Saturday SkandiCrime: Follow the Money parts 1 & 2

Coming to you incredibly late for me, what with yesterday’s day out and the Manchester Derby this afternoon. And perhaps it’s because I’ve watched it mid-Sunday evening and not late Saturday night, but so far I’ve found little to impress or enthuse me about Denmark’s latest offering.

And there is a seriously dubious title sequence showing the four main characters going about their business with water welling up from everything until they’re trying to function normally in rooms full to the ceiling with water. It’s clearly symbolic but at this point there isn’t a clue what it’s symboliic of.

Follow the Money is a very dull title (the Danish title, Bedrag, sounds far better, and it literally means ‘Deception’), and the fact that the central mystery appears to revolve around some as-yet-undisclosed dodgy financial dealings involving one of Denmark’s most successful companies, Energreen, seemed to confirm a certain lack of imagination in the first instance. There was, however, a glimmer of interest by the end of episode 2 when this over-literal title took on an even more literal meaning, as a well-contrived blunder put two seemingly minor characters – one of them the biggest numbskull in the show – in possession of 2,000,000 Euros in brick-thick bundles. Someone, and probably more than one party, is going to be following that money around.

The opening opted for the piecemeal approach, giving us three disparate strands, each with its own central character, before wrapping them into one interwoven package with a briskness unusual for Scandinavian Crime.

Firstly, we have Mads, our forty-something maverick detective. Mads is called out to a dead body, recovered from the water, which turns out to be a Ukrainian worker from the nearby offshore wind farm owned by Energreen. Lacking any immediate means to getting over to us that the quiet, ordinary-looking Mads is a maverick, the writer opted for the unusual and somewhat risible method of having him strip off and dive into the undoubtedly freezing water to retrieve a safety jacket, rather than wait five minutes for a boat.

This had the story value of establishing for us that Mads doesn’t do patience very well, which would become a salient feature of part 2.

Mikhayil’s death turned out to be an accident caused by deliberate breach of Health and Safety regulations by Energreen, not for the first time. Mads tries to exhort the Ukrainians to file a complaint but all that achieves is to get the lot of them fired, and Mikhayil’s distraught father, Alexander, to hang himself in his storage container hut bedroom. That made it personal for Mads, at which point I got a chilling echo of the utterly inept Salamander, glimmers of which kept reflecting off him for the rest of both episode.

I’m sorry to harp on about Mads, but he is our star but we also have to reflect upon his home life, which is two children – one boy, young, one girl, youngish, shades of Borgen – and a wife suffering from sclerosis attacks. Mads is doing everything he can, and the tears he cries when she unexpectedly recovers from her current, bad attack, are a touching testament to his love for her, though I can’t help but wonder that, her first words when introduced in bad shape being that she dreamed of having sex, once she recovered – and she really is an attractive woman – there wasn’t the slightest hint of him even thinking of sex: this might be implanting something extremely subtle to be realised later, and I have some insight into situations like this, but that would be to give the series credit it’s far from earning yet.

Let’s leave him for a while and transfer our attention to lead 2, one Claudio Moreno, of Energreen’s legal department: thirtyish, divorced, young son who lives with his father Steen (also a lawyer). Claudia’s just uncovered a contract clause that will save Energreen 20,000,000 euros a year, but it’s head lawyer Mogens who’s going to take the credit for this.

But Mogens enlists Claudia to hunt out an insider who’s insider trading, and he hints that the corruption goes as high as CEO, founder and all-round hotshot Sander Sodergren, so she’s got to keep it extremely quiet, from everyone. It all involves some company called East Manchester Invest  (which, sadly, proves to be registered in Copenhagen rather than Openshaw) but Claudia, who is ambitious, decides Mogens is trying to frame Sander and takes it all to the big Boss. Who promptly, a), fires Mogens, b), appoints Claudia as his new Head Lawyer and, c), admits to her that he did, in fact, after all, as it happens, authorise his best trader, Peter Sondergaard to go off insider trading, providing the then financially-strapped Energreen got its share of the profits. Oi!

And then there’s Nicky, a car mechanic and ex-car thief, married with a small, one year old baby, and living in a high-rise flat. From which he and his wife want to escape but they haven’t got the money for it. So, despite his initial, and eminently sensible refusal to join blatant moron Bimse in car-thieving for quick profit, Nicky decides to supplement his income the old-fashioned way. After all, there’s this rude, arrogant jerk called Peter Sondergaard who’s running a BMW that the Serbs can sell on…

So now let’s stir the mix. Maverick Mads can’t get anywhere with trying to bring Energreen down over these deaths (remember, it’s personal). His by-the-book boss Preben shuts the case, like all the others. Fortunately, Detective Alf (yes, Alf, a Danish cop, of Chinese extraction, called Alf, do you want to make something of that? There is also an Albert in this series, move along) offers him a chance to tag along with the Fraud Squad to get some satisfaction.

