As It Must: Jack Charlton R.I.P.

As the years go by, the privilege of having been there to see England win the World Cup grows ever more important. A ten year old boy, watching a black-and-white television set in the midst of a family, none of whom were interested in football but who gathered together to hope to watch history.

Eleven names, a litany all of us could recite. Amazingly, over half that team remain with us, but one more name has been subtracted from that list. Jack Charlton, centre-half for Leeds United, elder brother of Bobby, World Cup Winner, has passed away. We can only expect more names to follow, in more rapid order.

I remember lots of stories about Wor Jackie. The time that, on television nearing the end of his playing career, he stated that he had a couple of names in a book, of players who had done things for which he would exact revenge before he was dne. Didn’t go down that well with the authorities but I doubt there was a fan of any team that didn’t understand, and approve.

The other came out of the Munich Air Disaster. It was not a world in which news could be had quickly and Jackie and his wife took the train to Manchester where they hoped to find if Bobby had survived. I will never forget Jack Charlton, whose relationship with his younger rother, already strained by the irreversible changes in him due to the crash, telling of how he stepped own off the train, saw a newstand at the bottom of the platform, and from that distance saw his brother’s name in the printed list of survivors.

Though they grow old and leave us, they will not grow old as other, nor will their memories pass from us.

A Manchester Expedition

Once upon a time, the idea of writing about a trip to Manchester City Centre, let alone calling it an Expedition, would have seemed ludicrous. But those were inncocent days, before the current pandemic shrank life down to doing everything necessary to prevent or minimise the spread of contagion.

Since then, I’ve only gone out to three places: work, a supermarket and the chemists. The recent re-opening of the launderette doesn’t alter that, they’re only two minuteswalk from Morrisons.

But lockdown is now easing. We’ve won, go back to normal, so what if there are still daily deaths and a second wave is next to inevitable? Now I don’t trust a word this so-called government says, and I never will, but I’m not immune, I am stir crazy, and with hands washed and facemask donned, I’m going to go out.

With typical irony I first set off in the opposite direction. I have an undelivered parcel, an external optical drive, to collect from the Sorting Office in Stockport. I tried to do that yesterday and got very wet for my pains. And the Sorting Office is currently only opening until 11.00 am, and I got there for 11.10am. I’m trying again because I’d like to put it to use this weekend, but it all depends on the connection in Stockport Bus Station.

Unlikely as it may seem, it’s timely.

There is a sicially distanced queue when I arrive but it’s less than half a dozen long and anyway, it’s not raining. They’re operating a One-Out, One-In policy and instead of waiting for your package to be produced from the back,you go round o the side door where it’s waiting for you on a trestle, so things go quickly.

Back to the main road. I want a 42 for Town and one turns up in less than fibe minutes. It’s all going swimmingly well: I get nervous.

The 42 takes me through parts of Manchester I used to be very familiar with but where I rarely go now, even in the freest of times. The route is an exercise in nostalgia and a reminder of how unfree life is without private transport.

Within a stop of getting on, I’m the only person on the bus, downstairs at least. No-one’s getting on or off and we just sail along, disturbed only by the automated voice reciting stops we pass by. Eventually, we stop in the middle of Didsbury Village to let the schedule catch up to us. A querulous bloke in a much-stretched Manchester City shirt complains about the timetables being “up the wall”: just how deeply has he been self-isolating these past three months and more.

Some memories on thi ride are more plesant than others. Some memories I don’t want to remember. We take another stop outside Christie Hospital, where they specialise in cancer.

Once we’re past Withington Village, the stops for travellers become more frequent. Joggers abound. The journey gets slower, stop-and-start, traffic lights perpetually red. We’re not quite at the University when the driver has to stop and count the passengers on board before allowing others to join us.

The nearer we get to Piccadilly Gardens, the slower the driver gets, playing for every red light. But there’s only a finite number of these and he can’t stop us from getting there eventually. No sooner do I alight than a man with an Irish accent and an air of still being drunk from the last time the pubs were open, shouts at me and anyone else within hearing that I/we can wear a hundred masks, a thousand masks, but he can still see us. Yerrsss.

I’ve three objectives in coming into Manchester today, aside from the novelty of course. The first of these crashes and burns almost immediately. I wanted to browse the Oldham Street Oxfam shop for cheap DVDs to supplement the dwindling Film 2020 collection. They’re open… but not until Monday.

