Trouble with the fourth dimension

I have reason to believe that I may have been affected by illicit experiments in temporal mechanics.  I seem to be living in two distinct months at the same time.  All the official sources of information as to the current date insist that I am living through the dying days of July 2015.  However, other evidence suggests quite strongly that it is already Autumn.

Following recent heavy rains, there has been a decidedly autumnal feel to the air and our early mornings are now graced by the characteristic chill of the season of mellow fruitfulness.  Still, I will admit that these, merely climatic, signals could easily be blamed on climate change: or just the natural – if growing – variation in our weather around its drifting mean.  I could perhaps also categorise the recent pruning of the rose garden in East Park as seasonal “drift” – in this case, from February 2016 (or was it delayed form February 2015?).  At this rate, we will be able to wear fresh, local poppies on Remembrance Sunday!

Last night was, for me, the clincher.  As I arrived back at Southampton Central, the platforms were overrun by aficionados of association football in their traditional red-and-white stripped garb (looking not unlike an unwound barber’s pole) – accompanied, of course, by the more drably caparisoned members of the local constabulary to prevent any lekking displays from getting out of hand.  Their mating “plumage” was emblazoned – as is so often the case – with the name of a company of unknown industry: who or what are Veho?  (A Vietnamese poet of easy virtue?)  They were clearly fresh (ish) from what I believe is known as a “match” and strongly indicate that the football season is upon us once more.  I know the scope of the association’s works has been expanding across the year, but I was still under the impression that the season began in the autumn.  Has money changed hands and Chronos been inveigled upon to interfere with the normal flow of time?  FIFA does seem to have paid off almost everyone else and offering a backhander to Time may be their best hope for human-viable ball games in the Qatari summer.  A risky strategy as I don’t think his other half would approve and even the gods don’t fight against Ananke (then again, Sepp Blatter has never put up much of a fight against his overwhelming hubris).

So, I seem to be stuck in both July and Autumn: simultaneously.  It is terribly vexing.  I’ve had no joy with either the police – despite the long association between one of their boxes and the fixing of matters temporal – or the myriad firms of ambulance-chasing lawyers which clutter the daytime television schedules with their appeals for the blameless infirm.  Does anyone have the number for the Celestial Intervention Agency?


Football boots

It is a long time since I last wore studded football boots – we’re probably talking 1982, as by taking the Oxford Entrance Exam I managed to avoid games during my 6th form years (which was most of my motivation, if I’m honest).  For the small portion of the eighties where I was still required to chase a ball around a field, I didn’t even play football but rather hockey (or field hockey as those from colder climes might call it) which I much preferred.  This had the major advantage – from my perspective – that I was issued with a weapon (I believe it was technically called a stick) and no-one (sane) expected you to control the ball using your head.   The stick somewhat levelled the (literal) playing field between myself and my more skilled classmates (which would be most of them).  The school-issued plastic sticks were also rather more durable in a tackle than the posher, wooden sticks used by those with some technical mastery – which was occasionally beneficial.

What I most remember about those winter Wednesday afternoons playing hockey in north Kent was the school’s perennial shortage of bibs.  This meant that to distinguish one team from another, when both would otherwise be wearing identical uniforms, one team had to play in “skins” – i.e. naked from the waist up.  I don’t recall this practise ceasing in rain or however low the temperature fell.  I suspect the children of today are not battle-hardened in the same way – but I guess I should thank my games masters, as I can now get through many a winter without recourse to the central heating.

Why, I hear you cry, is the old fool banging on about sports footwear of the 1970s?  Let me assure you that there is a reason – I’m not claiming it’s a good reason, merely that it exists.

Whilst I have almost entirely managed to avoid watching the World Cup, I have caught a few glimpses of play as a videoed BBC4 documentary came to an end (or some such).  On each occasion I was forcibly struck by the footwear on display.  This seems largely to borrow from the colour palette of the highlighter pen.  As I recall, in my youth boots were generally black – well, briefly black and then caked in thick Kentish mud for the remainder of their life.  Now fluorescent yellow or orange seems to be the first choice – perhaps in case of failure of the stadium floodlighting?  However, a small minority of players have gone further with different coloured boots for each foot – generally fluorescent pink and blue.  I know the modern footballer is often not considered the sharpest tool in the box, but do they really need this much help to match the correct boot to each foot?  In my day, a simple L and R (or local language equivalent) was enough for even the most intellectually bereft of students – have literacy standards really fallen so low?

Another disappointment

Life is, of course, full of disappointments – well unless you are seriously committed to your pessimism (and perhaps even then).  To try and keep the length of this post somewhat manageable, I shall restrict myself to those occasions where I have been overlooked and where so many others have not.

