Saturday, 29 January 2022

No Clash with Martin over his Happy Mix

One of the ways the Beeb is marking its 100th anniversary is publishing a series of personalised music mixes by some of their biggest stars on BBC Sounds through the year. One of the early ones is by Martin Freeman, who is doing a splendid job of sounding like a scouser in their current series The Responder.

So splendid that Lord Sugar made a twit of himself by asking why the BBC made Freeman talk with a Liverpool accent. Er, it's set in Liverpool, dickhead! (That epithet is not entirely gratuitous on my part, being frequently used on the programme). Sugar noted he found it hard to understand what the cast were saying and that his wife 'couldn't understand a word'. To which all I can say is "yer wha?" as Scouse is surely no more impenetrable than the Geordie or Glaswegian accents which must be much more frequently used in TV drama. But then I would think that, wouldn't I?

Anyway, I was delighted to see that Freeman's "Happy Mix" of music that makes him feel er, happy, kicked off with the Pistols God Save The Queen and included a track that always makes me smile, Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad from The Clash's album Give 'Em Enough Rope with its sleeve pic blagged from an American postcard:

The reason I know this is I was an avid reader of the music press from the late 60s to the early 80s and it was spotted and printed. Sounds was my preference; I sometimes got but never "got" the NME though both rags went big on punk and new wave, which I also didn't "get" at first. I still recall reading the review by Dave McCullough in Sounds of that eagerly awaited second Clash album. He wrote:

"Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad is astonishing....this is so funny it would make your dead budgie laugh. Brave and Beatlesque in positioning."

Brave? Well The Clash were one of the archetypical punk bands and their eponymous first album is regarded as one of the classics of the genre. Second albums can be difficult and there was a marked change in style - it's well towards heavy rock. There are five tracks on each side (so not all two minute thrashes then) and the first three are all quick and loud. Julie is track four and isn't heavy rock, let alone punk, before the album gets rockier again. Beatlesque in positioning? Well it occupies exactly the same position (penultimate track on side one) as Yellow Submarine on Revolver and Octopus's Garden on Abbey Road. The difference is the song bears repeated listening and you don't want to skip the track when listening to the album again many years later. You can hear it here and decide for yourself. 

Funny? Well not uproariously, but that wouldn't fit with repeated listening. Funny in a sardonic way, absolutely. It's amusing seeing American fans on websites trying to figure out the meaning when it's simply the Clash's take on a real event, Operation Julie, which bust open a huge drug making ring in Wales and eventually lead to over a hundred arrests. Joe Strummer is quoted as saying:

"Operation Julie was carried out near Wales. There were these university graduates, chemists, and they were manufacturing LSD and distributing it. The only way for the cops to bust them was to put in some hippies of their own, who had to take acid repeatedly to maintain cover. This acid was the strongest outside Switzerland. The song is really about imagining tripping policemen."

Whether the undercover cops actually took drugs isn't clear from official accounts and might just be Strummer's invention. But there was a was a real Julie, Sergeant Julie Taylor, who was one of three undercover officers and after whom the operation was named. And the story of one of the other undercover cops has been published in which he admitted smoking cannabis and having to keep up with heavy drinkers in the gang. So join the dots.

Strummer's lyric goes:

It's Lucy in the sky and all kinds of apple pie
She giggles at the screen 'cause it looks so green
There's carpets on the pavement
And feathers in her eye
But sooner or later, her new friends will realize
That Julie's been working for the Drug Squad
Julie's been working for the Drug Squad
She can even look you in the eye
Well it seemed like a dream; too good to be true
Stash it in the bank while the tablets grow high
In their Millions
And everybody's high (Hi, man...)
But there's someone looking down
From that mountain side
'Cause Julie's been working for the Drug Squad
Julie's been working for the Drug Squad

And then there came the night of the greatest ever raid
They arrested every drug that had ever been made
They took eighty-two laws
Through eighty-two doors*
And they didn't halt the pull
Till the cells were all full
'Cause Julie's been working for the Drug Squad

They put him in a cell, they said 'you wait here'
You got the time to count all of your hair
You got fifteen years
That's a mighty long time
You could have been a physicist
But now your name is on the mailbag list
Julie's been working for the Drug Squad

Ten years for you, Nineteen for you
And you can get out in twenty-five
That is if you're..

* I think this is a reference to the number of people initially arrested

As I said, always makes me smile. Spot on, Martin!

P.S. Of course I don't remember McCullough's review word for word: sadly I've still got the cutting in with the album. But that phrase brave and Beatlesque I do remember

You can read about Operation Julie at

The Strummer quote was posted on the youtube link above to some disbelief from American punters who thought the whole thing was made up.

Police officer Stephen Bentley wrote a book about his story including living under cover as a second hand car dealing hippie in a transit fan painted in psychedelic style. It's called Undercover: Operation Julie - The Inside Story: a gripping true story of Britain's biggest drug bust. It's available on Amazon, or you could read summaries in many places, for example an interview with Bentley on BBC at

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

I don't want to spoil the party

While we wait for Sue Gray's report - never was a report by a civil servant so eagerly anticipated! - I am pondering what constitutes a party? And what constitutes a "work event"? 

Obviously I've been to quite a few of both. What turns a group of people gathered in one place into a party? Frequently but not necessarily alcohol - I assume there is such a thing as teetotal party.  (Indeed I've just had it confirmed by a friend coincidentally mentioning one, full night club works just no alcohol or substances). I asked Mrs H what she thought signified a party and she said "music playing". It had occurred to me that the 10 Downing Street "parties" wouldn't have sounded much like most parties I've been at, presuming a lack of music and dancing in the corridors of power. But wait -  some of the leaving do's for Downing Street staffers had DJ SWW "in charge of music". SWW is Shelley Williams-Walker, whose title is  Special Adviser to the PM (Head of Operations). Anyway, presumably deaf people hold parties where there might not be a lot of point in music. 

