Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Earlier in the year I was selected for jury service, something I'd always wanted to do. I have a passing (perhaps passed) interest in the criminal justice system, or at least crime, so the opportunity to become involved in some small way was one I looked forward to. And not just because my employer was obliged to give me two weeks paid leave to attend. I think enough time has now elapsed for me to talk fairly non-specifically about my experience as a first-time juror, back in the summer.

Having been told where and when to report, I arrived at the appointed time and place, bringing with me the requested identification, some lunch, and a book. The jurors' suite at the crown court was a secure area, equipped with plenty of comfy seats, a small restaurant, quiet space for work, and cloak rooms. I and the other assmbled new jurors were given some instructions and watched an introductory film. It was explained that there were a number of courtrooms, each with their own programme of trials, sentencing and other business. The clerk explained that business at court moved at its own pace, and that there would be lots of sitting around doing nothing as a result. My kind of gig!

Towards the end of a long, uneventful day, after several juries had already been selected for other courtrooms, my name was on the next list to be read out. Fifteen of us filed upstairs to the courtroom, and mine was amongst the twelve names to be selected at random for the trial. The 'spare' three jurors were sent back downstairs. It was late in the day, so after we were each sworn in (no Bible for me thanks), there was only time enough for the Judge to explain the nature of the trial before we were dismissed for the day. It was a pretty serious offence - kind of a reckless endangerment thing with a resulting manslaughter charge. It was thought the trial would last for most of the two-week period of jury service. Wandering back to the waiting area to collect our things, it was obvious that some were not at all looking forward to hearing the details of the case, whilst others couldn't wait to find out more.

Day two began in confusion. One of the selected jurors had declared some kind of vague familial link to the defending barrister, and after discussion the judge had decided to dismiss the entire jury and select a new one. Since most other 'spare' people had by now been selected for other juries, it was a very similar group of fifteen people who again ascended the stairs to the courtroom to be selected. As the names were read out by the clerk, my chance of sitting on this jury diminished. With each passing name that wasn't mine, a sense of disappointment grew. I had had the best part of a day to get used to being on this relatively high profile jury and didn't want to be excluded from it now. Nine names became ten; ten became eleven; then, with just a 25% chance of becoming the final juror, my luck turned. Ignoring the temptation to punch the air and trying hard not to smile, I answered "Yes" to my name and took my seat amongst the Mark II jury.

My luck had more than turned, it turned out, as the new order of selection meant that I would be sitting next to a striking young gentleman who had caught my eye the previous day. He had worn a suit for day one, but had begun a trend of wearing fewer clothes by the day, as the weather became hotter, and it became obvious that jurors tended to wear whatever the hell they liked. He had a youthful yet chiseled look about him, with dark hair which was slightly messy in a conventional sort of way, and he wore glasses. Now that the suit had been dispensed with, it was possible to make out the contours of a frame which had obviously been fashioned through many hours in some gymnasium or other. Even through the dullest parts of the trial, it seemed I was destined never to be bored.

I will not go into the circumstances of the case in any more detail than I already have. Suffice it to say, someone had died, and it was alleged that the accused was responsible. The individuals involved in the case had, it seemed, led fairly chaotic lives, having had all sorts of minor skirmishes with the law in the past, often associated with alcohol or drugs. The testimony we heard from the accused, and indeed from some of the key witnesses, was at times muddled, hard to follow, full of inconsistencies and, one suspected, exaggerations. Yet there were certain irrefutible facts and pieces of evidence to help us.

The jurors were allowed to discuss the case amongst themselves outside the courtroom, and we began to congregate in a quiet corner during lunchtimes and other breaks to share our thoughts. Opinion was varied, and tended to swing from day to day based on what we had heard most recently. The consensus seemed to be that we would only bring clarity to our collective thoughts when given the opportunity to retire to consider our verdict. Some made extensive notes throughout, others hardly any. My bench-mate started to wear shorts and t-shirts, leaving less to my imagination as the trial progressed. His arms and legs really were very pleasant viewing indeed.

Defence followed prosecution. On the penultimate day, the judge gave his summation. We jurors had expected this to bring some measure of clarity and direction to the days of evidence we had just heard. Sadly, we literally received a summary of the facts - not particularly helpful save for one or two points of law.

