Monday, October 1, 2007

And now the end is near

That's all folks!

Occasional lines of random thought will be continued on

Noctem quietam et finem perfectam concedat nobis Dominus omnipotens.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No apology necessary

In my never-ending quest to avoid becoming a human bonsai - the fate of so many, let's face it - I'm pondering today the notion of apology.

I'm all for 'apologia'. It's a fine literary form. It's the sort of thing that early autobiography slides into, but we can forgive it for all that. When I say early autobiography, I'm thinking of things like CS Lewis's 'Surprised by Joy' or Robert Graves's 'Goodbye to All That' rather than 'Wayne Rooney: My Story' (soon to be retitled: 'Rooney: Fragile Feet'). Newman's 'Apologia pro Vita Sua' must fall in this category, though when I attempted to read it some fifteen years ago that venerable gentleman's dense prose left me feeling stranded. It remains unread even today, although I'm not saying it's unreadable.

Contrition is also good. I'm all for that too. It means taking responsibility. It's also a proof of affection. We're never sorry for breaking the law, as Fulton Sheen observed, but we are sorry - or we should be - when we hurt those we love - or should love: God, family, friends.

But, frankly, I've had it with apologies. We English probably began the rot with our passion for apologizing when somebody - some Noddy! - does something to us. A stranger stands on one's foot, and the English soul to whom the foot belongs squeaks, 'Sorry', as if it's responsible for getting stood on in the first place.

There was all that ecclesial apologizing a few years back - some of it necessary and some of it not! But what about when it referred to things that happened centuries ago? Well, I'm sorry my forefathers in the faith didn't live up to the required standard, i.e. I'm sorry for it, but how can I apologize for it? It's not MY fault! Regret, yes; apology, no! On the same tack I was amazed to learn last week that Denmark has recently apologized for the tenth-century invasion of the British Isles .. Yes, the bastards, that still hurts and it's about time too ... What about them Romans as well? 50BC. We will not forget!

Which brings me nicely to the current kerfuffle - if kerfuffle is the word I want - in the Premier League over referees mistakes. The scene: Sunday, Liverpool v Chelsea at Anfield. Liverpool are one goal to the good. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, referee Rob Styles awards a penalty to Chelsea and they equalize. Result: 1-1 draw, which translates as 1 point for Chelsea, and 2 lost for Liverpool.

Sad. My heart bleeds. But mistakes happen. Referees aren't robots, any more than players are. Players miss passes. Some miss open goals. It's the game. We, and they, live with it. So, why then is Monday's news saturated with reports of profuse apologies from Styles and the head of the Referees' Association (most of whose mild-mannered English members had nothing to do with it)? Ask Styles to hold his hands up by all means, but make him apologize? Oh go on then. And send the little sod to the headmaster's office for a caning at breaktime. That will learn 'im!

I'm ranting, I know. But it all looks like a taste for seeing a humbled man eat yet more humble pie. He knows he made a blooper; why the public sackcloth and ashes? Stevie Gerard, who called for a Styles' apology on Monday, last week threw himself to the ground when an Aston Villa player smiled at him, thus winning a free-kick that gave Liverpool an equalizer. 1 point for Liverpool; 2 points lost for Aston Villa. Are we to expect Gerard to make a profuse apology now? Should the referee whom he fooled make a tearful expression of sorrow for having had the wool pulled over his eyes? Or must we leave it to a couple of modest Aston Villa supporters to bemoan their invidious cries of 'cheat' when Gerard plunged to the ground in an Oscar-worthy dive?

Or is this apology crusade a sign that we want officials to be above the common human lot? And that when they aren't, they must be made to pay a dearer price than the ordinary Joe Blogger? If so, does it go to show that egalitarianism prises honour away from responsibility without surpressing the hierarchy of responsibilities? Or does it mean we now expect the fallible human being to perform as reliably as a precision tool for the precious purposes of our entertainment?

Maybe in the end it's just a sign of what happens to passions when they are sublimated into the bread and circuses of stadia the world over. Who knows, somewhere hidden under the rubble of Rome there could be a bit of wax tablet - Stella Ferialis - relating the fury of the Populus Romanus at the failure of Robertus Stylus, arbiter maximus, to let the lions off their chain at the appropriate moment, thus giving an aging gladiator a ten-yard start.

I suppose if the lions are no longer with us, then we should be grateful. Or maybe, just maybe - given the mauling of Styles in the last few days - the lions are still with us in spirit.

We don't like the blood any more, but we haven't lost the taste for seeing a weaker man get done in.

We're a sorry lot then. Misere nobis, Domine!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The new season

Where did July go to? I only blogged once, though I can assure you I thought about blogging on more than one occasion, rather like one those tired old dogs that begin to rise from their snooze in front of a warm fire only to collapse again in a heap of legs and tail before returning to unconsciousness.

