Ofcom acts…


Read this link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/24/broadband-users-in-line-for-millions-in-ofcom-compensation-plan

I work for a company that provides Broadband and telephone to customers using the BT Openreach Cable and network. Only BT Openreach engineers are allowed to activate new services or repair existing ones.

When we book an Openreach engineer’s appointment to activate services or investigate a fault, we book that appointment from a list which tells us when an Openreach engineer can attend, and we book what the customer chooses as most convenient for them. Openreach then accepts the book, and tells us it is confirmed.

We don’t make these appointments up out of thin air, or tell the customer the Engineer can come round Tuesday morning for fun. We do it because it has been booked. By Openreach.

If fines for providers come in for broken appointments, and it’s about time they did, Openreach are going to have the fuck sued out of them, and not just by us.

Crap Journalism: Why we must all hate Barcelona FC, or else


Crap Journalism is an occasional feature on this blog, when I take exception to a piece of shite written for the Guardian. Having deleted my profile there several years ago, I cannot leave comments BTL (in those rare cases where they permit comments), so I counterblast on here.

 

Like a great many football enthusiasts, I followed the Barcelona vs Paris St Germain second leg on Wednesday night with mounting astonishment, leading to incredulity when they scored the final goal, after 95 minutes, that completed one of the most amazing football comebacks of all time.

For non-Football fans, let me explain that this was a two-legged cup tie, in which the team with the hgher total of goals over the two games, would go on to the next round. Barcelona, playing at home, started 4-0 down, meaning they had to win by five clear goals to qualify.

This was not probable.

Nevertheless, after 50 minutes, Barcelona were 3-0 up and looking capable of doing the job. Then PSG scored, meaning Barca had to score another three goals, in thirty minutes. In most normal circumstances, it would have been game over. With three minutes left, and still needing all those three goals, it was functionally impossible.

Barca did it. They scored three times,the last of them in the fifth minute of time added on for stoppages. This was pure mainline Roy of the Rovers fantasy time.

Of course, the online comments were full of hate towards Barca, especially from Real Madrid fans. But that was BTL, where you expect such things.

Enter this ‘comment‘ piece, one of the most vicious poison pen pieces I have seen outside of the rabid redtops. There is no pretence at any semblance of neutrality. this guy has a bug up his butt (as our American cousins put it) about Barca, and he’s going to squeal like a stuck pig about it.

In a way, it’s funny, but that ignores the context. this is a supposedly major newspaper, not some sub-When Saturday Comes fanzine where bias is not merely allowed but encouraged to run rampant.

Firstly, there’s the tone of hysteria, the traditional Football fan’s acscription of every evil under the sun to the object of hate, as if they’re the only club in the known Universe who do things like that. As a Manchester United fan, I’m very used to that response.

But the specific bone of contention are the two penalties awarded to, and converted by Barcelona during the course of the game, one of which came in that astounding last eight minutes that won the game. According to our ‘journalist’, it seems that these were the two least credible non-penalties ever incorrectly awarded in the history of Football in this and any thirteen other dimensions, because they were Dives! Dives, I tell you! DIVES!!!!!

Now I’m going to admit at this point to having a soft spot for Barcelona, made in equal parts of my visit there for the 1999 Champions League Final and their extraordinarily beautiful football in recent years. Yes, they utterly embarrassed United in the 2011 Champions League Final, but hey, the way they played, it was no shame to be second best to THAT club.

Nevertheless, I still possess a critical eye, so let’s pass it over these two penalties. The first of these was a foul on Neymar, converted by Messi. Neymar had pushed the ball past Meunier into the area, run round him to chase it, Meunier turned, stumbled, fell, across Neymar’s path, and he went head over heels over Meunier.

Was it a dive? No, there was clear and substantial contact. Did Neymar run into Meunier? In the sense that, did he alter his course, change his body shape, do anything to bring the contact on (as Aslhey Young has, notoriously, done more than once for United), no: Meunier fell right across him, from right to left, and was rolling across him.

Could Neymar have avoided the contact? This is a little more subjective, but I don’t think so. he’s running full-tilt after a loose ball, close to the goal-lie, when his course is obstructed by a falling body, right under his feet. Did he have enough room to swerve, to his left, maintaining his momentum, and curve back around Meunier’s body, to return to the ball? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a judgement call, and I didn’t think the margins were that blatant that Neymar could, without disadvantaging his attempts to get to the ball, where Meunier was unable to play it, avoid the contact.

The second penalty is a bit more clear cut. Our journalist accuses Suarez of diving: he does. Hell’s bells, everybody knows that Suarez dives, it’s not exactly the Fifth Revelation. PSG can argue a certain degree of being hard done to here, especially as the referee had already seen through one example of Suarez diving and yellow carded him for it.

