Neanderthal Man Spotted At Hotel Near Watford

Tweeted by Twop Tips yesterday a thoughtful and intelligent comment on the England captaincy farce: ‘JOHN TERRY. Don’t be so modest. You don’t divide opinion – everyone thinks you’re a c*nt. /via @EatMyStoke

As has been said by various commentators with apparently far more upstairs than the man himself, if the England captaincy means so much to someone then, almost by definition, that person is psychologically unsuitable for the job. Captain of a football team is a fairly ceremonial and symbolic function in any case — it’s not like cricket or even rugby. The captain gets to toss up and, sometimes, gets an extra word from the referee and, er, that’s about it in terms of the game.
Outside the actual game it’s all about ego — leading the team out of the tunnel and lifting any trophy first. This seems to be what Terry wants and, despite his denials in the press conference yesterday, the image rights associated with photos of lifting a big trophy must not be sneezed at. Even so, Rio Ferdinand probably has more chance of lifting silverware this season than Terry — despite his long-term injury.
It’s a classic case of putting the cart before the horse — fantasising about holding up the World Cup like an eight-year-old might while not appreciating the talent and work required to achieve that goal. It’s extremely debatable whether Terry will continue to be an effective selection for England up to the next European championship. He’s ageing and slow and needs a mobile partner at club level (fortunately for him Chelsea have found Luiz) to compensate for his inadequacies. Like previous ego-merchant, Beckham, before him Terry’s best chance of keeping his place in the squad is holding the captaincy — not that he appears to have the humility to realise this.
His comments at the press conference yesterday seem to have been exaggerated a little on the back pages but they still reek of bone-headed, arrogant bullying  — something which seems to complement Capello’s management style. According to Henry Winter in today’s Daily Telegraph:

Having gathered his players far from the TV cameras, Capello announced: “John will be permanentnt captain again. He’s done well on and off the field over the last year. Anyone got any questions or things to say?” Silence. Terry said. “Anyone… who [has] something to say, I’d feel they should have the confidence to say what they feel. I would respect people if they came to me and we dealt with it one on one.”’

So Terry expects players to come up to him one-on-one and tell him he shouldn’t be captain? What is that going to achieve for anyone? This pathetic example of ‘open’ management is typical of weak-minded, cowardly inadequate middle-managers in all kinds of jobs — make a decision without any consultation, present it as a fait-accompli and then challenge anyone to complain about it, knowing full well that since the decision won’t be changed then all that will be achieved is isolating any dissenters. Why not consult in the process of making a decision?

José Mourinho, with typical mischief, has apparently suggested England are blessed with many potential captains — Rio Ferdinand and, er, others. Look at some of the other potential candidates — Rooney (who has just as much commitment and courage as Terry and an infinitesimally better player but who’d be slaughtered by the media), Cashley Cole (the most hated man in the tabloid press), Glen ‘Toilet Seat’ Johnson, Wickle Feo Walcott?

I didn’t see the point in removing the captaincy from Terry in the first place unless there was something more to the story of him shagging a player’s ex-girlfriend than was commonly reported — as far as I’m aware she (who can remember the woman’s name now?) had finished her relationship with Wayne Bridge before taking up with Terry. Of course Terry was exposed as an adulterer, which would seem to undermine all his claim to the supposed heroic qualities of an England captain even though his wife ‘forgave him’ but it was the connection with the team-mate which seemed to cause the furore that led to his loss of the armband.

At least Rio Ferdinand, a prolific Tweeter, has had the dignity not to whinge about Capello’s disrespectful behaviour in public, although he can hardly be surprised that someone else is going to get the captaincy in the interim due to his appalling injury record. He may well get the last laugh anyway as Terry has to become the face of the players sitting in press conferences like a nodding dog to justify more of this joke of a manager’s terrible decisions in the future.

Know-Nothing Idiots

This could be applied to the England players as well but is more appropriate to all the idiotic pundits whose collective self-loathing of themselves and the country immediately emerges after the sort of disaster that England suffered yesterday.

People are queuing up on phone-ins and message boards to come out with garbage along the lines of England produces inherently technically poor players who are only motivated by money. Total bollocks. Admittedly, Capello committed professional suicide by selecting some poor (Johnson, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Milner, Upson), underconfident (Green, Carrick, Heskey) and unfit (Rooney, King) players — and in the case of Barry a combination of all of those. Capello also made some idiotic team selections and substitutions.