Yes, August is upon us and not a child in the house dressed. But on it roles, as do I, this time into my appointed office in the deathly unhallowed grounds of Reading University. The month ahead is looking promising, with prospect of fair weather - need I say more? - after 15 August (i.e. after the Assumption of Our Lady naturally) and much beavering away in the books, with my eye on the new term's teaching load, thesis corrections, optimistic publication proposals and much, much more, as the glossy magazines say.

The old brain has not been entirely dormant this last month however. I'm now within spitting distance of the end of George Weigel's monumental 1000 page biography of John Paul II. Perhaps like Sir Edmund Hilary or Sherpa Tensing upon the ceiling of the Himalayas, few people have trodden in this place before me. The early chapters are model portraits of the historical, cultural and political scene in Poland pre-1979. The account of Karol Wotyla's life, as a young lad, seminarian and then priest, is also remarkably instructive: intense piety, phenomenal industry, both combined with intellectual equipment of the highest order, and all refined through an adolescence and early adulthood under the jackboot of one vile dictatorship to the west and then another to the east. I found myself warming to the man, having spent many years grumbling about his apparent obsessions with ecumenism.

The later chapters fade a little in their critical depth, veering at times towards the apologetic rather than reflexive. This is not the case every time. Concerning women's ordination, Weigel suggests that JPII's failure to deepen his reasons for rejecting the feminazis' favourite theological chestnut left the field open for further confusion and accusations of chauvinism. Certainly, a rejection of sacramental functionalism and a better clarification of the nature of liturgical semiotics would have been timely and might have helped cut the ground from under the Richard McBrien's of this world. But when he comes to Assisi, Weigel barely begins to get to grips with Joseph Ratzinger's strong objections. We await further development since the latter gentleman is now occupying John Paul II's position.

And so on we go. August is the quiet time in Rome, and I haven't yet breathed a word on this forum about Summorum Pontificum and the Tridentine Mass. But we'll leave that for another time. Corrections beckon, as does lunch and the gentle blue sky which sits rather sheepishly over an otherwise sodden Britannia.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Speaking sportingly, I hate this season of the year and at the same time I love it. I hate it because the newspapers are full of rambling garbage about non-sports like golf (for old men) or F1 (for loonies). Wimbledon is perhaps an exception, especially given the extraordinary match that unfolded at the end of the men's singles. Cricket only merits a mention when it involves real teams (like Australia), rather than non-teams (like the WIndies). Otherwise, we're in a sporting desert.

Still, you cannot have twelve months of continuous football - I'm talking about real football here, the sport in which you kick the ball with your foot and not, Mr David Beckham, about soccer! No, twelve twelve months continual football would have no drama in it, no rhythm, no peaks and no troughs. The reason you have to love the closed season, however, is the same as the reason we love anything subject to the law of delayed-pleasure: anticipation is a cultural mood in itself.

And one thing I find fascinating is how commanding footballing genii - if that's the plural - like Stevie Gerard or Christiano Ronaldo, take time coming back to match fitness. We live in a technological age where the other side of the world is a mouse-click away, but the human race, for better or for worse, remains a fallible vessel of variability. Getting match-fit is not like flicking the 'on' button; it's more like the old wireless set which needed time for the element to warm up. It's like the slow recovery of a dampened down fire. It's the glow of spreading warmth in the chair by the fire after a cold day in the snow.

It wasn't like this in Roy of the Rovers. Nor in politics. Put a lackey in charge of a new ministry and he's already at full match fitness and upsetting people across the world before you've had time to say 'Lick my boots'. But in sport - which even the ancients were interested in - there's some semblance of reality, competition, achievement, failure, drama, retreat, victory. Hmm. Love it.

The closed season in Manchester has been even more interesting than usual. Sven Goran Erickson - lock up your wives and daughters - has come to Manchester City as manager. Man U have bought in a couple of Portguese stars and the pivotal Owen Hargreaves for central midfield. Ricky Hatton, world champion boxer and Man City fan, caused a stir by asking Wayne Rooney of Man U to carry his belt into the ring before the recent pasting of some Yank in Las Vegas. Well, winners know other winners, I must assume!

So, here I am, not quite in pre-season training yet but facing that prospect pretty soon. Another ten days and my 'break' will come to a quiet end, and I'll have to start winding up the old man for a charge at the new season. As Bill Shankley once said, 'Football's not a matter of life and death; it's far more important than that.' Still, life must go on! Roll on 2007-2008!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Enthusiasm and Brains

A week is a long time in politics, so the old saying goes. Sadly, it is some time now since this dictum has been akin to saying a Ford is a fast car. We have speeded up so much that a mouse click is the only suitable micro-measurement for catastrophe.

