Well what a remarkable game of the cricket to get the 2013 Ashes series underway. I’m not sure I can remember many test matches in which the momentum swung so often and so dramatically. The final winning margin of just fourteen runs was proof of a close-fought encounter, but the bare figures don’t do justice to five days of compelling sporting action.
Did England deserve to win? I think they probably did—in James Anderson and Ian Bell, they had the two players who ultimately made the most decisive contributions. Had the Australians sneaked past their target, would they have deserved the victory? Absolutely. Their performance displayed all the determination and fight you’d expect from a touring Ashes side, and to come so close but fall just a few runs short must have been tough to take, especially for Brad Haddin and James Pattinson, whose tenth wicket partnership was simply superb.
From the perspective of the series as a whole, obviously the result does make an overall Australian victory much less likely, but events in Nottingham proved that England are arguably not quite as good as has been publicly perceived, and Michael Clarke’s squad was never going to be the walkover that the media had predicted.
The Trent Bridge test suggests we’re in for a fabulous summer of cricket and I certainly wouldn’t be willing to try and guess the eventual outcome, but I suppose the game will be partly remembered for some controversial moments involving the umpires and DRS(Decision Review System).
The “what ifs” of Ashton Agar’s “stumping” —what a brilliant debut from the young man, by the way—and Jonathan Trott’s first-baller are largely irrelevant now. And as for Stuart Broad standing when given not out for the big nick that ended up in the hands of first slip, I can see both sides of the argument—the “spirit of the game” against the umpire’s decision. I always walked when I was playing (mainly because it’s hard to stand there looking innocent when your off pole has cartwheeled past the keeper), but the stakes are so much higher in the professional arena and let’s be honest, true sportsmen of the calibre of Adam Gilchrist are a dying breed.
On balance, I don’t blame Broad for abiding by the umpire’s decision—however glaringly wrong it was—and although it’s a moot point, I wonder just how many players from either side would have walked in that same situation. That said, if Broad is on the receiving end of a shocker at Lord’s, there’ll be plenty of cameras waiting to record his reaction!
The fact that the result was decided on yet another DRS review—and an overturned umpiring call—was ironic to say the least, but shouldn’t detract from a thrilling match that is further proof (if proof was actually needed) of the profile and appeal of the five-day game.
Here’s to more of the same at Lord’s...
On Sunday morning, Andy Murray was simply a tennis player—albeit a very good tennis player—but after winning the Wimbledon Men’s final, he has essentially become a “brand”. It is a remarkable transformation that resulted from three hours of compelling sporting drama and a quite stunning success.
Yet there are still those who seem to have a perception of Murray simply as a dour Scot—and actually want to see him lose as a result. I find that very hard to understand.
Yes I am English (actually I’m one quarter Scottish), but I am also British—and proudly so—and there is no way I would have wanted to see a fellow Briton lose out in a sporting encounter of such magnitude.
If I’m honest, there have been times when I have expected Murray to lose, but that’s massively different to wanting him to lose. Britain does have a natural affinity with the heroic sporting failure and our media has the ability (some might say “gift”) for building up a winner only to delight in knocking him/her right back down again.
But it does seem a bit harsh to judge someone based on what is evidently a public persona. There is far more to any professional sport than simply those performances in front of the cameras and paying public—there are almost certainly years of constant training and sacrifice in the hope that you can produce your absolute best when it really matters.
In many ways, it was sad that it took the crumbling of Murray’s emotional walls after last year’s Wimbledon final for the public at large to get a glimpse of the person behind the mask—and whatever type of media society we live in, it was not a divine right to see the “real” Andy Murray. Perception changed, Murray’s results changed (viz. an Olympic gold medal and US Open title) and on Sunday, this determined and gifted young man reached the pinnacle of his sport.
In defeat, Novak Djokovic was pure class (as were his parents who took the time to embrace Judy Murray); and for those who felt in some way disappointed at the triumph of a fellow countryman, well they missed out on that brilliant but all-too-rare feeling you can only get from being just the tiniest part of a fantastic moment in sporting history.
Today’s blog is about Wimbledon and women’s tennis, but whilst acknowledging the fantastic achievement of Marion Bartoli, who won yesterday’s ladies singles final in straight sets, I want to concentrate on her opponent, the German Sabine Lisicki.
Before I do though, this year’s women’s competition has been compelling. The top seed and overwhelming favourite lost relatively early in the competition. The loudest grunters succumbed to injury or unexpected defeat and by the time the semi-finals were decided, a first-time Wimbledon champion was guaranteed. It was wonderful to watch.
