Arsenal Poetry

We have, it must be said, paid our dues. Arsenal fans have put up with a load of rubbish and heartbreak over the past few years, so it’s good to have something to warm the cockles of our hearts. Our third goal (from a 5-`1 demolition of Fulham, admittedly) was a thing of beauty - the ball caressed from one player to the next with a series of deft, outrageous touches which somehow transported it from one end of the pitch to the other, enabling Ramsey to guide it into the net with a sublime conjuror’s flick. OK, we haven’t beaten anyone good yet, and the defence very much remains a work in progress, but emery works and he cares, and he’s got the team looking a lot more lively than they have for years. We’ll settle for what we can get, and count ourselves lucky.

Russian spies

that’s right, you can’t escape them. they’re always on the news. But seldom as graphically as today, with tons of footage of them plotting surveillance in the Netherlands, and being tracked every step of the way. Receipts for Russian taxis, compromising documents and equipment - if you were setting out to frame them you couldn’t do it better.

They are, of course, shameless. they will deny everything, scoff and obfuscate, and part of the point of doing it is to show that they can get away with it and they don’t care, but there must nonetheless be some murmurs of discontent swirling around. and there’s news of Putin’s failing popularity - nothing to do with spying on the West, or spending a fortune propping up Assad - he’s not looking after the people at home, and they’ve finally begun to notice. Whether anything will come of this we can only guess - or hope - but it’s cheering to see a few cracks develop in that forbidding edifice. On the other hand, there’s no way that he’ll go quietly or calmly - contriving an end to his supremely profitable control is not going to be easy.

Ryder Cup

Yeah, all right. There’s always a pleasant little frisson in Europe beating the USA at anything, but particularly at golf, and this year, when everything on paper seemed to point to an American win. and this year there’s the added poignancy that we apparently care less about Europe than ever, thanks to this daft vote bequeathed to us by the lovely David Cameron - and the one benefit of Brexit, So far as I’m concerned, is that it rid us of Cameron and Osborne. But back to the golf…

It seems to have been a total triumph for Thomas Bjorn. the simple prooof of that is the number of points gathered by the “captain’s picks” - golfers who wouldn’’t automatically expect to be there on their current record, but players whom the captain backs to come up with the goods on the day. And the points score for captain’s picks goes “Europe 9 and a half, USA 2 and a half.” Which is seven points difference, almost exactly the difference between the two teams.

Furyk picks Woods and Mickelson, which doesn’t seem like a bad idea - but he doesn’t have the warm, intelligent planning for teamwork which Bjorn has obviously put in, and is passionately appreciated by everyone in the team. All of them contributed, even if they weren’t all used all the time - and keeping those restless egos happy can’t be easy. A stunning triumph of leadership.

The end of Bodyguard

Oh dear. Always a Jed Mercurio fan, from Cardiac Arrest on, I have to confess that - despite the hoopla - I thought this was the worst of the lot. It’s partly that although killing off Keely Hawes is a brave, intuitive move, she’s far and away the best of his leading pair, and being left with Budd to rant on his own isn’t that great a pleasure. It’s partly that it takes on far too much. There’s the bodyguard and the minister; there’s the police and the secret services; and now there’s organised crime as well; and if we follow them closely we’ll find who the mole is that’s been leaking all the police secrets - oh, it’s her…whoever she is. There are so many people involved in this intricate web that we don’t know any of them well enough to care. In Line of duty there’s a clear context within which characters work, and we have some sense of their interaction and relationships. Here Budd is always on his own, occasionally meeting up with odd police officers, but not really working with anyone. And then there’s a massive set piece in which he decides to defuse a suicide vest which is far too risky for the explosives expert to tackle - his estimate of his own powers is roughly on a level with Donald Trump. But hey, give the guy a break. He’s been in Afghanistan, he’s suffering from PTS - oh no he isn’t, he’s back with his wife and kids, driving off happily into the sunset….sorry, Jed. It’s dangerous for you to be left alone with all this power. Somebody needs to be reining you in.

Brexit

OK, it may not be the end, but it could well be the beginning of the end. Theresa May’s beloved Chequers deal, enthusiastically supported by hardly anyone in the UK, is no more attractive to anyone in the EU. They’ve been constructive and polite, but they are finally deciding that time is short and the UK government needs to face reality. Ministers, meanwhile, are chasing around like eager school boys, trying to do solo deals behind the EU’s back - such a cunning plan, that. It has been a total embarrassment, and it’s not surprising that Labour have been happy to stand back and let them make very public fools of themselves, but we really are getting closer and closer to some kind of crash. As I indicate in my current poem, The Brexit Bus (see Poems from the News, elsewhere on this website), where for once I find a suitable central image to convey what I want to get across. It’s not cheering, but it is convenient.

