Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Shane reminded me of Eamonn

I enjoyed watching Shane Lowry win the Open at Portrush. It was a fairytale outcome for an Irishman to win, even if it wasn't the Irishman many were expecting beforehand. I didn't bet on Rory McIroy: I haven't for some time in my bets on the four golf majors with an old work colleague. Even I didn't expect him to blow up quite so spectacularly at the start but, for me, his poor first round wasn't a shock.

Lowry's performance was impressive throughout, particularly his round of 63 on Saturday which put him in a position of control he only briefly looked like losing in the final round. That was on the first hole where a poor drive left him having to hole a tricky bogey putt while Tommy Fleetwood had a shorter attempt for birdie. The potential for a three shot swing if Lowry missed and Fleetwood holed out, nearly eliminating the overnight four shot lead, didn't come to pass as Lowry holed and Fleetwood missed. Just one dropped shot and from then Lowry kept a comfortable margin in hand, playing sensible golf in some difficult conditions, meaning Tommy Fleetwood couldn't lay a finger on him.

Lowry's approach shots were very good throughout, giving him many birdie opportunities which he often took. He seemed to have a far better feel for how the ball would roll out with his chips and pitches. He kept his drives low and under the wind. I particularly admired his drive to one of the closing par 3s which kept all trouble at bay as he built a 6 shot lead in the closing holes.

The scenes after Lowry executed his approach shot to the final green, effectively giving him seven putts for the win, with the golfer hugging his caddie and gleefully acknowledging the crowd, reminded me of another Irish sportsman, Eamonn Coghlan, whose career defining victory came in the World Athletics Championships 5000m of 1983. I have a vivid recollection of Coghlan clenching his fist and indicating "this is in the bag" while still in second place on the final lap. Some might think this behaviour arrogant and lacking in respect but, in both Lowry and Coghlan's cases, it struck me as sheer exhuberant delight.

So I checked out Coghlan's run, as it was a long time ago. You can see the final lap on youtube, with David Coleman commentating. The grainy pictures show Coghlan closing to the pacemaker, Dmitriyev, at the end of the back straight. But, to my disappointment, you can't see Coghlan punching the air before he draws level with the Russian on the final bend, looks him in the face and then accelerates away to win by some distance. I began to think it might even be a false memory. But then I spotted this in a blog about running and marathon training in Ireland called Run and Jump:

"Before the race he had decided on the point where he would make his final sprint – coming off the last bend. Reaching the top of that bend and feeling on top of the world, Coghlan clenched his fists in celebration – with 150 metres still to run and while still in second place.
Then came one of the most famous images in Irish sport. As he drew level with the Russian Dmitriyev, Coghlan looked into his face and smiled. For Coghlan, the World title was now a formality. At last he was going to win a major title. After one more half-celebration down the home straight, Coghlan claimed his gold...  "

Coghlan won by nearly 2 seconds, about as massive in running as Lowry's 6 shots in golf. And, to my relief, not a false memory. Isn't Google sometimes wonderfully life enhancing!

All very dramatic but, because of the margin of victory, not as exciting as the previous weekend's sport with the Wimbledon men's final and the cricket World Cup, where the margins where just about as narrow as they could be in either sport.
England were, of course, fortunate in the final, as they probably wouldn't have got to compete in the super over, cricket's version of the penalty shoot out or tennis tie breaker, without the unintended ricochet off Stokes's bat for four overthrows even if  they could claim to have been the best team over the whole competition. But Ben Stokes's redemption story was one of many fascinating aspects in a story line that fiction writers probably couldn't have dreamed up.

We were travelling and listened to the almost simultaneous climax of the cricket and tennis on the radio. I find team games ultimately have more drama, so would have favoured the cricket over the tennis even if it weren't for the fact that I feel you can picture what is happening from the commentary of the cricket much better than the tennis. I guess it's simply that the ball is in the air longer and there is time for the commentator to explain the scene before the next action; tennis commentary gets rather breathless and can sound garbled and confusing. But at every break for a wicket and sometimes at change of overs we switched to the tennis as Djokovic and Federer slugged it out. This was some of the best and most dramatic sporting action that I haven't seen.

So an Irish captain won the world cup for England - but never mind, the Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin and that doesn't stop us claiming him as a national hero. Indeed aren't immigrants popular when they have names like Morgan, Stokes (playing against the country of his birth), Roy and Archer? (The squad included South African born Tom Curran as well. And yes, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali but then they are simply English people of Pakistani family heritage).

