You Can’t Say Crap On The Radio

POTTY training – the best of times, the worst of times.

Little Lizzie has been at it for about a month or so. So far, she’s aced it. I’m the one that’s struggling.

A perfect poo this morning delivered into said potty. Brilliant start. A wipe of the bum. Second stage mastered. So how the hell did the poo hit the bathroom floor as I tried to deliver it to South West Water? Third stage fail.

As if I needed more work, more cleaning, more stress around potty time. It wasn’t like this for Michael Bentine (old person joke!)

We live in a higgledy-piggledy house, the living quarters and kitchen upstairs, the bathroom and boys’ bedrooms down.

So, I’m getting plenty of much-needed exercise emptying potty after potty, up and down the stairs, as our Liz knows she gets rewarded for every successful wee and poo. Sometimes it’s no more than a thimble full. I think she holds back to get more treats.

Unless we have the rare accident. Then it’s like the Thames has broken its banks and there are yellow flood warnings. Quite apt in this case.

Yesterday, for example. She walked towards the potty, stood inches short, staring at the helicopter from RNAS Culdrose through the window and let forth. Living on a Cornish river, I wondered if she hadn’t brought a few buckets of that to toss on the laminated floor.

Mind you, I wonder if I could sue Culdrose for breaking her concentration?

And why are there never enough towels or kitchen paper to soak any mess up? Why it is always a battle? Twenty minutes trying to soak every bit of wet up, then another 10 cleaning it with anti-bacterial spray and then wiping that off.

All in all, Lizzie’s doing well. And highly praised for her success.

What about me? No-one seems to think about the poor old parent. We are the Without Whom Brigade who make potty training a success. These toddlers, no matter how smart or cute, couldn’t do it without us.

Yet no sweetie or choccie for me. No claps of congratulations, high fives or ‘well dones’.

Me? I’m just a slave in parent form. I won’t even talk about the 13 year old, whose first words on meeting are ‘what’s to eat?’

And dropping the poo? It’s never happened before. It was a slow motion moment. Potty clipping toilet bowl, turning in a scientifically impossible way and shooting out brown bomb like a misfiring howitzer.

Splat. And with none of the tongue in cheek fun of the old Batman series (more old people moments!)

I guess any parent is used to being hands deep in it from the moment their newborn spews out that awful black-green gunge, but still…

No medal on the horizon for me. Just an endless stream of wee that I hope I can manouevre correctly into the toilet.

What did Reader’s Digest say? Life’s like that.

Don’t Believe A Word

I SUPPOSE politicians have always lied.

Churchill lied and official British history cherishes his memory. Chamberlain told the truth and is reviled.

I guess that sums up our attitudes to those who would rule us. Boris Johnson has lied his entire life. Like Donald Trump, it comes easily, and I reckon both would beat a lie detector test. But it doesn’t mean they don’t lie.

When a civil case was taken out about Johnson’s infamous Brexit Bus, which helped swing the vote to come out of Europe, the judge did not exonerate him, as some claim, but simply stressed there was no law to prevent lies in political campaigning.

How sad.

Which brings me onto the Lib Dems, chastised as the Lie Dems after their ill-conceived power grab to prop up David Cameron’s Prime Ministry, when they quietly ditched most of their manifesto promises.

Living in the Truro and Falmouth constituency, I have been impressed by the veritable rainforest of Lib Dem literature dropping through my door each week. None of the other parties has bothered to send me so much guff.

But, I’m put off by the lies.

‘Only the Liberal Democrats can beat the Conservatives here’, presumably a standard form because it makes no mention about Truro and Falmouth.

‘Here it is a two-horse race between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats’…

I even had a letter from an ‘election expert’, who suggested the Lib Dems were ready to wrest the constituency from the Tories.

Now, while I’m ready to accept that the seat has switched between blue and orange for many years, the factual truth is far from what Jo Swinson and her ilk would have you believe.

Yes, the Lib Dems polled second in 2010 when Sarah Newton took the seat for the Tories with a 44.4 per cent majority.