And so to the deliberation room. Half a day (in our case) of talking through what we had seen and heard. Thankfully there was early agreement that most of what we had heard in the way of background had little bearing on the facts of the case. We asked to review certain pieces of evidence, and, having satisfied ourselves beyond that famed reasonable doubt, came to an agreement - a unanimous verdict of guilty. The defendant was sentenced some time later to quite a number of years in prison.

Maybe I'm a natural cynic, or maybe I was on a better than average jury, but the whole experience far exceeded my expectations. Each individual on the jury was fully involved in the deliberative process, and each brought something to it. So far as I could see there was no prejudice, no complacency, and no lack of humanity in the way our verdict was reached. Whilst the verdict did not go the defendant's way, I believe him fortunate to have come before the group of people he did. I don't know whether trial by jury always works, but I have seen firsthand that it can work very well.

Most of the jury, myself included, shared a couple of drinks together in a local bar after the final day of the trial. Some of them exchanged telephone numbers and facebook details, and as far as I know are still in touch with one another. I however, returned to my normal life and never contacted any of them ever again.

The end.

Thursday, 25 November 2010


It was late. Somewhere, an owl hooted....

Funny how groups of words stick in your head, isn't it? Those couple of sentences are (I think) taken from an episode of 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again', of which I had some BBC Audio tapes when I was little-ish. They appeared somewhere within a sketch as the deliberately cringesome opening lines of a not-very-scary (but supposed to be scary) story. Even now they make me smile. You had to be there, I guess.

'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again' (ISIRTA) was a BBC radio comedy which ran from the mid-60's through to the early 70's, featuring Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, David Hatch, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Jo Kendall. This all took place a fair chunk of time before I came along, but I had a Monty Python phase around the age of 10-12, and the presence of Cleese in the cast probably caught my attention when looking to offload my pocket money one weekend in a local independent music and record store. (Would you believe it's still there?! Established 1848 and still going strong. Visit if you ever come to Bath:

As such, the show was one of several fore-runners to Flying Circus. As well as Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle were regular script contributors. But of course the most obvious product of 'ISIRTA' was The Goodies, the TV sketch show starring Brooke-Taylor, Oddie and Garden. The Goodies never caught my imagination in the same way as Monty Python, but anyone who only knows Bill Oddie as an annoying and slightly unhinged twitcher should listen to his early radio efforts. Some of the topical and/or absurd songs he wrote and performed more than 40 years ago actually stand the test of time rather well.

The spin-off of 'ISIRTA', 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue', began in 1972 and remains a popular favourite on Radio 4. I haven't paid it much attention for years. But I still remember every word of 'The Angus Prune Tune' - the theme tune of it's parent, which ended three years before I was born.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


One of my favourite pictures of me. Upside down.

Monday, 15 November 2010


I was six years old. The walk to school from the house which remains my parents' home is half a mile at most, but in those days it seemed far longer. First came the short walk along the front of the terrace where we lived. Then around the corner to the busy main road, which had to be negotiated with the assistance of a pedestrian crossing. My parents always warned me then, just as I warn them now, that some drivers are too sleepy, or too distracted, or too stupid, to take heed of the red light. All too often one lane of traffic would obey, only for a vehicle to hurtle past on the outside. It was, and is, a dangerous road.

That day, as we rounded the corner, the road was uniquely, eerily quiet. The memory tends to exaggerate, but I don't recall a single car, van, lorry or motorcycle passing us as we walked to the crossing. It was one of the few occasions we were able to cross the road without the aid of the little green man. We continued away from the road and made our way up to the school via the village square.

The next day we discovered that one of my classmates, a girl who had recently moved to the area with her mother, had been hit and killed by a lorry, not two hundred yards up the road. She and her mother had been walking along the pavement, at the bottom of a hill. The lorry's brakes had failed. The girl, her mother and the lorry left the road, smashing through a wall, down a short but steep drop into a shallow stream below. It must have happened moments before my mother and I emerged into silence a little further along the road.

Amazingly, the girl's mother survived. After a long rehabilitation, she left the area, without the daughter who had arrived with her some months before. The wall by the side of the road was soon rebuilt, and for a few years the patch of clean bricks set against their dirty, eroded neighbours made for a silent memorial to a little girl who died suddenly, violently, in a strange place. More than a quarter of a century later those bricks can barely be discerned as any newer than the rest. There is no plaque, no bench, no tree.