Forbidden Planet is sixty seconds walk away on the other side of the street. They’re regulating entry on the same basis as the Post Office but here I’m only third and I’m soon inside.

I’m hoping/expecting to collect three comics and I come out with two, but one of them is a series I’d forgotten I was getting. The last one of the series…According to eBay after I get home, I was premature: the other two aren’t released until next week.

So let’s go see if Pizza Hut‘s open. It is indeed, but only for takeaways. There’s only a limited number of ingredients and when it comes to my two favourite Create-Your-Owns, there’s an ingredient missing from each one. I end up ordering a Sharing Hawaiian, to take home and heat up. It’s like Friday evenings twenty-five years ago, doing that.

So to home. I think I’ve just missed a 203 but I can’t tell through the facemask induced steam on my glasses. The dark clouds that have hung around all day, threatening yet more later, have separated and gone white in places and the sun through the gaps is surprisingly June-like. A not young but gently attractive lady with opaque tights and a foreign accents, asks me if she’s missed the 203?  If we have, one’s very close behind. She sits diagonally in front of me after starting on the other side of the aisle: in those innocent days I mentioned earlier, I might have tried to start a conversation with her (who’s kidding who? no, I wouldn’t. Probably not). She gets off in North Reddish.

One last task: I get off one stop early and go to check if my barber’s has any indication when it may be re-opening, but there’s none, nor any number from which I might book an appointment. I’m a good six to eight weeks past the last point I would have waited to have it cut, it’s longer than any time since the Seventies, and it’s bugging me seriously.

I’m back in before 2.00pm, and I heat up the pizza and Share it with myself. I haven’t had anything from Pizza Hut since the end of February so I’m entitled, ok?

Thus ends my Expedition: still not worthy of the name, especially when I’d originally have been intending to regale you with a Buttermere Expedition in a couple of week’s time, but we make the most of what we have.


Sir Ian Holm R.I.P.


I don’t believe this. I’m still at work, I turn to the Guardian to check what’s up to date and Ian Holm has died as well.

Ian Holm. Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings films. Frodo Baggins in the BBC’s The Lord of the Rings radio adaptation. Ian Holm of Alien and Chariots of Fire, and Terry Giliam’s Time Bandits and Brazil.

The circumstances are different: Holm was 88, not 55, but that’s two terrible, wrenching blows in the same day. Please let there not be a third today.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon R.I.P.

12.00 midday

I was down enough already today, feeling the stress of isolation severely again, getting wet on a failed expedition to collect an undelivered parcel, not looking forward to another day of no conversations and silence at work, and I did not need to hear that Carlos Ruiz Zafon has died at the age of 55. Bloody, bloody, bloody, bloody, bloody cancer again.

I’m in the middle of a re-read of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet again, a few pages or paragraphs at a time, slowly, over several weeks so far. In fact, last night I completed The Angel’s Game and began The Prisoner of HeaveN and now this news. The rest of this read-through will not be the same now.

And there’ll be nothing more. This world is exacting too much of a toll.


As it’s now obligatory, from today, to wear facemasks on public transport, I went out to the bus wearing a facemask for the first time since this lockdown began. Unsurprisingly, I was the only person on the bus wearing a facemask.

It was an interesting experience and not a pleasant one. The first thing I noticed was that my exhalations had nowhere to go but up, out of the top of the mask, fogging up my glasses at every breath. I, being of the short-sighted persuasion, was not best convenienced by this.

There were two secondary effects. One was to bring on my mild claustrophobia, by making me feel that my breathing was confined to a limited space. The other was to make me feel a little breathless because it was so hot inside the facemask, with my breath warming up the atmosphere around nose and mouth.

I was pretty glad to get to my floor at work and pull the mask off. Thank heaven for air-conditioning!

Denny O’Neill R.I.P.

I’ve just heard the news about the loss of Denny O’Neill from the downthetubes comics web-site. Though there were things in his philosophy that I disagreed with, particularly with his approach to critically review other’s works, and though some of his most famous stories – notably the Green Lantern/Green Arrow run with Neal Adams – haven’t stood up to time nobody can deny that he was a massive presence in comics, as writer, as editor and, most important of all, mentor and inspiration.

Never was a Denny O’Neil story less than professionally written, to a high technical standard, and whether or not Green Lantern/Green Arrow looks that good now, or Frank Miller’s Dark Knight (which O’Neill edited), is still the landmark it was, what matters is what they were for and what they did for their times. They changed how things were done and how people thought, they made a difference.

