Thursday, 27 October 2016

I'll Be Misunderstood...................

Now, we know I don't write about work but I have to share this little gem with you.

I won't go into the details of my place of employment, largely because I don't want to give them any publicity whatsoever but also because some people get very hormonal about it if I write about work in a negative light. However, I will have to tell you that it is a university, just so that you can understand where the following, mind-bendingly ridiculous conversation originated. However, I want to make it clear that it is a university that I in no way endorse and which, as far as I am concerned, exists solely to keep me in over-priced jackets.

I was asked to make a phone call to a mental health nursing home. I won't bore you with the reasons for it. Just drink in the delights of the following exchange;

Random Person Answering The Phone: Hello?

Me: Hello, it's Stephen from ..........University...

RPATP: What?

Me: My name is Stephen, I'm calling from ...............University?

RPATP: Who?

Me: Stephen from .............University...

RPATP: Happy Anniversary?

Me: (Hopefully inaudible sigh)........Can I speak to ............?

RPATP: Who?

Me:...............?

RPATP: Happy Holidays?

Me: No......can I speak to ............?

RPATP: I don't know who you are talking about, and I'm watching a film which is a better use of my time. Goodbye.

This really happened. I emailed the person I needed to speak to. I'm still a bit taken aback by this. I know my speech can sometimes be a little too quick, and that, allied to my St Helens accent can sometimes make me a little bit difficult to understand. Certainly, I write with a lot more clarity and confidence than I speak. There are many, many people who will testify to this given the amount of pure shite I come out with on an average day. Yet it is clear that his person was, shall we say, a 'service user' who may or may not be in total control of their faculties. I am not so difficult to understand as this and if I am, well I quit.

Moving swiftly on from this nonsense, let's bash The Sun for a bit. Last week they demanded an apology from and/or the sacking of Match Of The Day presenter and crisp peddler Gary Lineker. Why? Because he had the audacity to tweet his vile sympathetic views towards asylum seekers. Now, apart from the folly of slating Lineker for having some human decency (one Twitter user pilloried him for having the audacity to have these views whilst also failing to be a poor person himself), what the fuck does this have to do with his ability to present Saturday night football highlights? It seems that the abhorrent snot-rag that is The Sun now cannot tolerate anyone who isn't a self-centred racist operating in public life. Even if their presence in public life extends only to crisp adverts and providing the links ahead of Steve Bower's commentary on Crystal Palace vs Hull City!

No wonder it is still possible, at the time of writing, for Donald Trump to be the next President Of The United States. Just for fun, and because I'm feeling particularly lazy and utterly dumfounded by today's events, here's a link to a Guardian article about the time Trump helped conduct the draw for the League Cup, then known as the Rumbelows Cup...

I'm off to Blackpool to see the lights tonight. Helen and I went every year as kids but Emma and I have been only sparingly since we've been together. I was going to just drive her straight there from work like a hopeless romantic such as myself would, but I had reckoned without the fact that we would have had to go back home to feed Moewinckel first. So I had to tell her in advance so that we could leave him enough food to be going on with until we get back. My next entry may or may not make mention of Blackpool lights then. Do come back.....



Friday, 21 October 2016

Nephrology With John Cleese

I started my last entry with the intention of telling you all about my week as a whole, but then I got side-tracked by the Halifax and Huddersfield story. It turned into something much larger than I had expected when I looked at the notes. Yes, I do make notes before I put this shit together. It isn't just thrown up out of thin air. Well, sometimes it is, but not that often. The more perceptive among you can probably tell which entries I made notes for and which I made up on the spot. Go on have a look. Test your knowledge of Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard. Alright don't. Go and do something more interesting like watching Homes Under The Hammer or Decimate.

So again don't be surprised if this gets hijacked by one particular subject again. That's because this week was the week that I had to have my four-monthly visit to the nephrologist. This was a routine, matter-of-fact process for a long time, but recently it has again become the source of great anxiety, and therefore blogworthy again. Which is a shame for you but anyway...The reason it is again causing me stress and worry is that on the last two occasions I have visited the clinic I have been hauled back into A & E later that same day to have treatment to have my potassium levels lowered. I'm not entirely sure what potassium is or what it does and why having too much of it is a bad thing, I have just accepted it as something bad which goes along with having kidneys like paella. The only advice I have been given to make sure it stays low is to keep taking my sodium bicarbonate (salt, effectively) regularly and to stay away from bananas and too much milk. Apparently they are my kryptonite. If you ever want to bump me off just invite me round for dinner and serve me bananas and milk. I'll be dead in no time, leaving you with only the worry of where to hide my cold, dead body.

My appointment was at St.Helens hospital (red zone, they do love their colour coding there) at 2.00pm. We had left Liverpool where Emma and I both work at 1.00pm which should have given us plenty of time. However, Edge Lane Drive is down to one lane for reasons best known to itself, and it takes an hour and ten minutes to get to the hospital. So I apologise to the receptionist for being 10 minutes late for my appointment and she looks concerned at first, as if I might have to come back another day, but then relaxes when I explain that I am here for nephrology. Clearly they don't send anybody away who is in need of nephrology, lest their kidneys explode all over the red zone d├ęcor upon hearing such disappointing news. Personally I would have been doing a little dance had they sent me away. I wasn't in the mood for this shit.

Being late was advantageous. Ordinarily we are left waiting around for 20-30 minutes after the appointment time before I even get to the stage where they take my blood pressure and get me to pee in a bottle. The latter gives them an indication of my kidney function which, frankly, is the single and only piece of information I am interested in. My kidneys normally operate at about 30% of their capacity which sounds dramatic until you consider that they have been at that level since I was first diagnosed with kidney disease in 2007.