I've been to many funerals. I've visited people in hospitals and nursing homes when they and I have both known we would never see one another again; when it's been obvious that they would not last another night; when they have taken on that grey hollowness that indicates that no matter how much they might want to carry on living, their body has given up. Yet I don't think I have ever felt closer to death than I did that morning in 1983.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


'Live for the moment'. Interesting concept, isn't it?

I know it's basically meant to mean you should take every opportunity you have to experience and enjoy whatever life throws at you. Squeeze every last drop from every last moment, because it might be your only chance. Taken to extremes, this maxim advocates the abandonment of consideration for both the past, and the future. There's obviously room for interpretation though, and the extent to which we remember and learn from past experiences is up to us. Likewise, most people would think it wise to remain cognisant of any implications our actions today, may have on tomorrow.

Nonetheless, living in the moment is something I've always practised, it seems to me, more literally than most. As a child I would always put off chores or schoolwork until the last possible day, even the last possible moment, favouring instead a walk, the TV, or that game I invented which involved trying to fling those little sachets of soy sauce or ketchup you get in Pot Noodles, into the small oval-shaped opening in an empty tissue box positioned against a door on the other side of the room. The thought that I was better than anyone in the world at propelling a 5x4cm condiment-filled plastic envelope with devastating accuracy some ten feet across my bedroom, seemed vastly more important than anything Mr Whatsisname might have set me for homework.

I'd still do the homework, most of the time at least. Getting into trouble was drawing unnecessary attention to oneself. There was the occasional calcuated gamble that a deadline would be extended that didn't pay off, but I could always talk my way around any punishment. I had one detention during my entire school career, and that was for the ridiculous misdemeanour of forgetting to bring in my Bible one day. No, the homework would get done. But it would be rushed, and vastly inferior to that of which I was capable. None of which mattered to me. I limited the amount I did to the bare minimum which was permissable, boxes were ticked, the years passed.

This wasn't laziness, you understand. It wasn't the mere rebellion of a young boy who thinks he knows better. I could see the viewpoint of my teachers, of my parents. Good education = good job = successful life = happiness. It was just that I never agreed with any of it. Can't remember a time when I did. I don't remember any kind of epiphany or realisation that it was all bullshit. I just always knew that it was. People lived for a while, then they died. What happened in between was really neither here nor there. Just get from one end of the piece of the string to the other without encountering too much resistence. That was my philosophy as a five-year-old just as much as it is now.

On occasion, I recall chuckling to myself at the huge amount of work I was going to have fit in next week in just a single evening as a result of my indifference, as if that person who would be struggling to do the work next week was someone other than myself. When the time finally came to do the work, neither would I curse my selfish, work-shy, good-for-nothing self of a week ago for making hay while the sun shone, at my expense. He was my kind of guy, you see. If anything I admired his devil-may-care attitude.

Using the sauce sachet and tissue box game as an example, the fact is that I have always taken a perverse pleasure in spending disproportionate amounts of time on obscure tasks I know full well to be completely pointless. It's my own little way of thumbing my nose at a life which, if I am honest, I believe to be pointless in its entirety. I can't identify with people who work hard, who pursue ambitions, who set goals and spend months, years and even lifetimes in their quest for some perceived state of perfection. So long as there is nothing wrong NOW, at this very point in time, I'm satisfied. Even if there is something ominous on the horizon, even if it is around the corner, so long as it is not HERE, NOW, I remain serenely unaffected.

Often, the ominous will recede, or turn out not to be so bad after all. On the rare occasions that something that looks bad turns out to be every bit as bad, or even worse, I either pedal like hell to remove myself from the situation, to find as direct and trouble-free a route as possible to my default position as a bemused and uninterested spectator-cum-semi-participant in the world; or I carry on regardless, oblivious to any threat.

Here's an example for you. A few years back, they found a growth on one of my mother's kidneys. They had become intertwined in such a way that the only thing to do was remove them both. That's a reasonably major surgical procedure, all with the spectre of cancer hanging over her at the same time. She is not a healthy woman - overweight, a heavy smoker who gets next to no exercise - not high on the list of suitable candidates for organ removal. It was not a pleasant time for my mother, or any of my family. Except for me. It slightly embarrasses me even now, but my behaviour did not deviate in the slightest, not for a single moment, from what could be described as normal for me. Not from the point of diagnosis, right through her admission to hospital, the procedure itself, and the recovery period thereafter. I wasn't sad or worried for a single moment. I love my mother a great deal. We have always been close, and even now speak every day. I will be upset when that time does come, and will miss her very much. But the me who's going to have to deal with that isn't the me of today. As it happens, I think my consistency and apparent stoicism was actually a source of comfort to her back then. But I wasn't putting on a front. I wasn't concealing inner turmoil, and fighting back the urge to shower her with sympathy and affection lest it be the last chance I got. I had no such urge.

