A Semblance of Normality

It’s nearly five years since I started my current job, after a period of upheavals that marked a definitive breach between my old life and my present one. Among the things I gave up, in return for such things as money to pay for food and rent, was the traditional working week. Since that time, days of leave and holidays excepting, I have worked every other weekend, Saturday and Sunday.

As of yesterday, however, I have moved on to new shifts. As it happened, Friday’s new shift was identical to that on my old shift, so today’s the first day I’ve noticed the difference. Henceforth, I will not be working Saturday/Sunday weekends. Every fourth week, I will work Sunday instead of Thursday, which is really not an imposition.

It feels terribly strange to have gone back to the working week, to look forward and know that I shalln’t have to do mental arithmetic on Saturday events any more, and reluctantly turn things down because I’ll be on the phones that weekend.

Of course, what I’ve gained on the swings, I’ve paid back on the roundabouts, as my new shifts will see me working 1.00pm to 9.00pm Monday to Friday, which isn’t fun. On the other hand, my shifts are now all eight hours in length: no more ten, ten-and-a-half and especially eleven hour shifts. On Monday, I will not be working from 10.00am to 9.00pm on my seventh working day in eight. Today, I did not have to be logged on at 9.00am, having only logged off last night at 9.00pm.

So here’s to me, and to a more balanced life, and more time to relax and recover. Maybe the standard of writing on here will improve? That way, we all benefit, right?

Pursuing Christopher Priest: Inverted World

A couple of years ago, I did a series on Christopher Priest’s work. I confessed at the time to not being familiar with his earlier works nor, from what I’d read, being particularly attracted to them. I subsequently decided that was an unfair attitude and I’ve acquired the missing books and will be completing the series by looking at these.
Inverted World was Priest’s third novel and the end/culmination of his career as a genre SF writer. It’s a well-respected SF book, whose opening line – “I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.” – is celebrated as one of the great opening lines of SF. I read it many years ago, out of the library, and re-reading it for the first time in literally decades, I was immediately reminded of why I’d long avoided any of Priest’s work prior to A Dream of Wessex.
Which is not to say that Inverted World is a bad book, but it is a book of a kind that offers very little to me. I found it very dry and uninvolving, and slow to read because I couldn’t engage with either its subject or its principal character.
The story centres upon Helward Mann, who we first meet when he is about to leave the creche in a city called Earth, on a planet far from Earth, to take up his apprenticeship in the Futures Guild, one of six that preserve the safety of the City, following in the footsteps of his emotionally and physically distant father.
Earth, the City, is in consistent motion, drawn across the landscape of its planet upon railway tracks that are laid before the City on its perpetual journey north, having been removed from the wake of the City south. The City is in pursuit of something called the optimum, and must move one mile every ten days if it is to keep up. For most of the book, the City is trying to catch up to the optimum.
After a brief, third party prologue, Priest organises the story into five parts, the first, third and fifth of which are narrated by Mann, the second being third person about him, the fourth third person about Elizabeth Khan, who appears in the Prologue. Each section grows progressively shorter, as the City moves closer to, and overtakes, the optimum and consequently moves faster and more freely.
But Khan’s arrival in the story leads to revelations that completely invert (ha, ha) the basis upon which we have been led to understand the City.
The problem, for me, is that the story is no more than an intellectual puzzle: an SF trope. Priest creates a situation that is physically impossible within the laws of Physics as we understand them at present, and explores the reality of life under such conditions. Earth, the City, believes itself to be effectively a colony, stranded on an alien world among primitive tribes. This world is itself an inversion: the sun is not a sphere but rather a disc, with two hemispheric poles. Imagine it as one of those cheap plastic Xmas cracker prizes, where you spin the disc by balancing it on one of its poles.
Time and dimension become subjective on this world. Apprentices who travel north, surveying the ground for the best path forward, can be away for two months whilst returning to the City where only a few days have passed. The inverse effect of heading south is even worse: as well as the time factor – Mann is away for about two weeks on his journey and returns to find he has been gone two years, his wife has divorced him, believing he’s dead, has remarried and is pregnant –  there are spatial effects.