So yes, being late. Somehow this had bumped me up the batting order and I was taken for my tests almost immediately, and then sent back to wait only for a further five or 10 minutes before seeing the consultant. This could be the key to getting the NHS to run more efficiently. All this time we have wasted by turning up on time for appointments when things could have been done much more quickly just by getting everyone to be 10 minutes late. Why didn't Jeremy Cu.....Hunt think of that? My blood pressure is high again by the way, but you know the birds sing, the sun shines and Stephen's blood pressure is high. It's a moribund fact of life which worries only the hysterical and the odd medical professional. And maybe Emma and my mum although the jury remains out on whether they fall into the former category. Personally, I couldn't give a fuck. I'm on tablets for that as well, by the way. The high blood pressure, I mean, not the not giving a fuck. I hardly need medication for that as there are plenty of other things in this world that I do stress about.

Not least among which are these little thrice-yearly chats with the consultant. As he calls me in Emma remarks that he looks a lot like John Cleese. This is true, despite the fact that he is Asian. He is tall and wiry thin, with a small ratty moustache and a long, slap-headed dome where his noggin should be. Like if John Cleese had played a part in Coneheads or the Tefal adverts. Unlike Cleese the specialist, who never introduces himself by name but instead only offers a handshake and a thank you for coming, is utterly humourless. Not only that, but he's every bit as irritating as I expect him to be. He insists on going through the whole back story of my kidney disease, recounting every infection, illness or increased heart rate I have ever experienced as a result of it and blah blah blah. And so at that point I bite.



I've promised myself, in an attempt not to get too stressed about this whole charade, that I will just keep quiet and not go into causing trouble in an empty house mode. But when it comes to it I can't help myself. I'm exasperated as to why we have to go through all of the events of the last nine years all over again. I just want him to tell me what my kidney function is and throw me back out on to the streets. Or at least to the blood testing department. But he doesn't. Instead he lectures me about the importance of reviewing and monitoring everything over and over and over and over with absolutely no regard for the fact that it places me under unnecessary stress. Why does nobody seem to understand that I don't really want to know too much about my condition unless we get to the point where I need something more than I am already experiencing in terms of treatment? Helpfully, he explains to me that kidney disease does not have any symptoms until it is too late, which if nothing else is a sack of bullshit because I experience plenty of symptoms (back pain, groin pain, recurring infections, terminal grumpiness) none of which mean that it is now too late. As I said, I have been this way for nine years. Perhaps longer in the case of the terminal grumpiness.

Eventually he sends me away (probably got sick of my bitching) and I head off for my blood test. The consultant has increased my dose of sodium bicarbonate which is basically salt. Apparently low sodium means high potassium which after all is what we are really trying to avoid in the absence of actual kidney failure. So I need more sodium. The problem is that you have to get it from the hospital pharmacy where apparently there is a 45-minute wait for collection of medicines. There are about 18 people due to go into have a blood test before me but that does not equate to 45 minutes worth. In the event it only takes 25 minutes and they just accept my claim that I have a pre-payment card even though I can't physically produce it. I have paid for it online, it just hasn't arrived at my house yet. I'm not even sure it is supposed to. I have an email confirming it and they may have some electronic method of verification which eliminates the need for them to ask me about it but I have another theory. Predictably. And it is this. A lot of the time pharmacies assume that because you have a wheelchair under your backside you don't pay for prescriptions. People who don't work don't pay for prescriptions, and people who have health issues like diabetes and so forth, so you can see where we are going with this. Of course I do work, but if the dunderheaded in society are going to assume that it is impossible for me to be employed then I am not going to insist on handing over £8+ every time I need some kind of medication or health-related product just because I can't produce my pre-payment card.

By 3.30pm I am home and that is when the real anxiety kicks in. I spend the next eight hours looking at the time on my phone, waiting for it to ring. I am fully expecting someone from the hospital to call to say that my potassium is too high and that I need to get down to A & E immediately lest my heart explode. If the call comes then it entails a long, long wait alongside people who have managed to get cans of lager wedged up their arseholes and the like before another blood test and an ECG. Numerous ECG's have shown up nothing in terms of a heart defect but that doesn't stop them checking it all the same. They're very thorough. Last time, the first blood test showed that the potassium level was too high which then led to my being led into a holding/treatment room where I was pumped with mysterious fluids which physically sting when they enter the body. It's not the most painful thing in the world, don't get me wrong. Nobody is donating bone marrow here, but it's uncomfortable and time-consuming enough to ruin a perfectly good Tuesday evening.



The anxiety grows as I try to watch a bit of television. I am sure that Ordinary Lies and the third episode of Westworld are much better than I remember them. In the first some bloke thinks his wife, the woman who did a really good jive on Strictly 73 years ago, is having an affair and so he takes the berserk step of installing CCTV in his house. He then finds out that what she is actually doing (maybe as well as the affair, they don't say) is hunting down paedophiles vigilante style after their own daughter was abused by some perv who was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing. In addition, the man spies his son snogging on his sofa with a girl under the age of consent which causes all kinds of wtf-ery and screaming and carrying on. Meanwhile in Westworld, the bearded one from Boardwalk Empire has weird conversations with a female robot played by Evan Rachel Wood, while Ed Harris causes all kinds of mayhem on a horse and Anthony Hopkins keeps the spirit of Hannibal Lecter alive with his softly spoken sinister schtick. I think that's the basic plot, anyway. There might be a bit more to it. These shows are ok but hardly the groundbreaking telly that their host broadcasters would like us to believe they are, but then as I say I was looking at my phone the whole time and wondering what time I would get home from A & E if it came right at that moment. It's entirely possible that I missed the point completely.

Mercifully, as the credits roll on Westworld and I wonder what just happened here, the phone has not rang and is now not likely to. They never leave it this late to contact me about high potassium because of their own claim that my heart could literally break if it is not addressed quickly. They would have told me by now if there was a problem. All of which means I am up for work in the morning (Wednesday) and for the first time I can remember in quite some time I actually feel quite glad about it.



Oh, we didn't get to the rest of the week again, did we? Sorry about that. Maybe later....




