I had a phone call this morning. Very sad news. My mother called to tell me that a favourite aunt had passed away.
That’s never a good call to have to make or to receive. And there’s a lot of sadness in coming to terms with the news. However, in spending time thinking about Grace, a huge number of wonderful memories have come to mind.
Aunty Grace lived in Dover, which meant that her house was an obvious destination for many summer trips during my childhood. This being pre-M25, we used to pootle along A-roads in Dad’s old Ford Anglia, the three kids sliding around on the vinyl cover of the rear seat, completely unrestrained in more ways than one. There was a roadside eaterie that we passed, which would always let us kids know we were getting close, as we’d just passed ‘Smellie’s Cafe’.
Grace lived at the top of her road, literally as well as metaphorically. The street wound up the hill in a series of sharp corners, and her house was at the very summit, looking down upon the other houses – in which, at different times and numbers – all of her three children lived. A call to Number 10 held as much excitement and trepidation in Dover as it did in Downing Street…
As kids we loved visiting, as the house had a huge rear garden and a front garden that sloped very sharply to the road, ideal for rolling down. There were cousins and friends we didn’t see that often, and places to go and play that were very different from our usual home life. There were games we didn’t have at home – a communal game of Mousetrap in the front parlour was a treat, not just because the game was fun, but because it allowed we children entry into a room we didn’t get to see that often. Life in Number 10 revolved around the kitchen and the back room, filled with Rayburn stove and lots of laughter. And in command and control of it all, was Aunty Grace.
She wasn’t a very big woman in her stature, but it’s amazing to think how someone so relatively small could fill everybody’s lives so completely. She was the centre, the gravity for the family there and here, and loved her family, her friends, and her life to the full. It was very possible to get in her bad books, but rarely would anybody stay there for very long. She had a twinkle in her eye and a busy, bustling walk that made you very aware that whilst she may take her time getting somewhere, by God she was going to get there.
As I grew older, she became much more of a friend, but no less of an Aunt – and an Aunt in the very best tradition of P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster. She was our Aunt Dahlia, friendly, loving, laughing, helpful, but never – be sure of this – never any less than in charge. And we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The passing of her husband, my Uncle Bill, some years ago, was a big blow to her, but seemed to make her even more determined that this life was one of fun, family, and smiles. And although the latter years saw her less aware as illness took it’s toll, she will always be, to me, the lady bustling around the kitchen, making sure everyone has a cup of tea. She will always be the one sat in the Village Hall at the bottom of the hill, her family all around her. She’ll always be a Cheshire Cat, twinkling of eye and with a huge smile that is going to remain with us all, long after today’s sadness has softened.
Rest in peace, Aunty Grace. With all our love xxx
Edit: The picture above shows Aunty as a girl, abd the ‘babe in arms’ is my dad. It’s the only picture Dad has of himself as a child, and as such it’s very special to him. More so now after today’s sad event. Their mum died whilst both were still very young, and Grace took on the role of mother, helping raise my dad. She was more than just a sister to him. Look after yourself Dad, you’re part of a very special family xx
Well, my predictions for the World Cup group stages were… well, let’s not beat around the bush. They were wrong. Mostly.
Group A went OK with Brazil and Mexico getting the 1/2
Group B should have been Spain / Netherlands, but with the Iberian Implosion, netherlands took top spot followed by Chile.
Group C was always going to be open, but whilst i picked Ivory Coast and Japan, both of these went out, losing to Colombia and Greece.
Group D? Yeah, let’s not dwell on England. Costa Rica suprised everyone, and Uruguay now have a second round game to get their collective teeth into.
E worked out OK with France ahead of Switzerland, and F was a romp for Argentina, with Nigeria coming second.
Tonights games will decide G and H, with Belgium looking strong in the latter, whilst a draw between Germany and USA will see both teams through.
But what about England? It wasn’t the disaster many predicted – OK, we finished bottom and are home early for the first time since 1958, but there were some positives to take from the games, in the way some of the younger players performed. The issues England have are not with this squad, it’s more fundamental than that.
