Sport and politics

It is often said that sport and politics shouldn’t mix.  That is an ideal that is rarely, if ever achieved.  Orwell famously said that “sport is war without the shooting”.

As most people who know me know, I am a huge fan of ice hockey and of the Boston Bruins in particular.  Last season, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the biggest prize in the game for the first time in my lifetime.  They won based on many factors, balanced scoring, playing on the line between hard and dirty, taking their chances and one of the most astonishing performances in goal by Tim Thomas seen for many a year.  The man was just unbeatable and set record after record on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy, the individual award for Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.

One of the traditions of the game is that the Stanley Cup winners go to the White House with the Cup and have their photo taken with the incumbent President.  This is usually scheduled for when the winning team is in Washington to play the local team, the Capitals.  It is a photo op for both sides, a formality.

Yesterday, the Bruins went to the White House for the formality.  They went minus Tim Thomas.  Thomas released a statement giving his reasons for not attending.

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

So what started as a formality has become a bit of a flap.  There are two sides to the argument, Thomas is free to say what he wants and do what he wants.  The other is that he should have sucked it up and smiled for the camera.

The latter is the preferred option of most people.  Yesterday was merely a photo opportunity on both sides.  The Bruins team will consist of Republicans and Democrats as well as Canadiens, Slovaks, Swedes and Finns who have no horse in the race.  The President, like many before him, probably knows little about hockey.  The idea is the President looks good, the NHL looks good, the team look good.  Sport and politics mixed, but only in a superficial way.

Thomas didn’t have to go – some players have cried off citing personal reasons.  Fine.  But by releasing his statement, sport and politics were mixed – and they were mixed by Tim Thomas.  So if you want to get into the politics, Timmy, then so be it.

So, Tim, you think the Government has suddenly grown too large since 2008?  What about beforehand – why now?  You support the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.  If the document is so binding, why does everyone keep ignoring those awkward bits about slavery?  How do you feel faced with the option of possibly voting for a Republican candidate who declared, just two days ago, that is so devoted to the Constitution that he will ignore the bits that don’t agree with him. Who are you on the side of, Tim, the aforementioned hypocrite, the tax dodger, the religious freak or the racist?

Oh, and for those who think Thomas is a hero for doing this are largely the same people who told the Dixie Chicks to “shut up and play” and organised events where their CDs were crushed by bulldozers for… saying they disagreed with the President.  Thankfully Thomas won’t be receiving death threats for expressing his opinion or have people turning up to games openly displaying guns or anything.

As for “this is the only public statement I will be making on this topic” is shutting down debate in a completely cowardly manner.  He lit the fire and is running away.  Like I said, he is the one who made it political. At least have the balls to stand up and defend your position – he does that plenty on the ice.  This is probably the first fight in his life that Thomas has started but never finished.

I’ve never made the mistake of elevating an athlete to a role model (they never ask to be put in that position and being able to score a goal, kick a ball or stop a puck doesn’t automatically make them one).  I’ll continue to cheer for him when he wears the Black and Gold – I don’t sit there and go “What a save! Despite being, you know, having views I disagree with”.  But I can’t help but be disappointed – because he has made himself look like a stupid, petty man and Tim Thomas is not a stupid, petty man.

Rule Britannia

There has been a lot of banging on recently about Britains place and standing in the world and I heard a very interesting stat the other day that put a fair bit of it into perspective.

The recent crisis in the Eurozone was spun as David Cameron “fighting for Britain” – a battle he fought so well, that we’re facing 26-1 odds on getting our way with what is comfortably our biggest trading partner.  For the sum total of fuck all benefit.  (Disclaimer: I am pro-Europe, and Euro-neutral.)  Also in a time of austerity, we apparently have to keep Trident as a deterrent against… well, somebody and we are busy finishing off two wars in which we get none of the benefits and all of the pain.  Oh, and not to mention stuff like Libya and so on and so forth.  Cameron is busy making noises about the bloody Falklands again, supporting threats against Iran as well and muttering about Scotland as it moves towards some inevitable form of independence.

(Not that he is totally to blame, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were inherited.)

This all hinges upon the idea that Britain is the same power that it was a long time ago – not post-war, our economy was fucked after WWII and we were granting all sorts of places independence – presumably to get them off the wage bill.  So we’ll call it pre-WWII as the last time Britannia truly ruled the waves.  Yet in the minds of many, the UK still bestrides the world stage, dispensing truth, justice and democracy to all those other countries, like the minnows of China, Germany and Russia.