The fall out from that disastrous ‘Con Dem’ coalition government saw the Lib Dem vote collapse at the 2015 general election. From 19,914 votes and 40.8 per cent of the poll in 2010, this fell to 8,681 and just 16.8 per cent in 2015. Sarah Newton, a worthy MP, enjoyed a 44 per cent success.

But by the time of the 2017 general election, while the Lib Dems vote stalled on 8,465, down to 14.9 per cent, the Labour vote had surged to 21,331 and 37.7 per cent. This from 9.6 per cent in 2010 and 15.2 per cent in 2015.

So, the figures show that Labour is on the march in Truro and Falmouth and has a much better chance of ousting the Tories than the Lib Dems. It’s there in Parliamentary voting records.

And for the record, I was a card-carrying member of the Lib Dems in the 1990s. Not anymore. And the lie that they are the only real choice here in Truro and Falmouth if we are to stop Brexit and the NHS being sold off further, or fully, under Tory control, means that I will be voting Labour.

Sarah Newton, an excellent MP who cared about the constituency, quit as a junior minister last year because she was against any ‘no deal’ that would severely damage our country.

She announced she would not be standing for a fourth vote earlier this year. A woman of principle going out on a high.

Sadly, principle and politician seems to be an oxymoron.

So to Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems, you’ve lost my vote because you were being disingenuous. You might have convinced a fair few in this constituency, but these tactics are doing what you claim you don’t want – giving the Tories the edge they need.

 

 

 

Century’s End

TODAY in 1919 a child was born into abject poverty in a Durham mining village.

A boy who would make his mark on the football pitch, in the skies over Germany, in the workplace and on my life.

Happy birthday Grandad.

He died nine years ago last Monday, after years ravaged by Alzheimer’s, a truly awful end for a man who had achieved so much and against such bloody dreadful odds. A man who never once moaned about his lot and, indeed, was grateful for the life he had.

In turn, I never met anyone who had an unkind word to say about him.

Norman Smith was a quiet man, who kept his own counsel save for the odd self-deprecatory joke, and I learned more about him in those years when his mind betrayed him than most had understood through his life.

I realised that fear had been a vital spark in his childhood. And love.

Love for a father who toiled  underground to scrape 10 buckets of coal for the Earl, who owned Boldon Colliery, before he could start earning for his family. My grandfather would have likely followed his father, and father’s father, down into the black mines of Durham had it not been for the fear. The sight of the three wheeled cart being wheeled through the mining village and the horror in case it be the broken body of his father.

So he took to learning, without encouragement from a puzzled family, reading and writing by the light of dying embers, winning a scholarship to the prestigious Washington High School. This was reserved for the children of those families with means and granddad took the bullying and snide remarks in his stride.

He won the Victor Ludorum, for the best sportsman in the school, twice and showed promise in football, rugby, cricket and athletics. He’d won his peers round, too.

As the miners were punished around the country for their role in strikes for a better life for them and their families, his father upped sticks and moved to Coventry in 1935, while other members of the clan walked from Jarrow to London a year later.

And there was a turn of events that shaped my future. This is the man who took me in as a baby and brought my up as his own son. One of my huge regrets is that I wasn’t kinder or more receptive to his help. A maths genius, his offer to get me out of a hole with my homework was rejected because ‘we don’t do it like that now’. True, the teachers at Blue Coat wanted to see their method of maths shown on the homework, but away from school I found the correct answer was always more important.

A student of Coventry Technical College and a Standard apprentice, his early promise led to him being signed for Coventry City. His opportunities were limited behind the legendary Clarrie Bourton.

For those who don’t know, Bourton still holds the Coventry City record for most goals in a season on 50, is still the club’s record goalscorer with 182 goals, 173 coming in league matches,  and with 228 appearances has a near 80 per cent strike rate. It’s not too shabby being second best to that.

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The day after war was declared on September 3, 1939, my grandfather tried to enlist in the Royal Navy. He was told ‘we need ships, not men’ so went next door and joined the Royal Air Force.

