Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Manners heading south

I've just spent a weekend in London as part of my studies (for want of a better, more accurate word) to become a barrister. A weekend at Middle Temple is always an experience I'd recommend to anyone. Good food, interesting company (even if it is, on occasion, a little pretentious to say the least, especially someone from last year), and a chance to hobnob with the Lord Chief Justice.

Unfortunately, Middle Temple is in London, home to one of the least mannered collection of people in the country.

I'm not sure what it is about the pace of life in the capital, but it just seems to be that decorum, good manners and what have you take second place to getting ahead of everyone else in some way. On the tube, people push, just take seats from those in need, occasionally physically assault someone and fail to apologise. Outside, people do the same and just ignore other people.

Maybe I'm not cut out for life in London if it's like that. But part of me just thinks it's not worth it. Surely you can afford to have manners, even if life is a rat-race. Just a quick 'please' or 'thank you' won't cost a moment of time but will just help to make life that bit more bearable.

And don't do what one woman did to James and aim a proper elbow right at someone and then don't apologise. If you do accidentally clobber someone, at least say sorry rather than ignore the person you've assaulted completely. Magistrates take a dim view of people who walk round clouting people.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance

I've been watching BSG for the better part of 5 years now, and it's never failed to amaze me quite how good it is at so many things. Intense personal drama, big themes, a sense of intimate character and major action set-pieces are all things it's proven to be good at on the TV.

Also impressive was the TV movie Razor (I've yet to see The Plan, despite having it on blu-ray. I'm waiting until I've finished watching the full series through again). So BSG can do long-form and medium-form (short form, for the purposes of Hugo nominations). And, apparently, it can do very short-form as well.

The Resistance (originally titled Crossroads) is a series of 10 webisodes based around the formation of the resistance against the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, forming a bridge between seasons 2 and 3 of the main show. I've seen the main series without having watched the webisodes, and can honestly say that having not seen it doesn't detract from the story one bit. However, it is still worth watching.

It's more than a little jarring to watch the blu-ray release and find that the picture quality is still only that of a streamed video off the internet, especially after the full HD of the series itself. But the production values are high for what is a fairly obscure bit of Galactica canon and the acting is at its usual high standard, with Michael Hogan in particular putting in a strong performance as Colonel Tigh.

The Resistance goes some distance to explaining why Jammer was to be found lining up in the Cylon police ranks at the start of season 3. He is the central character of the webisodes, alongside another of BSG's lesser lights, Duck, the Viper pilot. As usual, the story is very focused on the human reactions of characters to their situation. Jammer experiences moral revulsion at guns and other armaments being hidden in a temple; Duck reacts badly to the death of his partner, Nora.

The webisodes throw some fresh light on the opening to season 3 in particular (up to and including the episode Collaborators) and are an interesting diversion fans should seek to get hold of and watch. Despite being short (the total series running time is less than 30 minutes), it's a worthy watch.

Friday, 11 February 2011

How did they make me read...?

Maybe it's because I'm a 21-year-old man, but I feel uneasy simply possessing a copy of Lolita. More than once I've looked up at my bookshelf with the spine of the book facing out, declaring its presence to any who see it. On these occasions it has seemed to be shouting its existence to the world, standing out from surrounding volumes. To Kill A Mockingbird? Sedately existing in the background. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep seems to fade away into the unnoticed ether. And as for Stranger In A Strange Land, well, it seems to just not exist.

I don't think I particularly want to admit that I'm reading Lolita now. My embarrassment is noticeable with regards to the fact I'm taking the short story collection I'm reading downstairs to read, but Lolita has stayed in my room, hidden away like an illegal document.

I shouldn't feel this way. Lolita is a verified modern classic. Its use of the English language is reason alone to read it (after 139 pages, it's clear that Nabokov was glorying in his adopted tongue). And I wanted to read it as a challenging read. But it's just that I'm a young man reading about a grown man having sex with a 12-year-old girl. If people knew, then surely awkward questions would be asked?

The reason I'm saying I'm reading it is that I shouldn't be embarrassed about broadening my literary horizons. I'm not going to exactly go waving it round in people's faces saying 'hey, hey, hey, I've read this', but in future discussions it's an interesting point to raise. That I read Lolita.

