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Posts Tagged ‘Crewe Alexandra’

Crewe AlexandraSUFCLast Saturday in October, to Sheffield with my groundhopping chums.  Though I’m really only a fellow traveler, Bramall Lane had been the one football ground I’d been to that Crewe Alex fan Sal hadn’t, even if that had been back in the late ’60s when it was only a three-sided football stadium to accommodate the Yorkshire county cricket games that were played there then, and she was still at primary school.

We parked at Meadowhall and took – hey! I could use my bus pass – the modern tram from that monstrous mall, that temple to materialism, to the city’s mainline railway station and walked from there to the ground via the spectacular Sheaf Square redevelopment.
Ian Macmillan pome Sheef SquarePoetry everywhere, if you can define everywhere as an Andrew Motion on the side of one of the new Sheffield Hallam Uni buildings looking down on the Square and Ian Macmillan’s celebration of same, which captures it rather well.  Bad on the journey up, we were luckier with the weather by the time we got to town and walking under a modest rain; it brightened up – blue skies for the game even, as forecast – later.

The Crewe coach only got to the ground a couple of minutes after we’d picked up our tickets, stuck in the same M1 congestion that meant we ended up lunching on Pukka Pies – one has had worse – sitting in the Jessica Ennis Lower stand in the stadium.  But that late arrival gave Sal a chance to wish Crewe manager Steve Davis good luck on his way in, for which he thanked her; though little good it did him.

And so, as David Peace would have it, we and 18,781 other souls settled down for Nigel Clough’s first match as Sheffield United’s manager, a circumstance which did not augur well for Crewe with both teams perilously close to the bottom of the league table.  Strangeness for us at the kick-off as the first few notes of John Denver‘s Annie’s song came over the PA to be enthusiastically and tunefully taken up by the home fans en masse; it happened at the start of the second half too.  Turns out this is a local folk borrowing that has morphed into The greasy chip buttie song, no less.  We were briefly puzzled, then impressed by the singing.

It was an unexceptional first half, with two poor teams doing not much, except for Crewe succumbing to identical sucker punches, failing to get near the same player twice on the edge of their goal area from dead ball situations.  Quite simply Sheffield United wanted it more.  The goal celebration music over the PA stumped us when it shouldn’t have done.  ‘Twas, it turns out, White StripesSeven nation army, not the most obvious guitar riff you’d think could become an international sports fan phenomena but so it seemingly has.

Second half Crewe woke up and started playing some of the best quality football of the match, especially after Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke came on as a sub after the Blades had scored a third.  Crewe had hit the bar twice, and when last year’s wunderkind, Max Clayton, came on as sub to a few boos from the Crewe fans – he’s refused to re-negotiate in this last year of his contract, potentially denying the club any transfer fee – it was inevitably ihe who scored the neat consolation goal.  Cheers again, Mark & Sal.

Further musical adventures

BubblesThe previous evening a joyous night of fine voices and musical mayhem, grand entertainment and bad jokes worth hearing again.  Stony Music Hall in York House was another triumph, washed down with glasses of the Great Oakley Brewery’s magnificent Wot’s Occurring.  Great finale from Bubbles (pictured left) – a true star authentic in garb and voice – but before that an hors d’oeuvre and veritable tapas of and from Swanders and Flann, the progeny of a dustman (pretty much half the audience in the singalong end, who also belonged to Glasgow at another point in the evening), a touching Nancy’s lament from Oliver, unsavoury tales from the rear-end of an elephant’s thespian career, a red-hot mama and, to quote host with the most Ken, “a group of chaps swinging soup ladles between their legs” and so much more.  How has Daisy, Daisy (full title “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)” fact fans) become quite so ubiquitous?  Nice one, Ken, and all who sailed in her.

The Last Quarter framed

The Last Quarter framed

And, again belatedly – quick before another one comes around – the Sunday after the Bramall Lane trip a splendid and varied AORTAS open mic night at the Old George.  More than the usual suspects were in evidence – another accordion even – and on the day Lou Reed died a fine evening’s music was topped off with an immaculate version from host Dan Plews of the Velvet Underground’s I’ll be your mirror which morphed effortlessly into Soft Cell’s Say hello, wave goodbye.  Nice one, Dan.