During my childhood he spoke of being based near Oxford on the night of November 14, 1940, and seeing a large orange glow on the horizon. Coventry ablaze. It was the night of the main Coventry Blitz, at the time the biggest air raid in history. The following day, those with relatives in Coventry were called forward and given railway warrants to travel back. Imagine the fear – with no way of knowing if the family had survived.

They did.

Grandad was sent to do his pilot training in South Africa and graduated first in his class, going on to fly Spitfires and Mustangs, involved in escorting the heavy bombers over Germany when both the American Air Force and RAF were involved in daylight raids.

Having met my grandmother during the war, he turned down a chance to remain in the RAF or serve in the South African Air Force after the war because she didn’t want to go.  He ended up on the production line at the Humber before finding work with the GEC, where he left as production manager when I was still at Blue Coat.  He gave me as much time as he had, given that work always came first. Holidays, to Clee Hill and Ludlow, with the occasional day trip to Aberdovey and other places, were idyllic.

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Today, we talk to my son Henry, 13, and daughter, Elizabeth, two, about the most finest of men. Henry understands, but Elizabeth is more interested in the pictures that adorn our walls. Of Grandad captaining Birmingham County FA in a ‘junior international’ against Scotland. It was an honour, a chance for future stars to shine. Of course, war intervened, but it had to played on April Fool’s Day 1939.

I have the cap he won that day. It is a treasured possession. And will hopefully be passed on to Henry.

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One of the favourite images, from a social aspect, is when Grandad played in a brief 10 match spell for Millwall. We only have a few pictures of him in action, but he always seems as if he’s spotted a chance no-one else has.

He had a keen footballing brain and those who saw him in action said that, even at 5ft 7in tall, he could outjump the biggest defenders. Look at the picture taken at Preston North End and the mud in the penalty area. Jumping would have been a feat back then, but the North End goalie makes it look easy.

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Grandard didn’t talk much about his achievements. I know he was proud to have played for ‘the City’, but his time at Bedworth Town ranked among his fondest memories. The camaraderie and friendships were extra special.

I didn’t realise until his funeral, when representatives of today’s Greenbacks were nice enough to attend, that in their glory days of the post-war years, Grandad had been a Clarrie Bourton figure. He still held the goal scoring record for 50 in a season.

 

Broken Promise Land

BACK in September, 1987 I caught the train to Gloucester and walked into the jaws of Kingsholm.

It was a sobering experience. The first weekend of national league rugby with Coventry taking its place among the best clubs in the country.

There was a buzz about the city on the back of the Sky Blues’ famous win at Wembley in the May. Coventry was going places. We had confidence the blue and whites would share in that glory and positivity.

We were hammered. I couldn’t remember the score without access to the internet, but 39 – 3 is a fair appraisal of the class of the cherry and whites that day.

It was to be a season with few highlights. I know I made the trip to The Reddings to watch arch rivals Moseley put one over on us 26 – 3 but, if I’m honest, I can’t remember the one home game I made it to.

It could well have been the loss to Orrell, back then a force in English rugby, which sealed our relegation. Two clubs went down that first season. We were within touching distance of a scrum of other teams, but with only three wins from 11 there’s not much to argue about. Another win and things might have been different, but…

Until today, I’ve longed for Cov to be back at the top.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/nov/20/sale-saracens-premiership-players-contracts

But reading the candid comments of Sale co-owner Simon Orange in the Guardian has persuaded me that the risks of winning Premiership status do not match my vision of rugby union. Or my club’s fortunes.

Coventry’s transformation from National League One also-rans to champions and a return to the Championship has been a journey thanks to the vision, money and business acumen of Jon Sharp. He saved us from the brink and took us on a march to new glories.

But if gaining a place at rugby’s top table meant Cov would lose £50 million a year, then, quite simply, I’m out.

That’s not a sustainable business model unless you’ve got millionaires who like throwing money away. If you find any, point them in my direction. Look at the financial woes of Wasps, who saw a move to Coventry as a way to survive, for example.

Exeter remain the one Premiership club making a profit each year, although are paying back structured loans to owner Tony Rowe, who has, like Mr Sharp, employed vision and business acumen to steer the club from National Division Two to champions of England.

