The Badger

August 23, 2012

The Badger

(or: the alternative life of Roy Hodgson, v1 – the original)

by G Bolongaro

The door from the conference hall felt heavy as Roy pushed it open and stepped into the lobby of the Bedford conference centre. Roy Hodgson. The last of the great ICI sales reps. Known affectionately to colleagues throughout the 70’s as ‘the badger.’ His reputation built in the early Thatcher years. First resisting than embracing modernisation when it had seemed the right time. He’d effectively sewn up the central African market just as British influence was on the wane.

Now the paisley carpet of the hospitality suite seemed to root him awkwardly in the middle of the walkway; hand in one pocket, watery scotch in the other. His name clip askew. A laminated remnant of a more strident time.

Once a young delegate would have taken his arm and ushered him warmly from group to group. Now he scanned the room for a familiar face. Colleagues, rivals and friends now gone.  To golf. To Malaga. To angina.  Ken stone, Rodger Dyke. Both Agnew brothers.  All of them gone.  Eyes that were once eager and respectful now seemed condescending, pitying even.  He remembered what Rodger had said to him in his office the day before his resignation, “We’re just artefacts now Roy. Ornaments pulled out of our boxes twice a year for show. Don’t become a relic Roy. ”

He finally shuffled forward for the lobby walk he’d promised Val would be his last. As he lifted the glass the vague chemical sting of the cheap malt took him  back to the that processing plant in Nairobi, where as a young rep he had paused on the gantry to watch some school children on a visit  gather around one of the large vats. A tiny voice had seemed to pierce the metallic din, and he again felt that dizziness he had felt then looking down as the boy’s question rang out around the vast industrial hull:

“What is all this for?”

***

Oh, Roy

August 22, 2012

Oh, Roy

(or: the Alternative Life of Roy Hodgson, version 3)

by DW

Roy twisted round in his seat and gestured at the client to fasten himself in, miming a pull of the belt across the shoulder and the clipping action into the lock, all of which he did wordlessly. It was not that he doubted his passenger’s ability with the language – “the Chinese can do anything they put their minds to,” he had found himself telling Barry Quinn recently, adding that you only had to look at the Great Wall – but he was simply not in the mood for conversation. As he prepared to pull out into the inevitable traffic surrounding Terminal 5, he took one last look in the rearview mirror and allowed himself a moment to adjust the angle of his cap’s peak. ‘Been at this limousine game a while now,’ he thought.

He still remembers that first morning, how he had descended the stairs gingerly, his steps lighter, quieter; that feeling of uncertainty as he lead himself into the kitchen, where Beverley had stationed herself to prepare his favourite breakfast of soft-boiled eggs with the buttery toast soldiers. Beverley… marvellous Beverley. She always knew just what to say; always knew how to put the spring back in his step. “Well. Oh my,” she had started – then, pausing as if to catch her breath, laying down the spatula and allowing her eyes to take measure from shoes to cap – “I always did like a man in uniform.” And so that very first wait at Heathrow had not been nearly as tedious as he’d feared, for it had simply presented a fillet of time in which he could indulge the daydream of his return to the marital home; to the warmth of their bed and the welcome of an ample, eager bosom.

With another glance in the mirror, Roy noted that his client was busy chatting away into one of those wireless headsets – doubtless this new bluetooth technology he’d been hearing about – and there was a fancy looking laptop computer on his knee, too. Barry hadn’t been wrong.

“What you’ve got to remember about the Chinese, Roy –” Barry had recently purchased a new kind of TV setup which allowed him to record programmes at any hour of the day, and late night panel debates had become a daily staple “– is that they’re all middle class now. It happened practically overnight, when the world was busy looking the other way. So now they’re after what we’ve got. And it’s not just your phones, your computers, that kind of thing – they’re after the lot: fridges, televisions, microwaves… you name it, they want it. And they aren’t taking no for an answer.”  There was only ever going to be one outcome of a situation like that, Barry said: “higher cost of living for everyone, east and west. Any minute now, prices on your average high street –” he pointed the index finger on one hand and drove it slowly upward toward the ceiling, accompanying the action with a rising-pitch whistle.