Of course, Fraud Squad cases last sometimes for years, and Mads, as we already know, doesn’t do patience, so when they can’t get a wiretap of East Manchester Invest due to minor details like having no evidence whatsoever, Mads cons a fellow cop into adding it to the warrant for a completely different case (it is, it’s bloody Philip Gerrardi all over again).

Claudia meanwhile recommends Peter Sondergaard and his colleague are separated from Energreen tooty-de-sweet, before the Police investigation finds them. It seems a simple job, a silent severance, that sort of thing, no publicity, and even a fun one when Peter starts treating Claudia as the secretary, but it transpires that Peter has something on Sander, not financial, but personal, and something that has him immediately willing to hand over 4,000,000 euros, cash, to buy them off.

(He has an associate, named only P, who handles the transactions, and who appears to have hidden, shall we call them, talents? I mention him because this time, unlike Captain Carlssen in Trapped, I recognised him immediately: Claus Ljungmark, aka Norlander in the first five Arne Dahl movies).

Which brings us back to Nicky and the idiot Bimse, who’s going to get someone killed, preferably himself. P hands over two hold-alls, each containing 2,000,000 Euros to Peter and the other one (Mark?). Peter drives home, does the Patrick McGoohan in the opening credits of The Prisoner bit and re-emerges to find his Beamer gone. With the cash, and the iPad containing the incriminating evidence against Sander. Which are in the hands of Nicky and the Bozo.

I shall, of course, continue to watch and blog the whole series, but after two episodes it has not filled me with confidence. The strength of the various Scandinavian crime series, apart from the fascination of seeing a familiar subject through the eyes of a different culture, has been in how it has immersed itself in the impact that murder has, on victims, families, the Police themselves. It has relied heavily upon the characters of the Police involved, from the eccentric yet fascinating Saga Noren of The Bridge to the utterly down-to-earth Hinrika in Trapped.

But we have none of that here. The deaths we have had to date are of importance only to the detective, who is not, as yet, distinguishable in any way from a generic ‘maverick cop’. Nicky loses points for being involved with Bimse the Bozo, someone that a three-month old baby would avoid for utter unreliability, whilst Claudia, who already only sees her little boy four days a fortnight, puts up the feeblest of resistances to her ex-husband Steen taking him to live in Paris for two years.

The only character who genuinely interests me so far is Mads’ wife, Kristina, and that may be due to personal things on my part.

Follow the Money has four more weeks in which to prove me wrong, but on the evidence of two episodes, it’s biggest problem is that it’s just so damned ordinary. And we don’t go in for ordinary in the Saturday SkandiCrime slot.

A Day Out – Otherworlds

Ever since I’ve become dependent upon public transport, I’ve become increasingly paranoid about bus and train times, and with good reason. It’s exacerbated in those cases where the cheapest advance tickets are two singles, tying me to specific trains there and back.

For my day in London, I needed to be at Stockport station for 8.43 am so, by my standards, it was cutting it exceedingly fine to arrive with only fifteen minutes to spare.

This trip has been planned for over a month, but a new, unforeseen dimension was added yesterday. I’m off to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington for the Otherworlds Exhibition, a collection of space photography from the last fifty years, prepared by Michael Benson. In keeping with my paranoia, I’d allowed very wide margins. My train was due at Euston at 10.43 am and my booking was for 12.30pm.

This was based in part on my assumption that South Kensington was South of the River, and therefore a lot of traveling would be involved. Of course it’s not (I have not been in that part of London previously) and the travel planners I consulted assured me the journey from Euston would take only 27 minutes, walking included, though their estimate of walking speed may be fractionally faster than my reality, making my arrival considerably premature.

But on Friday, I learned of a new exhibition, opening on March 19th, featuring the wonders of Smallfilms Ltd, the production company of those great geniuses, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, the creators of The Clangers and Bagpuss. At the Victoria and Albert Museum, next door to the Natural History Museum.

If only I’d booked an earlier slot at the Natural History Museum. The hour or so’s grace would hardly be enough for Postgate et al so I’d just go over after finishing with Otherworlds. There would be ample time, my return train not being until 6.00pm.

The journey was a breeze. After Stockport, there were only two stops before London, at Macclesfield and Stoke. I had a window seat reserved, with the aisle seat reserved from Stoke, so I dumped my bag on the spare seat for now, rather than have to dig into it between my feet. But Stoke came and went without anyone taking up the the seat, so I luxuriated in the space all the way.

I was on the right side of the carriage so, as we sped through North London, I craned my eyes left for the traditional sight of Wembley. I have never been to the New Wembley nor, frankly, can I foresee any chance of doing so, and like most older football fans I will always miss the Twin Towers. When it flashes by, it’s a shock to see it loom so close to the track. I don’t remember the Empire Stadium being that close.

