Fertile Neglect.

I have a memory which is tough to shake. It’s an earlyish one, probably from my late teens – a time when I was developing the political-philosophical anger that still rages. I was also in many senses finding a voice.

Simply cannot remember where or why or how I finished up listening to Dylan Thomas reading some of his poems… but I did. This was waaay pre-internet so could it have been radio? Who knows. I had found the man’s work prior to this event (and loved it) but never heard him read or speak. I was – and I know these two words don’t fit together – I was relatively shocked.

To a spiky youff from Grimsby he sounded like a posh English public schoolboy. Inflated. Pompous. Weird. But not Welsh. So un-believable.

A similar thing happened the first time I heard Kyffin Williams speak – only more so. Another toff, another fake Welshman; another medium-shocking disappointment.

Of course this is prejudicial nonsense… but it is also true. To this English-born now long, long-term resident of Wales, conscious of his own fraudulence, it hurt a little that class, that privilege had intruded so jarringly into *even this* – the sacred world of art and of the heart.

And yet Thomas (in particular) and Williams remain profound icons: in the writer’s case partly because he plainly was in some senses a big-hearted radical – at least in terms of style – and, frankly, his background wasn’t that posh. He just performed like that; believing, I imagine, that the booming suited the pomp and circumstance and mischief around the great themes of his work. But it was weird, hearing him, back then. It was a blow to my punky idealism and to the notion that hopefully, despite Thatcher *and everything* the Home Counties/Great Families domination of the universe might be vulnerable to our Northern, fraternal surge.

I still hope that what we might call The Creative Spirit can come from anywhere and be recognised: that Ordinary Folk, as well as those with time and privilege, can turn out art that is visible and moves and reflects us. However, the times again may be conspiring against this.

The author David N Thomas will probably never read this: if he does, I hope he takes the trouble to get beyond the title and the sense (that may rise in him) of liberties being taken at his expense. They are not. His book Fatal Neglect, which cuts away the sleazy distractions and outright porkies around Dylan Thomas’s death, is gripping, bold and mildly revelatory. I am bastardising his title to hint a little at the unsavoury richness he uncovers.

I say mildly revelatory because, let’s face it, many of us knew that the ultimately frail but often monstrous, boozed-up genius who gifted us Under Milk Wood had been ill-served by his inadequate compadres and the criminally arrogant doctor who oversaw his death in New York. We just didn’t have the evidence. David N proves we were denied it.

Dylan remains the co-author of his own rather grisly end – naturally – having been a drinker and a slob who mixed with or was surrounded by drinkers, drug-takers, neurotics, hypochondriacs, the privileged and the indulgent. He was in bad shape before the bronchopneumonia (obvious but undiagnosed by Feltenstein, the doctor who took charge) tipped him towards coma and death. There were *factors* – used erroneously as fact by that same doctor – which seemed to suit the romantic view of a soul destined to self-destruct: chiefly alcohol and that lack of restraint and self-care. Feltenstein was myopic enough and cheap enough to build his flimsy diagnosis and his fatally shabby treatment entirely around this most readily-available construct; something that went on to symbolise and/or haunt the extinguished poet for fifty years and more. Dylan Thomas became the extravagant drunk who killed himself with booze.

The book unravels that convenience and in doing so exposes the various inadequacies of Brinnin – the agent – and Reitell – the lover, nurse and editor. The wider group that I may with ironic klaxons a-hooting choose to call American Friends are also skilfully, damningly implicated. Fatal Neglect is about shallowness, selfishness and self-interest as much as it is a comprehensive gathering and disassembling of medical fact and half-truth.

These shitty people get skewered, for their ‘lack of anchorage’ and whilst contriving their cover-up.

Brinnin, the agent, arguably more than anyone. He failed utterly on his duty of care towards a plainly unhealthy man. He worked him, even when Thomas was visibly ill or barely able to speak, to fund his own, appallingly glitzy lifestyle. (To be fair, the Welshman had a penchant for robbing or de-frauding the chancers, suckers and sponsors around him but his Canadian-born American agent was different level). Annual European tours, first class travel, cruises: all on other people’s money. He proved to be similarly profligate in respect of his responsibilities towards scheduling: D N Thomas reveals the extent to which Brinnin needed Dylan to graft and set him to it.

Liz Reitell shares some of the same disconnect from common decencies. She thinks she is Everything, as though Caitlin doesn’t exist or have rights and she, too, drives the dangerously exhausted writer on, carelessly or callously. She shares a good deal of responsibility for the years of edited truth, too; notably overseeing the travesty that was Brinnin’s book about those last days. Reitell is a talent, a shrew, a liar… but going through this, who isn’t?

I like that a sharp wee tome about medical minutiae becomes a scrupulously fair but fierce judgement upon people who barely need to care. Because they have stuff covered. Life, money, travel, expectation. Even the honourable medical men who were horrified at what Feltenstein did closed ranks to protect the hospital and staff who capitulated to the invading, overpowering Doc.

Everything is both material and context. For me Fatal Neglect has travelled well, crossing almost seventy years of myth and mischief around the relatively public demise of one of the great figures of modern literature. (If I have sounded belligerent towards Dylan Thomas that too, has been a fraction of the whole. The opening to Under Milk Wood still strikes me as one of the great, sustained moments in musical prose. The man was flawed, oh yes but by god he was something special).

