The problem with football

Silly question, I know, but why was Sam Allardyce being paid £3 million a year in the first place? Couldn’t he have got by on a little less? Shouldn’t it be an honour to be England manager? Stan Collymore has his critics, of course, but this piece – well, rant – goes to the heart of the matter:

“Football without fans is nothing” someone once said, but the Premier League points to armies of fans abroad, higher attendances than ever and billions coming through the turnstiles… I have no problem with players, the stars of the show or anyone else in any walk of life, earning great money and succeeding. But there’s a nasty, gloating cockiness about people within the sport now that I see at games, see on TV, see in the dugout and see in the boardrooms…You wished for the greatest show on earth and you got it, but at what cost? The soul of the game I suggest.

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Sunday walk, Cookham

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I have a new idea to make myself exercise regularly to the point of exhaustion: I have begun, along with the garden work, to walk the distance from Berlin to Heidelberg – 626 kilometres! For that purpose, I have marked out a circular course in the garden. Lacking a tape measure, I measured my shoe, paced off the distance step by step, and multiplied by the number of paces. Placing one foot ahead of the other 870 times, thirty-one centimetres to a step, yields 270 metres for a round. If I had taken a different route, along the prison wall, I could have made my track 350 metres. But because of the better view, I prefer this other track. This project is a training of the will, a battle against the endless boredom… I asked Hess, since he was sitting so comfortably on his bench, to note each of my rounds on the walk to Heidelberg by drawing a line in the sand. He stood up, walked slowly over to our bean rows, and gave me thirty beans. “Put these in your left pocket, and after every round drop one in the right pocket. At night you can count them up. Clear?” Then he walked back into the building.

Albert Speer, prison diary, September 30th 1954.

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Gustav Holst Memorial, Chichester Cathedral. 

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Re-imagining the Underground Railroad

The PR machine says it’s a modern masterpiece. I don’t think so. From my review in today’s Times:

underground-railroadWho needs literary critics when you have Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey on your side? Colson Whitehead’s tale of fugitives from slavery has been attracting the kind of publicity that is usually reserved for JK Rowling and the like. By selecting the novel for her hugely influential book club, Oprah has ensured that it has become a bestseller in the US. “This book,” she announced, “has kept me up at night, had my heart in my throat, almost afraid to turn the next page.” Obama joined in last month in a CNN interview, hailing the novel as “terrific”. No surprise, then, that there is already talk of The Underground Railroad being the hit of the season in Britain. Whitehead, the author of half a dozen previous books, including the whimsical novel The Intuitionist and a nonfiction account of the world of poker, has been receiving the James Baldwin treatment.

Does his novel really live up to those feverish expectations? Sadly, no. Its impact, I suspect, is less a reflection of its intrinsic quality than the fact that it arrives at a moment when America is struggling to come to terms with the Black Lives Matter campaign and all that the rise of Donald Trump seems to symbolise about attitudes to race. Pitching in with extravagant praise for a decent but unremarkable novel is the literati’s way of showing that, yes, they really do care. Be seen with this book under your arm, and you are telling the world you are on the right side of history.

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Coming attraction 

Drury Lane.

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It was the obsessive need for control that made him refuse virtually all interviews unless he could first know all the questions in advance and then eventually write all the questions himself. It was the need for control that made him conduct most of these interviews by means of the telephone and the tape recorder. Gould thought that he was a master of faked improvisation (“Well, Glenn, don’t you think…?”), but it is startling to hear some of the tapes that were occasionally made of genuine conversations, and to hear how much more genial and friendly he could become when the interviewing stopped…

Still, the telephone not only preserved his sense of privacy but gave him great opportunities for variety in his social life. Toronto might be a little provincial but the telephone made it possible to have long and frequent conversations with friends in Montreal, New York, London. Gould’s rules were, as usual, quite rigid. You did not call him; he called you. If you called him, you got an answering service (though he often eavesdropped on another phone). He might or might not call back, when he chose (always late at night), and for as long as he chose. Often for hours on end, Gould would read some new manuscript, or he would sing at great length some new musical discovery. Occasionally, at two or three in the morning, one of his listeners would drift off to sleep, and then wake to the sound of Gould sharply asking, “Hello? Hello? Are you there?”

Otto Friedrich, “Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations”.

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From South Korea, via France

A captivating evening with Youn Sun Nah at the Union Chapel. From my review in The Times:

There is a rare theatrical quality to her performances that reflects, perhaps, her interest in chanson. Based in France, where she enjoys an impressive mainstream following, Nah doesn’t possess a conventional jazz voice; her timbre is, in fact, unusually thin at times and her phrasing can seem unduly self-conscious and calculating. Yet her determination to make each number a self-contained art song made this concert — the highlight of the K-Music Korean music and arts festival — a fascinating exercise in contrast and control. There were shades of Ute Lemper at times, although without the hauteur, long legs and self-love. Nah, in contrast, cut a girlish figure on stage (she is in her late forties, but looks much younger) and came close to apologising for some of her more adventurous pieces.

She has found the ideal partner in the Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius — a fellow stalwart of the adventurous ACT label. His restless, percussive playing sometimes created the illusion that the duo had their own secret drummer. The quicksilver, scat-tinged Momento Magico was one of a couple of items with a flamenco influence, while on Mistral Nah added subtle electronic effects to evoke the rushing of the wind. On her solo rendition of My Favourite Things she shifted focus again, adding a spartan cycle of notes on African thumb piano. The Rodgers & Hammerstein standard has never sounded more wistful.

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I went – no, I staggered out of the room. Before I had reached the end of the dark corridor the last remnants of my strength left me, and my senses receded so that I had to steady myself by holding on to the wall. So that was it! This was the secret, so belatedly revealed, of her restlessness, her hitherto inexplicable aggressiveness. I was appalled. I felt like one who, stooping innocently over a flower, is stung by an adder. If the hypersensitive creature  had struck me, reviled me, spat at me, I should have been less disconcerted, for in view of her uncertain temper I was prepared for anything but this one thing – that she, an invalid, a poor, afflicted cripple, should be able to love, should desire to be loved; that this child, this half-woman, this immature, impotent creature, should have the temerity (I cannot express it otherwise) to love, to desire, with the conscious and sensual love of a real woman.

Stefan Zweig, “Beware of Pity”.

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