You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2008.

Chumps. They’re all chumps.*

Either our expectations are too high, or all football managers are rubbish. To be precise, within English football there are only ever four good managers: dour genius Alex Ferguson, flawed genius Arsene Wenger, domestic-genius-on-a-shoestring (a role shared on rotation by David Moyes, Steve Coppell, Thingy Redknapp and Martin O’Neill) and foreign genius, the position currently filled by Juande Ramos.

All other managers are rubbish.**

roy_keane.jpg

A gratuitous photo of Roy Keane.

This is a phenomenon exclusive to English football, which explains why acclaimed managers from elsewhere such as Benitez, Houllier, Ranieri and Jol are jetted in, suddenly start managing like chumps and then leave, only to rediscover in somewhere like Zurich or Lyon or Turin that they’re quite good, actually.

The latest foreign manager to reveal his inner chump is Fabio Capello, the new England manager from Bracknell Southend San Canzian d’Isonzo. Now, the football writers don’t want to admit that he’s a chump. They have an enormous collective crush on him, like they did on Jose Mourinho. It reminds me of women in Regency novels simpering over the local doctor. Nevertheless, Capello has been displaying undeniably chumpish qualities, such as playing Wayne Rooney as a lone striker up front and suggesting (according to the hacks, anyway) that Beckham can be Rooney’s Ronaldo. (By which I mean he can supply Rooney with inch-perfect crosses, not with high-class call girls.) Capello has no chance – he may have been a wonderful manager once, but he’s in England now, and he can’t be good until Ramos displays a loss of form.

It strikes me that it would save an awful lot of money if clubs and the FA stopped employing managers altogether. It’s all about local empowerment. I have been reading about capacity-building and ‘development by people’, in which local communities are encouraged to participate in the decision-making process towards sustainable development footballing success. In other words, let the fans manage the team. They might not have been professional footballers, but I bet none of them would have played Jamie Carragher as a holding midfielder.

I propose the fans form a mini United Nations, in which representatives of each supporters faction meet in a General Assembly once a week to decide on tactics. The risk, of course, is that any decision would be delayed by a last-minute interjection from the Hong Kong Supporters Group and not be resolved until the match had finished, but that’s consensus politics. The national team would be managed by the country’s most recent lottery winner: “Today’s team was picked by Mr Dave Newt from Trowbridge.” Far better than giving Mr Newt £5.2 million just so he can pay off his mortgage and go on horrific cruising holidays for the rest of his life.

I realise this would narrow the career opportunities for professional footballers. But given that (a) all managers apart from Ferguson are eventually sacked anyway and (b) all managers like golf, I propose that every single football manager works at Leeds United Football Club. The position would rotate every week, which would give each manager a chance to shine before revealing himself as a chump, and afford him plenty of time off (approximately 13 years) to work on his handicap.

Of course, it is just possible that most managers only appear to be rubbish because expectations for their teams are simply too great. There can only be one winner, people! Maybe there should be joint first place in the Premiership for the top seven clubs, just so that Newcastle and Spurs and West Ham and Everton and all the other clubs who think that the national title has been overdue for 87 years can stop whingeing. Another solution might be to forbid a team from losing, so that if the score is 2-0 at the end of normal time, the goalkeeper hands the ball to the striker on the other team and invites him to pummell the ball into an empty net.

It always annoys me when there are calls for a national enquiry into The State of British Tennis or Why We Didn’t Win the World Cup or Our Shocking Olympics Medal Haul or whatever. We can’t be good at everything – our cup runneth over already with cycling and darts, surely? Perhaps I don’t entirely understand the competitive spirit, but why can’t we just say, “Golly, Serbia, you’re awfully good at tennis, aren’t you? Well done you!”

Or, “Hello, Ethiopia – bit of a dark horse at this long-distance running lark, aren’t you? Made us look like right plonkers!”

Or, “I say, Finland, isn’t is lucky that you can produce some of the world’s best rally drivers when you’ve got so much muddy forest all over the place!”

Each to their own, I say.

* Except Roy Keane.
** Ditto.

It has been snowing non-stop for about seventy-eight days now. Woo hoo! Who’s laughing now, Flopsy? Come, friendly low-pressure cold fronts! Down with springtime! Death and destruction to the Amaryllidaceae family of perennial flowering bulbs!

Truth is, I’m a bit disappointed by the snow. It seems that, like me, it doesn’t want to settle in Bonn. Actually, I’m more disappointed for it. After coming down all this way, snow deserves a better fate than instantly melting on contact with some snotty piece of pavement.

