County Day


This was the day of my trip to Edgeley Park to see FC United of Manchester visit Stockport County in the FA Cup. And a right old day it was.

I was awake, and unexpectedly refreshed at an unusually early hour for me, though I’m paying for it just now. There were things to do, as there always are when the resting weekend is cut back to only one day, and I had had to plan my movements to take everything in.

After finishing the Library book I had to renew today, I went from reading to writing.  I have been putting together scenes for something I’m not sure should emerge as a publishable book, but which is enabling me to keep my creative juices flowing. I’d taken time to come up with a partial synopsis which showed that several scenes were radically inconsistent with the timeline. But with some judicious cutting-and-pasting, some re-writing here and there, a bit of linking material, it all hung together perfectly well.

Then there were the eBay sales to wrap so I could be at Stockport Central Post Office to despatch them before 12.30pm. Some lunch, eaten under a sometimes dripping tree in Mersey Square: this is a grey day, dull and miserable but I’ve lasted all through September without having needed to put the Central Heating on, which is better than last ‘summer’.

Then up the steps, past the office, and return that book to the Library. Then it’s off to Edgeley Park. Though this is a two-bus journey, it’s hardly long-distance. I am outside Gates 3 and 4 (Visiting fans) for ten to two,and only one FC fan before me. Like me, it’s his first game of the season, although he has better reasons for it than I since he’s come from Solihull.

Indeed, as a small crowd of about a dozen accumulates over the next hour until the gates are actually opened, I’m starting to feel I’m the only one from Manchester. I’m certainly the only one from Stockport.

By the time we’re let in, my knees are making it known that they’re going to get me for all this time spent standing and my easing-but-still-sore right heel is also making noises. I’m actually first through the turnstiles, at the end that was once that cinder bank of long ago, and which is now a fenced-off, cut down, closed stretch of terracing. We FC fans have two blocks of the stand on the far side.

The turnstiles have been timely as it’s just setting in to rain, a quiet, spotty drizzle that dampens the Futoshiki in my paper. I’ve chosen an aisle seat about half way up: decent views without complication. The far end, the Cheadle End if I remember correctly, is the main and most towering stand. It winds up about half full, if that, and somebody’s got a bloody drum, arghhh, but I remember that practically heaving, when we were here all that time ago, against Norwich in what’s now the Championship.

All’s well until the main mass of FC fans start trickling in faster from about 2.30pm. It fills in to my left, towards the halfway line. The singing starts at ten to three and it never stops: we drown out the numerically superior home support, we always do.

The problem is, most people are standing. As long as they’re left of me that’s fine, but there are people standing directly in front of me, in this sparser-crowded fringe. The game’s started, County’s players are universally bigger, stronger, faster and quicker-thinking than hours, I’m constantly demanding people sit down, but if they sit down there are people standing in front of them that I can see over but they can’t. It’s wet, we’re getting out-played, my frustration is growing exponentially.

We’re fifteen to twenty minutes in when County take advantage of a bloody awful slip to score. I’m hating every minute of this. I can’t just stand myself, not for ninety minutes, not with all the knackered bits of me that will give me agony. I’ve never walked out of a football match before the final whistle in my life, but I’ve already thought about it.

This is awful. I used to love my football so much. all those miles chasing around northern England, following Droylsden to some right little shitholes. I can’t cope with this. I’m looking at my last football match.

After about twenty minutes, I storm away, hoping maybe for a spare front row seat. I’d rather sit there and get rained on than endure this, and it’s now coming down strong and steady, like an English monsoon, polite and unemotional. There are actual lots of second row seats, from which I can see alright, if at practically ground level. My screaming pitch slowly unwinds.

FC’s pitch isn’t getting any better. A free-kick’s conceded on the edge of our penalty area. From my perspective, the wall’s leaving about two-thirds of the goal uncovered, and it becomes the most predictable free-kick goal I’ve ever seen, at least since Mario Basler in the Nou Camp, when it’s blasted in for 2-0.

Well, that’s it, and it becomes even itter when County make it three just before half-time. I read my book in peace and quiet. My mind goes back to a rainy day in March1996, Gainsborough Trinity away, nice place, have an internet friend lives there. They stuffed us 7-1, still the biggest defeat I’ve ever seen. It could be beaten second half, day like this.

And it’s more of the same. We’re too small, too slow,  especially in our thinking. Then, about fifteen minutes in, we start stringing the passes abut a bit. We’re getting behind them on the left. The ball comes over, low, our no. 9 turns with it, fires, it’s in the corner, we’ve scored.