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Crewe AlexandraNah, not really.  It may have been my hometown team up against a club I’ve learned to love through the osmosis of sharing an office for a decade or more with a Crewe Alexandra fan and changing the month of their precariously mounted official calendar when she wasn’t there – hi Sal – but there was little to get worked up about in the first half at stadiumMK on Saturday.  Apart from the MK Dons scoring – under our noses in the away end – a moment of clarity from the left winger’s penetrating run (which we saw coming from a mile off but not so, seemingly, the Crewe defence) and a deft cheeky flick from a young blonde Chelsea loanee – there wasn’t much to excite in what was basically a poor game between two poor teams, with Crewe’s newest local wunderkind (a fresh striking legend every couple of years) contributing little of worth – not helped by an over fussy ref.

Chuks-Aneke_2934617

Chuks Aneke

Second half was a game of two quarters as the Railwaymen, showing more commitment, came back strongly in the last twenty minutes, especially once they realised that in order to score it does help to take a shot at goal now and then; “it’s just like watching Arsenal,” I said in jest (though more of that in a minute).  When they did, the Dons’ Martin (Crewe had a Martin in goal too, no relation) proved up to the challenge.  The home team were lucky to hold out.  Throughout, Crewe’s Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke’s pedigree shone in the quality of his passing in midfield; given the freedom (or maybe just the confidence) to break forward and go for goal the 20-year old could be one of the First Division’s outstanding players this year.

A crowd of only 6,911 for the first Dons home game of the new season on a decent summer’s afternoon was surely disappointing but then it has to be said – not for the first time – MK Dons’ patient possession style of football is, frankly, boring a lot of the time (though Izale McLeod did liven things up a bit when he came on near the end).  But anyway, the game’s afoot again, season sprung and all to play for for the time being.

Emotionally weirdAll sorts of games being played in Kate Atkinson‘s delightful Emotionally weird: a comic novel (2000).  For a start the framing story – narrator taking refuge with mother (“who is not my mother“) stuck on an isolated storm-swept Scottish island – is not particularly comic at all,  revolving as it does around one of Atkinson’s favourite themes – motherless children having a hard time & tangled parenthood tales – and that particular denouement is a neat update on the Victorian end-tying.

The book actually starts with a cod crime novel – narrator Effie’s creative writing project – which develops a nice life of its own, but the bulk of the novel, seated within the mother’s tale (with interjections), is a glorious chronicle of a mixed bunch of English and philosophy students’ lives set in Dundee in 1972.  Given that KA was at the University of York in 1971, the students – the stoned, the political, the earnest, the absentee and all the rest – far from being the easy clichés are a reasonable (and laugh-aloud funny) extrapolation of the life at the time, while the staff don’t get away with anything either.  Indeed, the EngLit tutorials seem designed to illustrate Steven Pinker’s observation, in Science is not your enemy, his recent beautifully argued New Republic article, that

The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness.

For me Emotionally weird had been the Kate Atkinson novel that had got away but I’m glad to have finally made its full acquaintance.  There’s the usual characterisation and easy flow of quotable one-liners, all sorts of delightful twists, shifts and tangents, and some glorious mucking about for the sheer love of storytelling and novel-writing (never mind Effie struggling with an essay on Henry James’s strictures on ‘the novel’).  There’s a nice 1999 round-up of what happened to them all; the hapless Bob, the stoned  Star Trek quoting boyfriend is a bit of an anticlimax, while others surprise.  There’s a coda – “Last words” – with a sentence or two from 6 novels at various stages of writing by various characters touched on in the novel, not least a fantasy saga that has been a rich comic source throughout.  And on top of all that, in Chick Petrie, the private investigator, we have the first stirrings, a precursor even, of the great Jackson Brodie, the central character of Kate’s next four extraordinary sort-of-crime novels.