I haven’t used the Tube since Mark Rustigini and I came down for the 1999 Cup Final. I’ve always loved it, since I first visited London in 1977, though it does have the effect of reducing the city to a series of disconnected circles, centring upon various stations. I want the Victoria Line to Green Park, changing to the Piccadilly Line for South Ken.

The queue for tickets is massive – the last time I used the Tube, they still had people behind grilles – and an all-day return is nearly a tenner, but when I get down to the platform, it’s like the late Seventies/early Eighties are back. At both stations, the train arrives within a minute of my hitting the platform, and the old lucky judgement is back as the doors open where I’m standing.

The only bugger is the walk from one line to another at Green Park, which takes miles of corridors.

There’s even a subway at South Kensington, so the first I see of London above ground is the Museum itself, a proud, noble and impressive building, opposite the French Consulate. This is where things get stupid.

There’s a queue towards the Museum gates, and an even longer one inside. As we approach the gates, we realise that there is a similar queue from the opposite direction. Thus far, the security guards have been alternating streams, but as I reach the gate they decide that it’s going to be one queue only, and it’s going to be the other one. We have to stride out to join the other end of it.

Once inside the gate, we snake in moebius-lines towards the bottom of the ramp curling up to the entrance. Only as I reach this, do I realise that there’s a whole other garden area beyond, round which we queue even further, just to get bac to here.

Being British, I queue placidly. It’s one of our great contributions to humanity, the orderly queue, everyone in their turn. That doesn’t mean that I don’t hate the vast majority of those in front of me, who are forever slow abut catching up gaps that appear before them, especially the young foreign couple, directly ahead, who are too busy talking selfies to notice that ten yards have opened up before them.

Smartphones have a lot to answer for.

It seems like my wasted period of grace before my booking has been very important after all. All told, it takes over fifty minutes to get from gate to entrance, a distance coverable in under two, even by me. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to find queues to get in, but it wouldn’t have happened like this in Manchester.

The lady on the ticket desk takes it on trust that I am sixty and eligible for the concessionary rate (my first!). I ought to be offended: this is not meant to be a boast but most people tend to underestimate my age by up to a decade which, when I look at myself in a mirror, leaves me very worried about their judgement – or their eyesight!

I supposea large part of why I am here is down to Dan Dare, and his adventures across the other planets in our Solar System. That opened the door for me, the door to space, to strangeness, otherness, the unimaginable. This is the natural culmination, the actuality of what our planetary neighbours are, without the art and the imagination of Frank Hampson, Keith Watson and all the others.

Michael Benson has pieced these photographs together from hundreds of tiny pictures beamed across millions upon millions of miles, from rockets that have traversed our Solar System in a way that we yet are unable to do ourselves. They are photographs of things we haven’t seem, may never see ourselves in the flesh, but which the things we have built can reach and can send back.

I’m hit first by an incredible statistic: that the Sun alone comprises 99.86% of the mass of the Solar System. Earth, it’s fellow planets, dwarfs, moons, asteroids, comets, add up to the thinnest of statistical margins of error. Does that humble you? It humbles me.

We begin with the Earth and the Moon, but in the context of what the exhibition goes onto, these are oddly conventional. I can almost be blase about these sights, they are so close, so familiar, but for the rest of the exhibition, from picture to picture, all that goes through my head, endlessly, is, “Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” and my mouth is almost permanently open in awe at what I’m seeing. These are the faces of the bodies that share our system, objects of our imagination, photographed from distances that are unimaginable in themselves but which, in context, are the equivalent of over-the-fence snaps of your neighbour’s back garden.

Curiously, it is not the beauty of Saturn, the Ringed Planet, our System’s jewel, nor even the remoteness of Pluto that nevertheless offers a blue sky, that affects me most, but rather Mars, the Red Planet, almost a cliche. This is because the photographs in this section are not just from space, but also come from the surface of the planet.

I remember a Saturday morning, in the late Nineties, sitting in front of the television in my lounge, watching the live broadcast of a camera on the planet Mars, looking at a landscape that, for all its dryness, its desert waste, looked achingly familiar. There was a blue sky, a daylight sky, an astonishment to someone who had grown up expecting planetary skies to show the night and the stars, and there were mountains, buttes and ridges that could be climbed, to look upon views beyond imagination.

I have the same feeling looking at these Martian landscapes, none more so than the one that shows the broad tracks of a Mars Rover. We have not been there, and maybe we won’t get there, who knows, we haven’t even been back to our own Moon in forty-four years, but we have set some kind of feet on the surface of another planet, and we have moved beyond imagination into reality.

That I, an eight year old boy at play in Dan Dare’s Universe, should have lived to see this! That it’s been done and in my lifetime. My heart is in my mouth and tears threaten. I want to take that eight year old boy by the hand and tell him that it will come true after all, it is all real, and he will see for himself, in a London Museum one day.