Which is way it feels satisfying, feels right, that we now know he did not simply drink himself to death. Indeed he should not and would not have died, back in ’53, had he received prompt and professional medical attention. He had pneumonia before he was admitted to hospital. He was given shots of the wrong stuff. Nobody dare tell the fella Feltenstein – who had no authority – that this wasn’t just about the hooch. ‘Friends’ mostly failed him, too – as did those who came to tell the story. Some were duped, some criminally covered-up. Class, money, appearances, disappearances. Editing. Protection.

Fatal Neglect made me feel angry, in a good way. It shines a light into both the petty, alcohol-fuelled drama-queendom of Dylan and Caitlin and the uglier, truly privileged ease of some of the Thomas Groupies. In doing this, it may have found another moment; when more chancers, toffs and tossers – Johnsons and Goves and Hancocks? – are serving up incompetence and worse, safe in the knowledge that they can wallow. Because some folks still don’t really need to care.

Ooh, Sooop-err!!

So the whispers and the dry-runs – remember Project Big Picture? – have turned into reports in the nationals. These of course don’t necessarily mean that a European Super League will happen but the bells are ringing pretty loudly.

Folks will tell us on the one hand that it’s just the Free Market expressing itself. Maybe those same people, when we call out and indeed coolly itemise the contemptible greed, irresponsibility and crass unawareness at the heart of this, will then tell us to keep politics out of sport. That’s if they can actually formulate a sentence. ‘Keep politics out of sport’.

We’re in a dark hole and it figures that some ‘businessmen’ might try to sell us shiny things to see… from an aspirational distance.

From our puny seat on our puny island it’s tempting to assume that this is simply entrepreneurism in (and for) the time of Johnson. But it’s a Europe-wide, nay world-wide travesty. It’s depressing to consider that it’s not just a reflection of us. Some twat in Barcelona, Milan, Dubai, or the States is ‘right behind this’, too – you betcha, ‘Xander/Gino/Phil/Philippe.

For Brit-based ‘ordinary supporters’ of Man Utd/City/Liverpool/Chelsea/Tottenham/whoever, what other way is there to process this than by imagining someone on the soullessly-brilliant spectrum realising a Performance Art-level symbol for the Era of the Mendacious Clown and his Trough-snorters? A magnificent, insulting, neon-clad testament to… what? Absolutist grasping? It’s so far beyond the perimeters of our common decencies that it fits snugly next to the cronyism scene: like some poisonous twin in the pram.

This is purely business. No respect, no regard, no love of the thing. Just selling of the thing. C’mon. Forget those who love the thing, just sell the fucking thing BIG, NOWWW!! Boris is still at 43 per cent in the polls. That bloke just took over the BBC. There’s never been a better time!! There are no implications, there’s only the deal. Set up the zoom and let’s get it done!

Let’s hope the fascistic dumbos come unstuck early doors – maybe around the notion that players participating will automatically be barred from international duty. Even the dumbest Prem Legend might register the significance of that. It feels pleasingly terminal as a hypothesis but who is clear just yet about who holds which levers? Not me.

I have no expectation of a good outcome – certainly not from within the elite ranks. Unless Rashford breaks through the inevitable Super Club embargo, I suppose(?) Elsewhere we can only fear the kind of diabolical heartlessness that characterises much of Boardroomland. We’re in a hole, alright.

The Art of Non-Directness.

We get past the further tributes to a relatively unpopular, persistently cantankerous racist, and the anti-racist kneel, then it’s time to play. Wembley is doing that unconvincing, metallic echo-thing as Mike Dean blows. (Seen/heard that a lot lately).

I personally pinged the mute button for most of the conurbation that was/is the typical TV preamble these days and am considering, early doors, the dispatch of Keown to some distant, high-walled suburb. However I did – like the (ahem) loquacious former Arsenal stopper – note the absence of Abraham from the Chelsea squad. You’ve got to believe that Tammy’s an unlucky lad to be behind Werner, on current form and to appear such an outlier from the preferred system to the manager, Tuchel. Mind you Foden’s omission from the City starting line-up might be equally worthy of comment – and more central to events, you suspect.

The other guy drawing chat lately – as well as Abraham, and Keown – has been Sterling. Keown has a predictable nibble, insensitive to the already malicious barrage of spittletastic abuse building on The Lads (our lads) Whatsapp group-chat: for Keown, that is, not Sterling. He notes the City winger’s ‘unconvincing form’.

Chilwell should score. Left foot volley; not too demanding; no crowd baying or defender in his eyeline. Tame – as is the game, on the 20 minute-mark. (Oops. Sounds like a Keownism – there being no 20 minute mark). Somehow this one does feel like a training game… in the Age of the Training Game. City’s famed carousel utterly absent, Chelsea better but quietly unproductive. The game stutters: the crowd silenced.

Fifty-odd minutes. Chelsea deservedly go ahead as Werner breaks clear down the left and finds Ziyech clear nine yards out. City keeper Steffen may have misread his angles but the Chelsea striker was strangely unmolested by a detached defence.

Indeed this relative estrangement seemed characteristic of Guardiola’s men. There were eight changes and whilst on many occasions the dazzling light blues have blown into ridicule our natural inclinations to mither at ‘reckless rotation’, here, at Wembley, City looked like blokes from all over, gathered for a trial. Only briefly in the second period did they gel. Foden had come on for the injured de Bruyne and Gundogan also joined. But even then possession was unevenly retained and lacked the silky nature of the norm. The ludicrous over-hype of the All Four Trophies notion fell, rather weakly, in short.

