Sunday, August 31, 2008

Meme thingy

It's Paulie's fault. He tagged me and I can't resist, it makes me feel self-important.

What was I doing when I heard about...

Princess Diana's death - 31st August 1997

I was in the pub drinking after hours when the news of the accident came on the radio. I came back home with friends so that they could get a taxi, then I heard the national anthem in the morning from next door's radio and thought, "she's obviously snuffed it". When I left the house one of the neighbours had a picture of her and a candle burning in the window. It was my first inkling that the country was about to go completely mad.

Margaret Thatcher's Resignation - 22nd November 1990

I was driving over the hills in the Peak District to the College I worked at in Buxton when the news came on the car radio. A huge shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds illuminating a bleak and beautiful landscape. The hills had never looked more ravishing.

Attack on the twin towers - 11 September 2001

I had a phone call from a friend whilst I was at work. A mutual friend of ours was flying from New York that morning and we were worried. In fact he left about an hour before the attack. After getting home I saw the TV pictures and with a growing sense of horror emailed a friend of mine in America as the only way to express some sort of solidarity. What then followed was a long struggle to make sense of it all. I was often wrong.

England's World Cup Semi Final against Germany - 4 July 1990

I was supposed to be going to a pub quiz but sat and watched it on a 14" screen with a friend before we eventually got to the quiz far too late. I had mixed feelings. If England won the Tories might win the next election. So I was saddened and relieved. Bloody stupid. The Tories did win the next election regardless.

President Kennedy's Assassination - 22 November 1963

The house was full of police as we had just been burgled. The news came on the TV. I was eleven years old and rushed to tell my mother. I hesitated, was 'assassinated' the right word or 'murdered'? I played safe and chose 'murdered', everyone then talked of an assassination. It was my own small wound.

Who to tag? Well Shuggy is an obvious choice now he is off the anti-biotics, Tom Freeman might want to do something though the comic potential is limited, there is always John at Counago and Spaves who should treat the tag with contempt, and then Scribbles is a sucker for this sort of thing. Would George want to respond? Apologies to any of you who weren't born in 1963. And to Mikeovswinton, hurry up and start blogging, you would have been tagged instantly.

More from the fat front

Tapping into a particularly rich vein of Tory idiocy, Catherine Bennett tackles their obesity policy here. It is a good read and I particularly liked this:
Far riskier, however, is the possible impact of insulting one quarter - the obese section - of the adult population. Last week's map of obesity 'hot spots' suggests that not all of these potentially offended people are the deprived inhabitants of guaranteed Labour seats (supposing such places still exist). There are quite a few inexcusably obese people, it turns out, in Tory seats like Kensington and Chelsea. And, as much as the careers of Gillian McKeith and Anne Diamond reveal a surprising tolerance, on the public's part, for dietary advisers who may be unqualified, unhinged or five stone overweight, it seems to draw the line at abuse.
Judging by her photo she is of the slim persuasion herself. The solidarity is welcome comrade.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Elation in East Hull

And weeping in the West. A Wembley double for Hull was not to be. Hull FC have still never won at Wembley.

For those who don't know, Hull FC are the West Hull club and Hull Kingston Rovers are their rivals in the East. And it is one hell of a rivalry. Supporting Swinton I am above all that - just don't mention Salford.

Damned if you do

What more do they want? According to the BBC
A man who lost 20 stone (127kg) says he has been refused surgery to remove four stone (25kg) of excess skin because he is still considered to be overweight.
So, in one case when there is serious morbid obesity and even a plump prider like myself will admit that there is a problem, and when that person has made enormous strides to lose mountains of weight, medical help to reclaim his self esteem is denied because he is fat. I give up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I don't need an excuse