While delighted by the cricket result, whether England deserved it on the day or not, I couldn't quibble with the tennis result, though I'd have preferred to see a Federer win. I don't know if the popularity of goody two shoes Federer pains Novak Djokovic but they are both outstanding champions. And so is Rafa Nadal, though I thought he demeaned himself whingeing about being seeded below Federer at 3, Wimbledon being one of the few tournaments that reserves the right to tinker with the world rankings when seeding the players. There is very little diference in being seeded 2 or 3. Nadal arguably had a harder route to the semi-final but he ended up playing the same chap. And losing to him, thus confirming the correctness of the seedings. And while looking on court as if the world was against him, or someone had stolen his dummy. All of which made me smirk.

Still a great day's sport as, on the same day, Lewis Hamilton won  a record 6th British grand prix. Another truly great champion in a great summer of sport.

It left me smiling almost as much as the Irish on Sunday.

* Coghlan on top of the world:
The youtube video of the fianl lap, with David Coleman commentating, is at

Friday, 19 July 2019

Is he Misstra Know It All?

Boris Johnson's anointment as Tory party leader being imminent we may find out before too long now whether the man really has a plan for Brexit. I'm not holding my breath. Indeed I'm reminded of Stevie Wonder's song He's Misstra Know-It-All:

He's a man / with a plan / Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand / He's Misstra Know-It-All
Playin' hard / Talkin' fast / Makin' sure that he won't be the last / He's ....
Makes a deal / With a smile / Knowin' all the time that his lie's a mile /  He's ....
Must be seen / There's no doubt / He's the coolest one with the biggest mouth /  He's ....
If he shakes / On a bet / He's the kind of dude that won't pay his debt / He's ....
Take my word / Be aware / Of a man that just don't give a care, no / He's ....
Give a hand to the man / You know damn well he's got the super plan / He's ....
If we had less of him / Don't you know we'd have a better land / He's ....
Check his sound out / He'll tell it all / Hey you talk too much, you worry me to death /
He's Misstra Know-It-All

I don't doubt that Boris Johnson is highly intelligent. Whether he would qualify as a member of Mensa, i.e. in the top 2% of the population on IQ, I don't know but I presume he would. Indeed his mannerisms remind me very much of a boss of mine who had an IQ of over 160 - and was a bully. But even if Boris is that bright that doesn't necessarily make him clever or wise, of course.

The Conservative leadership hustings have naturally created a dynamic in which the two runners appeal to their electorate but it's led to some remarkably un-Conservative pledges, particularly on public spending. I am worried that no party is currently standing for financial prudence and the free market. **** business, one might say, which in due course means we are generally all worse off.

Actually, given that both Ed Davey and Jo Swinson do espouse the free market I am finding that, apart from their slavish see-no-evil devotion to the EU, they are potentially the most attractive option at the moment. If they would say that the EU is better than the alternative but is pretty awful and needs major and urgent reform there wouldn't be much that I could disagree with at the moment, though I suspect they are hopelessly unrealistic on climate change in terms of practicable actions.

I am left feeling that the Tory process has been too public. I know some people just don't accept that it's up to the Tory membership to pick "the next prime minister" as the BBC seem fond of saying and there have been the usual calls for a general election on account of the change of leadership. Boris Johnson has been reminded of the fact that he called for one when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair. Hmmm, not that clever then, given Boris's long held ambition to be PM and the fact that, in the time I can remember, more people have taken over as PM during a Parliament than as the result of a general election (Douglas Home, Callaghan, Major, Brown, May and soon Johnson v Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron). That's the way our constitution works. The PM is not a directly elected president. Some folk have a problem with that, but I don't. I think it's better that the people who know the candidates decide and then we get a chance to keep them or ditch them once we see whether they know what they are doing. But the systems that the two big parties have gone for, with their membership having the final say, means that the choice is not made by people who know the candidates well. They are strange hybrid systems which I don't think are serving us well. After all, if Corbyn and Johnson are the answers, what on earth was the question?

So does Boris have a plan beyond getting into number 10? I expect you can tell that I doubt it. And even if he does there is very little time before a deadline that he's made clear he doesn't want to flex. And even while hinting that he'll walk away into a no-deal Brexit, he's also said it's a "million to one chance". Great negotiating skills, Boris - telling the other side that you don't really mean it isn't much better than saying no deal is not an option. There is no reason for the EU to move now. The time to walk out and threaten no deal was right at the start, when we gave way on the sequencing point in the negotiations, giving away our best card early. Is it a credible card now? It's going to be an interesting few weeks up to 31 October........