There are various measures of Gross Domestic Product.  The one most used is nominal GDP – the total value of all products and services produced by a nation in a given year.  This table is led by the usual suspects, USA, China, Japan.  Blighty is sixth, just under half of Japans GDP.

But the stat I heard was GDP by PPP per capita. The PPP bit is purchasing power parity – it takes into account things like the cost of living, inflation etc.  In short, GDP is a blunt instrument, an absolute total, GDP by PPP is an attempt at forming a baseline for comparison.  The “per capita” bit is GDP by PPP per person, so divided by the average population.  Obviously there are some big assumptions being made, but GDP by PPP is how rich a country is, and GDP by PPP per capita is how rich a person in that country is.

So GDP by PPP has the usual suspects at the top, US, China, Japan etc.  UK in 7th.  GDP by PPP per capita has a different look, top is Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore and Norway.  USA is about 7th-9th, quite a few European countries hovering around 10-15 (Netherlands, Austria, Belgium).

The stat – and I fully admit to it being a outlier, but not an outrageous one – is that by the CIA World Factbook measurement of GDP by PPP per capita, the UK is in 27th place.  Five places behind… Equatorial Guinea.

The music industry is stupid

I have little time for piracy but I have even less time for the music industry.  The former because I am not a spoilt man child who expects to have something for nothing, the latter because I wish to give them something and they often provide me with nothing.

There is a particular song I’ve always adored.  Indeed a specific version of it, actually.  Despite being a metal fan, I do have a weakness for a girl and an acoustic guitar, so my music collection features Tori Amos, Sophie B Hawkins and others.  In 1995, I got myself a copy of Amanda Marshalls debut album, and it is pretty good.  I had bought the first single “Let It Rain” on cassette and the B-side (kids, ask your parents) was a live version of another album track called “Last Exit To Eden”.  An ode to the uncertainty of walking away, it features one of my favourite opening verses ever.

The walls are thin here in this motel room
Some fool is raging overhead
He’s preaching the Gospel
According to
Johnnie Walker Red

Which I think is a simply wonderful line.

The album track is good, but the B-side is live, in Montreal I think and is just Marshall and an acoustic guitar.  And given that Amanda Marshall has a supremely powerful,earthy voice, it becomes a soulful, bluesy, pain filled number.  I adore it.  If I could sing, I’ve often thought about learning the guitar just to play it.

And yet, I can’t buy this track on MP3.  Hell, I can’t even find it.  I have a second hand recording from the original cassette.  The closest I have is this YouTube video.

The guitar isn’t the same and there is a backing band.  The soul is still there but it gnaws at me that this other version, my perfect version, is out there.

This week, several prominent websites blacked themselves out in protest at SOPA/PIPA – two laws currently being drafted to prevent online piracy.  However, because the entertainment industry has bought and paid for the US political system (to be fair, they are not the only owners and the UK Parliament is almost as bad) the laws are so broadly drafted as to shut down the entirety of WordPress because I happened to have linked to that YouTube video above.

Yet, as previously stated, I wish to purchase the song and pay real money for it.  I can’t.  The closest I can get is the video above, which means I put everyone with a WordPress blog in jeopardy.  Punishment of innocent people for being unable to purchase a legal item.  It isn’t just a stupid situation, it is an insane one.

And that is before we consider that many of the major participants in the  music industry are law breakers, from sampling, copying, drug taking, gang warfare, prostitution, exploitation, fraud, assault and battery and various other shenanigans that come with “hell raising rock stars”, “record producers” and “music executives”.

Of course, a piece of paper is the worst padlock ever invented, so absolutely nothing will change.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – piracy is not killing the music industry, the music industry is killing the music industry.  It chokes off its own air supply, forces product people don’t want onto them and then wonders why the consumer goes off to the equivalent of a back street hustler in order to get the product they want.  Black markets exist because they supply things to people that they want but can’t get.

Anyway, we all know the arguments.  Point is, here is a great song.  It isn’t the best version, but unless I can figure out just how to get hold of that in this day and age, then it is the best I can do.

HS2

Every morning, I catch the train to Liverpool.  On the way towards Manchester, I pass the Longsight train maintenance depot where Virgin have their maintenance setup for the Pendolinos.  On the other side of the track, is a huge grey maintenance shed known as Manchester International Depot.