Now I am a corrupter of the innocent slim am I? Yes indeed, according to the Tories:
As it is, people who see more fat people around them may themselves be more likely to gain weight.
In true Falstaffian tradition, we are hedonistic subversives against the virtuous Puritan faith. And how about this,
Tell people that biology and the environment causes obesity and they are offered an excuse not to change their behaviour.
Hold on a second. What if biology and environment do cause obesity? Are they saying the truth is irrelevant and that we should fight against it through masochistic self-denial so that we no longer subvert the natural order of thinness? Yes dear readers, it seems that our nature, physique and genetic inheritance are simply excuses. With more self-inflicted pain we can reach the salvation that skinny people never have to worry about. It appears that the Tories do indeed hate us fatties. I can assure them, in my case, it is mutual.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


The central heating is on. At least I can flush the toilet paper down the bog. Any other advantages? Er...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Packing up

It is galling to leave a place where you can buy a litre of 'reddish' wine in a cardboard carton for €2.20. Mind you, there are more regrets than that. There is a hint of autumn in late August, the air is moist and some leaves are turning, although it is still hot despite the strong Meltemi winds. Summer certainly isn't over and will be lingering here long after any hope that it might actually arrive in England is past. I feel strangely cheated that I will not be able to see the merging of the seasons or harvest the ripening fruit from our trees. Today has been spent moving and stacking firewood, a bleak reminder that I will not see the place again until mid-winter. Tomorrow the patio furniture will be moved to the shed, dust covers and tarpaulins will be brought out and on Wednesday we fly back.

Sometimes I feel so bloody bourgeois. After all, the holiday home abroad is soooo the must-have accessory for the affluent. The problem is that this increasingly feels more like simply a home whilst the house in England is a work home. Livings have to be earned and so we have to retreat to reality, though employment is looking increasingly precarious. I am flying back to an uncertain future. It is such a privilege to be here, to have this house, to enjoy the friendships, as well as escape the English climate. It is so sad to leave, yet my affection for the North of England is still strong. Ah, torn between Greece and the North. At least there is one real blessing; I don't live in London.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summer reading

Of all the millions of books in the world it is curious to think about what makes you choose the relatively few that you read in your lifetime. For instance, I was introduced to post-war Eastern European literature by the only student of mine to have actually given me a reading list. I was teaching an Access course in Buxton, Derbyshire some fifteen years ago and he was on my Monday evening history module. He did his project on literature and Stalinism. It was superb and, at my request, he produced an extensive bibliography with recommendations so that I could read more. I have been working my way through the list ever since, usually taking one or two novels with me on each summer holiday. He kept in touch for a short while, as many students do until their new lives overwhelm the old ones. A very short man, his last postcard was from the decidedly avant-garde art college where he was studying creative writing, saying that he was going out with a six-foot woman who had just written an oratorio about sperm.

Initially, my desire to read more was aroused by European politics and history. Instead, I found something more interesting. The literature that I read was actively and powerfully philosophical. Philosophy is central, certainly because these works were written in and about a society in which power was mediated through ideology. Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind put it stunningly effectively:

It was only towards the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.

Writing about the impact and absurdities of ideological abstractions was an obvious and compelling act of dissent. However, there was something more in the books than moral and intellectual revulsion. These writers saw Stalinism as an existential crisis as much as a political one.

Communism was not just the projection of state power. The system was run by people, people survived within it, they constructed their lives in it. They grew up, married, loved, committed adultery, had children, and saw their parents die, all within a system that was both alien and familiar. They wrote about that system in different ways. Some prospered, some were spied upon and arrested, some forced into exile. Yet their censors and oppressors were other individuals who were also living and loving in the same world. It seemed to me that this whole body of literature was engaging with the unique individual contribution of people to the maintenance of oppression and the equally unique individual resistance to it. It was exploring a philosophy of people's relationship to the state at its most elemental - real life. It is the proper realm of fiction and is one reason why a politics that eschews literature will tend to sterility.

This year my reading was not from the list. Instead, its source was, indirectly, Will. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude, not only for directing me to the best and worst of the writing on the Internet and elsewhere, but also for inviting me to post at the Drink-soaked ones, thereby introducing me to the splendid writing of the other contributors. And this summer, I decided to read some of the published work of George Szirtes.

