Well, it’s that time of year again, when Christmas messages raise their heads over social and broadcast media. Never being one to break with tradition, here are my thoughts as we approach the season.
First of all, I’d like to forestall any comments from the usual suspects about acting like a Queen. I can assure you there’s no diamante and tiaras in my wardrobe – at least not just now. But just as HM Liz’s message always harks back to the year past and forward to the year ahead, so mine does as well.
Last year’s Christmas message (http://riserdrummer.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/the-riserdrummer-christmas-message-2013/) was one of emerging from challenges and a determination to push forward into new things, with the key phrase being this:
Life isn’t always smooth, some times the roller coaster goes up and down a bit quicker than is comfortable, but it isn’t what life throws at you that matters, it’s what you allow to stick. Choose what to allow into your life and what to shrug off.
That has once again been the theme of this year.
My family has seen some tragedies, with the sad passing of our lovely neighbour Fred early in the year, and then my Aunt Grace and my Uncle Andrew in October. Happening as they did within a week of each other, this was a very sad time, but one filled with memories of some special people. One of the lovely things to come from Grace’s funeral was when talking to our family from Dover, who all said they didn’t appreciate just how much we all thought of Grace. It’s brought us all that bit closer together, and whilst there it was wonderful to see my father and his brother chatting, as their relationship had been distant for some years. Good things can come from sad times. And we had decided to shrug off the oppression of grief and sadness, and allow the happiness and joy that Grace’s life embodied to cover us all.
Life has also seen some new starts. We have new neighbours, which still sometimes feels a little strange, but it’s great to make new friends. I’ve embarked on a career of amateur acting, having performed in two very different productions this year. I’ve loved getting to be someone other than myself for a while – it’s a new challenge and one I hope to continue next year. And musically, we’ve played some pretty great events – it’s wonderful to be part of Riser, getting to be at so many parties and weddings!
Friends have also seen some major changes and adventures, with new babies, new homes and new careers, plus several going on trips around the world, posting back pictures of amazing scenes that I’m really not that jealous about. Honestly…
And so on to 2015. What’s next year going to have in store for me, for US? Who knows? One thing I am sure of, is that the same attitude and approach that has seen me through this year will carry me on through the next. With the love of family and friends, a faith in God that underpins all I do, and a determination to choose what to carry with me and what to leave behind, 2015 is a step into the sunshine.
So, as this year comes to a close, I leave you with this thought….
May Christmas 2014 find you all well, warm, happy and loved, may the spirit of Christmas fill your heart and mind with joy, and may you have ample opportunity to share that joy with all those closest to you.
At our gig this weekend, our opening song was The Kaiser Chief’s “I Predict A Riot”. I mention this because sadly, that’s becoming a far simpler thing to do these days.
The last month has seen huge numbers of people on the streets of towns and cities across the globe. The causes have been different, but the results have been, predictably, very similar.
In Hong Kong, protestors against the Beijing-imposed government have been on the streets for two months in a bid to choose their own electoral candidates without what they see as undue interference from Big Brother China to the North. Whilst the action started as peaceful, events are daily becoming more and more violent, with police now using pepper spray, tear gas, and baton charges to repel the increasingly belligerent opposition.
In the UK, we saw more demonstrations from university students against tuition fees, with violent protests in London driven – it would appear – by activists from such organisations as Anonymous, who, the student bodies would have us believe, are nothing to do with them or their cause.
In the US, protests, marches and violence have – quite literally – exploded in cities across the country after the shooting of a young black man in Ferguson, Missouri. The resulting violence, arson, damage to property and looting took place even whilst the facts of the case were still being debated, and continued to escalate after the initial findings were shared. The similarities to the rioting in the UK two summers ago are clear for all to see.
All three of these events have been widely reported, with different media outlets putting their own slant on them depending on their own political position. But here’s the thing…
I don’t know the extent to which the Beijing government are interfering in the Hong Kong elections. I don’t know the impact this will have on how the future government will function. Whatever happens, I can’t see ANY government there being less than completely amicable with Beijing, so I’m not at all sure what the protesters are really going to achieve.
I don’t know the numbers for exactly how much money UK students will actually end up repaying (although I am very certain when I say that neither do they). I do know that there’s been massive misinformation spread by those on the No Fees side, and that their opponents have been very poor in setting the record straight as to what needs to be repaid, when, and how. However, seeing people in Anonymous masks hurling bottles and sticks, smashing up Starbucks, and posing for selfies with the utterly hypocritical, total waste of DNA that is Russell Brand, I can’t understand why the organisers don’t just stop, distance themselves from the rioters, and find another way to get their voice heard.
I don’t know what actually happened in Ferguson that day – the only people that really do are the police officer and the dead man. Everything else is speculation and opinion, until the detailed investigations are complete and the full findings published. However, how does burning down a church, smashing up businesses and shops, and going on a looting spree help get the truth revealed and the family the closure that is the only thing they desire. Without closure, they cannot move on and start to heal the grieving process or set their minds at some kind of peace. I’m not saying that to belittle their pain in any way, but the ONLY way that the town, the family, the police, the nation in fact, can move on from this tragic event is to know the truth and to have that accepted on all sides. One thing that will help now, however, is for the family to publicly condemn the rioting and ask for calm.
Ironically, this weekend did see a lessening in the riots in the US, but that was down to Black Friday more than anything else, and therefore the television they were looting the night before clearly wasn’t quite the steal it was 24 hours before. Didn’t stop them fighting over it, though…
Social commentators will debate root causes, with the liberals making excuses for the rioters’ behaviour and trying to shift the blame from the rioters to the system. But that doesn’t wash with me.
I even had one friend say to me “Aah, but we don’t know what it’s like to be black in Ferguson…” Which is true. I also don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer in Ferguson. But I do know that stealing a pair of Nike’s and an iPad before torching a store won’t help the family or anyone affected by the shooting feel any better or take them any closer to the truth. And it does potentially irreperable harm to their cause, just as smashing up London won’t result in lower University fees and confronting the Hong Kong constabulary won’t lessen the interference from Beijing.
There are better ways, people. More peaceful, more intelligent, and far less illegal ways.
When protesters realise this, maybe then we’ll start seeing some real social change.
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….