I've decided it's not that easy to define what is and isn't a party, though I  think you know when you've been at one. 

 OK, so what about a work event? Soon after the company I worked for had been privatised and floated on the stock exchange (and a good few years before it ran out of money and sank) all the senior management group were invited to bring their partners to a dinner at the Dorchester. One colleague of mine asked our boss if it was really necessary to attend. "look who's name is on the invitation" was the reply. It was the Chairman. Attendance was clearly expected, pretty much a three line whip. There was alcohol, but no music. The atmosphere was a bit strange - probably because of a lot of other halves were rather tense. There was stilted conversation around the tables we shared with one of the main board directors. Precisely what the purpose of the occasion was I never fathomed. The food was poor but it was interesting to see inside the Dorchester: the large private room was impressively grand. Clearly a work event then, albeit not one that could have been held during covid restrictions. 

In my last company our annual get together for all employees was held at the Derby County football stadium. It was the only place nearby where we could get everyone together. The afternoon session usually comprised of a state of the nation briefing and some kind of interactive workshop on a theme we though important for the business, such as innovation, safety, growing sales, or saving costs. The formal session ended with coffee and cakes and employees were expected to stay for a bit to mingle. But we held these events in December and from 5pm the disco started and the bar opened. A work event obviously became a party and attendance for that was optional. Again not an event for which any part of it could have been held under covid restrictions.

But does it matter whether Sue Gray finds there were "parties" or "work events" at no 10 during the lockdowns? For me it does and it doesn't.

It doesn't because, though I haven't checked, I'm fairly sure the regulations didn't mention "parties". What they did say was that people could not meet up in groups, sometimes with different restrictions for indoors and outdoors. But people could go to work, with some restrictions which varied from prohibition for some activities in the first lockdown to guidance that work should be done at home if possible.

I assume it was decided that No 10 staff needed to be in the office and I don't have a problem with that. I have a bigger problem now with the civil service, government agencies and other bodies providing poor service because staff are not in the office enough than with the idea that there were large groups of staff inside No 10 in the lockdowns.

So I suspect that Sue Gray and the police will find that staff were working in No 10 within the rules. Social distancing should have been practised but I think there was a presumption of practicality built into the regulations. If they were within the rules inside the building then it seems blindingly logical that they were also inside the rules in the private garden of No 10 which I have no trouble with categorising as an extension of the work space. Anyway it would have been safer outdoors than in. On the other hand at some point you would say that a work event had turned into a party, much like our company December events did.

So where it gets murkier is when do people at work start to be not at work but socialising? Bringing the PM a birthday cake? Does it matter if it was in "working hours"? Probably not, that's a very flexible concept now. I think we can take it for granted that some staff would see that gathering as social but others would say they wouldn't have been there at all if it wasn't "work". I'd find it pretty strange if the occasion when I took a couple of cakes baked by Mrs H into the office for my birthday a few months after I'd started a new job and I stood eating and drinking coffee for ten minutes with people I only ever saw at work was deemed to be a "party".

So, while it wouldn't surprise me if Sue Gray finds some rules were breached, equally it wouldn't surprise me if she finds they weren't.

But the people who make the rules were socialising while the rest of us were missing births, marriages, deaths and funerals never mind having a party. Yes, but those aren't work....

But even if they were parties, is that the PM's fault? After all he isn't the line manager for the civil servants. Or actually most of the political folk. Would he have known about the leaving do's with music? Maybe not, though that seems a bit of a stretch of imagination.

None of which matters, of course, because it's all about perception. And setting an example. And leadership.

So I do have some problems with what we know so far, even before Sue Gray reports.

One of the reasons we had to hire the football stadium was for the size of the group. But even for a smaller group we couldn't have a party at the office. We were a railway technology business supplying Network Rail and other clients. A proportion of the work was officially safety critical. Alcohol was not allowed in the building. In principle drugs and alcohol testers could have arrived unannounced at any time and selected employees and contractors for random tests.

Should alcohol be allowed in No 10? Not practical when they host dinners and other events for visiting dignitaries there. And I'm not surprised that people in those jobs feel safer carrying their booze out from the off licence in a suitcase for consumption in the office. While most of them wouldn't be recognised, probably best not to gather in the pub round the corner at 5 on a Friday and risk having gossip overheard. After all, that sort of occasion is sometimes when exchanges of information produce a really good idea. And they weren't designing, building and testing railway signalling systems. So even the alcohol in suitcases doesn't necessarily bother me that much.

My main problem is that no-one (not just the PM) applied the common sense test - what would this look like to the person in the street if the knew what we were doing during lockdowns?

I remember being advised when I first had a senior management role in business to apply that kind of test if I wasn't sure whether something was right. What would it look like in the newspaper? If the answer was "not good" you had your answer. It made sure, for example, that I sacked an employee for viewing porn out of hours in the office despite being lobbied by my team to keep him. It was going to be very inconvenient as he would be difficult to replace. "What harm has he really done?" I was asked. "Stolen a bit of our electricity?" I didn't need to think for a millisecond to say something like well he's broken the law. And do you want to see a headline linked to our company in the local paper saying 'nuclear safety adviser watched a thousand hours of porn at his desk'? The fact that he went to work for a bigger company on the same site was irritating but never mind.

So even if the No 10 shenanigans didn't break the letter or even spirit of the law I'm not happy with what they were doing because they didn't ask themselves that obvious question. 