I have been dazzled by his themed collection of poems, The Budapest File, but I want to post on his superb translation of the extraordinary allegorical novel, Metropole, by Ferenc Karinthy. It is set in an urban dystopia and if you ever have those anxiety dreams where you endlessly search for something that you need but can never find, you can get the sense of the surreal edginess of the novel. The vast fictional city in which it is set is a familiar theme with distinct echoes of Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis. Though the book may have its roots in genres that either celebrate or reject urban, industrial modernity, I see older nightmares peeping through. As I read, the crowded, tormented figures of Hieronymus Bosch came to mind. This metropolis is a vision of a modern, secular hell. Hell is alienation and each isolated individual has their own individualised torment, which can only be glimpsed, rather than shared, by others – such as in the tears of the lift girl. For Budai, the protagonist of the book, his torture is the horror of being an expert linguist in a city where he can neither speak nor recognise any aspect of the language. This disables and disorients him as he struggles against an incomprehensible world into which he has suddenly and inadvertently arrived.

The hell of religion is eternal and inescapable and, at times, you are lulled into thinking that this is what Karinthy is writing. Budai throws his whole intellectual and physical energy into escape. He is frustrated at every turn, whether he uses his analytical mind, his cunning, or engages in rebellion, there appears little way out. Yet hope never dies as he searches for the clues or contacts that will release him. The novel seems to be saying that though escape is not easy and that secular hells may be resilient, they are not eternal and limitless. They are worldly and can be overcome. Slowly and patiently we can reach our heaven of happy human relationships, lived in freedom with open communication, the most ordinary of utopias. And a far from ordinary novel.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cookery corner

There are two vines growing on the kilmataria that provide summer shade. One ripens before we leave in August, the other will be left for the neighbours who will be in stripping the garden of its produce in the autumn. This year has been a fantastically productive one. There are luscious fat grapes by the score, as well as some very happy wasps, especially if they have been at the fermenting ones.

There are just so many you can eat, either raw or in flans and cakes. So, it was time to try and make some grape juice. It is dead easy. First you have to pick them, fighting off the wasps and throwing out the rotten or wrinkled ones (grapes not wasps, you understand). They all have to be removed from the stalks and then you can start. After washing, they need to be roughly crushed. As an alternative to the more traditional calloused feet of peasant women, a potato masher works fine. Soon you have this wonderful mess in a vast saucepan. Heat slowly and simmer gently for ten to fifteen minutes and then strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.

Finally, you have a delicious, sweet and refreshing drink … hold on … a delicious, sweet, refreshing, non-alcoholic drink. Ah. Wine making recipes next; means I would have to stay here to tend it though. Another reason, as if I needed one.

Stop press:

I have been given a recipe for making a delicious Greek sweet, Moustalevria, from the juice. It involves boiling it with clean wood ashes. Hmm …

Monday, August 18, 2008


Eleni lived independently in the cottage next door until two or three years ago when old age forced her to leave to live with one of her four sons. She has been missed. Her immaculately cultivated garden is now ramshackle and we no longer see her stooped, gathering wild camomile, or seated in splendour on her porch in a purple plastic chair, dispensing greetings to all who pass in the narrow, unpaved lane. Despite the mutual incomprehension of the language barrier, we became friends.

The house is rented now. It is being cleaned for some new, short term guests, musicians from Athens, and so her son and daughter-in-law brought her back for a visit yesterday evening, to sit on her porch and remember. She is 98 now and increasingly frail but still active and mobile. We rushed out of the house to greet her, kissing her on both cheeks. "Ah, fili Eleni"; "file Petro", she sighed back. Without language we could only enjoy the mutual warmth of presence. The daughter-in law-moved her hand, slowly at first in a narrow circular motion, before sweeping her arm out in an extravagant, expansive gesture. "We are all friends together here", she said. She is right. It is why this is the hardest place in the world for me to leave.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Last night was warm and clear, the temperature had fallen to a comfortably cool 22 Centigrade by about midnight on the patio, perfect for sitting out, sipping a chilled drink. And there was a lunar eclipse to marvel at.

