#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.

Dead Souls.

Okay. A good-without-being-remarkable win, for starters: predictably. But let’s note to the universe that a) there’s very often a New Man In bonus, for clubs at all levels, and b) Mourinho can organise. Plus c) West Ham are genuinely mediocre. So yeh – predictable, as opposed to seminally transforming.

Whether the Special One can organise and inspire to the level he once could – and whether the landscape remains, in which he can do his Strike and Park the Bus thing – we’ll see, soon enough. For now (Saturday, 6p.m.) he can bask a little.

Does this change anything, in terms of how I view his return? No. I see – I saw it, here, below – as another medium-diabolical sign that we’re all doomed. Or similar.

(Following the appointment of José Mourinho as Head Coach at Tottenham Hotspur: some thoughts… 👇🏻)

Where are we at, then, with Mourinho? Not easy to sugar-coat this one. Feels like many of us find him repugnant, never mind kinda reactionary; like some carnivorous dinosaur from the poshest suite in the goddam hotel. Like football’s Trump, emerging from behind the Fake Plastic Trees to eat us, or gorge on the souls of our beloved footie-teams.

Consequently but perhaps weirdly and uniquely, a freedom to judge him on some faintly discernible but nevertheless legitimate scale of goodness has crept in.

And yet also… the phone-ins. There are people simply flying past this fabulous Mourinho stoning-fest: actually (simply) looking forward to trophies, at Tottenham. Men. Women. Calling and talking. “We loved Poch but José will deliver”. “At the end of the day, it’s… about silverware”. “Poch was over”.

All fascinating – gruesomely so – and all received in this particular quarter with a broiling, Armalite-inclined rage.  Because it’s obvious. Mourinho is done, football has scorched past him, the era when he was a god is done and this is good – progressively good, mildly reassuringly good, morally good, even. Anyone ‘making some argument’, any argument for Mourinho at Spurs is an absolute maniac. I am loading up the boom-stick and ready to settle into the sniper-nest.

There are facts, here, of sorts. Fact: Mourinho ain’t remotely interested in the hard yards of building or generating anything. Fact: he was last seen at an academy game the day *he tried to sign Johan Cruyff, aged four.

 (*From the fleeting Conservative Fact-check site, oooh a while back).

Mourinho pretty much sits there, buying the poker-game, bluffing and motivating his galacticos, then buying those who supersede. He sucks up money; he is joyless and crucially declining. He deserves to fail, surely and the recent signs have all pointed that way. Lost dressing-rooms; lost lustre. The smell of money, impenetrable ambivalence and decline.

Ok the guy is not a materialist, in his life – he’s allegedly medium-cultured. So it’s not just about money for him. The drivers are slightly less crass, in the sense of being beyond the bling. However Mourinho does feel devoid of what we might call personal richness, now, his wit having apparently deserted as his sourness grew.

Mourinho pressers have been consistently contemptible over a period of years: directly insulting towards journos in the room and broadly, plainly dishonest regarding what’s actually happening around his football. (Accept that the second of these two phenomena is hardly unique to the man but the sheer acidity and delusional unpleasantness of his defiance has been extraordinary. He has bred hatred in the Media Core and beyond).

So, there is a ‘moral’ consensus (but apparently not unanimity, listening to those phone-ins) around the notion that Mourinho increasingly has crushed artistry and sport, imagining nothing beyond the grind or slash to victory. A sense reinforced, inevitably, by that public sullenness.

Where did all this come from?

Pressure? Pressure over time? Did the essential adversarial nature of elite competition grind him down, eventually – or is he just a Bad Man? If the latter, how come he didn’t seem so bad ‘til about 2015, or so?

Think. How could the man who was under the wing of Bobby Robson – Angel of the North, Heart of the Footie Universe – turn out so palpably bereft of romance? (Mourinho, if you remember, interpreted for the great man at Sporting and at Porto, early doors). How does that work? Where did the narcissism, the sourness, the anti-love for the game sweep in? We’ll never know.

It’s obvious that José is either all-out a spent force or a declining power; that he might only succeed with monstrous money to spend – but almost certainly not in the Prem, in 2019/20 and beyond – because the likes of Klopp and Guardiola have found better, newer ways.