Denny O’Neill made a difference, far too often to be thought of as anything but a legend. Another light has gone out of the sky: how many more befote it is too dark to see?

Clive James: Occupation: Housewife

I’ve a working Sunday tomorrow, so I’m making the most of relaxing as much as I can. At the moment, I’m listening to the second of a two-CD set of Clive James and Pete Atkin live in Australia in 2003. It’s a record of a set they took on tear, a mixing of musings,music and readings.

The previous year, we saw them perform this set at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, and afterwards my wife bought and had autographed a copy of the only book I didn’t then have anyway. Funnily enough, Clive misheard her name and signed it to a different one, the funny bit being that it was her mother’s name: of course he corrected it.

It was a great evening out, but the highlight was somehing that took both of us by surprise. It was a poem neither of us had seen or heard, introduced at length, as being about Australia during and after the Waar, and about his mother, left to bring him up alone when the plane bringing her husband back from imprisonment in Japan crashed in Hong Kong harbour: he had never seen his son.

At first the poem had all the audience in fits of laughter, especially when read in Clive’s dry tones. But gradually the laughter faded and the tone changed. Read it for yourself below, it deserves to be known by everyone, both from the skill that makes such a thing draw your emotions from comedy to something that is it’s opposite, until the killing final line that left few eyes dry.


Advertisements asked “Which twin has the Toni?”
Our mothers were supposed to be non-plussed.
Dense paragraphs of technical baloney
Explained the close resemblance of the phoney
To the Expensive Perm. It worked on trust.

The barber tried to tell me the same sheila
With the same Expensive Perm was pictured twice.
He said the Toni treatment was paint-sealer
Re-bottled by a second-hand car dealer
And did to hair what strychnine did to mice.

Our mothers all survived, but not the perms.
Two hours at most the Toni bobbed and dazzled
Before the waves were back on level terms,
Limp as the spear-points of the household germs
An avalanche of Vim left looking frazzled.

Another false economy, home brew
Seethed after nightfall in the laundry copper.
Bought on the sly, the hops were left to stew
Into a mulch that grunted as it grew.
You had to sample it with an eye-dropper,

Not stir it with a stick as one mum did.
She piled housebricks on top, thinking the gas
Would have nowhere to go. Lucky she hid
Inside the house. The copper blew its lid
Like Krakatoa to emit a mass

Of foam. The laundry window bulged and broke.
The prodigy invaded the back yard.
Spreading across the lawn like evil smoke
It murdered her hydrangeas at a stroke
And long before the dawn it had set hard.

On a world scale, one hardly needs to note,
Those Aussie battlers barely had a taste
Of deprivation. Reeling from the boat
Came reffo women who had eaten goat
Only on feast days. Still, it is the waste

I think of, the long years without our men,
And only the Yanks to offer luxuries
At a price no decent woman thought of then
As one she could afford, waiting for when
The Man Himself came back from Overseas.

And then I think of those whose men did not:
My mother one of them. She who had kept
Herself for him for so long, and for what?
To creep, when I had splinters, to my cot
With tweezers and a needle while I slept?

Now comes the time I fly to sit with her
Where she lies waiting, to what end we know.
We trade our stories of the way things were,
The home brew and the perm like rabbit fur.
How sad, she says, the heart is last to go.

The heart, the heart. I still can hear it break.
She asked for nothing except his return.
To pay so great a debt, what does it take?
My books, degrees, the money that I make?
Proud of a son who never seems to learn,

​She can’t forget I lost my good pen-knife.
Those memories of waste do not grow dim
When you, for Occupation, write: Housewife.
Out of this world, God grant them both the life
She gave me and I had instead of him.

Michael Angelis, Boy from the Black Stuff, R.I.P.

How are some things forgotten?

I’ve just turned from the Guardian website and a short piece on the death of Michael Angelis, aged 71. They credit him as the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine. They reference his career by reference to roles in GBH, The Liver Birds, and Auf Weidersehn Pet. They mention soaps and such that he’s been in.

But not a mention of his greatest role, as Chrissy in Alan Bleasedale’s Boys from the Black Stuff.

Yes, I know that was nearly forty years ago, produced in and about the effects of Thatcher’s first Great Recession, but there isn’t a line or a grimace in that film that isn’t equally as applicable now.