All of which is a pretty feeble excuse for posting Savina Yannatou singing Manos Hadjidakis' bitter-sweet song, Paper Moon (Χάρτινο το Φεγγαράκι). Ideal for a soft, summer night.

Fat is the new ...

... abuse.

Gone are the days when chubby children were patted on the head and everyone said what healthy rosy-cheeked cherubs they are.

Now anyone looking like this would bring in the social workers.
The Local Government Association (LGA) questioned whether parental neglect should include child obesity, in the same way as under-nourishment.
Is being overweight really the equivalent of starvation? Is the fat person on the beach at the same health risk as the emaciated figure behind the wire of a prison camp? Have they ever heard of the concept of a moral panic?

Recently, we have had obesity called a worse threat than global warming and terrorism. I suppose it is a bit of an advance that this latest report just says that us fatties are too expensive.

Friday, August 15, 2008

It's all about oil

After two weeks here all my shirts look like this:

Every meal I spill something. Do you know how difficult it is to get rid of olive oils stains?

I blame the Neo-con salads - or the Zionists; they grow olives you know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Art news

This has to be the headline of the week.
Giant dog turd wreaks havoc at Swiss museum
It was an artwork called Complex Shit.

Management again

Getting the overseas edition of the papers is sometimes an advantage, you spot things that you would never see otherwise. In my case yesterday this was an item on the business pages of the Observer, usually the first bit to be dispatched to the bin with a curse. This time, something leapt out at me; an item on workplace skills.

The skills agenda is one source of the Government's current educational neuroses and Adult Education is being sacrificed on the altars of work-related skills training and employer engagement. I am hugely sceptical about the efficacy of these, as well as having a sense of despair at the damage currently being done to the area to which I have devoted the bulk of my working life.

Simon Caulkin's piece is critical of what he sees an overemphasis on individual performance at the expense of collective organisation and in doing so he takes on the sanctity of the Leitch Report, currently deeply influential on government thinking on education.

Take the Leitch report on workforce skills. Now nearly two years old, it was an attempt to scare us into improving competence at work. The focus is strictly economic and it is full of exhortations about world-class competition and threats of what will happen to people if they don't 'raise their game' - skills as instruments of economic warfare and social Darwinism. As such, Leitch offers little that is new: it is the latest in a line of hand-wringing reports going back at least 150 years linking the UK's poor productivity record with our shortcomings in education and training and attempting to solve the first problem through the second.

He then provides a rather nice, though utilitarian and economic, justification for liberal learning:

Now, it goes without saying that improvements in individual literacy and numeracy are vital and welcome, not just for economic reasons but for making sense of the whole range of what the world has to offer, including the aesthetic and the emotional. In fact, the aesthetic and emotional aspects, although ignored in the report, are equally important, both for their own sake and because of the need for collective endeavour.

Caulkin and I come from very different perspectives, but I like the way that he describes the importance of management as a form of co-ordination (please note; co-ordination not command, "harnessing, using, and nurturing individual skills", not measuring, incentivising, ordering or bullying – no, "nurturing"). It is what good managers do, though I would add others to the list, like respecting the expertise of the workforce and empowering them within the workplace. I would also emphasise the role of collective organisation amongst workers. Without power, the nurturing of workers is purely a voluntary gift of a benign autocracy.

Where Caulkin goes with this analysis is that his contention is that the real failings in the British economy are collective, through the inadequacies of management rather than the individual skills deficits of workers. Inherent in this, is a critique of institutional conservatism and hierarchical management.

At this point, Caulkin and I begin to diverge. He favours complementing "Leitch's primary emphasis on low-level skills with an equal focus on the higher-level 'meta-skills' that are essential for getting the most out of the individual ones". I don't think that this is just about management skills; it is about structures and ideology.