Thursday, 20 October 2016

Halifax And Huddersfield

I've had another interesting if not always pleasurable week since I last scribbled on these pages. It started in Halifax on Saturday. Emma had bought tickets (the very last tickets available apparently) for Sheffield Wednesday's visit to Huddersfield Town on Sunday lunchtime, so we decided to make a weekend of it and have a stopover somewhere glamorous. Forget about our previous trips to Las Vegas, Orlando, New York and Barcelona. This was Halifax. The bar was raised.

Following the obligatory 20 minutes we always spend trying to work out how to get car access to a hotel that we can see right in front of our faces (Premier Inn) we had lunch at the adjoined Beefeater. It's the first indication that Halifax achieves the impressive feat of being less exotic than St Helens. The Beefeater on the linkway looks like somewhere you might host royal banquets compared to this gaff. It has a distinct air of fast food about it, with small square tables and plastic chairs. Fearing that the house red might be Ribena we order a beer with our food, which to be fair is pretty good despite the modest surroundings.

Before we can go and get horribly drunk we have to do a bit of shopping. In an episode that is entirely ny fault because Emma says so, she has not packed any of my jumpers. Readers of my last entry will know that I recently bought enough jumpers to clothe the last 14 European Ryder Cup teams, but because I left it to Emma to remember none of them are here with me. With astronomic levels of futility I try to make the point that certain places in our house that might contain jumpers are inaccessible, and those that are in sensible places are guarded by obstacles (742 pairs of shoes, a veritable ocean of cotton buds and an array of electronic appliances designed to do something, not sure what, to hair). Predictably there is no mileage in this argument. I should have remembered my own jumpers. But I didn't so if I'm going to avoid going around looking like Tango (more on him during the football) we have to find a menswear store.

Valuable drinking time is ticking down so I settle for Burtons, that despite having decided following my recent splurge that I wouldn't shop at any store that isn't named after a bloke from Parr (Paul Smith, Ted Baker, Ralph Lauren. Ok, not Ralph Lauren). I buy a plain black jumper and a similarly dull, similarly black t-shirt. Job done. They're only for travelling back home in tomorrw and after that I'll decide whether they ever see the light of day again. It's quite fun being a clothes snob. I quite wish I had been doing it since I was seven like my mates have.

We stop at a Wilkinson's and then a Boots but then it is on to our first proper watering hole, The White Horse. It defines the term 'dive'. But there aren't many places where you can buy four Budweisers for £6 so we decide to stay. Take that London. You can't get a glass of water and a bag of pork scratchings for £6 in London, even at the pubs that are no more attractive than The White Horse. We take a seat at the front by a window. On the table next to us a lecherous man is blatantly trying to shag one or both of the fifty-something women whose afternoon he is apparently ruining, They're meeting for the first time in 30 years when they had been at school together. They had got in touch again via Facebook, which is one in the eye for the seven people in the western world (including my dad) who don't have any social media accounts because they can't think of a use for them. On the other hand he'd probably tell you that he couldn't think of anything worse than meeting up for an afternoon drink with soneone he hasn't seen for 30 years. Personally I quite like the idea but then I've only got two real friends. Unless you count Emma.

The women soon tire of his repertoire and leave, but as they do he pulls one of them down towards him, almost sending her crashing over the table as he insists on getting his goodbye kiss. Their place is taken by a group of four people, among whom one woman is drinking her pint of lager through a straw. Emma, who was born in Yorkshire, insists that this is in no way a Yorkshire thing and that it happens everywhere. I'm suspicious. I've never seen it and I'm from Thatto Heath. You would think that if women drinking pints through straws was really A Thing that I would have seen it in Thatto Heath. Maybe it'll catch on, like VD has.

One of the things on the agenda for our visit to Halifax is a Formula One simulator which is housed at the ten-pin bowling centre. A boy of about 11 on the reception desk looks confused when we ask about lift access to the right floor, but eventually seeks the required help to point us in the right direction. We take the lift and then are led through a series of doors into what they call the Race Centre. Inside, a dozen or so 'pods' are spread out across the room. We have been assured that hand controls are available, but as we are directed to Pod 1 it soon becomes clear that our man hasn't thought this access thing through. The pods are all very low to the ground, with the small seats practically on the ground. The 'cockpit', such as it was, was completely comprised of fixed, non-movable wood and metal. A person with my mobility could probably have transferred down from a wheelchair into the pod, but good luck getting out afterwards.

Nodding sagely in recognition of the problem, the man in charge unhelpfully adds that he is 'not allowed' to help me in or out of the pod. I take the decision not to try. The last thing I want is to spend the remainder of our night out waiting for the fire brigade to free me from the pod. I'm almost certain that sort of shit never happens to Lewis Hamilton. The only place he can't get into is Wimbledon, the posh, entitled, tax-dodging, deluded twat.

Having sheepishly exited the Race Centre we decide to stay for a drink at the bar overlooking the bowling lanes. At one, a chap called Rob (we can see the players' names on the monitors above each lane) is lording it over his female friend Rebecca because he's beating her. If you've ever seen the scene from The Grinch in which Jim Carrey's Christmas-cursing lead character taunts a small girl about beating her in a sack race then you'll have some idea of how Rob is treating Rebecca. All of which is made more pathetic by the fact that he has the lane guards up when they bowl. In proper, Big Lebowski league conditions pretty much every ball they bowl would roll harmlessly down the ditch and miss all of the pins.

We have an uneventful beer at The Duke Of Wellington before moving on to the wonderfully named Old Cock. We had passed this place earlier today but the need to do the shopping had taken us too far away to put it on our route immediately. Most people are bewitched by the berserk antics of Tony Bellew on the television. Having won his fight with someone I've never heard of, Bellend Bellew begins bellowing things that I can't hear at the watching David Haye ringside. Almost unnoticed, a young man has stopped at our table and introduced himself. He's Andy from Huddersfield and before I can stop myself I've made the rookie error of telling him that we'll be in that neck of the woods tomorrow for the football.