It seems unthinkable that a) Daniel Levy will free-up the purse-strings to accommodate Mourinho’s customary indulgences and b) that in any case that free spirit thing Tottenham have always had will be brutally-casually disembowelled.

But hey, the phone-in psychos don’t care. They’re dead souls too.

 

The Rugby World Cup Final.

Jonny. Pre-game. Almost worryingly earnest, as so often. Turning his analysis into yoga, players out there behind him. Then ‘that wry smile’ – Farrell’s, not Wilkinson’s and a ‘break’. ITV: okaaay but also weird.

But what a good, solid and sometimes *actually inspiring* tournament this has been. Japan the clear winner, for their childlike embrace of the thing, for their politesse and their Proper Rugby Passion too. (Oh – and their team played arguably the most entertaining rugby in the tournament).

Rugby, World Cup Finals, in Japan. Strange how intelligent administration, free from bias or bung can turn out well, eh FIFA, eh ICC? You get to expand the game and enrich the experiences of everybody, pretty much, from spectator to waiter. The sport benefits.

The sight of Japanese, young and old, belting out the beautiful but relatively inaccessible Welsh national anthem has felt wonderfully symbolic of the potential richnesses – rarely located but found here – that the confluence of sport and peoples can aspire to. Simply, rugby does goodwill particularly well. Japan seems to have done it magnificently.

To the game.

Unusually for me, no live updates. Wanted to watch. What follows is therefore some abstracted thoughts…

 

South Africa and England may be high on the list of unloved rugby nations but ultimately there was a heartwarming bundle of That Good Stuff washing around Yokohama and the airwaves, at the whistle. The Boks had freed themselves up and begun to cut deep and wide, as England, disconsolate, near-humiliated England slipped into hopelessness.

The scenes at the culmination of an emphatic win – the rainbow of joy and wider-spread satisfaction around the host nation for a supremely hospitable tournament – may camouflage the fact that this was a game in which only one team turned up: South Africa.

Questions will inevitably be asked about tactical matters: how could the Boks dominate so completely a game that they entered as underdogs? Was this not an obvious case of one coaching team out-thinking another? Did Jones not know the go-to strengths of Erasmus’s side? Of course he did. But this was a World. Cup. Final.

England looked overawed from the start. Arguably not every player, of course but there was that awful error/contagion/überangst coursing right through them. Painful for Eddie Jones and his backroom staff to see, as they will surely have wanted and quite possibly expected to replicate the carousel of brilliant, confident attacking that characterised their start against the ABs. Instead there was simple error after dubious choice: they were more woeful than mixed, as exemplified by Youngs, on ten minutes, hurling a pass metres high and wide of any colleague, metres into touch. Wow. Shocker.

For Sinckler, the young English prop, there was barely time for nerves. Pre-game, I had a hunch that his personality, his wit, indeed, may have a real influence on this encounter. The fella’s sparky and spunky in a good way: strong but also somehow nimble. He left the pitch, cruelly accidentally concussed, on four minutes: England would miss both his bulk and his capacity to defy, to intervene.

Apologies. This may all underestimate the early power and control of South Africa – who were immediately ahead on the board and looked likely to stretch that lead further the more the first half continued. (Pollard missed a straightforward kick/there was a pret-ty continual siege going on against the England defence, albeit all over the park, as opposed to close to the danger zone).

In the ether, much had been made of the Erasmus plan to stifle and smother but without being electrifyingly expansive in the first period, South Africa went through a certain level of positive phases competently enough – unlike England. Continually and consistently, often via de Allende or Le Roux, the Springboks threaten to threaten.

The men in white, by contrast, for whom I thought Daly (most obviously) and both halfbacks underachieved, either through error or conceding possession too cheaply, were unrecognisable from the week previous. The opposition today were magnificently robust, it’s true but if Game Plan A for England was to hoist (without effectively chasing down) and re-set, as soon as this was patently neutered, surely the halfbacks must initiate another challenge, or twelve?

Youngs and Ford disappointed, in this respect. And yes I know they my have put many man-hours into that Plan A, and that the coaches may have over-egged the need to keep faith with it, but when Am, de Allende, Etzebeth, Kolisi and co are smashing you back decisively on nearly every contact, surely it makes sense (when it’s a known strength of your own) to look to play at pace and with width?