Managerialism and the cult of leadership are there just to help executives feel good about their rocketing pay and for governments to be able to pretend that they are in control. The structures they create are ones that produce de-motivated and disempowered workers, a recipe for failure. How about promoting the notion of a democratised, collaborative workplace, based on shared power rather than the exercise of authority, as an alternative to the managerialist orthodoxy that has infected many areas of our collective endeavours? A practical, egalitarian agenda like this could be a vote-winner for a social democratic political party. Just watch Labour ignore it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Managing without democracy

I once shared a platform at a conference with John Quayle, author of the important out-of-print history of British Anarchism, The Slow Burning Fuse. I always remember him describing the proliferation of management training courses as "the final defeat of the organised working class". I felt then that it was undue pessimism on his part. Increasingly, I have a nasty suspicion that he is right, perhaps except for that dreadful word, "final".

Of one thing I am certain. Managerialism in both theory and practice is not just an exercise in gratuitous violence against the English Language, but, by reducing a workforce to objects to be managed, is also a system of domination, opposed to any meaningful workplace democracy. It offers an ideological chimera of efficiency but the reality is something different. Mike Rylance captured the dysfunction of an absence of democracy in his picture of Vichy governance in his book on French Rugby League, which I posted on below. Does this sound familiar? It does to me.

Vichy was a time of opportunism – where the ambitious could succeed beyond their limitations and, in the absence of a proper democratic framework, could act with impunity. Similarly those with friends in high places could exert a disproportionate influence.

New Labour's proliferation of bureaucracy, targets and the audit culture has often been commented on. Less is made of it as an anti-democratic choice. Nonetheless, that is exactly what a process of marketisation and managerialism is. And it is certainly a defeat.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Only a game

The idea that there is a divorce between sport and politics has always been a convenient fiction. Not only are there the state sponsored extravaganzas of the kind happening in China at the moment, but sport can also embody the drama of profound social conflicts. That is why good histories of sport deserve a place in our understanding of social history. And what I have been reading is a very good one indeed.

I threw Mike Rylance's superbly written, though sadly out-of-print, account of the early years of French Rugby League, The Forbidden Game, into my suitcase at the last minute and I am glad that I did. My action was prompted by a post by Norm, sparking a little debate between us, about an Australian journalist's proposal for the re-unification of Union with League. Rylance grippingly documents just such a move.

French Rugby League emerged later than it did in England, New Zealand and Australia. It was a response to the shambolic state of French Rugby Union in the 1930's. As a result of poor standards, negative and foul play, as well as the levels of violence both on and off the pitch, France was already vulnerable before the English Union decided to pick up on the obviously bogus nature of their amateurism and ban France from international rugby with the Home Nations. They were reduced to an annual match with the even weaker Germany.

The struggle between professional and amateur status embodied much more than sport, it was a class conflict, part of an attempt to protect the elite and to maintain a public school ethic. Those who needed payment to play to any standard were looked down on by those of independent means. It infected a huge range of sports; athletics, tennis, and the cricketing divide between 'gentlemen' and 'players' are just some examples. Unsurprisingly, the amateur establishment tended to be associated with the political right.

Of course, amateurism, especially in Rugby Union, was a farce, with covert payment widespread. This reality did not impinge on ideology and class hatred, especially when Rugby League was formed on the basis that compensation for lost working time could be openly paid to working class players. Although the sport evolved through radical rule changes into a different game, Rugby Union persisted in calling it the professional version of Rugby and launched what became its own 100 years war against League.

Ironically, Union opposition to professionalism only succeeded in founding French Rugby League. By forcing the French to take action against players deemed guilty of professionalism, some, led by the formidable Catalan Jean Galia, decided to turn to League. After a tour of England by the 'pioneers' and some successful exhibition games, League took off in France in 1934. Now Union really had something to worry about as League proved a huge success. Players willingly converted to the game, often being paid less in the process, in order to be able to display their skills in a faster, more open sport, to be paid honestly and to play internationals at the highest level. By 1939 a touring League team became the first French Rugby side of either code to defeat England on English soil at St Helens. Their skill and flair were rapturously applauded by the English crowd. The contrast with the dourness of Union was obvious and, at that moment of triumph, it seemed that League was about to replace Union in popular affections.