Mann’s mission is to return three traded women to their home village. Women in the City produce only male babies so the City barters for native women, who are kept for one pregnancy (if a girl, kept by the City, if a boy, returned with the mother if she chooses) and escorted back. The women start off tall, lithe and desirable (Mann screws two of them) but the further south they go, the shorter and broader they become, as does the landscape, until Mann finds himself being dragged by a near irresistible horizontal gravitational force until mountain ranges are barely inches high and he is bigger than the planet itself.
The revelation, at the end, brought by Elizabeth Khan, is that this entire construct is wrong. The City – little more than a mobile office block to Khan’s eyes – is on Earth the planet. We are two hundred years into the future, after the Crash, a breakdown of civilization from which the planet is now only beginning to recover. The City is the subject of an experiment into maintaining an unusual but seemingly perpetual energy source, which distorts the perceptions of all the folk from the City, causing them to perceive reality as inverted. The City is actually heading south-west, not north: it started from China and the optimum it is pursuing is a concentration of energy that circles Earth on a Great Circle. The City is now crossing Portugal, and the ‘river’ that confronts them is the Atlantic Ocean.
But Helward Mann refuses to believe this. His and Elizabeth’s perceptions are inverted and though she can recognise the unbridgeable gulf that stands between them (of which the Ocean is a concrete symbol), he cannot begin to comprehend any apprehension of the world but his own experience.
So the story ends in, essentially, stalemate. Mann is extreme among his City fellows but he is their representative – symbolically Everyman(n)  – and his inability to exceed his perceptions indicates that the City will not be able to break out of its own trap, whilst Khan brings the word that nobody in the world of Earth cares about the City or its predicament. Help will not be forthcoming. Te City, physically, cannot travel further.
As I said, it’s an intellectual, conceptual, scientific puzzle, and even at the height of my fascination with SF, I rarely read Hard SF, because it did not appeal to me, because I am not scientifically knowledgeable. My interest, in fiction, has always been with the effects on people caught up in situations, and there is nothing for me to take hold of in Inverted World. Helward Mann is a cold, emotionally subdued person. His intended, and later wife, Victoria, is a more vivid character, desirous of breaking out of the restrictions she faces, where Helward is content to accept them. She’s the far more active character, but she gets far too little room. The breach in the pair’s marriage carries no emotional weight, and after that such part Victoria has to play is dull and fanatic, based in a complete ignorance of the circumstances of the City, as we are fed them by Helward.
That’s not to say that the book is wholly without interest. I’ve characterised Christopher Priest’s central theme, from A Dream of Wessex onwards as being Unreality: each of his novels thereafter deals in differing manner with different and incompatible layers of reality. Though it’s barely developed here, Inverted World does represent Priest’s first, almost subliminal brush with this theme.
Helward Mann and Eliabeth Khan live in the same physical world, but they are separated by their diametrical approach to that reality, their perceptions – induced from birth – causing them to see the same thing from inverted positions. Though they can speak, hear, touch face-to-face, there are as good as living in two worlds, just as Peter Sinclair in The Affirmation lives in both our familiar world and the Dream Archipelago.
And there’s also a subtle physical form of the theme. Elizabeth Khan appears in the prologue, in the Portuguese village where she is acting as a nurse. She joins in a dance, goes for a walk to clear her head, returns to the village where she hears two strangers conversing with the village leader. Deciding it is none of her business, she walks away, later hearing horses gallop away.
But when she reappears, in Part Four, the scene is transformed. The scene is daylight, not night, but this time, Elizabeth pursues her curiosity, and what she hears leads to her taking the part of one of the women bartered to the City, with results we have already seen. But the Prologue and Part Four are incompatible. We are seeing Priest’s central theme being formed for the first time in his novels.
It will be far better dealt with in future years.

