Tuesday, 31 December 2013


This has been a year with a number of changes, both personal and technical, so I thought it may be interesting to write a bit about some of them here.

1) Shift Changes
In September my team at work, which had been running on shifts of four days on/four days off/four nights on/four days off switched to a trial of two days on/two nights on/four days off. I had really become accustomed to that pattern, I felt it really suited me, and I especially loved the night before my first nightshift. That was a time that I could catch up on my Sky+ recordings, play some games and generally have a little me time.

Now I don't have that. I tried staying up late after my second dayshift, but it didn't work. Lots of experimenting saw that the only way I can really work with this is to go to bed at a normal time after my second dayshift, and then get a sleep in the afternoon before my first nightshift. It's had a bit of a negative impact upon my personal life, but I've been able to get through work without feeling too tired.

2) No More Google Reader
For a number of years I had become somewhat of a Google Reader addict. For me it was the easiest way to keep in touch with my RSS feeds, especially the Lifehacker feed which frequently published over 20 items a day.

I held out until the end, hoping that Google would change their mind and continue to support Reader. However they proceeded with the shutdown as planned on July 1st, and I had to switch. I tried Digg Reader, but for some reason I didn't like it as much.

Additionally just after Google Reader died a digital death Lifehacker carried out what felt like their umpteenth instance of needless tinkering with their RSS feed, again changing their RSS feed so that only part of an article was shown. Their intention was clearly to drive more traffic to the site itself, but by doing this again at a time when I was considering the usefulness of RSS readers they managed to change my behaviour entirely. I unsubscribed from the RSS feed and began to follow them on Twitter instead.

So I'm no longer an RSS junkie. I was a Twitter junkie already, so that behaviour is unchanged, but Lifehacker are seeing much less traffic from me (N.B. I retweet them frequently, as I think their writers are usually fantastic). I keep a few low volume feeds in Digg Reader, but to be honest I can't remember the last time I even logged into it.

3) Farewell ESPN America
Although I had already unsubscribed, I was still disappointed when ESPN America went off the air on August 1st as part of the reshuffle of sports channels that saw the start of the BT Sport service. The disappearance of the only sports channel specifically for North American sport was disappointing, and forced me into a position where I could only keep up with my favourite shows by podcast (Pardon the Interruption, Highly Questionable) or in some cases not at all (yep, I've really missed College Gameday this season).

While I'm not party to the ESPN decision making process I wonder if part of the reason for the channel's ultimate demise was the restrictive nature of the highlights they were able to show, and the ultimate effect it had upon many of their programmes, including the flagship SportsCenter franchise.

In addition to being reduced to being a podcast listener, I've also come to find meagre highlights and features on various YouTube channels. To find other highlights and clips I've had to become somewhat of a YouTube ninja, and while this has been bearable (along with my reduced quantity of TV watching), I do still miss it somewhat.

Ultimately I look forward (hopefully) to a time where media rights can be eliminated, and programmes like Pardon the Interruption can be shown globally in their intended format. Until then I'll just have to get by in the way I do at the moment. It may sound naïve, but with torrenting and streaming still prevalent I think major channels like ESPN and Sky will look to find a way to monetise their broadcasts globally rather than losing out on additional income.

Monday, 23 December 2013

JFK: Random Thoughts 50 Years On

Firstly, sorry that this is a bit later than planned. I ended up having a pretty busy November, and didn't get time to complete this by the end of the month.

Perhaps though that's an indication of where I've personally reached with the most famous assassination of the 20th century. In 1993 for the 30th anniversary I watched and read as much as I possibly could in regard to it, taking on conspiracy theories, retrospectives and critical examinations of JFK's presidency itself. Now I'm a bit older, and in amid everything else that makes up daily life it doesn't seem so important anymore. With the responsibilities I have myself, I have less time to involve myself with things like this that do not directly affect me.

Additionally I've noticed a shift in attitudes in regard to the assassination. In the vast majority of the shows that I've watched or listened to, there seems to be much more acceptance of Lee Harvey Oswald having carried out at least a part in the assassination.  This certainly wasn't the case 20 years ago, and while it strikes me as being a bit too convenient perhaps there are bigger conspiracy theories to mull over that have taken place since then.

I wonder as well if the questions, suggestions and in some cases outright accusations of 9/11 conspiracy theorists have played a part in the reduction of conspiracy theories in regard to JFK's assassination. Personally I look at these and think that a lot of these diminish everything from the credibility of architects (buildings are meant to survive fully loaded jetliners flying into them, really?) to the bravery of victims (sure, United 93 was shot down and the actions of passengers were nothing to do with preventing the flight from reaching Washington). When I think about these theories and then wonder about the JFK conspiracies I do find myself considering whether or not it was similar people who promoted such theories in the last 50 years.