So here’s the Riserdrummer 5-step plan on how to fix English National Football:
1. We need a manager who isn’t interested in whether you are a ‘name’ or a ‘star’ – if you are good enough, you are in. If your form dips, you are out. Alf Ramsey never suffered fools, even dropping Jimmy Greaves from the 1966 team, and he didn’t get to play in the final. That’s the sort of attitude we need again, the manager in charge and the players working for him and each other. I don’t particularly care if he’s English, I just want a manager that can do the job – both match-days and in between times, with the success of the team paramount.
2. We need to play a system that fits the players, not trying to find players that fit the system. If our best team would struggle in this 4-2-3-1 formation but are great in a 3-5-2, then play 3-5-2. If the next game we need to switch to a 4-4-2 because of team changes, then don’t be afraid to do it. Stop forcing players to play out of position just so we can play a so-called ‘progressive’ system.
3. We should select squads that have good cover in ALL positions. I’m astounded that we only took one right-back to Brazil, and no natural left-sided midfielder. Our strikers were all very similar, and therefore all wanted to play down the middle and kept making the same runs. It’s crazy. 23 players is enough for 2 in each position, and more than enough to have some variety in our squad, so that if we need to have a big target-man up front, we can play one.
4. We need to instill proper pride in the badge. I have no doubt that Harry Redknapp’s comments about players wanting to skip games was untimely, but it was also very true. Playing for England doesn’t mean the same as it used to, and it should be the pinnacle of a player’s career. These days there’s too much focus on the cash available in the PL and CL, and that’s all some players think about. Things like the World Cup are just a little jolly boys outing.
5. Finally, we need to establish an FA organisation that’s fit for purpose. There doesn’t seem to be the connection and flow now between the U18, U21 and senior sides. The impression is that they are all independently run, and they shouldn’t be. How are we going to bring young players on in the International arena if there’s no cross-over?
It’s time for the best / biggest / most corporate / most corrupt (delete as applicable) football tournament in the world! Welcome to Brazil 2014…..
I’m not going to go into the murkier side of things here – suffice to say I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the 2018 decision was as dodgy as the 2022 one – because that’s being talked about all over the interweb already. Instead, I am going to take on the mantle of my late namesake Paul the Psychic Octopus!
Here’s my take on what we will see over the next few weeks:
GROUP A – BRAZIL, MEXICO, CROATIA, CAMEROON
I can’t really see too many upsets in this group. Last time out, South Africa became the first host nation not to make it out of the Group stages, and there’s no way that’ll happen again this time round. Brazil will win all of their games, and after that it’s a bit of a free-for-all. I can see it coming down to goal difference, with Mexico getting the nod for me in second place.
GROUP B – SPAIN, NETHERLANDS, CHILE, AUSTRALIA
On paper, this is a win for Spain, with Netherlands and Chile fighting for second. Spain usually have an early hiccup, though, so it’s not so clear cut. I still expect them to win the group, with Netherlands coming second despite Chile’s home continent advantage. Australia will be entertaining and the neutral’s favourite, before getting the early flight home.
GROUP C – COLOMBIA, GREECE, IVORY COAST, JAPAN
Group C is without doubt the most open group, whilst also being the weakest by some margin. There are no clear favourites, and so it comes down to individual match ups. First games see Colombia play Greece (which should favour the South American side) whilst Japan and Ivory Coast will play out a draw. In game 2, I can see another draw between Colombia and Ivory Coast, whilst Japan will beat Greece, putting the Europeans out. Ivory coast have the advantage of playing Greece last, but will need a win to get through, whilst a draw between Colombia and Japan will put three teams on 5 points, and it’ll all come down to who puts more goals past Greece. In the absence of any science, I’ll go for Ivory Coast winning the group ahead of Japan.
GROUP D – URUGUAY, ENGLAND, ITALY, COSTA RICA
England will hopefully benefit from two things: Italy being notoriously slow starters, and Roy Hodgson getting heatstroke and picking the right eleven players. If these things happen, I can see the Italians joining Costa Rica on the plane home, whilst we finish second behind Uruguay. We need to get at least one win against Uruguay or Italy in order to make our final game against the group minnows worthwhile, and meeting Italy in the first game counts in our favour.
GROUP E – SWITZERLAND, FRANCE, ECUADOR, HONDURAS
France can count themselves lucky. Having scraped into the finals via the playoffs, they have secured a group that should be a stroll in the park for them. As long as they keep out of the way of the Honduran’s over-the-top tackling, they should come top of the group. Ecuador’s success in getting a draw against England last week was mainly down to defensive lapses (or as I like to call them, “Chris Smalling”) and so I can see both of the European teams getting through, with France at the head of the group ahead of Switzerland.