This isn't a coping mechanism. It may have been a subconscious decision at first, but for a long time I've been very well aware that now is all that matters to me. It seems illogical to me to react to something before it takes place. Not only because it might not happen, but also, and more importantly, because allowing the possibility of something bad in the future to pollute a perfectly harmless and agreeable now, would be a crime, pure and simple. Now is all that we have, and the purity of now is fundamental to any happiness we might be able to achieve. If I feel strongly about anything (and I don't), then it's that.

More evenings than not, upon going to bed, one of my final thoughts before sleep is something along the lines of "Right here, right now, there is only me. It is dark. I am warm and safe. Nothing matters." That comforts me like nothing else.

Monday, 18 October 2010


Yes, it has been a while. I got trapped down this mine you see, and for over two weeks it all looked pretty hopeless. Even then it took another fifty-two days for them to drill a rescue shaft and pluck us back up to the surface. I'm glad it's all over.

I ate far too much popcorn yesterday. There's really no point eating a sensible amount of popcorn, if you ask me. It's either far too much, or none at all. Like ice cream. The embarrassing thing is, I still finished it about twenty minutes into the film. The Social Network is really quite dry in terms of entertainment. I'm not sure whether I enjoyed it or not. Justin Timberlake has begun to look a bit odd. Not so Andrew Garfield. He looks perfectly lovely.

Shortly to be incapacitated for most of the rest of the year due to surgical procedure. Long winter ahead..........

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Dear Football,

Well, we both knew this day would come, though I guess we hoped it wouldn't be as soon as this. Any relationship as strong, passionate, intense and lasting as ours is difficult to put aside, but as you know this decision has been taken out of my hands. We've spent literally thousands of hours together over twenty-five years or so - from at the time seemingly epic lunchtime matches in the playground, to a summer kickabout at the meadows, to bad-tempered indoor five-a-side sessions, to glorious league deciders on windy April mornings and cup finals on pleasant May evenings. In all your various forms, from first to last, I have loved you.

More than anything, I'll remember those countless happy Saturday afternoons. Rushing to the ground, with that pleasant twinge of nervousness in my stomach. Relishing the opportunity to renew old rivalries, start some new ones, and strive with my team mates to overcome all sorts of ridiculous obstacles: horrible weather, appallingly indisciplined opponents, a dreadful pitch, an ageing and sensory-impaired match official (or three). Into the changing room with the rickety benches. Valuables into a communal bag lest they be stolen, and out onto the pitch for a cursory warm-up. Glances to the car park for late arrivals. Eventually they pull in, and miraculously we have time for a brief team talk. The first half is a blur, over almost as soon as it begins. Oranges at half time, another team talk, and back onto the playing surface. Forty-five more minutes of exertion. The whistle blows. Back to the changing rooms. More discussion, which continues in the bar afterwards. No small amount of piss-taking. Couple of drinks. Packet of crisps, maybe a mars bar, occasionally a roll. Time to go. See you next week.

Yet within the routine, there was so much uniqueness. So much beautiful detail. No two matches were ever the same. You never lost that capacity to surprise me. I was constantly captivated by your frenetic unpredictability and your sheer energy. When I was with you nothing else mattered. Nothing else even entered my mind when we were together. It was just you and me. And twenty-one others. It was an addiction of sorts, I suppose, only one without the nasty side-effects.

From the early days as a tricky (if not quite flying) winger, darting past hapless full-backs to supply the front men, occasionally cutting inside to unleash a shot of my own. To the years patrolling the midfield. Tackles, passes, headers, up and down the pitch for ninety minutes. Finally the central defensive period. Battles with enormous or pacy strikers. Frequent facial injuries. Goal line clearances. Raking long passes. Baying instructions to team mates.

And then there were the goals - oh the goals! That Division Three match playing for the reserves when I went past five players before lifting the ball over the advancing keeper. The free-kick from the halfway line. The curling volley into the top corner. The towering headers. The thirty-five yard strike that soared with radio-controlled accuracy into the very top corner of the goal. The left-footed half-volley from similar distance that smashed against the bar, down onto the back of the goalie's hopelessly late-dive, and into the net. Hell, even that bundled effort with my stomach from a yard. Such a feeling of triumph, of elation, of release, and of the purest, sweetest joy.