Monday, 15 July 2019

Tim Henman ruined Glasto

I didn't hold out much hope for the  Glastonbury line-up this year and ended up not watching very much of the coverage, though I was looking forward to two of the three headliners, The Killers and The Cure, Stormzy not being my bag. Both me and Mrs H have liked The Killers since they broke through to mainstream attention with their album Day and Age - we've spent many hours in the car listening to its high quality, catchy songs. And I've liked The Cure since being fascinated by their first single on a compilation album I had. The song was called Killing An Arab. Eh? - but I was hooked by their first hit single, A Forest, which I heard on the John Peel show circa 1980. We missed seeing The Killers before they became a stadium band (we don't do stadium gigs, finding it rather like watching on TV but with the TV turned up full at the other end of the house) but we finally caught up with Robert Smith and The Cure a couple of years ago. For me, a huge fan of the new wave era, Smith's catchy pop songs redolent of the Buzzcocks with a hint of Joy Division gloom are musical catnip.

I thought The Killers were hugely disappointing. Having not seen much of them playing live I found I just couldn't warm to front man Brandon Flowers. His singing wasn't bad but it just didn't sound much like the recorded version of his voice to me. His personality grated and, surprisingly, I didn't even like his glittery jacket. Mrs H pretty well summed it up when she asked why Tim Henman was attempting to sing Killers songs. I sniggered because she had a point, but once she'd said it Flowers had no chance of winning me back. I was going to label the photos below but I've forgotten which is which.......

There was also an odd throw away chorus of Human, done just on piano, before going into another song as a tease. OK they did play it in the encore, but with the Pet Shop Boys fella doing much of the singing so it sounded for all the world like a Killers tribute band making a poor fist of the song. All in all a big let down.

As for Smith, his wife (yes, I know he looks a Goth - though he denies it - and wears lipstick but he does have one and they've been together since he was 14) reportedly tells him "sing well" before gigs. She presumably feels he can play his guitar blindfolded so if he sings well it will be a good gig. He did sing well. There were no guests, no dancers, no fireworks, just the band and their songs. Exactly as I like it: I've never seen the point of a dance show on a festival stage, albeit presumably intended for the tv coverage. and guests usually take away from rather than add to the performance.

However, there is a "but". Just like when we saw them in Manchester* they didn't play The Love Cats, Mrs H's favourite - and she's by no means the only one who thinks that. That irritated us when we found out they had played it the next night at Wembley Arena, though admittedly in a longer set. Here they had a full two hours, so no excuse, Robert. The BBC said it was a "wry joke - did anyone miss it?" Well you could plainly hear many of the audience calling for it as the band left the stage. Smith, as many Glastonbury headliners are, seemed very emotional at the end of his set. Bob, the punters would have loved you even more if you'd played your best known song; it was an occasion to give them what they wanted. I know you think Love Cats  is a "sort of stupid pop song" but remember you re-formed The Cure because the stupid pop songs became hits and you found it was more fun doing that than slogging around the world in your alternative career playing guitar with Siouxsie and the Banshees (Smith had dissolved the Cure at one point reportedly under the strain of narcotics and playing his 'emotionally crushing songs' each night).

Other than that, all the hits got played. Well, I say "all", though I haven't checked whether he played every single one. The Cure never made it really big time but there were a lot of hits: 23 in the UK top 40, including Lovesong written for his wedding to Mary in 1989 - not his biggest UK hit but strangely by far his biggest US seller, reaching number 2 on the US mainstream pop chart, most of the others registering only on their alternative chart. Close To Me, Friday I'm In Love, Lullaby, The Caterpillar - all there.

On the positive side, closing with one of his earliest songs, Boys Don't Cry, was a stroke of genius. A lovely song which wasn't a hit on first release, though it eventually earned a silver disc. It would be a bit like Madonna closing her set with one of the singles she did before Holiday, or the Rolling Stones closing with I Wanna Be Your Man,  though that,of course wasn't their own composition. It showed how well Smith's music has stood the test of time. There is a smashing video with a touchingly young Smith singing the song on youtube here. Some 40 years on and now aged 60 Smith's voice hasn't changed very much.

They didn't do Killing An Arab - Smith once called a press conference to explain the song was not Islamophobic but inspired by Camus's L'Etranger. Smith recalls looking at a sea of bemused journalists' faces as he explained existentialism and Camus's philosophy of the absurd. But of course they performed A Forest  - it was brilliant and I've been humming that and Boys Don't Cry ad nauseam since. Though I have also been singing Killers songs. I just don't feel the need to see them live any more.

So the Cure were really good, but I was still left feeling a tad cheated, just as I had when I saw them live. A tease indeed.

*See The Love Cat is a Tease, post of 4 Dec 2016