Not that this is stopping me wanting to have it finished by the time I return to uni. The stigma of reading it up there might just kill me.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Pride, passion and glory

Almost a week has passed since the midday showdown with Arsenal at the Emirates and I still haven't written a full account of the game. This may surprise a couple of people, but the almighty wrong created by this omission on my part is now being corrected.

The day started early and was long. Very long. A 4am start to get to the Galpharm and get on the coach with the HTSA at 5am was perhaps too early, especially on a Sunday. But I was there, yawning and wondering what on earth I was doing awake at that time on a weekend along with thousands of others travelling down by coach.

The early start was so the fleet of coaches could arrive at Finsbury Park by 10am. I'm not altogether sure why the coaches had to arrive with 2 hours to go to kick-off, but the point was that we had to. Our coach made it there by 9.50 and, after a walk of around half an hour - during which I saw what had become of Arsenal's old ground, Highbury - we were at the Emirates Stadium.

The Emirates is seriously impressive. People bandy around the phrase 'space age stadium' in relation to virtually all modern stadia - even when they're Riverside Stadium clones, soulless bowls with no distinguishing features save for the colour of the seats - but with regards to the Emirates they're bang on the money. From outside it dominates the surrounding area, being all steel and glass. It has the aura of a modern-day coliseum, especially with the way its external walls curve away, much like that of the Coliseum in Rome.

I'm one of the first into the ground and have a hasty (and expensive) lunch, before wandering into the arena itself.
Simply put: wow. Down in League One, with the exception of the Galpharm, you simply don't get 'wow' stadia. Instead, you get the likes of Rochdale's Spotland or Peterborough's London Road, which, with all due respect, just aren't grounds up to a higher standard of football. (And don't get me onto the roads around Spotland).

So thus far, all is good. The journey's been all right, the ground spectacular. What about the game?

For the first 20 minutes Town looked thoroughly over-awed. It wasn't quite the Arsenal first string, but the likes of Eboue, Gibbs, Diaby, Nasri, Arshavin, Bendtner and Chamakh were all playing, with Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Theo Walcott et al on the bench. And for 20 minutes they dominated. Young Jack Hunt was making his full Town debut at right-back in a rejigged 4-5-1 system, and he struggled to get to grips with Russian international Arshavin.

Most Arsenal joy came down that right-hand side. Arshavin's miscued cross hit a post before he cut inside and struck a low effort from 10 yards that rattled the outside of the woodwork (although whether Ian Bennett was beaten or not is another matter). Arshavin then teed Nicklas Bendtner up for a horrible miss, torturing Hunt before dinking in a ball to the near post that Bendtner only needed to hit the target for. He missed from three yards, prompting jeers from the Town fans behind that goal.

Bendtner again made a horrible mess of a ball in from Nasri, managing an air shot when he again only needed to hit the target, but moments later he had Arsenal ahead in controversial fashion.

Town had pushed up and managed to clear the ball into Arsenal's half, relieving the pressure. The ball came back up to Chamakh, who appeared to control the ball with his arm before playing Bendtner in. Kevin Kilbane was caught out of position and skipper Peter Clarke could only put in a covering challenge that resulted in Bendtner's off-target shot deflecting off his upper body into the bottom corner of Bennett's net.

Being a classy individual, Bendtner decided to celebrate his goal by cupping his hand to his ear and running behind the goal, winding up the Town fans. How charming of him.

The goal seemed to act as a catalyst for Town to start playing. Where before the midfield had been standing off, admiring the Arsenal passing and movement, it suddenly started to get tight and be disciplined. And Town started to see more of the ball. After one Arsenal attack broke down, Jack Hunt was able to play Anthony Pilkington a delightful ball in behind the full-back. Pilks whipped the ball in beautifully right at the feet of Alan Lee, the lone striker, six yards out, who was only denied by a great challenge from Sebastien Squillaci. Not that the referee noticed: he signalled a dead ball when everyone in the ground could see it was a corner.