I also look back on the more unsavoury moments with fondness, and even amusement. When I called that bloke a cock because he charged me in the back and the referee threatened to send me off unless I apologised. The cut nose I sustained from a punch in the face in a 7-3 victory in which I scored two penalties. That time I cut my eye whilst challenging for a header, only to meet with a flurry of punches from the guy I had collided with. The massive right hook to the chin I took whilst running innocently along in one game. Being slapped after kicking someone accidentally in the indoor five-a-side league. Being told in the early stages of an away match in the county cup "You're a long way from home, mate".

Then the downright ridiculous. Drawing 1-1 in a cup game with only seven players with one of my chaotic Sunday teams, then losing the replay a week later, again with seven players, 14-1. Losing my first ever organised match as a ten-year-old, 20-0. Playing in winds so strong that the ball would blow back towards you and over your head after you'd tried to clear it. Getting changed in car parks, barns, fields. Being too shy to use communal showers. Getting cramp whilst driving a thirty-mile return journey after a match.

I cling to my memories of every incident like precious newspaper clippings and photographs of old friends and beloved family members. Right now there is a virtually limitless supply of recollections, anecdotes and mental pictures, but it saddens me that as time goes on I may not be able to preserve them all. It devastates me that there will be no more opportunities for us to create new ones together.

So many places. So many people. Soaring highs, crushing lows. Anguish, regret, happiness, disappointment, determination, disbelief, injustice, camaraderie, laughs, anger, torment, pain, release, joy, always joy. Thousands of shots, thousands of tackles, thousands of headers, thousands of passes, hundreds of goals. Fleeting moments of absolute perfection. About a dozen bookings - all but two or three for sarcastic comments to referees. No sendings off. Not even close. Why would I want to miss one second of one match?

You are perhaps the one true love of my life. Sure, you took a great deal, but you gave me everything. I am more grateful than I could possibly express. Thank you so much. Just between you and me, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to manage without you.

The mitre ultimax-shaped hole in my life may never be filled.

Love always,


Tuesday, 17 August 2010


Considering that this is essentially a private space, it's remarkable how difficult I've found it to be truly honest in what I write here. Anyone who knows me through this site doesn't know me in real life. Everyone who knows me in real life doesn't know about this site, apart from one, and I'm hardly in contact with him at all these days, even though he's right up there on my list of favourite people.

So what's the point of having a secret space if I never reveal any secrets? I guess I'm a little ashamed of certain things, and don't wish to share them with strangers. I may allude to them, but I doubt I could ever openly discuss them, even in writing. Perhaps shutting them out makes them less real, and renders my questioning of my own decency invalid. A form of denial, if you will.

Suffice it to say that I have, err, erred. But I know I have it in me to rediscover the right path. Sorry - religious imagery not good. What I mean to say is that I intend to make certain modifications in my behaviour from here on in. I'll let you know how it goes, in a very vague and non-specific way of course.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


There was a time, in a previous incarnation of this space, when I would go to the trouble of writing a full review of each film I saw at the cinema. In order to rate the experience as a whole, I would rate the venue as well as the film - right down to the quality of the drinks and snacks and the well-behavedness of the audience. I would even rate the company, assuming I hadn't seen the film alone.

That time has passed. Inception: 7/10. See it, if you're good at suspending disbelief and skirting around gaping plot holes. Some people will tell you it's complicated. Not true - I think you'd have to be pretty stupid not to follow what's going on. I hope I haven't just insulted someone.

I did slightly prefer Shutter Island, if we're on the subject of Di Caprio. Which we aren't. Now that we are though, he's not ageing so well. Considering I've never taken much interest in (now not so) young Leo's career, it suddenly strikes me that I've seen a remarkably high proportion of his films, and enjoyed most of them. The guy's got an eye for a script, I guess.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


Very many days spent
Quietly, vaguely, slightly searching
For improvement in circumstance.
Priorities identified
Resources allocated
Schemes poorly conceieved
Haphazardly undertaken
And soon forgotten.
A fleeting victory here
A calamitous downfall there.
Peaks and precipices
Troughs and triumphs
Milestones and millstones.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


There was a time (I refer readers to my previous post), when England's elimination from the FIFA World Cup (TM) would have left me devastated. I'm talking genuine trauma. Tears, anger, denial, that feeling like you've been punched in the stomach. Now? Utter indifference. Within twenty minutes I had shrugged it off and gone off to consult cinema listings. (Ignore the terrible reviews of 'Whatever Works' - it's pretty good).

