Monday, October 26, 2015

30 seconds of fame

A while back I blogged about a piece I wrote for the When Saturday Comes website about half and half scarves (which was then published in the magazine).

My collection of everything
that's wrong with modern football

Last night at just past 11 o'clock I had a tweet from a producer on BBC Radio 5 asking if I was the guy who wrote the article. When I said yes they asked if I would like to be on Radio 5 this morning to defend half and half scarves. Apparently a pub in Manchester had banned people from wearing them in and Radio 5 wanted to do a bit about it on the breakfast show. I said yes. I mean, who wouldn't like to be on national radio first thing in the morning?

It's interesting to see what goes in to a tiddly piece like this. First there was a phone call at 11.30pm, then another call at 7.15 to check I was still available, then the actual call where I waited for them to start talking about the topic, then I had to listen to grumpy Liverpool fanzine editor who reckoned watching football should be an Orwellian-style 'Ninety Minute Hate', then my 30 seconds saying 'they're just souvenirs', then grumpy bloke again, cut to the eight o'clock news, a goodbye from the researcher who had phoned me and it was all over.

Was it worth it? Maybe. It was a different way to start a Monday. Do some people care too much about trivial things like half and half scarves? Yes. Clearly they do. Is there anything wrong with wanting a memento of a big game? No, I don't think so.

Unofficial Ars-cannon-nal

I can understand people who follow big clubs being fed up with tourists turning up and buying half and half scarves at league games. Although, as Cathy pointed out, it would have been nice for my four year old niece to have had a special scarf to commemorate the first game she went to earlier this year. But while half and half scarves are apparently the worst thing about Premier League football, they aren't that common in the murky depths of League 1. My niece will have to wait until Shrewsbury next get one of the big boys in a cup.

I hope it's Liverpool, just to annoy that grumpy fanzine guy. I will be buying two!

Monday, October 12, 2015

I will be voting to stay in the EU and here are some reasons why...

On a message board I was part of a discussion about the upcoming EU referendum that spilled out of a person explaining why he voted UKIP. His reason was that "I think national sovereignty is the defining issue of our generation."

I asked him why. I had to ask him several times before he came out with "I don't like them telling us what to do." Or in other words, I don't like being told what to do by foreigners. Apparently it's OK to be told what to do by people who were born or who live in this country and definitely don't have your best interests at heart unless you're a millionaire or a member of the Eton old boys network, because at least they aren't foreign!

Putting aside the basic racism of that point of view for one moment, does it really make sense? The UK is one of the powerhouse economies of Europe. It's got a lot of people and it should have a lot of say and a lot of sway in Europe as a result. I can see tiny countries like Belgium and Denmark deciding they don't want to be pushed around any more, but the UK is big enough to be among the big hitters. The fact that we don't feel we are is more to do with the ineptitude of our leaders than anything else.

Let's be honest if we put Merkel up against Cameron, only a true-blue rosetted moron would seriously bet against Merkel. I'd question whether Cameron could hold his own against any premier from one of the big European countries, and most of the smaller ones. He's a political lightweight and that's why the UK has floundered in Europe in the five or so years he's been in charge.

In fact, the only reason a referendum is in the offing is because Cameron lacked faith in himself. It was a sop to the euro-sceptic Tories to stop them defecting to UKIP and everyone thought the parliament was heading towards coalition government again. No way Cameron would ally with UKIP if they returned any MPs (which in the end they effectively didn't, because their one MP was a Tory who switched sides in a bacon-saving move), and any other party wouldn't want a referendum, so Cameron knew it was a promise he would never have to follow up on. Unless the unthinkable happened and he won an outright majority. Oops.

Well, sometimes if you don't back your own horse in the race you end up looking like a chump.

Cameron doesn't want a 'Brexit'. (Yes, the British Exit has it's own bastardised nickname now.) Of course he doesn't. It would be a disaster for the main financiers of the Conservative party and the home counties core voting districts. Economically, the uncertainty would damage the stock market, trading agreements would be torn up and we would no longer be a key player in a very good team. We would be one against many and we would be owned by China within a generation - their trading post on the edge of Europe, a bit like we used to use Hong Kong.