Kieran Gibbs went in the book soon after for kicking the ball away when Town were about to take a free kick. And seconds later should have been given his marching orders as he went through the back of Pilkington. It wasn't the only refereeing decision going in favour of Arsenal. In the very first minute of the game Lee Peltier - playing the holding role in midfield - had been tugged down, clear as day, by Diaby, but nothing had been given. Contrast that with the protection Arsenal's players got. Every time we got close to them, the ref blew up for an Arsenal free-kick.

Not that this stopped Town from getting a real foothold in the game. Joey Gudjonsson has been hit and miss since joining Town from Burnley, but this was a definite hit day. It was his wonderful ball into the box that Anthony Pilkington got on the end of to divert a header inches wide. And before too long he'd also cracked a 30-yard free-kick within an inch of the top corner.

Just before half-time, Town sensed blood. Jack Hunt robbed Arshavin of the ball in the right-back position and went on a storming run, beating Denilson and Koscielny before being brutally body-checked by last man Squillaci 25 yards from goal. In a rare moment of getting the decision right, referee Clattenburg brandished red. Wenger argued after the game that it was harsh. I'm not sure how. By the letter of the law, it had to be red. Hunt was 25 yards out and storming through on goal. Squillaci took him down and paid the price, as he had to.

Arsenal managed to cling on to half-time despite Town dominating. At half-time, Wenger replaced Chamakh with Alex Song, who slotted in at centre back, switching to 4-4-1. I'm not sure whether it was the system or the fact they'd taken their eye off the ball or what it was, but Arsenal just didn't emerge in the second half.

Instead, Town came out and battered their more illustrious opponents. Alan Lee was outstanding up front with his hold-up play. Pilkington and Roberts made fools of their full-backs. Arsenal couldn't get the ball of midfielders Gudjonsson, Peltier and Tom Clarke.

Town piled on the pressure. Jamie McCombe, the big centre-half, was a threat on set-pieces, but chances were coming from open play. Joey Gudjonsson was denied by one particularly outstanding piece of defending from Andriy Arshavin. From the resulting corner, the ball was only half-cleared and Joey fired in a volley that whistled an inch past the post. Alan Lee then forced goalkeeper Manuel Almunia into an outstanding one-handed save at full stretch. The goal was coming.

And it came from Alan Lee. Anthony Pilkington pinged in a corner, and Lee attacked it to send a bullet header past the despairing Almunia. 5,188 away fans were sent into euphoria as Lee wheeled away to celebrate his first goal for the club at the twenty-sixth attempt.

Arsenal came back. Peter Clarke was at his best to block Bendtner. But despite more possession Arsenal simply couldn't break Town's stubborn rearguard down, despite the introduction of captain Cesc Fabregas.

That is until the 87th minute. Kevin Kilbane dilly-dallied in possession before playing Joey Gudjonsson a hospital pass. Joey's attempted clearance was charged down by Fabregas, who played the ball across the box... where Nicklas Bendtner fell over. Clattenburg pointed to the spot.

It was never a penalty. I thought at the time it looked soft and, having seen the replays, it as a definite dive by Bendtner. He ran into Jamie McCombe - who had an immaculate game - realised he wasn't reaching the ball, and then flung himself to the deck. Fabregas attempted to make the issue worse by throwing a temper tantrum when the ref didn't send Jamie McCombe off.

I hate to see players doing that. Fabregas is a wonderfully gifted player, yet he seems determined to blot his copybook by petty whinings and complaints at referees or to the media about the tactics of the opposition. Considering that McCombe is a player playing two divisions below he is, it's pretty low to try to get him sent off, especially after such a pathetic bit of cheating by Bendtner. But he still had the focus to send Ian Bennett the wrong way and make it 2-1 Arsenal.

It was particularly galling to lose like that. Had Fabregas picked up the ball, beaten two defenders and pinged a shot into the top corner from 30 yards you'd have just had to admire the quality that had beaten you. But we were beaten by cheating of the lowest order in football. We didn't deserve that.

Understandably, the coach back was subdued. After playing so well it didn't seem right to lose in such a way. But there was still a sense of pride in the performance and an optimism that if we play like that to the end of the season we'll be playing Championship football next campaign.