I wish it would stay longer, because Germany looks good in white. Even the most objectionable pieces of local architecture are rendered merely gut-sinkingly bleak with a light dusting of snow. Yesterday I went for a walk in the forest during a snow storm and it was pretty frickin wunderbar. Reminded me of the first times I visited Germany, before the foreign had become familiar.

Here’s a photograph*:

snowy_view.jpg

Oh, all right, my camera’s still broken. It looked more this:
snowy_trees.jpg

This inspired to write some haikus as soon as I had regained the feeling in my fingers. To wit:

Flurry of whiteness
Trees surrender to the snow
I’m missing Countdown

Snow falling
Means only one thing
Wet socks

A bit pretentious
To walk around in the snow
Let’s face it

If you go down
Pigeon Street here are the people
You could meet

Harder than it looks
This haiku-writing business
Bloody Zen buddhists

etc.

*Spanks, Roblisameehan and blacklord**
** Though I nearly didn’t credit you because of your stupid Flickr names

Addiction to the internet is an illness. I’ll say!*

Constant peeks at GoFugYourself and the Guardian‘s minute-by-minute football coverage are making me quite ill. Evidently I have been “exhausting emotions that I could experience in the real world”. Yeah, emotions like scorn, schadenfreude, impatience with strangers… The webosphere is a bitchy place, isn’t it? In fact, I’m a bit sorry about being mean in my blog about Easter bunnies yesterday. The nice man at the petrol station gave me a free marbled egg this morning when I went on an emergency toilet roll sortie (bloody flatmates). So things aren’t all that bad.

Anyway, the good news is that I have managed to turn off the computer for long enough to learn what Keynesianism is. And anti-utilitarianism. And New Contractarianism. Marvellous(ism)! My new course in sustainable development is going swimmingly. I have been doing so much study, I am surely nearly ready to swim 25 metres with a float. No? Ah, it seems that I’m supposed to be doing eight hours a week, not eight minutes. Rats. Well, I’ll soon catch up now that I’ve found out how fascinating economics is. No, really!

It turns out that all those stories about Bear Stearns and recession and the death of irrational exuberance (again) are super interesting. Who knew? There are some particularly thought-provoking bits in the comments section of this story about chickens coming home to roost. Quite a bit of schadenfreude on show.

On the subject of debt and overspending and the like, I realise that I am not YET an international expert in economics (though surely it’s a matter of months), but I wonder if the Goings-On will change the Chinese government’s attempts to change the culture of saving in the country so that people spend more? I read about this a while ago and thought it sounded a bit shifty. Now it definitely sounds shifty, as do some of the eggings-on by the Americans and innurnashional financiers, such as:

“This parsimony now threatens to slow the country’s economic growth. If consumer spending is to keep pace with business investment, China’s middle class will need to shed its caution and learn to spend more of its income.”
McKinsey

“We certainly hope that China changes from a saving society to a consuming society. Right now, because of the lack of a safety net, many Chinese save for what we call a rainy day. What we want is the government to provide more of a safety net so they start buying more US and Australian products.”
President Bush

Well, I’m sure they know best. Blimey! Is that Arsenal one nil up?

*Not to belittle genuine sufferers or anything.

It would be quite easy to develop a phobia of anthropomorphised rabbits around here.

reber_bunny.jpg

No sooner had my memories of all the malevolent clowns unleashed during Carnival faded than someone decided to send in the Easter Bunny. FOIL WRAPPED.

reber_bunny_closer.jpg

Can you imagine buying your grandson one of these instead of a nice Chocolate Buttons Easter Egg?

reber_bunny_closer_aargh.jpg

If he didn’t eat it all at once, it would sit grinning at him from his bedside table, waiting for it to get dark so it could chase him around the house and stab him in the heart with an, um, egg. A very pointy one.

reber_bunny_closer_theeyes.jpg

Aaaaaaarrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhhh.

Easter is with us, and Germans seem to be making up for their rather feeble offerings to the great retailer in the sky at Christmastime by entering into an orgy of consumption. Of course, if this were orgiastic consumption of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs I would be right there with them, but as we know you can’t get proper chocolate in Germany, so the shelves are shuddering instead under the weight of aforementioned bunnies, rubbish praline eggs and a veritable smorgasbord of pastel horrorphernalia for the home and garden. Y’know, pale yellow egg-cups, mint-green baskets, pink sawn-off shotguns (probably). There’s no sign of Jesus, just legions of creepy porcelain rabbits dressed in overalls or pushing prams… They are coming to kill us.

I do hope England hasn’t submitted to this craze for Easter rabbits in the same way it has bowed down before The German Christmas Market. Not that I’m averse to a bit of folky Black Forest tat, yuletidedly speaking. I mean, my life’s ambition is to live in a wooden chalet surrounded by gingham material and wooden spoons with hearts carved out of them. That’s the only reason why I’m here. But foil-wrapped bunnies made from inferior chocolate are another matter altogether.