The PM or any number of other people could have stopped it. But they didn't. And so it doesn't actually matter what Sue Gray finds because most people have already made their mind up one way or the other.  

Whether it's a resignation issue I'm not convinced but that really does depend on exactly what Sue Gray finds.

I understand the argument, made strongly by Matthew Syed and others, that Johnson's conduct tarnishes our country's reputation and effectively does Putin and Xi's job of undermining our democracy for them. 

But it's not in  my hands. It's in the hands of the Tory MPs who will decide whether Johnson is still an electoral asset or liability. And, whatever they decide, in due course it's in the hands of the electorate and the court of public opinion.

So I don't agree with the Lib Dems resign cake:

at least for the so-called "birthday party" part of the story. Though I did find it funny - thanks go to Democracy Man for drawing it to my attention. The discos? By definition they 'sound' like parties to me. But maybe the PM didn't know about them and didn't hear them.

Deaf as well as tone deaf?

P.S. I liked the story that Tim Shipman recounted in the Sunday Times about the No 10 suitcase full of booze. A No 10 staffer told him that there was an alcohol culture there in Cameron's day. They used a suitcase because they didn't want the bottles clinking as they came back in the building. But as he put it "we used flight carry on case. This lot must have got a bigger suitcase".

The blog title is a fairly obscure Beatles song from the 1964 album Beatles For Sale which I chose because a lot of people seem to be making a huge issue about "parties" and I'm not sure yet how much of an issue it is for the PM, other than failing to ask people with titles like Head of Operations what they were playing at. We'll see. It's difficult to see it playing out well for the PM even if others take the rap for the drum n bass in the basement disco. Of course the person possibly most culpable - the PM's Rasputin, i.e. his wife Carrie - can only be 'sacked' by sacking Johnson...

Friday, 21 January 2022

He Was The Man

I had a song going through my head the other day and identified it as The Sweet's Blockbuster from 1973. In those days watching Top of the Pops was practically an obligatory requirement for all high school and university students. I remember the Junior Common Room at my hall of residence being packed for half an hour each week, in the Sweet's case while a variety of lewd comments which would undoubtedly be seen as extremely homophobic today were directed at the glam rock band. The loudest heckles always came when bassist Steve Priest pouted to camera in his silver platform boots and delivered the line "I just didn't have a clue WHAT to do".  But then Alex Petridis's 2020 obituary of Priest quoted Julie Birchill saying he was "built like a hod carrier" and "looked like a navvy who'd stolen all your make up". And he would have used it all too: David Bowie told Priest backstage on ToTP "you know you really are putting too much make up on".  (You can see for yourself: the link to the ToTP video and other songs are on buttons at the bottom).

But the basic riff (da de da dum / dum dum and repeat) was haunting me, reminding me strongly of another well known song. But which song? Reassuringly quickly I realised it was Bowie's Jean Genie. So why hadn't I noticed that before and who blagged it off who?

Well Blockbuster was released in January 1973 and Jean Genie  in late November 1972. Probably a  bit too close together for plagiarism. A Google search quickly revealed that loads of people have noticed the similarity - it just took me nearly 50 years... Google's occasionally helpful "people also ask" feature had questions like "which came first - Blockbuster or Jean Genie?"  which me took to an eye catching bit of click bait linking both recordings to Bo Diddley.

"Darren's Music Blog" tells me the songs were recorded within a month of each other and were developed contemporaneously, the Sweet's songwriter Mike Chapman playing the Blockbuster riff to Steve Priest backstage at Top of the Pops in mid September, while Mick Ronson's biography says Jean Genie was developed from an impromptu tour bus jam in the USA in the same month. Direct copying seems unlikely therefore. Indeed, the Sweet's Andy Scott was horrified when he heard Jean Genie pre-release at RCA's office (both artists were with the same label). "We're coming out behind it, it's got the same riff, we've got no chance". Nevertheless, in due course Blockbuster was at number one in the UK singles chart while Jean Genie reached number two. 

The Wikipedia entry on Jean Genie notes the controversy over the similar riff to Blockbuster, with the co-writer of Blockbuster, Nicky Chinn, describing it as an "absolute co-incidence".  Chinn also described a meeting with Bowie at which the latter "looked at me completely deadpan and said 'Cunt!' And then he got up and gave me a hug and said, 'Congratulations...'" The two songs were in the top five of the singles chart together for three weeks in January 1973.

Darren also goes on to claim both songs may have been influenced by the Yardbirds 1965 version of Bo Diddley's 1955 song I'm A Man. Though Bowie may equally have picked up on I'm A Man  as Iggy Pop, a collaborator of Bowie's, covered it in 1972. That could well be, though the riff of I'm A Man is really a very conventional blues. It goes:

Da Deeee da Dum/ tap, tap, tap, tap

with a long bluesy second note and four very short, light taps on the snare drum, compared with Blockbuster/Jean Genie riff which basically speeds up the riff and adds punch by replacing the four short drum beats with two heavy beats. Jean Genie and Blockbuster both have a tempo of about 128 beats per minute while I'm a Man is a languid 105 (andante, apparently). So the writers of Blockbuster and Jean Genie both simplified the rhythm and made it rockier.

But then I listened to the Sweet's ToTP performance once more and, before the drums come in with the two thuds, Andy Scott's guitar is indeed strumming da de da dum / de dum de dum with four short chugs at the end just like the snare drum in Diddley's I'm A Man. As the song progresses this subtlety is soon blocked out by the two big drum thuds (four dainty taps just wouldn't work). Bowie's song just sounds like it has the two thuds on guitar and drums to me, a slightly more brutal simplification. 