Anyway . . . it is a particular British trait to both support an underdog and feel some sort of emotional attachment to what is perceived as a gallant loser. Sabine Lisicki lost yester-day; in fact she was soundly beaten, but the bare scoreline of 6-1, 6-4 only tells part of the story.
In reaching the final, the twenty-three year old twenty-third seed from Troisdorf did something that almost guaranteed instant popularity – she beat Serena Williams. But it wasn’t so much the result, but the manner in which the victory was achieved – recovering from being 3-0 down in the final set after being swept aside 6-1 in the second. We take ability for granted – you wouldn’t be in the competition if you weren’t a very good player – but to show such incredible strength (of mind as well as body) to overturn what looked a decisive deficit and beat one of the most dominant players of any generation was quite remarkable.
For me though, it was what followed that truly endeared her to the crowd – and those watching at home. The smile that never left her face as she stopped to sign autographs (and she signed more than probably any other player) was replaced by tears of joy during the post-match interview, as the enormity of her achievement finally hit home.
That result raised expectation – perhaps unfairly – but despite occasional lapses, Sabine continued to produce brilliant tennis when it really mattered and duly reached her first Grand Slam final.
Yesterday’s occasion clearly affected the young German, she froze and for the first time in the competition, she was unable to summon up the consistency and shots needed to overcome her opponent. The emotion Sabine had displayed off-court momentarily surfaced during the match itself – that will be seen as weakness by some, but to wear your heart so openly on your sleeve will make the majority of the British public warm to you, and so it proved.
After the match, the presentation, the interview and the photographs, Sabine walked off the Centre Court, stopping yet again to sign autographs. As a professional tennis player, this must have been the toughest moment of her career and she was probably desperate for the sanctuary of the locker room where her emotions could be released in more private surroundings. Yet by staying behind, she will have made the day for many an autograph hunter and I noticed that as she finally made to leave the court, she turned round and returned because someone had been missed.
Now that is true class.
Rafael Nadal showed a similar humility after suffering an unprecedented first round defeat, but these people are most definitely the minority – but far more worthy of mention as a consequence.
During the post-match interview Marion Bartoli said she was sure Sabine would reach another Grand Slam final. I’m not sure you it’s possible to say she will, but she most certainly can – and one thing is for sure, Sabine Lisicki will get a wonderful ovation every time she returns to SW19. She is a fantastic tennis player, but more importantly, a genuinely nice person and whilst Marion Bartoli will deservedly grab the headlines, Sabine Lisicki is one runner-up who won’t be forgotten.
Have Saturday evenings really come to this? Your Face Sounds Familiar featured six celebrities (and I use the term advisedly in some cases...) who not only had to sound like a certain singer, but look like them too – to the extent that prosthetics were used... apparently.
The premise was that each celeb would be randomly allocated a particular artiste and then the transformation would get underway...
As for sounding like the singer in question, Bobby Davro certainly did a passable impression of Tom Jones – then again, I suppose he’s made a career out of doing passable impressions. Sadly the make-up department went a little too far with the fake tan and Davro looked more like the back of a Robertson’s jam jar than the Welsh crooner.
For me, Denise Lewis (above) was the best performer on the night. She looked like Tina Turner, moved like Tina Turner and even though she didn’t have her voice, the former Olympic heptathlon gold medallist could certainly belt out a tune.
There was some bizarre judging though: Alexander Armstrong as Johnny Cash was seemingly marked down for not dancing about the stage – even though Johnny Cash was hardly noted for busting too many moves during his career. Yet Cheryl Fergison was complimented on her arm-waving skills even though the rest of her remained essentially static during her rendition of Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”.
In fairness, she did sing the song well, but it didn’t sound anything like the erstwhile Mary O’Brien. As for looking like her...
Well that aspect of the show was clearly ignored as Ms Fergison scored top marks from the judges. I’m not being funny but when she waited to see her potential choice of singers, I was fully expecting final decision to be a close-run thing between Mama Cass Elliott and Demis Roussos– but seriously, Dusty Springfield?!
Shows how little I know.
All I can say is that I won’t be watching next week – or the week after – and if there’s no other choice on the one hundred and twenty-seven other channels I can watch, then I’ll just have to bring wine o’clock forward an hour or two.
Actually I’m now really hoping the telly’s crap...
One of the best things about Elaine and I being born just three weeks apart is that we remember loads of the same things from our childhood—especially television programmes and various items from the shopping basket.