I try to explain something of that to the young woman in the shop. I’m buying the book of the Exhibition – how could I not buy the book? – and I’m talking of the sheer wonder of it. At this moment, I can’t think, and neither can she, of what humanity might do, or where it might go that seems impossible now but which will come about within her days, but I hope for her sake and her generation’s sake that there will be something to give her that same frisson one day, because everybody deserves to feel this. That I have lived to see…

From there, I cross over to the V&A Museum, fully prepared to move from the Sublime to the Gloriously Ridiculous, but that’s when I run into the second and bigger hitch of the day. I have not read the web-page well for the Bagpuss Exhibition is actually on at the V&A Museum of Childhood, and that is not in South Kensington, but rather in Bethnall Green. Even my fragmentary knowledge of London geography tells me that it’s a long way from where I am (indeed it is, we’re talking east London here, my son). Another expedition will be required, once I have saved up for the train tickets again.

So, with the unexpected bonus unexpectedly busted, I revert to plan A and head back to Oxford Circus. My luck with Tube trains still holds, in fact it improves. I barely have to wait fifteen seconds at both South Ken and Green Park for trains that open their doors before my nose, but once I ascend to ground level at Oxford Circus, the ticket-barrier retains my return ticket, even though I’m not at Euston.

I stroll east down Oxford Street, noting with mild regret the disappearance of landmarks like the old Virgin Megastore and the big, big HMV Shop, but what I notice most is that that near hour of queuing has done for my feet. My progress is increasingly slow and painful, turning into Charing Cross Road, so I take the load off them, all too temporarily, in the Montague Pike, where I down a pint and a beefburger, desultorily watching Wales extend a 7-0 lead over Italy to 27-0 at half-time, when I move on.

Having visited once within the last twelve months, I soon find Forbidden Planet, which is a little unjust considering how long I wandered around last year, after checking maps, but once again it’s noisy, cramped, crowded and holds nothing out of the ordinary that I can’t just as easily put my hands on back home.

So, with my feet having made their position non-negotiable, I slowly trudge back to Tottenham Court Road, where a single to Euston is even more bloody expensive. The escalator is steep and long, and I suffer from a brief but unwelcome bout of vertigo that I have to fight throughout the descent. My train luck runs out: I have to wait nearly ninety seconds for a train and I have to search for a door.

By the time I’m back at Euston, there is an hour and forty-five minutes before my train is due, which is ridiculous even by my standards. Last time I was here and waiting was after my last United Kingdom Comics Art Convention (1988? 1989?) when John Mottershead and I decided to blow off early on Sunday afternoon, and we bumped into Alan Moore on the concourse and went into some cheap, not-busy cafe and talked for over an hour until his train for Northampton was due to leave, but there don’t seem to be such places in 2016.

I ended up sitting on one of those metal benches for over an hour or so, way past when my bum started getting numb, and making a break for the train as soon as boarding was announced. I’m in coach C, which is about half way to Watford Junction, and I settle down with great delight. It’s another window seat, on the non-Wembley side of the carriage, and to my delight, no-one claims the supposedly-reserved aisle seat, so it’s a double space all the way back to Stockport, reading R A Lafferty’s magnificent Fourth Mansions (bought in a no-longer-existent back street Stockport bookshop over forty years ago) and listening to my mp3 player all the way.

If I were getting off at Manchester, I’d have had to wait half an hour for a 203. Getting off here, I only have to wait five minutes to catch the service from the other end. My feet feel better for the rest, but I get a bad bout of cramp in my left shin later on, and I know my calves will be killing me in the morning.

But it’s been a great day out and for all the expense, and the time of another journey to London, I’m not sorry to have to go back for Bagpuss. I could do with getting out more often. Maybe often enough to justify an Old Person’s Railcard? Gotta start taking advantage of my advanced years, haven’t I?

Up for t’Cup – 1942 – 51

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 Shimwell, 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.

Kill Two Birds

I’m off to That London tomorrow for the day, on a cultural visit, to the Otherworlds exhibition at the natural History Museum in South Kensington. I first read about Otherworlds in the Guardian about six weeks ago, and have had everything planned out for ages: ticket booked, train tickets booked, details of how to get most easily from Euston Station to a part of London I’ve never visited before. It’s sorted, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Then I was glancing at the Guardian website again today, in a quiet moment at work, and discovered this. An exhibition of original puppets and materials from Smallfilms, the work of those geniuses Olive Postgate and Peter Firmin: The Clangers, Bagpuss, Pogles, a dream of an exhibition.

And it starts tomorrow.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Which is next door to the Natural History Museum!

On a plate, or what? My cup runneth over, and trust me, you’ll hear about both of these when I get back.

A Moment of Dave Sim

It’s now over a decade since Cerebus finished, and in all that time I’ve read the comic that I followed monthly for twenty-three years only once. Artistically, Dave Sim was, and still is, a genius who deserves to be celebrated, but in his attitudes to women and religion, his copybook has long been blotted beyond any chance of ever being read again.