On the night of that conversation Roy had returned home and, going against the grain of a truce unbroken in more than four years, a truce that had served their marriage so well, he had shaken Beverley from her sleep, careful not to let the whisky-tint of his breath betray the wrong idea.

“Hiya love. Alright? It’s me. I do know how late it is, yes. But listen – no, it’s not that, I promise – I just wanted to say: that new fridge-freezer you’ve had your eye on? We’ll go out and get it tomorrow. Tomorrow, aye. You’ve waited long enough.”

*

Roy reached onto the passenger seat and turned the switch on the old portable radio he kept there, always pleased by the warm crackling sound it made as it buzzed into life. He wasn’t one for the new digital radios, let alone these ‘satellite navigation systems’ with their flashing lights and their talking computers. Mind you, it was all computers now. And not just computers – if Barry Quinn was to be believed, it was only a matter of time (“five years, Roy, tops”) before we’d be dealing with walking and talking robots on a daily basis. Apparently they already existed, out in Japan, where they’d spent the last dozen years or so being trained in various housework tasks. But housework, Barry said, was only the tip of the iceberg. Soon they’d be able to do pretty much anything a person could, “better than we can do it ourselves. And guess who’s demanding this new cyber-workforce, who’s bankrolling it all? That’s right – our old friends, the Chinese.”

Ever since that conversation, Roy hadn’t been sleeping so well. He’d lain awake through the night, listening to Barry’s words as they echoed around in his head. The Chinese were sweeping in from one side, the Japanese and their robots from the other – a classic pincer movement. “It’ll be life, Roy, but not as we know it.”

The phone that Beverley had stationed by the bedside in case of some emergency now taunted him as he lay on his side, afraid to let it out of sight. How long before it rang them awake in the early hours, with the controller saying that Roy wouldn’t be needed that day after all? How long before they called to invite Roy in for a little chat with the boss, about the company’s plans for the future…

***

Sid Waddell

August 14, 2012

The world is going to be a less inventive place without Sid Waddell. I didn’t realise the extent of how bright he was but suppose his choice of references should have made that clear:

The son of Martha and Bob Waddell, Sid was born in Alnwick, Northumberland. His parents were determined that neither he nor his brother, Derrick, would follow their father down the mines. His parents gave him “the material and moral support to live my sporting dreams and realise my academic potential,” Sid recalled.

He was educated at Ellington County primary school and later Morpeth grammar school, where he excelled at English and history. In 1958 he was awarded a scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge. Sid captained a darts team there, later claiming that his group was once beaten “by a team of trainee vicars”.

After graduating with a degree in modern history, in the summer of 1962 he applied for a job as clerk at the colliery offices in Ashington, but was turned down for being overqualified. He then obtained a post as a research assistant at Durham University and toyed with the idea of a career in academia. However, in 1965 Sid became a TV researcher, eventually working his way up to producer of current affairs programmes.

In 1972, he became involved with the production of one of the most eccentric television programmes ever produced, Yorkshire Television’s The Indoor League. The show, which ran for six series, set champions of pub games against each other. The programme helped lead to darts being more regularly featured on British television, and launched the TV darts commentating careers of not only Sid but also Dave Lanning, with whom he would go on to share the commentary box for many years.

He also wrote ‘Jossie’s Giants’. There’s plenty of choice on the quotes front but here are some fromThe Guardian obituary

“When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer … [Eric] Bristow’s only 27.”

“He looks about as happy as a penguin in a microwave.”

“His eyes are bulging like the belly of a hungry chaffinch.”

“The atmosphere is so tense, if Elvis walked in with a portion of chips, you could hear the vinegar sizzle on them.”

