Friday, March 23, 2007

Bob Woolmer


They can't continue when this has happened. The spirit of the Cup is gone and nobody is safe. I feel that the forces at play behind the scenes will stop at nothing to get the results they want - I shudder to think what will happen if India get knocked out by Sri Lanka today.” - comment on the Times web site.

The Woolmer family's very human tragedy is overshadowed by allegations that the darker side of betting and bookmaking may, in some way, be involved in his death.

This is a tragedy for the game.

This is not the first time a betting scandal has been involved in the death of a cricketer. Remember Hansie Cronje? Bob Woolmer was the South Africa coach at the time. So, although Woolmer's death has not been attributed to anyone as yet, the speculation is now focusing on the shady betting syndicates on the sub-continent. Why? Because these sorts will, apparently, stop at nothing to make money by fixing cricket matches.

It's easy to point the finger at the Pakistani players, officials, supporters or bookmakers. It is possible that they were involved in some way. The track record of the cricketers is not impressive. We have just “recovered” from drug allegations regarding two of the best Pakistani bowlers, Shoab Aktar and Mohammad Asif. They were left out of the team, perhaps on the coach's recommendation.

It's not a great leap to imagine that some people didn't agree with that decision. Would such people be motivated to either take revenge on Woolmer, or, even more shockingly, need to make sure he didn't speak out about this issue. Very likely.

It is ungracious in the extreme to suggest that Bob Woolmer had any hand in cricketing sharp practices. Nevertheless, there must be a thorough investigation to ensure that the public will continue to remember him as a fine cricketer, an excellent coach and a very good human being.

If the opposite is the case, it would truly be a tragedy for the World Cup in particular and cricket in general.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Being Freddy

Being The Fredster Just Got Tougher!

News from the Caribbean is just about all bad. In the wake of the England cricketers' romps in the sea and visits to local bars comes the report of the tragic death of Bob Woolmer. Whereas one event is laughable, the other puts into perspective the role of sport in modern society. Freddie may just be an idiot, but Bob is dead.

Reading the papers, and between the lines, it now appears that Freddie has always been a bit of a bad boy. He has been “spoken to” by the England management on numerous occasions. He has received many “warnings” about his behaviour – and has chosen to ignore them.

It's hard to feel any sympathy for him. As a talented and highly-paid sports star, he really ought to know better. When he reflects on how “demon rum” ruined the careers and lives of Gazza and George Best, he really ought to take stock of the situation and moderate his imbibing. And, I bet Rachel isn't all that pleased with him either.

By the way, where are the Wags?

Little has been seen or heard of the cricket Wags this tour. Maybe they are at home. If so, this is a mistake. Presumably, Freddie might have been in the hotel with the wife and kids instead of pedalling around the Caribbean were that an option. If there are no Wags on the tour – why not? Is this policy? If so, it's the wrong one. Lads left alone with plenty of money and not much to do in the evening are likely to drink too much and get into trouble. This is hardly rocket science. It's a bit sanctimonious for the England officials to climb on a high horse and express disappointment and chagrin from such a lofty height if they have done nothing to obviate the problems of a long tour.

Before the media jump on Freddie's case, which they seem all too ready to do, they might do well to examine the tour arrangements.

Of course, this does not excuse silly behaviour from the team, but it does, perhaps, put it into perspective.

Hopefully, in addition to his public contrition, Freddie might spare a thought for the family of Bob Woolmer. An excellent coach and an excellent ambassador for cricket, he will be missed as well as mourned.

If Freddie's antics shift the focus from the human tragedy that surrounds Woolmer's death then that alone should be reason enough for him to feel guilt and need contrition.

Hopefully Freddie will learn from his peccadillo and become a better person for it. After all, it truly is only a game.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Halvergate Marshes

Not in my back yard!!

The NIMBYs are out in force in West Norfolk. Some enterprising farmer would rather like to cash in on the wind power craze – but his nimby neighbours are not all that keen.

One of the reasons I so like going to Yarmouth is to catch up with the goings-on at Scroby Sands Windfarm; or, as I prefer to call it – Scroby Stands Still Windfarm. This off-shore alternative energy development really takes the biscuit!

There are 30 of the little rascals 3 kilometres off the coast. I love to watch them turning as I drive the last 8 miles down the (otherwise) boring Acle Straight. What a sight. Bountiful energy provided by Mother Nature and not a carbon atom in sight. Bootiful -as we say in Norfolk – at least we used to say bootiful until bird flu arrived at Bernard Matthews.