So, if it’s as blatant as that, with a referee who’s already seen through a diver, why did he give it?

More importantly, and completely ignored by the ‘journalist’, the defender Marquinhos does make contact. Soft contact, marginal contact, absolutely, contact insufficient to bring Suarez down as he did, agreed. But he put his arm out, across Suarez’s clavicles, almost as high as his face. This is a player going past him, attempting to play a ball close to goal, a ball the defender is not going to reach. Why did he throw his arm out across Suarez if it were not to stop him from getting to the ball, in the penalty area?

Could it possibly be that Marquinhos intended to stop Suarez in an illegal manner that would have justified a penalty? The moral is, don’t throw your arms across opposition forwards in the penalty area if you don’t want to give away penalties.

A rather more balanced piece, shorn of the one-handed Barcelona-are-the-devil aspect, may well have been broad-minded enough to have considered this. But then it wouldn’t have been crap journalism if it had.

Ave, Lisbon Lion: hail Tommy Gemmell


Long before Manchester United stirred up so much fervour about winning the Treble, an unlikely team secured not only that signal success, but one better. In 1967, Glasgow Celtic won not just theĀ  Scottish League, the Scottish FA Cup and the European Cup in the same season, but they also won the Scottish League Cup. In fact, that season Celtic won every trophy they entered. Top that!

What’s more, when it came to that splendid European Cup Final against AC Milan in Portugal, and I’ve no doubt for the majority of the season, this being in days of your where rotation was a concept that applied only to crops and a winning team only changed when someone was injured, Celtic did it all with eleven players who were born within a thirty mile radius of their ground. Ten of them were born within ten miles.

Celtic had to come from behind, to an Italian team well-practiced in the art of defence: score a goal, shut up shop. But Celtic did it. First, left back Tommy Gemmell drove a twenty yard equaliser past the Milan keeper, then another of his raids forward created the chance that Stevie Chalmers turned in for the winner.

They called them the Lisbon Lions, and what they did will never be achieved again in football as we experience it today.

Now the Lisbon Lions have been reduced in number by one, for Tommy Gemmell has died, after a long illness, aged 73. Age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety. Tommy Gemmell plays forever under a hot Lisbon sun, driving on his team-mates to glory.

Ave.

Chasing Ghosts


When you go chasing ghosts, there should be someone there to tell you to be careful in what you do. You might catch one.

A few days ago, I wrote about an unexpected side-effect of my current project. I am transcribing for the first time a novel I wrote thirty years ago, which is basically autobiographical. It was about a two-year period of my life when I lived away from home for the first time, and about falling heavily in love with a woman who did not return my feelings, because she already had a boyfriend (whom she married).

There are going to be no names. We were close friends back then, and I kept my feelings hidden (or so I at least thought) to be friends. Part of it is an old habit, long unpracticed, but more importantly it’s still a question of honour: I kept schtum then, as best I could, so as not to embarrass herĀ  with feelings she didn’t want, and I’ll stick to my guns now, no matter how unnecessary it might be.

The novel is full of people, almost all of whom are based on real-life equivalents, to one extent or another. Some, my best mate at the time being the main example, are pretty much wholeheartedly themselves. Others begin as similar equivalents, but develop along their own courses. Others are placeholders, standing in the shoes of real-life people but having little or no other connection.

I wrote before that the reason this novel never went beyond a first draft was because it successfully exorcised ghosts I had carried with me for the better part of a decade, and that the worst part of what I’m currently doing is that those ghosts stand in danger of being resurrected. I am becoming obsessed with the fictional people and places.

It’s almost twenty years since I had any contact with any of the friends I made away from home. Ironically, the longest lasting of these was with the woman I had known the least time, a sweet, funny, genuinely gorgeous blonde, who’d joined my firm only about four months before I left, had fitted in instantly, and who, somehow, I kept in contact with. The last I saw of her, her marriage had broken down, and one of her children would end up preferring to live with his father. I jokingly told her she’d had a great escape: if it weren’t for the fact I had only just met the woman I was to marry, I’d have been after her!

Not long after, she met a man who was a Born Again Christian, became Born Again herself, converted her daughter, and they moved to London to be with him. She became a different person, and we lost touch.

But that’s an irrelevance, really. The point is that the novel is full of the shadows of people I once knew, people whose lives have been lived, people who probably don’t even remember me. Some, I know, have passed on. Others were sufficiently older than me that the odds are that they are no longer with us. But there are some who I have tried to locate, in real life, with mixed results.