In saying that though, JFK presents the perfect storm for conspiracy theorists. The Russians, Cubans, the Mafia, the CIA, Communists and those who hated Communists. I don't think the soap opera bearing the name of the city JFK was killed in had such a wide range of suspects when JR was shot.

On a praiseworthy note, it was nice to see some new media that I had not seen before that managed to stay within the realms of taste and decency. National Geographic's investigation in to JFK's last days, and his influence upon ordinary members of the public who he met in Texas prior to the assassination was poignant. A short BBC clip on the part that the Blackwatch played at JFK's funeral was new to me. The George Clooney-narrated documentary on the media's coverage of the assassination was compelling, and while arguably trivial, a long-form article on what exactly happened to the original casket which took JFK from Dallas back to Washington was far more interesting than it should have been.

Of course not all media chose to go down that route. JFK: The Lost Bullet was in my opinion an attempt to justify repeated showings of the Zapruder film, in HD no less (as they also told us repeatedly). It became so bloodthirsty I couldn’t justify watching it to what I understand was a ludicrous finish.

I found myself wondering if the horror suffered by the Kennedy family was forgotten somewhat. I know the most significant living member of JFK's family today is his daughter Caroline, who recently began a post as US ambassador to Japan. While looking to balance historical perspective with a gaudy sense of intrusion, I do wonder just how much the horrific and public loss of his father had upon John F. Kennedy, Jr. Everyone remembers his farewell salute to his father, but how many people remember that was on his 3rd birthday? My eldest remembers things from a frightfully early age, so I do wonder what if anything he remembered, or if indeed that played any part in his fatal plane crash that he was at the controls for.

And then of course there is Jackie Kennedy. So much of an influence over so many people I have known over the years, especially my Mum. I pondered if there was a post-assassination bump in her popularity, similar to those I've witnessed to the likes of Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain after their deaths. Clearly Jackie's dignity and strength immediately following the murder of her husband is awe-inspiring, and I can see why people like my Mum would appreciate her style and grace. Did history treat her kindly? Yes, as I'd like to think a widow should be treated. Did history fully record her abilities in supporting her husband on the campaign trail, and later in life as a business woman and matriarch? I would suggest not. Through no fault of her own, too much is made of a blood-stained pink outfit and not enough of the woman who wore it.

Will we ever consider the assassination in such a way again? I expect we won't. Personally I don't class 60 years as a big anniversary, and by the time the 75th anniversary comes round there will be even less living witnesses to the horror of that day, and also unfortunately there will probably be another horrific world event that will be a new generation's "Where were you when…" moment. For a subject matter that fascinated me and a time in history that still interests me, I'd like to visit the Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza as a whole, to put myself in that area and to picture that time, just to help me understand it better. I'm not sure all the big questions are fully answered, but I don't think they will be definitively during my lifetime, and it is debatable at this point whether it really matters anymore.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Month In Sporting Torment

Anyone who knows me really well knows I love sport, and especially my teams, but to say the least this month hasn't been the happiest month sports-wise. When I say it hasn't gone well, I mean it has been historically bad. Let's take it team-by-team:

Crystal Palace: Lost every single game, including a 4-1 home defeat to Fulham which included an incredible goal (I refuse to use the term "worldie") by Fulham striker Pajtim Kasami. This culminated in the departure by mutual consent of manager Ian Holloway, who I had only passed and said good morning to a month earlier prior to our home defeat by Swansea City. Really, really not a good day. For reasons I never completely understood Holloway wasn't completely accepted by some members of the Palace support, and although I had seen us play badly under his watch an element of patience, a delivered promotion and a personal belief that he was a good guy (backed up by this link found by my friend Ben after his departure) I felt it was a shame he left. I think we're poorer for his exit, regardless of present form.

Atlanta Braves: It's October, time for more Baseball heartache! At least the Braves managed to win a game in October, and indeed they even won a play-off game in their series to the Dodgers. But a series defeat, culminated by a game four loss snatched from the jaws of victory, stung. The Braves still haven't won a play-off series since 2001. On the bright side, having a work colleague who is a Cleveland Indians fan helped on the basis that you see Postseason Baseball futility isn't solely limited to Georgia's capital city.

Miami Dolphins: Remember the 3-0 start? Remember the 3... and oh, yeah, whatever happened to that? It all went pear-shaped, that's what. Just like Palace, the Fins lost every game in October and now sit with a 3-4 record. There's no sign of coach Joe Philbin leaving though, which I think is a good thing. He's a good coach and a good guy, and hopefully he's here for the long haul. Fixing the offensive line might help though.