At some point during the conversation Andy decides that he isn't from Huddersfield. He just lives there but really he's from Widnes. So the obvious rugby league conversation ensues, and it is claimed that he could have been a professional with the Vikings if only it hadn't all been ruined by beer and women. Being from St Helens I know a lot of lads with similar stories but I'm too polite to stop him if I've heard it before. He goes on to explain that he was engaged to be married, and that the whole shebang was paid for when she suddenly, out of the blue, started seeing another man. Andy had my deepest sympathies until he revealed that at the time of this dramatic jilting episode his bride-to-be was just 17 years old! Are you spotting where Andy went wrong here? What went through his mind? Don't answer that. Moreover, what kind of parents forked out thousands of pounds for the wedding of someone who's still watching fucking Home And Away? The heart wants what the heart wants. I get that. But I can't shake the feeling that Andy is a fucking moron.

The experience has done something to his orientation too. As he relays his tale of woe he is getting closer and closer to me until by the end he practically has his arm around me. I think he fancies me. It makes sense really. He's got abandonment issues and the idea of finding someone who can't run away obviously appeals.

The weather is miserable on Sunday. Having drunk a little too enthusiastically we skip breakfast and sleep in a while longer until it's time for the drive to Huddersfield. On arrival we are informed that all disabled parking is sold out and that we'll have to turn around and park back down the road at The Gas Club. The attendant there is helpful (though not enough to avoid charging us £4) but the walk to the stadium now has another 10 minutes added on to it. Uphill. In the rain. We make our way in and find our seats on the raised platform behind the goal. I say seats. Emma doesn't actually get a seat unless she uses the ones which are fixed to the wall at the back of the platform. But it is impossible to see the game from there so like everyone else accompanying a wheelchair user she stands. We eat dry hot dogs and wait 45 minutes for kick-off. At least it's dry here under the stand.

At half time it is still goalless. Wednesday have had the better of it but failed to make the breakthrough. As we wait for the game to restart we see Tango meeting and greeting people in the row in front of us. Tango has attained minor celebrity status just by refusing to wear a shirt while at the football, whatever the weather. It's wet today but conditions are not particularly challenging by his standards. He poses for selfies with his inglorious gut flapping about the place and I feel a mixture of revulsion and bafflement that he actually gets away with this shit.
Not getting away with it are Huddersfield who, to the strains of The Barry Bannan Song go behind to Fernando Forestieri's penalty given generously for a handball. Forestieri and just about everyone else in the John Smith's Stadium had thought he had scored earlier when his deft lob over the onrushing Town keeper somehow came back off a post. So it's some relief when his penalty hits the net. Wednesday, clad strangely in black and orange, hardly look threatened thereafter and should go 2-0 up when the plodding Leon Palmer is repelled in a one-on-one with the Huddersfield stopper.

And so our trip to West Yorkshire ends. With a soggy 1-0 win and a mercifully short Sunday drive back to the advanced civilisation of Thatto Heath.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Savelio Situation

If you thought the signing of Matty Smith from W***n was bonkers, consider Saints’ latest recruitment decision in letting Andre Savelio join Warrington Wolves.

Savelio joins the League Leaders Shield winners on a strangely short-term one-year deal, that despite signing a new two-year deal at Saints at the end of 2015. So what are we getting for the services of one the most promising back rowers in the British game? Well, apparently nothing, nothing apparently. In a club statement made to announce the departure of no fewer than 12 players Saints made no mention of any fee for Savelio, who has spent the latter part of the 2016 season on loan at Castleford Tigers. All of which would seem a little bit on the batshit crazy side if it were not exactly the sort of business you would expect from a club which has just given a four-year deal to a halfback that our friends over the lump don’t seem to want or need.

There has been some talk of acquiring a player in exchange from Warrington. There should be room on the cap with the departures we have seen, especially since only Smith, Luke Douglas, Adam Walker and Ryan Morgan have arrived at the club so far. The highly rated hooker Brad Dwyer has been mentioned continually by the more optimistic among us, and there is no doubt that he would be a shrewd signing. He has always impressed whenever I have seen him but has apparently had a bit of a fall out with Warrington’s smiling, shrugmeister coach Tony Smith. His days at the Halliwell Jones Stadium seem numbered. There is an argument that his arrival will block the path to the first team for youngsters Aaron Smith and Jonah Cunningham but the fact of the matter is that the best player plays. If either of those two are good enough then they will eventually come through. We should not pass up an opportunity to provide some much needed cover for James Roby if it presents itself.

Increasingly, Roby has looked like a man in need of a rest as the 2016 wound down, with his performance in the semi-final at Warrington a particular nadir. Don’t get me wrong, he has been sensational again this season and in my opinion can consider himself unlucky to have missed out on England selection. However, at his age he is becoming more and more overworked and it is almost inarguable that we would get more out of him in the latter part of his career if he didn’t have to play 80 minutes every week.

Another player mentioned as possible bait for the Savelio deal is Stefan Ratchford. This seems like blue-sky thinking to me. The length (or lack thereof) of Savelio’s contract seems to suggest that neither the player nor the club anticipate that he will be sticking around Cheshire for too long. It has been made clear by Savelio for as long as anyone can remember that he aims to play in the NRL at some point in his career. A good season or two at Warrington could help him achieve that goal. If he does that sooner rather than later, then why would Warrington sacrifice Ratchford, an England international who can cover a number of positions including fullback, centre and stand-off? His utility value allied to his obvious abilities make him one of the most sought after players in an increasingly mediocre Super League. Letting him go to a major rival would be a decision on a whole new level of barmy-ness than that which has seen Savelio join Warrington.