Nevertheless, players like Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Cashley Cole, Lennon and Terry (and perhaps some others) are the among the best players in teams that include players who have shone in the World Cup. Brazil and Argentina contain players who are good but not head and shoulders above those they have played with in the Premier League — Heinze, Tevez, Gilberto Silva — and some who weren’t even good enough for Man City — Elano, Ronaldinho.

To say England as a whole lack technical ability is rubbish. Everything about the performance was psychological. The players were mentally weak — capitulating easily because, for some reason, they lacked any confidence. The defence was nervous and panicky, sat way too deep and the midfield dropped back accordingly — leaving the two up front isolated. There was no organisation or leadership on the field and certain players have to be held personally responsible — Gerrard’s performance looked like panic personified — he hit about three shots from long range in total alarm at having the ball anywhere near the goal.

And anyone who thinks the appointment of that referee — who has past form for exactly the same ‘errors’ — was just unfortunate chance is either totally naive or, like almost all football journalists, part of a self-preserving conspiracy to maintain the illusion at all costs of results being determined solely by honest endeavour on the pitch.

Rabbits in the Headlights

Even the day afterwards, I’m stunned by the level of incompetence shown by England against Algeria. I’d watched the USA comeback against Slovenia and was encouraged that a win against Algeria and just a draw with Slovenia would ensure qualification provided Algeria could be beaten by two clear goals (more than they’d lost by to Slovenia).

I’d also thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the Hop Pole on Thursday night and watching the imploding France side being dismantled by Mexico. But England were even worse…

It’s difficult to think of a worse performance that I’ve seen by any team ever — even when non-league teams play Premiership teams in cup games or the champions of Andorra or Lichtenstein play in the qualifying stages of the Champions League.

For most of the match England could neither pass the ball nor retain it — countless times the Algerian players stepped in and dispossessed the likes of Heskey, Lennon, Lampard, Johnson and, worst of all, Rooney. There were also staggering displays of cowardice and loss of nerve — most particularly from Gerrard who a few times had the sort of opportunity that he regularly buries for Liverpool. Three of the team came from Liverpool — who’ve had their worst season in many years and lost a shocking number of matches. Surprisingly the right hand side of the defence was from Liverpool who conceded the third lowest number of goals last season and the left was from Chelsea, who shipped second least — Man Utd let in the lowest number which makes one wonder why Wes Brown was left behind. He couldn’t have been any worse than Carragher. Neither Carragher or Terry have any pace so they committed the classic England mistake of defending too deep and stretching the team. (How many offsides were there? Not many.) This leads to all sorts of sins, particularly defenders aimlessly hoofing the ball forward.

Barry played so deep as to be a sweeper so with Gerrard supposedly out left and Lennon isolated on the right we were left to Fat Frank to be the midfield — something that would be a challenge for him even in his Chelsea form. As it was, the game totally passed him by. He’s got to be dropped for the next match — accommodating this perpetual international level underachieved totally disrupts the team.

Rooney even said on television that he’d rather play as the only true forward and here was the proof he was right — Heskey was clueless — even popping up on the right wing at one point. Why? It’s typical of the media to try and build up Rooney as the villain of the piece for mouthing off about the fans. I tend to think fans should boo more, especially at England. They’re paying (a lot) to be entertained and the players should be reminded who pays for their over-lavish lifestyles — but at least Rooney was showing some frustration and anger. The likes of Fat Frank were just rabbits in the headlights. At least Gerrard admitted that England were crap.

Strangest Places to Camp?

I thought this was quite funny. Often shops pitch tents up in pseudo-idealistic scenes but I was quite surprised to see where they’d put this example in B&Q.

B&Q Tent
B&Q Tent

I thought it quite amusing to imagine there was some sort of squatter living on the tops of their shelves. Even without this anarchic interpretation I was quite puzzled as to why they’d pitch the tent there where most customers wouldn’t see it –the photo was taken from the recently-added mezzanine level which has the show bathrooms and kitchens.

The Bizarre HS2 Route — How Was It Decided?

Last week the government published its preferred route for the proposed high speed railway line between Euston and Birmingham. It seemed to take almost everyone by surprise by avoiding the two existing high(ish) speed rail routes through the north-west home counties and ploughing a completely new route through the Chilterns, following roughly, in part the old Metropolitan Line to Aylesbury — now the Chiltern Railways commuter stopping service.

There are plenty of maps available on the DfT website. There’s an interesting one of the whole route and there are many detailed sub-maps which show the route in supposed detail. However, I get the feeling that these have been fairly hurriedly drawn up as no provision has been made to preserve public rights of way and only fairly obvious features like roads and flood plains are taken into account by the route (the latter probably being based on the Environment Agency website rather than actual surveying).