Now I could stroll down a memory lane that has been cleaned by Vim or Ajax, but today’s offering has a chocolatey theme. I think it’s fair to say that my mouth bears the metallic scars of far too many trips to the sweet shop. When the dreaded time came for the six-monthly check-up, we would normally have the earliest appointments.
As a kid I used to think that if I went in first, I might catch the dentist before he was fully awake and he’d therefore miss the cavity that was staring up from one of my molars, yelling: “go on then, drill me you bas*!%&"... oops, something happened to the old keyboard there...
On a positive note, whenever there is a question on Pointless about metallic elements of the periodic Table, I usually do pretty well—mainly because most of the answers have been residing in various teeth since the 1970s...
Anyway back to the Topic (now that’s really clever) in hand.
I can’t really recall having a particular favourite type of chocolate, although I did feel it necessary to work my through every single bar as part of my research. Many favourites like Crunchie, Mars, Aero, Kit-Kat, Fruit & Nut etc have stood the test of time, but far more have disappeared for good. How many of this top ten of sadly departed bars do you
1. Cadbury’s Milk Tray – yes, in a bar!
2. Cadbury’s Bar Six
3. Mackintosh’s Golden Cup
4. Cadbury’s Amazin’ (raisin bar)
5. Nestlé Pink Panther Bar (strawberry flavoured)
6. Barratt Triffik (chocolate covered nougat)
7. Nestlé Texan (chew bar and cavity creator)
8. Rowntree’s Nutty (fudge and caramel coated in peanuts)
9. Cadbury’s Aztec
10. Rowntree’s Cabana (coconut and cherries... I bloody hate cherries)
And the absolutely best thing was that whichever bar you chose, you could wash it down with a can of strawberry Cresta—“it’s frothy man”.
In “our day”, we weren’t distracted from chocolate by things like computer games and other fancy gadgets that cost a fortune. Enjoyment and satisfaction could be bought for just a few pence—and there was the added benefit of the brisk walk to and from the sweet shop. Add to that the fact that thousands of dentists were able to regularly practice their drilling skills and there you have it: chocolate... the gift that just keeps on giving.
With Elaine on another late shift, I’ve spent a fair bit of the past two days on my own in the house—not something I particularly enjoy. I don’t mind my own company (well…), but I think a combination of “life experience” and an enduring ability to think too much can occasionally make being “home alone” slightly less relaxing than it should be.
In a previous life, various things happened that resulted in me finding it almost impossible to answer the door or pick up the phone because I always expected something bad to happen (because it often did…). The first ring of the phone and my heart would just start to race and it actually took several years of being with Elaine before the unseen wouldn’t panic me.
In just over a fortnight, Elaine and I will have been together for seven years—I honestly didn’t think I’d ever truly understand what words like “happy”, “trust” and the old indefinable “love” actually felt like. In my head, I didn’t deserve to find out, but Elaine must have seen something I couldn’t see in myself and as 10th July (our anniversary) draws closer, I instinctively start to remember how incredibly hard we fought to be together and how much I owe Elaine for believing in someone who felt he had very little to offer.
I do still dwell on negative things when I have too much time on my own—and yes I know that I shouldn’t, but I am far more aware of how my mind works, and I also know which music not to listen to! The fact is that every day starts and ends with the person who changed my life for the better and that is something I don’t ever forget.
In amongst it all, Elaine gave me the encouragement to write and the prospect of becoming a published (as opposed to self-published) author is one more thing I don’t think would have ever happened had Elaine and I never met. I have also been able to commit personal thoughts and feelings to paper (or its electronic equivalent) and that has certainly helped me come to terms with what many people would call “demons”. It’s not so much the fact that others read my blogs, it’s more the slightly selfish act of the release, but much as I’m a stronger person than I was a decade ago, I realise only too well the main reason why...
I love you Elaine... hurry home xxx
Notes to self: next time you go to the O2 Academy, wear old shoes, because the floor evidently hasn’t been cleaned in years – either that or they’ve laid some very sticky carpet. And also, you need to find somewhere to sit because femoro-acetabular impingement (look it up… it’s not fun) plus a three hour stand equals a painful night/morning/ following afternoon.
Anyway, last night Elaine and I made the trip north to see Bo Bruce on what I think was the second night of her live tour.
Oh… note number three… smuggle in some pop because the Pepsi (at least that’s what they called it) was £1.75 for a very small plastic cup.
Bo may not have won last year’s final of The Voice, but right from the blind audition (when her first couple of lines sent a shiver down my spine), it was clear that she had a special talent and what I was really looking forward to was hearing Bo sing without the gloss of a television performance and the relative safety of a produced album.