The first I looked for was my best mate. He was a local lad, the senior, as I was the junior, of the firm’s four Articled Clerks, but not much more than six weeks ahead of me. He was a great guy, obviously very good at his job, confident, easy-going, friendly. As much as any 23 year old can do for another, he took me under his wing at times, and helped knock off a few rough edges (though I had more rough edges than a polydodecahedron, and the seemingly mystical ability to sprout several more every time I started to feel self-confident). We hardly agreed about anything but got in like a house on fire.

He was always going to be a success. The firm wanted to keep him after he qualified, and it was only a few years before he became a Partner. Some years later, my old firm merged with another of the big firms in Nottingham, as the undercard, so to speak. That firm still exists, though all trace of my old firm’s name has gone with the years, and their website is easy to locate.

There are familiar names there, among their Partners. There’s the guy who was my old firm’s junior Partner, and the bloke who came to us as a Student in the summer of 1979, and who was one of my successors the following year, and who I knew had gone on to succeed there. But no mention of my mate.

I have tried various combinations of his name and his firm(s) and his city on Google, but the only thing I could find was a 2006 newspaper report of a major case he had handled, which clarified the law in relation to licensing Festivals. He was a Partner with the merged firm then, but ten years later I can find no trace with my limited search skills.

Of course, I could e-mail either of those two Partners I knew, reintroduce themselves, ask to be put into contact, but I am already worried about what I might find. There are many reasons why a successful, intelligent Solicitor of my generation might have left his firm and many of them are good, but one of them isn’t. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in pretty much thirty-five years, but my memories are of a healthy, fit young man, whose big game was tennis, who would only play me at squash in the brief period of the year when tennis couldn’t be played, in case the different styles of the game ‘threw’ his tennis arm off, and it is horrible to think that he might not have had at least the same least of life that I have had so far, that he might not be there to enjoy the good things his deserved success has brought him.

The other ghost, and certainly the most significant one, is my former love. And that is a very different story.

I’d foregone trying to track her down. We exchanged cards and occasional letters for a couple of years after she left, but since that petered out, I’ve had no contact whatsoever with her. And whereas she used to dominate my thoughts on a daily basis, it’s now decades since I thought of her more than occasionally. Sometimes I wonder about how life treated her, sometimes we bump into each other in my imagination, though the fantasy never goes beyond the delight of recognition: I’m not my former self any more, and she surely won’t be.

Besides, her name is a commonplace name, especially since she married. It’s the kind of name that, if googled, would bring up hundreds and hundreds of references to hundreds and hundreds of women. I’d have more chance if she’d stuck to her maiden name, which was rather more distinctive, but married? No chance.

As for her husband, he’s equally commonplace in my name. More than that, he shares it with a man who’s been in the public eye: google that name and see how many references to this man you’d have to wade through before even scratching the surface of those myriad others.

An impossible task, suitable only to an obsessive, and for what reason? To locate a woman with whom I shared a brief period of time, nearly two-thirds of the way back along our joint lives?

But last night, when I should have been switching off this laptop and going to sleep, I followed up an e-mail Link to LinkedIn: one of my small circle has got a new post. And while I was there, on a whim, I decided to search the name of my ex-love’s husband.

There were several, of course. I scanned the list for a couple of pages, and stopped when I saw an entry with a photo. I wouldn’t recognise the guy n w if I fell over him, but this bloke was the right age, so I clicked on his link.

Very successful businessman. Founded his own company in 1992, grown into a major international company with offices in every corner of the world. Celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary pretty much now. There was a profile of him, and I immediately noticed one thing that tallied: right thing, right time. I started googling him in relation to his company. Bits of other information dropped into place like jigsaw puzzle pieces. A Welsh University. Somewhere he’d been for an extended period. A sporting hobby. All in very general terms, and nothing that would make it an implausible coincidence, but it was growing steadily clearer that this was the right man, this was who she married.

But what of her? I started googling hm again, this time with wife linked into the search. He was married, but was it still to her? Then a very familiar first name popped out of a search item relating to Company Directorships. Same company, right name.

Even then it could all have been coincidence. These are common names, not an unusual combination. When I knew her, there was a hit single with his name in it, and I can still remember the frisson I felt when I played the other side, and her name was there.

But there were the middle names. Unusual, somewhat old-fashioned names. The same names. It was my former love, and I even had her address, and I could now contact her, if so so chose. I could bring a ghost back to life.

All rather creepy, in its way. The astonishing thing was that, after all this time, I found her and where she is in only twenty minutes.

