Table Tennis: A Love Letter

Tennis on a nine by five table

Ping pong by its colloquial name

The second most played sport in the world

The Victorians would be amazed by its fame.

 

It began as an aristocratic English pastime

Now the Chinese totally dominate the game.

It is as physically demanding as tennis

But cerebral like chess all the same.

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HSBC: Beacon of Capitalist Amorality

 Let’s get one thing straight right from the start. Capitalism has no morality despite the endless grating platitudes from the likes of Will Hutton, Ed Miliband and even David Cameron. These managers and apologists for capital incessantly plead for a caring, compassionate, regulated capitalism as opposed, I presume, to a nasty, uncaring, unregulated capitalism. But capitalism is neither inherently good nor inherently evil. And it can no more be made good than it can be turned to evil.it simply does what it is hotwired to do. It follows its own logic; the accumulation and concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands. Relentlessly breaking down old, outmoded traditions – of nationality, of religion and local culture, it is, in essence, colour blind, gender neutral and free from feudal and other prejudices. And, its most defining characteristic; it always and everywhere moves to the point of highest return, circumnavigating whatever state regulation that may be put in its way. Liberal morality, state capitalist diktat and religious dogmas are irrelevant to it. And HSBC, like all cathedrals of capital, has been performing in precisely the way we should expect it to perform; maximising the return on the capital it controls and helping concentrate that capital in ever fewer hands. That is capital’s genius and at the very same time its fatal flaw.

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Heathrow and Harmondsworth :

This is something of a David and Goliath story

But it’s certainly not as simple as say Labour versus Tory

This is a cross party story for every season

It’s a classic tale of corporate greed versus civic reason.

 

We start our story in the village of Harmondsworth

A pretty Doomsday parish built on medieval earth

Which has been under constant attack in the post war era

By an expanding airport that keeps getting nearer and nearer.

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Ode to Austerity

Most born into poverty, a few born into wealth.

Bizarrely the wealthy get wealthier through cunning and through stealth.

Rich kids flying high, backed up by daddy and mummy,

Everybody knows that money goes to money.

 The whole rotten edifice is skewed in their favour,

The servant class condemned to endless toil with just religion for their saviour.

Stultifying poverty, breaking hope and breaking health.

 A life of modern day slavery, no time to develop one’s self.

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Dear Ed Miliband

Despite the best efforts of the Tory tabloid press to paint you as a demonic Red Ed, try as I might, I am having great difficulty distinguishing current Labour Party policies from those of the present coalition government. Now, under Tony Blair’s New Labour, that was to be expected, because it quickly became apparent that Tony Blair was happily turning the Labour Government into the Tory second eleven. Of course, I should have known that the moment Rupert Murdoch gave his public blessing to Labour during the 1997 election campaign. But with you taking the helm eleven years later, I genuinely expected something qualitatively different. Instead I am witnessing the unedifying sight of your shadow chancellor bending over backwards to ensure the voters that he will stick to the Tory deficit reduction plans and that government induced austerity will continue for the foreseeable future. This is a particularly depressing scenario.

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Olympic Legacy: Going, Going, Gone-part two

They said it would inspire a generation

To run and to jump and to swim.

They promised it would motivate our youngsters

And the fight against obesity would begin.

 

But the statistics tell a very different story

Of a nation getting fatter by the day.

Gove abolished the school-sports partnerships

And now the children have nowhere to play.

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Charlie Hebdo massacre: Colonial blowback

 

The final death toll in the West’s illegal war against Iraq can never be accurately determined because the bloody repercussions are still ongoing. Let it suffice to say it will be in the hundreds of thousands. But if we include the stunted lives caused by that criminal intervention along with the civil war that has ensued, the numbers will certainly turn out to be in the millions. And behind these statistics are real people with real families with real hopes and aspirations for the life ahead.

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REVOLUTION, Russell Brand, Century, London, 2014

 

This is a damn good book. In fact a great book. Great in the sense that it is a great read, and great also in that it is of great importance. It is an intelligent book and in places touches the sublime, almost poetic level. Not bad for a recovering junkie. If you start the book and find yourself getting irritated and a tad frustrated in places, don’t give up on it. Complete the book and your efforts will be handsomely rewarded. Sure, Brand drifts in and out of incoherent, metaphysical ramblings. All that stuff about transcendental meditation changing the world and other obscurantist nonsense can definitely irritate. This is its central flaw, yet paradoxically, it is precisely because it is flawed that it is so engaging. Brand has not produced some dry political Marxist text preaching a didactic blueprint for revolution. And Brand would be the first to admit this.  On the contrary, what Brand has produced is a loveable and rambling stream of consciousness, part autobiographical, part pub philosophy and part impassioned but reasoned plea for us to collectively create something better, something more rational, something more humane. And the end result is a thousand times more persuasive than any dry academic Marxist text could ever hope to be.