Alfred Bester – a Driver of Tigers: The Deceivers

I didn’t know what I’d make of The Deceivers. It was more than thirty years since I’d last read it and, apart from the fact that I had been disappointed with it from the very outset, I could not remember a thing about the book. This was as if I was reading it for the very first time.
Nor did I remember anything about it whilst reading it, and I am usually very good about having my memory jogged about something in a book previously read, no matter how long after I return to it.
Oddly enough, after the horrendousness of Golem 100, I found myself quietly liking this book. Not to the extent of ignoring its many flaws, or of finding it in the least bit convincing, but it lacks the larger part of the misanthropy, the terrible urge to wallow in horror that makes Golem 100 such an unclean experience. Simply by dialling back on the crassness, The Deceivers becomes a by default more pleasant experience.
Oh, but it is so bad in so many ways! I don’t mean such almost inevitable factors such as the underlying racism, his misogyny and his even more vicious homophobia, but in the book itself, the lack of any adequate idea for an actual storyline, the pages devoted to extrapolation that once would have been a fascinating digression on a dazzling future but which is now backwards-directed discourses on racial characteristics, and the confusingly slipshod structure which slips into and out of first and third parties, whilst supposing to be an account compiled from everyone’s stories by a figure simultaneously controlling and peripheral, who drops into and out of the story, which is about someone else, and unforgivably, is a quasi-authorial figure who lacks a genuine presence.
I’d be tempted to say that the book demands the attentions of a strong-minded editor, except for the manifest evidence that an editorial hand would basically demolish the book and leave nothing on which to build.
To me, this is a dead book. It’s been written because the author has to write, whether he has anything to write about or not. That’s something most people don’t understand: writing is a compulsion, sometimes as strong as the compulsions that drive the Gully Foyles and Ben Reich’s of fiction. It can’t just be switched on and off at will. We think in words: we work things out in words, and if we have nothing to be said, we will still look at new ways of saying things. That’s what comes off The Deceivers for me.
Very well then: what is this book about? The hard ones first, huh?
The book is about Rogue Winter, or properly R-og Uinta. Rogue is some kind of super-enhanced human, whose special conception is dealt with in a preliminary section that riffs a bit off Bester’s successful Sixties short story, ‘Somebody up there likes me’. Rogue’s ‘parents’ die in a spaceship crash as he’s adopted by the Maoris, who now have a planet, or a moon, to themselves somewhere in the outer reaches of the Solar System (it’s the twenty-seventh century and Man has colonised the Solar but in racially specific terms, naturally).
This is a Solar system suffused with the energy of Meta, a super-source mined on a moon run by the Jinks (i.e., Japanese-Chinese, or J-Chinks, which is the furthest I’m going to go into those kind of terms).
Rogue is a Synergist, which appears to be an upgraded version of Bester’s inductors, those who deduce from disparate information. Synergism involves an extra focus on patterns, of which Bester demonstrates a couple of ‘sophisticated’ examples, such as a trail based on The Twelve Days of Christmas, although it rather falls down when Rogue fails to spot the obvious one in the back half of the book that rather batters itself against the readers’ eyes.
Rogue is also an unconscious agent for some Terran Government organisation, represented by the sometime narrator, Odessa Partridge, who’s in the secrecy-about-something business. And despite being adopted, he’s heir to the Maori kingdom, despite not wanting to be a king. But his predecessor dies and he has to accede to the throne, despite opposition, which makes him a dangerous figure to some in the Solar.
Shortly prior to this, Rogue is set upon by, and falls in love with one of his magazine’s co-workers, Demi Jeroux. Demi’s from Titania, so that makes her a shapeshifter, and she can change into anything, except perhaps a character with a discernible character or serious point in the story. Actually, despite the fact Titanians can’t get impregnated by humans, she gets knocked-up on the first night with Rogue.
And, whilst Rogue is off getting crowned, Demi disappears, presumed kidnapped by the Meta Mafia (i.e., the Jinks) which sends Rogue on a rampage, by the end of which he’s defeated, humiliated and broken, possibly permanently, the slickest, most sophisticated mind in the Solar, a guy somewhat smarter than every other cleverclogs put together, but that doesn’t matter because this T’omas is a sick fag, anyway. You can always tell.
Confused by that? I’ve not been deliberately vague about the story, that it all I can make of it 48 hours after reading the book. It really is as disjointed, inexplicable and broken-backed as that. Incoherent would be a kind word to use.
As for Demi, she’s not kidnapped, only hidden, and it’s crucial to keeping the book going for as long as it does that Rogue should ignore what’s under his nose.
It’s a tangible disaster, and first time round I read it with increasing dismay, unable to see any merit in it. A long time later, with no expectations, I admit that I found it mildly likeable, and whereas I don’t intend to keep Golem 100, I’ll probably hold on to this. In it’s way, it’s an example. Of what, I’m not entirely sure. Most people who want to write should read it: much will be learned.
The Deceivers was the last book published in Alfred Bester’s lifetime, and the last book he finished. But writers have to write, and many years later, there was one more book to consider.