I shall be eating my one remaining tin of Heinz spaghetti hoops this weekend in protest. Happy Easter!

nb: The full Osterhase horror show is at the Reber confectionery website. And don’t think that the hands of Messrs. Milka and Lindt are clean over this matter either, no sir- they are decidedly chocolatey from their work fashioning evil bunny voodoo dolls.

Two friends of mine are trying for a baby. Don’t worry, it’s all above board – they’re married to each other and everything. Anyway, they keep mentioning their grand new venture as if it were a DIY project, like applying for planning permission or having their back garden landscaped.

It is hard to know how to respond to this. I usually just smile and try to erase any unwholesome images from my brain by thinking of the recipe for pancake batter. Certainly I never bring it up in conversation, in a “how’s the whole ‘trying for a baby’ thing coming along?” kind of way. I am trying to bear in mind the following code of etiquette:

Inappropriate responses when people tell you they are trying for a baby
– “Ooh, I’ll lend you my copy of the Kama Sutra – though it’s a bit dog-eared, I’m afraid.”
– “Not pregnant yet, then?”
– “I’ll carry it for you for 10 grand.”
– “I’m sorry, but I think you are being highly irresponsible to bring a child into the world, when arguably the greatest threat to the planet’s ecosystem and indeed access to adequate food and clean water is gross overpopulation of the human species.”
– “Cool! Can I watch?”

Yes, it is very difficult.

Well, I hope that should they manage to become ensperminated, they will be a bit more loving than the eighteenth-century parents of Mittelfels, Bavaria, where I read this week that “farmers would rather lose a child than a calf”. Harsh. Still, if “calf” were substituted with “Martha Stewart Living magazine”, I think I would find it difficult to make the moral choice.

That quote comes from a ridiculously entertaining book called Population History and the Family. This contains all sorts of evidence that people in medieval times were a few chicken drumsticks short of a banquet. You know, a bit simple, like. I have every sympathy with a basic lack of infrastructure they had to put up with. For example, their wattle-and-daub hovels were so flimsy that “burglars pushed the walls down rather than enter through the doors”. Sort of ye olde ram and raide.

But I hardly think parents could have been surprised that infant mortality rates were on the high-ish side when they used to leave their babies in cradles stuffed with straw next to the fireplace, with candles left burning all night and pigs running in and out. This is not joined-up thinking, people. I mean, they might as well have put a firelighter in the baby’s mouth.

Children were in even more danger when they could walk. This was the age when they were at greatest risk of being stolen by elves, of course. Or of wandering off and drowning while left in the care of a blind woman, if you want to be more prosaic about it. When social services come round, always blame the elves.

The German bit comes from a thrilling chapter called “Bastardy in South Germany”, where an explosion of back-of-the-hay-bale shenanigans in the 1750s led to illegitimacy rates of one in five births. Girls were having children left, right, and, quite probably, centre. I imagine it was a sexual revolution on a par with the 1960s, only by the time Woodstock came around, the pill had replaced infanticide as the contraceptive du jour and Jimi Hendrix was finally getting to the end of the guitar solo in Voodoo Child.

To add a sombre note, over 50% of those illegitimate babies in Bavaria died in the first year of life. Dark times indeed. I must say, that in a world where children were barely expected to survive 12 months, you can’t blame famers for hardening their hearts and putting their faith in cows instead.

Holy flint knapping! I saw 10,000 BC at the cinema the other day, and it turns out that while my archaeology lecturers at university were filling our impressionable minds with piffle about the prehistoric sexual division of labour and postructuralist nonsensica about Lacan and mirrors, they completely neglected to tell us that mammoth hunters used to do a bit of weaving on the side and that iron smelting was actually discovered 8,000 years earlier than thought!

mammoth.jpg

An Ice Age hunter abandons the chase after remembering that he has left the iron on (or something).

Charlatans! I want my money back!

(From the university, I mean, not the cinema.)

Greenpeace is plugging some photos by a Monsieur Daniel Beltrá.

penguins_fixed.jpg

Very pretty. But how hard can it be to take cool pictures of icebergs?

iceberg_fixed.jpg

Oh, OK. I probably couldn’t have taken that particular shot. Not without recreating it in the bath with a Fox’s Glacier Mint and some coconut conditioner. But the point is that Greenpeace is calling this photography collection “Shock and awe”. As in Operation Death and Destruction down Baghdad way. Nice. I think “shock and awe” might be an old Greenpeace phrase from its crazy campaign days. But surely these days it should be a bit of a no-go area?