Instead, Pollard and wee Faf could dictate the nature of the play… because they had both momentum and – courtesy those box-kicks and ‘clearances’ – possession of the ball!

Simplistic? Maybe. Less arguable was the palpable superiority of the Boks, not just around contacts but notably and maybe surprisingly at line-out and scrum. Even accepting that the reffing of scrums often seems arbitrary, the concession of penalties by England in this facet of play was both a) remarkable b) completely reflective of Springbok dominance. England were repeatedly smashed.

In line-outs, too, the English were alarmingly out of synch, given their previous high standards. If the throw from George was caught, the movement around – the development – was clunky. The fizz from Underhill, Curry and Vunipola(s) remained well and truly corked.

England escaped the first forty within range, somehow. (6-12). But the imagery was set: blurs and errors and lack of flow from men of The North, and a deep, formidable squeeze from t’other side.

For a few minutes, into the second half, we almost had a game: England almost roared. After the inevitable fifty-odd minute personnel changes, the South African scrum was almost shockingly vulnerable – momentarily, as it turned out – as Marler or Cole or somebody similarly heave-tastic forced a pen. Farrell profited, bringing the scores to 9-15 but then crucially (possibly) failed with a toughish but kickable effort from about 45 metres. Before any meaningful momentum could be gathered, Daly sliced poorly into touch, England conceded a further pen after the line-out and Pollard pinged over.

If those exchanges settled the match, it was the two South African tries in a delirious and exhilarating last fifteen minutes that delivered the flourish. Am threw a peach of a no-looker to put Mapimpi in, then Kolbe danced with some ease round a somewhat movement-restricted Farrell, following a crunching, ball-spilling tackle on Slade. The South Africans (and maybe the competition?) got what they deserved: a stylish, joyful kindofa win.

I’m not big on stagey celebrations or presentations but how could we not enjoy the Bok Party? With its *stories*. How could we not raise a glass to Kolisi and to the idea of shared, enlightened progress? And also how could we not note the South African skipper’s gracious acknowledgement for the stricken Sinckler, moments before rising to collect the World Cup, himself?

Wow. Rugby can be great; sport can be great; people can be great. Nice work, Japan – nice work.

Quarter-finals. Facts & fascinations.