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls season began on Tuesday... with a defeat. Which makes perfect sense this month. At least Derrick Rose's surgically repaired knee seems to be better for not playing last season. Now excuse me while I go and find some wood to touch.

Warrington Wolves: Who? Yes, my infrequently mentioned Rugby League team, who I took on board due to my best friend at University. This month saw them play in their second consecutive Grand Final. Of course it finished with a second consecutive defeat. I haven't told my friend Chris about the sporting month I've had. I don't think he'd blame me, but it isn't worth mentioning. Also if I'm honest I know it doesn't mean to me what it meant to Chris. When I'm happy about Warrington results I'm happy for Chris, when they've lost a big game I think about what it means to Chris. Arguably this could be worse for me, let's just move on.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are doing... pretty well actually, winning 10 of their first 13 games this season. Small problem, like the Bulls they're at the start of their season, and to all intents the start of the NHL season is effectively meaningless. In recent years top seeds have come a cropper in the Stanley Cup play-offs, and therefore it seems to be more important to be in the Stanley Cup play-offs instead of just being highly-seeded within those. It seems that all tickets are equally capable of winning the raffle. On a positive note, winning is better than the alternative.

Hopefully one day soon, preferably from a Braves perspective also in October, I'll have a blog post where I can report exactly the opposite from what I'm writing today. For the time being though I'll welcome even a small improvement.

Monday, 30 September 2013

What I'm (Not) Watching, September 2013

Here's a twist to my should-be-annual TV review, because as the title implies, I'm not watching anything at the moment. It seems astonishing in some respects. I grew up in a house where watching TV, especially at night and over the weekends in the winter, was the main communal activity.

Right at this moment I'm in a TV vacuum. Mad Men, my favourite show, is on a break between the sixth and seventh seasons. The Apprentice is also between seasons, and due to my cancelling ESPN I don't have access to PTI, DLHQ, Around the Horn (all victims of the ESPN cull of ESPN America) or College Gameday. I made an effort to watch The Americans, until I found myself four episodes behind at the end of season one and wasn't really bothered about it (which I blame on the fact that the two strongest actors, Keri Russell and Noah Emmerich, are never on screen together).

Over the years my interest in reality shows has faded, so the recent run of regular and celebrity Big Brother didn't just leave me disinterested, but left me feeling significantly aggravated. Any form of dancing does the same, purely thanks to the catty judges, so that makes Strictly Come Dancing a no-go for me (even with noted celebrity Palace fan Susanna Reid on it). And X-Factor... X-Factor, ugh. How many ways can you say that you're fed up with all the dramatics, sob stories, last chances and every other overblown cliché they come up with? If it was purely a talent show I could live with it, but with everything else that is incorporated within the X-Factor package now makes that a no-go for me as well.

Breaking Bad? No, too violent, as I mentioned before, not my thing. Game of Thrones, the stuff of fantasy, not my thing either. Downton Abbey? Sorry, there's something about period pieces that I've never liked. Homeland was must see TV for me last year but the end of series 2 was so badly butchered that I'm not sure I can muster the enthusiasm for series 3.

So what do you do when you're effectively a television free-agent? You're free to become more selective, picking up an occasional documentary here and there (if I see an episode of Banged Up Abroad on National Geographic I'm probably taking at least a cursory glance), try an occasional new show here and there (and usually find they suck, yes Prisoner: Cell Block H remake, I'm talking about you) as well as re-runs of old sitcoms (Big Bang Theory on E4 is a repeat offender here) and quiz shows (yes, I finally succumbed to the addictive quality of Pointless).

Beyond just the TV is the freedom that you allow yourself. Thanks to Sky+ I rarely watch anything when it is shown anyway, but not having appointment TV frees you up from having any point where you really have to be in front of a TV. And that doesn't even cover the times that I'm actively looking to try and get away from a TV. The pity then is that life is busy enough that I can't make better use of the time, especially when that coincides with time that I need to be relatively quiet so I don't wake up my daughters when they're sleeping.