This being Saints, let’s assume for a moment that we are not getting a fee and that we won’t have the nous to acquire Dwyer or Ratchford in exchange. In those circumstances we can only assume that either a fee will be decided by a tribunal or that Saints have agreed to let him join a major rival for nothing, just to get him out of the place. He has certainly not been without his problems during the last year or so of his time at Saints, a fact which eventually led to his loan spell with the Tigers. Some observers who have witnessed reserve team games have reported that his attitude in those games was fairly dismal, while the player himself has made no secret of the fact that he has had the funk on about how he was being used by coach Keiron Cunningham. In admitting that his performances were somewhat below par, Savelio cited the fact that Cunningham wanted him to play in the front row for the most part, whereas he sees himself as a second row or loose forward.

That’s not unreasonable. I think anyone who has seen Savelio play would assert that he has the ball skills and the footwork to play in the more creative back-row positions, while probably also lacking the size to be deployed as the battering ram prop so beloved of The Grind. Moreover, when you consider that Cunningham has already stated publicly that he sees MOAFH hero Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook as the man in pole position to start alongside Joe Greenwood in the second row in 2017 you start to scratch your head a bit. The infuriating LMS is one of a number of Saints second row forwards who don’t have Savelio’s talent. Are Dominique Peyroux, Jon Wilkin or Jack Ashworth really good enough to be keeping a player like Savelio out of the second row? Surely only Morgan Knowles can rival him in that position for pure ability? There must be more to it.

Regardless of the validity of his claim to a second row berth based on ability alone, you have to question Savelio’s attitude. Failing to put in a reasonable shift in reserve team games is bordering on unforgivable, while bemoaning the coach’s decision on where you play also has a worrying whiff of the prima donnas about it. Some would suggest that Savelio is privileged to pull on the shirt and should play where he is asked to play, and bloody well enjoy it. There seems little doubt that Savelio’s attitude and his relationship with Cunningham have both been contributing factors to his departure. In a sense apportioning blame seems superfluous, but even if it is the player’s fault it does not excuse the club if they have failed to get the best possible deal for their player, and in so doing have significantly strengthened a side who will doubtless be challenging them for honours come next season.

Perhaps the full story on this one has yet to be told, but at the moment it just reads like the sad story of a club and a player combining in their failure to maximise potential, compounded by the club’s inability to get the best possible compensation from the split.

Friday, 14 October 2016

41

I turned 41 last weekend. Usually when I endure another birthday I post something that I hope will be reflective and thought provoking but which invariably ends up being negative and depressing. I'll do ny best to keep this one on the rails.

There are a few things to reflect on in the six days since my forty-first birthday. I'm not sure which are the most important so we'll just take them chronologically in the order they happened. With that, it is my duty to report that I spent what can only be described as a fuckload of money on the fat end of a new wardrobe. Some time during one particularly deflating day at work I decided that just because I am a biff I don't have to keep dressing like a biff. And so it was that after taking advice in a quite lengthy text exchange with Alex, my similarly-aged but much more fashion conscious cousin, Emma and I forfeited the delights of another Sky Super Sunday and went shopping in Trafford instead.

Without going into the details of the prices I bought two fairly expensive jackets, a stupidly expensive Hugo Boss jumper, a pair of ludicrously priced Kurt Geiger shoes (didn't he have a couple of hits in the 90s, or was that Curtis Steigers?) and rounded it all off with a few more modestly priced jumpers and tee-shirts. But something a little different from the Burtons and Next fair I normally sport.

Now predictably I took a lot of stick for this at work. How they all laughed as I sat there at my desk in my smart new jacket and dark t-shirt looking like a biffy James Cordon. And of course there have been those who have claimed that I have some kind of ulterior motive. One of Emma's friends at work jokingly suggested that I must have another woman. While I don't have time for the latter the former is also wide of the mark. I just wanted to feel better. I've not been feeling very good about myself at all. So much so that I succumbed to the beginnings of another water infection and took two days off work. Normally I wait until they get really bad before I take the knock from work but I was feeling about as depressed as I can remember feeling for quite some time. So I did something to help me feel better about myself. No ulterior motives, no affairs, no delusions of grandeur that I could suddenly turn into David Beckham. I'm well aware that you can't polish a turd. But you can roll it in glitter. So I did and it worked, to a point. I'm not feeling great today (but then I'm wearing a Burtons jumper) but over the last fortnight I have felt significantly better about myself. You can't put a price on that but if you could you'd probably argue that it's worth more than say......a tattoo...

Fast forward to Monday just gone, two days into ny 42nd year on Planet Earth. Despite this level of physical maturity (I'm starting to get nose hair. I've got more hair under my nose than I have on my fucking head) I still managed to fall out of my chair in the street again. I was just coming out of the cafe across the road from work having had my sausage and egg on toast. I go there for a bit of peace and quiet at lunchtime. It's usually quiet because it's expensive and so the students can't afford to go there. Those that are there are besuited legal types who probably work at the family courts next door. At least after my episode of what women call retail therapy I'm no longer the scruffiest dressed person in there.

Anyway, as I left I inexplicably hit the sharp end of a grid in the pavement outside. My chair tipped forward in slow motion and I knew, despite my best attempts to prevent it, that my expensively dressed arse was about to part company with my wheelchair. The next thing I knew I was sat on the floor watching a woman run after my chair as it rolled away on the sloped pavement. She was talking on her mobile at the same time, and her expression was one of part horror and part amusement. You can't blame her. It is kind of funny when a disabled person falls out of his chair on the street. Especially if he's checking to see if his expensive shoes are scuffed instead of trying to get back in his chair. Incidentally, those who don't think it was worth spending a little extra on shoes might be interested to note that they didn't fall off despite my tumble. My old shoes, which I bought from ASDA for £8.00, would fall off whenever I got out of my chair for any reason, deliberate or accidental.