My spotty attendance record means that this is actually the first time I’ve seen FC score since the last home match of the 2014/15 season, so it’s worth a cheer, a feeling of relief. It’s a consolation.

about a minute later, we’re screaming again because it looks like we got another, but no, side-netting. But FC are transformed. They’re pressing, probing, keeping County on the back foot. It’s all positive. If we could get another, it would frighten them to death, and we cut hem open with some swift passing and there’s Tom Greaves, a veteran who’s only playing today because of other lads being cup-tied, and he’s banging it into a half-empty net and it is 3-2 and it;’s a different game now and I’m a transformed as FC.

I’m remembering another day, another game. We’re not there yet, the final condition hasn’t come up, but maybe it will because it’s a penalty, a bloody penalty! I have not been so tense about seeing a penalty scored since Eric’s first in 1994, and that was Wembley and the bloody Final, and we’ve scored! It’s 3-3. Bloody hell, football.

And that day can now be remembered. 11th November, 1973. My eighteenth birthday. My girlfriend home from University in London for the weekend, invited to tea, have to miss Droylsden at home. Only to find that was the day they went in 3-0 at half-time and came back to win 4-3 in the 88th minute. I have never seen that happen. I’ve seen Droylsden come back from 3-0 to draw but they got the first before half-time. It’s not like this. Is my long penance going to be over? Am I finally to see the proper comeback?

But I’m still waiting. 3-3, replay Tuesday. Off in the rain for the bus, queues of cars, queues of passengers. Never a penalty, he got the ball, liner saw it. I say nothing. Change buses in thestation, a 7 that goes via Tescos but I’m breaking my journey home for the Asda at the top of Lancashire Hill, and there’s a Pepperoni Feast pizza going in the oven once I’ve finished this.

So that was my fifth visit to Edgeley Park. If life goes to pattern, there’ll be another one next year then nothing for three decades, by which time I reckon that my knee, my hip and my heel will have seen me off, unless I’ve the genetic durability of a Harry Dean Stanton.

But maybe that won’t be my last football match after all.

Advertisements

A Sandman Mystery Theatre Disappointment


Amazon have just informed me that Volume 3 of the Deluxe Sandman Mystery Theatre collections has been cancelled.

This is what you call a pisser.

I assume sales didn’t justify it, so I shall blame you lot out there. Hustle and buy Volumes 1 and 2, persuade DC that continuing is commercially viable, and incidentally treat yourself to some bloody brilliant stuff, and I shall smile upon each and every one of you, fondly.

In person, if you’ll pay travelling expenses.

That’s Friday night buggered then.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e17: Last Chance Louie


This week’s eye-candy

This was a second strong episode in succession, again concentrating on one of the other members of that cast (no, not Sarah). This week, it’s Bon Chance Louie, as the title gives away, and it’s all about Louie’s past.

Our Magistrate de Justice has always been painted as a man of mystery, and rarely does a week go by without Louie dropping a nostalgic line about something he has done or somewhere he has been, and a right mix’n’match that is: Louie is a bit of a Flashman in that he’s been everywhere and done everything, so it’s perhaps less of a surprise that the appearance of a new arrival on Boragora prompts him to shoot the new guy in the face.

No, he doesn’t kill him, merely nicks his ear and, as Magistrate shuts the case down. Jake, on the other hand, insists on knowing why and, extracting Jake’s word of honour that he will never repeat what he is told, Louie explains.

This relates to an incident of twenty years ago, near the end of the Great War. Louie was part of a unit of French soldiers trapped by the Germans. This man, LaBatier, whose real name is Marcel DeBord, deserted and saved his skin by betraying the unit’s position to the Germans. All, save Louie, were killed, and after he recovered, he found that Marcel, convicted in absentia as a traitor and condemned to death, had fled France with Louie’s lover, Monique. Louie has, understandably and justifiably, sworn to kill the man on sight.

The tension builds. The two men confront each other in the billiards room, with Marcel playing the hey-it-ain’t-like-I’ve-had-a-happy-life-you-know-hounded-as-a-traitor card, which never works. The two prepare to duel until Jake and Corky stop them, but you know what’s coming.