GROUP F – ARGENTINA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, IRAN, NIGERIA
As with Brazil in Group A, this one is a clear Argentina win. Iran are the also-rans in the group, and so second place will come down to the game between Bosnia and Nigeria. It’s being played down south, and so the conditions won’t favour either side particularly. Gut feeling is a Nigeria win, with a flash of brilliance being the difference that sends the Europeans home.
GROUP G – GERMANY, PORTUGAL, USA, GHANA
The Germans will fancy themselves to win the group, and tend to grind out the results they need in the early stages. Ghana are a good side, but I can’t see them breaking down the other two sides easily. Portugal are an enigma, and have perennially under-performed at World Cups. For some reason, I’m backing USA to snatch second, because I can see tears for Ronaldo yet again…
GROUP H – BELGIUM, RUSSIA, ALGERIA, KOREA REPUBLIC
Belgium are many people’s tip to do well this time round, but they need to be on their toes to get out of the group. Whilst Algeria are clearly the weakest side, in South Korea and Russia they face different but equally difficult opposition. The Russians will be strong and disciplined, and the Koreans will move the ball very quickly and will pose a very real goal threat. Because tournament football tends to favour teams that are attack-minded over those that are ultra-cautious, I’m going to go for a Belgium / South Korea 1-2.
That will make my last 16 line up as follows:
BRAZIL v NETHERLANDS
IVORY COAST v ENGLAND
MEXICO v SPAIN
URUGUAY v JAPAN
FRANCE v NIGERIA
GERMANY v SOUTH KOREA
SWITZERLAND v ARGENTINA
BELGIUM v USA
Straight knock-out from now on changes the game entirely. All-or-nothing tends to lead to more cautious displays, as every mistake punished could be the difference between going through or going home.
I am going to pick these sides to go through: Brazil, England, Spain, Uruguay, France, Germany, Argentina, and Belgium. If the last 16 line up works out as it is above, I really can’t see any upsets. Possibly USA or Ivory Coast have the best chance, but even so, I’d be surprised.
So my quarter-final line up pits BRAZIL against ENGLAND, FRANCE against GERMANY, SPAIN against URUGUAY and ARGENTINA against BELGIUM.
Some of these are straight-forward. Brazil, with all the patriotism in the world, will beat England. At home, in a world Cup quarterfinal, in the coastal heat of Fortaleza? No question. Germany will prove too strong for France, and Argentina will beat Belgium. Spain v Uruguay is an interesting one, and it’s the most difficult to call. I’m going to go with Spain simply because they have the pedigree.
At semi-final time, we’re looking at BRAZIL v GERMANY, which is a match up of two of the games most successful nations. It’ll pivot on whether Brazil can counter the organisation of the Germans. I think they will, and so Brazil should take their place in the final against the winner of the other semi, between ARGENTINA and SPAIN. Again, this is a really close one, and my head says that Argentina will win through. However, I have a hunch that they will come unstuck. When Spain turn it on, they can be irresistible, and that’s why I’m going for them.
So – a BRAZIL v SPAIN final…. European sides have never won a World Cup in American countries. And Brazil have home advantage. So it’s a Brazil win… right?
I’m going to say…. yes. Despite a very close game, I’m gonna say 3-1 to Brazil in 90 minutes.
So there you have it. My World Cup Prediction. Which means I win nothing from the office sweep-stake, but hopefully will perform better than those smug
buggers pundits on the telly!
Today has been an interesting day.
My time spent on Facebook has revealed the following:
- a few pictures people have taken of their lunch
- two videos of dogs doing unusual but amusing things
- about a hundred updates on what level people have reached in online games
- several motivational posts (usually a quote by Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela, against a sepia-tone beach scene) and
- a very few posts about what people are actually doing.
There have been a few other posts though, which is what kinda makes me set my jaw against the way all social media seems to be used by certain groups. Let’s call them PALOMINOs (Political Activists Lying Over Morally Irritating Notes of Outrage). And like the horses of the American western movie, they are everywhere.