Union reacted with alarm and the English forgot their sensitivities about professionalism and offered to reinstate international fixtures on the condition that France abandoned its club championship. It was at this point that the War intervened with the defeat and occupation of France by the Nazis. The ultra-conservative collaborationist Vichy government was set up under Marshall Pètain and a department to oversee the development of sport was handed to the tennis player Jean Borotra, who blamed the defeat of France partly on the decline of the amateur spirit. The phasing out of professionalism was announced.

League responded simply by announcing that they would continue to play as amateurs. After all, of the around 200 Rugby League clubs in France only 14 were professional and they were all part-time. They had reckoned without the machinations of the Union elite amongst the collaborationists, notably by a former Union player, Colonel Pascot. Whereas Borotra moved later towards the resistance, Pascot remained loyal to Vichy and the Nazi occupation. He engineered an astonishing coup, the reunification of League and Union under the Rugby Union. On 19th December 1941, Pètain signed a decree dissolving the French Rugby League and confiscating their entire assets. Professional and amateur clubs were forced to revert to Union and then, in the words of its President, Dr Ginesty, players' "moral and technical re-education would take place". What of League's property? Their accounts and papers conveniently disappeared, however, according to René Verdier, "They (Union) took the lot. Even our kit". Playing Rugby League, even as an amateur, became an offence.

After the War, despite Rugby League's status as a sport-résistant, there was no restitution of the stolen property, not even an apology. Union persecution continued and League was prevented from using the name Rugby until 1993, being simply called jeu à treize. The disgraceful treatment of League and its players by Union under the guise of anti-professionalism is now over. A revival is taking place in France with Catalan Dragons doing well in Super League and there is an invitation for another French side to join the National Leagues next season. However, Union has never atoned for its behaviour and this sporting scandal remains widely unacknowledged.

It is all history now. Union's eventual move to open professionalism saw to that. However, Rylance concludes his book by a plea not to forget the past, "in the best democratic interests, we have a duty to remember". This incident is part of a history of class and regional conflict, of the elites against popular culture. It is a microcosm of the struggles of European societies to emancipate themselves from the grips of an old establishment. That emancipation is partial at best and so, when I read that article about reunification, I remembered that there is an historical precedent. And it wasn't an imperialist plot Norm, it was a fascist one.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A sense of place

The August sun is currently softened by a cool Northerly breeze, taking the daytime temperature below thirty degrees and providing a chill at night. The summer has been dry, yet, though the grass is scorched brown and some trees show signs of stress, this time of year always has a sense of abundance. Wildlife is busily active, everywhere accompanied by the incessant racket of cicadas. Trees and bushes are laden with ripening fruit. I love being here.

People often ask me if I feel at home when I come to Greece. The answer is no. How could I? My Greek is rudimentary, I know little of the customs and culture, my history is academic not personal, my local gossip is second-hand and translated, my knowledge of local and national politics is sketchy. No, I do not feel at home; I feel happy.

For some reason, simply existing in this place and at this time gives me pleasure. Why? The house is gorgeous. There is the exuberance and the extravagant beauty of the mountains, forests and the sea. I like the people and the food and, of particular significance to the sun-starved, eternally damp English, there is the weather. This doesn't satisfy as an explanation though, there has to be more; a simple sense of place that pleases.

The relationship between people and place shapes us, often in a profound way. For Patrick Geddes, the radical Scottish polymath, human social evolution was integrally linked to the local environment. And that environment was more than physical, it was historical, the sum of our collective experiences of our material world. George Szirtes has also explored this relationship by discussing the distinct nature of a Central European liberal left in a series of posts starting here, an outlook he shares despite having lived most of his life in Britain. History is the key,

The instincts are different, as is the history. Their history, my history, the history that becomes consciousness: it is history that makes the difference.

Terry Glavin too, in an essay on the Fraser River, sees landscape as a palimpsest on which is written the lives and struggles of successive generations, narrated through stories:

As soon as a story is told to make sense of things, it is a rare thing for it to vanish out of the world entirely. Once you hear these stories, you will never see the river we know in quite the same way, nor the cosmopolis that has grown up along its banks, and those stories will echo in everything you hear for as long as you may live.