It was built to handle the Regional Eurostar services, where the then new Eurostar trains would be planned to come through the Channel Tunnel and go past Waterloo, heading up to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

Regional Eurostar never happened for a number of reasons.  One of which was that there was no real will for it to happen, but the announcement was a sop to the regions, worried about the usual gravitational pull of London.  A Parliamentary Select Committee said in 1999, “the regions have been cheated“.

The Government have announced HS2, the new high speed train link from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.  Costing £33bn, the first phase will go to Birmingham in 2026 before reaching Manchester and Leeds by 2032.

I’ll bet a body part, possibly going as far as putting my left bollock on the line, that it will never reach Manchester.  Call it bitter experience.

As for whether HS2 is a good idea, I refer you to this. (OK, it is from the Graun, but the point is the same.  Forget the environmental concerns, what is the business case?  I want good public transport and what we could do with £33bn.)

Entertainment, Heroes and Villains

Made a rare foray back to the homeland last weekend, so on the way back to Stockport we stopped off at Burnley FC to pick up some goodies.

It is difficult to describe what Burnley FC means to the town, or to the supporters like myself.  Every fan will tell you theirs is the best club, the one true thing they can rely on – and every fan will be right.  But the symbiotic relationship between Burnley and the town is a very rare thing indeed.  You can look on it statistically – at 73,000, it has a population of less than the capacity of Old Trafford, yet gates are somewhere between 12-18,000.  You can look at it symbolically, standing at the top of Centenary Way, the view dominated by Turf Moor.  Or historically.  Burnley is a poor town, neglected by politicians of every stripe for the best part of half a century.  Previously the centre of King Cotton, it transitioned to heavy industry with the likes of Michelin and Lucas, before losing those in the 80s.  Conservative governments didn’t give a damn as it was a Labour stronghold, and the Labour Party didn’t give a damn because it could – and often did – pin a red rosette to a donkey and see it elected.

(In a set of local government elections in the 2000s, neither Labour or Conservative fielded a candidate in every ward.  And then expressed shock when the BNP – who did campaign and did put a candidate up everywhere – won seats on the local council.)

The one constant was the football club.  Champions in 1960-61, the club had declined with the town, eventually ending up in 1987, 90 minutes from extinction in what was known as The Orient Game.  It was at this point the club and town began to understand that they needed each other.  The club clawed its way back from the brink via a trip to Wembley, a Fourth Division division championship and nights such as Derby in the FA Cup – perhaps the best piece of writing in a national newspaper about the club was written by John Sadler.  His eerily prophetic words as Clarets fans refused to leave after losing a Cup game were a portent for the then new Premier League.

Soon after goalkeeper Chris Pearce dropped his dreadful clanger they set up one of the loudest, sustained dins I’ve ever heard on a football ground anywhere in the world. “Jimmy Mullen’s claret-and-blue-army” was the chant from the terraces and double-decker stand that housed Burnley’s admiration society.
Over and over they chanted it. Clapping and stamping their feet and drumming the advertising boards in perfect rhythm. On and on for 20 minutes until the end of the match and another 15 minutes afterwards, until I urged the club’s chairman to get his manager and players to leave their dressing room, return to the pitch and wave their appreciation. The bedlam was almost deafening. It was a colourful and spectacular sight.

But it is something far more important than that. I wanted others to see and hear it. Big men, important men who are making decisions that could alienate the game from ordinary working folk. I wanted Graham Kelly to be there to prove to him that those who talk of Super Leagues should not underestimate the passion of the so-called little clubs. I wanted Sir John Quinton to be there so that the bank chairman chosen to preside over the elite could learn something of life at the other end of the scale. I wanted officials of Manchester United and Arsenal, Liverpool and the other fat cats behind the move to change the face of football to hear the voices of the people.

The bedlam of Burnley was not simply a cry of support for another of the F.A. Cup’s beaten teams. It was a roar of defiance. “Traditions,” said Arthur Cox, Derby’s manager whose time in north east football taught him all there is to know about fanaticism. “You heard the traditions of Burnley’s past out there today. A major club of 30 years ago, don’t forget.” Those who kept up that incessant, thunderous clatter were real fans. Genuine football people with a deep love of their club, no matter the result of a single game. They had nothing to do with the executive box brigade and corporate hospitality merchants to whom football is pandering in the modern era. They stood in the rain, sat in the cold and screamed their allegiance to a game which, at the highest level, continues to turn it’s back.

It took another five years and the club was, if not heading to the top, at least surviving and by 2000, back to its traditional position of punching above its weight.

And then something amazing happened.