Purity Brewing Company - Mad GooseMeanwhile, an exceptional pint of beer has passed my lips, bursting with flavour from the first taste.  Take a bow, Warwickshire’s Purity Brewing Company, for the splendid Mad Goose bitter.  And Stony’s Fox and Hounds for stocking it.

 

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The cat's tableMichael Ondaatje‘s The cat’s table (Cape, 2011) starts off like one of those boys’ adventure stories of old – and an entertaining one at that – but deepens grippingly as it progresses into a meditation on memory and on what matters in the becoming to what we become.  It’s the early 1950s.  Three boys aged 11 or 12 are voyaging with minimum adult supervision on the liner Oronsay from Colombo, in what was then Ceylon, to London, where Michael, the narrator, is to link up with a mother he’s afraid he won’t even recognise.  High jinks as they explore, plot and delve.  For meals Michael is seated at the Cat’s Table, the furthest – and therefore lowest in status – from the Captain’s Table, with some interesting adults who are also travelling alone; “It would always be strangers like them, at the Cat’s Tables of my life, who would alter me” he can reflect later.  So there are no cats, though dogs do have a part to play in one of the unfolding dramas.

While Michael Ondaatje has played down suggestions that the novel is autobiographical, it does parallel the progress of his life; born Ceylon, educated in England (at the same school as Raymond Chandler), successful writer, long time Canadian resident.  He has long been one of Coming through slaughtermy favourite authors.  Though best known for the award-winning The English patient (1992) it’s his first novel, Coming through slaughter (1976) and In the skin of a lion (1987) that top my list.  The first is the best music novel I’ve ever read, elliptically unfolding and poetically relating the tragic rise and demise in the first decade of the twentieth century of New Orleans trumpeter Buddy Bolden, the charismatic but never recorded originator of that first great  jazz style, while the second is a riveting tale of love and politically driven sabotage set in Quebec.  He has also published several books of poetry and, as we shall see, it shows in the unique way he uses language in his novels, of which The Cat’s Table is only his sixth.

There is a passage at the core of The Cat’s Table – the nighttime passing of the liner Oronsay through the Suez Canal (or rather El Suweis as the adult writer Michael resonantly calls it) – that is fit, I would submit, to stand alongside the Piper at the gates of dawn chapter of Kenneth Grahame‘s The wind in the willows without having to invoke the god Pan. Though they never really talk about it, and they soon lose contact once in England, the experience is crucial to the later fame of one of Michael’s young onboard friends’ success as an artist.  What I was saying about Ondaatje being a poet: you could lay the so carefully weighted words out on the page as a poem and they’d be equally valid.  Listen:

We were not active, but a constantly changing world slid past our ship, the darkness various and full of suggestion. Unseen tractors were grinding along the abutments. The cranes bent low, poised to pluck oner of us off as we passed. We had crossed open seas at twenty-two knots, and now we moved as if hobbled, at the speed of a slow bicycle, as if within the gradual unrolling of a scroll. (p175 pbk ed).

I remember still how we moved in that canal, our visibility muted, and those sounds that were messages from shore, and the sleepers on deck missing this panorama of activity. We were on the railing bucking up and down. We could have fallen and lost our ship and begun another fate – as paupers or as princes. (p177)

It’s magical prose, and that has always been his trademark; he takes you there.  There is so much more to be enjoyed in The Cat’s Table, so many characters among the men and women they are befriended by or just meet.  There is great poignancy in Michael’s growing awareness and a brief lyrical episode of simple physical contact with comforting cousin Emily.  There is excitement too, of course, in the boys’ adventures on board and the mystery and drama of the prisoner in chains, and intrigue of a different kind in the oblique relating of Michael-in-the-book’s subsequent life leading to the writing of this book.  Which, even though my pile of unread books is high, I shall almost certainly be reading again at bit further down the line.