  • Ok. That’s done then. Probably, the best four teams are through – though around that the Irish might do whatever the Irish equivalent of quibbling is.
  • Just now, unloved South Africa squished the wunnerful-joyful hosts, once the early carousel had been closed-down. Disappointing for neutrals, given the electrifying entertainment Japan have provided but guess we do want the strongest teams in there at the death. (Don’t we?)
  • South Africa looked strong, in the same way Wales have been strong, over the last eighteen months or more. More durable than delectable: more efficient than effervescent.
  • The Springboks – are they still called the Springboks; feels somehow vaguely politically unsound? – will play Wales in a semi which could either be a reactionary bore-fest or a full-hearted classic.
  • Two wee interjections, at this point. 1. I’ve lived in Wales most of my life and want them to win the tournament. 2. Some of this stuff, below, which fascinates me 👇🏻.
  • Short memories. Almost everyone in Wales was actually rather contemptuous of Gatland & ‘Gatlandball’ a couple of years ago. He & it were dinosaur-tastic in a profoundly unattractive way.
  • The miserable Welsh performance in a medium-dramatic but poorish quality game against a fitfully revitalised France was a disappointment on several counts. Chief amongst them was the Welsh retreat into box-kicking/set/defend.
  • Wales have played some rugby in this tournament but they are plainly primarily concerned with playing within themselves, to a limited game-plan. They believe it’s a way to win: the evidence would suggest they are right.
  • In defence of arguable Welsh defensiveness, notably against France, they were without one of the great players of the modern era – Jonathan Davies. Davies is ‘class’, with and without the ball. I suspect he is more critical to Wales’ defensive shape than we give him credit for and his rare mixture of intelligence, subtlety and raw courage in attack is often powerfully, often discreetly influential.
  • I am also pret-ty convinced that Biggar is playing with restricted movement – playing hurt. (Wags might say Danny Boy always looks that way; him being the relatively fixed point of the whole Gatlandball organisation. He can’t sprint, we know that but he looks unusually sluggish, just now, to me).
  • *See also Liam Williams*. Picked for his lion-heartedness and inspirational qualities. Should be under genuine pressure now, for a place, from Halfpenny.
  • Next weekend Gatlandball II will face-off against another side likely to play conservatively. Understand that approach but am I/is anybody else looking forward to seeing that kind of game? God no; we’d rather watch Japan any day of the week.
  • Except this is Tournament Play. And much of the drama is/was always going to be of the nail-biting kind. And though my preference for glorious, expansive rugby holds fast, I’ll be as feebly hypocritical as the next man in the moments that matter. 
  • *Plus*, Wales’ obstinate refusal to get beat is, in its own way, magbloodynificent, yes? Romantic, even. It smacks of old-school, matey defiance as well as cultivated belief. I like that – the former.
  • On the subject of match-defining moments, mind, how many thought the TMO and ref swept past the possible forward, as the ball was ripped, immediately before Moriarty’s killer try? I had a slight sense that the adjudicators didn’t really fancy getting caught up in too much scrutiny of that. In short, France may have been robbed. (Discuss over sake/beers).
  • That drama aside, the Wales France game was almost shockingly ordinary in comparison to the first hour of England Aus. (Yes! I am going to do that thing where you mindlessly compare how A played against B and then judge how T (playing U) would have done if they played at that same level… against A, (assuming A retained their B standard, as it were).
  • If Wales had played like they did against France, against either England or Australia, they would have  been battered. There was simply no comparison in intensity or quality. Gatland must and will lift his posse before the ‘Boks.
  • Yes. England versus Australia, for an hour, was scarily, magnificently competitive to an extraordinary degree. It was a fierce, fierce, structured rampage. It was awesomely modern. Both teams looked Absolutely Top Level – and neither France nor Wales did. Know what’s great, though? This prob’ly means nothing.
  • The All Blacks, expected to win, destroyed Ireland. De-stroyed them. Their skills, their power, their athleticism was simply unanswered. All Ireland felt hollowed-out as the absurdly dominant ABs ran all over Schmidt’s men. If clinical can be beautiful, it was that.
  • The watching world took a breath, looked again at the draw, almost felt sorry for England (almost) – and resigned itself, actually, to another New Zealand tournament win. Who will they beat? Wales, I reckon.

Rugby World Cup: Japan v Scotland.

I needed a walk. You? After a wonderfully sapping game, watched from the safe distance of a zillion miles – safe cos storm, safe cos presumably yet more exhausting in Yokohama – a blissful but blustery gathering yomp. Time to think a bit.

I think, on reflection, it was remarkable both for being unimaginably, laudably entertaining and for being everything we imagined, in the laudable-entertainment department. Crazily predictable; wildly, culturally generous and simultaneously massively competitive.

Let’s go into a brief credit-frenzy; to players and coaches from both sides; to the officials (actually) who we barely noticed, right(?)… and to Japan. This was a game that might be a symbol, a touchstone, a model for how we might want elite international sport to be.

The home nation’s coach – inevitably not a native – has continued and now surpassed the work of his predecessors (and maybe we should be offering some appreciation here, to the erm, generally-much-loved Eddie Jones), through producing a team that play fabulous rugby. Sure they are ridiculous athletes but it’s the culture of endlessly bold, swift re-cycling and re-darting that the world is coming to love.

Mr Joseph and his colleagues are doing an extraordinary job, in circumstances of relative under-resource, to sustain expansive sport to such a peak. Four wins in the tournament, with South Africa to come.

Can they go further? As I say below, this may depend on the medium-joyless stuff: robustness, physicality, discipline under pressure from genuinely elite-level competition.

The sharpest amongst you may have noted a derogatory implication in the last sentence – towards Scotland. Bit cruel, after that? Yes.

However, despite a magnificent contribution to a sumptuous contest, Townsend’s side remain, in the main, a notch down on their comrades in Tier One. No disgrace; issues of resource are key here, too. *And yet*, as the Japanese example may be showing, brilliant, streetwise, hard-nosed coaching might be the thing that resolves this.

An abstract and possibly insulting thought but would a Gatland (or similar) at the helm have left any Scotland side of the past several years more durable? And if so – or even if not – why has the perennial lack of durability not been attended to? (Of course in saying this I appreciate that the initial difficulty is in attracting a Gatland to Scotland). 