At this point I'm actually enjoying not having to actively work to keep up with a series. It may be a product of strange events and odd timing, but I'm actually quite enjoying this turn of events. When Mad Men ends after the split seventh series I'm not sure that I'll be picking anything up. Unless something exceptional comes along I think I can live without it.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Top 10: Fighting Talk Contestants

Following on from last month's review of my favourite BS Report guests, I thought I should detail my favourite Fighting Talk contestants, coming after today's new season debut (which I've not listened to yet, I'm a podcast subscriber). Like last month, let's start with the contestants I'm not bothered about:

10 > - Simon Day (every answer comes back to Boxing), Brian Read (every answer comes back to Liverpool) and Jim Smallman (every answer comes back to Leicester City, specifically 1996 Leicester City, which I've written about before). It honestly wouldn't sadden me if they never came on the show again, although I wouldn't wish the fate of Stuart Hall on any of them.

10 - Henning Wehn
The German stand-up comic is the perfect foil for some of the more serious contestants. He's also wonderfully random, and frequently not politically correct, especially about the Dutch. I almost dread to think what his stand-up is like. My favourite moment of his? When he butchered a late Canadian Snooker player's name:

9 - Richard Osman
I wasn't a big fan of his to begin with, but he's grown on me with his dry, witty humour. Additionally he gets merit points for posting this on Twitter. It probably helps that thanks to the cleaner at work I'm in danger of becoming a "Pointless" fan as well.

8 - Gary O'Reilly
Purely a personal preference, due to lots of Palace mentions (especially the self-indulgent 1990 Palace mentions) and an introduction from the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders.

7 - Neil Delamere
A number of comedians work their way through the Fighting Talk studios (or in some cases, ISDN lines), to varying degrees of success with precious little interest in either sport or preparation (yes, Kevin Bridges, that means you). Neil Delamere, in my opinion at least, tends to be the best of them.

6 - Dougie Anderson
Following the antics of his namesake Freedman, Dougie "Two Answers" (sometimes "Three Answers") Anderson might now be becoming my favourite Scotsman, mostly because I like his self-depreciating humour. Oh, by the way, as of Friday I've lived in Scotland for 16 years now. Just thought I should mention that.

5 - Martin Kelner
If my best friend at University hadn't come from Warrington Kelner might be my favourite proponent of Rugby League. Additionally his "Any Other Business" answers are usually hysterical, such as the time that he was told about Country Vegetable soup and wondered if there was an Urban Vegatable equivalent. He's quite random at times:

4 - Bob Mills
Speaking of my best friend from University, when most people there were off getting wildly drunk (or worse) on Friday nights he and I would go into one of our rooms and watch "In Bed With Me Dinner". We hadn't heard of Bob Mills before, but we loved his offbeat comedy. Tragically I can't find any clips of his legendary destruction of Leslie Grantham's performance as Mick Raynor, so this will have to do instead.

(Yikes, that's 20 years ago. I'm really getting old.)

Mills is still just as offbeat, frequently extolling the virtues of lower league football in among various other comments and frequently terrible impressions. Apologies if you came here expecting a lecture on communism.

3 - Kath Merry
I'm probably shocking some listeners by placing her this highly, but she gets bonus points for being uncompromising and sharp, especially on the episode where the guest with the same name as an over-rated Br*ghton player decided to act a little strangely.

2 - Greg Brady
Can there just be a clip on YouTube of my favourite Canadian radio host butchering people's names? You need to hear him say Yakubu. Or West Bromwhich Albion. Or Snooker. Or anything with the potential to be verbally mangled. There's something likeable about him well, although I do tend to like people who don't take themselves too seriously.

1 - John Rawling
Psycho himself can go anyway you want on Fighting Talk, he can talk expertly on any subject, but at the same point he can see the humour in matters as well. Probably best of all, I'm no Boxing fan, but Rawling can talk about the history of the sport he covers most with reverance and class. It's never a bad show when JR is on.

Honourable mentions: Ian Stone, Tom Watt, Steve Bunce, Des Kelly, Steve Lamacq, Mark Watson.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Top 10: BS Report Guests

Thought I'd put in a few top 10 lists, as a way to put in some different content on the blog. Don't expect these to be as entertaining as David Letterman's top 10 lists. They're leaning in the direction of information instead of entertainment, and they are my opinion only so feel free to disagree.

The first list is in relation to The BS Report, the ESPN/Grantland podcast hosted by Bill Simmons. Here are my top 10 guests (people who appear on at least a semi-regular basis), but before I get to that point, here's a candidate who won't make the top 10:

10 > - Zach Lowe
The go-to BS Report guest for everything NBA, which would be fine if he was anywhere near as entertaining as Steve Kerr or the more informal Joe House. I'm sure Lowe is a fine writer, but he's not a particularly easy listen unless you're looking to fall asleep. Every podcast he's on is too long, and he's possibly more over-exposed than Emile Sandé. For Lowe, less is more. Less Lowe, more variety on NBA topics please.