For example, despite the huge turnover in personnel over the years, I have yet to be offered a position in the Sugababes.  I even have quite a decent singing voice and some training in how to use it to advantage.  As a bass, I feel my voice would chime nicely with the apparent desire for low frequency music among today’s youth.  Perhaps the other “babes” were worried I would show up the paucity of their own vocal delivery?  Or is this yet another example of the sex discrimination which remains rife in the UK?

Similarly, my name has yet to be linked with the position of England manager – an increasingly unusual boast on a planet of a mere 7 billion souls.  I’ll admit my footballing skills are a little rusty and even in my pomp these skills could at best be described as poor.  I will also admit to a shaky grasp of the rules of the game – but this seems pretty key for management today.  I can say that I have represented my school in the white heat of competition as a cornerstone of the defence – though, if pushed, will admit this was against a village primary school team so poor they would struggle to get past England on penalties and so team selection was drawn from a rather wider pool than would have been considered for more formidable opposition.  Talking of the soi-disant beautiful game, whilst at primary school I attended football practise every Tuesday for many years.  I think this goes to prove that while “practise” may make many things, it did not in my case make “perfect” (or even mediocre).

But, enough of reminiscence.  This morning I wandered out to exercise my franchise (and get my hair cut).  This gave me the opportunity to pick both a local councillor and an MEP (and so covering the full range of political representation).  For the council, I had a choice of five hopefuls – all representing political parties I had at least encountered in my life to date.  For the European option, I was given a telephone directory’s worth of names from a truly enormous range of political entities, many completely new to science (and, indeed, me).  Some of these were clearly aiming to split the xenophobic/racist vote – others were a complete mystery with their names and slogans giving no clue at all as to their political aims.  Clearly, at least one party (I think one of the more xenophobic) had taken its political strategy from the Yellow Pages and had appended the prefix “An” to the party name so that it would appear first and appeal to those too lazy (or tired) to scroll through the several pages of parties which appeared on the voting slip.  I was disappointed to discover that my own name was nowhere to be seen on this great roll of candidates – did I miss the memo?  I must be almost the only resident of Southampton not standing for a chance to enjoy a share of the monetary gravy doled out to MEPs.  Perhaps, the 60 or so followers of this blog mean that I am too well known to be an MEP – a role for which total anonymity appears de rigeur with one, very dishonourable exception who has had so much of the oxygen of publicity that he must surely soon be taken from us in the highest temperature example of spontaneous human combustion ever recorded.

Still, after a couple of hours of speed-reading I had made my way through my options and picked a poor unfortunate to represent my interests on the European stage (actually, I rather like Brussels – a city easily reached by rail and which offers good food and beer on arrival, what more could one ask for?).  My civic responsibilities cleared for another day, I returned home exhausted for lunch.

Football crazy

I’m staying in a house with some real men – well, realler than me in terms of many masculine stereotypes (not hard, if I’m honest) – and so upon my return from a day of theatre, art and comedy I caught up with Match of the Day for the first time in many years.  I must admit that it came as somewhat of a surprise that the football season had started already – though that be part of a more general feeling that we cannot possibly be in the second half of August.

What a strange world football is!

One manager, after his team lost 5-0, made a solid attempt at suggesting that this was good news and even planned.  He seemed to be arguing that the pasting would act as some sort of inoculation against further defeats as the season progresses.  I am no expert on association football, but I’m pretty sure that losing is neither like a vaccination nor like catching chicken pox – exposure to a weakened form of the experience confers no protection.  If it did, the England football team – not known for its winning ways despite an incongruously high FIFA ranking, one which makes me suspect that money has changed hands – would have little to fear from any opposition or the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

During another game, a player was praised for staying on his feet.  I’ve managed to stay on my feet – except when an at least partially recumbent posture was appropriate – for many years now.   No-one has come up to me to offer their congratulations or a multi-million pound contract.  What am I doing wrong?

The most extraordinary spectacle, and the one where I realised that football has “jumped the shark” came towards the end of the programme.  As the Reading game (cf the Berkshire town rather than anything more cerebral) developed it became clear that the team were sponsored by Waitrose.  The soi disant beautiful game is now truly a middle-class affair.  It guess it was inevitable with all the money flowing into the sport, but soccer has finally been gentrified.  Or is this an attempt by Waitrose to broaden its appeal to the more affluent of the working classes?  If they can afford Sky Sports and the cost of a ticket to a football match (which seem to have prices only marginally lower than the opera) then they are clearly in a position to take a step up from Tesburys and Sainscos.  Let’s face it, since Sky invented football back in the early 1990s it has never been knowingly undersold, so it’s a natural partner for the John Lewis Partnership.  I eagerly await shirts bearing the names of Harvey Nichols or Farrow and Ball!

Football padding

In this country, we normally play football with a minimum of padding – in my days as a player (coincident with my time as a schoolboy) shin pads were the only option.  Our ex-colony across the Herring Pond play something they call football which uses a lot more – but I don’t think that anyone can match ITV when it comes to padding.