Up for t’Cup: 1901-1911

The Third Cup

So we move on, into the Edwardian era, that last golden afternoon as so many have described it, before the world it represented was destroyed in the mud and blood of Flanders fields. It was a decade of slow development, of a Cup that, halfway through the decade, took a half-hearted step towards the format we recognise today.
It was still a tournament dominated by the professional clubs of the North and Midlands. Tottenham Hotspurs’ success in the last Final of the third decade might have brought the Cup back to London after nearly twenty years, but it was an isolated success: the Final might have taken place in London, but the Cup would not rest there for another twenty years.
The Intermediate Round introduced in 1900/01 was retained for another four seasons, involving a complex combination, each year, of byes at various stages into different rounds, with not even the entire First Division getting byes into the First Round Proper, and clubs from the powerful Southern League getting preferential treatment ahead of Second Division teams.
Sheffield United were the first Cup-winners of the decade, though they made a heavy fist of it in the end, requiring three games to win the semi-final and two to win the actual Cup. Unusually, the Replay was held at the Crystal Palace, like the first match, a situation that would not recur for seventy-nine years.
Although the competition was now becoming a well-regulated, almost staid tournament, there was a flashback to the illogic of the Cup’s formative years. Second Division club, New Brighton Tower, were given a bye into the Intermediate Round, where they were drawn to play non-League qualifiers, Oxford City, and this arrangement stood, despite the fact that New Brighton Tower had folded in the summer of 1901 and been replaced in Division 2 before a single ball had been kicked in the 1901/02 Cup!
As a result, Oxford City enjoyed a nostalgic walkover into the First Round Proper. Even more bizarrely, New Brighton’s replacements, Doncaster Rovers, had to enter the Cup at the Third Qualifying Round.
If I may be allowed a personal point, the 1902/03 Cup was the first to be competed for by Manchester United, as opposed to Newton Heath. The Reds didn’t get very far, unlike their Lancashire neighbours, Bury, who reached their second Final in four seasons. They were very much the underdogs against Derby County, despite the latter losing their leading scorer, Steve Bloomer, to injury. But to everybody’s surprise, Bury not only won the Cup but recorded the record victory margin, 6-0. Derby apparently played so badly, the Bury keeper had nothing to do, and the club’s nick-name of ‘The Shakers’ derives from this game and result.
Bury – whose aggregate score in Cup Finals is 10-0 – are the only club after Wanderers to have won the Cup more than once whilst remaining undefeated in Finals.
The number of Cup entrants was still expanding, and each year the FA’s resistance to increasing the number of Proper Rounds grew more puzzling. A second preliminary Round was added in 1903/04, and a Sixth Qualifying Round the following season. Manchester City took the Cup to Manchester for the first time, beating Bolton Wanderers in what, surprisingly given the base of operations of the Football League, was the first all-Lancashire final, and Aston Villa secured their fourth win the following year.
Villa’s Final reversed an unexpected trend in Cup Final attendances. After Spurs had drawn 110,000 to the Crystal Palace in 1901, attendances had declined dramatically over the following three seasons, with Manchester City’s victory taking place before a gate of just over 61,000, but figures bounced back in 1905, with 101,000 filling the ground.
By this time, the Cup had reached a seriously imbalanced state, with nine Qualifying Rounds under various names, and a rigidly maintained three Rounds Proper. It was overdue time for a reorganisation that would better suit the number and status of the entrants. The Football League had, this season, expanded to 40 clubs, in two Divisions of 20, which needed to be taken into account.
So the Cup reduced itself to five qualifying Rounds (one Preliminary, four Qualifying) and restored the Cup Proper to four rounds. But it was not a case of the forty League clubs entering the Cup at Round One, with twenty-four survivors from the Qualifying Rounds, oh no. Twenty-nine League teams enjoyed that status,, with the rest coming in at various Qualifying Round stages. And, in order to provide sixty-four clubs at this stage, eleven non-League clubs were also given byes to the First Round.
Though the structure of the Cup was growing ever more familiar, it was still an indication of the nature of the game in the Edwardian era that 11 non-Leaguers were given preference to the equivalent number of League clubs in terms of when they entered the Cup.
One Third Qualifying Round tie provides an odd foretaste of the Cup’s future, and led to a rule change. In the Third Qualifying Round, Chelsea were drawn to play Crystal Palace. The same day, however, they were required to play Burnley in the Second Division. That neither game was to be postponed, that Chelsea were seriously required to play two matches simultaneously, foreshadowed the long years of rivalry between the Football Association and the Football League over control of the game.
And, foreshadowing today’s sad reality, Chelsea opted to prioritise their promotion battle, choosing the first team to meet Burnley and sending out the Reserves to be humiliated 7-1 by Palace. As a consequence, the FA introduced a new Law, requiring clubs to field their strongest teams in the Cup. A rule far more honoured in the breach than the observance in the Twenty-First Century.
The eventual winners were Everton, their first victory after two previous defeats.
The Cup’s new format only lasted one season, with a Fifth Qualifying Round being reintroduced the following season. The number of non-League teams given byes into Round One was increased to sixteen, and the Round required no less than thirteen replays (four going to second replays). The Wednesday joined their Sheffield rivals, United, in winning a second Cup.
The 1907/08 season set a record that stands to the present day, with thirteen First Division teams going out to lover level clubs. Unsurprisingly, three of the semi-final places were occupied by Second Division clubs, a situation not repeated until exactly a century later, in 2008. The only First Division survivors, Newcastle United (who finished fourth), won their semi-final against Fulham 6-0, still a record at this stage, but were comfortably beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers, only the second Second Division winners.
By this time, Newcastle United had reached three Finals in four years and lost them all. They were spared further potential embarrassment the following season by Manchester United in the semi-final, with the Reds going on to claim their first Cup win. But neither Manchester club would feature prominently in the Cup’s history for many years, and decades, yet.
United’s opponents, Bristol City, have not returned to the Cup Final, placing them alongside Queen’s Park among clubs who have never won the Cup. It would be forty years before another team would reach the Final yet never, to date, lift the Cup.
Newcastle’s time would come in 1910, though not at Crystal Palace but at Goodison Park in a replay, winning the Cup at the fourth time of asking. It’s an odd quirk of the FA Cup’s history that only one club has failed to win the Cup after losing on its first three appearances in the Final.
This was the last year for the second FA Cup.  When Newcastle returned the trophy, it was retired and presented, as a retirement gift, to the FA President Lord Kinnaird. The trophy is still in existence today. It was bought at auction in 2005 by then-Birmingham City, now West Ham United co-Chairman, David Gold, and is on permanent display at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
To replace it, the FA ordered a new, larger, re-designed trophy, the F.A. Cup as we recognise it today, though the 1911 trophy is no longer in use itself. It was designed by Fattorini’s of Bradford and, fittingly, was won in its first season by Bradford City, beating Newcastle United (again!) in a replay at Old Trafford. The replay was by far the most successful in terms of attendance to date, with 69,000 at the Crystal Palace, and an impressive 58,000 coming to Manchester.
The Edwardian decade, when football, and the Cup, was still played in an atmosphere of innocence. The Cup was now forty years old, yet it was still developing. Another decade would see it achieve its half-century. No-one could foresee how the middle years of that approaching decade would be ripped out.