 

Uncivilisation

August 9, 2012

You sort of think, um, ok could be worth seeing what’s going on here www.uncivilisation.co.uk Some things look quite interesting and the Dark Mountain concept is one that has a few persuasive elements but I think they might be stretching it all a bit far, then…

Then you read:

10.15am: An introduction to Scything
Scything teacher Beth Tilston introduces the art and craft of mowing grass with a scythe – an ancient and modern piece of human-scale technology. Come and have a go: you’ll never use a strimmer again. Meet between the car park and the campsite.

Is reintroducing scything a priority? I mean, is a strimmer really that bad? ‘If only George Bush had scythed the White House lawn Iraq would never had happened and we would all have met our Kyoto targets.’ Or maybe this is this just filling space in the programme and I shouldn’t bother about it too much. Or does this (again) suggest a movement that wants to define itself as radical and new but ends up with gestures that make it look a little bit, well, devoid of ideas? And anyway you need to sort your life out with a few more basic skills if you need someone to teach you how to move your arms backwards and forwards with a big blade. Come on.

Alright mate.
What you looking at mate?
You being gay mate?
You are.
Where’s your dad mate?
Down Soho mate?
He fuckin’ is.
Where’s your mum mate?
Down Soho an’ all, holdin’ his handbag?
She fuckin’ is.
Got a ciggie mate?
Twos?
You got 10p?

I hear tell of a man
Top marks at his local school
Progressed seamlessly to higher education
‘Swept the board’ at his first choice university
Travelled half way across the globe
No thought to his own safety
Western comforts be damned.

 

I hear tell of a man
Returned from the orient
Selflessly studied the dark arts
Of the ‘journaliste’
Only to return eastwards to sire a child
To raise in his own image
Far away from western decadence.

 

I hear tell of a man
A quiet hero
Unsung
Unbowed
A hero for our time

 

Now imagine
If you will
This man
Be-straddling stools in Tokyo Reggae bars
Snowboarding goggles shielding Irish eyes
Vanilla Ice t shirt be-strapping a gaelic heart
Chirp’sin up the cooing ingénues
With tales of times in
Chertsey Special Ops

 

Envisage
If you can
This man
In speedos
Referees whistle poised
Stridding poolside
Volunteer lifeguard
Full bloc factor 60
Bemused staff ushered down
From their unmerited vantage points

 

Picture
If you are able
This man
On chromed quad bike
Bare chested
Flip flopped
Bossing the shinjuku streets
Skullcandy headphones pulsing Sean Paul
Razzing the wrong way
Up one way streets
Car horns and policemans whistles
Moans of mere mortals

 

Close your eyes
Hold them tight
What do you see?
This man
Now bearded
Magnificent limbs splayed over sofa
Jimmy Whites 1992 crucible loss on dvd
Spooling endless sadness across the  flat screen
Empty Kirins scattered like vanquished foe
Bottles launched at the impudent wall
Exploding
Raining glass
And crisp golden lager
On the now huddled in-laws
Cowering in the corner of the front room.

 

Dare dear friends
Dare to dream
Of a man
Who will not compromise
Will not be muzzled
Cannot be contained
Barefooted
Heroically unwashed
In department meeting
Head held in hands at the drone
The oppressive drone of ‘neutrality, accuracy, objectivity, balance…’
Lifting his granite skull to crash down
On the thick glazed wood
THUD
THUD
THUD
Raising biro to slam down into taught sinew of forearm
STAB
STAB
STAB
Impassioned plea cracking like Celtic thunder
Stirring hearts
From conference room
To office
To foyer
To street
To sky
I FEEL! I FEEL! I FEEL!!!!!!
I BLEED! I BLEED!
DO. I. NOT. BLEED!!!!!!!