Eventually I assured the woman that I was ok and that I'd be able to get back in the chair without further incident. Even then though it took three attempts for me to make good on my promise. Not because I was too drunk as happened one afternoon last week when I went for a post-work pint with a couple of colleagues, but because the brakes on the chair aren't great and I wasn't within reach of anything to lean it against for leverage. Regardless, I eventually resumed my seat, dusted myself off and pushed back to work as noncholantly as one can in that situation. I never told any of my colleagues and they will only ever find out if one of them reads this piece.

Finally today let's talk a little bit about Ched Evans. The footballer convicted of rape has today been found not guilty at his retrial. Now I can accept that. Due process and all that. Yet I can't help but feel a little dismayed at some of the nonsense posted on social media in response to the new verdict. Terms like 'liar' and 'slag' are being liberally bandied about on social media to describe the alleged victim. For some it is black and white. If he's not guilty he must be innocent and she must be a liar. No. Just no. Fewer than 6% of rape allegations end with a conviction. Are we suggesting therefore that over 93% of claimants are lying? That doesn't seem all that likely to me. Furthermore, the 'new' evidence which prompted the retrial came from former sexual partners of the alleged victim, who described intimate details of her sexual behaviour clearly aimed at portraying her in a certain light.

Now, there is legislation supposedly in place to prevent this sort of thing. It's designed to protect potential victims who might hesitate to come forward if they think that the details of their sex lives will be aired in court. Yet somehow the priviliged Evans has been allowed to flout this legislation in his ultimately successful attempts to clear his name. Why? I'm not saying that Evans did what he was accused of. I'm saying that just because it hasn't been proven today it doesn't necessarily follow that the alleged victim was making it all up. We all have to accept the verdict of the court, with some posters even asking for apologies from those who shunned Evans following his original conviction, among them recently retired Olympic golden girl Jess Ennis. Yet it is interesting to see those people asking for full respect to be given to the court's decision now when they weren't totally on board with that concept at the time of the original verdict.

The truth is we don't really know what happened. And though I'm not asking for Evans to be thrown back in the slammer I do think we should be less judgemental about the victim and just let everyone involved in the whole sorry affair get on with their lives.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Alas Smith And Groans

The worst kept secret in rugby league since Nigel Wood finally admitted to hoovering up all the pork pies at the RFL's end of season buffet is out. Matty Smith's switch back to St Helens was confirmed today. Smith missed out on selection for the England squad yesterday but has nevertheless managed, even at the age of 29, to secure a three-year deal at Saints beginning in 2017. The same Saints who have released Smith twice before having deemed him not good enough.

It's a change of heart which, if I'm quite frank about it, has left me abandoning all hope that our mind-fuckingly awful style of play will improve. For all that he has been a part of a Wigan side that has reached the last four Grand Finals (winning two), Smith is the definition of an average scrum half and will only decline from here on in as his career reaches its final stages. To offer him four years at his age is an utterly unfathomable piece of business which smacks loudly of desperation. Remember, it isn't that long ago that a markedly more ambitious version of Saints let Sean Long go to Hull FC because they didn't want to offer a long contract to a player entering his thirties. If one of the greatest players in our history isn't worth keeping on at that time of life, how have we reached the point at which the demonstrably inferior Smith can secure a lucrative deal into his dotage?

Smith lacks pace, has an erratic kicking game, a predictable passing range and let's not even get started on his goal-kicking. I nearly got hit on the head by one of his conversion attempts at Old Trafford at the weekend and I was watching the game in a pub in town. He's exactly the kind of steady-Eddie non-entity of a half which modern coaches (particularly Keiron Cunningham) seem to covet. They allow them to foist more of their no-frills, bore-the-arse-off-everyone tactics upon us, the faithful sheep paying their fucking wages. Smith's a significant downgrade on the infinitely more talented Luke Walsh, though you'd probably struggle to see that too clearly in a team whose half is only ever required to execute another turgid drop-off to an almost stationary forward just straining at the leash for the opportunity to get on his knees and elbows as quickly as possible. No question about it, Saints have acquired the scrum-half who most snugly fits their new anti-rugby philosophy. Keiron has got his structure back with Matty on board.

The spin doctors at the club will no doubt remind us that we have just signed the starting scrum-half from the recently crowned champions who also happen to be our fiercest rivals. What a coup. Yet that doesn't whiff quite right. Smith had two years remaining on his contract at the DW Stadium. Why would they want to let him go? For free? To their most bitter rivals? Are we to believe that the Warriors have released Smith out of the goodness of their hearts? That the unsettlingly close relationship between Keiron and Prince Fathead from over the lump has yielded this friendly gesture? I suppose they might have had some kind of Trading Places-style bet, distancing themselves from the emotions of the people affected by their hilarious japery in a bid to prove whether any old half will do, but I highly doubt it. More likely, Mr Wane has seen Keiron coming from some distance away and, knowing he has Thomas Leuleuai and George Williams in place for next year (and Sam Tomkins and Ryan Hampshire also able in the halves) has sold him a fading dud. I say sold. He gave him away because he's nice like that is Shaun, but you knew what I meant.

Damaging their bid to convince us of Smith's greatness is Saints' secrecy and downright deceipt over the whole debacle. Consider this gem from Keiron back in August;

"Matty is a good player but isn't on the radar. It was a bit of a shock when we saw what was in the press. They have got to be the right calibre of player and the right fit for the squad. We're not looking for short-term fixes."

Now it is just about plausible that a coach can change his mind about a player. What isn't of interest in August may well appeal in October, particularly if by that time Benji Marshall has run away laughing and Kevin Brown has decided that the wheelbarrow of cash you've had delivered isn't quite big enough. But Smith's return has been common knowledge to all but the 'are Saints playing today?' brigade on Facebook since around April. Smith has been very much 'on the radar' all along and it is unnerving that our legendary leader would choose to tell us anything different. It's one thing trying to keep your business quiet and under wraps so as not to jeopardise the outcome, but quite another to explicitly state that the player you've been eyeing up for months isn't an option for you. I appreciate that he will have been asked the question but I'd much rather Keiron just state that he doesn't talk about other clubs' players when they're under contract? Smith himself has also issued several denials and is complicit in all of these sorry attempts to mislead people who have always known better. it's insulting.