So – and I scoot forward here briskly, because not that much happened – the battle of the no centre-forwards turned out neither dramatic nor especially beautiful. Chelsea scuttled with some purpose without exciting the box; City had a bad day at the training pitch. The crowd seemed weirdly quiet.

Was it true that Tuchel did a number on The Maestro, or did Guardiola disappear up his own bottie again again? And is the Big Game equivalent of a Proper Cup Game now more likely to be a passionless, relatively contactless short-passing fest that merely (predictably) disappoints in a different way? Are tremendously skilled players like Sterling and Foden and De Bruyne just a little lacking in personality, in character – and so when that entirely human misfire occurs, do they have whatever it takes to burst through? Is everything a system, these days?

I speak as one who could barely respect the Guardiola achievement more. David Silva and De Bruyne and now (please god) Foden have brought the playing of the game of football in these islands to a genuinely exalted state. One that makes manifest the dream that Clough may have had about skill (and therefore passing) being everything. The fluent City are more magical than almost anything we’ve seen: they play at a higher standard. And yet maybe the urgency of a cup competition – the bursting, the charge, the sudden death-ness – can stymie their flow? For all its beauty, the Guardiola Method is about gaming the percentages, through endless recycling and probing. It’s about winning in time more than grabbing a winner NOW.

Chelsea approximate City in some respects. Short passes, good pace, invention. They are building some consistency, too. Tonight they were just a touch better: crucially they denied their opposition midfield phase after phase of possession. Partly by closing down effectively: partly by using the ball well themselves. Oh – and they scored.

Tuchel was bold enough to believe that he didn’t need to change and ‘go direct’. (Of course they might have won 6-0 if Abrahams had played… but this is specious). Without being inspired, his team held their patterns and took their chance. City didn’t. The irresistible, dreamlike groove they’ve been rocking for months just wasn’t there. My guess is that tonight those eight changes mattered.

Black and British. And everything.

Those of you who have been following my hopefully endearingly shambolic adventures into YouTube &/or the universe of books will know that I have fallen, of late, into what I might ill-advisedly call a theme: that of race, or racism. I have recently done ‘reviews’ of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking…” as well as Layla F Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” and now I’m into David Olusoga’s excellent contribution, “Black and British – A Forgotten History”.

This is not to say that I’m entirely lumping them together as a single subject – that would be offensively crass, right? – but there are unarguably significant crossovers between the three books and therefore it feels reasonable (enough) to gather them in for some reflection. Having said that, I’m only posting the “Black and British” review here; if you want the rest go find my #YouTube channel or delve deeper into earlier posts on this platform.

It was a specific, particularly deep conversation around the ideas of radicalism and liberalism/illiberalism which sparked off this blog, mind, prompting the foolishly urgent need to de-clutter my own head of this, if I may?

I know, I know. I should stop doing this Under-rehearsed Brain-dump Thing; it’s indulgent and inevitably error-prone. But I don’t mind risking embarrassment or worse and frankly it feels more honest to be flailing around with the possibility for self-exposure adding a little edge to the proceedings. And this fear of saying the wrong thing seems especially pertinent, here.

I have a friend who spars with people, more often and more challengingly and with more insight than anybody else I know. He is therefore a tremendously invigorating bloke to be around. Saw him coupla days ago and because we rattled into Deep Meaningful Stuff around socialism/liberalism, campaigning/activism, Eddo-Lodge and What You Can Actually Say, this post – originally just a review of sorts of the Olusoga – is in danger of becoming a rounding-up of wider themes. With the usual apologies for the usual, unattractive stream-of-consciousness, let’s crack on.

David Olusoga I like. Great TV work plus I love his punchy, witty, take-no-shittery on the twitters. Daily if not hourly, he completely dismembers dullish white blokes who think they’re being Pretty Reasonable, Actually. Crucially, he does it with some real wit.

“Black and British – a Forgotten History” is a weighty and accomplished book, of immense scope, covering stories that the author thinks add significantly to our understanding of what it has meant and what it still means to be Black and British. I say this because it strikes me Olusoga makes great choices about what to cover and makes no bones about swerving biggish chunks of what might seem to be essential if that material is covered well or comprehensively elsewhere. So I certainly learned stuff; enlightening, revealing, fascinating, poignant stuff as it were from the fringes. Hence the subtitle “Forgotten History”.

One example: I’m not sure I knew anything about Charles Wooton, and yet you will see (if you bother to click on the video) that the story of his desperate hustle through the streets of Liverpool – so compellingly told – was absolutely central to my experience of and learning through this book. What Olusoga calls Wooton’s ‘lynching’ is both horrifying and a little familiar; the evil of murderous racism on our streets feeling uncomfortably close, to me, in this era of race-fuelled, hate-filled populism.

There is much else to say about this very fine history book but I am content enough that my flawed review grabs a hold of enough of the thing to persuade you to read it, if you haven’t. “Black and British” is simply a 9 out of 10-er; intelligent, readable and with a tremendous historical/social-political scope. Get on it.

But hey, that conversation. In a kitchen in Bristol, appropriately enough, given Olusoga’s connections to, and work within, that fascinating city. I’m with my mate, the Dangerously Brilliant Mind. (Hey if you read this, ****, forgive the intrusion(s): massively respect your intelligence, integrity and… we ‘ave a larf, too, right?)