Wembley TicketWembley on a sunny afternoon

Crewe_Alexandra badgeOne of us was desperately reading the tea leaves for omens. Southend United were bringing 30,000 fans, had lost two previous Johnstone Paint Trophy finals (or whatever it was called back then), and it was their first time at Wembley.  Crewe Alexandra could only muster just over 10,ooo and it was their second time at the Stadium inside a year. On the other hand Crewe were a division above and the form team, I was unbeaten at Wembley, we went in their ‘lucky’ gate and – the clincher – one of us (hi Sal!) had her photo taken with Gresty, Crewe’s cuddly leonine mascot. So the scene was set.  Whereas last year we were sat sweltering in the blazing May sun, this year, still on the same side, we could relax in the gentle, welcome and welcoming warmth (finally) of that so far this year seldom seen solar life and light giver; while the vastly outnumbering Southend lot – we felt a little sorry for them – were stuck in the shade.

Crewe started well, their passing game instantly in place and playing like they owned the park.  They scored in the sixth minute, a beautifully worked corner: Davis stepping over the flatly delivered ball to the edge of the area for captain Murphy to stride up and hit a beauty.  Mark and I turned to one another, mouthed “Training ground” and so it proved to be.  Southend, big and strong, winning pretty much everything in the air, came back and were particularly dangerous at corners; Crewe needed a second goal.  They got it five minutes into the second half after a fine passing move finished off by teenage striker Max Clayton and while it remained a contest – Crewe keeper Steve Phillips was a significant presence – the longer it went on the less likely an upset became.  At the time we thought giving Max Clayton ‘Man of the Match’ was an odd decision given the midfield, in particular Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke had worked hard, but watching the edited highlights on telly later that night it made sense; the lad has class and his movement was revealed holding a lot more threat close up, with a neat touch.  Good game, very satisfying afternoon; thanks S & M.

Scribal Gathering

Not actually this very night.  Nevertheless, photo by Jonathan JT Taylor

Not actually this very night. Nevertheless, photo by Jonathan JT Taylor

A solid night’s Scribal for March. A thoughtful and varied set of poems covering a lot of ground from featured poet and Scribal regular, Alan Bainbridge, while featured music act Ernest Herb sat at a couple of keyboards, hit and stroked some keys ,  twiddled a few knobs, and sang a bit, covered a broad range of musics – I’m sure I heard Graham Bond on the Hammond organ on his best number – and finished suitably with a Bob Marley song.  Open mic of usual high standard, no ifs or buts this time (though I can’t possibly comment on myself).  Biggest cheer of the night was for a storming version of an unlikely cover for Scribal – Taylor Swift’s We are never ever getting back together from The Last Quarter,who are certainly waxing, not waning.  Go, Nicky, Go!

 

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All things consideredI’ve been dipping into a collection of G.K.Chesterton‘s essays.  It’s always fun.  Yes, he was a High Church apologist who converted to Catholicism and he suffers like Kipling from being a man of his time (the occasional dreaded ‘n’ word etc) but his appeal transcends narrow loyalties.  Contrarian, paradoxian, he delights in messing about with serious intent.  Thus:

I Have received a letter from a gentleman who is very indignant at what he considers my flippancy in disregarding or degrading Spiritualism. I thought I was defending Spiritualism; but I am rather used to being accused of mocking the thing that I set out to justify. My fate in most controversies is rather pathetic. It is an almost invariable rule that the man with whom I don’t agree thinks I am making a fool of myself, and the man with whom I do agree thinks I am making a fool of him.

That’s the start of a piece entitled Spiritualism collected in All things considered (Harrap, 1908).  In what follows the subject of spiritualism is peripheral and neatly wrapped up briefly in the final couple of paragraphs with a lovely agnostic flourish.  Meanwhile Chesterton concerns himself with the correct way to discuss serious things:

When I was a very young journalist I used to be irritated at a peculiar habit of printers, a habit which most persons of a tendency similar to mine have probably noticed also. It goes along with the fixed belief of printers that to be a Rationalist is the same thing as to be a Nationalist. I mean the printer’s tendency to turn the word “cosmic” into the word “comic.” It annoyed me at the time. But since then I have come to the conclusion that the printers were right. The democracy is always right. Whatever is cosmic is comic.