The Mighty Redcar

More documentary gold, more pleasure available on catch-up. Didn’t fancy it from the title - “who do these northerners think they are, calling themselves mighty” - but was totally wrong and am delighted to have the chance to change my mind. There’s incidental stuff which isn’t incidental at all - like a brilliant overall commentary, some fabulous photography and really classy contemporary music, all of which add to the pleasure. But the real joy of it is the sympathy with which people are dealt, sometimes even dozy, loser-type people who delude themselves entirely. The stories centre on young people at a very tough time, some of them ludicrously talented, others not so much. but they’re all treated sympathetically, and we get to know and care about them. There’s also a powerful strand running through it, of older mentors, relatives, friends who are looking out for these kids, and trying to help them succeed against the odds. it’s on catch-up. It’s not too late. Go and have a look.

Passage to Britain

There’s a ton of stuff to watch at the moment, lots of it drama, so I tend to skim over the documentaries. But Linda’s much keener on them, and sometimes as I clock in at 10.00pm to pick up some news I catch the end of something she’s been watching. This is how i latched on to “Passage to Britain” and I’m so glad I did. Kid simple idea. Pick three passenger liners, coming from India to Britain, in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Pick out some interesting characters, and tell their stories. Except there’s a lot more to it than that, hours of work and research, and presumably an endless budget. Yasmin Khan is talking to a woman in England about her childhood in India, when hey - she takes her back to Calcutta. All right for some. and Yasmin’s a bit special. she looks like an eager sixth-former, all round faced and enthusiastic, but she’s very clear about the bad stuff - the racism experienced by these people who came here to better their lives, often with our encouragement or at our invitation. It’s a really good, detailed, informative story, and i thank the telly gods yet again who have given us catch-up.

Change of Gear

I always have a number of library books on the go, and of course I enjoy some more than others. Yesterday I went into Telford, and saw on their new books shelf "Normal People" by Sally Rooney. I'd reserved it already from the Wenlock library, but hey, why wait if you don't have to.

I had a nighttime novel I was in the middle on - William Boyd's  "Sweet Caress". It's decent, readable, interesting - covering a huge watche of history, with a neat use of photogrphs running through the book - the central character is a photographer. But it's a man pretending to write as a woman without total conviction, and it feels a bit pedestrian.

Finding myself awake in the middle of the night, I pottered downstairs and gave myself a treat - started "Normal People." Oh, wow. The electricity of reading a writer who really knows what she's doing.  The reviews all raved about this, and they're not wrong. Utterly convincing, compulsive reading - this is the real stuff. It'll break my heart when I finish it, but it's not going to take me long.   

Mother's Day

Lots of hysteria about Bodyguard, which is fine. I'm a big Mercurio fan, and will happily watch anything he's created. But won't someone say just how clear, careful and intelligent Mother's Day was? the story of the Warrington bombings, and what followed from them. Irt actually suggested a closer link between the parents of the teenager who died and the Irish mother who campaigned as a result, but that's OK. There was nothing articicial or contrived about this, just a measured, slow look at what was happening to the people involved.

for which you need really good actors. Anna Maxwell Martin, Vicky McClure and Daniel Mays is a good start, but the whole thing oozed class and care, avoiding all the plentiful booby traps into which a quicker, louder, shallower production might have fallen. We didn't have to watch people endlessly sobbing to the sound of violins. But they did turn away, restrain themselves, disagree, and have moments of utter helplessness - just like real people. Nobody else is making much fuss about this, but I will - catch it while you can. 

The Never Ending Story

And on it goes, seemingly or ever. Will Labour sign up to the "internationally agreed" definition, with all its examples? Was Corbyn's comment about irony as bad, or worse, as Powell's speech in 1968? Frothy nonsense, so far as I'm concerned. If there's serious anti-semitism in the Labour party then it needs dealing wih, specifically and rationally, but neither of these sideshows help a scrap. that always say "internationally accepted" - but it;'s never "universally accepted." Why? Because some quite sensible people - numerous lawyers, the Home Affairs select committee, have serious reservations about it. 

Ooh, look. In 2013 Corbyn made a clumsy comment in defence of a Palestinian's art work, criticised by some Israelis. Does Oliver shacks seriously think that's on a par with Enoch Powell? Was Corbyn making a national appeal for people to live in fear of an entire racial group? I don't think so.  

Meanwhile, there's some serious news happening. Israel is calling itself a Jewish state more narrowly and aggressively than ever before. Trump is cancelling desperately needed aid to Palestinians, to persuade them to agree to whatever arrangement Israel plans to impose. Any of that worth putting on the news?  