10 - Matthew Berry

The ESPN Fantasy Sports expert appears ahead of every American Football and Baseball season, and yet the one podcast I remember most of all was the one where Berry and Simmons fondly looked back at Beverly Hills 90210. Make of that what you will.

9 - Steve Kerr

The NBA expert and commentator, who unfortunately isn't on very much these days. A thoughtful commentator on the game today, with lots of great stories from his time as a General Mananger and also his days as a player (especially as a colleague of Michael Jordan).

8 - Jalen Rose

When Simmons first started having Rose on the podcast I thought it was more to do with their new working relationship on ABC's NBA coverage. Scratch that, Rose is a fantastic guest. He's fantastically engaging, endearingly honest and candid, and has a host of stories of what he got up to as an NBA player. If you have a spare hour, go to the Grantland YouTube channel and get a listen to some of these stories, they're well worth your time.

7 - Chuck Klosterman

The Rolling Stone writer surprised me by being an always-interesting guest, regardless of the topic. Not afraid to argue contrary opinions, although always with a purpose and not to just seek attention. Always very interesting, although possibly not the person to listen to if you're looking for humour.

6 - Chris Connelly

The man of many hats, all of them interesting. He's told many stories that I haven't heard before (like the one about Chris Paul's tribute game to his Grandfather), given valuable insight on past eras (e.g. Michael Jackson and the early 1980s) and also recommended some interesting documentaries and films (e.g. Rachel Getting Married, which I hated, but never mind). He's a great story teller, and to his benefit I think I would struggle to pinpoint any of his biases, he simply presents as an interested neutral.

5 - Alan Sepinwall

The TV writer at hitfix.com,  Sepinwall is an engaging, thoughtful TV critic. He was one of the first people who pointed me in the direction of Mad Men as well as early proponent of Homeland (and to be fair, a pointed critic of the end of series two). Like anyone, I won't always agree with everything he says, but at least his points are well considered and his appearances are an easy listen.

4 - JackO

Call this a conflicted point. Simmons' old college friend (full name John O'Connell) is the Yankees supporting balance when Red Sox supporting Simmons wants to discuss Baseball. They're often disparaging about the National League, but they remind me of how I talk with my friends on the phone, so their discussions make me smile for more than just the obvious reasons. It's  just a pity that JackO's Irish ancestry make him so clearly anti-English.

3 - Joe House

Simmons' Washington-based friend always seems happy to talk Basketball, although he's also keen to talk about food as well. The conversations are similar to those with JackO, but a bit lighter and with no such anti-English slants. There's just something likeable about him. Maybe it's the incredible eating feats?

2 - Adam Carolla

Rarely seen these days, which is a pity, but the now-annual Fast & Furious reviews are always a must-listen. Additionally, his fictional film pitch for "Pedif Isle" in the early weeks of the podcast quickly made the BS Report a must listen for me. Very funny, usually quite bizarre. Okay, very bizarre, but I wouldn't miss them.

1 - Cousin Sal

My favourite guest, Sal Iacono  bar none, usually for his weekly NFL picks that he and Simmons do every week during the NFL season. In jokes, impressions and the weekly staple of the fake voicemail message from Simmons, these are the podcasts I look forward to most every week from September to the start of February. (Please don't mess up the recordings at any point this season - week one of last season wasn't fun.)

Sunday, 30 June 2013

How Does Mad Men End?

I was probably the only person who ended up seeing the final episode of Mad Men's penultimate season at 8am on a Saturday morning (them's the breaks of shift work), but given how quiet social media had been about it I was pleased with how the season ended.

With one last season left to go, it does leave questions regarding how the show will actually end, so I've decided to take some guesses at what will happen to the main characters:

Don Draper
While his professional career is looking at a nadir and his marriage to Megan looks to be heading towards disaster, I wonder if there appears to be an uptick in his relationship with his children. As a Dad I found Sally's near-throwaway comment about not knowing anything about her father to be particularly cutting, so to end a series with him taking his children back to where he grew up was interesting.

A brief attempt to move away from alcohol at the culmination of the series leads me to think we'll see further health issues for Don in the final series. Personally I wouldn't be surprised to see him die at the culmination of the series.

Footnote: If Jon Hamm plays Don Draper for the full seven seasons and doesn't earn a major acting honour, that's an absolute shame on those organisations who overlook him. He's fabulous in the role, I can't imagine anyone else as Draper.

Peggy Olson
For quite a while I've felt that the show will end with one of the female characters becoming the one that the show was really all about. While thinking - and to some extent, hoping - it might be Sally I just think that too much time has been invested in Peggy for it not to be her. It fits too nicely, young secretary becomes copywriter, becomes respected, leaves, rejoins and (as I would guess) becomes partner and finally figurehead of the firm.