[…]  Why is it funny that a man should sit down suddenly in the street? There is only one possible or intelligent reason: that man is the image of God. It is not funny that anything else should fall down; only that a man should fall down. No one sees anything funny in a tree falling down. No one sees a delicate absurdity in a stone falling down. No man stops in the road and roars with laughter at the sight of the snow coming down. The fall of thunderbolts is treated with some gravity. The fall of roofs and high buildings is taken seriously. It is only when a man tumbles down that we laugh. Why do we laugh? Because it is a grave religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.

G K ChestertonAnd so it goes.  Apparently as well as being a novelist of some distinction and significance in genre fictions (the Father Brown stories, which I’ll read one of these days,  the splendidly titled The man who was Thursday and  The Napoleon of Notting Hill)  and serious non-fiction (like Orthodoxy, which I am never likely to read), GKC was an eminently dependable newspaper and magazine hack who was famously able to bash out stuff of real quality at the drop of a hat.  I’ve long suspected this side of his work was a closely guarded trade secret among working newspaper and magazine columnists and the like.  Regardless of subject it certainly makes for a fine template, this rolling out of a quirky logic with an entertaining manner.  And hey! – the first piece in All things considered is The case for the Ephemeral:

I cannot understand the people who take literature seriously; but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this book. It is a collection of crude and shapeless papers upon current or rather flying subjects; and they must be published pretty much as they stand. They were written, as a rule, at the last moment; they were handed in the moment before it was too late, and I do not think that our commonwealth would have been shaken to its foundations if they had been handed in the moment after.

Their shapelessness is debatable.  And they do still have much to say.  But all the above has been prompted by my having one of those out-of-place-words moments in the article Humanitarianism and Strength:

Somebody writes complaining of something I said about progress. I have forgotten what I said, but I am quite certain that it was (like a certain Mr. Douglas in a poem which I have also forgotten) tender and true. In any case, what I say now is this. Human history is so rich and complicated that you can make out a case for any course of improvement or retrogression. I could make out that the world has been growing more democratic, for the English franchise has certainly grown more democratic. I could also make out that the world has been growing more aristocratic, for the English Public Schools have certainly grown more aristocratic.  […]   I can prove anything in this way. […] But in all cases progress means progress only in some particular thing. Have you ever noticed that strange line of Tennyson, in which he confesses, half consciously, how very conventional progress is? –

“Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”

Even in praising change, he takes for a simile the most unchanging thing. He calls our modern change a groove. And it is a groove; perhaps there was never anything so groovy.

and there we have it.  Improbably way ahead of his time.  Not that I or any of my friends of the age have ever called anything – or felt – ‘groovy’ (even ironically) in our lives; and I’ve never understood why people find the Austin Powers films funny in the slightest.  But nevertheless, Badada-daa-daa-daa-daa.  And to give him some credit, Paul Simon does at least call his song – all well under two precious minutes of it – The 59th Street Bridge song with Feelin’ groovy in brackets.  And I’ve just learnt that Simon & Garfunkel used Dave Brubeck’s rhythm section on the recording; not exactly the perfect match to these ears, but I still feel the better for hearing it again.  (Phew.  Just about managed to stop myself going into a Bridge over troubled water rant.  Instead …)

Alison Graham rules

At her finest – she is so right.  From Give it a rest, Sue (Radio Times, 2-8 March):

My first act as world leader (it won’t be long now) will be a simple one. I will snip A Question of Sport from its moorings on BBC1 and tow it into the middle of the Atlantic. There I will scupper it before detonating the whole creaking structure and sinking it forever. Then I will declare a ten-mille exclusion zone that will be ruthlessly patrolled by helicopter gunships so no one can go near the wreckage ever again.