Marcel’s nineteen year old daughter, Genevieve (pronounced in the French style as ‘Jhon-vive’), a hotshot blonde (didn’t see that coming) played by Faye Grant (who would marry Stephen Collins three years later), comes to complain to Jake whilst incidentally dropping that she hates her ‘father’. A shot rings out from the Monkey Bar and everyone bursts into Marcel’s room to find him dead of a single gun-shot, and Louie standing there with a gun and a calm admission that he killed Marcel.

The action then moves to Tagatiya, where Louie is to be tried, convicted and executed by Madame la Guillotine. He’s up against a prejudiced fellow Magistrate played by Henry Darrow (who I’ll always associate with the 1968 Western, The High Chapparal, playing Manolito) who despises Louie as a lower-class excrescence, and his own refusal to defend himself,coupled with his unwavering insistence that Jake keep his word, and his mouth shut.

So Louie is found ‘coupable’ and sentenced to death. Jake cracks and tells the story to both the Magistrate (who dismisses it as a desperate lie, unfounded in fact) and the Governor who eventually grants a two week stay of execution so that Jake – with Genevieve in tow – can fly to Marcel/LaBatier’s base in Saigon and find concrete evidence.

It’s dangerous: Japanese sympathisers are chucking bombs every thirty seconds but Jake and Genevieve, who’s trying to impress on him that she’s not a little girl and should therefore be added to his long list of conquests, get to the Bureau of Records and find the proof. They also discover why Louie has been so determinedly walking to his death, refusing interference. When Genevieve’s mother, Monique, married ‘LaBatier’ in 1918, she was already two months pregnant. Yes, Genevieve says, he was only my stepfather, but he was so cruel. But we should already be ahead of Jake by now, for it’s an old plot, being used at a carefully measured distance: Genevieve’s real father is Bon Chance Louie.

This revelation also confirms the twist that’s only going to be officially revealed at the end, but we’ve got it now. Unfortunately, there’s another complication to be endured, so as to rack up the tension and get Louie’s philosophical head into the actual Guillotine: the bureau is bombed.

Jake wakes up in hospital five days later, badly concussed, and being looked after by Twin Peaks‘s Grace Zabriskie in a cameo role. But there’s sad news: the bomb has killed Genevieve. So, though a limping Jake turns up in the nick of time, using his cane to halt the blade, Louie’s reprieve has a bitter-sweet tinge to it that Roddy MacDowall plays perfectly.

Genevieve’s parentage remains a secret between Jake and Louie, but there is that last, and by now predictable twist. Jake discovers a cushion in Louie’s office, with a hole through it, the sort of hole made by a gun, being muffled. Louie shrugs it off: large moths, he says. He killed Marcel, not anyone else who may or not be related to him and who hated a cruel ‘father’. Louie wasn’t covering up or taking the fall for anyone but himself…

And he has Jake’s word of honour on that.

Curiously, this was one of the few Gold Monkey episodes I remembered from the first time, at least in respect of Louie’s trial for murder. It’s based on a well-used plot, but this is carefully concealed until sufficiently late on that the episode can use Louie’s sang-froid in the face of death, an excellent performance by MacDowall, paralleling Jeff Mackay last week, to great effect to maintain the air of mystery.

As the end draws near, the show seems to be back on track in a way that supports a second season that never was. Now if they could only start giving Caitlin O’Heaney something proper to do…

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bang Spin-Off?


In the quest to avoid spoilers for those few television programmes I actually want to watch, I may be going a little bit far. I was all enthused about The Big Bang Theory returning this Monday just gone, but it’s taken till today to learn that the much-dreaded spin-off show, Young Sheldon, started immediately after it.

Now the spin-off has a lot going against it. It’s a spin-off to start with. And it’s Sheldon at the age of nine, with none of the gang to bounce off. Which means child actors, and lots of them. And having to invent Sheldon’s family, of whom we’ve only ever seen his mother, frequently, and his sexy twin sister Missy twice, a bloody long time ago.

And Iain Armitage has to a) act well and b) convince us we’re looking at a nine-year-old version of Sheldon. And Zoe Perry, who plays Mary Cooper, has to live up to the performance of Lawrie Metcalf.

Basically, the words we are all groping for at the moment are “Hiding to Nothing”.

But apparently, the debut episode had incredible viewing figures, and retained more of the BBT audience than any other new show that’s been used to try and gain the benefit. Enough so that CBS  have already taken up the option for the additional nine episodes that make it a full season. In short, it’s an instant hit.

Is it any good, though?

I have now given the episode a spin. Yes, it made me laugh several times. yes, Iain Armitage does a good job, and yes, Zoe Perry looks and feels and acts like the woman who’s going to become Lawrie Metcalf, which is high praise.