Let's be honest, every guy in the show has disrespected Peggy in one way or another. I think the show ends with her on top... and alone (unless you count her cat).

Roger Sterling
Fact: no-one remembers that in the first series of Mad Men Roger Sterling suffered two heart attacks. Changes of behaviour in that time? None. This is rearing it's ugly head again next season, trust me. I think we lose Roger at around episode nine or ten, and no-one will be sadder than me about that.

Megan Draper
As series six wore on there were rumours that Jessica Paré (who plays Megan) would be leaving the show, and that the character itself would be killed off. I love Mad Men, so it probably makes me a bad person that I'm disappointed that she appears to be coming back in season seven.

Seriously, just about every scene with Megan makes me ask, "What was the point of that?" She's my least favourite character by a long way. I think she and Don split early in season seven, and we see precious little else from her after episode five.

Pete Campbell
I wouldn't say I like Pete as a character, after all he's a pretty horrible person, but I've come to appreciate him, and certainly appreciate Vincent Kartheiser's portrayal of him. I just can't really muster the enthusiasm to see where he ends up. I suspect in some way though he gets back on side with poor, kind, trusting Trudy. She deserves better.

Sally Draper
The last few weeks saw Sally lose trust in her father, and suddenly strike up a liking for cigarettes and alcohol. Hold on, give me a moment here...

(I need to compose myself here. I originally liked Sally because in the early series she was a little like my eldest daughter was then, which of course leads to fears regarding how that same daughter may turn out like Sally one day...)

So this makes Sally easy to predict. She gets into drugs, into boys and goes to Woodstock.

(Excuse me while I go away and throw up.)

Betty Francis
I suspect that Henry (another character I'm not particularly bothered about) is dispensed with at some point in series seven, but quite how that occurs is something I'm not too sure about.

I do think that Betty and Don regain a more amicable relationship for the sake of their children, but it only remains platonic. I don't think it goes back to where it ever-so-briefly did in series six.

Joan Harris

What do you think ends up happening with the major characters?

Friday, 31 May 2013

Normal Service To Be Resumed Shortly

Sorry, no significant entry this month either. Another very crazy month, should hopefully return to normal in June though.

In the meantime though, this:

Monday, 29 April 2013

Single-Handed Silver Linings

Just a short entry this month, as it has been quite a month. This has included:
  • My wife breaking her wrist, which has obviously meant that I've had to carry out more things at home. You just don't realise how much losing the use of one hand - however temporarily - makes life so difficult.
  • My eldest getting a sickness bug, which was followed by...
  • ... our youngest getting the same bug.
The good news? Although there was a point that it seemed never-ending, there is an end in sight. Both the girls are well now, and hopefully in two weeks Lorraine will be getting the plaster cast off her wrist (hopefully - cross your fingers!).

Things will get better, there's a glint of sunshine that I can just about see now.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Whatever Happens To The Heroes?

This is not about the pub in Waterlooville which some friends of mine once referred to as "a meat market". Please continue to read, thanks!

The past twelve months has been a weird time from a sporting perspective, but to understand it you have to delve back into the past a bit.

Back in 1991 I had barely supported for Palace for any time at all, but I clearly had a favourite player: Ian Wright. His enthusiasm was infectious, his speed was electrifying and he had a knack of being able to produce something special at any given moment. Unbeknown to 16 year-old me though he would shortly be sold to Arsenal for £2.5M. My first true sporting hero had gone, to a club where he would repeatedly score against us and even on one occasion relegate us. I said I would never become so attached to one player again.

However in the summer of 1997 a newly-promoted Palace side did the unthinkable. They sought and eventually succeeded in obtaining the services of Attilio Lombardo from Juventus. Lombardo then scored on his debut at Everton and shortly afterwards inspired another win at Leeds. He was a remarkably quick thinker, always a step ahead of the game and seeking to improve those around him. Add in his instantly recognisable hairstyle (or lack of it) and a unique take on the "he's got no hair" songs and you had a cult hero.

Even though he became frequently injured and ultimately could not prevent us from being relegated he was a pleasure to watch. As the injuries mounted up I at least took satisfaction in seeing him score with a smart finish at Newcastle. Unexpectedly he stayed with us in our return to the second flight, and on the last occasion that I saw him he ran the whole game against Portsmouth. As the club's finances took a turn for the worse under Mark Goldberg's disastrous spell as owner it became the time to pinch myself, and Lombardo returned to Italy with Lazio. No proper goodbye, and his only return since has been in his role with Manchester City's coaching staff.