Skimming my copy of the Mortician’s Gazette, I noticed the coverage of today’s FA Cup on our oldest commercial broadcaster.  When I played, the games comprised two halves of 45 minutes each with a break in the middle.  It strikes me that a couple of hours should be sufficient time to fully cover a match – unless it goes to penalties (not something that happened in the primary school leagues of north Kent in the seventies).  ITV have provided four-and-a-half hours for the experience – and even then say that the programme may over-run in the event of extra time or penalties!   (Later in the day they offer another hour of highlights: so 330 minutes of TV filled from a mere 90 minutes of activity.)  The programme starts a full two hours before the game!  Are they planning to pick the teams using some sort of audience participation talent contest?  Well, it is a Saturday…


I eat quite a lot of nuts and while you are very much what you eat, I don’t think you can really use this statement to deduce anything about my mental health.  Many of these nuts come from Waitrose and they used to come in numbered packets (00-99) with each number representing a different type of nut, seed, dried fruit or combination of the above.  However, in recent weeks this has all changed with nuts (and other comestibles) in new (un-numbered) packaging and re-branded ‘lovelife’.  I am unsure whether it is we the consumer or the nuts themselves who are being encouraged to say ‘no’ to suicide – or perhaps organic walnuts are an aphrodisiac and the new brand is by way of a recommendation for victuals that will spice up a couple’s gland games.

All very well you may say, dodgy re-branding is a fact of modern life – even for the Waitrose shopper – but why do you bring this up?  Well, while I was waiting at the till earlier this week, I spied a copy of the Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine (free to Partnership cardholders!) which displayed a strap line to the effect that lovelife was “the range everyone is talking about”.

I like to think I get about a bit – only last night I was hob-nobbing (well, more cava and canapé-ing, if honest) with the fragrant Mary Archer and the Mayor of Cambridge (among other luminaries) at the launch of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival – but despite the celebrity-inflected gay social whirl that is my life, I had encountered no-one discussing a newly re-named range of edible tidbits from the John Lewis Partnership (and this despite the fact that last night’s canapés were consumed in the 3rd floor brasserie of the John Lewis store in Cambridge).  Where am I going wrong?

It is not as though this is the only example of me being left out.  I must be one of the few people left in the UK never to have been offered (or even mentioned in conjunction with) a vacant position in the Sugarbabes or the role of England football manager.  I will readily admit that my singing voice may not be the Mae West and my grasp of the off-side trap lacking – but I doubt I could do a poorer job than the current incumbents.

Worse, the News of the World has failed to make even a desultory effort to hack into my phone (either landline or mobile) – which may make me unique in this country.

What does a chap have to do to get noticed?  I had thought that after leaving school the weekly ritual of being picked last (or penultimately) for every sporting team would be at an end, but it would seem not…

A Classical Education?

The astute reader may have noticed my penchant for the classical allusion. In fact, I did once have a vigorous argument with my then boss (while she was giving me a lift home) about the importance of being taught classics at school.  She (a distinguished professor of education) was against it, I (a lapsed mathematician) was for it – I rather fear that I may not have won that particular round.

Against this background, I take a positive view of today’s news that a pub landlady in Portsmouth has won the (at least provisional) right to show games of English association football which come to her from Greece (via satellite, rather than delivered by trireme). This right had been disputed by Sky who seemed keen to charge her rather more to show the same bunch of 22 men running around after a ball – but, to be honest, I think the Greeks have greater need of her money.

I presume that this could, to coin a cliché, open the floodgates and across the land pub-based footie fans will be obtaining their “fix” direct from Greece. I am given to understand that much of the joy of such games is the “atmosphere” at the stadium, and so presume that the games will be enjoyed with the sound up. This will mean that a whole new audience will be exposed to the Greek language – albeit both modern and demotic (and perhaps with relatively limited vocabulary, though I will admit to being no expert on the esoteric art of football commentary – or, for that matter, the offside rule).

Surely, though it cannot be long before followers of the blues or greens (or was that Rome?) or whomever will want to put their growing knowledge of the language to greater use. I eagerly anticipate talkSPORT phone-ins (or should that be phones-in?) comprising angry clashes about the role of the Gods in Homer or about Athenian tactics in Thucydides. I can almost hear Alan Hansen’s damning indictment of the “terrible defending” of the Trojans on Match of the Day (bad enough letting a ball through, but a giant wooden horse?)


To my shock, and yours, this is not to be a diatribe against the software of a well-known (if less well-regarded) Seattle-based company.

No, I read in the yellow press that football is to close its transfer window later today. Apparently, it’s been open for some weeks now. Surely this is arrant foolishness. An open window, at this time of year, they must be freezing (or suffer from crippling heating bills). Even I, after living on Tyneside for several years and with the concomitant thickening of my blood, have had my windows firmly closed since early November.

Still, on the plus side, football must be very well-aired by now.