Yet I don't think this change of attitude has come about as a result of our national team's ever lengthier list of not quites, nearlys and nowhere bloody nears. Three moderately successful World Cups followed by an awful one have worn away the blind faith of most people I know, but I know myself to still be capable of donning the blinkers and hoping for, even expecting a positive outcome. Yet I choose not to, at least where sport is concerned. There was a time when I would sit in front of the TV, quietly whispering to a God that I knew full well didn't exist, that if Nick Faldo could make this putt, or Jeremy Bates could somehow win this tie-break, or Peter Schmeichel could save this penalty, or David Bryant could win this end (maybe not that last one), I would happily do his evil bidding for the rest of my days. Am I mixing up God and the Devil there? Not sure.

I suppose my point is that in recent years I've allowed the perspective of which I was always capable to occupy the driving seat more. It's not that there are more important things in life than sport, it's that there is nothing important in life full stop. Some might say I've matured. Perhaps I'm a little more cynical than I used to be. Either way, on some level it saddens me that my emotions are stirred so rarely these days.

In respect of the passing of my youthful exuberance, I will decline to sign off with a typically flippant remark.

Friday, 18 June 2010


Vuvuzela has become an informal greeting in my house. It's a lovely sounding word, even if the noise they make isn't so pleasing on the ear.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM) sponsored by Adidas, Coca Cola, Emirates, Hyundai/Kia, Sony and Visa, is hopelessly failing to catch my imagination up to this point. England's dismal opening showing has only been brightened by Spain's, and now France's, dismaler subsequent efforts. That said, I will be very (pleasantly) surprised if there isn't more disappointment before too long. My current feeling is that we could scrape through to the last 8, or even last 4, but it won't be pretty, and therefore it will be largely unenjoyable. Oh to be 13 and watching Italia 90 all over again.....

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


I did a terrible thing the other day. Entirely unintentionally you understand.

At work there's a woman I sometimes pass in the corridor - large build, short hair, nothing particularly remarkable in terms of appearance, and just one of hundreds of people who work in my building and who I recognise but don't know well enough to say hello to.

The other day I wandered into what I thought was the gents' toilet, and there she was. She glanced in my direction, and I did a very obvious double take, before retreating to the door, checking the sign on it, and realising that I was in fact.... in the gents' toilet.

Long story short: the 'woman' is a man. I'm not sure if he has always been a man, but since the incident he's grown some pretty obvious facial hair, just to emphasise the point. I only wish he'd provided this visual clue a little earlier, because it would have saved me some considerable embarrassment. I hope he didn't notice my mistake, but I don't see how he could have missed it.

Passing him in the corridor is going to be very awkward from now on.

A French Open related aside: am I alone in finding Justine Henin somewhat attractive? She is quite boyish I suppose. Gender identity is such a minefield.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Second funeral of the month coming up this Friday. It's difficult to remember them all, but I think this will be the tenth funeral I've attended - is this a fairly high number for someone of my age? I'm not sure. Most have been for family members, thankfully none more immediate than grandparents, of which I have been bereft for almost twenty years now. Some of the more recent funerals have been those of people who I've regarded as of the same generation as my parents, which sets in train all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts. The funeral I went to earlier in the month was that of my uncle, who was younger than either of my parents. I'm hardly world empathy champion at the best of times, but it was quite disturbing to sit behind his wife, children and grandchildren in the service, as they sobbed pretty much uncontrollably at various points throughout. I had to tell them to shut up at one point.


On the other hand, it was heartening to see my great-uncle, younger brother of my grandmother, looking ridiculously sprightly, and almost younger than when I last saw him more than ten years ago. If my back is that straight in my late eighties I'll be very happy. Yet even the pleasure of seeing him again, and the couple of interesting chats I had with two of my father's cousins who I haven't seen for a similar number of years, is tempered by the knowledge that I may never see any of them again, and even if I do it will be on account of another death in the family.

Not drawing any particular conclusions - just remarking.