I’m not going to contact her. Why should I? I have nothing of any value to her except an old memory (I’m going to assume she still remembers me). Her life has been a success, they are successful in business, they live in a house in a totally different part of the country that’s probably worth well over half a million since they bought it. They travel the world. If she had ever have been foolish enough to think that my naive charms outweighed his, she would not have had this life.

Most of all, though, what I’ve learned is that she’s been happy with him. A mutual friend went to her wedding, brought back photos. I’d never seen anyone looking so radiantly happy before (though my perspective may have been a bit blurred on the subject). And that marriage is still there, thirty-seven years later. It worked for them. It worked for her. I long since gave up any hopes for myself when it came to her: I’m glad to know that there was a point to that.

I’ll still keep looking, tentatively, for my old mate, in hopes of finding him and his wife in happy and glorious retirement or something equally fulfilling, and there are other names I’ll gently google, out of curiosity. Chasing ghosts can be dangerous, especially if you find them, but whereas I can be weak-willed about things that relate to me only, I have the strength of mind to keep to decisions I make that affect others, and I will not go back. Let chance bring old names and faces back across my path: I will not force myself into the lives of anyone I no longer know. Even if I catch sight of their ghost.

I have a fiction in which I can share that old life. The people in that are more real now.

Resurrecting Ghosts


In December, I announced that my latest literary project was to transcribe my first novel, written thirty years ago (literally: between January and April 1987), which only existed as a manuscript first draft in a very fat ring-binder.

The novel, which never had a name, was in the classic tradition of being semi-autobiographical. It was a fictionalisation of a two-year period in my life when I had lived away from home for the first time, during which I had fallen in love with someone who didn’t love me, but to who I was a close friend during a year when her boyfriend/fiance was out of the country.

It was an ideal, self-contained subject for someone who’d never even got close to completing an extended piece of work, and whilst the preparation was long-winded and awkward, the actual writing turned out to be relatively easy. I was producing two chapters a week, and proving to myself that I was capable of consistent, disciplined writing, driving forward a relatively complex story, and reaching the end.

That was invaluable in itself: every writer needs to hit the incredible words ‘The End’ at some point! But more than that, and this was at least a subconscious intention behind the entire thing it exorcised a ghost that I had been carrying with me since the original events upon which the novel was based.

Which was the main reason that the novel didn’t go any further forward. There was no second draft: the impulse was gone, fact translated into people and places and events that hadn’t actually happened, but which represented various elements in my life during those years. It would be over a half decade later before I again wrote something of that length, this time directly autobiographical, by which time I had learned how to redraft, and revise.

Occasionally, down the years, I’ve thought of typing up that book, but never followed through. It’s the best part of those thirty years since I last read it, during which the ring-binder has been stashed, visible but out of the way, on top of wardrobes or bookcases.

But in the past few years, I’ve struggled to write fiction, and thus I decided to finally undertake this project, to give the book a more permanent form of existence, instead of only a wodge of handwritten, narrow feint lined sheets of paper in a ring-binder. And I announced it to make sure that I actually went ahead and did it.

As I’ve already said, it’s been a fascinating experience. I began by setting myself the target of transcribing one sheet – that is, two sides – per day, on which basis I estimated it would take me until June or July to complete. Then I started doing two pages a day, one before my shift, one after, and the odd extra sheet at weekends, and now I’m almost obsessive about it. I am midway through Chapter 15, of 23, the opening chapter of the third and final phase of the book, and I am writing several sheets a day. At this rate, it’ll be finished before the end of March.

The thing is, I’ve got hooked on the story! I want to know what happens next! If that sounds weird to you, then so be it, but I am reading something I wrote thirty years ago and which I have barely even scanned since, and apart from a few ‘highlights’, I have no memory of how I treated my history.

I’ve limited myself to a chapter at a time: hence the urge to hurry through a transcription, because only once that is completed can I take the next chapter out of the binder and read another portion of the book!

As I’ve already observed, I have had a mixed reaction to the actual writing. This is a thirty year old piece, just under half my lifetime gone, and in many places it is exactly as I feared: clumsy, overwritten, repetitive, so many chances overlooked for a richer, better reality, a thicker story. I keep wanting to change things.

But at the same time, there are more good things in this book than I feared. Thirty years ago, this is still me, and there are lines of demonstrable quality, and subtleties of expression, which hint at deeper things than are exposed on the page (or, at least so they seem to me, who knows about the subtleties of the real thing). I am still recognisable in this prentice work, very much so.

