how many and who would get over for the tries. Few sides could entertain like Saints 20-30 years ago and all that came flooding back to mind in two dizzying spells at the end of each half.

So is this what we wanted? Saints scored some scintillating tries with Barba's first of two an obvious highlight, Yet not long after he embarked on that mazy run to the Giants line Barba and his team-mates had killed this as a contest. With over half the game remaining the outcome was not in the merest shred of doubt. Saints hoovered up goodies faster than Richard Madeley on a celebrity edition of Supermarket Sweep. A Giants side that was also missing stars such as Danny Brough, Jermaine McGilvary and Sebastine Ikahihifo offered nothing in response.

Which is all very well as a one-off. The salary cap has done a reasonable job of ensuring that winning margins have shrunk significantly in Super League, even if it can be accused of doing so by dumbing down standards at the top. So you pays your money and takes your choice. Ultra-competitive grinds with little or no flair on show or embarrassing towellings which call into question the quality of the league. At the moment we still seem some way off finding a happy medium.

Costello breaks through

Percival's verbal joust with Gareth Hewer during Saints loss at Wakefield gave an opportunity to Matty Costello. The 20 year-old is more comfortable at fullback but slotted into the threequarters nicely. He could not have wished for a better introduction to Super League level as the Giants folded in the face of the heavy onslaught.

Costello's main contribution was try assists for Lomax and Regan Grace, the latter finally having the confidence to back himself all the way to the line for only his third try of the season. It was Saints 11th try of a night in which Costello announced himself with a solid performance. He managed 68 metres on 13 carries and at times suffered from the same inability to link up with Grace that even Percival is still grappling with. Nobody is suggesting that Costello should be a permanent fixture ahead of Percival or even Ryan Morgan who added two scores of his own in the second half. But the important thing to note is that Costello proved able to step up when needed. With Percival due back from suspension at Salford on Thursday night (April 26) it may be a while before we see Costello again. There are two or three players ahead of him for his favoured fullback berth. But he has nevertheless gained vital experience that must surely aid his development.

But Bentley does not break through

With Zeb Taia one of five first team regulars ruled out through injury this might have been the perfect time to blood James Bentley in the Super League. Holbrook could not have known quite how much of a stroll this one was going to be but he must have been expecting his side to get over the top of a battered Giants outfit. Which greatly reduced the risk around including Bentley, signed in the off-season from Bradford Bulls with a reputation as one of the best players in the Championship.

Those that played ahead of Bentley excelled. Dominique Peyroux made a modest 68 metres but managed 21 tackles, missing just two. He burst out of six tackles and came up with a sensational offload for Lomax's second try. Similarly Jon Wilkin was sprayed with a bit of magic dust when his perfectly timed pass put Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook over, and it was Wilkin's offload which sent Barba weaving his way to the line so memorably. Meanwhile Morgan Knowles had a hand in Lomax's opening score, ran for 110 metres and came up with 36 tackles. Anyone trying to make a case for the inclusion of Bentley might well find themselves presented with these impressive feats as evidence that leaving Bentley out was the right call.

Yet if not this game, then when will we see Bentley in 2018? Saints enter the Challenge Cup draw this week and a favourable pairing may offer another opportunity. But if Bentley isn't required when so many stars are missing and when the opponent still looks highly vulnerable it may be a worrying sign that the young back rower has not convinced the coach that he is Super League ready.

They might be Giants....but we can't see them..

Away support is not particularly valued or deemed necessary in some sports. The NFL has no culture of visiting fans and sets no store by it. Similarly the NRL doesn't worry about it, moving games hours away at the drop of a hat safe in the knowledge that they will find someone, anyone, to stick their bum on a seat.

British sporting culture is slightly different and it was alarming to see the entire East Stand devoid of any Giants fans. Only a couple of flags, one depicting a fairly grumpy-looking Giants chairman Ken Davy, were taking up any space in the main section normally reserved for visiting fans. There were some in the north east corner, including the Twitter celebrity that owns the cow bell, but in truth it would be a surprise if more than a couple of taxis were required to get them down the M62 on Friday night.

If this were Catalans or London it would be nothing new. Empty away ends is something that Super League clubs have had to accept down the years to help pursue the goal of ensuring that Super League stretches outside of the northern towns of its stereotyping. But this is Huddersfield. Birthplace of the game itself. League Leaders Shield winners only five years ago. Is it really too much to ask that a few more are willing to travel an hour down the road, even if it is a Friday night and even if their side is expected to lose? Or is Friday night just an excuse that fans hide behind? Would any more have turned up had the game been played on a Sunday afternoon?

It's never made much sense to host games at exactly the same time as others are being televised. You are either eliminating a high portion of your targeted viewing audience or you are giving potential match-goers a reason to make a trip to the off-license their only outside venture on those evenings. That Sky allow it to continue is an unnerving indicator of their apathy towards the sport. Almost as if they don't care if away sections are empty or viewing figures for RL are lower as long as people are still subscribing to see Premier League football. This is an issue which needs to be seriously examined by all parties before the agreement of the next broadcasting deal, negotiations for which are surely to start imminently.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Saints v Huddersfield Giants - Preview

Saints will look to bounce back from a rude jarring of their collective ego when they host Huddersfield Giants in a BetFred Super League Round 12 meeting on Friday night (April 20, kick-off 8.00pm).

