Deep Space Nine: s02e06 – ‘Melora’

‘Melora’ was a complete change of pace from everything that had come before on Deep Space Nine, a genuinely sweet and personal story that was almost completely successful. Where it felt short was primarily in the need to provide action, drama, a crisis, when no such thing was needed, and which took up time that would have been better devoted to the primary story.

For the first time in season 2, we were back to parallel plots, an overstory and an understory that didn’t meet until the closing stages and which would have been better kept apart entirely.

The overstory began in the open, which was, unusually but effectively, begun by Doctor Bashir’s Medical Log, giving us an unobtrusive exposition dump on Ensign Melora Pazlar, the first Elaysian Spacefleet Officer, assigned to DS9 to carry out a Gamma  Quadrant survey. Melora (an attractive blonde splendidly played by Daphne Ashbrook, Paul McGann’s companion in the Doctor Who telemovie) comes from a low-gravity planet: the Doctor and the Chief are making modifications to enable her to exist comfortably, or as comfortably as possible, at human-level gravity.

Melora, we are impressed in advance, is a very determined young woman who, beyond the obvious necessities to adapt to her circumstances, refuses any ‘special consideration’. The obvious necessities, when we meet her, are a cane and metal exo-skeleton, an electric wheelchair, ramps, a gravity-manipulator in her quarters, and a very prickly, highly-defensive attitude towards everyone who so much as looks like they’re going to offer help.

I was in too minds about what to expect at this point. Melora was clearly very competent, but the use of the wheelchair planted her firmly in the disabled category, a point she herself made quite fiercely, if not in so many words. She was only speaking a truism when stating that people see the chair.

That led me to anticipate what, on reflection, might have been a fairly cliched and patronising disabled-character-proves-themselves-as-good-as-the-next-hot blonde. Instead, given that this is five centuries ahead and that attitudes towards disability have hopefully been eradicated in the future (notwithstanding the current bastard Tory right wing scum attempt to try to demonise and destroy them), this aspect didn’t feature.

What we got was a much-needed highlighting of Julian Bashir, who refused to allow Melora to employ her pro-active, hyper-defensive barriers against everyone. With calm graciousness, and a degree of reserved amusement entirely appropriate to what he was doing, Julian analysed Melora’s pre-emptive attitudes, opening her up to a willingness to accept that she did not have to fear being under-estimated.

Though she had worked long and hard at being independent, Julian was able to show her that in space everyone is dependent upon one another, and that it is that  essential atmosphere of trust and inter-reliance that made it safe for her to lower her barriers and depend.

And the beauty of it was that, whilst it wasn’t too long before the pair were snogging each other’s faces off in zero gravity, there was no creepiness in it, no sense that the Doctor was doing this to get into her exo-skeletoned knickers rather than assisting someone to become more accepting.

The episode did rather gloss over the discrepancy between the pair’s ranks, which I’m sure would have been an issue in any military organisation. Indeed, Melora immediately started girl-talk with Dax about Spacefleet Romance and whether it ever works (there was a case, 150 years ago, Dax replied) and there was no hint that removal of exo-skeletoned knickers might be frowned upon in quarters not belonging to the good Doctor.

Who then went on to research possibilities of rearranging Melora’s physiology to enable her to walk, and fully-function in human gravity. Adapting a forgotten thirty-year old theory to modern techniques, Julian succeeded in pioneering treatments that strengthened the brain’s control of the body and enabling Melora to start to walk freely.

It would make medical history, but when Melora began to show doubts about the prospects, given that it would, when completed, be permanent and debar her from ever returning to her home planet and family, Julian demonstrated the depths of his sensitivity and sincerity by instantly deferring to her wishes, without the slightest hint of disappointment at the effects on his medical innovations.

This really was a good episode for the much-neglected Bashir.

Unfortunately, we still have the understory to deal with, even though it was being given considerably less airtime. Indeed, it was introduced out of nowhere, immediately after the credits, in a disorienting manner. It was stupidly crude. Eight years ago, Quark ratted on a fellow crook, Fallit Kot. Now he’s out of prison and has come to DS9 to kill Quark.

That it was a dumb idea was made manifest in the villain. Fallit Kot (even the name is stupid) was made-up as an alien whose nose curved down to plug into his chin, creating a pier of flesh crossing the mouth, into which food could be inserted by awkward pushing in from the side but to which drink could only be supplied by a straw or a very thin bottleneck. Sensibly, no such scene was written.