Don’t remember what sparked off the particular line of enquiry – probably an opening exchange in which we spoke about recent reading – but we soon got into his ‘specialism’ around political/philosophical convictions.

Hilariously, on reflection, this was about 9 am on a Saturday morning, after I’d stayed over with the family. And yes we were socially distancing as far as possible.

**** is a profoundly good, honest, caring man; hard to categorise entirely, politically but certainly not a right-winger. He does, however, have an intellect which is so penetrative and well-armed with reading and with knowledge that it feels austere. (This is not a criticism: it’s an acknowledgement of his fierce brilliance – which I have said, is bloody invigorating).

He has come to identify as a liberal rather than a socialist, in part because he is appalled by narrow, clubby, deliberately intimidating politics from The Left. ****, (who is broadly lefty), thinks there is a kind of evil in the meanness and acute tribalism amongst the Activist Left, whom he would argue, seem to hate what we might call ordinary Labour supporters more than they hate Tories. In fact, maybe they hate everyone who isn’t them?

Of course this is what Tories and Centrists have typically argued so again I put on the record that neither of us fall into those categories. My Bristolian comrade feels it simply ain’t viable to support alongside or with this group – and he does support the majority of ‘Labour Causes’. In short, the illiberal nature of some ‘core lefties’ offends him.

We talk about this and I’m not disagreeing. Then, because we can get into controversial territory and ver-ry frequently do, **** (who is no racist, no right-winger, no mug) expresses concerns about some of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s contributions, in her own field of activism. Is her important work – the books, podcasts, public advocacy – nevertheless in danger of suppressing legitimate debate because by accident or design it may be closing down or narrowing viewpoints towards a kind of puritanical activism? (Should add here that a) my pal has read and listened to Eddo-Lodge and b) that both of us are fair-minded enough and wise enough to appreciate the obvious dangers, re- Middle Aged White Blokes failing to get the ironies currently circling and blowing their klaxons).

We do know that overhelmingly it’s Black Voices that are oppressed. Both of us have and do support anti-racism. And we are not so weak-minded as to be saying all activism is kinda fascistically predicated on nastiness and brutal, exclusive oppositionism; activism is necessary, is wonderful, is essential.

**** is I think merely making the argument for intelligent, humane, broadly inclusive campaigning. He makes a bold, contentious point and I have some concerns about these views but am also clear that I have felt conflicted about whether or not to Say Anything… because I’m a White Bloke!

More ironies, possibly, but I think I am on here and Youtube doing this stuff despite knowing my voice is less important, less relevant to this discussion than a black voice might be – and arguably has less rights(?) – but also because, conversely, it feels wrong to shut up for fear of committing some transgression. White Angst? You bet. But part of my real experience.

I fully understand that the last couple of paragraphs may either seem perverse, or worse; racist. I already regret that I’ve probably conflated leftiness with Black Activism; this does all of us a disservice. Maybe I will go back and edit, or maybe just re-offer the thought that this sense that something ‘illiberal’ and possibly injurious can associate itself with activism – particularly, perhaps, when there is understandably acute anger in the mix.

This has little to do with the review posted below… of a really good book which I heartily commend you all towards. My de-tour has been about how we try to oppose social and political evils – which we must, urgently, together – whilst maintaining as much of our human generosity as we can. But hey, read the books!

Wor Jackie.

I’m not sure I liked him, much, early doors. Certainly *that team* with the brilliant but spiteful terriers Bremner and Giles, plus the pre- (quite reasonably) sanctified ‘clogger’, Hunter, was right up there on the Most Despised list, for most of us. Leeds. Led by the sheepskin-coated cynic, Revie.

Big Jack/Wor Jackie was a Proper Member of that club… and yet his rascaltastically steady giraffe thing endeared himself more to the masses, I think, than most of his colleagues. That and the events of 1966.

Let your mind flash back, if it can. Did not even the gorgeously gifted Eddie Gray have a nasty streak? Was there something bit grating about Madeley’s smoothness? Wasn’t Allan Clarke essentially rancorous and even the unprickly Lorimer a bit – yaknow – lary, somehow? Wasn’t our dislike, despite the inevitable raw jealousy, rooted in something palpable?

Charlton was guilty of being ‘Leeds’, too, then: so we’d roar when he got physical. But I remember him more for a kind of upright doughtiness than any persistent evil. It felt as though Big Jack was always too close to mischief and what we’d now call #bantz than sustained malice, to be a full-on Leeds Bastard – not that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) ‘look after himself’. He was classic English Number 5 in that he stopped people playing: marked them. Sometimes, yes, physically.

There was something else, too. That brother. The surging saint from Manchester United – the *actual player*. This made him/them or presented the Charltons as a Football Family; a rather special one, yes, after ‘66? Bobby was god-like – that charm, that quiet grace, that fu-ck-ing goal against Portugal!

Jack was bound in there, part of the glorious package but nobody understood him as a great player. He was good: he was a solid, international stopper but he was hardly Rio Ferdinand, never mind Alan Hansen.

Of course Jack was of his era, when the job description didn’t include easing stylishly into midfield, or threading searching passes into the false nine’s feet, or even (arguably) looking comfortable on the ball. Charlton J stopped you: he was a presence and he was ‘strong in the air’.