The Last But One Next Big Thing

After knocking around the Championship for a while, manager Steve Cotterill departed via mutual consent.  Astute in the transfer market, he coped with players being sold to balance the books and cut his cloth according to his means.  However, that meant a degree of pragmatism, with some truly stodgy football turning away fans in their thousands.

Exhausted from working with the tight budgets, lack of resources and under the microscope of the town – as fierce as any large club – it was agreed he had gone as far as he could with the club.  Cotterill had been hailed as a bright hope in management and he had done a good job of staying in the Championship on comparatively tiny resources.  His replacement was Owen Coyle.

The rest is history – cup runs, then a surge to the playoffs and promotion to the promised land of the Premiership.  A home victory over Manchester United featuring a stunning goal by Robbie Blake.  Then the fall and the betrayal by Coyle.  The appointment of Brian Laws and the relegation back to the Championship.

This is all documented in Entertainment, Heroes and Villains by Dave Thomas. Using interviews with the managers, board and players, added to his own memories and masses of newspaper articles, it documents the story of Cotterill, Coyle and Laws in what was the most extraordinary three years at the club.

Two things stand out which makes this book probably the most definitive telling of the story.  First is that the archive material is presented in full, which means that quotes and comments are left in context.  Coyles betrayal (there is that word again…) of the club is there for all to see instead of being snipped out to paint him in a worse light.

The second masterstroke is not to simply tell the story of Coyle, but to bookend it with his predecessor and the man appointed to fix the mess.  It helps to highlight the extraordinary heights scaled by Coyle (it is an oft forgotten fact that he achieved promotion with a team largely signed by Cotterill) and to put into context the effect he had on the club, the players, the directors and the town.

The whole town had come along for the ride.  Suddenly the people of Burnley had something to believe in.  Coyle played on that, using the vibrancy and energy around the town to feed the crowd and the players.

I remember how utterly surreal it was to see my club the focus of all this attention.  I remember sitting in the White Lion pub in Manchester, watching the playoff final with another 100 Clarets.  It was an odd experience and at the final whistle, there wasn’t singing or dancing.  Just a very odd feeling of shared disbelief.  People just finished their pints, got up and left.  This wasn’t really happening. Not in money obsessed modern football.  Not now.  Not to us.

What Coyle perhaps didn’t realise was just how much he was leading the fans and the club on.  Perhaps from his point of view, it was just football, just business.  I’m the first to say that football is a business foremost, trading cleverly on emotional ties to make money. Players, coaches, directors, media and fans all play the emotional card to some degree, with a large (and completely unhealthy!) reliance on the irrational need for wins, losses and draws.   In a place so desperate, so needing something to live for, Coyle was building the emotional bonfire that would blow back in his face so spectacularly.

In fact, it wasn’t just in the town.  After leaving, many articles appeared decrying the loss of romance in the game.  The clock had struck midnight, and the world woke up to find Cinderella hadn’t married the Prince but hitched up with the first Flash Harry in a pencil ‘tache to wave his wad and Jag E-Type at her skirts.  My favourite was in the excellent Two Hundred Percent blog, saying

The sadness of the story of this managerial poaching, however, is in the death of another small chink of the romance of the game. The accession of Burnley into the Premier League was one for the romantics. The small-town club that arguably punched above its weight and became one of the great names in English football had been in the doldrums for years. Their promotion was unexpected as it was refreshing. We all know that players, managers, everybody associated with the game is involved in it for altogether more prosaic reasons than romance. We like – some might even say that we need – to maintain the illusion that there is more to it than this, though, and when one aspect of one fairy tale falls apart, yet another small piece of our love affair with the game dies a little on the inside.

Which makes the effect of his leaving on the supporters and the community understandable.  They had been taken on a magic carpet ride beyond their wildest dreams.  No-one was getting carried away with delusions of European glory, or that Coyle would have stayed forever.  Hell, it was widely accepted that at the end of the Premiership season he would be off to better things.  Had he seen the season out, then a queue of Burnley fans would have happily given his a lift to his new job with their very best wishes.  But walking out ripped the heart out of the town and the club, almost literally, as he completely decimated the backroom staff, taking coaches, physios and even approaching the Media Director with an offer.

A rare smile

It was into this mess that Laws had to step – never winning over the fans who understandably, if unfairly – took their frustration and anger out on the next incumbent of the dugout.  The players were devastated, morale was underground and Laws, not much more than an average manager, was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What makes it all the most tragic is that Laws was a product of Burnley FC and saw the managers role at Turf Moor as his dream job.  Laws did an average job under incredibly trying circumstances, perhaps better than one could have expected, but he was sacrificed in order to let the club, the fans and the people move on.