Where this plugged into the overstory was that Quark tried to bribe Fallit Kot to save his life, the plonker betrayed him and kidnapped Dax and Melora as hostages in a runabout, running off to the Gamma quadrant with Sisko, Julian and the Chief in hot pursuit. To show he’s serious, he shoots Melora with a phaser, set to kill.

But, for no adequately explained reason (save some vague musing that it might be a side-effect of Julian’s treatments), Melora survives, wakes up unnoticed, by all except Dax, struggles and strains and shuts off the runabout gravity, whereupon she absolutely ‘taters Kot.

All of which, in a very unsatisfactory and underexplored manner, fuels her decision to abandon the treatment and stay Elaysian. The episode ended somewhat weakly with Melora about to move on to her next assignment, leaving behind a Julian that seemed far less romantically inclined towards the fair Ensign than he’d been when she’d been an interesting patient.

It was an ending that cast a shadow over his previous sensitivity and which re-awoke the moral question of the Doctor snogging his patient.

Nevertheless, if the demands of serial adventure fiction can be successfully ignore, this was an overall excellent episode, giving some much-needed time to the underused Doctor Bashir. Twenty years later, I think it would have ended up being an even better story, because network TV in America has grown to a point where it has far more confidence about playing change-of-pace stories, enough to let Melora’s tale stand alone.

And there is a greater willingness to go into greater depth, confident that the viewer will understand and follow, that would have made this episode broader and more full. I’ve already detected a tendency in DS9, which I hope the series grows out of, to base episodes on serious and complex issues and then fudge their way out of the ending.

As they did with this otherwise lovely story.

Uncollected Thoughts: Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice

He’s not in this one, but you sure wish he was.

I spent most of the Easter weekend avoiding specific spoilers for this film, but I’d have needed to lock myself in a monastic cell to have avoided picking up the impression that the general reaction to Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice was that it was dull, overlong, tedious and an incomprehensible piece of crap.

Never let consensus, or the critics, get in the way of you enjoying a film, so I took Easter Monday afternoon out to watch it (in 3D, natch) at Grand Central, Stockport. And my take on the film is that it is dull, overlong, tedious and an incomprehensible piece of crap.

This from a comics geek who has known these characters for a lifetime, who is a DC fan who desperately wants to see his age-old favourites soar on film the way that Marvel’s lot do. I confess that I was bored after thirty minutes of this two-and-a-half hour long film, yes, bored, complete lack of interest in the story, would have switched it off had I been sat at home and gone and done something more interesting instead: the pots need washing, for one thing.

What makes this film suck so? There are several factors: in no particular order it’s the acting, the direction, the dialogue, the story: no, it’s unfair to drag the story in on this, since there was none, just a never-ending succession of scenes with no logical succession, interplay or sense of cohesion, no more so than in the ending, which never came because the film didn’t have one, and kept coming up with more and dumber scenes to try and hide the fact that it had no idea, not one, about how to stop without the actors having to band together and back off-set, shuffling their feet and whistling to conceal the absence of an end-line, like a sketch in a Spike Milligan Q series, except that he was making a deliberate point.

Let’s try to make some sense of this, though if I do, it’s more than Director Zack Snyder ever tried. His is the bold, dominant supervening vision for the entire DC Cinematic Universe, which suggests the whole of it is going to be shitty, dark, uninspired splodge.

The story is as I said: no story at all, just a collection of scenes in some form of sequence, but without connection or progression. It starts during an extended sequence set in Man of Steel, which I did not watch, where Bruce Wayne goes tearing around Metropolis, trying unsuccessfully to rescue his employees from the Wayne Building. This makes him very much not-friends with Superman, who he leaves alone for  eighteen months because he’s so concerned about the danger a Kryptonian could be to the world.

Then he decides to go after him by stealing the kryptonite that Lex Luthor intends to use against Superman, and for exactly the same reason. It takes forever to get to in the film, and when it finally happens, long after the point when it was getting hard to take how this thing was being dragged out by jerky shit and stupid dream sequences, Batman whups Superman’s kryptonite-weakened ass and is all set to stab him through the heart when – and everybody has pointed out just how risible this is so I won’t go on about it – Supes happens to mention that his mother is called Martha.

Batman staggers back in shock. “That was my mother’s name” he cries, a la Rupert Holmes in the deliberately silly song, ‘Our National Pastime’ and just like that they’re pals and best buddies.