You may be wondering where the large grey trunked mammal is in the room of this column so we'll dodge the issue no longer. The badge kissing. Smith has been on the dark side for four years now, during which time he at some point saw fit to celebrate scoring against Saints by kissing the Wigan crest on his filthy, pie-stained shirt. To some fans this is an unforgivable act, worthy by itself of banishment from all things Saints-related for all eternity. Think of it as running away from home, making a decent life for yourself and then coming round to your mum's house to shit on her carpet. My own view is that it is just the kind of classless posturing we can expect from modern day sports stars and probably doesn't exclude Smith from being able to give his best for Saints when he returns. Such as his best will be. Yet I can fully understand the anger of those who fork out their hard earned home and away only to have upstart players shitting on their metaphorical carpet just to make some kind of petty point to their former employer. As if Saints were wrong to release Smith when they had Long at half, or even when the incumbent was a young, pre-diva Kyle Eastmond. There are some who wouldn't welcome Smith back even if he were something more than bang average.

Yet they and we are stuck with him until the end of 2019 at least. In welcoming Smith back to the club Keiron quite openly suggested that the new (old?) man will form a long term halfback partnership with Theo Fages. All of which would seem to end hopes of a really exciting signing in the halves, and leaves us to hope that with the acquisition of Ryan Morgan from the Anglophobic Melbourne Storm Smith will at least have a more balanced attack to try to supply. Tonmy Makinson's return from injury should help too in that regard. It might work out, it might not. The structure and standard of Super League is such now that it is perfectly possible to plod along, grinding it out in your structure with your carpet-soiling half pulling your very mosdest strings and end up with the trophy in your hands come October. Wigan have just proved it. Six sides scored more tries than they did in Super League in 2016 and 31 (31!!!!!) players had more assists than Smith. Including Walsh (only Luke Gale had more), Jon Wilkin and Jordan Turner. And Fages. And fucking Dan Sarginson!

So yes, it might work out. It's just not likely to be that interesting finding out.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

London - 3-2-1 And Mythical Queens

Sunday in London starts badly. It's the day of the treasure hunt and we're meeting Roland and Susan at a Wetherspoons called The Willow Walk. For reasons I have yet to fathom (and it is best not to labour the point by asking again and again) Emma seemes to think that this will only be a short walk from the station at Westminster. Or a reasonably short walk. About 15-20 minutes, say. It's not. It's more like 45 minutes. We debate this heatedly at various points along the way until finally we get somewhere near Victoria Station which is just around the corner from the pub. I won't say it's too far to walk but on the way we pass two hobbits biting the heads off recently captured live fish.

Of course this is my own fault too. This is what I get for leaving everything to Emma when it comes to travel and meeting arrangements. It's not just that Roland and Susan are her parents and so therefore she mediates. I do it with everything. Every holiday, weekend away or day out we've ever had has been as a direct result of research conducted by and bookings made by Emma. Except when we go to see rugby league or when we went to see Joss Stone or Robbie Williams. With the requisite motivation I can be more pro-active. But this doesn't really qualify so I've left it to her and this is where we are. Strolling around London under threatening skies feeling hungry and irritable.

After breakfast we take a bus to the Victoria and Albert Museum where the treasure hunt starts. It's all done by text message to Emma's phone. The texts are from a mythical queen of a mythical land, and I'm worried it's going to be a bit too basic for adults. Like 50% of the rides at Disneyland. I shouldn't have been concerned. Are you old enough to remember 3-2-1 with Ted Rogers? It used to be one of the highlights of a Saturday night at our house, along with The Price Is Right and other assorted crap that my dad used to refer to as Saturday Night Dross. There weren't 743 channels and just as many On Demand options in the early to mid 1980's. SND lives on today in the form of Strictly and X-Factor, but thankfully I am now spared it thanks to Rupert and his evil empire. That's not true actually. We watched Strictly for years until Emma was outraged by a gigantic fudge which ensured that housewives favourite Tom Chambers made it through to the final one year. I don't think we have watched it since. But if Joss's career ever reaches that nadir.....

So 3-2-1. Ted Rogers hosted as absurdly clad couples tried to solve clues to the identity of prizes, some good, some not so good. The idea was to reject the clues that lead to the crap prizes including Dusty Bin, the show's mechanical mascot which if not rejected resulted in the unfortunate couple winning an actual dustbin, as if the council don't give you one with your council tax money. If they could reject Dusty along the way they'd end up with one clue to a prize that would hopefully be a luxury holiday or something. More likely a caravan won by a couple living in Didsbury. The clues were hideously complex. Some might even say contrived. They would be brought to Ted and read out by performers in little 'entertainment' segments which were meant to bind things together. The sketches would be particularly painful viewing now but for the nostalgic value, and even at the time as a seven or eight year-old I used to wish they would just get on with it and read another clue.



An object would also be left on the table to remind the contestants of the clue, although Ted would re-read the clues until my dad was ready to throw the television into the front garden. Here's a belting example;

"Take one that never changes, add a pub and a precious stone, bring them all up-to-date, and now, you're on your own."

This clue led to the following stellar explanation from Ted;

"Take one that never changes, well, that could be Dusty Bin which of course is where you might throw a wishbone. Add a pub and a precious stone, well, that doesn't point to Dusty. Bring them all up-to-date, and now you're on your own. Well, what about the wishbone? Sonny (the actor in the terrible sketch) said 'a large wishbone' (did he? when?), so what might a large wishbone come from? Something larger than a chicken. Turkey, maybe? (Or a lion or an elephant or a fucking Masda)Now, one that never changes is a constant, a pub can also be an inn, there's a lot of precious stones but how many go with 'constant inn'? How about opal? Yes, Constantinople, up to date, the pride of Turkey, you've rejected a 3–2–1 holiday!".