Japan have an extraordinary flow about them. But they are also finding once, twice, against Tier One opposition, the resilience to come through. I for one hope they find it again in the quarter-finals.

Here’s my live report:

 

Rarely have the natural world and the explosively dramatic world of elite sport been in such sympathy. Am I the only one thinking this can’t be a coincidence?

Skies having gone from steamy-blue to steely-angry. Seas having turned tempestuous as the moment of *ultimate drama* approached. It’s proof, surely, that there is a god – and that she’s as foamtastically mad about rugby as the rest of us.

O-kaaaay, it may be unwise to jest when lives have been lost and property devastated: no argument. But has there not been something wondrous (as well as terrifying and humbling and god-awful) about the barrelling-in to the moment, here? That moment being Japan, the entertaining and engaging hosts, versus Scotland.

Hitchcockian. Busby-Berkleyian. Spielbergian. The awesome, extravagant, cinematic, inevitable whirlwind-to-stilled-pondness of it all could barely be imagined or surpassed. Japan v Scotland, with everything upon it; with hugely adored hosts needing only to maintain their inspiration. (Only). With the visiting, sometime-faltering Tier Oners surely ripe for exposure.

The general excellence – contingency plans notwithstanding – of this Rugby World Cup, in terms of hosting, support and that crucial, generous buying-in from the locals, has rather cruelly left an often warmly-regarded Scotland isolated. The brutal truth may be evidenced in their miraculously-contrasting efforts against a very robust Ireland side.

Scotland, on that occasion, were on the feeble side of crap; Japan were exhilaratingly fearless, imaginative and, critically, found a way to sustain a level that the watching universe could barely believe. It was a remarkable event.

Importantly, this has drawn that aforementioned universe to the side of the home nation. Neutrals everywhere, the sort of folks who might often find themselves bellowing encouragement telly-wards for a Stuart Hogg gambol, will be fixated on Tupou and Lafaele and co.

Broadly, this is surely wonderful? Magnificently testing for the Scots –  who may yet relish that – but with the drama spiralling to a peak (any minute!) it’s hard to recall a fixture more loaded with romance. The players are walking out…

“This feels very, very special”. So goes the commentary. A breathless start – what else? Innovation from Japan, from the kick-off but then Scotland get that shot-in-arm, the turnover. Phases, early, from the hosts.

A counter. Russell cross-kicks and maybe the wing should score… but no. Japan turn that over before losing possession. Suddenly things open up for Russell and (rather easily) he’s in. A seven pointer, slightly against the early grain but welcome, indeed, for Scotland and maybe perfect, for the setting up of the game.

There follows a period of predictably high-intensity ebb and flow before the home side gain a penalty some 40 metres out but straightish. Eventually, Tamura pushes it slightly – or rather fails to draw it back sufficiently.

It matters little. A racing, tumbling offload after some more bustling hands puts the rapid Matsushima in, almost under the posts. Tamura converts and we are level at 7-7, after 20 minutes. Great start, alround.

A delay as Koo is withdrawn, with rib damage, pre an important scrum 25 metres from the Japanese line. The poor lad (Koo) looks in tears. He may be emotionally restored somewhat, by the award of a penalty, to his comrades: looked a lottery, that one.

Twenty-five minutes in and again, the irresistible energy and sheer fizz of the home side pays. Outstanding period of possession-at-pace, again with fearless, athletic and sometimes almost balletic off-loading… and they score. Deserved, for all that enterprise and all that raw courage. 14-7, Inagaki having gone under those sticks.

Long look at a tackle from Gray, with the current context possibly conspiring against him and towards a yellow. Viewed as innocent; rightly, I reckon (at first look), because of the pace around the incident and lack of malice. We go on, exhaustingly.

Haven’t seen possession stats. On 33 minutes you’d have the hosts ahead on merit but hard to judge things with equanimity when the over-riding sense is of a whole-nation cauldron seething. Parity at the scrums, relatively but few of them.

Then two penalties conceded by Dell, for creeping. The Scotland prop looks mystified; he is a tad fortunate that the penalty is missed. However, again the home side brush the disappointment away. Lafaele links through skilfully and Fukuoka electrifyingly gathers before racing through. Fever pitch, welcome.