For the last couple of years at least, I’ve been following the A Moment of Cerebus blog-site, daily, relishing the frequent examples of art, many of the anecdotes, several of the third party responses and almost none of Sim’s pronouncements.

I’m not going to try to set out Sim’s beliefs. He has long since been described as a misogynist, and whilst he disagrees, and whilst a couple of thousand people have signed an online petition to say that they too do not believe he is a misogynist, I find the case all too blatantly proven by Sim’s multifarious statements. It means I shall never have any communication with Sim again, because he will only permit this with those who, in writing, agree that he is not a misogynist.

Sim neither owns nor runs A Moment of Cerebus, but it extensively features his thoughts, beliefs and opinions or, to characterise them as Sim does, the God-given absolute truth that will inevitably sweep away all this feminist nonsense within te next decade or two.

Permanently available on the site is Sim’s anti-feminist manifesto, ‘Fifteen Impossible Things to believe before Breakfast’, originally published in Cerebus, in which Sim sets out his irrefutable case in detail. He has referred to this catalogue hundreds of times.

Recently, for the first time since it was first posted on the blog, a reader has written in to counter-argue the Fifteen Points. It’s hardly necessary to say that Sim has refused to accept any points raised by his correspondent. I confess to not having read more than a few lines of Sim’s reply. I have read too much of Sim’s reasoning down the years to be prepared to waste my time on ‘more-of-the-same’. There has been some back-and-forth, but Sim remains unchanged.

In itself, that’s hardly worthy of comment. But this is the latest posting by Sim, on this subject, today:

“Just a quick note that I promised to address Erick on the 15 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS because he actually posted — according to Tim W, the first one to ever do so — his 15 replies.

This isn’t MY website.  It’s Tim W’s.  If he wants to do this again:  post Barry Deutsch’s 15 RESPONSES and then Damian’s 15 RESPONSES and have me reply to them — and anyone else who wants to post 15 RESPONSES, I have no problem with that.  But, at some point I think he should change the name of the site to A MOMENT OF FEMINISM.

Just saying.”

This is an open statement that the mere act of allowing a person to make an argument adverse to Sim’s beliefs is in itself an act of unjustifiable support for feminism, notwithstanding the free rein Sim has to respond, with the permanent last word, and that reference to Cerebus should be removed from the website’s title.  Sim’s basic point is that men are Rational Beings, based in Thought, whilst women are Irrational Beings, based in emotion, which has no place in any form of decision making. Yet here he is, acting like a spoilt brat, suggesting that even listening to ‘the other side’ is a penal offence that means the offender should be characterised as being a girl, all the while that Sim threatens to take his ball home.
It’s contemptuous behaviour on any level. Sim simply isn’t worthy of being listened to. And he used to be a hero of mine, and a tremendously creative figure. So long ago, and so far away.

What it’s like to be a Red? The View from March 15th

There’s something peculiarly evil about agreeing with an opposition fan over a moment of controversy affecting their team. You can see it getting under their skin and undermining their world view.

My ex-team boss is a Liverpool fan and he was on our floor this afternoon to speak to someone. Naturally, he couldn’t resist the chance to have a gloat over me for last Thursday’s Europa League tie, not to mention the return leg coming up in a couple of days. It didn’t half take the wind out of his sails when I cheerfully described out performance as ‘crap’.

We had more of a serious argument about the return leg, especially when I said I could see us turning them over 3-0. He just rejected it as a possibility at all. Mind you, I said I could also see us being hammered again, which he naturally agreed with. I don’t take his opinion seriously, anyway. There are some Liverpool fans you can have a serious conversation with, and then there’s the majority, like my ex-Team leader.

But the thing is that I genuinely don’t know what to expect from United when I sit down to watch a match this season. Most of the time, no expectation has been the order of things: no goals, no chances, no creation, no expectation.

Yet there is another United, one that comes out unexpectedly, plays serious, purposeful, exciting football, wins and wins in style. It’s like the anti-van Gaal United, the one that rejects utterly everything he tells them and instead plays unlike a Manchester United team, indeed makes a mockery of him and his ‘three-year-plan-is-exactly-on-track’ (insert ironic link to Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’ at this point).

If they play on Thursday, I can see us overcoming the scousers and going through. And I may be dropping down to the floor on which my ex-Team Leader works on the Friday, if that should come to pass.

Everybody’s still arguing about who should manage United next season. There’s an overwhelming consensus among the ABUs of the entire country that it should still be van Gaal, and there are still a sizable number of people I work with who would commit at least Grievous Bodily Harm to secure Mourinho. I think they’re short-sighted. I keep saying that we might have two years of success with him, and then we’d be worse off than we are now.

Even the Guardian seemed to have cooled on their endless campaign to force Mourinho into the hot seat at Old Trafford, if nothing else out of sheer horrified embarrassment at coming out with an article (by the otherwise usually intelligent Barney Ronay) pushing the case for van Gaal and Mourinho to work together, with Jose as the junior partner.