What the actual fuck?

The treasure hunt clues were reminiscent of, if much less complex than 3-2-1 clues. Consider this gem for an opening gambit;

'Let us begin. From the entrance hall progress to a courtyard via gifts. Within locate a comparative frame. What virtuous tooth is preferable to gold?'


Well there is a real courtyard if you walk through the entrance hall and the gift shop (via gifts, geddit?). On the other side of the courtyard is a large doorway. Quite why its frame is 'comparative' still escapes me, but above the threshold is a phrase or proverb about wisdom being more valuable than gold. Wisdom. Virtuous tooth? Makes sense, except that I'd argue the point that wisdom isn't anything like preferable to gold. You're not retiring from your crap job and going to live on a tropical island if you stumble across a big sack full of wisdom, are you? Ok, so a sack full of gold isn't going to stop you making the same mistake twice in the way that wisdom would, but if you have a sack full of gold your mistakes no longer matter, nor does the fact that you're a wisdom-free idiot.

The doorway leads into the main section of the Victoria & Albert Museum, where we are instructed that if we are to progress we need to go inside and tell a member of museum staff that the queen sent us. Emma's going to have to do this. I have enough social stigma without approaching strangers and informing them that I have been sent to them by a mythical queen. She hesitates, but in the end Emma does as instructed and is given a little token owl as a reward, both for solving the first clue and for having the coursge to say seemingly odd things to strangers. It's almost as if they knew we were coming. Emma and all of her dad's side of the family are fans of the Owls, Sheffield Wednesday. Apart from her uncle Ray, actually. Roland's brother is a Rotherham United fan which if anything is even more of a hindrance to a happy life watching football, if such a thing exists.

And another thing... why did parents of children born in the 1950's use such aliteration when choosing names for them? My dad, who is featuring surprisingly heavily in this column considering he was not in London with us, is called Don and has brothers called David and Derek. Their dad, my grandad, is called Dennis. So they tell me anyway. I haven't seen him since Ricky Villa's goal at Wembley. In fairness to them they didn't have a thousand reality show characters or boy band members to name their children after. There are few people my dad's age called Kian, Sada or bloody Bubble.

There are 16 clues in total, the first four or five of which turn out to be an interesting way of seeing the museum. They lead to different exhibits and there is the opportunity to see dozens more on the way around. It takes fully half an hour to solve clue three;

"Beyond a marbled huntress and her dog writhe through encircled 16a, 27 and 26 to climb. After 5 floating masters, take a sudden twist and spiral up. Align striking weapons to spy crowning glory for a Nordic marriage beyond. Outranking Jack, what can every bride become?"

The basic problem here was that the five floating masters were paintings above a staircase. We got that, but we couldn't find an accessible way to 'spiral up'. So we spent a ridiculous amount of time trying and looking for anything that might qualify as a 'striking weapon'. We'd still be there now if Roland hadn't found another, smaller spiralling staircase which led to a room housing some blinging exhibits behind a glass panel. There was a small lift which bypassed the staircase. One of the exhibits was a crown which the blurb suggested belonged to a Nordic queen. It seems so obvious now.....

The rest of the clues are relatively plain sailing, though we need the time it takes to drink a beer in a pub we've been led to for us to work out one relating to Ukrainian wines. Other clues lead us to Kensington Palace and a gleaming white statue of Queen Victoria, and the Royal Albert Hall. At a second pub we have to refer to a book containing Brothers Grimm fairytales to find the answers. That takes a bit of time because there's only one book but more than one group of treasure hunters with the same idea. Cobbled streets are another slight problem but we enjoy the compensation of a free cupcake at High Street Kensington Tube Station before the search ends at the Britannia pub. It's not the most accessible either so Emma goes in to claim our reward. Which turns out to be a fairly sizeable amount of dark chocolate. It's not quite Dusty Bin, but it's not a luxury holiday in Turkey either.



By this time it's getting on towards 5.00, kick-off time of England's first 2018 World Cup Qualifier away in Slovakia. The first bar we see has no accessible facilities and is so ruled out, while in the second the barman can offer me a place to empty my bladder in preparation for the next few hours of alcohol consumption but not, he says, the football. 'We don't show any football here' he says. Yet as I'm finishing up in the bathroom I can hear the unmistakable dribblings if Clive Tyldesley. I energe to find that Roland had persuaded the barman at The Prince Of Tek that he does show the football after all. Maybe he thought it was on Sky. By the way if you're wondering the Prince Of Tek was a German nobleman in the 19th century. He was the father of Queen Mary, who was the wife of George V. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard has the knowledge. As does Google.

England are awful in what we don't yet know will be Sam Allardyce's first and last game in charge. Unlike some others I shed no tears for Allardyce who after all was trying to top up his £3.5million a year earnings, as if somehow that's not enough to scrape by on, with a relatively meagre £400,000. And he was doing it via the gift of being a drunken, arrogant, big-shit piss-hat mouthing off to people he didn't even know. This might have been forgivable for a Sir Alex Ferguson, an Arsene Wenger or a Jose Mourinho. But if you're a Pro-Zone merchant who has won precisely nothing in over 20 years then you're probably on thinner ice. Before the shitstorm to come England scrape a win thanks to Adam Lallana's scruffy injury time goal, much to the understandable disgust of a couple of Skovakian lads at the table next to us. Thankfully they're not chair-chuckers and instead just leave peacefully if grumpily.



Roland and Susan depart at this point, so Emma and I take the tube over to London Bridge and visit the Thameside Inn which we had skipped the previous night. It's a little different to our last visit a couple of years ago. It's quieter and there isn't anyone outside now that the sun has long since set. But it's a perfectly pleasant way to end the weekend, and at least we don't have to think any more.