You can produce your own star players from the academy system, like Exeter and Saracens, albeit illegally, but how many English clubs are spending money they haven’t got on big name internationals? It seems that the more your opponents spend, the more you have to spend to keep within touching distance.

And that’s just the also-rans.

Even if Mr Sharp had oodles and oodles of money, and managed to pull together a team of millionaires to run Cov, I’d not be happy at the idea of such money being wasted in the name of sport – even one I’ve loved for decades.

With Newcastle Falcons’ demolition of Cov last weekend, maybe there already is a form of ring-fencing around the Premiership. The Kingston Park club has Premiership standard players, with plenty of Premiership experience and a parachute payment after last season’s relegation that means the playing field isn’t level for the Championship clubs.

Since London Welsh folded after relegation from the top flight in 2014/15, each relegated team has carried the honours in the Championship and won bounced back straight away.

I’ve sometimes dismissed football as the wrong model for rugby to follow, especially financially, but the round ball game has never taken the idea of ending relegation seriously. And it’s been kinder to its teams with a meaningful pyramid of national league football. While there are 20 clubs in the football premiership and 12 in rugby’s equivalent, three teams from the division below will win premiership status in football and all that entails.

Rugby remains a one-up, one-down system as of today, with a number of other caveats aimed at thwarting success at lower levels. Stadium size is just one way of keeping the unofficial ring-fencing in place. Just ask Rotherham.

Simply put, the RFU has long since ceded control to the millionaire-owners, much to the detriment of the national game.

Since league rugby was introduced at the beginning of the 1987 season, 28 clubs have played at the top level. London Welsh, Liverpool St Helens, Waterloo, Orrell and West Hartlepool among those who have disappeared from the national scene, largely because they didn’t have the financial muscle to keep up.

By comparison, since football’s Premier League began in 1992, 49 clubs have played at the top level.  They all remain in the national leagues.

Rugby is not in the hands of people who love the game or who care about its sustainability, but want their charges to survive and succeed. It’s natural. But if a club like Sale is making a loss of £50m a year, then the lunatics have really got the keys to the asylum.

The sport needs change, real change, to make it sustainable, competitive and, above all, successful. Giving in to the millionaires willing to lose such sums of money as Mr Orange talks about is not good for the game.

Premiership status is more like a poison chalice. And given all the woes Cov have gone through since the leagues began, I’d rather have a club to shout on than memories of former glories. We’ve been near that precipice too many times.

 

 

 

 

Every Little Bit Hurts

IN SOME quarters, those that feted this England rugby team will now demand big changes.

A loss hurts.

Hurts big.

England suffered from the weight of expectation rather than the ridiculous and un-rugby like side swipe from Warren Gatland that they’d played their final a week early.

Because, take away the emotion and dissect the job that South Africa did on snuffing out every area of English threat. We were mostly shamed in the scrums, redundant at the ruck and losers at the line-out.

As a former back, I know that nothing else matters. You might be able to feed off scraps in Barbarian rugby, but top flight international rugby is a much harder prospect. Especially with rugby’s big prize on offer.

I can point to poor performances from several within the England camp on that pitch in Yokohama, but really, the Springboks dominated. Even good performances were punished or extinguished by the force of the men in green.

So yes, we can have our post mortems, decide who we think should be jettisoned by England going forward, but we also have to recognise that this English team has come back from its most disappointing World Cup hour. It has shown its merit and spirit by putting Six Nations championship failures behind it and reaching the finals of the sport’s biggest competition.

Let’s not be too harsh on the guys that made it there.

Gracious in defeat, gracious in victory.

Congratulations South Africa on a worthy victory.

Land Of Hope And Glory

I’VE been mourning for the All Blacks this week.

The way they dealt with defeat is truly a wonderful essay on what keeps rugby apart from most other sports.

They conceded they were beaten by the better team immediately. They defended England’s approach to the haka and have been warm in their praise of everything Eddie Jones and his charges have achieved.

I can hope, with the rest of the Red Rose brigade, that England lift the old William Webb Ellis cup on Saturday.

It’s not going to be the walk-over some seem to believe, but I know we have the firepower, the skills, the desire and ability to put English hands on it. Football’s coming home? Maybe.