The reality was stunning.
Her dress was able to flow courtesy of the fan at her feet and she is obviously a very pretty young woman, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to her eyes - wonderfully emotive and expressive.
And that voice…
What struck me was the way that Bo almost lost herself in her music at times: songs written at the most exciting, yet paradoxically saddest period of her life and lyrics which hold an intensely personal meaning were shared with people (most of whom) Bo had never met. I have tried, in my own way, to use this blog as a release from those times of deep introspection that I have. Maybe the songs Bo sang last night are a similar release, albeit on an artistic plane far higher than I could ever aspire to.
Much may have been made of Bo’s background and upbringing, but it’s irrelevant. She certainly didn’t ask to be born into privilege and the truth is that nothing can prevent the emptiness and grief that can follow the loss of a loved one. During Bo’s last song, there was a line: “A day is still a day, I just miss you…” I stood with my hand resting on Elaine’s shoulder, my wife who has lost both her parents and I’m not embarrassed to say that I shed a tear.
A glance up at the stage and Bo’s eyes (whether open or shut) conveyed the pain she has suffered and I felt privileged that I was one of those people with whom Bo Bruce was willing and able to share such emotion.
I don’t think I want to say anything else. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to meet Bo Bruce and thank her in person – maybe I won’t, but I witnessed someone and something very special last night and for that I am very grateful x
We had a brilliant time at the Mrs Brown’s Boys live show last night. The trip up the A19 was interrupted by a visit to a well-known fast-food chain for a bite to eat (have you seen the Arena’s prices?!). Obviously it wouldn’t be right to mention the establishment by name, but my meal was very McPleasant indeed...
We arrived just over an hour before the show. The weather wasn’t great, but being able to park in the Arena car park was a timely reminder of last year’s floods that had not only closed the car park, but meant that a lot of people had been physically unable to reach the venue at all...
Work is pretty unsettling for both of us at the moment, so we were looking forward to the chance to switch off for a couple of hours and hopefully have a really good laugh in the process—and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
This was the third year we’d seen the show and this was the best of the three. There was the usual mix of previously televised gags and new—or better still, ad-libbed—material but the highlight came during a seemingly unscripted (but presumably not totally unplanned) exchange between Mrs Brown and daughters-in-law Maria and then Betty—or alternatively, real-life father and daughter and father-in-law and daughter-in-law.
The fun started with a witty line from Maria (Fiona O’Carroll) that prompted Agnes (Brendan O’Carroll) to reply: “The ball’s in play and the game is on..!”
She/he then had a bit of “banter” with Maria, before focussing attention on Betty (Amanda Woods): “So how is your mother?”
“She’s still dead,” came the clearly unexpected response.
“What did she die of?”
“What was she doing, chasing an Abominable Snowman?!”
“No, she was shopping in Iceland!!”
A proud father-in-law conceded a “touché” as I nearly choked on an M&M.
Much as that was the personal high point of the show, the most memorable moment of my evening was still to come. Like we had last year, we decided to wait and try and meet some of the cast. I got several autographs—sadly more than half were ruined by a fairly heavy downpour—and some great photos, which are included at the bottom of the page (I’m down to two chins on one of them!).
I asked Amanda Woods to sign a photo—and she only bloody recognised me!
She asked how I was and how the writing was going... to say I was surprised is an understatement that should really be preceded by one of Agnes’ trademark
expletives, but it was a lovely moment—thank you Amanda x
Soon after, the heavens opened and with photos taken and autographs smudged, it was time to head back to the car... and back to Middlesbrough. I realise comedy is subjective and Mrs Brown’s Boys might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but Brendan O’Carroll and the rest of the cast have brought so much fun and laughter into our lives—and for that I am genuinely fecking grateful.
You know how it is, you hardly ever have a big night out and then two come along at once.
On Friday’s we’ll be travelling north to see the Mrs Brown’s Boys stage show (for the third successive year) and seventy-two hours later, Elaine and I will get the chance to see—and hear—the wonderful Bo Bruce at Newcastle’s O² Academy. We’ve had the tickets for ages, so I suppose it’ll be nice not to have to find the money—although as I remember, you don’t get much change out of a tenner for a drink and a hot dog at the Metro Arena (that’s where Mrs Brown’s Boys is taking place).
Of course, we could split the hot dog and get two straws for the drink. Better still, pig out at home and try and smuggle some pop past the security men...