So yes, for me it's definitely Diddley's riff, especially on Blockbuster. But interestingly it's not THE Bo Diddley riff. Self evidently that's on the eponymous song Bo Diddley, also from 1955.

An obituary of Diddley on the website Premier Guitar led me to a fact I was oblivious to but should have known: the Bo Diddley beat is used in Buddy Holly's 1957 song Not Fade Away covered by the Rolling Stones for their first top ten hit in 1964. Holly's version is more staccato, interestingly. But the same beat has been much much more widely imitated, used in the Who's Magic Bus, George Michael's Faith and the Clash's Hateful as just a few examples. Premier Guitar quotes a musician saying that the beat works "over a funk or a two beat groove, it's a really universal feel". So universal that Diddley would say to his drummers "whatever you do, don't play the Bo Diddley beat" as he must have been worried about his songs getting too samey.

This made me catch up on some education on Spotify - and wow! On The Red Rooster (so that's where the Stones got their title from...) you can hear echoes of not just the Stones, but Jimi Hendrix's Red House. Infatuation sounded like Marvin Gaye to me and some of Eric Clapton's influences burst out of Hot Buttered Blues. Diddley Daddy, played with Muddy Waters, sounded quite like Captain Beefheart (and I didn't think anything else sounded like Captain Beefheart). And the song titles - like Bad Trip, Gun Slinger and Fireball - presaged rock'n'roll turning into rock by a couple of decades.

Diddley and Chuck Berry are often credited as rock 'n' roll's originators as guitarists. But Diddley's earthy rhythms feel more primitive than Berry's "swing-meets country" as Premier Guitar puts it. Indeed, when outraged American parents lamented their children's affection for "jungle music" they were most likely referring to Diddley rather than Berry.

I'm reassured that no-one ever tried to claim plagiarism in any of this. Rock music is derivative, it all draws from what has gone before. I'm still gobsmacked by the ludicrous decision in the Marvin Gate estate v Robin Thicke court case, when Thicke's Blurred Lines was found guilty of copying the "feel" of a Marvin Gaye song, not even it's melody,  rhthym or lyrics. 

I'd like to think Diddley was flattered by the similarity of songs such as the ones discussed above. And anyway he would probably have been the first to admit that he blagged the rhythms from elsewhere himself. His Wikipedia page says:

The "Bo Diddley beat" is essentially the clave rhythm, one of the most common bell patterns found in sub-Saharan African music traditions. One scholar found this rhythm in 13 rhythm and blues recordings made in the years 1944–55, including two by Johnny Otis from 1948.

And, if Blockbuster and Jean Genie were derived from Diddley' I'm A Man, well according to Wikipedia* that song was inspired by Muddy Waters's Hoochie Coochie Man written by Willie Dixon. Maybe I should check that out on Spotify sometime too. 

Either way, I can only agree with Michael Ross's summary in his Premier Guitar obit:

By combining “jungle” rhythms with the modern technology of the electric guitar, Bo Diddley created a sound that thrilled the youth of post-WWII America, terrified their elders and still resonates today.

Diddley, whose monicker may have derived from a "diddley bow", a homemade one string guitar of African origin, was an innovator. He melded blues, Caribbean calypso and doo-wop ballads, always experimenting with new tunes and feels. His early rhythmic style, with its rapid scratching of a few strings, came from violin bowing, an instrument he played as a child. With his equipment he pioneered the use of rectangular shaped guitars, as in this 1957 publicity pic:

He had a variety of oddly shaped guitars made for him with an increasing number of gizmos as the years went on: circuit boards for "onboard effects" for example. In later years he played a synthesiser guitar. 

He certainly was the man, the genie of the blockbuster.


Darren's music blog (link below) has video clips of Yardbirds and Diddley's I'm A Man and others but I've inlcuded links below for you to listen to many of the above songs. I've given the full link in case the buttons I've included don't work


Links for listening:

You can see the Sweet's hilarious ToTP performance of Blockbuster here  (

And Bowie's Jean Genie here  (

Bo Diddley's I'm A Man from 1955 is easy to find but here's a youtube link : (

The Yardirds version of I'm A Man is possibly a link between the Diddley and Sweet/Bowie songs as it's the same riff as Diddley's with the four short drum beats, but much faster - a breakneck 144 beats a minute. Hear it here

Bo Diddley plays Bo Diddley on the Ed Sullivan show at You'll surely recognise the similarity to the Stones Not Fade Away though it's much faster.  The song was written of course by Buddy Holly whose version is much more staccato: hear it here ( The Clash's wonderful Hateful featuring just the same riff can be heard here,



Alexis Petridis's obituary Steve Priest: the outrageous Sweet bassist who presaged heavy metal was in the Guardian: It makes an interesting (and credible) case that the "low glam" Sweet were just as influential as "high glam" David Bowie

Monday, 17 January 2022


Everton are looking for their sixth new manager in six years since Farhad Moshiri became majority shareholder. 

There are plenty of good things to say about Moshiri. The new Everton ground at Bramley Moore dock, construction proceeding apace, would not be happening wothout him. The issue over the need to replace an ageing Goodison Park - the first purpose-built association football stadium in the world according to Wikipedia* - thwarted attempts to sell the club or secure investment for more than two decades with even Newcastle and Aston Villa, let alone Manchester City and Liverpool more attractive acquisition targets than Everton. Moshiri has underwritten significant spending in the transfer market - over half a billion pounds. 

The problem though is that under Moshiri, even with Bill Kenwright at his elbow, Everton have been clueless with no apparent strategy for development of the team. One wonders how so much money can be spent and yet the squad can be so light in numbers and thin on quality.