What I am doing is transcribing, literally. Some errors are being corrected, silently, as I go along, but otherwise I am just copying myself. But at the same time, I am seeing many chances to rephrase, to add, to hint and suggest at lines of development that will feature in the now-inevitable second draft, and these I am interpolating, in a different colour font, so that I can pick up on these later. Slowly, a partial skeleton of a different version of the book is being built.

When the transcription is complete, I plan to create duplicate documents, a kind of definitive ‘first draft’ text, which I shall publish privately through Lulu.com, for my benefit only. I will then start to rewrite, with the intention of completing a book that I will publish through Lulu for general access. If anyone is in the least bit fascinated by these necessarily cryptic accounts, I hope before 2017 is out to give you a chance to read the book.

However, there is one aspect to what I’m doing that I had not foreseen and which, had I realised, might very well have made me reconsider this project. I spoke earlier of the first draft exorcising ghosts, very effectively. What I hadn’t realised is that immersing myself in this book might have the effect of resurrecting those ghosts, still with the power they exerted all that time ago.

I have been drawn nearer to those days than I have been for a very long time. In a way, the world of the story has taken over from the world of actual memory, which is now close to forty years ago and therefore dim. But these fictions have drawn me in, and even if it is reminding me of the version of that relationship that I created between Steve and Lesley in my book, rather than the one between myself and that lady who I won’t embarrass, even this far removed, those feelings were powerful and it is dangerous to be so reminded of them.

I have gotten so absorbed in these hybrid creatures that I have begun to speculate about what happened to them after the story ends: does this relationship thrive, does that survive, does this character go on to be successful: where are they all now, in my fiction and in their own lives?

And then there’s me. I may be Steve in this book, and he’s an improved version of myself, because I couldn’t be that indifferent to art as opposed to reality, but there’s a hell of a lot of me in him, and it’s a me that I would really rather not have been, and which I am still, to a degree that frightens me. Some of his dialogue, his musings, could come out of my mouth now, in my years of depression, and it’s horrifying to realise that there are aspects that I have still not grown out of, even this far removed.

But it’s too late now to go back. Things learned cannot be unlearned, except by unusually precise traumatic amnesia. I have raised my own ghosts, and I can only hope that they can once again be captured by print, even if it takes two books to do so.

It was Alan Moore who put it perfectly: when you open a can of worms, one thing is certain: you need a much bigger can to put them back into.

The Last SOTS


Last week’s suspicion proved to be sadly warranted. Anneka Rice gave it away in the closing moments of her early Saturday show: that our old mate Brian Matthews was back on Sounds of the Sixties but for his final programme. As I write, I’m listening to The Beatles’ ‘If I needed someone’, representing that long and glorious A to Z of The Beatles.

But it’s a kind of Greatest Hits show, as a farewell. Matthews’ voice is still recognisable, but it’s recognisably weak, and it’s clear that this is the end of the line.

It’s been a pleasure, these last fifteen or sixteen years, however long it’s been since that early Saturday morning drive to Barrow for a football match, the rain and the rainbow, the two of us finding the programme by accident on the drive, and making it the way to wake-up on Saturday mornings for all the years after.

But the time has come to say goodbye, and thanks for all the memories.

Nothing’s been said as to whether the show will survive if it is to lose Brian Matthews finally, and if it isn’t there next Saturday morning, then I for one will not campaign for it to be restored. If it is to continue, the choice of a new presenter is crucial (and a change of Producer and track-selector might very well help smooth over that transition, hint, hint).

But all these years have shown me how to make my own Sixties, and I have a plethora of home-made CDs doing that for me.

There is a half hour remaining. You’ll permit me, if I slip off to listen.

Injury Time


Throughout that last, dreadful year, when famous and noticeable people seemed to be dying wantonly, ripping apart our cultural background, I lived daily expecting the next name to be Clive James, who has been terminally ill since 2010.

But the Kid from Kogarah keeps doing it. And he keeps writing. Last year, he published another TV book, Play All, about box-sets. Now, sure, it lacked the depth and intensity of a decade ago, but it’s still there. And it doesn’t look as if the sixth and final book of autobiography – the one about the Atkin revival, Midnight Voices, the part of his story where I have a minuscule part to play – is going to arrive.

But Clive James’ first and last love is poetry, and here he still writes, about his condition, about his life. Thoughtfully, intensely, movingly. His collection, Sentenced to Life, is a wonderful book, and everyone, James included, expected it to be his last.

And expectations are once again confounded, this time joyfully, for there is to be another volume, Injury Time, dealing with this further lease of life he is enjoying.

I will be waiting, like all the rest of us. There has never been enough Clive James, and when he does at last leave this place, there will still not be enough, were he to live to a thousand, which, on current form, is not an option that can be wholly discounted.