Which is when Luthor scares up a Kryptonian monster out of nothing and Snyder, having made a ham-fisted attempt to do ‘The Dark Knight’, now crosses over into a ludicrously inept retread of the ‘Death of Superman’. Wonder Woman appears out of nowhere to help take down the bad guy, but it doesn’t stop Superman getting killed (though with Henry Cavill’s ‘acting’, who can possibly tell?)

That’s about as much logical sense as the movie contains, to be frank. Superman’s death is the cue for Batman to enlist Wonder Woman in putting together the future Justice League: because he has ‘a feeling’. It’s going to be an utter disaster, I know it.

It’s a sludgy, horribly slow film with no narrative direction, it’s murky in nearly ever scene and the CGI is so OTT that in any vaguely realistic estimate, there should be no more than about 4% of Metropolis and Gotham collectively left with one brick on top of the other.

Cavill is a bust as Superman and Clark Kent. He can’t act: neither character has any life in him and Superman’s habit of just standing there, letting destruction go on around him until he feels he’s given his pose enough burn time is stupid. Gal Gadot does an efficient job as Wonder Woman in the climactic fight but everywhere else is wooden and artificial. Jesse Eisenberg, as Luthor, is no Luthor I ever saw in my lifetime, and I will need to do a hell of a lot of work to remove that performance from my memory: it was the single biggest idiocy in the film and believe me, that’s saying a lot.

In contrast, Ben Affleck gave a perfectly good performance as Bruce Wayne. I was less impressed with him as Batman, but then Batman was an old car crash and the costume was nearly as bad as Adam West’s.

I refused to watch Man of Steel three years ago, for what seemed to me to be very good reasons, and the same reasons applied to this film. To paraphrase what I paraphrased then, characters like Superman and Batman have been around for decades. They have been interpreted in many different ways as the world develops about them, ways that are mutually contradictory in multiple ways. We each of us, mostly unconsciously, pick out certain aspects of the characters that form our acceptance of them, a core that we us to decide if a performance ‘is’ or ‘is not’ Superman.

‘My’ Superman does not kill, deliberately. He is too conscious of the extent of his powers and he eternally believes that there is a better way, to win without killing. That’s why I didn’t watch Man of Steel.

When it comes to this film, ‘my’ Batman doesn’t kill either, especially not indiscriminately, and he does NOT pick up guns. And ‘my’ Alfred never – never, never, never – appears unshaven. And no Lex Luthor under the sun behaves like this one.

Put it all together, the film sucked. For once, the critics who turned up their noses and sniffed got it dead right. I’m one of us, I’m on the inside, these films speak my language, I get them, I’m not missing the point. And I thought it was shite, it was a waste of my money and of the hours I have remaining to me, and if Zack Snyder is to stay in charge of the DC Cinematic Universe, if this is what it’s going to be like, then every one of them lined up to come, all down the line, are going to be wastelands, disasters, horrendous mistakes.

I will never again, except under the most strict of duress, not even with a promise of extraordinary sexual reward, watch this heap of crap again.


As if you didn’t know

For me, there is very little of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatle music that’s worth house-space: a year either side of Band on the Run (which I once owned) and that’s about it. Oh, and thanks almost entirely to hearing it for the first time with the utterly charming Rupert the Bear video, I do have a soft spot for The Frog Chorus. This despite never having gotten into Rupert, even as a very small boy.

And I freely confess that when it comes to the Beatles, I am far more taken with John Lennon’s contributions, though I am nothing like musical enough to say why. Perhaps it’s because, underneath it all, McCartney was the Great Sentimentalist, whose emotional music was rarely to be entirely trusted because it came far too easily, whilst Lennon was the Hard Man, whose romanticism had to be pulled out of deeper places, and which became more personal as a consequence.

Take two songs, both from A Hard Day’s Night, the film and album, both gentle, slow-tempo acoustic ballads, both love songs. Though both are credited to Lennon/McCartney, it’s open knowledge that, after the first couple of albums, most songs were primarily composed individually, with the primary writer the lead singer.

But that’s not the only reason why it’s so easy to identify track 5’s ‘And I Love Her’ as penned by McCartney, and track 3’s ‘If I Fell’ by Lennon.

I’m not going to discuss the song’s various merits musically, but let’s compare the lyrics, the substance of the songs. ‘And I Love Her’ has no substance, it’s about as deep as the first layer of dust on a concrete floor. McCartney loves her. It you saw her, you’d love her. He loves her. At night, the stars are bright and the sky is dark, but he’ll always love her. He loves her.