(Minor diversion. In a shockingly out-of-character burst of research, have looked at the Bleacher Report’s top ten England centre-halves. Interesting. [Here – https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2098444-ranking-englands-10-greatest-world-cup-central-defenders ].
Guess where Jackie is? Number 3. Ahead of Rio Ferdinand and behind John Terry and Bobby Moore. The whole bundle feels a relatively weak line-up to me, with only a few players – and I do mean players – of really high quality. Charlton is one of several who were effective rather excellent or richly, broadly skilled).

But this is sounding rather negative and I don’t want to be that – Wor Jackie doesn’t deserve that. The point I am making about Charlton J is that he was a tower; a resolute, indomitable, reliable English Centre Half of a high order, at a time when football was different. Not worse, or less demanding, but different. He was outstanding, engaging and could plainly be the heartband soul of almost anything.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, Charlton played 628 times for for Leeds, scoring on 70 occasions – a striking contribution for a defender. This in a 21 year career at the club. (Whoa: read that again – twenty; one; years). He also gained 35 England caps between 1965/and 1970, scoring 6 times. So the bloke was a threat, right, at what we used to call set-pieces? (Now set-plays).

These figures – in particular that proud, stoic, loyalty to Leeds – tell much of the story. The numbers, the years, the trophies speak to his utter, committed, authentic footballer-ness. As of course, does the Northumberland accent, the characteristically robust wit, the stature of the man in every sense. And we haven’t yet mentioned his career in management.

Big Jack had to be a Manager. He was always a leader, of sorts, even without the armband. Led by example, knew the game, was charismatic, was tough.

Those, like me, who remember the TV documentary from way back that showed him a) charging about the dressing room with the lads, todger-swingingly starkers and b) urging a youngster to “show me some aggression, son” still hold those memories close, amongstbothers. Absurdly, wonderfully macho stuff.

It utterly figures that this English icon could and did become and Irish legend. (Who else might ever fall into that particular category?!?) Charlton proved yet again that belief and togetherness and a ‘way of playing’ – a euphemism for simple, achievable patterns – can trump higher levels of quality in your opponent. Ireland had some players but they were driven to the World Cup Quarters by ‘Wor Jackie’s’ spirit… and method.

In my understanding of the phrase ‘Wor Jackie’, there is the association or assumption that ‘Wor’ implies, if not actually means, ‘our’. It’s for bellowing in approval at one of ours. Turns out that Charlton J’s powerful contribution, rather than being parochial, went inspiringly international, went beyond Northumberland and Leeds and England, because folks loved and followed and trusted his truth.

John Charlton – full name, what else? – strode manfully through a football life, keeping it simple, keeping it real in the way that only an irreducibly working class man might. He had more ‘chin’ than his brother, was a tad more abrasive, but ultimately shared that same wondrous humility.

It was another age when England won the World Cup: I smile when I think of Jack Charlton facing (say) David Silva, in a different dimension. Manchester City’s serpentine genius might ask a few questions of the Leeds man. One way or another I’m guessing the old warhorse would let it be known that he was a force – and “never mind yer poncy tickertackie”.

Wor Jackie was of his time but what a time he made of it.

Falling & Laughing & Everything.

Another #lockdown ramble but this time with a (dare I say it?) vaguely feminist theme. Three books collide. I muddle through & find some love, inspiration & a whole lot of things that fall under the *challenging* label. Stupidly, I talk about them, without editing down my flaws: feels more honest.

So if you like Jean Rhys/Viv Albertine/Grace Maxwell & feel the force; or if you kinda get that maybe we need to support 50% of the population a tad better; or if you love The Slits, or Orange Juice, dive right in. There’ll be a welcome.

 

Norman Hunter, rest in peace – though hard to imagine.

Norman Hunter, in yellow: with knees apparently sharpened, elbows unmistakably raised – as though either ready to issue some sharp reminder or to facilitate that hold, that feel of the opposition player. In from behind, hands irritatingly, floppily present, over and around the shoulders; pushing or distracting; spacing, twiddling, reminding. Hands having words with any striker or midfielder shielding or foolishly ‘backing in’. This is how I remember him.

From a live game in the distant past. When to be honest (and of course this is an appallingly abstracted straw poll but) most of us hated Leeds. Sure they were incredible but I really don’t recall any team being so heavily disliked as Leeds, in this era.

If that feels like poor timing, I apologise unreservedly. But anybody who knows British football from the 60s/70s is aware of the very particular quality wrapped around the club. The feelings trump the facts – outlive them. Sprake, Reaney, Hunter, Charlton J, Madeley, Cooper, Giles, Bremner, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray, Johanesson, Yorath. Those kind of exemplary, nuggety, adversarial fellas, on pitches where you had to physically compete. (They competed).

How *the construct* Leeds United FC (subset; under Revie) is or was received obviously depends on your tribal associations, but be honest, yer average anthropologist could still have a field day. I will maintain my original and unwise brevity on the matter by simply repeating that we – by which I include almost everybody I then knew and especially my Dad – hated them. (Subset appendix 1; my Dad was a classically biggish, honest, rooted bloke most resistant to inflammation: except where Don Revie was concerned).

On the playing side, Norman Hunter epitomised much of the steel and, on times, some of the spite that ran through those times. He would be joined in this by the spiky trio of Giles, Bremner and Clarke; however, it would be The Gaffer – Don Revie – who fell most easily into the role of Voodoo Doll. My old man, hopefully now ensconced in some heavenly British Legion Club, may still be inserting pins, today.