Let’s be honest, I’m in the vast majority that wants van Gaal out. It is clear beyond measure that he hasn’t the faintest idea what to do and he cannot establish United as a successful club again, least of all attractive. But I would take him as manager again next season in one circumstance only: to keep Mourinho out.

Though the FA Cup is still within United’s possibilities (I have a quiet suspicion that we will make West Ham’s last ever cup tie at Upton Park into a miserable affair for them), I’ve long since written off this season. It’s great to see so many youngsters coming through and the unexpected bonus of Rooney’s injury this last month has demonstrated clearly that we do not relay on him anything remotely like as much as van Gaal imagines: ‘he is the captain, he will always play when he is fit’: what manager with any brains makes that kind of promise? (Lionel Messi’s, that’s who).

But this is a nowhere year. A new United is required next season, ideally with a new manager. Laurent Blanc is in the frame. Bryan Robson says Giggsy is ready now. The current United isn’t fit for purpose. Support is a habit, a loyalty born of decades.

I’ll still get more pleasure out of Leicester city winning the Premier League than anything else this season.

Football fans – don’t you just love them?

The logic of some football fans is brilliant at times, and I don’t mean that in a complementary way.

Sunday’s quarter-final defeat by Watford over the Cup-holders, Arsenal, was great for those of us who enjoy seeing Arsene Wenger suffer discomfiture and, whilst I didn’t get to see the game, I believe that a certain section of the Gooners’ crowd raised a banner suggesting that it was time for ‘Le Professeur’ to move on.

This was raised in the latter part of the day, on Sky Sports News, with a number of other fans, one of whom expressed himself as having been made ‘sick to his stomach’ by sight of the banner. This was a guy in at least his forties, of a robust girth similar to mine, but considerably less hair. Not a kid then.

He also expressed perfect confidence in Arsenal’s success this season in the Premier League. There had been seasons in the Wenger past where the club, seemingly out of it, went on end of season runs of consecutive wins and captured the Premier League title.

There were nine games left in the season, he said, and if Arsenal win all nine, they’ll be champions. Simple as that.

Or rather, simple-minded as that. If Arsenal were to go on a nine-match winning run, they would amass a further 27 points, taking their end of season tally to 79. Leicester, as of last night, have 63 points with eight games to go. If they were to win six of those games, not even seven out of eight, it wouldn’t matter a blade of Emirates Stadium grass how many or few games Arsenal won.

You’d think someone his age would know basic maths, wouldn’t you?

I love football fans.

Cup History in the making

Well, something’s going to change after this year’s FA Cup Final on May 21. A new Cup record will be established.

This is guaranteed by the pairing of Watford and Crystal Palace in the first semi-final drawn yesterday. Neither team has won the Cup to date: both have appeared in and lost a single Final, Watford in 1984 to Everton, Palace in 1990, after a replay, to Manchester United, who may yet be meeting on the other semi.

So that’s two possible repeat Finals in prospect, but the one certainty is that one of the Cup Finalists will be going for their first ever win.

So, if the Winner comes from that half of the draw, we have a new Winner, the 44th such in Cup history. But, if not, then there will, for the first time since 1961, be a new addition to the short list of clubs who have had multiple appearances in the Final without ever winning the Cup.

Defeat in the Final for either Palace or Watford will bring them level with two-time losers Queen’s Park and Birmingham City, although they’ll still be behind the unwilling champs in that score, Leicester City.

Though they’re hoping not to care this season, for obvious reasons.

Wembley, here we come!

Deep Space Nine: s02e04 – Invasive Procedures

                                                  The Villains

After the three-episode extravaganza used to open season 2, I’m hardly surprised to see DS9 continue with a bottle-episode, confined to the staff and the cast. On the one hand, this led to a well-realised personal story, but on the other the programme was not best served by the unfortunate contrivances required to set it up, which rocked credibility.

The story was simple: Verad, an unjoined Trill, took over the station during a plasma storm in order to fulfil his lifelong ambition of being joined with a symbiont. He had been rejected as unsuitable, but evidently regarded it as being his right to have one: he deserved it, you see, the pathetic little heap of self-entitlement.

So he’d decided to take on, to take Dax from Jardzia, and never mind the consequences, i.e., Jardzia’s subsequent death. Nor was fleeing through the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant really running from his crime: Verad Dax would do so much good out there, after he’d realised his potential.

Under threat to the Command team, and with Jardzia’s acquiescence, to spare her friends, Doctor Bashir performed the transplant. And Verad Dax bloomed, inarguably. He also lost Sisko’s friendship for his refusal to hand Dax back.

So Sisko worked on Verad’s girlfriend, Mareel, pointing out that he was no longer the Verad she loved, and that she wasn’t going to form any part of his life in future, a fact she stubbornly resisted until it became too bloody obvious, whereupon she shopped him for his own good. That was one relationship that you couldn’t see lasting until the next Prom Night.