I doubt very much whether the family group is ever going to be anything as strong as the geek gang, and there are very early signs that this set-up is going to have to tread some in deeper waters. The episode is built around Sheldon’s first day at High School, aged 9, a fish not so much out of water as out of a whole bloody ocean, but he’s at a school whether his dull, steadily drinking, don’t want to get involved father George is the football coach, and his older brother Georgie (George Jr) is both on the football team and in the same class as his little brother, and he’s already going through hideous embarrassment at it, of a kind that, because of his age and the vulnerability of the developing boy, cannot possibly be as unalloyedly innocent as the embarrassment ‘old’ Sheldon causes his peers can be.

And George Sr, who is completely absent in the BBT Universe, and is not missed by anyone, is already having a serious and sympathetic past painted in: he used to be a good coach with a good job in Galveston, until he whistle-blew on cheaters: he got fired which is why they’re here and he’s clearly on the downhill path that I suppose will be drawn out over however many seasons the concept can sustain. To the detriment of the comedy, because this is getting its sentimentality in early.

Fortunately, Young Sheldon has one very potent weapon against sentimentality, and that’s Missy, who will never knowingly be out-cynicalled, and who is being played by a child actress of casual brilliance in Raegan Revord, and she’s why I’ll tune in for a few more episodes. If they have the sense to give her a big role in each episode, this might be worth the time.

We’re Going Back!


Last year, I gushed about the Otherworlds Exhibition of Space Photography that I went to see in London. I was deeply moved by what I saw, not least because I found it incredible that I, who had grown up on Dan Dare, had lived long enough to see the real thing, form the surface of Mars, from the extremities of our Solar system. I had lived long enough.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first Man from Earth to stand on the surface of the Moon. I was nearly fourteen. I was not yet twenty when we last sent a man to the Moon. It’s galling that it should come about even in a small part by the idiot who masquerades as President of the United States, but (insert link) at long last, we’re going back.

And we’re not just going to land a man on the Moon again, we’re stepping even further into classic SF, and we’re going to build a manned outpost. I have lived long enough, and I am once again moved to near tears that such a thing has come back whilst I am still here to hear about it.

Of course, I doubt I shall live long enough to see the blast-off. This is not something that can be done overnight, even with American/Russian cooperation. But the intention is there, and it’s a joint operation. We’re going back into space. An I have lived long enough to see that much.

A Record Unbroken


Thirty three years ago, I straddled a metal rail at Old Trafford all day to watch Viv Richards put in the performance of my life, beating England all on his own in a 55 over a side international. Richards scored 189 not out to England’s 175 all out, setting a record that stands to this day of the highest score against England by a West Indian batsman in a One Day International. Today, it should have been beaten. That it wasn’t was an awful, terrible shame.

In between calls, I’ve been sneaking a look at the screen today, for the Fourth One-Day International between England and West Indies. These games are now 50 overs a side, not 55. Left-handed batsman Evin Lewis came in with West Indies 33 for 3, a similar situation to Richards all that time ago.

Lewis played sensibly and solidly, but he was also hitting a range of impressive shots, and finding the boundary quite regularly. I was lucky to catch a beautifully delicate late cut off Moeen Ali, the kind of shot more played in memory of cricket gone by than in modern times, let alone a One-Day game.

But once he reached 100, Lewis started unleashing sixes, all around the Oval. West Indies’ score accelerated at an incredible rate. Lewis passed his previous personal best. He went to 150 runs with a glorious, down-on-one-knee pull shot for six.

One the commentary, they started talking about Viv Richards’ record. Lewis was 165 not out and I was desperately wishing I was there to see this, and not just for the usual reason about not having to be in work. I may have seen Richards’ record, it may be one of my most cherished memories of cricket, but Lewis was going to be a more than worthy record breaker, and I wanted him to achieve this.

He has reached 176, only fourteen runs short of the record, with Jake Ball bowling round the wicket. Ball drilled in a yorker, right on the crease, heading into Lewis’s legs. It was swinging down the leg-side, no fears of an appeal, but Lewis, trying to get into position to play a shot, caught the ball on the toe of the bat and played it low, hard and fast, into his right ankle.

Pads don’t protect ankles. They protect the front of the lower leg, down to the instep. Lewin had played a fast delivery into unprotected bone. He went down, fast, rolling over with the pain.