But the economic meltdown that would ensue following a Brexit and the destruction of the stock market aren't really my reasons for staying in the EU. I'm not a fan of the money-making-money empire of Mammon so I won't mourn its passing, even if it's a hard time to live through.

My reasons are simpler. Here's one: we haven't had a major war in Western Europe for over seventy years now. I think the EU has played some part in that. When you are sitting down working out ways to work more closely together, there is less likelihood of people gunning up and prepping for war.

Seventy years war-free on our continent is pretty much unheard of and we have all reaped the benefit. We are the richest generation ever with luxuries and technology which our forefathers could only dream of. Yes, that has made us hated in the parts of the world we could describe as the 'have nots', which brings it's own ethical considerations into play, but most people in the UK have a standard of living that would be unheard of in previous generations. When you aren't spending money on bombs and then using those bombs to blow things up, you can achieve a great deal as a group of countries.

I think that's a good reason to stay in the EU.

Then there is the way money is spent. I know it makes no sense for the UK to contribute to European funds and then claim the money back to spend in poor areas, just like it makes no sense to take tax off poor working people and then pay them benefits to limit the impact of poverty. But that process of Euro funding has really helped in parts of the UK that I call 'not-London'.

Just about every major infrastructure project in South Wales - from fast, safe roads to the lovely Cardiff Bay developments to the new Swansea Marina - has been funded by European money. Yes, it's our money they are giving back to us, but that's the point, it's coming back to us. London governments are very good at spending money in London and even when they don't, it's money spent in the provinces to benefit London (HS2 anyone?).

The EU has made the redistribution of wealth easier and better. Do we think a London government would have bothered revitalising Cardiff Bay? No, of course not. They were happy to hoover up the cash when the valleys were exporting coal by the shipload, but it was Euro money and Euro laws that cleaned up the toxic effects of mining and helped turn Cardiff into the snazzy happening place it is today. And the same is true of many regional cities in England.

And then there's the third thing, the real big reason. Being part of the EU protects us from extremist governments back home. This is the plus side of 'them' telling 'us' what to do. It prevents 'us' from doing something stupid by voting for an evil government.

I've been reading my Grandad's memoir recently and he wrote about how he was caned at school for speaking Welsh. This was less than a century ago, when the British government was still pursuing an educational policy that aimed to eradicate the Welsh language. It worked in my family. My Grandad stopped speaking Welsh and that was lost.

No EU government could do that now. It would be considered a breach of a child's human rights to beat them for not speaking the 'correct' language. I don't really think a UK government would want to pursue a policy of suppression, but let's say they did. Inside the EU, they can't. Outside the EU they can.

We have to careful with politicians. We know they say one thing to get elected then do another when they are. Cameron and his cronies never mentioned austerity in the run up to 2010. One of Cameron's big promises was 'No top down reorganisations of the NHS'. That was nixed just a year after entering coalition government.

So politicians lie. They tell half-truths or no-truths and they get elected and then they can do what they want. Unless there are checks. Unless there are balances. The EU is one of the best checks and balances we have and I don't want to lose that. I don't want to be at the mercy of a Westminster government as the highest authority in the land, just in case...

So there's three reasons:

  1. it's a check on wanton destruction through war, 
  2. it redistributes some of the wealth to where it is really needed, 
  3. and it puts limits on our national government, which is a good thing if you really think about it.

On the other side there is a nebulous 'I don't like foreigners telling me what to say' proto-racism that calls itself a desire for 'national sovereignty'. But patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I would like the UK to be bigger, better, more inclusive and safer - I think that's a patriotic statement - and I think that would happen inside the EU rather than outside it.

Incidentally, if you disagree with me you can say so. If you hate the EU, you can say so. You have complete freedom of speech. Do you know why? Well, it's not a British law that gives you freedom of speech. It's because you are in the EU.

And so to a last question. The guy on the message board kept complaining that no one gave reasons to stay in the EU, except I did and he didn't acknowledge them or reply to them. He also didn't answer my other questions, which included this: What law, if any, passed by the EU has directly harmed or damaged you?

I have yet to hear anyone from the 'Brexit' campaign actually answer that.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Films about the struggle - comparing Selma and Suffragette

Selma is about the civil rights actions of Martin Luther King and his supporters in the town of Selma, Alabama. I saw it earlier this year and it has stayed with me as a powerful movie about a very unsavoury aspect of the American psyche - ingrained institutional racism.