 

I hear tell of a man
A quiet hero
Unsung
Unbowed
A hero for our time.
GB
***

This Higgs Boson Business

DW

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

A bunch of scientists – physicists, to be precise

have got together down a tunnel in Switzerland

and cobbled together something called a ‘Hadron Collider’

 

And this Hadron Collider –

you fire it up,

it takes a load of these so-called particles,

whizzes them about,

smashes them together at a speed

that we’re supposed to believe

is faster than the speed of light;

even though, up until now, these very same scientists

have been telling anyone who’d listen

that the speed of light was the fastest speed there is

 

So essentially

after a lifetime of consensus within the scientific community

some Jonny-Come-Lately from Switzerland

has popped his head round the door

and said, ‘Hang on everybody, stop what you’re doing –

turns out Einstein was barking up the wrong tree.’

 

Then –

and this is the bit that I can’t get my head around:

Once these particles have been smashed into one another

out pops another kind of particle

and this other particle – ‘the god particle’

that’s supposed to tell us how it all began?

that’s supposed to explain the origins of the universe?

 

Nah, sorry

I’m not convinced.

 

Anyway.

I’ll have the same again please.

When you get a minute, no rush. You can put it in the same glass.

 

‘Hadron Collider’.

There’ll be people getting paid good money to be down that tunnel;

Nice work if you can get it.

 

Still, origins of the universe, eh?

I suppose you’ve got to wonder.

***

The Last Confession of Roy Hodgson

by DW

The men had formed a circle, and in the middle of the circle sat the effigy, its neck crooked and its head sunk against its chest. The first of the men stepped forward and threw the back of his hand sharply across the cheek of the effigy; its whole head snapped to the left, accompanied by the hollowed-out rustling sound of papier-mâché. The man struck again, this time with the open palm of his hand, and the head fell limp to the other side.

“That’s enough.” Their leader had spoken; the man retreated. The voice spoke again, this time addressing the effigy directly.

“We divvnae want this, Roy. Believe us when I say that. I’m sure you’re a lovely fella an’ that, but you’ve given us nae choice.”

This man, the leader, swept his left arm out in a semi-circle then mirrored the action with his right, silently introducing the ring of eleven men, each striking a near-identical pose with arms folded high across their chests. Each was of an indeterminable age somewhere between forty and sixty. Each had a face composed of red and purple hues and a belly that hung, to varying proportions, beyond the rim of their waistlines; each was dressed in the identical clothing of loose-fitting blue jeans and the Newscatle United football shirt. “These are all good lads, Roy. Salt of the earth, each and everyone of ‘em.”

The man picked up a can of Carling Black Label, cracked it open, took a hearty swig and then held it out in offering to the effigy. Seconds passed; a gentle wind picked up and carried a low whistling sound across the beer garden. The effigy was still, its head slung to the side where the second blow had left it.

“Suit yerself, Roy. I’ll not blame you for being upset with us. But you see, you’ve got to understand where my lads are coming from. You’ve to look at it from our perspective.”

From the pocket of his jeans the man pulled a folded piece of paper and a ballpoint pen. “We’ve written your confession for you, Roy. It’s missing a signature, but I’m happy to do that on your behalf, unless you’ve any objections like? Okay then.” As he went to sign the paper the man seemed pleasantly surprised (as if he had forgotten) to find the body of the biro decorated with the picture of a curvaceous, bikini-clad lady. He clicked the button on the biro’s top, causing the bikini to fall away and his eyes to open wide in delight.

“You seen this Roy?” He held the biro out in front of the effigy and clicked its lid several times, his grin growing larger with each press of the thumb. The effigy did not raise its head; soon the man’s smile narrowed until it was little more than a flat line gently upturned at the corners. With hurt in his eyes he turned his concentration back to the task at hand, of signing the confession, but not before he had allowed the lady one last performance of her entrancing striptease. “There’s still some beauty left in this world, Roy. Remember that.” It had been a long time since he had called the lady into service; a long time since the last confession.