With the conversion completed, Japan have surged ahead, both in the game and in those calculations around it. Three tries, already. 21-7. Bonus point beckoning, worryingly early from the Scots’ point of view. Perhaps more significantly, the nature of the Brave Blossom’s performance is going to be seriously challenging Townsend’s pep-talk right now.

Japan are playing with imagination and relentless pace. They recycle and off-load with no fear of an error or interception. Absolutely central to their effort is the belief that this ambition will pay. And it looks like it will. And it deserves to. This is great coaching, great ‘culture’ and it’s why most of the world is smiling alongside them. Fantastic stuff..

The flip side is that Scotland – for all their open, attacking rugby over recent years – may again get ‘found out’, here. Yes there are questions about (their own) limited resources but they are rushing headlong into a further enquiry into the legitimacy of their Tier One status. Or they may be. In short, Japan are outplaying them, largely: *just in* possession stats. 78% for the home side, first half!

WOW. Fukuoka is in, after yet more rampaging defence, in midfield. The winger is suddenly bursting into space… and it’s another seven-pointer. The game may be gone one minute into the second period, as the hosts already have a bonus point for that fourth try. Sensational barely covers this, now.

With the crowd utterly ecstatic, and that emotion plainly reciprocated on the pitch, we’re into something extraordinary again. The commentary on ITV understandably relating this to Barbarian-style rugby. If this continues folks will be wondering if Japan can win the bloody tournament!

*Takes deep breath*. It’s true that when they’re going like this, Japan have something of the All Blacks about them. But if the real world still exists, I think it may remind us, in time, that the likes of the All Blacks (and possibly Wales, South Africa and England) *may* prove durable to a higher level. Perhaps.

Scotland respond. Nel rumbles and reaches to get in, in front. Laidlaw can’t miss and doesn’t. We have a period where the visitors get a real run. Russell and Hogg flicker.

The game is wild. Cummings roars forward, Gray rolls to off-load and Fagerson, astonishingly, is also in! The game – which seemed destined for glory a week or more out – is all of that. 28-21, after 55 minutes. Incredible that suddenly Japan need some possession.

Scotland have to chase and open up and of course this has risks. They ring the changes from the bench and resist a flurry of attacks. (It’s a horrid cliche but) it does seem that the next try is critical as we approach the hour.

Play is in midfield – a rarity. Japan maintain the high-octane approach but Scotland turn over before attacking from their own 22: no option. There is a sniff but the ball bounces unkindly. The pace of the game is staggering: those of us watching almost need a scrum or two, to gather in – unbeleeeeevably selfish of the players to deny us that.

The first sign of animosity. Harris has battered into two defenders, legitimately, but in the ensuing ruck, the Japanese have drawn a penalty. Verbals exchanged after the tectonic physical contacts: Richie has a word with Tamura. We go on.

The fly-half kicks, ‘within himself’ for touch, safely: a rare moment of un-ambition. Scotland re-gain possession but then are almost intercepted when again launching from deep.

We hit 70 minutes, with Scotland needing to win this *and deny Japan that second bonus point*. I think. But maybe don’t trust either me or anyone else, until this storm is over…

I’m not going to be the fella who uses the word b*a*e to describe Scotland. Is courageous better? They have certainly been that, in this second half – both adventurous and powerfully resolute. They win a pen but must kick for the line-out, ten metres out. No joy but then pressure creates a near-fumble and a Scotland scrum five out.

They recycle and challenge and burst but the hosts can resist again. We go right across the park before Japan turn over. The roar builds.

Death rites, for Scotland as the finals plays are executed – exhaustedly but with just enough control. We’re into the reddest, noisiest, most spent post-eighty minutes that you could conjure up. A magical day is over as the ball is hoofed into touch. 28-21. Heroically entertaining sport. Japan through.

 

‘On Bear Ridge’: Sherman Theatre. A view.

Did that thing again where you try not to learn or know anything about the event, beforehand; with some success. Wanting to look – really look – and listen without too much intelligence or baggage, or prejudice.

Wasn’t sure, for example if the ‘Bear Ridge’ of the title was in Wyoming or the Black Mountains or Beacons of Wales. Wasn’t sure  if this might be a one-man jobber, in fact, having just heard, yaknow,  ‘Rhys Ifans’.