Many years ago, I read noted Musicologist Wilfred Mellers’ book, Twilight of the Gods, which subjected the Beatles’ songs to analysis for how they achieved their effects, in a similar manner to how classical works are approached. Mellers defined the early Beatles love songs, like ‘Love Me Do’ as ‘eden-songs’, in which the emotion is simple, indeed naive. ‘And I Love Her’ qualifies in this bracket, relatively late though it is.

In contrast, ‘If I Fell’ has deeper concerns. Lennon has met a girl, someone special, someone with whom he could easily fall in love. He’s clearly tempted. But love is more than fluffy feelings. He already has a girl, who loves him. He stands between the two women, knowing the decision to be very important. If he chooses the new woman, his current girlfriend will be hurt, badly. It is not just important but vital that he chooses correctly. If the new woman is all he thinks she might be, if what is offered is true love, commitment, the real thing, he will go to her.

But if it’s just a passing thing, a fling, a bit of fun, something ephemeral, then he will cleave to his existing girlfriend. He will not hurt her for a bit on the side.

In one sense, this is a song about a man deciding whether to break his girlfriend’s heart, but on another, Lennon is singing about repsonsibility, between one another. He’s been in love before, he sings, and found that it is more than just holding hands, the nod to the early Beatles classic deliberate and thoughtful.

In Lennon’s song, love is about commitment, between people, and it is not to be thrown away unnecessarily.

All this comes about because of the recent news of Paul McCartney initiating action in America to recover the publishing rights of ‘his’ Beatles’ songs, beginning with a selected 32. Under American copyright law, which differs from the British ‘life plus seventy five years’, the creator of a work of art can recover rights to it after the expiration of two periods of twenty-eight years.

It’s been the cause of much more sniping and snidery about McCartney, a large proportion of which being about him being richer than Croesus and therefore hardly in need of the additional money the rights to the songs would bring in, but which is substantially also about the fact that John Lennon was killed in 1980 and McCartney is still alive thirty six years later.

Lennon’s death, and the natural process towards secular canonisation that started the moment we all heard that shocking news, established a gulf between the two principal Beatles’ songwriters. It was almost mandatory to take a side – were you a Lennonist or a McCartneyite?

I’ve already identified myself as being, in theory, in Lennon’s camp. His post-Beatles music was exceedingly mixed, but his highs were far higher than those of McCartney’s and McCartney’s lows are incomparably awful.

But what’s the point? I might prefer Lennon’s songs, but that doesn’t mean that I disdain McCartney’s. The guy who wrote ‘Yesterday’ and who carried the tune around for two years because he didn’t believe it could be original. The Beatles could not have been what we relish them for, could not have contributed so much to the development of music if either of the pair were not there. They may not have written together often after the first couple of years, but no song was begun without the thought of the other, the need to pass the other’s quality controls, their bullshit detector, the paramount desire to outdo.

Whatever I may think of McCartney’s music, now or for decades, it does not alter one jot that he is an artist. That status does not depend upon the quality of what he produces (which might not impress me but which has a very expansive following nevertheless), it’s simply what it is. McCartney has spoken many times of hearing ‘Yesterday’ being credited to Lennon/McCartney, and has refused many times to sing Beatles songs on stage because it means having to pay someone else for the privilege of singing his own songs.

Snipe all you want, but from my incredibly lower perspective, I know exactly what he feels. Your work is your own, and there is a personal connection that goes above and beyond monetary considerations.

But at the bottom of it, I find the hatred towards McCartney confusing and dismaying. He was a Beatle, and like the other three, he was an integral part of the group. They were as they were because of him, in exactly the same manner that they were as they were because of John. And George. And Ringo. Whether I prefer John’s music to his, the plain fact is that he wrote some incredible songs that will still be being sung in other centuries.

The older I get, the harder it gets to see why such things matter so viscerally to so many people. Is it so beyond conception that one can like someone’s music without feeling the compulsion to belittle someone else’s? Can you only love Lennon’s music if you commit yourself to hating McCartney’s?

Or are we damned to believe Robert Wyatt’s line from the hypnotic ‘Gharbzadegi’: “How can I rise if you don’t fall?”

I’m also depressed, if not surprised, at the tenor of the attitude to McCartney seeking to reclaim the rights to his own songs. He wrote them. He lost control of them due to appallingly bad business advice. But his desire to take them back arouses scorn and contempt, on the irrelevant ground that he doesn’t need the money from them.

That’s what it’s all about to so many people now: money. It’s the only thing in their heads and so they won’t accept that a person can be motivated by anything else.

Not even ‘Mull of Kyntire’ justifies that.