Today’s PALOMINO example popped up three times, and was a letter, ostensibly from a guy called ‘Steve Pottinger‘, writing to Cafe Nero returning his (free) loyalty card in protest against the amount of Corporation Tax the company paid last year. Apparently, had they paid tax it would have:
- Paid for the NHS – or at least the care his father needed
- Covered the salaries of all the nurses and doctors that came into contact with him
- Paid for the education needs of all his nieces and nephews
- Paid the housing benefit for everyone he knows on low income in high-rent areas
All from Cafe Nero’s Corporation Tax.
Now I’m all for stamping out tax evasion – don’t get me wrong. But it’s worth pointing out that Cafe Nero haven’t evaded any tax at all. On their revenues, profits, debt pay-downs and the corporate structure (the holding company for the franchised organisation is based offshore), they were not actually liable for any Corporation Tax, and therefore haven’t done anything wrong – either legally or morally.
What they HAVE done in the last year is pay over £21 million in VAT, and £13 million in NI contributions. So they are hardly the ogre that Steve Pottinger paints them as.
That made me wonder a little more why Steve was so outraged. So I dug a little, and it’s interesting…
Steve is a ‘poet’. His writing can be found on his website, which I have no desire or inclination to promote here. Go look it up, if you can be bothered.
However, he’s clearly in the market for making himself known by being as contentious as possible. Hence his connection with a group of PALOMINOs called Occupy London, through which he has published this letter. You remember Occupy London, don’t you? These were the group that went a-camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral a couple of years back, whilst all around them people simply ignored them and got on with their jobs until they went away. They are a staunchly anti-capitalist group, who see it as their life’s work to bring down the system, all the time leeching said system for all the benefits they can grab. They would see the entire financial industry smashed, and their targets are basically anyone who has any money that isn’t being given to them and their brethren.
All of this made me think about finance and taxation more than I really needed to today, but I have come to a few conclusions:
- Taxation pays for the state machine. Always has, always will.
- PALOMINOs such as Occupy London believe that legal tax avoidance is a scam to prevent the redistribution of wealth. It’s not – see point 1.
- They think that the way to change taxation laws are to boycott companies that operate legally. It’s not. One freebie latte more or less is meaningless.
- Anarchists really don’t get the way business works, but that doesn’t stop them spouting about it like ‘experts’. Here’s a hint: shouting at a banker doesn’t make you a financial expert, any more than smashing up a pizza restaurant makes you an Italian.
- Anarchists DO get social media, however. It’s the only way to explain why their messages are so widespread, and so readily picked up by the masses.
Here’s the thing: Companies should be more aware of the social implications of the way they operate. They should conduct themselves in a way that is fair to all – to everybody in their supply chain, to all of their customers, to all of their employees, and to the world at large. That doesn’t extend to giving away their entire profit to some lank-haired hippie squatting in a tent outside one of London’s major landmarks. And it doesn’t extend to paying more tax than the regulations and laws decree, because guess what, Steve? And guess what, Occupy? If they did, it would all be refunded! Because THAT’S the way the system works! It’s what we as individuals expect, and it’s the same for companies.
But then you’d know that as PALOMINOs, wouldn’t you, as you’re experts, having once staged a sit-down protest outside a branch of NatWest….
It’s always a good feeling when you do something new – visiting a city for the first time, reading a new book, watching a new movie. So I was pleasantly surprised when my copy of the recent Degrees Of Freedom album, ‘Perfect World’ hit my doormat. Some new music by a band I’d never heard before was just what I needed.
The story behind the album is interesting – it’s the culmination of guitarist John Aulabaugh’s mid-life crisis, which took a Blues Brothers twist when he decided to pull his band back together after a quarter of a century. I’m not sure if a 106-mile road trip or the Illinois Law Enforcement Agency were involved, but I’m sure the sunglasses put in an appearance!
As far as line-up goes, Degrees Of Freedom are guitarist John Aulabaugh, vocalist Michael Husler, Michael Murphy on bass and drummer Tim Murphy. In addition, the album benefits from guest appearances from Lydia Salinkova on keys and strings, Ken Barnum on bass and Paul Garisto on drums.