This past week I saw Suffragette, a new film about the suffragette movement that campaigned for equal voting status for women, and wider equality in society.

Both films are naturally sympathetic to the cause of equality, and are filmed mainly from the point of view of the campaigners. Both are about giving an oppressed group in society the same level of rights as the oppressing group, and the actions of the oppressors to preserve their privilege.

What is different is the course taken. An interesting aspect to the film, Selma, is that it could not use any of Dr King's original speeches. They are all copyrighted, so the film-makers had to create ersatz copies of them, capturing the gist and thrust rather than re-voicing one of the most well-known voices of a generation. But one thing that came through time and again was the repudiation of violence, despite the brutal and terrible violence meted out by the racist police force and white redneck citizens. Dr King was arrested and humiliated, threatened and harassed, but stood firm in his commitment to the path of non-violence.

The suffragettes, as captured in the eponymous movie, spent 50 years campaigning for equality using peaceful means. However, the movie captures a time when they had given up on hope of a peaceful recourse and had turned to violence, including blowing up the Prime Minister's summer home that was under construction. They had an interesting approach to violence, targeting property, from breaking shop windows to destroying post boxes to disrupt lines of communication, rather than people. Their ultimate assault on property was against the King, with a suffragette taking down the King's race horse in the Epsom Derby, in a fatal encounter that was captured on newsreel film and became sensational.

While Selma is a study of staying true to your principles despite intense provocation, with some characters talked down from the brink of violence, Suffragette is a movie about how ordinary people can be radicalised by the struggle. The heroine, Maud, goes from a downtrodden, abused worker in a hellish laundry to an anarchist bomber over the course of the movie. It would be interesting to see the reception for this exact same plotline if it was contemporary and the lead character was a Muslim.

But this was all a long time ago and the suffragettes won, and so we assume it was all OK. And yet my Grandma in law was born when women still didn't have the vote and she is still alive. This wasn't that long ago, and the actions of the suffragettes would be branded terrorism today. Similarly, the civil rights marchers 'won', although events in Ferguson last year and the #BlackLivesMatter campaign seem to show there is a way to go for white America.

What Selma left me with, and what Suffragette has reinforced, is a sense that I'm not sure what my struggle would be. There does not seem to be an obvious cause like women's rights or racial equality. (At least not to the same degree; I know we aren't there yet.) Maybe I should count myself lucky to not live in an era and a society where I am called to put my body on the line and risk a baton to the head for my beliefs in justice and equality for all. My worry is that I am living in that era and society but I have somehow missed the call.

I also don't know what my breaking point would be. If Dr King had lived and led the movement for 50 years and had got nowhere, would he have finally given in to endorsing violence as Emmeline Pankhurst did? How long would I remain true to pacifist principles? What provocation would I endure?

These are big questions. I'm grateful to the movie-makers for making me ask them.

Monday, October 05, 2015

The merits of blogging (and should I continue)

I've blogged before about how blogging has changed. Social media and other things has taken its toll. I've been wondering about whether to wind up my blog and just admit it's over and time to move on.

Realistically, I'd still have freelance theology and a couple of other bloggy projects to be getting on with. I've just accepted a role as webmaster of a society I belong to as well. There are only so many things one person can keep up to date with ever diminishing amounts of free time.

I started this blog way back in 2006. (You can read the first post here if you really want to.) For the first couple of years I was updating it several times a week; most days in fact. Now I can barely get one post posted every month.

It is a bit of a relic of a past life. Since 2006 I have gotten older if not wiser, found new interests and hobbies. I've been through redundancy and a five year stint at another job and now am onto something else. I'm back at Uni doing a MSc. I've stopped working with young people and started preaching regularly. I have a niece and nephew who I love to bits. Life is good and busy and full and I just don't know what this blog is for any more, or who it's for.

Why the title?
Back in 1999 (I think) we went on holiday to mid-Wales and stayed outside Pantperthog. I got a photo with the village sign because I thought it was funny. Then in 2005 we were on holiday in the Scottish highlands and I posed for a photo with the sign for Knockando, again because it amused me. And then I was setting up a blog and I wanted a title and those were the two things that popped into my head.