Saturday SkandiCrime: Follow the Money parts 3 & 4

Mads, by name and nature

Another Sunday session for Saturday night crime.

My main excuse this week is that the England game was too interesting to switch off, but I have to allow for the fact that nothing in Follow the Money‘s first two parts gripped me in anything like the way that the best Scandinavian drama series have done in recent years. Nor, sadly, was there much in the next set of instalments to increase my enthusiasm.

At least I am not going to the stupid extent of the Guardian TV reviewer who, last week, also found Follow the Money uninvolving, but who extrapolated from that that the whole Scandinavian TV boom was therefore over, and henceforth no other Danish/Swedish/Norwegian/Icelandic programme should ever be broadcast on British TV again. Some people are just plain pathetic.

But I’ll say what I said last week, because it’s by far and away the principal factor: this is a story that fails to involve. It’s an entirely too orthodox police procedural, supplemented by soap opera elements that, by failing to sufficiently individualize the characters, fail to affect.

Take our hero, Mads (which, incidentally is pronounced ‘Mess’, which is hardly surprising). We’ve already seen that he doesn’t do patience, which is unfortunate because he’s (as of episode 4 officially) seconded to the Fraud Squad, whose police work consists entirely of patience. Mess is a bull with the urge to find a china shop: his policing consists of getting suspects into a room, quizzing them without the slightest iota of evidence and pronouncing them guilty based on the fact that they do things that ordinary people do when confronted by a mad copper, they calll for their lawyer.

Alright, we get it, he’s a maverick, that’s what mavericks do, but that’s my point entirely, the great joy of the SkandiCrime series is that they have different angles upon such things, they are not Anglo stereotypes, and Mess is a stereotype.

Which is why, when the viewer learns in episode 3, and Mess the following episode, that his sclerosis-crippled wife Kristina is having an affair (I thought she was too affected by her recent bad bout to surrender to her libido), I found it impossible to share in his evident misery.

Which, by the way, he directs at a very unimaginative revenge, keying his ‘rival”s flash car, instead of immediately reporting him to the Danish equivalent of the BMC (shagging your patients, Doctor David? Tsk, tsk, we’re going to have to give you a no about that).

Let’s back away from Mess for a moment and consider out Anti-Hero, Claudia, who’s rapidly getting deeper and deeper into Energreen’s, and Sander  Sodergren’s, little deceptions. In episode 3, she flies out to Abu Dhabi where Sander is banking all on getting Arab backing for a highly experimental superconductor that Hanne, its Chief Scientist, knows is fraught with difficulties. Hanne’s use of the word No (which, disappointingly, is Danish for No) sees her career end on the spot. The very next day, a more, shall we call it optimistic?, scientists pitches a trouble-free pitch, with the aid of what looked like a square of albino battenburg hovering on a cloud of dry ice and circling a table ad infinitum.

That it’s a flagrant con is established from the casual way in  which the compliant scientist dropped in the fact that Energreen had invented perpetual motion without going, say, HEY, LOOK YOU GUYS, WE’VE INVENTED PERPETUAL FUCKING MOTION!!!!!

Claudia looks perturbed at Hanne’s treatment but barely blinks and simply moves onto the next right royal shafting, in episode 4, when she takes the little son she patently adores and misses so much to Jutland on a day out, so he can watch her down-size a former family company preparatory to selling it off. That goes down like a brick pigeon with the CEO and former owner, but that’s nothing as to when Claudia gets told there’s been a change of plans and, thanks to some financial smartarsery from Energreen’s Chief Financial Officer, Ulrik Skov, the company has to be shut down, five minutes ago, no back answers.

So our dear Claudia has to go round handing out redundancy notices to all 300 employees (after the ex-owner signs a ‘loadsamoney for you personally, shut-yer-gob’ agreement drafted by her own fair hand), but the only one we see is middle-aged secretary Gerthe, who has been keeping little Bertram amused. It’s a cheap attempt to tug at the heart-strings that might have worked in a better series, but is merely nasty here. So when it turns into a cue for Bertram to say he doesn’t like Mummy’s job and wants to go back to Daddy now, it’s meaningless.

These are all business dealings that could be easily enough justified by businessmen as financially necessary, but I suspect that, somewhere round about twenty minutes into episode 9, Claudia will find herself handling a trick too shitty for ever her to process and will start coughing to Mess and Alf. When she does, I shall think back to episodes like this and be profoundly unconveniced.