Time will heal the feelings towards Laws – in one of those supreme ironies that football is so very good at, Laws’s Burnley was drawn against Coyles’ Bolton in the Carling Cup.  On hearing the draw, Laws texted Coyle – “Ouch!”.  The meeting of the two clubs was more than a game of football, it was a night of catharsis.  A night to scream and shout and for most to move on.  Of course, Burnley winning 1-0 helped to put some kind of closure, though the wounds still run incredibly deep.

There is a bitter irony that Cotterill and Laws will always be welcomed at Turf Moor by the fans.  One, despite his terrible football and presiding over the longest winless streak in club history.  The other, despite his mediocre time at the club.  But the guy who brought memorable victories, the Premiership and financial stability to the club will be reviled, probably forever.  He is certainly up there with the likes of John Bond in club infamy.

Even as a supporter from distance, you’ll notice there is no picture of Coyle to accompany this post.  Nowadays, I delight in hurling abuse at his face when he does his post-match interview on Match of the Day.  I’m loving the fact that the move to Bolton appears not to be working out. It is fun and cathartic.  I don’t wish him ill, just failure.  It is childish and stupid, but then that is what football is.

Entertainment, Heroes and Villains is not only a superb read, but also part of the catharsis. It is a perhaps the most honest record we are going to get of that extraordinary time – certainly in a game where players, managers, directors and media to collude to spin, lie and cheat.  It might not be much outside of Burnley FC, unless you read football books for a hobby, but as a document of the thrill ride is it thoroughly recommended.

Merry Christmas (War is Over)

So, that is it. The Iraq War is officially over.

Looking at the numbers, the Americans has 4,500 dead soldiers, 32,000 wounded and spent $800bn. British casualties totalled 179, with 5,970 wounded.   It also left a million Iraqis dead. But no-one can possibly argue that the entire adventure has given us safety and security like never before. We no longer have Islamic terrorists threatening violence all around the world and those post September 11th security measures have been lifted. Neither do we have a Middle East country threatening us requiring possible military intervention.

Oh.

Good job we found those WMD, eh? Those mobile weapons labs capable of launching biochemical weapons, that country that was sheltering terrorists.

Oh.

At least people weren’t disappeared into Saddams prisons, instead being disappeared into a global network of rendition and prisons.

Oh.

Lets remember the defining moments, shall we?

  • Abu Ghraib
  • Hostages being beheaded
  • Regular reports on innocent civilians and Western journalists being bombed by their own side

Oh.

Well at least we knew we totally won that war against… those other people…

Oh.

And it is finally all over, as the last troops come home.  America is out of Iraq, leaving only a 10,000 large diplomatic contingent and several thousand mercenaries which isn’t going to end badly at all.

Oh.

And all only 3,166 days after this guy stood in front of a banner that said “Mission Accomplished”.

A war criminal, yesterday

“Good work, everybody! “

Young students? I wish them all dead.

Recovered from the old blog, but still relevant.  The next time someone says “look at those students protesting, with their smartphones and plasma tellies, they don’t know how lucky they are, this is your response.

One of the most common bits of bollocks spouted about students is “they are so lucky these days, they have their contract iPhones and their plasma tellies unlike the lucky buggers in University when I was there”

Well yes, they are lucky. Yet the reason they have iPhones and flat screen tellies and the previous generation didn’t is because iPhones and flat screen tellies hadn’t been fucking invented yet.

The previous generation had phones and colour tellies. And their elders bitched that they didn’t have them, because there was only black and white tellies unlike the lucky buggers in University now…

And the generation previous to that bitched because they didn’t have tellies at all unlike the lucky buggers in University now and had to make do with radios…

And the generation previous to that bitched because they didn’t have radios unlike the lucky buggers in University now and had to deal with being thrashed with a cane twice a week…

And the generation previous to that bitched because they didn’t get thrashed with a cane twice a week unlike the lucky buggers in University now, they got thrashed once a day and they had it easy, probably due to political correctness…

And the generation previous to that bitched that they didn’t get thrashed once a day unlike the lucky buggers in Universtiy because they didn’t go to University as they had been sent to work in the mill since they were seven years old and couldn’t write because the had lost fingers in machinery by the time they were the same ages as the students of today.  Who by the way, are going off to their fancy dan Universities in preparation for being sent off to get shot in a field in France, India, South Africa or whereever.