Have been absent from the Sherman for too long, so interested in the vibe, the thrum around the foyer and the feel of the place. In truth both the foyer/bar/lounge-upon-laptop space and the auditorium are pret-ty ordinary, eh? (No offence). They function, rather than lift the soul. But hey – deep breath, glass of water, focus… and in.

Into an atmospheric world. Snowy, non-specific somehow, despite the occasional name and the constant flow of memory. Bleak uplands; rocks that shadow and maybe fore-shadow; a homestead almost abandoned.

Ifans is lying in the snow, stirring then into something stirring. Words. Sure there is some drama here and a brooding, evocative set but this (we soon learn) is utterly about words performed.

John Daniels and his wife Non and their home, farm, shop: their source. Rich with their own history but poverty-stricken, isolated or struck down by unspecified change. A murderous, bi-polar world, with wintry-but-noble John and Non beset by a creeping, catastrophic now.

We hear planes, we hear tell of the City by the Sea. We learn that old ways and the Old Language are being throttled by something new and hostile.

Indeed there ‘really is’ a war going on: witness the arrival of a Captain, complete with great-coat and gun and his own, enervating torment. A Captain who nearly wastes the Slaughterman, emerging from the cellar.

All sounding bit ‘stagey’, bit ‘symbolic?’ Fear not. The cast of four are strong – Ifans and Rakie Ayola particularly so – and the lyricism and wit and and angularity of the piece places it substantially beyond the ordinary, the predictably-familiar. This is absolutely about the spirit of something but Ed Thomas conjures plenty of real life: convincingly so via his *Kollwitzian (and therefore universal?) couple.

John Daniels is that daft Welsh butcher from up on the hill, with the lived-in beard and shoulders bearing against tragedy and loss – of son, of memory, of tongue. He is that… but he is more. Nonnie, his steadfast wife is with him, always (and therefore always against the grain of the times); stoic on the one-hand, strong-willed and hearty on the other.

In truth I found the Captain a tad less convincing: not sure if this was through less crystalline writing or by dint of the performance on the night. (Something about the mix of threat, near-affability, body-language, direction, maybe, that didn’t ring entirely true? Maybe I need to see again.)

Ironically but hardly accidentally, the apprentice/slaughterman (listening to “White Riot, if I am not mistaken, when emerging from the butcher’s cellar?) was a full participant in the weaving of stories rather than the cleaving of meat or ‘action’. He pours tea and/but he too, has poetry. Local, individual-but-communal richnesses are suggested: the central ‘act’ (the brutal overwhelming of Twm) is described.

‘On Bear Ridge’ felt like a significant piece of theatre – some stood to applaud.

It is poignant love song and it is protest song. The piece bears witness to the betrayals, insidious and unseen and to the malevolent ‘othering’ all around us. These humble, magnificent characters are invested in The Biggest of Things – seeking out poetry and meaning both in their language and in material life. Tragically, change, history, progress and/or cruel inertia is burying them.

Thomas’s first play for fifteen years reiterates his conviction that a) our words must be sung, from the ridge-top to the City by the Sea and b) that traditional theatre – that is theatre predicated on words not tricks, pyrotechnics or that which would be original – defies and endures.

(I say this having been conflicted about whether drama this word-centric conciliates too much, is too dry, too easy, too necrophiliac, even?)

But no – and this may be another of the play’s triumphs – Ifans and Ayola make dynamic once more the notion that in live performance phrases carved with care, well-acted, can transport, can question, can impact upon us. The writer’s contribution is made.

 

 

*As in Käthe Kollwitz, the great socialist artist. (Do not John and Non have something of the Beautiful Beleaguered Peasant about them? In a wonderful way?!?

#Brexit – an exorcism.

Ok. So it’s unwise to go there but it feels the best way. The best way to exorcise something – maybe everything. Don’t go looking for either a work of art or anything too comprehensive, here; too angry, too bitterly clear, too close to giving up.

Think I’ll bullet-point this, partly because many of you ferkers simply don’t deserve Fully Laid-out Arguments… and partly because I dread loading up more time into this sinkhole. Plus, to be honest, I don’t know the answers; the intricacies around Trading Agreements and Common Market doo-dahs being pret-ty far out of my sphere of knowledge and interest.