One more thing about Claudia before we turn to our third pillar, car thief Nicky and the idiot Bimse, but the story did surprise me for the first and so far only time near the end of episode 3. Sander and Claudia are staying in opposite rooms in a big Abu Dhabi hotel, he’s pestering her for dinner, he takes her back to her room, bursting with testosterone, but Claudia is expecting the pass and not showing any signs of encouragement. That is, until he knocks on her door again to bring a toy car present for young Bertram, which leads her to snog his face off – until he stops her abruptly. This is wrong, he has great things planned for her, this will spoil things. Cliche-busting alert! Though the whole thing spoke to me of very dispassionate manipulation.

So, Nicky and the Boxo. Yeah, it’s all starting to go to custard for that pair, thanks to the Bozo being, well, a Bozo. They’ve got the money, nobody on the investigation side knows about them, and Nicky’s father-in-law cools the trail when Nicky is bozo enough to use the stolen iPad for pictures of his chocolate-faced child. But I’ll bet the iPad hasn’t been dumped: after all, it needs to turn up somewhere about episode 8 to incriminate Sander.

I’m sorry, no, I refuse to waste more time than is necessary on this strand of the plot, until it links more firmly with the A story. Which is financial hi-jinks, centring around Sander and the aforementioned Ulrik Skov, the outline of which was put together by Chinese Dane Alf, with the improbable assistance of Mess. It made for interesting but hardly visceral stuff. Let’s see if more can be built upon it next week.

The problem is that there is the makings of a decent, and potentially gripping story about high finance and big business in this series that is being consistently blurred by the antics of the three principals, Mess, Claudia and Nicky, who are acting in a completely different story (or two different stories if you look at Nicky.) The two styles are running counter to one another without setting up any kind of insightful counterpoint, or even a fruitful resonance.

It’s not the end of SkandiCrime As We Know It, but it falls short of the standards we are used to, and reports suggest there’s nothing coming down the line to redeem it. At least it’s not snark-worthy, like you-know-what.