This week A Question of Sport celebrates its 1,000th episode. Is that right? Are we sure it isn’t 1.000.000, because it feels like it. To me. […] I remember Emlyn Hughes as a team captain and how “everyone” went bananas when Princess Anne threatened to hit Emlyn with her handbag. “Everyone” thought this was hilarious. We were a simple people back then, and easily pleased.

[…]  But make it stop. It’s a dead horse that’s been flogged and made into a lasagne. Its useful life is done.

Briefly, away with The Railwaymen

Crewe AlexandraAnd an away win for Crewe Alexandra it was too, 1-2.  Without us there would only have been 3,082 at Colchester United‘s chilly Weston Homes Community Stadium to watch an undistinguished game between two underperforming teams.  Not the noisiest of home support one has encountered – at times it felt like a ghost stadium; their drummer only started drumming for the last five minutes.  All a bit clueless, really.  From where we were sitting only Byron Moore seemed to have any guile for Crewe and a little variation in carrying the ball out of defence (as opposed to the big hoof, every time, from goal kick or open play) might have spiced things up a bit, though the pitch didn’t look to be in great condition.  Decent pub lunch though.  Thanks Sal, Mark.

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Family Fun Day at Stadium MK last Saturday, but sadly it wasn’t much fun for Crewe Alexandra even as the familiar strains of “Your grounds too big for you” (to the tune of Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay) had their ritual outing from the away end, where we were 3 of the 11,037 in the ground.  Fair enough, that chant, but it’s all relative, coming from supporters of a club that rarely achieves 50% of the Dons gate (a figure that half fills Gresty Road, which Sal is not going to call by its newer ‘proper’ name).  After an early goal the Dons ran the show through veteran mid-fielder Luke Chadwick for the first half hour without exactly getting anyone out of their seats.  Their tidy passing game was enough, and whenever Crewe got hold of the ball they promptly lost it again, though things improved towards the end of the half.  The first ten minutes of the second were a revelation, as the Railwaymen reinvigorated expectations for ten minutes with a sustained assault on the Dons goal – they could easily have scored three – and from then on we had a match to watch.  Great excitement as Crewe’s new striker, the big,  strong and splendidly named Mathias Pogba (aka ‘The Pog’, whose brother plays for Juventas) came off the bench, but when the final whistle blew it was still 1-0, though not before their latest 17-year-old wunderkind striker got an accidental broken jaw for his troubles and neat footwork.   Pitch immaculate as ever.  And the goalkeepers both had the same surname – Martin; what are the chances of that?

Most people, I would wager, will recognise art photographer James Welling‘s later work with flowers, but there was nothing like that on display in MK Gallery‘s new show.  (All the photos here, by the way, are lifted from his splendid website at jameswelling.net/;  I could have just put links in, so I hope he doesn’t mind, I’m just trying to save people’s time and give them a treat; and I would urge you to visit the site).  No, the new show, James Welling: the Mind on Fire, is an exhibition of “early works from the 1980s charting the development of Welling’s experimental and abstract photography“.   Which you could call mucking about while he was listening to the Talking Heads and theorising about it, though that would be unkind.  With 134 mostly framed images hung on the walls it made a bit of a change for the gallery, but that word experimental begs an awful lot of wordage; OK, treat and frame 35 small images of crinkled aluminium foil in various ways, give them titles like July, Cathedral or Pure Existence Pierces an Opening to Express itself in the Phenomenal World and it can look like a whole lot of other things, but at the end of the day …

I did like the excerpts from the Diary/Landscapes series – photos of Wellings’ great-great-grandmother’s diary mounted with landscapes of where the family lived – but my favourite pieces were the largest, a set of 4 photos of drapes, inkjet prints from original Polaroids under the title Brown Polaroids, one of which you can also see at the bottom of the post.  A sensual drama, is it not?

The vitrines – the glass display cases – were full of interesting stuff too: source material, influences documented, books being read at the time, scribbled notes, music being listened to, album sleeves designed, contemporary events posters.  These certainly added to my appreciation of the experience.  And there it is again – a copy of Rilke‘s Duino Elegies.  it’s everywhere.  I’ll read it one of these days; it’s not as if I haven’t got a copy.