Monday, 24 May 2010


Well it turns out that even if I have a fractured skull there isn't much to be done. Skull fractures are pretty interesting as it turns out. They can be described by location (temporal, basal) or type (linear, depressed). The depressed ones, and those accompanied by outer head wounds, obviously need some urgent treatment, what with the brain either being squashed or exposed to the world. The linear ones tend to be left alone though, since they heal by themselves given some time. I won't be playing any football for weeks and weeks now, so the risk of re-bumping that same area, even allowing for my penchant for walking into things, is negligible. Incidentally, I don't think I have fractured my skull - though I've been enjoying imagining what it would be like to have done so. I appreciate that the reality is probably less romantic. In fact, my skull is quite high up my list of bones I wouldn't like to fracture.

We picnicked at the beach yesterday. Some eye-catching people were on show. Parts of me are a rather darker shade than they used to be. It hurts a little. Summer, it would seem, has arrived.

Friday, 21 May 2010


Well we lost, but only just. One-nil down at half time, we dominated the second half but by the end of ninety minutes only had one goal to show for a series of very good opportunities to score. There was a larger crowd than I had expected.

Reduced to ten men by a sending off in extra time, we conceded the decisive goal about ten minutes from the end. It was very clearly offside, and I was pretty glum about the whole business. My mini-world-cup-shaped losers' trophy resides in my parents' house, never to be looked at again.

My head still hurts from a foul on me in the second half. I'm not sure whether it was forearm, elbow or shoulder - something hard. I have a mild headache and occasional nausia, and some involuntary muscle twitching on the left side of my body; eyelid, bicep, thigh. Perhaps I'll die. Maybe I'm just tired.

I repeat - football is BLOODY FANTASTIC. Can't wait for next season.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Once I have dragged myself around a football pitch for 90 more minutes tomorrow evening (there is a possibility of extra time), the season will be over. It has been increasingly frustrating because, one unco-operative knee aside, I'm actually in comparatively good shape.

Even though it's a Cup Final, it's completely meaningless by any reasonable definition: my team does not play at a very high standard, there will be 100 spectators at most, the local paper may carry a couple of paragraphs report on the match if anyone can be bothered to file one. And yet I very badly need us to win. I hope that makes sense to someone out there.

We're not favourites ahead of the game, but I have a positive feeling. I am taking the day off work to prepare. I hope it doesn't rain.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010



1. Why does anyone wish to advertise their political allegiance by way of a poster in their window / sign in their garden? Do they think anyone cares? Do they think they can influence others?

2. If you haven't made up your mind by now who to vote for, is it such a good idea to vote at all?

3. If you have made up your mind, why on earth would you change it in the next two days?

4. Aren't 'floating voters' just a group comprising those who don't care, those who are too lazy to investigate policies, and those too stupid to understand them?

5. Isn't it all fascinating?

Monday, 1 March 2010


Phrases that annoy me, Part 2:

"You make your own luck"

Where do I start? How about a couple of dictionary definitions of the word 'luck'?

From our friends at "Something that happens to somebody by chance; a chance occurrence"

And from the generally more authoritative "Noun. 1. Success or failure brought about by chance. 2. Chance considered as a force causing success or failure. 3. Good fortune."

Are we seeing a pattern? 'Luck' is a term used to describe things that happen to us over which we have no influence. Things that we have not planned, brought about or often even conceived of.

There are two conclusions I wish to draw here. Firstly, if you have played any part in bringing something about, it is NOT 'luck'. It might be hard work, good preparation, a reward of your intelligence, skill, courage or sheer perseverance, but it is NOT luck. This of course works both ways, in that someone can be negligent, lazy or stupid, leading to mistakes, mishaps and even catastrophes. So, whilst Union Carbide may contend that the Bhopal disaster was 'bad luck', the Indian Supreme Court found otherwise. Likewise, England's 1966 World Cup triumph was down to physical strength, skill and tactical prowess as opposed to 'good luck'. And of course Mr Tofik Bakhramov of Azerbaijan.

Secondly, by it's very nature, luck CAN NOT be 'made'. It is random occurrence, outside anyone's sphere of influence, and, theoretically at least, would happen regardless of any actions taken by individuals or groups. I accept that a person can take actions which allow the forces of luck to take effect. A good example of this is buying a lottery ticket. If you don't, you're obviously not going to win, but once you have, you have no influence over your chances of success (assuming the propriety of those who conduct the draw).