Perfect World is an eclectic mix of tracks, ranging from the rock to the melodic, from the driving beat to the tunefully pensive. Each tune has a slightly different flavour hinting at a wide range of influences and moods. My personal favourites are Again and Again, Overwhelmed, and Howlin’ at the Moon, tracks that show the best that Degrees of Freedom offer – great musicianship, a lyric that tells a story, and a tune that sticks in your head after the album has long finished.
The remaining tracks are all very good standalone tracks, including the title track, Perfect World, deliberately written in a mix of time-signatures so that it never quite settles into a comfortable groove in your head.
These days, it’s rare that you’ll sit and listen to an album from start to finish. I’m old enough to recall a time before people simply downloaded individual tracks, and then hit the shuffle button. Gone are the days when an album took you on a journey, with all of the tracks hanging together and taking you from A to B. And there’s the only problem I have with the album. Perfect World is, to me, an example of how nine great songs don’t quite hang together as a great album when played in sequence.
Now I’m very aware that I’m being picky here, but it’s that range of influences I mentioned before that possibly contributes to this. Don’t get me wrong – this is far better than most of the stuff you hear on the radio these days, and is worthy of a place on your shelf.
As a collection, Perfect World is excellent. As an album, it’s merely very good indeed…
- Again and Again
- Howlin’ at the Moon
- Bring Me
- Lie to Me
- Hand of the Devil
- Perfect World
OK, quick list time – please comment on the contents….
Top 5 Films watched over Christmas:
Megamind – actually a fun animated flick, better than I thought it was going to be.
Tangled – OK, but I preferred Megamind.
Uncle Buck – who could ever get tired of this one? John Candy at his finest.
FAQ About Time Travel – I do love this quirky little science fiction thing.
Ooh You Are Awful – early 70s vehicle for the late great Dick Emery, allowing him to scour the country for tattoos on girls bums. Well, why not?
Top 5 TV Shows Watched Over Christmas:
I’m gonna preface this list with the comment that i still haven’t seen Doctor Who yet – but I will rectify that over the weekend. And I know that’ll take up a space on my list, so you only get 4….. Anyway:
Still Open All Hours – I was a little dubious about this, but I really enjoyed it, and reckon it could make a decent sitcom series.
PQ17 – this was on last night (so technically NOT Christmas) but was such an interesting documentary about the most disastrous convoy mission of WW2.
The IT Crowd – Love this show, and finally got to see the last episode (The Internet Is Coming) which was fab.
Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special – yeah, i know. But this had everything you want from a Christmas TV show, including the Andre Previn sketch. Never gets old.
Top 5 Christmas Gifts:
Dangerous to separate these out, because everything I got was great, so this one is more a subset of a much larger cool list of stuff…
Theatre Tickets – yeah, thanks to David and Heather, we’re gonna soak up some culture in 2014 over at Windsor.
Shaver – sounds dull, but it’s what I wanted, and my old one was very much past it. This one’s lovely and shiny-bright…
Christmas Jumper – well, not so much a Christmas jumper, more a winter one, so whilst it’s lovely and warm, it has no reindeer, holly, Santa or Christmas puds on it, which makes it acceptable for me!
Lynx – loads of Lynx stuff. Apparently, ‘Attract’ smells best, according to my girls….
Top Gear – Ambitious But Rubbish – the book that tells the background to all those well-intentioned yet spectacular failures, and shows that not all of the show is scripted.
Five Books I am reading:
Currently I have five books on the go, so it makes sense to add these to the post…
The Bible (natch)
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (surprisingly hard going compares to his usual fare)
Some Kind Of Wonderful by Stephen Biskoff (the novelisation of one of my favourite movies)
Doughnut by Tom Holt (brilliant fantasy farce)
Top Gear – Ambitious But Rubbish (see above)
Finally, let’s do 5 things I want to do in 2014:
More gigging and drumming with my great mates in Riser.
Visit Ben and Julia in the South of France, hopefully fulfilling an ambition to drive over the Millau Bridge.
Write more – stories, blogs, songs, whatever, I really want to put more out there this year.
Go deeper – sounds strange, but with all the things I treasure – relationships, experiences, honesty, faith and self-awareness – there’s another level to take them to.
Enjoy life – 2013 was a bit of a struggle for much of the year, and has ended so well, I want this to continue throughout the year.
OK, there you go. Five lists of Five items. Let’s see where we go from there……