Up for t’Cup: 1942 – 1951

A man and the Cup – Joe Mercer captains Arsenal

Almost half the decade was lost to the Second World War, but on two great days, 8 May and 14 August, the end of hostilities in Europe and the Pacific were achieved and celebrated. It was far too late in the year to organise the return of the Football League, but the FA Cup could return, gloriously, joyously, excitingly. It could be one of the earliest ways by which the wounds of destruction could begin to be healed.
Because of the paucity of professional football to enjoy, for the first season back only, the Cup was played out over two legs from the First Round Proper to the Sixth Round, leaving only  the semi-finals and Final to be decided on the traditional one-off basis. Home advantage went to the first drawn team in the first leg, which suited the Manchester clubs, both winning ties against lower league opposition by big margins in second legs at home after merely drawing away.
After six years absence, the Cup was back with a very full season, making the most of its isolation as the only first rank competition around. As early as the Qualifying Rounds, there were anomalies, especially in the profusion of astonishingly one-sided scores, several of which were in double figures. Works teams appeared in profusion (this might not have been unusual, but at the moment I don’t have access to pre-War Qualifying Rounds). And the Victorian era was recalled by the granting of no less than nine byes through the Second Qualifying Round.
There was no issue about imbalanced byes, though only forty-three of the forty-four Division Three teams entered the First Round, with the forty-four First and Second Division teams, and no others, entering at Round Three.
Cup-Holders Portsmouth, after holding the Cup for seven years, promptly surrendered the trophy, losing to Birmingham City by a solitary goal scored over two legs.
But the Cup’s return saw one of the thankfully few great Football Stadium disasters, in the Sixth Round Second Leg at Burnden Park, where Bolton hosted Stoke. As with Wembley in 1923, tickets were on sale on the day, but when attempts were made to shut the gates, the crowd just forced its way past them. An estimated 83,000 entered the ground and tragedy struck just before kick-off when ramshackle crush barriers collapsed. Thirty-three spectators were crushed to death.
Unbelievably, unlike the tragedy at Hillsborough, forty-one years later, the game was only suspended, not abandoned. Kick-off was delayed thirty minutes whilst the dead bodies were laid out along the touchlines, and the game started with one touchline newly-laid with sawdust. At half-time, the teams changed straight round, without an interval. Stoke winger, the legendary Stanley Matthews, later said that he was sickened by the decision to let the game continue, and few would disagree with him. Knowing what had happened, which of the twenty-two players could have given their best?
Eventual winners Derby County, succeeding at last in their fourth Final, took the two-leg principle too far by needing two games to overcome Birmingham City in the semi-final, and went even further by needing extra-time to overcome first-time Finalists, Charlton Athletic.
The Final was distinguished by many incidents. The game went goalless until the 85th minute, when Charlton’s Bert Turner became first the oldest man to score in a Cup Final, and secondly the first of only three players to score for both teams in the Final. Turner put through his own net to give Derby the lead, but equalised a minute later from a free-kick (which, ironically, took so big a deflection that it sounds as if it should have been given as an own goal itself).
Weirdly, in the minutes remaining, the ball burst during a shot at the Charlton goal. Uncannily, the same thing had happened during a wartime League game between the two clubs, seven days earlier.
It did not spare Charlton much, as they were overwhelmed in extra-time, Derby eventually winning 4-1.
In keeping with the two-leg tournament, the players got two medals, being presented with a bronze medal on day and the traditional gold metal, later in the year, when gold supplies had returned to normal.
Football was back in full for the 1946/47 season. There was a full League programme, and a reversion to the Cup’s traditional one-leg format. Unfortunately, there was also a reversion to the same system of lop-sided byes. The three strongest Third Division sides, based on the 1938/39 League programmes, went into Round Three, and the consequent gap in Round One was filled by the two FA Amateur Cup Finalists. Charlton, having reached their first ever Final the year before, reached their last ever (to date) twelve months later, this time winning the Cup against Burnley. Again, the ball burst in normal-time, again extra-time was required. This mini-spate of bursting balls was later blamed on the poor quality of leather available immediately after the war. That would not be repeated, nor would extra-time be needed again in the Final for another eighteen years.
As far as format was concerned, the Amateur Cup finalists entering  at Round One and three Third Division teams at Round Three continued until the 1950/51 season. In 1947/48, Manchester United reached their second Final, playing against the Tangerines of Blackpool, whose line-up included the legendary Stanley Matthews, reaching his first Cup Final. United got to Wembley as the only Finalist in the Cup’s history to play top-flight opposition (i.e., First Division) in every round. Both teams played in change-strips, United in blue and white.
The 1948 Final has gone down in history as one of the greatest Finals of all time, indeed contemporaneously, it was regarded as the best footballing Final ever. United’s performance, under Matt Busby, was described in the press as near-perfect, with Blackpool not far behind. The Seasiders led twice, with goals from Stanley Mortenson – who scored in every Round – and Eddie Shinwell, from the penalty spot, making him the first full-back to score in a Cup Final. Blackpool led twice, but three goals in twelve minutes from United saw them take the Cup 4-2.
And, as so frequently happened in an era where weather-postponements left outstanding games that had to be played after the Cup Final, the two clubs met in a rearranged fixture on the Monday after the Final: Blackpool won 1-0.
Having taken thirty-nine years to reach their second Final, United made a valiant effort to make it two in a row, losing in the semi-final to the eventual winners, Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Final was an all-Midlands affair, with Leicester City reaching their first Final. The Cup was won on form: Leicester were a Second Division club, struggling against relegation, which they would eventually avoid by a single point.
For Leicester, it was the unexpected beginning of an unwanted record, the Cup Final’s least successful team, the only club to appear in four Finals without ever winning the trophy, thanks to three losing appearances in the Sixties. Ironically, having reached their first Final as a Second Division team, Leicester fourth appearance was coupled with relegation back to Division Two.
The first Final of the Fifties was distinguished by a pair of derby semi-finals, Merseyside and London. Liverpool beat Everton in the semi-final, but not Arsenal in the Final, which was the first Final since1923 to be given the official attendance of 100,000, Wembley’s capacity. Excluding replays, this would be the neat, well-rounded attendance figure for all Finals until 1986. As in 1948, both clubs wore change strips, Arsenal winning the Cup in the unlikely colours of yellow and white. Their team included, on the left wing, the famous England cricketer, Denis Compton, whilst Liverpool chose to drop future managerial legend Bob Paisley, despite his having scored the winner against Everton.
In the summer of 1950, the Football League decided to expand its numbers to the 92 clubs that most of us have known all our lives. Two teams were voted into each of Third Division North and South, bringing the two regional divisions to twenty-four each. The Cup responded, as it always did, albeit with the by-now expected awkwardness. Just as twenty years earlier, only the First and Second Division teams were entered at Round Three, and the forty-four existing Division Three teams at Round One. As for the four new League Clubs, they received no favours, being condemned to the Qualifying Rounds, at least three of them: Shrewsbury Town withdrew from the Cup in disgust at this treatment.
The winners were Newcastle United, entering upon a half-decade of Wembley dominance. They beat Blackpool 2-0 in a clash of legends, with Wor Jackie Milburn scoring both goals, and Stan Matthews (and Mortenson) denied again. There was a sign of the future, with the Newcastle line-up including the Chilean player, George Robledo. Many decades were yet to pass before the appearance of players from outside the British Isles in the Cup Final became a regular sight.
The FA Cup had now been in existence for eighty years, and seventy Finals had been played. Over half its history, to 2016, now lay behind it. The Final was the biggest game in English Football, every year. This would inevitably decline, but those years were still a long way ahead, and there was much glory still to be enjoyed.