The route seems to have made concessions to the environment when it first sets out — even burying itself in a tunnel when near the tranquil M25. Yet when it emerges from the tunnel just west of Amersham then all thought of blending into the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural beauty seems to disappear — odd because these is some of the most scenic parts of the Chilterns. Incredibly, the route is planned to soar on a viaduct when it approaches south of Wendover and then it’s due to squeeze next to the A413 Wendover by-pass — which is less than a hundred yards or so from the start of Wendover high street and many houses.

A slight concession to noise is made by planning to have the railway be buried in a tunnel when it passes under the road towards Butler’s Cross but this will be a cheap ‘cut and cover’ construction so will require the demolition of a row of houses. These are pictured below.

Route of HS2 Next to A413 in Wendover
High Speed Line Will Plough Through Houses to the Right
Houses to be Demolished on Railway Route
Houses in Wendover to be Demolished on Railway Route

The line will then stretch from Wendover across the relatively flat ground of Aylesbury Vale — see below.

Route of HS2 at South Of Aylesbury Vale
The HS2 Line will be built just to the left of the road

From Wendover the line slices through the edge of Stoke Mandeville, just by the Goat Centre, and then passes very close to the Aylesbury outskirts of Hawkslade Farm, Southcourt, Walton Court and Fairford Leys before heading towards Waddesdon and Quainton — where it will cut across some maize fields that I found difficult to negotiate on the Aylesbury Ring last year. It’s about the only good thing about the route that instead of clearing a metre wide strip from his crops then the farmer will have a 75m wide railway run through them — no doubt farmers will be some of the few who will be reasonably compensated.

Maybe the government would like to have local residents believe that its highly paid consultants have been poring over various route options for the proposed High Speed 2 rail line in painstaking detail, carefully balancing environmental considerations against engineering requirements.

There is an alternative view. Consider that, as the route carves chunks out of the Chiltern chalk and then rises on high viaducts and embankments to dominate Aylesbury Vale, how close its alignment is to an existing disfiguration of the local landscape: the high-voltage electricity lines that stretch from the substation near Amersham, through Wendover, past Aylesbury and through Quainton. The routes align to within a couple of hundred yards for almost all their lengths.

Perhaps the planners took one look at the rows of hundred foot pylons and thought ‘if they can put up with those then maybe we can sneak in a 250mph railway line?’ Wrong. While visually obtrusive the electricity wires do not create the massive environmental disturbance, both permanently by despoiling the countryside and operationally by inflicting massive noise pollution.

Such is the scandalous lack of environmental consideration in the current plans that it’s easy to believe the planners have performed such a casual and perfunctory assessment of the route as to stand on Coombe Hill and play join up the pylons. Here’s a view of how the pylons march through the pass from Missenden into Wendover and perhaps encouraged the railway to follow.

Wendover Pass
The Pass Through the Chilterns at Wendover

Overall, high speed rail is a good idea and the route has to go somewhere but this seems like the cheapo option that avoids towns like High Wycombe and Watford that would require extensive tunneling to pass — and cheapo means it goes through unspoilt countryside and skirts a large population centre, neither of which currently has any existing mass transit corridor. The lack of consideration of deep tunnelling near Wendover and in the Chilterns and when the line is near Aylesbury is scandalous.

‘Most Footballers Are Knobs’

The immortal words of Joey Barton on this morning’s Today programme. It was guest edited by Tony Adams so every other item on the programme was about football or sport. Barton gave a long interview about his ‘troubles’ which was quite entertaining and he wasn’t quite as stupid and inarticulate as you might have thought, although he didn’t pull his punches about the immaturity of the personalities of his fellow professionals — explaining that they have often come from backgrounds of ‘nothing’.

It’s surprising how many ex-professional players make lucid and intelligent summarisers and analysts (although you tend to think they usually pull their punches due to the old pros’ Omerta).  However, being a great player is no guarantee of intelligence as several high profile names have shown recently.

I listened to the programme from about 7.45am onwards and it was surprisingly interesting — quite a bit about sportsmen and addition, as one might anticipate.

Alas Poor Knitted Character, I Knew Him Well

It was good to see the Knitted Character making a last minute appearance on ‘Harry Hill’s TV Burp Review of the Year’. The little fellow even had a seasonal Santa Hat on.