(all Finals played at Crystal Palace unless otherwise stated)

1901/02 Sheffield United 1 Southampton 1
R: Sheffield United 2 Southampton 1
1902/03 Bury 6 Derby County 0
1903/04 Manchester City 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
1904/05 Aston Villa 2 Newcastle United 0
1905/6 Everton 1 Newcastle United 0
1906/07 The Wednesday 2  Everton 1
1907/08 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Newcastle United 1
1908/09 Manchester United 1 Bristol City 0
1909/10 Newcastle United 1 Barnsley 1
R: Newcastle United 2 Barnsley 0 (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
1910/11 Bradford City 0 Newcastle United 0 (aet)
R  Bradford City 1 Newcastle United 0 (Old Trafford, Manchester)

The fourth decade saw another new record of fifteen different finalists, with Newcastle United the most prolific, appearing in five Finals, albeit losing four of them. Everton were the only other club to  appear in two Finals. There were ten different winners in the fourth decade, a different holder every year, with five clubs winning their first Cup, including both Manchester clubs. Of the losers, only Bristol City did not have Cup success ahead or behind them. Three Finals required replays, as many as the three decades prior to that, one of which took place at the same venue as the Final itself, an anomaly that would take eighty years to become the rule.

Deep Space Nine: s1e18 – Dramatis Personae

As the first season is now heading towards its end, this hard-edged episode, which offered a welcome frisson of strangeness, was one of the best of the season, the more so for being entirely station bound and involving only the cast.

I’m getting used to the formula now of the open starting on something irrelevant to the story, and segueing itself into the real matter, so it was nice to see that that initial concern – Major Kira’s firm belief that a soon-to-dock Valerian ship is running weapons-grade material to the Cardassians – was also intimately tied into the story, albeit as a MacGuffin.

But from that first plot point – with Kira determined to find evidence to back up her suspicions and Sisko, a little more reasonably, insisting on evidence of guilt first – we switched to an unexpected Klingon spaceship emerging from the wormhole, promptly exploding violently, and one lone survivor teleporting aboard, only to die the next minute, mouthing the word, ‘Victory’.

After the theme music, we got onto the investigation of the explosion. There was an immediate clue dropped, as Dax, ordered to a runabout with O’Brien to investigate the wreckage, simply sat there looking happy, and unexpectedly giggled when reminded she had somewhere to go. But the uncharacteristic behaviour was simply that: uncharacteristic, isolated and more silly than anything else.

The next thing to happen was Odo undergoing some form of seizure in Quark’s bar, as if he’d suffered a brain hemorrhage, only to recover perfectly in the medical bay. Where naive, lightweight Bashir immediately starts talking about the forthcoming clash between Sisko and Kira, and the need to choose sides. That was when the episode felt seriously strange.

And it developed from there, as the station staff – excluding Odo and Quark – started going haywire. Sisko, aloof, bored, self-important: the Chief, paranoid, fanatically loyal to Sisko: the Major plotting mutiny, a station takeover, Sisko’s death: Dax, boringly nostalgic, disconnected, forgetful. An internal war was developing, and with a horrifying rapidity.

Only Odo kept his head, enough to identify the menace, and to manipulate the cynical Doctor into creating a means of eradicating it. The explanation was a little bit perfunctory: on their Bioscan Survey in the Gamma Quadrant, the Klingons had found and been affected by telepathic spheres imprinted with an historical power struggle that had ultimately destroyed a former civilisation. That telepathic influence had refought its battles through the Kilingon crew, and was busy doing the same with the Deep Space Nine crowd, until Odo got rid of it.

The episode ended with the restoration of normality, though there was an odd coda that I shall be waiting to see if more will be made of it. The possessed Sisko had started designing and constructing a clock, though Sisko professed himself unaware of why he had done that. But in the final scene, as Kira visits his office to add an extra apology for the nature of her (possessed) mutiny, Sisko replies by accepting her apology ‘this time’. When she leaves, he resumes work on the clock.

Because, of course, the central rift in the episode, between Sisko and Kira over command and policy, was not based entirely in an induced and artificial power struggle, but had real roots. Deep Space Nine was obviously still a long way from joined up scripting of the kind that allowed an overwhelming arc to progress, so there had to be a stasis reset at the end, to allow the episode and its underlying tensions to be ignored next week.

Hopefully, this coda scene was a hint that a crack has been left that the show will return to. But it was perfunctory, and thin in itself, and this was a different era for TV. I’d like to hope for more, but I don’t expect it, which made the hint an awkward conclusion, a phantom lead.