(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)

1945/46  Derby County 4 Charlton Athletic 1 (aet)
1946/47  Charlton Athletic 1 Burnley 0 (aet)
1947/48 Manchester United 4 Blackpool 2
1948/49  Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Leicester City 1
1949/50 Arsenal 2 Liverpool 0
1950/51 Newcastle United 2  Blackpool 0

The eighth decade, beginning late because of the ongoing War, featured only six Finals, emulating the fourth decade. There were ten Finalists in this first post-war decade, with Charlton Athletic appearing twice – and never again – and Blackpool also reaching two Finals, only to lose both. They would return to claim the Cup in the next decade, in one of the most famous Finals of all time. No club won the Cup twice in this decade and two of the six winners were first and only time victors. Both Burnley and Leicester City reached the Final as Second Division clubs, and for the latter it was the beginning of a most unwanted record: Leicester have appeared in more Cup Finals than any other club who has never won the Cup.

Why 2016 is so shitty and how it’s only going to get worse

Another death. The loss of Johann Cruyff, to a not wholly unexpected cancer, adds another name to the toll of losses we have already had in 2016.

I didn’t comment upon Keith Emerson the other week because, although I was intimately familiar with ELP’s work in the Seventies, it was through the enthusiasms of others. My mate Alan, with whom I was at school, my mate Steve, who is my oldest and longest friend, were both ELP fans and played all the albums to me, over and again. Steve has taken Emerson’s death, and in particular the fact that it was suicide, very hard,

I have been lucky so far. With the exception of Alan Rickman – and his fame dates from a much later period than the others – I have yet to suffer the lost of one of my old favourites. Or rather I have, much much earlier, when Alan Hull, the leading light in Lindisfarne, died back in the Nineties. What I see around me is the winking out of lights that illuminate various periods of my life, without the central core, my personal pantheon, being affected.

But in trying to console Steve, in his confusion about Emerson taking his own life, I did understand something about why 2016 has been such a shitty year so far, and how it is only going to get worse.

I was born in November, 1955, but my first memories of the world around me begin to coalesce in about 1968 when it came to sport, and 1970 in the case of music. I was fifteen in 1970, a few months after my father died. The people who caught my attention, in whatever frame, were, on average, about a decade older than me. That puts them, collectively, at and around the age of 70.

People, our heroes when we were young, when I and my generation were young, are pushing three score and ten. It’s going to happen increasingly frequently. Time’s a passing. It’s fifty years since the World Cup Final, since England’s win in 1966, and nine of the Boys of 1966 are still with us. That’s an incredibly good average, but the longer the survivors last, the more frequent will be the times when the limits of their lives are reached.

The bands we were into, perpetually youthful and innovative in our memories, are as old, and older than our grandfathers were when they held our attention, and the last of my grandparents passed away in 1982.

We need to steel ourselves, we need to harden our hearts. We are going to be going through this regularly. Remind yourself of your heroes, quick and often, celebrate them whilst they are to be celebrated. Because the time is is now here  when they’re all going to start going ahead.

New Girl Genius Kickstarter – Pledge Now

New Girl Genius Kickstarter – Pledge Now

City of LightningIt’s that time of year again, when Professor and Professora Foglio take to Kickstarter to fund the next volume (no 15) of Girl Genius.

This is the second volume of Act 2 of this epic and highly funny story, The City of Lightning. Seeking to free her city of Mechanicsburg from the time-stasis it has been trapped in for nearly three years, Agatha Heterodyne and her band of trusted colleagues arrive in Paris, seeking permission to examine its extensive and rare underground libraries. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, Baron of the by-now crumbling Wulfenbach Empire, is still, slowly, painfully, extracting individual figures from the city, but still unable to get close enough to his father, Klaus, who has created the time-field as a means of keeping himself free from the influence of The Other…

This is the link, go and treat yourself. There’s twenty days left and the funding goal is already $12,000 behind and counting, but get in ahead of time.

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