The scattergun approach with managers might work for Roman Abramovich but there is plenty of continuity behind the scenes at Chelsea and there has been a perennially strong squad for a long time now. After a while the players don't respond to the manager so Abramovich changes him.

Part of the problem at Everton is that the players, most of whom are on long contracts, know the manager is temporary. They don't respond; maybe even flout instructions and performances are weak.

Each time the club is looking for a new manager many fans say they need to appoint a top quality manager with a proven track record. Well, Ancelotti won the Champions League twice as a player and three times as a manager, one of only three managers to achieve the latter feat. Everton started brightly under Ancelotti but in the second half of his sole season in charge they were poor. Benitez had won the Champions League and Europa League as a manager. Again Everton started well under him but it only lasted a few weeks. So appointing a high quality experienced manager isn't enough.

Benitez's appoint was always a risk in so far as some fans were never going to accept him and it was to be expected that a poor run of form would soon lead to a toxic atmosphere. But the events of the last six weeks reveal so much of what is wrong at Everton. As results deteriorated in early December the board backed Benitez in a power struggle with the director of football, Marcel Brands. Brands was sacked, presumably to give Benitez time to get some improved results under his belt. At a vibrant Goodison a couple of days later Everton recorded their first league win since the end of September against Arsenal. There have been no more wins in the 5 games since, just a creditable draw away to Chelsea with many regular players missing and several stand ins - which is telling.

Sacking Brands made no sense if Benitez's job was aso under threat. While Everton's transfer business has been very dodgy much of it was legacy players on long contracts and it has arguably improved under Brands with buys such as Richarlison, Digne, Mina, Allan, Doucoure and Godfrey who have all arguably been successes. Andre Gomes looked great before his bad injury, Gbamin suffered an even quicker bad injury, Branthwaite looks a good youngster and Olsen and Begovic have been good goalie understudies.  Moise Kean didn't work out and Rodriguez was a luxury player for Everton but his record of goals and assists has been missed. The only totally dodgy siging of Brands's reign, for me, is the hideously overpriced Iwobi who many believe to have been imposed by Moshiri. The Liverpool Echo rated all the signings under Brands, probably a bit more favourably than I have**.

To back Benitez, sack Brands then sack Benitez within 6 weeks looks inept and leaves the club with no driving force and less than two weeks of the transfer window to go.

The saga over Lucas Digne, a player brought up at Lille, PSG and Barcelona and who has 43 caps for France, is telling. Benitez clearly lost it with Digne, excluding him from the squad before selling him. Newspaper talk is that Digne was upset because he was taken off set piece duties in favour of Andros Townsend. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Firstly, Townsend hasn't been on the pitch all the time. Secondly, it is useful to have a right and a left footer standing over free kicks to put doubt in the defending team's minds. (You have to engender a genuine element of doubt, mind, which Everton rarely do). It is just as likely that the fall out was over Digne's productivity: he recorded 8 assists two seasons ago, 7 last season and this time in half a season - zero. His productivity might have been linked to how Benitez wanted Digne to play, possibly more conservatively with wingers in the team to do that job.

But to back the manager offloading your left back, who happened to be one of your best players, on 13 January having signed a new left back on 1 January, only to then sack the manager on 16 January? Crazy. One can only hope the new left back, Ukrainian Vitaliy Mykolenko, settles down after two underwhelming performances since arriving. He even managed to make Digne look like a competent defender (which he isn't). Hopefully he won't, like Digne, acquire a dressing room reputation for not believing he had always played well and nothing was ever his fault.

All that said, Benitez's record had become indefensible. His micro-management approach may well be past its sell by date and wasn't working. The defence continued to leak despite that supposedly being a Benitez strong point. Zonal defences with zones left vacant, as per Brighton's goal from a corner flicked on to the far post. Everton went behind early in games with predictable regularity. Indeed the only stat on which Everton are at the right end of the table is points won after being behind. They had a lot of practice at it.

The bookies favourite for Moshiri's seventh "permanent" manager is his first, Roberto Martinez, who he inherited and sacked after only a few months, Everton having finished a disappointing 12th. Things have rarely been much better since....

I have mixed feelings about Martinez because it all started very well. The team played a modern, possession style of football and the crowd got used to talking among themselves in the quiet passages of play. But with Barkley and Lukaku up front they had explosive pace and finished 5th, nearly matching David Moyes's best premier league finish (4th) while recording their highest points total in 27 years. We sang this along to the Beach Boys Sloop John B:

We play from the back / with Ross in attack / the School of Science / is on its way back!

And it was possible to believe it. But Martinez was too dogmatic in his approach to possession football. He appeared to like to consolidate possession when his team won the ball back, rather than trusting his team to attack at the transition. I realise that transitions are dangerous as well as opportunities, but it was just too ponderous and predictable. Since then he has taken Belgium to first in the world rankings - for two and a half years - and third place in the 2018 World Cup. Maybe he has learned stuff, maybe not. But what worries me even more is that while he took Wigan to an FA Cup win on his watch, beating Manchester City in the final (and Everton 3-0 en route), he also got them relegated. Now Wigan were not an established Premier League team*** but even so, is he the man for what could turn into a relegation struggle? 

Interestingly when I checked Martinez's Wikipedia entry just now it and it says:

"Martínez is the manager of Everton football club, who he expects to be relegated in 2021/2022 season"

Must have been hacked by a Liverpool fan!

Other candidates? Forget Frank Lampard, I wouldn't want him anyway but he needs to be very careful about his next job - Everton would be career suicide. Many fans want David Moyes back - they didn't after he'd been at Manchester United but he's doing well at West Ham, challenging for the top four. So why should he go back to the basket case that is Everton?