Boxing Day was an interesting polarisation of high and low culture on the terrestrial channels. BBC1 had the incredibly banal ‘Celebrity Total Wipeout’ which, if such a thing can be imagined, is like a dumbed-down version of ‘It’s A Knockout’ done on the cheap. In fact, the presenter, Richard Hamster Hammond made a great song and dance about how he’d bothered to turn up on the set rather than just voice-over from the studio.

Perhaps to compensate BBC2 ran a worthy ‘Hamlet’ for those with more than a couple of braincells and so needing more cultural nourishment than ‘Celebrity Total Wipeout’ could offer. It wasn’t quite as high-minded as it may have been as it was a celebrity vehicle in itself — with David ‘Dr Who’ Tennant. It’s obvious that he originally decided to do ‘Hamlet’ for the RSC as part of a mutually beneficially arrangement whereby he would avoid being typecast and reveal himself as an ‘AC-TOR’ while they could coin in the cash from pubescent girls wanting to wet their pants while watching him in Stratford. In a similar vein I guess that the BBC2 version of ‘Hamlet’ may well be an updated, ‘contemporary ironic’ version in which Hamlet might use the Tardis to go back in time to witness the death of his father (unlike that Hackneyed ghost rubbish) and some of the baddies could be re-cast as Daleks (Claudius or Laertes maybe and certainly Rosencrantz and Guildernstern). Ophelia is obviously a classic Doctor’s assistant part — more Billie Piper to my mind than Catherine Tate.

Our recording equipment was going into overdrive with these three cultural offerings happening simultaneously — it was too difficult to decide between Wipeout, Hamlet and Harry Hill. The lure of the Knitted Character won out in the end with Harry Hill being the first programme watched. The great thing about Hill is that he’s quite happy to make a total berk of himself — something one doesn’t imagine David Tennant’s Doctor ever really would. TV Burp has grown on me recently — and it’s really a triumph of good editing as much as anything else. The formula is hilariously rigid — the ritual fight before the adverts and the crap song at the end. I wonder what anyone in another country might say about an ending with two men in drag (one as Susan Boyle) being joined by a pantomime guitar-playing horse singing an Osmond’s song (guess which one). It will certainly be watched by several times as many people as Hamlet — even with Daleks.

‘I Grew Up Watching This’

So said ‘shocked’ BBC Sports Personality Winner of the Year 2009, Ryan Giggs, in his genuinely unrehearsed speech. Ironic then that most of the generation that will succeed Giggs were growing up watching the X-Factor on ITV. What sort of values the X-Factor implants into impressionable minds we might not know until it’s too late, when any genuine creative talent in this country has finally been snuffed out. The lessons of the X-Factor seem to have been predicted by the Pet Shop Boys song ‘Opportunities’ nearly 25 years ago — ‘I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money.’ In fact the principle of grooming some nice boy singer to croon other people’s songs pre-dated the Pet Shop Boys by another 25 years — it was the way ‘Tin Pan Alley’ worked up until the early 60s when the Beatles broke the mould (at least for the next 40 years or so) by both writing and performing their own material. How ironic then that who should pop up on the X-Factor final but Paul McCartney. I was quite pleased to see him — at least two of the songs were performed by the person that wrote them. I would doubt whether any X-Factor winner will ever write, or more to the point be allowed to write, their own material. It was quite nice to see McCartney performing live on the biggest TV show this year but it throws up an interesting question — was Paul McCartney unwittingly bookending the era of innovative pop music that he largely started?

The most annoying thing about the X-Factor is the ridiculous hysteria in the audience. The sound mixers on the programme must realise that the judges rarely contribute anything other than vapid platitudes so the whooping and yelling of the idiots in the audience is mixed high. I speculated whether audience members for the X-Factor had to take an intelligence test and only those that failed it would be eligible for tickets. This is unlikely to be true as the pass mark would need to be set so low that only people who had yet to learn to hold a pencil would have a realistic chance of getting tickets . Whoever manipulates the audience seems to be peddling the absurd New Labour notion (especially in the context of a talent show) that everyone’s a winner and everyone deserves to win and be praised by the judges. If everyone could win then there would be no show — that’s the whole point of it. It seems to be an extension of the Blairite Lady Diana ‘People’s Princess’ self-conscious emoting.

It was odd for Giggs to be selected for the shortlist this year — he must have been coming up for a lifetime achievement soon anyway. However, he showed in his speech that he did have a real personality — a far more genuine set of comments than those rehearsed with PR advisers in advance.