His approach is strongly reminiscent of Geddes' view of the city as being "more than a place in space, it is a drama in time."

This is a small place and the stories are of the everyday dramas of life - rivalries, enmities, friendships and, these days, the comings and goings of us peculiar foreigners. Occasionally, a darker past will make itself known. This house was once intended to be the property of someone who went to war and did not return, his death never accepted. A fruitless wait in grief and hope was his bequest. Go to the bakers' in Argalasti and the badly painted picture over the counter is of the burning of Smyrna, a family memory of massacre and exile, never forgotten. Until the 1970's Twentieth Century Greek history was marked by dictatorship, occupation and civil war. Today's peace and democracy are gifts to be relished. The stories that are being created now are miniatures, humdrum but significant in their own way.

There were those that thought we could build a new world on the rubble of the old, but that rubble often provides the foundations for something eerily similar. A better present, the past of the future, depends on our understanding and making the best of our history, rather than eradicating it. History matters. It matters very much indeed.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Land of the Stout

Plumpness abounds!

Greece, the nation that gave rise to the idea of well-formed muscular men in the name of Adonis, now has the highest prevalence of obesity in the EU, according to a report issued yesterday.

And it isn't just because I am here.


Reading the Guardian on a cramped charter flight is not the most comfortable experience especially when you come across an awful apologia by Martin Jacques. His theme is familiar, the "comprehensive failure" of liberal interventionism, lifted straight from the Douglas Hurd school of conservative thought and bolstered by a highly selective reading of recent history.

This section is typical of the genre.

… we seem to think that we have some unalienable right to lecture Zimbabwe on its iniquities. Yet Britain's culpability for the country's plight - from tolerating Ian Smith's declaration of independence to the disgraceful land deal that guaranteed the privileged position of white settlers - is second to none. Notwithstanding all of this, the British feel they enjoy incomparable moral virtue on Zimbabwe.

"Second to none" eh? So the last 28 years of Mugabe is of nothing compared the egregious effects of British colonialism. So it was the British who pushed inflation into millions of percentage points, led to widespread starvation, falsified the election results, tortured and murdered ordinary voters for the crime of voting MDC, and has reduced the country to desperation. I am so sorry. What wicked people we must be. And, of course, the diplomatic triumph, so "patronisingly scorned", is Thabo Mbeki's!

Whenever I read pieces like this I am struck by the tone of reasonableness and the constant calls for understanding. However, what we are being asked to 'understand' are the desires of governments, not of their beaten, tortured, starved, cheated and desperate people.

Grrrrr ....

Norm has posted on the relationship between Rugby League and Rugby Union. Thankfully, he admitted his ignorance of the administration of either sport and spotted the sting in the tail of the article he links to, otherwise I would not have been pleased.

What puzzles me about this is not the proposal of a single body to oversee both sports - an excellent idea, for all I know. It's the vision of 'ultimate amalgamation'. Can you achieve that without abolishing one or other of the existing forms of the game, or possibly both?

That is the whole point Norm. After a century of persecution by Union, they have now decided to try and patronise League to death. 'Poor Rugby League, now Union is professional they have no hope of surviving. They must come under the leadership of us superior Union types'.

League and Union are very different, though derived from the same root. I don't think that Norm would be as sanguine about a common governing body for cricket and baseball. League is a growing and compelling sport; it is alive, well and thriving. Give it another chance Norm. Much has changed since you last saw a live match. Most are for the better, except for one major tragedy – Swinton are no longer the champions.


Norm replies here. I have only one thing to add. This is not an 'imperialist plot by Union', but a reflection of deeply ingrained hostility going back to the great split. At player level this is negligible and co-operation is now the order of the day amongst most administrators (though not the old guard), it is now left to Union journalists and a press that still sees the North as vaguely barbarous to continue the old fight. Us fans? Well enmity is part of the fun after all.