Graham Potter? Not as much of a punt as Mike Walker but while he has done well at Brighton, Everton would present him with the under-performing big club challenge, which does for many.

Wayne Rooney??? He's done well at the even bigger basket case that is Derby, but a big punt.

The simple fact is that, apart from a brief flurry under Joe Royle and a period of stability and relative success under Moyes, which lacked only a trophy, Everton have under-performed for 30 years. Which, unfortunately, corresponds precisely with the money-laden Premier League era. In that time they've had many competent managers: Howard Kendall (mark two and three), Walter Smith, Martinez, Ancelotti, Benitez. None have thrived apart from Moyes - a risky pick from the Championship when appointed - and Martinez, for a while, but he inherited Moyes's team and a club infused with Moyes's ethos. At the time journalists used to say that the only training gorund that felt remotely like Manchester United's was Everton's with a family feel and a dressing room that genuinely welcomed new players. (I have it first hand from a Premier League drug tester that none of them have a family feel now).

My biggest nightmare is that Everton fall into the Championship with an expensive stadium project to fund and saddled with onerous Fair Play constraints if they were not to bounce straight back. Yes, there are more than enough poor teams in the Premier League right now who Everton should easily finish ahead of. But none of them are playing with so little confidence.

Everton seem to be beset by individual errors, which tends to happen when the players' brains are scrambled.

My hope is that Everton can regroup enough to pull away from trouble, get a manager, any manager, who can stay for three seasons of stability, get the stadium built and open and then Moshiri will have an attractive proposition that he can sell to someone with at least as much financial clout who eiher knows what they are doing or can appoint good people and let them get on with it.

Be careful what you wish for...

Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum, huh?

*,3%2C000%20spectators%20was%20also%20requested. Though it comes from a book published by Macmillan called School of Science by James Corbett so I don't know how verified that is. But Goodison Park was purpose built in 1892 and most football grounds of the day would have been multi-purpose or converted from other use and would not have qualified as a "stadium" for which I assume you need more than a stand and some dressing rooms on one side of the pitch. I'm sure Ibrox runs Goodison close though 


*** Arsenal and Everton are the two most established top flight teams, Arsenal ever present since 1919 and Everton since 1954

Thursday, 13 January 2022

House of Fun? No, You're An Embarrassment

I wondered on 19 November (Tipping point reached?) whether the point was being reached where the public had decided to eject the government at the next election come what may, as they did with John Major's government in the 1990s over 'back to basics' coupled with sleaze, cash for questions, a recession and the perceived economic incompetence of Black/White Wednesday. The last of these turned into  economic success but it didn't matter. I said that the see saw might have begun to tip but more weight would be needed on the high end to make it go. There's been rather a lot of weight added....

I'm in what I suspect is a small minority that isn't prejudging the report of civil servant Sue Gray's investigation. Why? Because I'm not clear the various events were 'parties' or necessarily broke any rules. Here's my logic:

  • at the time of the above photo (15 May 2020) all sorts of work activities were prohibited and there was a general "you must work from home if you can" guidance for the rest. Most civil servants can work from home. Indeed I suspect a very large proportion of them still are: partly because I've seen statistics and partly because I note the appalling drop off in performance of usually efficient bodies like the DWP, who can't seem to answer the phone, call back, respond to letters, acknowledge receipt of money or get calculations right at the moment. So I can entirely understand why it was decided that number 10 staff needed to be in the office
  • However, it's much safer to be in the fresh air. I don't have a problem with the idea that the number 10 garden is considered an "extension of the work space".  The groups above, including the PM, the great influencer (i.e. Carrie Johnson), the dark lord Dominic Cummings and the PM's accident-prone PPS Martin Reynolds - all in the group seated nearest the peeping tom camera - are relatively well socially distanced. Maybe not 2 metres, but safe enough outdoors. Hopefully they were chewing over ideas - after all football didn't restart for nearly another month. But I'd be amazed if this particular "event" would be considered to be breaking the regulations of the time, even though the rules were that you could meet only one other person from outside your household, outdoors in a public place. The No 10 garden isn't a public place
  • However the BYOB (bring your own bottle) event to which said Martin Reynolds invited a much larger number of people sounds like another matter. Even there I could potentially be persuaded that the PM didn't see the invitation: I'm sure he doesn't read every email and it probably went to his Diary Secretary anyway. The "I didn't know it was a party" excuse sounds too daft to most people to be true but it might be. And if all those people were legitimately working in number 10 and came into the garden keeping their distance that doesn't automatically mean a regulation was broken
So I don't know whether Sue Gray will find that rules weren't broken, or that they were a bit stretched; in either case to a loud chorus of "whitewash". Though she might say they were in which case it must surely be time for a change of PM.

But even if she does find rules weren't "technically" broken (or some such form of weasel words - a phrase I first learnt from civil servants) I don't think it matters. Because I suspect that most people's reaction is emotional. Over the last few days there has been an outpouring of anger about "another rule for them". Many have posted poignant pictues of what they were doing in May 2020 - such as working in ICUs in full PPE, not going to a loved one's deathbed and/or funeral, or granny sitting alone in her overcoat on the patio outside while her grandchild's party went on inside the house for residents only. It only takes a few percent swing in marginal seats to change the outcome of a general election radically and I think we can bank that swing now.

Not only is there anger, there is also derision. Johnson has never minded being seen as a bit of a figure of fun, as in the famous picture of him stuck on a zipwire in his time as London mayor, looking for all the world as if he was semaphoring for rescue:

Johnson has traded on his scatterbrain image. I know folk who are anti-tory don't get it, but he does have charisma. I used to say that even people who didn't vote Tory (especially blokes) would be more likely to shout something like "Hey, Boris, wotcha!" and ask for a selfie with him if they saw him on the opposite pavement. For a figure of fun, to some extent it doesn't matter what the mix is between people laughing with you and at you. But a figure of ridicule is different. Never have I seen so many visual jokes on a particular theme, especially political. For example:

(with thanks to my buddy on WhatsApp for sending these and several more).