It looked bad and it was bad. Lewis could not stand on his right foot. A stretcher was brought on and he left the pitch to a standing ovation, Not Out, Retired Hurt. It’s the highest score a batsman has ever Retired Hurt upon, and Viv Richards’ record stands.

That is so awful. To be out, short of a record, is one thing. It’s still an honourable attempt. But to be so close, and to be denied the chance to succeed or fail by an accident like this, is horrible. My heart goes out to Evin Lewis. It doesn’t matter that he was scoring against England, that he was trying to set a record against England, he was batting beautifully, with power and grace, and he bloody well DESERVED that record, and he should have had the chance to stand or fall.

That’s the tragedy, in sporting terms. That’s what makes this match such an awful, awful shame. Who cares about the result? It’s been spoiled.

The Big Bang Theory season 11


An enormous number of people love The Big Bang Theory.

An enormous number of people hate The Big Bang Theory.

A lot of them hate it for being slick, professional and very popular. Others for laughing at, instead of with the geeks and nerds that form its bedrock. And others for betraying the science, fantasy, comics and SF of its earlier seasons by turning into a comfortable, domestic, relationship comedy, just like Friends.

All of these reasons are true, or at least undeniable.

Take the end of season 10: Amy has gone to Princeton for a Research Project. Riki Lindholme, who guested long ago as student Ramona Nowitsky, who was obsessed with Sheldon, reappears and tries to take up with him again. When she unexpectedly kisses him, he leaves the room, flies to Princeton, knocks on Amy’s door and, when she opens it, he’s there on one knee, holding up his grandma’s engagement ring, which was used as the season ending cliffhanger a couple of years ago.

Season 11 began last night in America (the show has been renewed through season 12). It picked up instantly from the previous season’s end. Amy’s answer is interrupted by Sheldon’s phone going: it is Leonard and Penny trying to find out where he is. He explains what he’s doing an that he’s still waiting for Amy’s answer…

So she says yes. There’s a comic but still touching moment when Sheldon blithely tells her that when Dr Nowitsky kissed him, he realised he only wanted to be kissed by Amy for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Bernadette can’t celebrate the good news like the rest because she’s just discovered she’s pregnant again. This freaks out both her and Howard, who try to lessen their own worries by persuading Leonard and Penny to get pregnant too.

Raj, on the other hand, is bitter and twisted that everyone’s getting hitched but him. He expresses his concerns to Stuart at the Comic Book Shop. At least they’re in the same boat: but no, Stuart has a date tonight.

This is what the majority of the episode is about: relationships, domestication. There are only a handful of moments that go beyond this. Sheldon joins Amy and her microbiologist colleagues for a meal but is miffed that they only want to talk about her brilliance and developments, not his. Which is not about the science of either of them, but about Sheldon being Sheldon.

And there’s a bit where Sheldon consults Professor Stephen Hawkings by Skype – but it’s about his hurt feelings at being ignored in favour of Amy (Hawkings really is a sport about appearing in The Big Bang Theory, and he’s usually an absolute scream, being automatically deadpan).

An there’s a geek joke, which entirely justifies the objections that the geeks are now being laughed at. Raj is at the Comic Book Shop initially to buy an engagement gift for Sheldon and Amy, but changes his mind. What, he asks Stuart, do you have for someone lonely, bitter and twisted? Stuart sweeps his hand around: practically everything.

So what they say is true.

And yet I laughed immoderately all the way through.

Because it’s not the show it was in the first few series. Because it’s not geek oriented any more, and it’s softened and become more conventional. The socially inept geniuses have got together with a couple of gorgeous blondes. The fantasy/comics references have been greatly reduced.

But I still know these characters. I understand them and their concerns. The humour is still my humour, more so than any other comedy I’ve seen before, because I’ve been laughing at this programme for a decade now and I’m not tired of it, I’m not bored, it’s not as good as it used to be but it’s still better than anything else out there.

I know a lot of people hate the show, and they can do so for all I care. Offer a reasoned argument, stating why you think it’s not funny, and I’ll discuss it with you, but at the end of the day I’ll just agree to differ. More likely, you’ll just offer a slagging off, be it of the show or of the people who watch it, which I’ll treat with the disdain you deserve.

Another twenty-three episodes lie ahead. I’ll buy the Season 10 box-set as a self-Xmas present and delete all the downloaded episodes, and at Xmas 2018, I’ll buy the boxset of this series. I like The Big Bang Theory. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do so, and that, as far as I’m concerned, is that.