*

It must have been nearly eighteen months now, when the twelve had gathered by the banks of the Tyne on a cold February morning. It had taken them more than an hour to assemble the scaled-down plywood ducking stool, and the icy mists that bled from the river had chilled their naked hands to the bone. But in their hearts the men remained warm, steeled by the noble pursuit of justice and the bottles of Smirnoff Ice that were passed around. Aloft on its seat, the swarthy puppet had rocked on the current of the easterly wind, but it did not tremble; as sentence was read aloud it merely gazed out across the mighty river, as if willing for the fog to rise so that its eyes might behold once more the place from whence it came, from whence its cruel heart sprang. But the fog had not lifted, had instead lain like a merciful and godly curtain dividing both shores of the Tyne, and for this the men were grateful: for none that day had wanted to look upon the Badlands.

“Ashley Cole, also known as C’Ashley –” their leader’s voice had skimmed and bounced across the black surface of the river, “if you will not openly confess to crimes committed against Our Cheryl, then we must take it as our duty to extract confession from you.” There had followed a momentary silence, the click of a lever; and then the creak of plywood as the ducking stool plunged its godless charge into the water.

*

It had been winter then and now it was summer, but in the hearts of the men an arctic chill had taken hold. None felt this more than their leader, who had lived too long now and seen too much. He drew heavily on his cigarette and regarded the effigy with a weary contempt, but the look was not without pity.

“He could’ve been European Champions, Roy. Kings of Europe. All of us together.”

The cheap thread of the fabric from which Roy’s miniature suit was cut hung loosely about his frame; few would agree that this was a fair representation of a man who, in spite of all his faults, was rarely less than sharply turned out. But there had simply not been enough time for details.

Two men stepped forward and lifted the effigy up by the underside of its arms. They carried it over to the centre of the beer garden, where an assortment of broken chairs and axe-hewn tables had been leant together in the crude pyramid structure of a bonfire. A scent of lighter fluid filled the nostrils of the men.

“You’ve got time for a few last words, Roy. You’ve got time to repent. For what you’ve done to us, like. And for what you’ve done to Him. You shouldn’t have done it, Roy.” The man’s voice was beginning to break, emotion pushing through the cracked surface like daisies in a long-abandoned car park. From the corner of his eye a solitary tear shaped itself into the outline of a perfectly formed pear, and caught within that pear was each and every colour of the rainbow, refracted from the light of the quickening fire.

It needn’t have been like this. First Wellbeck, then Carroll, and then Rooney. Insult piled upon injury and salt rubbed in for good measure. And if that wasn’t enough, he even brought on Walcott and Oxelade-Chamberlain to piss in the open wound. And all the while, the greatest striker England ever had wasn’t even sat on the bench; he didn’t even make Hodgson’s reserve list.

“Just tell us that, Roy. Tell us that one thing. Why didn’t you play Him? Why didn’t you play Shearer?”

Instinctively and in unison, each of the men drummed his right fist against his heart, raised his left in salute and cried the name aloud twice: ‘SHEARER! SHEARER!’

Soon the pyre was raging. Hodgson’s suit was first to catch, followed quickly by the grey-painted straw of his hair. The effigy began to crumple, folding and collapsing into itself. But then, with a slow puffing sound almost unheard, a wave of warm air rolled up from the centre of the fire and into the hollow cavity of the body, billowing through its limbs and making bulbous once more its chest and head. Run-through with the heat, its neck became uncrooked and its face unslumped – now it gazed straight ahead. The blackening head began to jerk in the heat, rolled by the flames in a hideous slow motion. The bottom half of the jaw snapped loose and detached itself from the top; the mouth fell open. A low rasping sound escaped from its dying carcass as the air within broke free, rushed upwards into the night. The men looked at one another aghast. After all he had done. After all he had put them through. Now Hodgson was laughing at them.