But for me none of the above really matters. To me it's about a failure of leadership rather than technical details about the rules and how they were or should have been interpreted. 

Let's say for the sake of argument Johnson hadn't seen the invitation to the BYOB "party" and it had just been put in his diary. A big presumption yes, but I often found things had just appeared in my business diary so I could just about believe it. The PM probably has regular meetings with his Diary Secretary and might veto some items but it wouldn't be a surprise if Johnson skipped some of that and ended up winging it. And remember these guys have bright young bag carriers just steering them from meeting to meeting. For example, David Cameron was an adviser at the Treasury and Home Office before he stood as an MP. 

Even in this extremely generous scenario the PM could still have realised the poor example that was being set and the risk that, with the best part of a hundred people present, it was bound to leak. The only real surprise is that it took so long! Even if we cut him that much slack, he should have realised what the gathering could look like to those outside No 10. He could have called for order and said something like "I really do appreciate all the hard work you are all doing. But we've asked people not to do this sort of thing even in private and people all over the country are suffering tremendous hardship to comply with the rules we've set. So we'll have to save this for another day. Please pick up some tucker on the way back in and let's get back to saving the country from this awful virus".

But that would have required awareness, foresight, reasonably quick thinking and the ability to disappoint those around him, a characteristic he seems to lack much of the time. People who play up to the crowd can be like that. However, these are all characteristics of good leaders. So for me it doesn't really matter what Sue Gray concludes, the issue is still a failure of leadership.

But just thinking ahead, we can anticipate Gray may conclude one of the following:
  • rules were broken
  • it's all a bit gray (sorry, grey) but the spirit of some rules weren't complied with
  • rules weren't broken, but it didn't set a great example
I think all of these options are bad for Johnson.

So the opposition have been presented with an open goal. According to Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times, Keir Starmer's team has briefed Labour MPs not to deploy "one rule for them" type points, since many voters might respond "you politicians are all the same", but to stick to calling Johnson shambolic and saying he's lost his grip and "the joke isn't funny any more".  Labour do seem to have a new found confidence and effectiveness. The strategy of Starmer sorting out internal problems such as anti-semitism and marginalising the hard left first, before turning to building confidence in them as a realistic candidate for government risked appearing underwhelming for a long time. But, as I thought it might, the long game may pay off. There is no point in pushing hard against a popular government, as this was until very recently. Most governments go through periods of unpopularity, though rarely do the wheels come off so spectacularly. You have to position yourself to take the opportunities when they arise. Given Johnson's characteristics that was always likely. Starmer's boring and trustworthy persona may well prove to be good characteristics at the present time.

When The Economist runs a story with these headlines:

"Boris Johnson has always been unfit to be prime minister

With him in office, Britain can expect a rough ride"

as they do in this week's edition, it's clear the Tories have a big problem.

Their problem would appear to be whether to change leader, if so when and for who. After all, they pushed Maggie out and then won two years later with Major.  The speculation has already started. But changing leaders isn't easy and could easily not be enough to rebuild trust. 

The story will surely run for even longer than it's taking for the Australian government to decide what to do about Novak Djokovich.

And Johnson may yet hold on. It probably depends on whether Tory MPs can coalesce around a candidate enough of them agree on. And whether they think their preferred candidate will come over as just as trustworthy as Starmer but less boring and more effective. For me that would point to Sunak though, if she got to the last two who are put to party members, it seems Truss would win comfortably. Given Sunak's smart PR the "stop Truss" move, when it comes, will be stilletto rather than blunderbuss, but it would come.

Meanwhile the hangover from the party goes on.

PS if you're wondering where the blog title comes from, of course, it's Madness! 

Friday, 7 January 2022

The season of goodwill?

Do you have the time

to listen to me whine

About nothing and everything all at once

I am one of those

Melodramatic fools...

It's a new year and I've gone back to keeping my resolution from decades ago (not to make any more new year resolutions, of course, haha). But on reflection maybe I should try to chill out a bit...

The signs aren't good, though. As we went into our second covid era Christmas a number of things were irritating me. "What's new?" you might say. Fair cop, I get grumpier as I get older. But there's so much provocation...

First there was the headline about firms calling for certainty in the run up to Christmas as the government hedged its bets. "Are you asking to be shut down?" I thought, "it's the only way you'll get certainty!" I'm not without sympathy for the hospitality industry, having to decide on orders for food supplies etc, but they clearly think someone has a crystal ball that works.  Seems they haven't they noticed that Boris Johnson hasn't got one. Though so far he's done ok in crossing his fingers about Omicron. We're not out of the wood yet but the light restrictions strategy currently looks like a good call.

I'm even more irritated by the way some football managers give us the annual whinge about the Christmas fixture list. It's mainly the continental imports of course, who are used to a mid-season break. Well we like our Christmas and New year fixtures, with the rush of league games followed by the 3rd round of the F.A. Cup, just as it is, thank you for asking. If you don't like it go home and manage in Germany, Jurgen.

Herr Klopp usually complains about the "Premier League" but of course the league is just its member clubs. Most of them, quite probably including his own on the quiet, like the income that goes with the 20 team league and its seasonal fixture rush. To be fair, Klopp's concern has always been about player welfare from the point of view of injuries and burn out. But then he doesn't have the largest squad, is more dependent on his star players than rivals Manchester City and his team play a higher energy style.