Rites of Passage

It's been so long. But now Grayson Perry's back, and it's as if he had never been away. He's one of the real TV naturals, talks well, listens well, somehow knows eactly how to react, even with the most potent material - and some of this is heartbreaking. He's looking at funerals, how people face the death of themselves and their loved ones, and how they might devise new rituals of their own. He negotiates this tricky territory with huge charm, sometimes just listening, often laughing, but never imposing himself over the people he's dealing with, always encouraging them to find the words, find the actions, which will help them deal with what they're facing. Utterly uplifting. Don't take my word for it. Watch it. 

Keeping Faith

It's a sad science, working out when and why you give up on a TV series. Keeping Faith looked promising for a while - ravishing settings, camera lingering lovingly on Eve Myles while music played, a steady arc of disintegration carefully outlined...but the simple things were missing, like common sense and plausibility. The police stuff, the child care stuff is deeply unconvincing, and we've seen these things done well so many times that it really shows. Faith's talent as a lawyer seems to consist of looking smart and talking earnestly, which results in some totally incredible courtroom triumphs. she does, of course, cock things up, and one episode finishes with a client's treasured garden totally vandalised, mainly because of her cocky confidence in her own infallibility. "I'm sorry", she intones, "I'm so, so sorry." But in the next episode we don't go back again, to see how bad the damage is. We move on to the next climax, the next crisis for Faith, because she's the only thing the writers think or care about.

Tonight was the parting of the ways. Faith has a crucial hearing in the afternoon, when she might lose her children. She needs character witnesses, so we watch her work through three possibilities, each of which turns her down. Harrowing stuff. But this is on the morning of the actual hearing. Even if they wanted to testify for her, there;'s no way that they'd be available. It's just total nonsense, start to finish. some nice moments, but not enough. 

Vandalism of Art

Are we worse than we used to be? Are we worse than the others? I know I'm getting old and jaundiced, but right now, so far as the UK is concerned, my answers to both the above would be "Yes". The occasion of this is the art project, The List, which has been exhibited in Liverpool , and vandalised - twice.

The List features the names of over 34,000 migrants who died trying to reach Europe. It has been displayed in Berlin, Istanbul, Basel and Athens. Only in Liverpool has it been torn down, and then when it was replaced it was torn down again. Somebody really doesn't want to have this stuff displayed. The organisers will leave it up as it is, with a  notice explaining what's happened, and that may be the best response. All the same, I can't help thinking that tells us once again what a nasty, divided place the UK has become.   

Diplomacy a la Donald Trump

Gradually a pattern emerges. Donald tweets, gets the headline, says why he's the greatest. Over the following days, gradual rumours leak out about what's actually happened. So, this week there's a dust-up between Trump and Erdogan, resulting in massive sanctions which will seriously hit the Turkish economy, and from which many of Erdogan's citizens will suffer far more than he will. 

And now we get the background, from sources in Ankara. Yes, it is about the American bishop, held by the Turks, who Trumps wants to be freed. He and Erdogan had discussed this, thought they had come to an agreement, but now Trump thinks that Erdogan has broken that agreement - so he's really hard-pedalling the sanctions. with conventional diplomacy you'd go back tot he record, the minutes, which would tell what had been agreed. But this is the great deal-maker, who can do it on his own, so pen-pushers would only get in the way...So far as the Turkish economy is concerned, it's a really expensive way to do business. 

(But also another quiet little vindication of The Guardian, those remorseless peddlers of fake news, who actually provide us with the information we eed.)  

Johnson for PM?

No question. These are different times, and we have to adapt. I had thought that Boris Johnson's recent antics must disqualify him from any serious involvement in a future leadership campaign. He mutters about polishing a turd, then goes along to Chequers, goes along with the deal, proposes a toast to Theresa May (whatever's going, he has to have a leading role). No, he says, he won't be resigning. Then David Davis resigns. Blimey - has he made a mistake? He sits at home, pondering, He should be at a Foreign Office function, receiving foreign guests. Doesn't tell them he's not coming, sits writing his resignation letter - but also gets his favourite photographer in to record what is, let's face it, a moment of Churchillian destiny. 

For vanity, inconsistency and bad planning that would be hard to beat. And yet, it seems that in the betting odds this little pantomime takes him from No. 4 in the running up to No.1. The fact that Jacob Rees-Mogg and donald Trump think he's excellent PM material only makes it worse.

So now it's serious. His Telegraph article makes apparently light-hearted comments about veiled Muslim women resembling postboxes and/or bankrobbers. Will he apologise? Certainly not, because he's put out a marker that he wants the racist vote, and he can't let them down. Will more Muslim women be insulted and abused as a result of this? Almost certainly. does he care about anything other than his own advancement? You decide.  