***

Philosophy for Life

June 5, 2012

This is an interesting pod cast Little Atoms Jules Evans and i’ve been reading a bit more Jules Evans through his website philosophyforlife.org. What i particularly like is that it’s not teeth crunchingly earnest or overly confident – a seemingly common feature of a lot of the happiness / well being types. Gonna get the book but here’s something from his blog that helped turned over some soil in my ‘ead:

Anxiety is a part of being human – it’s just that, 100,000 years ago, the anxiety would have been about whether a tiger would eat us, or whether we’d survive the winter. Now, we no longer live under the daily threat of violent death or sickness. But you can’t just turn off our evolutionarily developed capacity for worry, so it has to find new things to worry about – what our workmates think of us, will we find a life partner, is our nose too big, are we too fat.

Sometimes these modern anxieties seem incredibly petty compared to old-school anxieties about death and starvation. But anxiety is rarely completely irrational. What our workmates think of us does matter, and will affect how we do in our career. If we’re too fat, it might affect our ability to find a nice life partner.

Of course, anxiety is very often self-defeating: we worry excessively about what our workmates think of us, and our insecurity communicates itself to them, and they think less well of us. Sometimes, in modern life, the least anxious seem to thrive the best.

The ancient world, and the Renaissance, had a good method of dealing with anxiety, which I find still works – the memento mori, or reminder of Death. Ancient philosophers, particularly the Stoics, would train themselves to consider Death , to consider how everything around them would turn to dust, how they themselves would soon be eaten by the worms, and forgotten by everyone on earth.

Asian philosophers, particularly the Buddhists and Hindus, also trained themselves to contemplate Death, even going to meditate in charnel houses, surrounded by skeletons and corpses. The Christian Medieval Church was one big memento mori – its art works were overflowing with grinning skulls and dancing skeletons, showing the supremacy of Lord Death over all human pretensions.

And Renaissance artists, inspired by ancient philosophy, revitalized this sombre tradition – Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for example, is in some ways an extended memento mori, and other artists and writers like Holbein and Montaigne were equally ready to remind themselves of Death and bring it before their eyes.

Somehow this tradition was lost, probably around the eighteenth century, the century of politeness, urbanity and materialism, when it started to seem barbaric, morbid, even fanatical to focus on Death. The emphasis becomes much more on man’s ability to control nature, to achieve his wishes, to cheat Death. Death became merely death, a minor embarrassment in the cocktail party of life.

But I don’t think the ancient tradition of the memento mori was necessarily morbid. It was a way of turning down the volume on modern anxieties. By reminding yourself that you would die very soon, you learned to detach yourself from worldly anxieties, from all the petty striving after reputation or status. It was a way of achieving release, liberation, peace.

I remember when I had social anxiety at university, and was really anxious alot of the time, I one day had an epiphany that we would all die. I was sitting in my room, and I suddenly saw that everything in it would turn to dust, that the entire town would crumble and disappear, that I myself would be dead and buried within a few years, and the universe would not have been significantly altered. For some reason, I found this amazingly liberating. Why was I worrying what such-and-such thought of me…what did it matter how my finals went…why did we cling on to worldly things, when they were turning to dust in our fingers? Why do we torture ourselves worrying about our place in the world, when we are only here for a few, brief and insignificant moments?

Later on, when I found myself getting anxious again, I found that reminding myself of Death helped me achieve detachment and perspective on my problems. I couldn’t take myself, my career, my love-life or whatever else I was worrying about that seriously, knowing I would be dead in a few weeks, months or years. What was the point? I had no idea why I was alive, but I knew I was going to die soon, in a few decades at most, so I might as well relax, try to enjoy life, and maybe try and help others as well.

So I really think reminding myself of Death helped me to overcome anxiety. The ancient technique still works, that’s why we have passed it down to modern times. And I think our modern society, so obsessed with itself, its own glamour and importance, would do well to remind itself occasionally of the grinning skull beneath all the make-up.

The signs were there

May 6, 2012