Some parts are a ticket to immortality. Chrissy was one of them. Michael Angelis brought a wealth of emotion to it, and it is his monument, his legacy. And a newspaper supposedly of the left can’t even mention it.

Rest in peace, Michael, you were bloody good.

To all of us at work today…

I can’t say this any better.

Today we remember the tragedy of the Manchester Arena bombing, the event that touched many of us and as we reflect on 3 years now passed, we are a society that have never been stronger and closer. We are flying the Manchester Bees on the windows of the office today to show solidarity with those who were most affected.

We will never forget watching the news on this night or waking up to the news the next day.
We will never forget those who lost their lives and those injured.
We will always remember the resilience we learned and the strength, as a city , we showed.
We are proud to be from Manchester. We hope there will always be one last time and we will never look back in anger.
Bee strong our kid 

Alison Howe

Eilidh MacLeod

Elaine McIver

Georgine Callender

Jane Tweddle

John Atkinson

Chloe Rutherford

Liam Kelly

Lisa Lees

Angelika Klis

Marcin Klis

Kelly Brewster

Megan Hurley

Michelle Kiss

Nell Jones

Oliva Campbell-Hardy

Saffie Rose Roussos

Wendy Farrell

Sorrell Leczkowski

Courtney Boyle

Philip Tron

Martyn Hett

Crap Journalism

For the past couple of weeks, the Guardian have been running an accumulating feature on the 100 greatest UK no. 1 singles. The list has been chosen by three people, which immediately reduces it to something selected upon very limited tastes. I’ve been following it with mild curiosity as to what they’ve chosen, and in what order, and personally I wouldn’t agree with many of either.

But my principal attitude is, so what? This is your choice. If you think that ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’ is only the 45th best no. 1 of all time (and I admit I did boggle a bit at that one) you can do so. It doesn’t change my opinion about the song and its value, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the only one I’m interested in.

I’m not registered to Comment at the Guardian and haven’t been for several years, and if I still were, I wouldn’t bother over something as unimportant as this. However, I do have to break ranks with myself in response to this comment, put up today by Ben Beaumont-Thomas, the paper’s Music Editor, in respect of their no 19 choice, ‘Old Town Road’ by Little Nass X.

“I know a lot of the anti-pop/pro-1960s comment brigade will be outraged at this choice. It was unanimously chosen by the music editor (me), deputy music editor and chief music critic who compiled the top 100 – so here’s our reasoning. We all feel it’s:

a) a brilliant tune with a massive anthemic melody that will be hollered in karaoke bars for years; a truly classic pop song that really does go toe to toe with the best of the last 70-odd years.
b) one of the most brilliant pop cultural moments of the last few years – the styling, the wit, the way he toyed with country tropes and indeed exposed latent prejudices in them.

Owen ably articulates its charms in more detail above. 

My feeling is that if you’re tired of Old Town Road (remix feat Billy Ray Cyrus), you’re tired of life. That said, I’m very happy for people to comment about why they don’t like it! As long as it’s not bland abuse.” No links, you’ll have to find it yourself if you’re interested enough.

Now I’ve never heard the record, and I have no interest in hearing it, though I could experience the song at the click of a mouse. It could be good, it could be bad, it could be somewhere in between for all I know, and all I care. I am not interested in having an opinion on it.

But I do have an opinion on Mr Beaumont-Thomas’s comment. For one thing, he not only demeans himself by his snotty reference to the anti-pop/pro 60s comment brigade, he’s lost his argument already by claiming that people who are pro 60s music are anti pop: my dear sir, just what the hell do you think we were all listening to?

However, it’s the start of his final paragraph that demands a response, one that I can’t make without re-registering and which wouldn’t stay up more than five seconds if I did. Let me highlight it: ‘My feeling is that if you’re tired of Old Town Road (remix feat Billy Ray Cyrus), you’re tired of life.’

Once more, Mr Beaumont-Thomas, and with the greatest of all possible respect, you can like this record and I will say nothing because I don’t care. You can dislike any record that I love and I will say nothing because I don’t care. Your opinions are what they are: opinions, and when it comes to music we all have them and none of them are right or wrong.

But if you think you can tell me that disagreeing with your opinion calls into question my very existence, then I would respectfully invite you to fuck yourself anally with a rusty chainsaw. Because not in this universe or any other in the vastest multiverse do you get to tell me what to like or dislike.

Get that? I doubt you’ll ever see this, but I wanted to tell you exactly where you’re full of self-centred shit.

You’re welcome.