Magnetic Footage

It's a while since I watched a cricket match with any interest, but the highlights of the last day of this year;s first test against India were totally compulsive. It wasn't perfect cricket. Both sides made mistakes, and it could easily have gone the other way - but it's those tight margins which make it riveting. It's at moments like that that the star performers stand out - and I can't be the only person of my age of thereabouts for whom Ben Stokes is a reminder of Botham in his prime: all that hunger effort and determination.

 

Which brings us all back down to earth when see the footage of the night-club attack for which he must be facing a prison sentence - and yes, there's the same determination and hunger, the refusal to be diverted into wiser, safer alternatives. It's a highly combustible material is male aggression, with huge potential both ways.   

Travels in Trumpland

Seeing advance clips of Ed Balls in a wrestling costume wasn't that enticing. we've seen him prat about before, and it's not an edifying sight. Press reports indicated that Yvette Cooper (who must be wearily familiar with this territory by now) had suggested that there might be red lines which he should be careful bot to cross, and maybe this was one of them...So I wasn't inclined to watch Travels in Trumpland.  

But I was wrong. It's terrific. the silly stuff in thw wrestlibng outfit was actually part of a very intelligent analysis of the parallels between Trump's approach to PR and the atmosphere generated in a wrestling arena - and Ball's expert guide, himself a thoughtful Trump suippurter, agreed totally on the closeness of the similarities. it's not surprising that Balls has all kinds of reservation about Trump, but he doesn't try to thrust these down the throats aoof the very varied and fascinating Trump voters with whom he comes into contact. To my surprise, he has something to Grayson Perry's talent for simply getting on with people, talking to them and listening to what comes back, which make for much more interesting viewing. You watch this series of documentaries, and you end up wiser. It really is as good as that.   

Government Breakdown

We are in serious trouble. We've always half apologised for the ancient traditions on which Westminster relies - it's just history, not really harmful, a little bit of tradition...But one of those got shredded this week, with the revelation that a Tory whip was systematically trying to persuade MPs to break their pairing agreements. Never mind what you said, never mind about future trust, just ditch the deal and that way we win tonight's vote. Short-term cynicism rules, and stuff any notion of a national interest.

 

Add to that Dominic Cummings' chirpy refusal to attend a select committee's invitation to explain his consistent deceit over the nature of the Brexit campaign, and you have to ask who's in charge of the asylum. Are there rules? Are there consequences if they're broken? Does anything matter, or is it just hanging on to as much power as you can, for as long as you can, before the wheels fall off and somebody else takes over? I read a brilliant book a few years back called "the Blunders of our Governments", analysing the short-term nature of decisions by governments (of both main parties). Nothing's been learnt. We're heading in the opposite direction, at increasing speed.  

Nicaragua

Add up the trouble spots, and things are bleak. Yemen, Syria, Iran, Israel/Occupied Territories, Zimbabwe, Turkey - let alone the varied horrors of Trump and Brexit. But for me there's a further heartbreak, occasioned by my daughter's links with Nicaragua. Way back in the last century she opted to write about Nicaragua as an A level History topic, and she's been absorbed in it ever since. she's been there numerous times, read about it, written about it, worked there - and now she's watching helplessly as it tears itself apart.

Yet again it's the students who are at the centre of it - young people demonstrating for their freedom and their future, in the face of repression by police, army and various gangs of government-sponsored militia. And against them is Ortega, the current dictator and autocrat - but also the charismatic Sandinista leader who forty years ago was on the other side, doing what they're doing. He's got used to power, his ditched his ideals for deals - some of them really sordid - and he doesn't plan to budge an inch.  community leaders and the church are trying to broker some kind of peace, but it's really hard to see how this might have a happy ending, and external powers who might have intervened in the past are far too busy elsewhere.   

Shake It All About

"You put your right leg in, you take your right leg out..." so the Boris Johnson hokey cokey continues, as arbitrary as ever. First he's proposing a toast to Theresa May, celebrating the chequers deal that they all agree on. and no, he won't be resigning. but hang on a minute. David Davis is resigning. (Only because he's Brexit minister, and he can't conscientiously implement this. He's not criticising May, or objecting to the agreement).  So suddenly Johnson looks as if he's missed and opportunity, so he discovers a deep conscientious objection  - "can't sing this song with conviction"  and resigns.

And what a palaver he makes of it. He simply fails to turn up at a Foreign Office functions he's supposed to be chairing - no explanation, no apology. He's sat at home composing his letter of resignation in splendid isolation - unless you count the pet photographer who's been invited to record this Churchillian occasion. You couldn't make it up.

It's an entirely predictable climax to the erratic, vain procession which has been Johnon's career over the last three years. What makes it chilling is that apparently this immediately takes him to the favourite position in the betting about who succeeds May. OK, so Trump and Rees-Mogg both think Johnson is Prime Minister material. Who else could possible agree with them? which MPs seriously look forward to the prospect of sitting in the House of commons with this charlatan as their leader?