But this year the whinges have been strengthened by managers seeking postponements because of  covid isolation. Most prominent has been Thomas Tuchel of Chelsea after his club was told to play its fixture at Wolves. He claimed it wasn't "safe", predicted more positive tests in his squad after they'd had to "sit in the bus and have dinners and just stay together like nothing happened".  Wow, where to start dissecting that torrent of bilge?

Well, Thomas, with all Chelsea's resources you could have kept the players well separated by hiring a fleet of buses. One for each player if necessary. The squad could have eaten socially distanced in the concourse areas of the stadium after the fans had gone.  But aren't they mixing at training? And aren't those of them with school age children more likely to catch it at home? And, of course, while we know 16% of Premier League players are unvaccinated, we don't know how many Chelsea players that applies to. Tuchel has made it clear that he is vaccinated but, unlike Klopp, says its not up to him to advise his players. He made the point that they have had positive tests amongst their vaccinated players. Yes, we know you can still catch it, Thomas. But given the age and fitness of your players they are extremely unlikely to become seriously ill. So it's not a safety issue from a covid point of view. He went on to say his players were at risk of getting more injuries if they had to play fixtures with a depleted squad. Chelsea have one of the largest squads and largest academies, so he won't get much sympathy there either. Tuchel just wants to have his best players available, as he knows he probably only has this season and maybe next to win the Premier League before Roman Abramovich rolls the managerial dice again.

The Premier League has made clear that teams only need 14 fit players, including a goalkeeper, to fulfill a fixture. I support this stance. Though it would be tough if a team had no centre backs or forwards. Everton played their game at Chelsea before Christmas with at least ten first team squad players unavailable. Everton have been forced, by their small squad size, to fill up their bench with academy players and, often, a third goalkeeper in recent weeks, though they've had two fixtures postponed since. Even the namby pampy Gruaniad had no sympathy for Tuchel's arguments.** So just get on with it, Thomas.

Antonio Conte complained that the Premier League meeting with managers was like talking to a wall. See above, Tony, talk to your Chairman. Who probably sides with the majority while telling you otherwise.

The league was wise in rebuffing calls for a circuit breaker. Newspaper headlines about fixture "chaos" were typically ridiculous: a few games off is not chaos. The League would also have had in mind that  catching up at the end of the season from a general shut down now would be problematic, with next season due to start early because of the World Cup in Qatar in November (don't get me started on that decision...). We know what chaos would look like - an unplanned winter break, followed by a ot of postponements due to bad weather and this season almost running into next. How exhausted would your players be then, Jurgen and co? Oh and just to complicate things television coverage of the fixtures immediately after Christmas had been sold to Amazon. I'm sure the league didn't fancy renegotiating that and having to pay money back, as Amazon would have been unimpressed with the fixtures being delivered piece meal between now and the end of the season. Anyway, no-one else was going for a circuit breaker, so why should football?

The next thing made me feel depressed rather than irritated. Mrs H reported that her dental hygienist had volunteered to give people covid booster jabs. When they spoke she had done an 8 hour shift until midnight the previous evening, after a full day's normal work. No, that's not the depressing bit. Of the 14 "lanes" that could have been open only three were. All three volunteers doing injections were from the private sector, zilch from the public sector. Several hadn't turned up. No doubt individually they had good reasons. But come on!

That is a spot sample of course and I'm as partial as anyone to selective use of statistics. But when a national newspaper, pressing the case for no more restrictions, prints the following on the 4th of January***, I get really cross:

"In fact, the number of people dying with the virus is down 70 per cent, with 42 deaths reported in Britain yesterday compared to 143 on December 27."

In that context, "yesterday" was Monday 3 January, the New Year Bank Holiday. It's beyond belief that our 7 day NHS can't count dead bodies on a Sunday, let alone a bank holiday, with "catch up" days occurring almost randomly. As 10 deaths were reported on Christmas Day, 3 on Boxing Day, 143 on 27th and 19 on the 28th it's clear that the 27th was a catch up day, so a misleading baseline day. Similarly as 154 deaths were reported on 1 January, there was no report on 2 January (the party was still going presumably) 42 on the 3rd, 130 on 4th, 343 on 5th and 231 on the 6th it's clear the 3rd was an equally misleading day to choose. This is why the media shouldn't even quote the daily stats. The seven day rolling average on the two days Prof Karol Sikora chose (presumably deliberately) were 107 on 27 December and 126 on 3 January. For obvious reasons I'd never choose an NHS Monday as my baseline data but, on those numbers I'd say the death rate had gone up by 18% not down by 70%.

Sikora is a prof of medicine at the private, not for profit University of Buckingham which scores quite low in the league tables (89th equal out of 131 in the Times and 123rd in the Complete University Guide). Though it proudly proclaims to be 6th for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey and 1st for free speech in a poll by Spiked magazine. Which was set up by many of the contributors from Living Marxism when it closed after losing a libel case to ITN. It's current edition has an item on the "demonisation of Novak Djokovich"  and a podcast titled "Lockdown is the revenge of the elites".

The University of Buckingham and Spiked magazine make very strange bedfellows. This is all so far beyond parody that I think I've calmed down now.

The song lyric quoted at the top is of course from the brilliant Basket Case by Green Day, the most English sounding of the so called American punk bands when they woke up a decade and a half behind us. The very poppy end of punk, more new wave really. When I sang the first lines yesterday out loud (Do you have the time / to listen to me whine) Mrs H retorted "Do I have the effing choice?" Fair point. 

Happy New Year!

* Tuchel's whinge can be seen and heard at


*** Only fear will stop Britain from putting the virus behind us now, Prof Karol Sikora, Daily Mail 4 January 2022