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The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath FF Classics 1963

I suspect Sylvia Plath’s poetry anthology and her one single novel have been examined and analysed ad infinitum, and I’m damn certain I can offer nothing remotely new. But having just reread ‘The Bell Jar’ some fifty years after its publication, it seems there is still much of relevance for our contemporary times. Two central themes from ‘The Bell Jar’ still resonate today. Firstly, questions surrounding mental illness and clinical depression are far from having been resolved. Is mental illness and breakdown a social phenomenon or simply the result of a chemical imbalance? Or more likely, is it a complex combination of the two?  Secondly, and I would suggest of equal relevance to our times, is the role of monogamy, marriage and patriarchy in contemporary society, both east and west. To Plath’s credit, I found absolutely nothing dated about this novel; it felt as fresh and as engaging as the day it was published.  And I should add, the tragedy of Plath’s suicide is as poignant today as it was half a century ago.

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Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, Harvill Secker, 2014

There is a consistent historical materialism running throughout Harari’s Sapiens, and for that he should be congratulated and his eminently readable book widely recommended. There is no pandering to imaginary gods or other supernatural forces, just a down to earth account of the human story from the time of the big bang right through to our genetically and biologically modified future. From our humble hunter- gatherer beginnings, through the Neolithic revolution and onwards to both the industrial and now information revolutions, Harari paints a convincing narrative. This sort of text is desperately needed to help counteract the superstitions and historical ignorance that amazingly, still persists to this day. ‘ Sapiens’ is the sort of text that should be compulsory reading for all GCSE and A Level students, with a simpler, scaled down version available for younger children. Rather than the hotchpotch of chronologically disjointed nonsense that is currently served up to our students, here is a chronologically coherent account of the history of mankind.

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Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker, Channel 4

At last a gem emerges from the sea of dross that is British TV. And what a gem it is. It is difficult to find the superlatives to adequately describe Charlie Brooker’s  ‘Black Mirror’. A powerful and disturbing technological dystopia. A masterpiece of futuristic gloom. An unparalleled examination of where our new technological powers might be leading us to. Charlie Brooker must now be considered Britain’s pre-eminent TV dramatist with no one else remotely close. This is up there with the very best of British TV; Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective, I Claudius, Talking to a Stranger, Our Friends from the North and This Life.

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London Calling: A Very Brief History.

 Londinium dates back to Roman times

Where its ambitious administrators hailed from sunnier climes.

And with the fall of Rome came new masters aplenty

Vikings, Saxons and Norman gentry.

 

Feudal London was blighted by plague and fire

Life was brutish, living conditions dire.

But mercantile trade began to expand

 

London pre-eminent, king of the land.

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Small Island, Andrea Levy, Review, London 2004

If you need help in exploding the UKIP fantasy of a golden era of England, where there were no thieving, scrounging, terrorist migrants to blight this green and pleasant land, Small Island is the perfect place to start. For in reality, England had no such golden era. Prior to post war immigration, Britain was a miserable class ridden, bigoted island, where working class poverty was deeply entrenched, the ruling class elite lived in their protected private school bubble, and social mobility was virtually non-existent. Furthermore, attitudes across the board were profoundly insular and blatantly racist. The idea that England had fought a war to keep the world safe from fascism is something of a joke. British people were having none of Hitler’s talk of a Germanic master race because the British themselves had been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe it was they who were actually the master race. Blacks and Jews and Irish need not apply. Andrea Levy, in five hundred pages of wonderfully constructed prose, sets out to explore the real England of 1948 and what a magnificent job she makes of it. All the plaudits her book has received are more than fully deserved.

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The Ukip Blues.

I don’t want to fly no Union Jack

It don’t mean nothing to me.

And I don’t want to fly no Cross of St George

Xenophobia ain’t never gonna set us free.

 

The European Union is a step in the right direction

An attempt at regional cooperation, as far as I can see.

But I’d like to see an expanded Eurasian Federation,

From the Atlantic to the Caspian Sea.

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Fury, Salman Rushdie, Random House, London 2001

Well, that makes it three in a row. First there was John Williams’ stunningly imagined 1965 ‘Stoner’, dragged out of obscurity for a new lease of life in the 21st century. Then pops up Ian McEwan’s ‘Saturday’, where we can engage with his brilliantly drawn Henry Perowne. And more recently,  I stumble upon Salman Rushdie’s turn of the century ‘Fury’ where we can follow the travails of the angst ridden Malik Solanka. All three novels have as their overriding theme the horrors of mid-life existential dread.

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Poppy Day

Oh how do you do, young Willy McBride

Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside

And rest for a while in the warm summer sun

I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done

These are the opening lines of The Green Fields of France/No Man’s Land, a searing anti-war balled written and recorded by Scottish/Australian folk singer Eric Bogle in 1976. I came across it first in the early 80s when it was recorded by The Fureys and became a huge hit in my native Ireland. Since then I have sung it myself on numerous occasions and it rarely fails to move an audience.

The song was inspired by Bogle’s trip to Flanders in the mid 70s and his experiences within the massive cemeteries he visited there. The song takes the form of a monologue directed at the gravestone of young soldier who died in World War I.

I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen

When you joined the great fallen in 1916

Well I hope you died well

And I hope you died clean

Or young Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene

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