Then again, next Tuesday may prove me completely wrong…

What’s it like to be a Red?: the view from 6 February 2016

So, after things had gone quiet and I’d almost started to relax again, there’s a massive claim that Manchester United have entered negotiations to bring Jose Mourinho in as manager at the end of the season. This is apparently on the basis that, having more or less demonstrated that they weren’t interested in all the many drawbacks having Mourinho around the place (which tend to outlast his every two-and-a-bit seasons reign), the news that Guardiola is taking over the Bitters this summer means we have to try a retaliatory strike.

That United have refused to comment instead of rejecting the notion out of hand fills me with fear that there is some truth behind this claim. My apprehension is further stirred by Louis van Gaal’s decision on the very same day that United’s recent upsurge, and the sudden arrival of six goals in the last two games, does not constitute any change in direction, or philosophy, or a relaxing of the rigidity with which the manager has been operating these last two years.

What he’s doing is claiming that both Wayne Rooney and Jessie Lingard are lying when they both say they’ve been encouraged to play with more freedom, and that playing Juan Mata in his best position instead of on the right wing is because he’s playing better, and not the other way round.

In short, Louis’s making himself look a complete idiot, given that anyone who knows a thing about football can tell exactly why United’s performance has brightened in the last couple of games, and it’s not the natural extension of van Gaal’s philosophy, finally working.

I repeat: if Mourinho comes in, I go out. Once again I’m starting to fear that that may be going to happen.

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 5

Lost 70s Volume 5 consists of 24 tracks, making it the longest of the series so far. It’s an unusually conventional, even mainstream album, especially for me, with more hits than any other compilation, and few of the kind of esoteric track that’s been my regular material to date. It was clearly themed that way, but even with the array of success on parade, these are still tracks that have largely vanished from memory, except in the minds of the fans of these artists. And me, of course.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with tracks that had not been available when the original compilation was created.

Gold Medallions: Tucky Buzzard

I still have my original 1973 single of this, on Deep Purple’s Purple label. The band were blues-rockers, but this track stood out as a complete anomaly against everything else of theirs that I heard. There’s a strong acoustic component, working in tandem with a flowing electric lead guitar, and backed by understated electric piano. The song never exceeds medium pace, but it has a strong chorus, that it’s not afraid to let repeat, brazenly, into the fade. The overall effect is hypnotic and this was one of my favourite songs of 1973. And before anyone starts flashing upon the disco era, flashing chest hairs and medallions, this was well before Saturday Night Fever and it’s not that kind of song.

Sky-high: Jigsaw

Jigsaw are a bit of an anomaly as far as I’m concerned. They started out as a lightweight pop band, but the ads for their debut 1970 album seemed to suggest they were some kind of super-heavy, quasi-progressive band, with serious credibility. The only one of their albums I heard, bought dirt cheap from a shop specialising in deleted stock, was primarily the work of a cabaret-oriented band, singing sweet melodies over muted horns and strings in 1973. That’s a hell of a journey in only three years. Nevertheless, it gave me a soft spot for them, and I was chuffed when they had a top 10 hit with this song, from a movie soundtrack. It’s all big, sweeping strings, a commercial melody and the band making a token effort, with sub-Shaft guitar mixed low. A similar-sounding, more ballad like follow-up got to about no 35 and that was it as far as the UK was concerned. I’ve still never heard anything from that first, heavy album. I’d love to have a clearer idea of the puzzle.

I want more: Can

It started with Kraftwerk, and commercially it pretty much ended there, but the mid-Seventies was a period when there was an increased consciousness of German bands and their pulsating concentration on electronic rhythms, long before disco got into that mode. Can got airplay for this grunting, grinding, rhythmic song, with its steady beat, minimal electronics and acoustic bass. It got them into the top 30, and onto Top of the Pops and into my memories.

The Devil’s Answer: Atomic Rooster

This was the second, and by far the biggest, of two hits in 1971 by this trio, led by ex-Crazy World of Arthur Brown keyboard player Vince Crane. It’s a mix of tempos, smooth and aggressive and supported by snarling horns and was deservedly very popular. Then it vanished from everybody’s consciousness. There are songs that you go back to where it’s impossible to see how they caught on with the public. This isn’t quite so obscure, but to modern ears, it increasingly becomes a surprise.

Who do you think you are?: Candlewick Green

I actually loathed this at the time. It was a top 30 hit for a cabaret-pop single from a cabaret-pop band, but it’s melody and simplicity has grown on me with the years. Oddly enough, it’s only relatively recently, well after compiling this disc, that I learnt that this is a Jigsaw song and the Candlewick Green version is a carbon copy of the arrangement. I also heard, though it seems improbable, that this was also popular in the Northern Soul clubs.

Billy Porter: Mick Ronson

This is more Lost 70s traditional territory. Mick Ronson was Bowie’s guitarman in the Ziggy Stardust era, and for the rest of the decade was the subject of the NME T-Zers annual Dr Barnado’s award, given to any band that provided a good home for the talented Ronson. ‘Billy Porter’ was another of those turntable hits that got re-issued a time or two without success. It’s nervous and edgy, but that’s what the song is about, and Ronson’s not the world’s best singer, but it’s a great record. We were right and you were wrong, you ignorant and tasteless bastards!