This is of course the chief reason Us Plebs should never in a million years been asked to vote on EU membership – the whole sorry business being a sop to the morons on the right of Cameron’s party. We have little specific knowledge but lorryloads of juicy prejudice relating to ‘Europe’. Johnson, Farage and their crypto-fascist colleagues have simply stoked all that unbecoming ‘othering’.

So we should never have been here. But we are. And amateurs like me – knowing little of the minutiae, churning with the whole cowabunga – are battling our best to make what feel like possibly moral and certainly philosophical calls, as we try to STAY TRUE to our UNDERSTANDINGS.

(So why? Because we still believe there is decency and brotherhood).

This, then, is where I’m driven to.

    • Can’t believe ANYONE could vote for or support the embarrassing clown that is Johnson, or his arse-wipe of a sidekick, Rees-Mogg.
    • How is it possible to support men who reek so utterly of privilege, arrogance, indulgence? How is it possible to avoid seeing their palpable, greedy ‘superiority?’ How could your flesh not creep when BOTH, recently, signalled ver-ry loudly that BEING RACIST IS ACTUALLY OKAY?
    • I get that most who support them do that out of like-minded xenophobia or outright racism… so I suppose that’s it.
    • Either that or you too actually believe in the Etonian Right to Rule; that there’s nothing unduly concerning about ONE SCHOOL providing the four countries in the union with god-knows-how-many Prime Ministers.
    • Here’s the nub. If you are a tory and in the Brexit Camp then the overwhelming odds are that you are either an outright racist, or what we might call a casual-cultural xenophobe.
    • (I salute those of you who are finally realising just how poisonous 2019 Conservatism has become and now scamper away in disgust, or better still whilst puffing out your chests and calling out the utter nastiness of it. Scary fact: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is presiding over something sinister and repugnant).
    • Percentage-wise, of those who voted for Brexit and now support Boris, I reckon *60% are outright racist and about 30-odd % xenophobes. The latter maybe have six more brain-cells than the former, per head, enabling them to actually avoid saying in public the stuff their dumb hearts are screaming inside.
    • I leave about *10% as folks who could make an intelligent argument for Brexit, devoid of any bigotry. (Okay. Re-thinking that I may revise that figure in the population upwards somewhat, to include those on the Left who can make a genuine, intellectual case for Brexit: despite the fact that we haven’t heard it, I do accept that this can be made. The EU is essentially imperialist and as witnessed in Greece, for example, arguably brutally so: I recognise that as a legitimate argument. The right has an almost total absence of legitimate arguments).
    • So we are divided and there may be no way back from that. Brexit is absolutely a function of bigotry. People on my side know what people on the other side are generally like. People on the other side hate us, for our snowflake-ism and our superiority – for surely if you are bigoted and we are not, then we are superior in that respect?
    • I can live with people hating my inability to discriminate – or discriminate waaaaay less crassly than they do. (All of us carry baggage and therefore all fall from the path of righteousness at some point, eh?) But all this is clear: the Brexit Project was and is founded on racism.
    • So it is RIGHT, for me that Parliament, is fighting against no deal. It is RIGHT that 20-plus tories have opposed that rush to the ‘cliff-edge’. And, importantly, it is implicit, in their revulsion towards Johnson and his cronies and his fawning admirers, that the moral component in this – however exposed it may leave us snowflakes – is a part of the argument.
    • Is there hope – you do wonder if we deserve any?
    • There is no hope for reconciliation, or virtually none. You Daily Mailers and me are probably not gonna be pals. I’ll talk to you and be civil enough when necessary but…
    • Fortunately, I do know some tories I genuinely like. I apologise to them for this contribution to our divisions and hope they respect my right to An Opinion. (Just need to get this out there and done. We will again take beers together).
    • There will be an election. I just don’t know how that will go, because The Clowns of the Right may club together; Farage may march his seedy mob right into centre-stage.
    • I respect Corbyn’s radicalism-against-the-odds but recognise that the cruel demonisation of the man (and his vacuum of leadership through the Brexit trauma) means he may not steer us through this. Specifically, he is unlikely to win out in a General Election.
    • Does this leave us with a new figurehead, a tactical voting imperative, or a possible Progressive Alliance, or similar? (Clearly talks have been taking place on this theme). As I said; I’m not sure we deserve any hope.

*My numbers don’t matter – and yes I know they’re inflammatory. But I’m leaving them in as food for thought. I really think that racism is that central.