Justin Holbrook’s side suffered only their second loss in 11 league outings in 2018 when they went down 24-20 at Wakefield Trinity last Sunday (April 15). The result has since prompted much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the fans who rounded on portly whistle-blower and hate figure of the week Gareth Hewer. Yet the ugly truth is that Hewer got the two big decisions right, neglecting to award a penalty try when Jonny Lomax was in the vicinity of the try-line and then inviting Mark Percival to sit down for 10 minutes for a petulant bout of gum-flapping after he was obstructed on his way to never in a million years reaching his own kick through.

Percival has paid for that unwelcome expression of his opinion with a one-match suspension and so sits out this one. And that is not all. Saints will also be without the talismanic James Roby, longer term absentees Alex Walmsley and Adam Swift as well as Zeb Taia. The former Catalans man is replaced in the squad by James Bentley, a pre-season signing from Bradford Bulls who has yet to see the light of day in a Saints shirt but of whom big things are expected. Taia’s absence offers a real opportunity for Holbrook to back up comments earlier in the season about giving youth an opportunity but there is still the possibility that he will move Jon Wilkin into the second row to play alongside in-form Dominique Peyroux and promote Morgan Knowles off the bench to start at 13.

The props should remain unaltered with new pack leader Luke Thompson joined by the over-achieving Luke Douglas, Kyle Amor and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook in the rotation, while either Matty Smith or Theo Fages will take Roby’s hooking role. Smith started at Wakefield but there was a feeling that the speed of Saints game went up a notch or three when Fages joined the action. However, that is not to say that Fages should automatically start ahead of Smith. It may be that Fages injection of pace was aided by the fact that he was introduced against tired bodies later in the game and that Smith’s steady presence will be required early on. Along with Bentley, Jack Ashworth makes the 19 and could come into contention in the pack as well as Matty Lees who again finds himself required for first team duty but faces another disappointing omission from the final 17.

What to do about the backs then in Percival and Swift’s absences? Matty Costello retains his place in the 19-man squad and Holbrook has said publicly that it is likely that the youngster will get a run at centre. Whether this will be as a direct replacement for Percival on the left inside of Regan Grace is unknown. Ryan Morgan may swap sides to allow Costello to operate on Saints less busy right hand edge inside of Tommy Makinson. If Holbrook has a change of heart and decides that Costello is not ready for his Super League debut then other options include Lomax, who has played in the centres in emergencies already this term, and Peyroux who joined the club as a centre before finding his best rugby in the second row. The three-quarter line will of course have the luxury of playing in front of the incomparable Ben Barba, who might just beat a banged up Huddersfield team by himself should the mood take him.

Among the absentees for the still coachless Giants are fullback Jake Mamo, England winger Jermaine McGilvary, centre Leroy Cudjoe and the suspended Danny Brough. The latter talked his way into trouble during last week’s 30-12 home defeat to Salford Red Devils and has picked up a three-game ban. Brough was sent off for channelling his inner Percy and gobbing off, this time at a touch judge, and will miss matches against Saints, Warrington and Widnes. Jordan Rankin could step into the fullback role vacated by Mamo, while Innes Senior and Darnell McIntosh operated on the wings against Ian Watson’s side last time out. Former Saint Jordan Turner looks set for a centre berth alongside Aaron Murphy while Brough’s absence gives caretaker coach Chris Thorman a bit of a headache in the halves. Lee Gaskell is another ex-Saint who should feature there but whoever ends up in Brough’s scrum-half role is likely to be inexperienced, playing out of position or both.



The pack looks a little stronger with Sebastine Ikahihifo, Shannon Wakeman and Ryan Hinchcliffe leading the way. Oliver Roberts, Ukuma Ta’ai and Daniel Smith should all feature with Kruise Leeming operating from dummy half. Paul Clough is another who used to earn his living in the red vee and he may start at prop.

In contrast to Saints fast start the Giants have struggled throughout 2018 so far, winning only 2 of their first 11, and having to cope with the upheaval of the sacking of head coach Rick Stone. This side can sometimes be so bad that it loses to Catalans Dragons, a side which you would fully expect to be soundly beaten by the Whipping Boys Select XIII should such a team ever exist and their paths ever cross. It is insanely difficult to see anything but a Saints win even without a few first team regulars, such is the relative depth of the two squads.

The teams have already met once this season, Saints earning a 26-12 success at the John Smith’s Stadium on a cold night in February of the kind that used to decide titles, but now just makes you wonder whether it might not be more pertinent to start the season in April. The Giants had a lot of possession in the first half in that one but even with Brough and company on the field they could not convert that into points against a resolute Saints defence. Without the Scotland halfback and the classy McGilvary it is going to be even more challenging for the Giants who should be handled by a margin somewhere around the 20-point mark.

Squads;

St Helens;

1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 18. Danny Richardson, 19. Regan Grace, 20. Matty Lees, 21. Jack Ashworth, 23. Ben Barba, 24. James Bentley, 30. Matty Costello

Huddersfield Giants;

4. Jordan Turner, 5. Aaron Murphy, 6. Lee Gaskell, 8. Sebastine Ikahihifo, 9. Kruise Leeming, 10. Shannon Wakeman, 13. Ryan Hinchcliffe, 15. Jordan Rankin, 16. Oliver Roberts, 17. Ukuma Ta’ai, 18. Paul Clough, 19. Daniel Smith, 20. Adam Walne, 22. Alex Mellor, 23. Darnell McIntosh, 24. Tyler Dickinson, 25. Corlton Roche, 26. Sam Wood, 33. Innes Senior.

Referee: Scott Mikalauskas