I’ve got you on my mind: White Plains

White Plains started off as a studio band, one of four fronted by session singer Tony Burroughs, put together by a group of professional songwriters who’d had an unusually productive afternoon and felt like keeping their booty to themselves. All four songs/bands went top 10. With hits to their names, all four ‘bands’ were then set up to record with permanent personnel. This was the White Plains’ second single, a piece of mid-tempo, sweeping, orchestra-strong pop with a very Sixties sound – not surprising because it had already been a minor (no 38) hit in 1968 from Dorian Gray (not, I assume, his real name) with a little-changed arrangement. White Plains went on to have another half dozen hits in changing styles, some of which more distinctive than this, but it’s a slice of simple pop that I liked then and like now. Sometimes, formative listening is more than formative.

Faithful: Marvin Welch and Farrar

Given that it’s 45 years later, I can admit that when I first heard this single, by a talented acoustic trio comprising two ex-Shadows and the future musical director for Olivia Newton-John, I thought this was a band led by someone called Marvin Welch and backed up by something called Farrar: and what on Earth was a Farrar? Thanks to my progressive oriented mate Alan, I was to hear a lot of this trio (even before the Livvy connection), and whilst most of their output was pretty bland, this single, about a sailboat, was unforgivably beautiful, delicately produced featuring nothing but acoustic guitars, distant minimal strings and an achingly gorgeous falsetto chorus, practically pregnant with yearning and loss. The boat is symbolic.

I must be in love: The Rutles

I had a deprived childhood. My parents prevented me from watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Many were the Fridays I got to school to be assailed by cries of ‘Spam!’, or inexplicable bursts of people singing that they were lumberjacks. It was hell. The only series I ever did get to see was the Cleese-less final series, which was crap. Anyway, I was always far more into the Goons. But it meant that I found little interesting in Erc Idle’s side project, Rutland Weekend Television, and didn’t even watch his and Neil Innes’ grand parody, All you need is Cash featuring the Rutles. This was the single. It’s mildly hammed up, but the point, which I didn’t fully realise at the time, is that underneath the affectionate parody, this is a beautiful aping of the Beatles’ sound and those early singles. Very McCartney-when-he-was-good.

Eve: Jim Capaldi

Capaldi was the drummer in Traffic whom, by the early Seventies, specialised in jazz-influenced, spontaneous music, recorded after getting their heads together in the country. His solo career was much more conventional and he did get a couple of hits, one with a cover of the old Roy Orbison song ‘Love Hurts’. This wasn’t the other one: a quiet, slow-beginning pop ballad, an unrequited love song to the lady of the title, who may well have been suspiciously close to being of a forbidden age if you listened closely to the words. But it built itself up into a fine, controlled, horn-blasting frenzy and featured one of those brief but brilliant silver-bell guitar solos worth three minutes of anyone’s time.

Miracles: Jefferson Starship

In the abbreviated form of Starship, this Seventies sequel to the rowdy Jefferson Airplane went on to mega-stardom. ‘Miracles’ was the first stirring of the second phase band, a lovely, smoky, lazy love song with multi-layered vocals that was big in America and nothing over here, but it’s an effortless gem, cool, smooth and inviting. It’s a long way from ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to love’, which are still superior efforts,but as the first steps of a new, unrelated band, it’s pretty and pleasing.

Joy: Apollo 100

An American band with one of those regular efforts to turn Beethoven’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ into a pop tune. Most of it’s pretty undemanding, built on an organ cycling through the main riff/melody, but it breaks for a stunning, ten second, chiming guitar solo that was the only bit of the record I liked in 1972, and which is still worth all the rest of the track put together now.

The Selecter: The Selecter

I supposed you could call this a hit. This subdued, ska-driven, slow instrumental was the b-side to The Specials’ ‘Gangsters’, loose and contemplative and moody. This bears no resemblance to The Selecter’s own singles in their own right, but it deserved attention of its own.


Don’t Let Him Touch You: The Angelettes

I’ve already gone on about this odd single under my Infinite Jukebox series, here . There’s nothing more I can add now. This is seriously weird, and there’s a lot of wrong stuff behind it. If any of the girls implicitly believed in what they were singing, then you have to wonder just how much their parents were indoctrinating them.

Ebony Eyes: Bob Welch

Welch was an American guy who played with Fleetwood Mac during those intermediate years between Peter Green and Buckingham/Nicks. Johnnie Walker gave a lot of airplay to this single in 1976, before he buggered off to America, leaving us with Paul Burnett at lunchtime on Radio 1 (how could you do this to us, Johnnie?). From the sound of this song and production – which has nothing to do with the Everly Brothers – he could have transformed the Mac even sooner. Bet he didn’t look as good as Stevie Nicks, though.

