On Football

I know I don’t know much about football, but does anything more sum up the sheer degradation of the “beautiful game” than the rise and fall of Jose Mourinho?

 If you and I were to insist our colleagues call us “the Special One” we could at best expect ridicule. At worst, be shown the door for being such an arrogant dickhead.

He abuses a (female) line doctor in the foulest of terms for doing here job and trying to keep one of his players safe and gets away with it, because we can’t possibly punish one of the little tin gods of the game, can we?

When he is winning, he is indeed special. When his winning streak comes to an end, as they all do, he blames his players. He gets sacked, as they all do. Pride goes before a fall. Except he walks off with forty million quid as a reward for failure, we read. And will certainly get another massively paid job.

Try to imagine the reaction if some chief executive had screwed up so royally, and got £40 million in return. Some greedy banker? Football’s always different, isn’t it, not subject to the normal morals and rules that bind the rest of society.

Super-injunctions protecting players that can’t keep their trousers on. Mass orgies involving overpaid yobs and cheap, celebrity-obsessed trollops. Violent, racist “supporters” on the Paris Metro. A corrupt culture at the top of the international game that would make a Nigerian scam letter peddler blush.

God, I hate football.


On Live Music

We went to a concert the other night. This is a fairly recent development, and I never cease to be struck by how civilised attending a rock concert is these days.

Easy access, a glass of wine at the interval without queuing, decent seats. You can order online. We have even joined a club attached to The Roundhouse that gives you priority access to tickets. The Roundhouse, in the early 1970s, was a squalid hippie hellhole, full of weirdos and druggies, and revolutionary slogans. Today there is a restaurant. In those days, you wouldn’t have touched anything produced on site.

What has occasioned this change? There was the odd sign at the venue, the O2 in Kentish Town, saying, don’t throw your glass at the band or we will throw you out. I’ve never been tempted to waste a drink that way, though God knows I’ve seen enough bands that deserved it. There must be the odd rough night, then.

One factor is, I suspect, the age of the average audience. We were seeing a late 60s/early 70s band called Family, a cult in their day, now largely forgotten. They attract today a small but loyal following, of the same demographic as those on stage. I doubt the crash barriers at the front of the venue were much needed for crowd control, but they could have doubled as impromptu Zimmer frames.

Second, the cost. As I have written here before, it is hard to make money out of recorded music, much of which is either stolen by the young or obtained cheap on Spotify. You make it by touring, and by charging £50 a ticket.

Still, it beats the hell out of some of the venues I used to attend in the 1970s.

On Music

It’s not quite 4 in the morning. It’s not quite late in December. But it is time for the playlist of 2015. Some of this will be familiar to my many followers on Twitter.

Jeff Beck – Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers. From Performing This Week – Live at Ronnie Scott’s. Featuring the great bassist Tal Wilkenfeld. Reminded of this by Andrew Sentance, economist, no less.

The Band – The Band. Obviously, Dixie. But also Unfaithful Servant. And King Harvest. This is almost half a century old. And sounds a century old.

The Unthanks – Starless.

Alison Krauss and Union Station – Paper Airplane. Appalachian bluegrass. Sent this as a thank you to an old friend. Would send it to anyone.

Nick Mulvey – First Mind. Saw him at Cambridge Folk Festival.

Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down. Seeing him in the new year.

Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness. Weird Californian psych folk.

Sun Kil Moon. Named after a Korean boxer, apparently. US indie. Try Among The Leaves, Cry Me A River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes – Hot Coals. Another US indie.

Anything by Don Cherry.

Ryan Adams – Live At Carnegie Hall. Try to ignore the Taylor Swift aberration.

RL Burnside -Goin’ Down South.  Blues.

Robert Wyatt – Nothing Can Stop Us. Read his biography – a genuinely interesting man. Listen to his version of At Last I Am Free.

Fela Kuti – Zombies, Power Show, Water No Get Enemy. A righteous voice of protest, now sadly stilled.


On Speaking English

I got on a bus the other day and asked the driver, do you go to So-And-So? He looked puzzled. No, he said. I got off, and the bus drove off firmly in the direction of So-And-So.

I do not think he was being deliberately unhelpful. I think he could not understand what I was saying.

Nigel Farage was on R4 Today yesterday, dancing on the edge of an abyss. He said a lot of the people who didn’t vote for Ukip in Oldham West didn’t speak any English. The clear implication is that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote, though Nige didn’t quite go there. Not quite

Plainly, if someone wants to live in the UK, and engage fully in the life of this country, they should learn to speak at least a modicum of the language. Many years ago I met a woman who had been a social worker in Slough, working on a programme to get newly arrived Asian women out of their houses to learn English.

She told me, and she was as liberal and tolerant as they come, that one of the barriers to this was often the mother-in-law. The wife had been imported from the subcontinent to marry her son and, as was the tradition, carry out various household duties previously the remit of the mother-in-law.

It was not in her interest to allow her new daughter-in-law to engage with the local community. The young women often had to be smuggled out of the house to attend English lessons. My former social worker insisted this was all true, and I have no reason to suppose she was lying.

As to our non-English speaking bus driver, I think we need to draw a distinction between private sector and public sector workers or those who are supplying a monopoly service. If Tesco, say, chooses to employ people whose lack of English makes it more difficult for anyone to shop there, then those customers have the option of going to Sainsbury’s, and if enough do, Tesco will suffer. Competition works like that.

If we are taking services, such as transport or those provided by local or central government, that are unavailable elsewhere, we have a right to have these delivered in a way that allows us to take full advantage of them. That includes staff providing them who can communicate appropriately.

On The Man In The High Castle

One in two works of alternative history fiction, I read somewhere, is set in a world where the Axis powers won World War 2.

Len Deighton wrote SS-GB, a roman policier set in occupied Britain. Robert Harris wrote Fatherland. The best known work, though, is arguably The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K Dick.

This takes place in an America shared out between the Nazis and the Japanese as occupying powers, with a neutral slice in the middle of the country, in the Rockies.

It is a lot more than speculative fiction, having to do with the nature of art and the creative process, for example. The I Ching gets a mention – Dick was nothing if not a child of the 1960s. There is a terrifying scene when one of the characters, a Japanese, is suddenly faced with the inherent nature of evil, in the form of the Nazis, and loses all self-control and face in an important meeting.

The Japanese are the good guys here – Dick suggests they would no more set up concentration camps than melt down their own mothers. (One might disagree, given the nature and record of the Japanese military.) The next war, which would see the Germans using atomic weapons to wipe the Japanese home islands off the map, is looming.

Now Amazon has made a TV series of the book, produced by Ridley Scott, and it is being heavily advertised. More people will come to the book, then, though as with Scott’s Blade Runner, also based on a work by Dick, the adaptation is a loose one. The novel Blade Runner comes from, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is barely recognisable from the film, though it shares the same theme, asking just what is it to be human? If an android is created that is indistinguishable from a human being, are they not, then, human too?

The Amazon series takes quite a few liberties. The Germans have developed the Bomb first and used it on Washington DC. The Americans had to surrender. Several characters in the series do not exist in the book, though both contain The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a “fictional” work depicting a world where the Allies won World War 2.

It would have to diverge considerably from the book, to run as it does to ten hour-long episodes. There has been a lot of argument recently that such a ten-part series is the best way to adapt a work of fiction like High Castle, rather than try to cram it all into a single film.

From the look of the first episode, a lot of thought and money has gone into the production. I suppose one could argue that the outcome of WW2 was the defining event of the 20th Century, which explains why the converse result should have proved so popular with writers. It is our worst dream come true, though as the war recedes into history it will have less and less resonance.