But back to Norman. He was dogged, abrasive and disciplined – mostly. He was tough and old-school. He could strike a ball, for all his essentially defensive traits but essentially Hunter was a hawkish watcher and attender, he marked and battled his corner to international level. It’s that utter, finger-jabbing, slide-tackling commitment that we’ll remember him for, on the park.

Interestingly, I’ve just read a tribute to Hunter from Revie which cherishes both his redoubtable professional qualities and his powerful honesty *in life*. I like to think this is true: that the Norman (who) Bites Yer Legs could also be a man of immense heart and generosity. In fact – sorry Dad – I’ll take Revie at his word on that. Rest in peace, Norman.

Brexit Day – some words. A #Universe #podcast.

Been wrestling with what to do, as a Remainer. Been probably unhelpfully angry, but also determined not to shrink. Looking for something that feels like appropriate defiance… and to be honest, not that bothered if some view it as inflammatory.

Understand that Brexiters will simply view my wee statement as typical Remainer arrogance, including, as it does, the notions that exiting is wrong, and predicated on racism. Worse still, I guess I’m insinuating into the argument the ver-ry contentious idea that we Remainers are Better People than t’other side, because we’re right, we’re anti-xenophobic and therefore we hold the moral ground. (Think we are, think we do, think there is).

If that hasn’t put you off entirely, please do have a listen. Don’t expect any worthwhile debate will ensue, because we’re all so bitterly entrenched: know that I may indeed be contributing to that particular, ongoing malaise, by digging in. Hey ho.

If we could brush aside those narrowish political red lines for a moment, I might finish by saying that I really do have concerns about a divided future – especially where the scramble for food security really will be an issue for millions, worldwide. How’s it gonna be when every leek, cabbage or chicken matters? How ugly will it be when the protectionist juices unleashed here and now are swilling towards swathes of desperate, starving, near-drowned or parched and emaciated peoples from country X?

Crazy-paranoid? Don’t think so. Think what defines us needs to be generosity, open-ness. Think xenophobia is bad. Have a listen.

 

I say in here that democracy was poorly served – deliberately – by Cummings and Johnson and by a nauseating, bigoted Billionaire Press and of course I stand by that. It’s obvious. But what Brexit and my argument points to is a deep dive (that’s what folks are saying, currently, right?) into democracy itself.

In short I’m with Orwell in the sense that democracy gets just the two cheers. Because people maybe shouldn’t get the right to decide on MASSIVE stuff they *lack knowledge* about.

Yup, I get that dangers aboundeth, here. The politically correct – or those involved in politics, who therefore can’t unload contentious notions without engaging their Ooopsie Alarms – cannot say (for example) that people are too dumb to be allowed a vote on capital punishment. But they would be right about that.

Likewise Brexit. Too many people were always going to be drawn to immediate, neanderthal prejudice for this ever to have been good politics – wise, considered politics. The Tories knew this, of course, like they knew that the detail of any leave agreements would be waaaay beyond the ken or the interest of the Great Unwashed. But a strangulated Cameron capitulated to his right wing and then Cummings and Johnston chose to press the prejudice button… because that way they could turn democracy to their purpose.

So democracy is deeply fallible, deeply vulnerable to corruption in the fullest, scariest, most moral sense. Democracy is the best we can hope for but it needs good, genuine, honest, intelligent parliamentarians to lead us through it – to debate at a high level and then lead, on things the public don’t or can’t know about. We haven’t had that, eh?

United – yes or no?

United: plainly in trouble, or no?

Could it be that the fans leaving early and the first loss to Burnley for fifty years are meaningful signifiers *but not the same thing* as a full-on crisis? That the ‘worst start to the season’ stat is merely factor to be considered – one of a zillion – not an indisputable shepherd’s crook of a thing, hoiking Solksjær summarily to pastures less public?

How we judge depends as much upon who we are, who we support, how philosophic we can be, as upon the stats. This is part of the appeal, yes? The phoney war around opinion.

The league table itself is arguably provocatively fickle, whilst being apparently factual. We extrapolate stuff in order to judge: thus club X sits wherever but has played ‘higher than that’, or has maybe endured a tough, unbalanced schedule, or has simply played more football than that table suggests. (In United’s case it could be that they have played less). Results are key but they neither tell the whole story nor project forward, to account for momentum, form, expectation. Fascinatingly, we might argue that they don’t – or tables don’t – even show what has happened.

But back to United. Yesterday’s home defeat to a willing but generally workmanlike Burnley side. Two goals conceded, the first a sharp finish, the second a thunderbolt. Possible that Maguire might have closed down better for both; certainly he failed to read the danger for the first early enough. And therefore he is culpable.

But if you search around that United side and look to a) pick a captain b) pick a player of real quality and c) mark out those who are good enough and strong enough to influence things, during highs and lows, would not Maguire be close to the top of your list? Forget the price tag thing. The England centre-back is a fine player: he was just a mili-second behind the action.

All of which means nothing… except to illustrate something of the tortuous nature of any argument. Who/what to blame, when there is human error in the moment, the mili-second? For all the coaching and all the talent/confidence/frailty/genius/planning in the world, what exactly do we know? What’s controllable?
With United in trouble or in glorious flow, Maguire plays, if fit. What about the rest?

This is the crux. The team-sheet looked thin again, last night. How many on it are Real Manchester United Players? And how many are RMUPs when things are a-stuttering? And how many are RMUPs under a different manager, d’ya reckon?