It was Gary Player who said: "The more I practice, the luckier I get". He knew that his golfing success was down to his own dedication and natural ability. Actually, I think we all know when we are entitled to claim credit for our successes. "You make your own luck" is a lazy platitude, and I think it's time we gave luck the credit it deserves. We have a good degree of control over the course of our lives, but chance will inevitably have a role to play, and life is far more interesting as a result.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


Phrases that annoy me Part 1:

"Everything happens for a reason"

This group of words, in this particular order, touches more nerves for me than perhaps any other, due to certain experiences with which I will not bore anyone here. Quite apart from the personal nature of my objection to this trite little package of good old-fashioned hogwash, however, it has always struck me as both nonsensical, and in no way helpful in what those who use it are trying to achieve.

I know that consoling someone after something bad has happened is not easy. Pain, whether physical or psychological in nature, can not be explained away, eased by logic or overpowered by wisdom. And yet words are often the only way we can reach someone who is suffering. What can you say to someone who is upset, that they have not heard before? Very little, in most cases. The mere fact that you take time to console and be with someone is likely to be far more important to them than anything you might actually say. Words are cheap, hollow, meaningless.

This is my first, though by no means greatest objection, to the use of 'Everything happens for a reason'. Is that supposed to cheer me up?! That this is my miserable destiny and no matter how I struggle to improve my lot, some all-powerful force will decide the course of my life? That I can look forward to my hopes and dreams being merrily trampled upon by some arbitrary cosmic boot for the rest of my life? That there is little point working towards anything or making plans, because what happens to me has already been decided? Thanks a bunch.

Of course some people use 'Everything happens for a reason' to explain happy accidents and unexpected good luck, or to comment on how apparently unconnected events can spark a train of events. A little more harmless in this context I guess, but essentially carrying the same message that we are helpless; bobbing up and down in the ocean of uncertainty waiting for something nice to float our way, or to be mowed down by a passing liner, bitten in two by a tiger shark, or simply to die of exposure. Balderdashery, if ever I heard it.

I've probably made it clear by now that I don't agree with 'Everything happens for a reason'. Not only does it absolve us from any blame, or indeed credit, for things that happen, it encourages a belief that we should remain passive in the face of 'Everything', that there is no point trying to change things. Most of all, it simply isn't true. Lots of things happen for no reason at all, that is to say no thought or planning has gone into them. They are not designed to achieve anything, and whilst they may have causes, these are often entirely unconnected to any consequences. Further, even events which have been planned sometimes have consequences which were not intended.

I do believe that we each have the power to influence in some way the vast majority of events in our lives. 'Everything happens for a reason' isn't a direct contradiction of this as such, but it does tend to divert attention from our ability to decide what those reasons should be, where we should attach meaning in life, and how we view our place in the world. We all have setbacks and moments of doubt. We all make mistakes. But most of us retain a good deal of scope to decide the direction of our lives. And even where we lack the power to influence events, we never lose the power to decide how we react to them.

In summary: lots of things happen for lots of different reasons; lots of other things happen for no reason at all; as individuals we have a choice as to how we are affected.

Monday, 11 January 2010


New Year greetings, and if you happen to be a turkey, congratulations on having made it this far. I dread to think how many calories were thrown down my gullet between the middle of December and now, but cannot admit to any real sense of regret. Christmas Day is the only day of the year when I feel justified in eating an entire Terry's Chocolate Orange for breakfast. It's what Jesus would have wanted.

Coupled as it was with some time off work to have, and recover from, a small operation, my festive absence from work was the longest of my working life so far, a whopping 20 days, comprised of the following:

6 days of weekend
6 days of annual leave
4 days of public holiday / work shutdown
4 days of medical related absence

The extended period was a good opportunity to reflect on where I am in my personal development, on what I have achieved, and on what I want to do in the coming months and years. But instead I sat in the house eating, wandered around town people-watching and shopping, and watched TV.

That's not entirely true. Once I had recovered from the operation I was rather busy preparing for visits from, and making visits to, various family members. In summary, a pleasantly familiar Christmas and New Year. If I was in a fault-finding mood, perhaps a couple of extra days would have come in handy in order to catch up with certain individuals who are foolish enough to call themselves my friends, but I will no doubt bump into them over the coming months.

My employer allows its workers two days special paid leave in order to help them give up smoking, which seems a good incentive for a New Year's resolution. The first step for me is to take up smoking.