Lombardo's time with Palace was somewhat of an aberration, and while other popular players came and went (e.g. Clinton Morrison, Andy Johnson and now Wilfried Zaha) there remained a point where you kept yourself detached. In reality Palace aren't a huge club, and great players will ultimately move onto better things. You remembered that.

However some things go a bit deeper than that. Back in October 1995 I was actually at the game where Dougie Freedman scored his first goal for Palace (I wasn't actually there at that moment, and didn't get there until half-time due to my return to Uni and fun and games with the train network). He scored plenty of goals that season, and although he didn't get as many the following season he still chipped in with a healthy batch of goals including two in the play-off semi-final against Wolves as Palace secured another promotion.

As Lombardo was settling in at Palace, Dougie was heading to Wolves, before moving onto Nottingham Forest and then ultimately back to Palace in 2000. When we needed him most, he came up trumps in the biggest moment, scoring at Stockport to help prevent a further relegation in the dying minutes of the 2000/01 season. More goals followed, including a 100th for the club in a win at Brighton. Even though Dougie wrapped up his playing career with a loan spell at Leeds and a period on the books at Southend, but he was Palace through and through, and we loved him for it.

When Palace went through even more financial difficulty and a further period of administration Dougie was back again, this time as assistant to temporary manager Paul Hart. When Hart left and George Burley took over Dougie remained as number two, and after Burley's brief and unsuccessful spell in charge he took over the manager's position himself. The ship was righted in quick but uninspired fashion, followed the following season by a trip to a League Cup semi-final and the permanent feather-in-the-cap moment of being the first team to win in the league at Brighton's new stadium. Yes, Dougie was one of us. He would take us places, he would stick with us, he would be the person who would be the visible face of the club moving slowly and surely forward.

What we didn't see was Dougie taking the manager's job at Bolton Wanderers. Reasons were speculated on, more money for him personally, more money to spend on players, a bigger club, a more successful recent history. Whatever the reason, fans were outraged.

At the same point that Dougie was leaving in another sport another of my favourites was exiting, only in a different fashion. Having joined the organisation in 1990 and consequently graduated to the Major League team in 1993, Chipper Jones headed into retirement having been with only the Atlanta Braves in all that time. Although the Braves had been similar to Palace when I started to support them, they changed very quickly to a point that players rarely moved for career aspirations or financial reasons. Consequently Chipper could be seen as loyal to the core.

However even then there are things which happen in retirement which I can't claim to be altogether comfortable with. Chipper clearly loves hunting, and he was a bit too comfortable for my liking in regard to a second divorce and how he has moved on from this. Chipper was always candid to the media while he was playing, and consequently it isn't fair to judge him differently now he has retired. Last year I finally succumbed and bought a "Jones/10" jersey to commemorate all he did for the team, and that is what I choose to remember.

Many years ago I had a friend who was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. I remember on one occasion him telling me about Steve Garvey, about how he was idolised, and how he was believed to be so clean cut that schools were named after him. The only thing was that Steve Garvey was nothing like that, and all the accolades that were showered upon him were premature. You don't know how someone may really be considered until much, much later in life, if indeed during their life at all.

In time all our sports heroes will disappoint us. As time passes the wound of Freedman leaving will ease, but never totally be forgotten. Chipper's on-field deeds will be remembered while he tweets about shooting deer and continuing a new relationship. And as time continues to pass I will continue to ponder the relationship between the teams I support, the players who play for them, and the actions they take in their daily lives. It doesn't really impact me, and yet you can't help but think about it. Yes, they're heroes, but they're also human beings, and consequently as prone to do things that people don't like as anyone else.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

I Don't Want To Be In Your Gang

Something which struck me recently during a water cooler-esque discussion at work was just how popular some violent forms of entertainment are, and conversely just how much I don't like those forms of entertainment.

My colleagues at work think it is odd that I've never seen The Godfather. I've heard Bill Simmons say on a podcast that people who haven't seen The Wire shouldn't own a television. I've also looked through Grantland's list of Oscar travesties and saw a mass of predominantly-violent films that have seemingly been shunned.

So my question is this, do we really have to like violent things?

I can't remember a point where I liked violent action. I had a grim fascination with the Zapruder film when I first saw it at around the age of 13, but I don't wish to see it any more. I've never seen an episode of The Wire, because I've always veered towards lighter entertainment and sport in my free time. And besides, what do I really need to know about the drug trade in Baltimore?