I’m the bloke who said fairly recently that he didn’t think McTominay was a RMUP: I stand by that in the sense that he may only be good enough if the blend around him is right enough. Fully accept that before his injury he may have been the club’s most consistent player. But this is not the same as being a Real Manchester United Player when United are riding high, as Champions League-winning candidates.

 

Clearly right now, a fit McTominay would stiffen the durability and improve the consistency of the current side: he can do that in a way that Pereira and Fred can’t. But because he is good but one-paced, good but limited, the young Scot needs to be part of a blend containing more pace, more art, more elite-level guile.

Let’s go back to the stuttering. Who, in last night’s line-up is going to do the roll-the-sleeves up thing? Fred tried, to be fair. I’m not (necessarily) being critical when I suggest that Martial, James, Mata strike me as fairly obvious examples of players who are a whole lot more likely to thrive, to be influential, in a side that is 2-0 up than in one that is struggling. (Martial may have been playing hurt last night but he rather epitomises the quietly sulky, detached striker who-ain’t-gonna-bust-a-gut to make something happen: that’s really not one of his qualities. United need some of that – or some sheer, undeniable genius).

Enter Rashford. The brilliant boy is of course the Great Local Hope… but sadly crocked. In any case there is a plausible case that because he typically plays high percentage football – that is, he races and flashes and risks and is therefore likely to be medium profligate with possession – Rashford, despite his visible, developing gifts, is hardly the model RMUP. It is even conceivable that he may not become one, due to the sporadic, if electrifying nature of his contribution. (Yes, it’s true, I am suggesting that Rashford has some work to do to flesh out into a genuine, consistent performer at the level to which Proper Man United teams compete).

We could go through the squad and have a lot of fun and a lot of arguments about who is good enough. Wan-Bissaka looks promising, does he not? Unfashionably, I rate Mata for his intelligence and game sense but accept that his role is particularly reliant on the blend around him: in short, too, time may be against him. Elsewhere…

We haven’t mentioned the manager. The manager who seemed out of his depth at Cardiff. The manager (and local hero) who seemingly transformed the club, early doors, simply by being him, Ole, a breath of fresh air after the poisonous Portuguese. For remember, he did start like a returning legend, dragging the club into what felt like a an intoxicating new era. Until it stopped.

Solksjær is up against it, now. The strong sense that United lack patterns of play contrasts embarrassingly with their near neighbours. The lack of pace through midfield and relative vacuum where their energy, commitment and belief should be contrasts horribly with their other bitter rivals at the seaward end of that Ship Canal. Where Klopp now seems an undeniable and inspirational genius, Ole seems to be shrinking, ageing.

But does the fact of Solkjær’s brilliant start mean that he might find or reclaim the club mojo? When Pogba and Rashford are fit? When he’s bought four, five, six players? Does the former super-sub have it in him, to mastermind and sustain this club at Champions League level?

Most would say ‘no’ – certainly not with this team. Most would say something, too, about how the club has been run, more generally, over the last several years. I’m guessing that even some neutrals – and I know there won’t be many on this – might accept that a goodish case scenario would be that Ole Supersub (see what I did there?) did, in time turn the club around, restoring some of the verve this club has traditionally offered to the game.

Solksjær is likeable, retaining just a touch of the spiky, boyish naïvety we saw when he wore the Manchester United shirt. He did, when he first came in, really get the club going again. Oddly, he may have steered them higher in the league than they belong or deserve to be, this side. Might the shady businessmen, shuffling conspiratorially behind yet decide to ‘stay local’ and back him?

#Preseli #Pembrokeshire.

I was a Labour Party member, moons ago. Think I drifted because of the New Labour thing (Mandelson, the cynical centrism) but it may actually have been before that.

I reckon I’ve stayed loyal to something but would I call that Corbynism? No, not instinctively, certainly not entirely. And yet I very much wanted to go to my local town centre – Haverfordwest – and stand with those exuding comradely love, or just ‘wanting to see’.

Once there, it felt good to see the old Solva & St David’s Labour Party banner spread un-stylishly but proudly at the rear of the makeshift stage. I came away both glad that I went and with any reservations about The Campaign swept away: we must a) get the tories out and b) begin to claw back some social justice, some dignity. People, it’s just right.

 

It’s been a dank, grey old day. There’s a storm a-comin’ again, tomorrow, too. The will, therefore, was medium-tested.

Daughter failed the test – stayed, to continue a teenage kip. It was left to us, the Older Generation to join with the carnival.

I say carnival but this overstates the level of upfulness. Sure it was comradely and good-natured in Castle Square but things were pitched more towards what we might call like-minded solidarity than street-dancing euphoria. There is work to be done and Jeremy Corbyn is doing it.

From Swansea to Carmarthen to Haverfordwest; the last stop of another exhausting day, or so you might think. Another crowd to raise, another marginal to cover, spirits to be stirred and maybe inspired. Unforgiving; relentless; necessary.

At about 4.45 pm we hear that ‘Jeremy will be late. Because of the crowds and the travelling’. Nobody really minds but a few of us nip to the local caffeine emporium.

We return to be entertained, more or less, by several hugely worthy speakers (who speak like Ordinary-but-committed People) and by an endearingly average local musician. There are flashes of good stuff but nobody’s pretending this is anything other than the warm-up.