This reminds me of when I wanted to call the last segment of the Linux Format Q&A section “The final solution”, and it had to be pointed out to me why this wouldn’t be such a terrific idea. Sometimes when you’re trying to be clever with words, you forget about the underlying meaning.

On that subject, I think the very worst headline I ever wrote was for an advertorial in a finance magazine. I’m so ashamed of this: it was “Eyes on the prize of market share”. Because I’m sure that when civil rights activists were singing that song, they had a dream that one day, the lyrics would be used to help some Dutch investment bank gain more clients in the syndicated finance business. Horrible, horrible. I deserved to be put against a wall and booked to death* for that one.

Mind you, I was a bit out of practice, cause the usual headlines in that place were more like crossword clues. “Stormy waters as DrKW brings blow-out Fannie Mae jumbo, spreads tighten (12)”. Er, is the answer “incorrigible”?

Back to the Greenpeace photos. Here is Daniel B at work.

daniel-b-at-work_fixed.jpg

What a job! I bet he doesn’t play ping pong in his lunch break.

*By which I mean have dictionaries and English usage guides thrown at me.

My human rights have been assaulted. By a librarian!

Specifically Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours, periodic holidays with pay and the right to sneak around municipal libraries in peace and quiet.”

Yes, I have dreadful news to report from Bonn Central Library. And not before time – owing to my extended leave of absence from the blogoscene, I’m pretty sure that Nordrhein-Westfalian library news has been a bit thin on the ground. Let me assure you, readers, that this media blackout was not the result of some sneaky Prince Harry-esque deal between your humble author and the city authorities to allow me to infiltrate the inner book stacks of Gardening and Home Decoration undetected. It’s cause I’ve had nichts to blog about for two months.

Actually, I still don’t have anything to blog about. But I don’t think I have any readers left, either, so I can happily blog about terrifically-dull-to-anyone-but-me subjects. Like this one!

Anyway, imagined readers, I was down at the stacks on Saturday (natch), and while deciding on how many Dick Francis books I hadn’t read, I began to hear an instrumental version of New York, New York being played extremely loudly. I assumed it was someone’s ringtone (I’ve heard worse), but when it segued into We Are Sailing, I realised that the extremely Evil Geniuses of the library were playing literally unbearably bad music to kick the punters out. Now, I wouldn’t mind, but they started this New York… japery at 12-bloody-40 pm, when there were still 19 whole minutes left to browse intellectual works by Kafka that I will never read and stalk interesting-looking bearded types in the poetry section. And neither activity is very easy to do when your brain is being slowly suffocated by Nights in White Satin.

Surely a single “ping” from the front desk would be the respectable way to bring the frenzied page-turning frottage to a close? Sadly, the whispering culture is dying out, as libraries are increasingly used to house computers, super-annoying craft exhibitions – usually involving exceptionally ugly pottery – and people who snore (what a shame they can’t have their own ante room with appliqued blankets and a Maeve Binchy on every pillow). I mean, in Bath they had a snack vending machine. In the library!

Someone make me Minister for Libraries immediately. This would be a super-cool job. I would be the Barack Obama of the libraries. I’d be a minister who finally ends late fees for all. I would unite county councils to offer bibliophiles a new hope. I would remove all copies of The Da Vinci Code. And I would never allow jigsaw puzzles to be considered genuine lending items again. I think you know it makes sense. We are ready to believe again.

There is a ping pong tournament going on at work, and, work being what it is, this means that a ping pong committee has been set up, the health and safety risks of playing table tennis have been diligently distributed, and there is every chance that the tournament will be won by someone actually called Ping.

Sadly I don’t think my presence will be required in the latter stages of the competition. My game has enough ping but not quite enough pong to take me through. I have played three matches so far, and the results have been: England 2 Japan 0,  England 2 USA 1 (so far so good) but England 0 Germany 2 (sorry, I tried my best). Yes, I have been beaten by our department’s resident pinball wizard. The only points I won off her were when her attempts at a smash were so demented that she missed the table completely and put ping pong ball-shaped dents into the artwork on the walls instead.

Still, I like playing with her because she’s the only colleague to swear as much as I do – there were constant shouts of “crap”, “shit” and, somewhat alarmingly, “CREAM ME!”. Despite my best intentions, I continue to swear inappropriately at work.  While we were playing some people came to watch (how tedious) and one of them asked, “What’s happening?” “What’s happening is that I’m getting my arse whipped,” I said cheerfully. I don’t think these words have ever been uttered in these particularly corridors of power before. They were received in utter silence – aside from the pinball wizard muttering “shoot” as she buried another ball into the plasterwork.

Have a dead rubber tomorrow. Wish me bl**dy good luck.