One of the more serious programmes I love is Mad Men, and that was created by Matt Weiner, who used to work on The Sopranos. Number of episodes of I've ever seen of The Sopranos? That's right, zero. Here's what I know about The Sopranos: it's Mafia-based and violent. Maybe that's exceptionally ignorant because I've never seen it, but I really don't want to see it. I don't think it could compare with the sharp dialogue and intricate character development I see in Mad Men.

Going back to Grantland's list of Oscar travesties, one of the ones they pointed to was Forrest Gump winning best picture over Pulp Fiction. I've seen both films, and certainly wouldn't want to see Pulp Fiction again. From a more critical point of view, I thought the film was a mish-mash of storylines which didn't really tie in all that well. With the exception of some scene-stealing intimidation by Samuel L. Jackson I don't think of Pulp Fiction with much affection. Conversely Forrest Gump has a fantastic storyline, some wonderfully creative characters and some genuinely touching moments. For me it isn't a discussion between the two.

Does this make me a bad person? I hope not. Does it make me a person of questionable taste? Possibly, but I think that things other than my taste in films and entertainment has shown this prior to now.

In addition to my natural distaste of violence is my increasing lack of free time as I get older. Given that it is more precious now, I'm less inclined than ever to spend it on taking a chance on watching something I don't think I would like. Add in that I'm likely to want to spend that time relaxing with something a bit lighter (typically sitcoms) or something I'm more passionate about (yes, that almost certainly means sport), and I think you can see why these programmes and films pass me by. And if that makes me a bad person, then so be it. Unlike some of the characters in these programmes and films I don't think my actions will kill me.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Finding Fun, Finding Myself

As 2011 came to end I discovered something I didn't like about myself. Whenever I was seeing friends we would talk about what they had been up to, and then conversation would turn to what I had been doing in my spare time. Truth be told it was precious little. I had certainly joked about my lack of social life before, but this was a bit more serious. It felt a bit like life was passing me by, so I had to make a concerted effort in 2012 to try and get out and enjoy myself more.

Now it may not seem too much to be making sure I was getting out one night a month, but between my shifts, Lorraine's shifts and childcare, it was a small step that I could commit to. It allowed me to plan a little bit, and therefore try some new things to see what I might like and what I might not.

I feel like I have learned a few things from the experience, both in terms of what I like and also in regard to what I like to do. However much I may have tried other things (such as a night seeing live stand-up comedy and on one occasion a musical) I cannot get away from the fact that I don't enjoy anything as much as attending live sport. Additionally I have found that there is more to attend than just Football, as I have also especially enjoyed attending both local Ice Hockey and Basketball. In reality that has served as a reminder that I enjoy lots of sports, and also sadly that here in Central Scotland it will always be Football (or the Old Firm, if you prefer) that will be dominant, often at the complete expense of other sports.

For years I took myself to Palace matches by myself, and I therefore felt that I always enjoyed going to games by myself. However the past year has taught me that while attending events by myself is okay, I do prefer attending events with either friends or family. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the things I didn't enjoy as much were the things I did by myself, even a few sporting events which I tried for the first time (sorry Greyhound racing fans, I'll never do that again, that was possibly one of the most miserable events I've ever attended in my life). I suspect I'm not the solitary cat I always thought I was, I do appear to like company, I just need to be less shy about asking if people would like to do things with me.

I have learned there is value in taking a bit of time for yourself. Yesterday I took myself down to Huddersfield to attend Palace's 1-0 defeat at the John Smith's Stadium. Again there was the realisation that "I enjoy this, why don't I do this more often?" Now it wasn't perfect, after all I was making the trip by myself, and the result could have been better, but I seem to enjoy the lack of guarantees that live sport presents. Later this season I'll be flying down to London with Lorraine and Chloe, for my eldest's first trip to see Palace. Now that should be fun. And I should make a point of doing it more often.

I have also learned that sometimes there is value in staying in, or at least in opting out. There were some months where the month was drawing to a close and so I forced myself to go out and try something, and just didn't enjoy it at all. I also found that there are times when there really isn't much taking place, and so the money spent on trying to find something you might enjoy is better saved and later spent on something you know you will enjoy.

Overall though this will continue to be an ongoing process, one which is refined and amended continually, as I both remember what I enjoy and still balance it with the commitments to my job and to my family. As selfish as it sounds though, what I cannot do is to completely ignore my own needs. The need to unwind, the need to do things that put a smile on my face, the need to do things that I'll look forward to. While it feels selfish, the benefits stretch out beyond me and into the lives of the people I care about. People who are happy when I'm happy, and the exact reason why I don't feel guilty any longer about putting myself first every once in a while.