Recently I discovered it would take over 8 hours to drive from Pantperthog to Knockando. Part of me is tempted to see if that is true. Maybe one day...

So, anyway, the blog might get a revamp or maybe I'll just rediscover a love for posting random thoughts. Or this may be it. It's been a fun almost-decade for the most part.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Face Man to the rescue

A few years ago I met the actor Dirk Benedict, aka Face Man in one of my favourite TV shows growing up, the A-Team.

Following the rule of 'pics or it didn't happen', here's a pic

One of us was super excited
You can read about when we met here.

But anyway, I have started a new job and very close to my office is a charity shop that has a regular turnover of toys. I've bought some Matchbox trains and a big bag of Duplo. Yesterday I went in to have a look and see what they had in and there was a vintage 1980s 5" action figure of Face Man.

Well I duly gave a pound to charity and took Face away. He fits nicely on the little ledge next to my desk (now that I actually have a desk) and will keep me company. He seems very happy to be my new buddy.

Good to see you!

Friday, October 02, 2015

Blood Bowl team update: Berserkers sign new blitzer

The Bromfield St Beserkers are pleased to announce a new signing. Tycho Midnight, nicknamed the Psycho, has been signed to replace the late Stan Van Branahan who was killed in Wednesday's clash with the Grangetown Greenskinz.

Midnight will take on the role of blitzer, filling the number two slot in the Beserkers roster with Lex Kevlar resuming his former position as blocker.

As you can probably tell, one of my favourite parts of Blood Bowl is coming up with names for players.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Blood Bowl match report – 30 September

The Berserkers win away at the Atlantic Waaaaargggghhhhff Thunderdome but pay a high price for success on the road.

Felix Pace gets ready to run for the end zone

The Bromfield Street Berserkers beat the Grangetown Greenskinz 2-1 in the intimidating atmosphere of the Greenskinz home stadium. Watched indifferently for two minutes by Bella the cat in lieu of any actual baying fans, the Berserkers scored quickly through Felix ‘Find the Space’ Pace, who is fast becoming a star player.

The Greenskinz dominated the opening rounds of blocks. At one point only six Berserkers were still upright and able to move. However, blitzer Gudmund Halo wriggled free with the ball before finding Pace with a short pass. The catcher then ran the ball in, evading a despairing heroic tackle in the process.

The game then degenerated into a war of attrition, which included the second fatality in three matches for the Berserkers. Stan ‘the Man’ Van Branahan was jumped while prone by Belchalot Gubbinz, who ended Van Branahan’s solid Berserkers career and his life.

With the loss of a blocker, the Berserkers seemed vulnerable to being out-muscled, particularly with their boosted blitzer, Boghash Foulbreath. But in a twist of gaming fate, catcher Pace resisted an attempted block, dealing out a serious injury to Foulbreath in the process. This means the blitzer has lost the bonus strength gained through his good play in previous games.

The middle play of the game saw possession stop multiple times with the ball spilling more often than being caught and players unable to fend off tackles while carrying the ball. In total 14 players carried the ball in hand; an unusually high number. The Greenskinz eventually seemed to break through, but catcher Slobber McDrool failed to make an extra yard and was carried off seriously injured for his exertions – one of five Greenskinz in total to get badly crocked.

The second down came through a throw from Giles McGiles, who started for the Berserkers after an excellent game last time out. Felix Pace again found the space to catch in the end zone for his second down of the match. Pace was 2 for 2 on catches throughout the game, while his opposite number Chaz Tastak had a nightmare of a match fumbling three attempts at catches including a golden opportunity from a short pass when he was clear in the end zone.

There was more drama to come with Greenskinz blocker Shnozz Shnozzripper making a catch from Noggin Numskull to restore some pride to the home team. But it wasn’t enough to salvage the game. The Berserkers had won, but at what cost?

Team line-up & stats
Blitzers: Halo, Kevlar
Blockers: Hurricane, S Van Branahan RIP, C Van Branahan, Salvvo
Throwers: McGiles, deMenthe (reserve)
Catcher: Tastak, Pace
Starting Linemen: Carambeau, Zang
Reserve Linemen: Bosch, Vandal, Cordite, MacRatt
Scorers: Pace (2)

Man of the Match: Pace