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Don’t know about lazing, but it was certainly a sunny afternoon Sunday at Wembley Stadium, the sun relentlessly blazing down on us in the first half; fortunately it moved in the right direction and we had some shade after the break, literally saving our skins.  Scorccio!  Crewe – my second team by osmosis after sharing a small office with an Alex fan for over a decade (hi Sal) – beat Cheltenham 2-0 in a good open game of football in the last match of the English domestic season, so winning the Football League Second Division play-offs final and promotion to the First Division (or as we used to call it, the Third).  It was great to be there, tremendous atmosphere.  Opening goal after a strong Crewe 15 minutes – phew, what a scorcher – was poetry in motion.  Control, turn, lethal accuracy from wunderkind Nick Powell, who has featured (if I do say it myself) here in Lillabullero before.

I quote from a post back in 2009 (linked here for the purposes of proof but for your convenience repeated immediately below anyway):

…  atmosphere enough when I went to newly promoted to the Football League Stevenage‘s new ground in the company of a couple of avowed groundhoppers on Saturday.  I was the one of the 3,431 crowd watching a one-all draw ‘twixt Stevenage and Crewe Alexandra, which the Alex should have won.  The home fans already give a well-developed and spirited musical performance from the terraces – a good atmosphere.  Bizarrely, because of a late-diagnosed clash of kits, Crewe had to play in Stevenage’s all yellow away kit; Alex fans not long in working up a chant of “Yell-Ows”.  But the outstanding memory will be of 16 year old Nick Powell‘s coming on as sub 2/3rds of the way through.  Another from the famed Dario Gradi academy, suddenly a metaphorical sun came out from the behind the clouds of endeavour on the pitch – grey in the first half, brightening somewhat in the second – speed, trickery, energy and wit way above anything else seen on the pitch all match.  They couldn’t live with him (even his own team mates at times not seeing what he saw) and he was fouled relentlessly, just got up and carried on.  Phew!  I can safely say that a couple of you will have read that name here first!

Never certain until the second goal – and watching highlights on TV it became more apparent just how many good chances Cheltenham had –  Steve Phillips played a blinder between the sticks, Captain Artell (“I was taking GCSEs before some of these lads were born“) was a pillar of strength at the back, while Byron Moore deserved that second beautifully worked clincher of a goal too for plugging away out on the wing.  Man of the match Powell, still only 18 – who’s learning to not get up quite so readily when kicked these days, -also made a crucial goal line clearance.

While Cheltenham pressed, the Crewe defence stayed calm, which is probably the difference Steve Davis has brought about since he came in as manager midway through the season which had started so badly.  The gossip says Nick Powell is away now, but (apart from the obvious reasons) I hope he doesn’t go to Man U because the lad (and football fans in general) need and deserve to see first team appearances from such a burgeoning and prodigious talent sooner rather than later.  Arsene?

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Can you call this graffiti?  So good to stumble upon Hope on the horizon by the artist Heks on a perambulation of Willen Lake in Milton Keynes recently.  His canvas one of the oh so grey concrete supports of the bridge carrying the H5 grid road – Portway – over where the North and South Lakes divide.   Long may it survive.  Saw some gadwall ducks nearby.  Further south, on the approach and under one of the arches carrying the H6 – Childs Way – a more transitional work from the same artist:

Not defacing property ...
And above, from the impossible-to-photo-from-that-angle, detail you can’t see on the approach shot:  “I’m not defacing property, I’m painting a face on it.”  I hope it’s not rubbed out; a nice walk improved.