Last year, we were lucky enough to meet most of the Mrs Brown’s Boys cast and I was impressed by how approachable and friendly they all were. I’m sure that in the world of celebrity, you will encounter any number of people wanting a bit of your time. Exchanging a few words, signing an autograph or posing for a photo might only take a minute or so, but especially for the young “fan”, those few moments will be both personal and special.
Down the years, I’ve almost shied away from such encounters, mainly because I always remembered meeting a couple of people I’d admired from the world of sport and let’s just say the prospect was far removed from the reality.
I wouldn’t use the word “heroes” —that word is reserved for the likes of Muhammad Ali—but when I was about nine years old, my favourite cricketer was the Lancashire and West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd. The meeting was a chance encounter with the West Indies touring party at York railway station. Virtually the whole squad had signed my autograph book when I offer my book and pen to the team’s figurehead.
But he refused... he’d signed too many autographs...
Sadly, at nine years old, I didn’t know the right word to describe my immediately ex-favourite cricketer. Forty years on, I know loads of suitable words... but I fear the moment has gone.
A number of years later, I was a club cricketer of little or no repute, and still a Lancashire fan despite being born in the White Rose county. I went to “an evening with” Paul Allott, decent test bowler and future poor commentator. I did admire him as a cricketer, but when I spoke to him, he was arrogant to the point of being rude.
Luckily by the age of twenty-six, I was far better acquainted with the term “arsehole”...
Thankfully, such examples are few and far between, but just go to show how the memory of one bad experience can linger for years—which probably explains why I don’t eat rice pudding.
So much as I’m now far too old to be “star-struck”, I’m really looking forward to both nights. If the last two years are anything to go by, Mrs Brown’s Boys will be great and, having exchanged quite a few e-mails with Bo Bruce before her career really took off, she seemed to be a kind and genuine young woman —as well as a fantastic singer. Who knows, maybe I might get to meet her in person next Monday: I won’t have my autograph book (I threw it at Clive Lloyd’s carriage as the train pulled away), but, just in case, the camera’s already on charge!
The Hollywood actress Jean Harlow (whose birth name was Harlean Carpenter) passed away on this day in 1937—she was just twenty-six years of age.
A few years ago, I decided to find out about Jean’s tragically short (but undeniably eventful) life when I discovered she was born just four days before my grandmother Gertie in 1911. At the time, I was researching my family tree and adding details of births, deaths or famous (which could also mean “random”) events to give my own family’s story some sort of historical context.
I am thoroughly ashamed to say that I had hardly watched any old black and white movies (although that oversight has now been remedied), but I had probably—albeit inadvertently—seen her on screen as I was a massive fan of Laurel & Hardy. Jean made a brief, but memorable, appearance in the 1929 Hal Roach short Double Whoopee, in which Jean gets out of her car, only to have the lower half of her dress ripped off when it gets trapped in the door. (The scene was fairly racy for its time, but genius is timeless— and Stan Laurel was a genius—and pretty much the same stunt is recreated in an episode of Miranda Hart’s self-titled comedy series.)
Jean Harlow possessed the main attributes needed for an acting career—she was young and had both a fantastic figure and stunning looks. Whether or not she was a great actress is something for the experts to debate—personally, I think she had brilliant comic timing and it was in her more light-hearted roles that she excelled. She was blessed/ cursed (delete as appropriate) with the ultimate pushy mother, who played out her own dreams through her daughter—and signed most of Jean’s “autographs” for her. The young actress most certainly had a thoroughly unpleasant stepfather, Marino Bello, who deserves less than the passing mention I’ve just given him.
That said, Jean’s star rose quickly, her platinum-dyed hair was a box office winner, yet her private life was a mess. She managed three marriages in her short adult life—and was engaged to actor William Powell at the time of her death. Husband number two, Paul Bern, died in what was an apparent suicide and, as with many of the Hollywood stars of the era, Jean endured more than her fair share of controversy and heartache, before the ultimate tragedy of losing her life to renal failure at such a ridiculously young age.
I have read (actually I only half read—it was crap) a biography which painted Jean as a brash, almost lewd woman, but I’ve also come across articles which show what I believe to the “real” Jean Harlow, genuine, kind and considerate beyond her years—read my bio if you want to find out more!!. Of course, there may have been occasions when she acted her part in public (this was Hollywood after all), but for me, Jean Harlow was not simply the “original platinum blonde”; she was a young woman blessed with talent and a beauty that was much, much more than skin deep and this blog is affectionately dedicated to the memory of my movie idol x
All my own work... almost.