Keep on Truckin’ (Part 1): Eddie Kendrick

This slab of funk was an unconventional track by the former Temptations lead singer, breaking the top 20 with a number taking Robert Crumb’s catch-phrase (which wasn’t all that old at the time) as it’s title whilst having nothing in common with the master of underground comics. It’s a compelling dance track of exactly the kind I normally loathe, but it goes to prove the point that in any genre of music, not matter how offensive it may appear to the ear, there is something that stands out as different in a way that is impossible to define. Keep on truckin’ baby.

Windfall: Rick Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band

Rick, or Ricky, had already had one career by the early Seventies, as child actor and teen idol, with special reference to the much-played oldie ‘Hello Mary Lou’. But here he was, only in his early thirties, a more or less has-been who retained a keen interest in music, of a more countrified style. This time round, Nelson was determined to be in charge of his music and not subject to controls and whims. Johnny Walker championed the laid-back country blues of ‘Garden Party’, which was based on a real-life encounter with a Rock’n’Roll Oldies Festival. That became Nelson’s manifesto: ‘if memories were all I sang/ I’d rather drive a truck’. This was a later single from the same year, recorded with his Stone Canyon Band, a brash, uptempo country song about the little things, the natural things in nature and life that are at the heart of love. But ‘Garden Party’ was his last success, and not even songs like this could extend his career. Nelson, who feared flying, died in a plane crash in 1985. He should have had more time, the music industry should have treated him better.

Summer Breeze: Seals and Croft

In 1976, the Isley Brothers recorded an oozingly soulful version of this song that became one of my favourite singles of the year and which, quite rightly, has overshadowed the original ever since. This is the original. It’s a folky, acoustic approach from a duo notorious for taking a song about smoking drugs irresponsibly into the US Top 10. The song is still pretty nice in its original form and I like to remember it from time to time.

Love like a Man: Ten Years After

We’re really into the commercial sector of this compilation now. There was a time, through 1970/71, when it seemed like every underground band had a single hit record in them. This one was Ten Years After’s, a top 10 track from 1970, with a slow, slinky, blues number featuring Alvin Lee’s beautifully constructed guitar riffs. Astonishing stuff, really. Every one had one commercial track in them, whether they wanted it or not.

This Flight Tonight: Nazareth

Move forward three years. Nazareth, a Scots hard-rock band, a kind of heavier Slade, had started tucking into the charts fairly regularly. This latest single was a rock arrangement of the dreamy Joni Mitchell number, and as such was pretty controversial for the complete contrast to the original. It was still a new song to me and I liked it’s controlled impulse and its scudding beat, and its distorted solo, screeching like a jetplane.

You can make me Dance, Sing or Anything: The Faces and Rod Stewart

I don’t usually like to admit this out loud but in the Seventies, I very much preferred Rod’s solo stuff to The Faces. ‘You can make me dance, sing or anything’ (with a bracketed sub-title of incredible length detailing other things, all impeccably domestic, that the remarkable lady at the heart of this song could get Rod the Mod to perform), was the last and least successful of the Faces’ chart hits, as well as being the only one to pick Rod’s name out. That’s because this is very much a Rod solo song, given to the Faces who are, in consequence, much more restrained and controlled, and brighter in sound in this bouncy, uplifting song during which nobody gets pissed and pukes on the floor. It’s a complete joy, and you kind of want to meet the woman who can inspire such selflessness. Probably a blonde with long legs, mind you. The apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

I Believe (when I fall in love it will be forever): Art Garfunkel

Post the split, Art Garfunkel had two, widely spaced hits in the UK, both of which reached number 1. This lovely, smooth cover of a Stevie Wonder song didn’t reach the charts at all, though Art did get a Top of the Pops slot by way of promotion. This is one of those tracks I offer as evidence that I had no affinity with the Great British Record Buying Public because by any estimate I recognise, this should have been massive beyond belief. With the obvious exception of rabbits, what did ‘Bright Eyes’ have that this 1976 single didn’t? It still sounds like it was a hit.

I think we’re alone now: The Rubinoos

Remember the famous Berserkley Label? Jonathan Richman, the Modern Lovers and ‘Roadrunner’? The Rubinoos, Tommy Rubin’s teenage pop band, were one more of that unbroken flood of brilliant singles that came out of California, absolutely none of which but Richman sold. Later on, Tiffany had a hit with a cover of this that was so inadequate, it should have been having weekly sessions with Sigmund Freud. Originally a hit for Tommy James and The Shondells, but their version was never so alive as this one.

Gimme dat ding: The Pipkins

And to end, another top 10 hit. Remember those four bands fronted by Tony Burroughs? This notable one-off was one of those, a bouncy, flouncy, old-fashioned little silly number, batted backwards and forwards by a squeaky falsetto lead and a gravelly bass making grumbly remarks. It’s actually about a metronome, which places it as part of the ‘Oliver in the Overworld’ story in Freddie Garrity’s ‘Little Big Time’. It was a pure novelty song. Nowadays, it does make an old man happy.