It’s fine that these big-hearted people are filling the gap; it’s fine that they lack the brilliance of a great, public orator. We get that they have thrust themselves forward in the knowledge that they are Orn’ary Folks, out of belief, because they want to put their shoulder to the cart, to shove, forwards. Whilst they own the stage, there is almost no sense that ego is in play; more that solidarity is being imperfectly expressed.

Inevitably local activists featured strongly in this – forgive me if I don’t namecheck them all. Inevitably, too, there were union representatives and a young bloke from Momentum who has obviously been a force even when no-one was listening. (He spoke without sufficient fluency or authority to bear his message, as did others. I don’t mean to criticise any of them; they are not career politicians or public intellectuals. They are just people who want to change things – genuine respect to them for that).

Intermittently, we hear Jezza updates. He is forty minutes a way, then nine. We must listen out for the Big Red Bus. The Withybush Event (indoors, up the road) has been cancelled because timings are out due to big crowds and long-distance travel. Those booked into the later gig will be joining us in the square: cue tribal roar.

Grace Blakeley is welcomed to the stage. My wife – being typically more informed than my good self – breaks out her ‘this will be really top’ look and we recalibrate our attention.

Ka-pow. If we needed oratory and brilliance, we got it. If we needed someone to truly articulate both the economic and moral arguments, we got it. In an outstanding, flawlessly eloquent speech lasting about twenty minutes, Grace proper-delivered.

She was spiky and clear, without being cheaply adversarial. She was intellectually plausible, whilst making an invigoratingly radical case for system change. Blakeley absolutely smashed it, in terms of communicating Ideas We Might All Recognise, whilst raising the level of discourse to edifying (and again one suspects necessary) heights. Put her in against anybody; Grace will joust superbly well for us all. She lifted us.

Back to local activists and the MC, briefly, before the bus nudges into view.

A welcome that speaks of real warmth, flecked with a smidge of adoration. The “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” bass-line sparks up, along with most of the 1500 or so voices, gathered for the visit. This isn’t, it seems, all-out love – there’s too much plain, unsexy, hard-won respect – but there is excitement and palpable warmth.

Philippa Thompson, the Labour candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire speaks briefly first. The sound is imperfect but she does well enough and is wise enough not to ‘rattle on’ and undermine the moment. She defers to Jeremy pretty promptly – quite rightly.

(Minor but maybe important note, which I will preface by saying that with every fibre of my being I hope she can unseat the incumbent Tory, Stephen Crabb; yes-man, former careerist now shamed into bland irrelevance.

Philppa, you spoke about four words of Welsh. Take it from me, as somebody with little Welsh but with a family now full of Welsh-speakers, that your pronunciation was beyond poor. It was insulting, or would be to anyone blessed with the language – and therefore you are strongly advised to either avoid, or get immediate help with this. It really matters… & it’s such an obvious own goal for a public figure – particularly an ‘incomer’).

But now Jezza, plus more activists and more locals, joining us from the battle bus and/or that cancelled event. We have a crowd, we have The Attraction and we have goodwill.

Corbyn is good. Fluent without being schmaltzy, prepared, without being in automatic mode. If Grace Blakeley was 9.5 out of 10, Jezza is 8 plus. Because he’s not a fabulous public speaker (and this is fine!) – he’s goodish.

Corbyn, flawed like all of us, inspires quietly, more by his common decency (remember that?) than any sparkling wit, or weighty or ‘Churchillian’ intervention. By and through the epic contribution he’s made to thoroughly commendable, often unfashionable causes.

Of course many either hate him or are deeply suspicious but I’m simply not lingering there. Let’s dismiss them as either conned by the billionaire press or prejudiced by dumb acquiescence to their betters – the toffs, the tories, the Natural Leaders. Back to Jezza.

It might even be that he isn’t an elite-level intellectual, he’s merely competent-plus. And this is fine. Jezza feels cut from our cloth: he’s believable and now projected forth into believe-in-able, by circumstance. The man may need to scheme behind closed doors, but he is publicly apparently without side or ego. He could be a teacher, postie, or the bloke who shuffles papers in the council office.

He speaks well, covering ground now familiar to all of us. Social Services, Education, plans to transform towards a green economy. To his credit, despite knowing surely that the crowd might lap it up, Corbyn remains notably averse to the kind of personal attack to which he is relentlessly subjected: Johnson is barely mentioned. Instead we get sketches of the vision, the hope.

There are ‘highlights’ but this is not highly-coloured fayre: the rabble in us is not roused, is not meant to be. That wouldn’t be Jezza. Our communal sense of what is right and fair and proportionate is rather gently appealed to, or stimulated. There could be barely be a greater contrast between this man and his showy, brainy, brazenly mendacious opposite number.

I’m dealing in generalities but trying to reflect how this felt. Seeing Jeremy Corbyn address a biggish bundle of people in Haverfordwest. On the eve of an extraordinarily important election. Being no longer a Labour Party member (and I promise you, not entirely doe-eyed, when it comes to Jezza) but supportive, nevertheless – and being daft enough to remain attached to ideas around virtue, around moral imperatives.

Wow, the pull towards optimism is strong. I want the guy to go well and will be punching the bloody air if Philippa Thompson wins. And the arguments feel won after a night like this. And there were lots of people. And Corbyn was good and Blakeley was wonderful.

Too much, to be optimistic? Maybe. But whatever. This was a restorative night – a valuable night.