The whole of human evolution is about making things better for ourselves and especially for the generation coming after it. And for the first time in human history, we have a generation that not only has completely fucked things up for those coming after it, but bitches and moans that they should have it just as tough as they did because, well, they just should, alright? And not only that, but have fucked things up so badly that are actively removing the advantages that they had. You know, like free education, an educative and informative BBC and a supportive welfare state.

The old people of today, eh? *rolls eyes* Cuh!

In praise of The Wire

Well, I have got tremendously addicted to The Wire, the HBO series that ran for five series a few years ago.  Set in Baltimore, it follows the interconnected lives of a huge amount of characters on both sides of the law in a never ending battle between drug dealers and the police.

I’m only up to the middle of series 3, so here are some mild spoilers.

The show takes its own time, it is absolutely the opposite of fast cut, fast action, move the plot along writing.  Scenes come and go at their own sweet time, most of the screen time is filled with silence.  The only incidental music is from stereos in cars or houses.  It is directed, shot and written to within an inch of its life, exploring and fleshing out the lives of its characters.  No-one is good or bad, just all shades of grey – McNulty, ostensibly the hero and the guy we see the story through the eyes of, is an absolute prick at times. As far as I have got, one of the main drug kingpins, Stringer Bell, is more interested in going legit than the street corners of Baltimore like a Mafia don.

The whole thing is Acted to perfection.  Dominic West as McNulty, Sonja Sohn as Kima Greggs and Idris Elba as Stringer Bell are standouts – the latter playing his character as thoughtful, precise and intelligent.  Never so charismatic that you end up rooting for the bad guy, but he does persuade you that he is making himself into a successful businessman – it is just that his product is heroin and cocaine, because that is all he has to offer.  D’Angelo Barksdale was fantastically played by Larry Gillard Jr, the cog trapped between the life he leads and the life he wants.  Also standouts are Bubs, the addict/informant, Bunk, McNultys partner and Levy, the greasy lawyer.

(The brief encounters between Bell and McNulty are absolute delights.)

The show does the neat trick of turning characters you hate into characters you… well, at least understand.  In Series 1, Bunk and McNulty are under pressure from Rawls, the Major in charge of homicide and Lansman, his willing lackey and sergeant.  To be honest, I was wondering how the hell two such obvious arseholes had got to positions of authority, especially as they seemed more interested in playing politics than actual police work.  By series 3, the pair are, if not actually likeable, at least they are justified in their actions -more rounded, and we can understand them.  (Aided by a brilliant scene in S1, between McNulty and Rawls.)

Downsides?  Well, the early shows weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs.  OK, so we aren’t going to get Whedon like zingers and comebacks, but it was slow moving, intense stuff.  As the story has moved on, the humour has revealed itself, in a dark and but dark, I mean utterly and completely pitch black manner.  The slow pace can sometimes be infuriating – series 2 takes 7 hours to do the inevitable “getting the band back together”.  And again in Series 2, Ziggy Sobotka is probably supposed to be a well meaning idiot, but to be honest, I just wanted to go to Baltimore and shoot him in the face myself.

The Guardian, as it often does, declared The Wire to be The Greatest TV Show of All Time and for a while spread it across just about every page it possibly could.  I’m not sure I agree, but that is because such a title is impossible.  I do support its claim to be a fantastic show, though one you have to work at.  It demands concentration and time and effort but what you put in is what you get out. It certainly is a hard watch, but the payoff is worth it.

Lovely wording

Some sports more than others lend themselves to wonderful writing.  One of those is cricket and some of the writing on the Guardian is an absolute delight.  This little piece from Barney Ronay on the Mystery Spin Bowler had me chuckling away to myself.

So it was once with spin bowling, where age conferred legitimacy. But not so in the new era. Narine, for example, has come from nowhere: even now he has just 37 wickets in all cricket, his reputation based around glimpses in Twenty20 of the homemade “knuckleball”, which sometimes nips his flighty off-breaks the other way. The new-age mystery man comes to us like this: ready-made, off the shelf, hungry for a punkish kind of DIY success. There is an arc to his progress: claim a sensational televised three for 12; invent a delivery called the Zangler, the Knucklechuck or the Massive Pie; become the officially recognised next big thing; play a season for the Bangalore Cheesesteaks; get the yips; get no-balled for chucking; have a tantrum while playing for Devon; disappear completely. In favourable conditions there is no reason why all this should take much more than six months.

“The Massive Pie” is going to have me chuckling for days.