So all ended well, especially for Avery Brooks, who got to hug a near-naked Terry Farrell.

In that aspect, it was a tightly-knit episode that made good use of the commitedness of the central cast to the firm relationship they have as comrades and friends (does the Chief not still dislike the Doctor, then?) and it was a particularly string episode for Sisko. Which, in a way, was part of the problem in general for the episode.

I’ll return to that in a moment. First, let us consider the set-up. Deep Space Nine spends the episode in the middle of a plasma-storm which sees everyone evacuated, barring a skeleton staff. Which consists of the cast, naturally, and no others. How plausible is it that, in such circumstances, only the Senior Command, and all of them should remain. I have never been in any kind of military organisation, but that doesn’t strike me as to how it works.

The plasma-storm, and the near total evacuation of DS9, is essential for Verad’s plan to take over the station with his girlfriend and two Klingon mercenaries, and they gain entry to the station thanks to Quark bypassing security for them. Yet there’s nothing to indicate that this plasma-storm was foreseen by the station far enough in advance for that arrangement to be organised.

Then there’s Quark himself, who opened the door. Major Kira promises that that’s it, he’s finished, and in any realistic setting, he would be. But Quark will be back next week, unchanged, without interference. Granted, he seems to have been conned into thinking this was a smuggling exercise, rather than the truth, and his fakery of injury enables Bashir to start  the fightback by sedating the distracted Klingon mercenary no. 2, but his actions before that have gone beyond redemption. Knowing they will suffer no consequence demeans and diminishes the story if more than just Jardzia goes back to where it started.

And we come again to the elephant in the space-station. This episode is about Jardzia Dax, about her being the Trill. She’s the centre of everything, and yet she spends most of the episode lying on an infirmary table, partially covered by a surgical sheet.

The reason for this once again comes down to Terry Farrell being a pretty face, and insufficient as an actor to take on parts that involve a substantial range. Just as in the first season episode, ‘Dax’, though the episode centres upon her, she cannot be trusted to play an active role in it. Though the story wouldn’t exist without Jardzia, it is instead Sisko’s performance that is at its centre.

I hope I’m correct in recalling larger roles for Lieutenant Dax in the seasons I saw at the time, but for now she’s merely a deadweight, holding the show back, and it deserves better.

Finally, I’d just like to mention Klingon mercenary no. 1, played by Tim Russ, who would go on to play the Vulcan officer, Tuvok, in the next Star Trek franchise, Voyager.

Rain Days 2

Skiddaw from Sale Fell

The view I didn’t see

The Guardian ‘Country Diary’ used to be completely reliable, a fortnight cycle, with the late Harry Griffin every alternate Monday. Since the last reshuffle, it’s impossible to anticipate when Tony Greenbank will appear. It’s certainly not once a fortnight, that’s all I’m sure of.
He was in the paper yesterday, on a bus ride from Keswick to Grasmere, via Thirlmere and Dunmail Raise. Since the storms of December washed half the road away, there’s been no direct route north, but now, three months on, the service has been restored. Not the main road, but the roundabout route via Thirlmere Dam and the rougher road down the western shore.
It reminded me that, in December, I wrote a piece for this blog, inspired by the rains and the floods, about rain days of the fells. But the sheer,  awful devastation of the storms made such a piece inappropriate, and I put it by. Now it can appear.