Meanwhile, in the author-previously-known-as Colin (but is now just) Bateman‘s latest novel, Nine inches (Headline, 2011), the street art is on the cusp of becoming a heritage attraction in post-peace process Belfast.  The setting, is, as I say, post-peace settlement Protestant Belfast, where the para-militaries have demilitarised into pretty much routine violent gangsterdom.  Bateman is the by-blow of Raymond Chandler and Californication (the TV show, not the CD); you can throw in some of Ian Rankin’s take on corruption and some decent stand-up.  His main man, Dan Starkey (not his first appearance between the covers) is Philip Marlowe crossed with Hank Moody ie. he has a sex life and a touching and touchy on-off relationship with his life partner.  If the pace – as a thriller – slackens, it’s a worthwhile detour; it’s nothing but character driven.  Nine inches is compassionate, cynical, gruesome and laugh-aloud funny.  Starkey’s office is situated above a Shankill butcher’s shop; that’s a real butcher,  actually one of the good guys, who used to live in the Shankill, and not one of the characters of recent legend as featured in the Decemberists song.  Try this, from near the end:

So they went looking for him, and that left me with toothless Bobby and four corpses for all of about five seconds, until the cops came storming up the stairs, armed to the teeth and screaming at us to put her hands up.  So I did, but Bobby said, ‘I can’t, I’ll fall over,’ and it was all the funnier because he was pasted in blood.

At this point you probably need to know that 14-year old X-box playing drug dealer Bobby only has one leg (the legacy of a gang knee-capping); the false leg also plays its part in the narrative.  Another page on, still part of the same incident, gives more than a clue where Bateman is coming from.  Trish is, of course, the love of Dan’s life.  She has had no idea what he’d hidden in her car:

The cops were too busy with the carnage in the church, while the people of the Shankill had no further use for her now that they had picked her car clean.  Not only was every twenty-pound note gone, but the cocaine with it; not content with that they’d stolen a family bag of mini Mars bars from the dash, and rifled Trish’s multi-CD player, removing Van, David Gates and Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest hits.  For some strange reason they left behind my sole contribution to her playlist, the Ramones’ It’s alive, even though she pursued them up the street offering it to them for free.

As it happens I was drinking one of the brewer Bateman’s products – their tasty Veto Ale – in a busy Wetherspoons just off the High Street in Southend-on-Sea on Saturday.  Went down to the bottom of the road to see the sea but didn’t venture further down the cliff to the seafront – cold, grey and windy if not – yet – wet.  I can now say I’ve seen Canvey Island, if not been Down by the jetty.  We were there to see Crewe take on Southend United (nickname: The Shrimpers).  A disturbing sight before kick-off: running around in a pointy headed costume featuring the colour pink quite strongly, one of the Southend mascots – dressed as a shrimp.  Not the most distinguished of matches, Southend didn’t look anything like the top of the table side they currently are and that The Alex deserved the point they didn’t get was down to some dodgy refereeing.  “All we want is a decent referee” to the tune of Yellow submarine.  Out of a crowd of 5645, we were 3 of the 188 Crewe fans, a small but significantly vocal section of whom did no-one any favours by chanting “Gypo” every time Bilel Mohsni, Southend’s tall pony-tailed French-Tunisian striker, touched the ball.  So it is with a certain satisfaction that I report it was indeed he who scored the winning goal and good on the lad for his raised arms, relaxed clenched fists and proud smirking (but not smug) response to the away end at the final whistle.  The least said about having to listen to Arsenal’s demise against Sunderland on the car radio on the way back to MK the better.  (Thanks Mark & Sal.)

February’s Scribal Gathering was its second birthday.  The Cock Hotel had managed to double book the room and only told the Scribal team that very morning, which you have to say is impressive, but the Bull stepped up to provide a more challenging last-minute venue, but all was well in the end.  Another fine night – has to be with Badger kicking off the open mic.  Featured artistes were The mighty Antipoet (just for a change) who did what they do, and Kate Lucas a young comedic chanteuse of attractive and innocent demeanour, with a touch of the verbal dexterity of a Tom Lehrer delivered in a pleasing voice displaying the mind and mouth of Joan Rivers not having a particularly good day.  Maybe a little light would have gone a long way, but … Great stuff, and I certainly will be a lot more careful about not – not that I do, but, you know – leaving toast crumbs in the butter in the future.

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