But this week has been a long time coming, and it seems a long time since Monday already. Tony Blair ended his numerous encores, and took a final bow in the Commons on Wednesday. Gordon Brown ended ten years of nail-biting impatience by moving into the prime ministerial hot seat. And, within forty-eight hours, a plot to welcome the new cabinet with two large nail bombs planted in central London was mercifully averted. This time.

But as Blair is carried towards the Middle East on the froth of popularity, and Brown drifts into Downing Street on a tide of Protestant work-ethic, I’m struck by how perfectly they represent the Gog and Ma-Gog of reform.

The revolutionary of the sixties was the angry young man. Now, of course, anger is a strictly unfashionable passion; the in-thing is earnestness. Tony Blair paved his reforms with the dubious hardcore of good intentions, promising to clean up the nasty little mess left behind by the corrupt Tories. That is why, after exempting Formula 1 from the cigarette advertising ban - at the request of Labour Party donor, Bernie Eccleston, Formula 1 Mogul and millionaire - Blair had to assure us all he was a ‘straight kinda guy’. Oh, well that’s alright then. We baulk at twisted Tory politicians who try to trick us, but straight-kinda-guy Labour politicians can deceive us with our blessing. He was the ‘people’s prime minister’ because he meant well. He stood alongside President Bush in his war on terror and really truly, madly, deeply believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which could be delivered to the West on scooter in 45 minutes. Oh, and by the way, if hundreds of people die in Iraq every day, we must remember that Saddam has been removed from power. Freedom to be blown up: just like in London. By June 2007, Britain might have been flooded with Tony’s good wishes were it not already flooded with unseasonably high precipitation. His latest mission as Middle East envoy approaches Roy-of-the-Rovers levels of fantasy self-fulfilment. Appointing Tony as a Middle East envoy is a bit like having Sid Vicious as a school learning assistant. Perhaps - let's face it - that is what is wanted by those who have appointed him: I mean, if Good Envoy Tone cannot solve the problems of the Middle East, only war can. How else can we understand such a spectacularly obtuse choice of envoy? I'm sure it's done with good intentions. In any case, Tony’s enthusiasm is like having his political ballies up; nobody can touch him. Let’s hope none of those nail bombers try.

And now for Gordon (queue morose bagpipes) who arrives in what I assume is a Brownian motion, with all the puffiness of a heavily constipated pig and a reputation for elephantine intelligence and porcupine sensitivity. His mantra, as he stood before No.10 on Wednesday was, ‘change, change, change’. Note the chicanery. Ten years of Labour government have put them alongside the Greeks in their contribution to civilization. But we now need change, change, change. Why? Because that is how a massive bureaucracy justifies itself, with ever greater rationalization, even if it makes the appropriate genuflexions towards decentralization. But Brown wants technocracy too; he can ignore the people if their leaders are clever and brilliant … like Gordon himself. Blair belaboured us with his unrelenting goody-two-shoes enthusiasm; Brown will overwhelm us with his illumined, startling braininess. ‘Brilliant intellect’ is one of the de rigueur phrases to be included in all Brown profiles. Blair’s intentions were so good, nobody sound could disagree with them. Brown’s plans will be so clever, nobody sound will be able to naysay them.

So, here we have them, the Gog and Ma-Gog of reform: Blair the demagogue (now, perhaps the oligogue) and Brown the technocrat. Blair means death by enthusiasm. Brown means death by petrifaction.

And this is what freedom means: choosing how you will die. Just ask the people in Iraq.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rain, rain, go away!

I don't know if this is the end of civilization as we know it, or weather, oops, whether we are all just forgetting how bad an English summer can really be. But, Lord love a duck, nobody can deny that today was the worst summer day ever recorded in terms of rain fall.

I can corroborate this in no uncertain terms. Leaving Fareham at 1.30pm, I fully expected to be back in Manchester and diving into a meat stew and a glass of Shiraz at 7.15pm or thereabouts. Instead of which I was met with a cancelled train at Reading, then shunted onto a train which claimed to be going to Manchester but which only went as near as Warrington. Yours truly was duly stranded until nearly 8.30pm in what can only be described as one of the bleakest outposts of the North West. There was, it seemed, some shades of a reasonable excuse. Vast stretches of the Midlands were under quantities of water unheard of since the days of Noah. But it was no use saying 'I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine' since the crowded conditions on the Virgin Voyager - vergin' on the ridiculous, as we say - made it virtually impossible to get near the buffet for liquid refreshments.

((Shudder))! Anyway, I'm back in Manchester and trying to put some sense into an eventful weekend. Expect an update with more cogitations tomorrow.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Cheeky correspondents

A point of order, Mr Speaker, we'll have no cheeky messages please in the comments feature without the means of sending a bit of cheek back in your direction. Richard, who posted on 15 June, please take note!