But if we lose, it will be because South African have deserved to win.

And this is where sport is beautiful and brutal.

If we look at the journey of South African rugby and its captain, Kiya Solisi, we find a great advert for our great game. He’s humble, a man born into poverty but who grabbed at every chance offered him.

Critics might say he was offered many more chances than the average black South African in his township or any other township.

But chances, unless you’re propped up by rich parents who can tug on the old school tie, mean naught unless you’re prepared to take them.

In getting offered a rugby scholarship to a private school, Kolisi had to do it the hard way. His grandparents brought him up, his bed a pile of cushions on the floor. His mother and grandmother died when he was still at school. Yet he never gave up. On Saturday, this man, humble and gifted, appreciative and giving, will lead South Africa in a world cup final.

It’s hard as a rugby dreamer to deny him the chance of being not only the first black South African captain to lead his team in a final, but lift that trophy.

Above all, I want an exciting game. These world cup finals have rarely been try-fests, but the fans deserve something special.

Rugby needs to be the victor. We need new generations to be inspired. Would-be Siya Kolisis and others like Kyle Sinckler, a late state school convert to the 15 man game. Not quite in the same vein as Kolisi, but Sinckler is an outsider who has embraced rugby and been embraced by it.

In a report commissioned after the London 2012 Olympics, Ofsted’s chief inspector found that 61 per cent of Premiership players had attended private schools – the highest of any English sport.

Sinckler’s inclusion as a starter in England’s matchday 23 in a world cup final should be an inspiration.

Because while England may have made a final, and Ireland, Scotland and Wales made it to the world cup, not all is well with rugby. Particularly at grassroots level.

School rugby for those outside the private system is in a mess. The old county system, once a proving ground for future internationals, has been cast aside by the Rugby Football Union. Representative age grade competitions have been watered down by regulations and lack of support from Headquarters. Grassroots clubs across the country are struggling for players.

A world cup win will change none of the problems the game is in below the Premiership model. After Wales’ loss to the Springboks in the semi-finals, the standard obituaries  surfaced blaming the regional model in the Principality.

English rugby has the same cracks, just a thicker layer of wallpaper covering them.

If England win or lose, we’ve done exceptionally well to reach a fourth world cup final.

When we won back in 2003, Sir Clive Woodward said it was despite the system in England, not because of it.

His words were ignored.

If we win on Saturday, it will be despite the system again.

As well as using the final as a platform to attract the next generation, we should be using the opportunity to fix the game for everyone’s benefit. Children in England, living in poverty like Siya Kolisi, should have opportunity. Young men like Kyle Sinckler from state schools need chances.

The English game has its own opportunity to grasp.

 

Building The Perfect Beast

OKAY, I’ll put my hand up and admit: ‘I never saw that coming.’

England’s steam-rollering of the All Black machine was extraordinary to watch from the comfort of a Cornish sofa.

Yet, while I was always expecting the onslaught of several New Zealand tries in a matter of minutes, such is their skillset and mindset, I am not waxing as lyrical as most about the Red Rose performance.

Yes, we created chances galore against the best side in the world, and, bar a dreadful throw in on our own ball which gifted them a try, shut them out.

But how many points did we leave out there?

Johnny May, the hero of the hour when he ghosted past Ben Smith and Co at Twickenham all those years ago, seemed hesitant at times. The fact Scott Barrett chased him down and caused him to track back inside suggests that maybe his leg issues were holding him back.

A fit May, the guy we’ve all come to love, would have pinned his ears back and flown to the try line, surely?

Bar Manu Tuilagi’s fine try, a team effort rather than individual, and the two disallowed tries, we butchered several chances, either ignoring the mis-match or fumbling the ball. Yes, we were playing the mighty All Blacks, the team with the best win percentage in the history of union, but if we want to be best we have to perform to our best. That will mark this vintage out as the best ever.

Beating the All Blacks is special. Having done it, for the first time, in a world cup match is special. Having done it to clinch a place in Saturday’s World Cup final is special.

But what if we could have scored those three, four, maybe even five or six other tries? What a statement that would have been on the world stage.