Reports of floods in Cumbria, and especially at Cockermouth, which suffered so severely only a little more than half a decade ago, inevitably bring up recollections of rain days on the fells, so long ago.
I’ve written about most of the significant occasions when I’ve been caught out in the rain: the long long ago trek to Burnmoor Tarn, coming down by Sour Milk Ghyll after conquering Great Gable, circumnavigating Yewbarrow, and the long, slow retreat along Langstrath.
These aren’t the only times I’ve been out alone on the fells when the rain has closed in, in enveloping form, and I have found myself a long way from the car, with a silent trek broken only by the thrum of the rain on my kagoul hood, and a sense of complete loneliness. Time elongates, even as I stride on, confident and untroubled. However far I have to go, time resolved into a perpetual now, a moment in which I walk, shrouded, attempting to remove myself from the effects of the universe around me.
There was a Sunday afternoon starter walk one year, Manchester to Keswick in the morning, park at the northern mouth of the Vale of St John, the steep climb out of the valley towards Clough Head, the convex slope above the crags and the ever receding skyline, with rain closing in, and time closing in too. United were on Sky, playing the 4.00pm kick-off at Leeds, I think, and I had plans to be back in Keswick, find a pub showing the game and sink myself in the despised Murdochian debasement of our culture.
I had no intention of descending the direct route back. As the rain grew closer, I walked north over easy ground to White Pike, the very end of the Helvellyn range, and down to the old Coach Road, wandering the northern edge of the high lands, and I tramped in rain-silence home to the car and Keswick, and the ironic frustration that debasement had not yet penetrated so far as nowhere with a Sky TV was open at that hour of Sunday afternoon!
But I remember the sodden tramp along the coach road more clearly than I do Clough Head’s top, or the long vista along the drenched grassy ridge back to Great Dodd. Rain, and the cold, hemming me in.
There was another Sunday starter, this time from Ambleside, where I booked in in the village and set off to stretch my legs on a climb up Loughrigg Fell. This wasn’t on my ‘Wainwrights’ list, as I’d climbed the fell, from Rydal, many years earlier with my family, descending to and returning along Loughrigg Terrace and exploring the famous cave. No such treats on an ascent directly from Ambleside Village, starting by crossing the park, and no difficulties in the walk, and things were still clear on the summit, but as I began to descend, repeating my outbound route, the sky began to close in very rapidly from the east. I was still some ways above the old golf course, and it was already clear that this was not a case of whether I would get back ahead of the rain, but how soon it would hit me. And it hit hard, drenching me through my waterproofs, which were so wet that they and my outer clothes beneath had to be hung over the shower rail to drain into the bath to be of any use to me the following day.
Rain in Ambleside also brings back recollections of a brief two day break my wife and I spent there, some years ago. We woke on our last day to drenching rain, pouring down ceaselessly on the Village. By the time we had enjoyed our breakfast and wandered out it had taken on epic proportions. The streets were running with rain, the walls were running with rain, there were gutter waterfalls everywhere, the beck was swollen, Bridge House looked as if it could be in serious danger if it went on like that. We covered ourselves up well, enjoying the unusual spectacle in a crazy way, happy.
Where else have I been in the Lakes when it has been so wet? There was a midweek day when I was based at Keswick and it was so rainy that serious walking was out of the question, but I still had little, tree-choked Dodd on my list. It was the ideal fell for such a day, the trees preventing a view from the summit in even the best of conditions, so I fought my way up a very indistinct path that must have changed a lot since Wainwright’s days, happy to break out of the trees and into the rain because at least I could see where the hell I was.
So I wandered across the face of Dodd on shallow-angled forest roads, the rain coming down steadily, until I got to the path that led to the little summit. Then back to the roads and down to the col beneath the high side of Carl Side, from where I marched home, all the way down to the road at the northern end of the fell, and all the way back down the road to my car at the southern end. Hardly what you would call fellwalking, but oddly enjoyable in its lone, wet way.
But Dodd was a rare case of setting off in the rain, knowing my enjoyment of the day was going to be limited from the start and determined to make the minimal most of out conditions. There was an occasion, on the other side of Bassenthwaite Lake, on Sunday afternoon starter where expectations were drastically different.
It was a fine, indeed sunny September afternoon, and I’d booked in for the first half of my week in Keswick. My plans involved me going ’round the corner’, following the Cockermouth road on the way past the foot of Bass Lake, and cutting into the narrow little roads among the trees, to cross the foot of the Wythop valley. I was planning on climbing one of the two small Wainwrights that stand as outliers to the mouth of the valley.
Which of the two it would be was to be determined by the availability of parking. Space in Wythop village being tighter than the proverbial duck’s arse, I wound up on the upper road into the valley, on the flanks of Ling Fell. At this point it was sunny.
Ling Fell is an unlovely fell and an unlovely climb, an upturned pudding without ridges or shape. One path circles its lower flanks, but you have to strike out uphill to reach its summit. There are no special features, no special views and no special reason ever to go back there again.
All of which meant I was back at the car far too early to take my boots off so, the weather still being sunny and hot, I took the road up the valley, crossed over to the lower road on the Sale Fell flank and took a gently angled green ride back to the wall that crossed the ridge north of Sale Fell’s summit. There were only the broad rudiments of a path so I set off uphill, confident that the fell was too small and the ridge too innocuous to pose any problems.
This was only too true, until, no more than a third of the way up, I was overtaken by a storm, a ferocious, lashing, wind-bestrewn storm, right in my face. Visibility was rapidly reduced to no more than five yards, not counting that I had to drag off my glasses and stick them into a waterproof pocket. It was an incredible reversal, but I was mulishly determined not to be beaten on a fell as small as this one, so I kept ploughing on uphill.
The wisdom of this course was exemplified by the news that, several miles to the south, in this same storm, a walker on Great Rigg was struck by lightning and killed.
I’ve never seen anything like it, the speed and ferocity of the storm, the complete obliteration of any view, and out of almost nowhere. Ahead of me, the ground eased, the small cairn appeared. I approached it at a brisk march, walked round the far side and started downhill the way I’d come without breaking stride. By the time I was back at the ridge, the rain had gone and I walked down to the village and studied the mill race in its centre in sunshine again.
Rain days in the Lakes. Given that I’m only getting up there one day in November every year, that seems to be my lot. But some of those days were memorable, and being out alone with the rain on the fells was an experience I wouldn’t sacrifice for anything.