The one we made was pretty damn fantastic, but I, like Eddie Jones, the England boss, always want as near to 100 per cent as possible.

Moreso in the professional age, given that running, passing, tackling and kicking is what these guys do for a living.

I felt the refereeing decisions to disallow the England tries were the correct ones. The ‘crossing’ ahead of Sam Underhill’s touch down was clear to see. Although I’d like to see it reffed consistently across the board, not just when points are at stake.

The second disallowed try was harsh for me, but again absolutely spot on. It was almost  a forensic examination by the TMO looking for something to keep the ABs in the game. I’ve not seen that before and given some of the TMO decisions in this very tournament it felt awkward. It wasn’t a try, clearly, but we haven’t had that level of consistency in TMO calls.

I have been a vocal critic of Tuilagi in the past. When he first arrived on the international scene I felt he was a bulldozer but one who largely played for himself. His passing was poor, his vision often lacking and perhaps believing a little too much in the hype around him.

Saturday saw a true centre’s performance. He passed well, had great vision in attack and defence and supported his team-mates tirelessly. Okay, he still can’t kick, but he’s become indispensable. He’s proved his supporters right and detractors, like me, wrong. Well done, Manu.

Likewise, I’ve been critical of Ben Youngs. I’ve not found him to be the scrum half England deserve for a while now. He takes too long at the breakdown, waiting for the perfect ball, he kicks away too much and often poorly and appears sluggish compared to what we’ve seen of him in the past.

On Saturday, he gave a performance rolling back the years and fully justified Jones’ faith in him. Another one I’ve got wrong.

Which bring me to Owen Farrell. I’m not a fan. He’s either the best 10 or he’s not, because, for me, he’s not a centre. I felt he was kept in the team for his kicking and attitude. Dissect matches and he’s often missing tackles he should be making at 12. He doesn’t often look to run through traffic and is too quick to use the good ball he’s fed to kick possession away.

His tackle technique and speed to anger is also a major concern for me.

Except on Saturday he proved me wrong. There was one silly head high wafted attempt at a tackle, which thankfully missed its mark, but he tackled brilliantly otherwise. He ran everywhere and, with ball in hand, made several breaks. Where has this version of Farrell been hiding?

And yet again, hands up, on this performance, I was wrong about him.

There was so much to cheer, but I still feel there is room for improvement.

The handling, as I’ve said.

There were times when we looked devoid of ideas with ball in hand, flinging out passes to men standing still. Rugby is a go-forward game. If there’s no pass on, don’t force it. Take the ball into contact and recycle.

I’d like to see more players running onto the ball rather than accelerating once they have possession.

Given the superhuman effort they put in, that might sound harsh. But it was always the hallmark of the greatest teams and greatest players. Pass to David Duckham on the run, or John Carleton or Rory Underwood and get ready to take the conversion. Athletics and biomechanics tell us that the acceleration phase of any sprint is about getting our bulk moving, but we get quicker as we go past that first ten yards. Think about Tuilagi getting a pass after running ten yards in support and bosh, wait for the fireworks.

Some of the kicking was aimless and straight down the AB’s throats. Yes, I know you don’t give the ball to Beauden Barrett in space as a rule, but even he struggled against the white tackling wall.

It still seemed pointless to me.

Likewise, the decision to call up Elliot Daly’s howitzer boot for a penalty kick just beyond the halfway line. Even if it had gone over, I felt a statement would have been to go for the corner and an England lineout. Mentally, I felt it said that ‘we know it’s going to be tough and we’ll take anything on offer’. Normally, I’d agree, but we had bested them in all areas. Turning the screw would have been a better option for me.

The World Cup final is another day, another game. England need to improve to avoid the Boks springing a surprise – given the their semi-final performances. The refereeing group needs to improve or maintain consistency.

If both teams play like they did this weekend, England should win. If England can step it up a little more, addressing the fumbles, the forced passes, aimless kicks and having May fully fit and raring to go, it won’t matter how much the South Africans can improve.

Because I don’t think we’ve yet seen the perfect beast that Eddie has been building.