What's wrong with our brethren out in the Bermuda Triangle that is West Norfolk? Surely they would want to have some of these tourist attractions out in the boondocks? (that's what they are billed as on the Powergen website – tourist attractions in Great Yarmouth – I'm not making this up! ) Apparently not.

The West Norfolk NIMBYs are out in force to put a stop to what should be a real boon to the local tourist economy. How short-sighted can you get?

Then again, perhaps they are not as daft as they appear? Certainly if Scroby is anything to go by, maybe the West Norfolk NIMBy's are on to something. Have you ever counted the number of turbines actually turning as you drive down the Acle Straight? I have never seen them all turning all at once. Never. I must have been to Yarmouth hundreds of times since the turbines appeared and, I repeat, I have never seen them all turning at the same time.

We have been treated to an analysis of the pathetic power output of the Scroby turbines in the local press. Substantially, this is what is really going on at Scroby:

UK government has published its first annual report into the performance of the Scroby Sands wind farm, built off the Norfolk coast.

The report from the Department of Trade and Industry found the 30 V80 2 MW turbine wind farm near Great Yarmouth generated less energy than originally forecast, with capacity on average at 28.9%.

Mechanical defects including the replacement of 27 intermediate-speed and a dozen high-speed gearbox bearings as well as four generators 'significantly' cut production, the DTI report said.

According to the DTI, the problems at the £67m project had 'serious implications for resources, costs and downtime'.

Despite the slowdown, Jason Scagell, director of E.ON UK Renewables, the owners of the site, said the wind farm generated 153Gwh, around 90% of forecast annual output.

'Scroby Sands was and remains a pioneering project from which lessons will be learned,' he added.
Although the wind farm is expected to produce sufficient electricity to power 41 000 homes, last year only 12 000 properties were actually powered by Scroby.

Meanwhile, Scira Offshore Energy Limited is planning to build the Sheringham Shoal wind farm, comprised of 70 turbines, in the Great Wash.

When completed, the firm said offshore wind power could supply up to 176 000 homes with electricity.

The DTI said it had invested £107m in the first round of offshore wind farm development.

OK – call me stupid – but have you noticed that these figures don't add up? You can't reconcile 12 000 homes supplied versus 41 000 homes planned and call it 90% planned output! Even my maths won't let that one go!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: this project cost £67 million pounds. I calculate that each of the 12 thousand houses consuming the Scroby-generated electricity should have paid 5500 pounds a year for the privilege of being so renewable. I think I'll pass on that one!

So, now let's build a bigger farm at Sheringham and lose even more money. This is nice work if you can get it.

I've got a better idea. Halvergate Marshes. Why not put the turbines there? There is nothing else there except for a few cows, horses and sheep. I reckon you could put a few hundred on the marshes for a lot less money. Do you think the cows would complain?

Chances of this happening? Virtually none. It makes too much sense, and there is no mileage in interviewing spokespersons for the Coalition Ranged Against Poofy-Power – or as they are acronymly known - CRAP.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Twee, Bill - What About Cricket?

Bryson Blogs on Baseball

Nothing quite satisfies like a good Bill Bryson book. I know. I've read them all. Imagine my surprise when I found one in the library today that I hadn't read! I thought that I'd read them all, but no. Apparently, I confused Notes from a Big Country with some other one; and, consequently, forgot I hadn't read it. Silly me!

Bill is, of course, not only a very well-know travel writer; but also, the world's most well-known Anglophile – and a “close” neighbour. He lives, nowadays, near Wymondham – bout 20 miles from me. He never pops round for a cup of tea – even though we were neighbours back in the States – he from Iowa; me from Missouri.

Back to Bill's book.

Amidst all the trivia in this book is Bill's critique of cricket; and, correspondingly, his enthusiastic endorsement of that great American pastime – baseball. Summing up: Bill thinks cricket is a bit silly and loves baseball with a purple passion. Perhaps this is explained by his undying affection (quite rightly) for his now-deceased dad who was, by all accounts, one of the great sports writers of America. At least according to Bill he was.

Strange then that Bill never took to cricket. The games aren't that dissimilar. They both use a bat to hit a ball, and they are both obsessed with statistics. The true baseball fan will bore you endlessly telling you Warren Spahn's lifetime E.R.A. and Stan Musial's lifetime batting statistics.

But, you can always tell a true baseball fan – for he will bore you endlessly with: “There’s nothing quite like taking in a game at historic Wrigley Field!” However, before you can get into the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field you will need Chicago Cubs baseball tickets. Even though Cubs tickets are notoriously tough to find, has tickets for every game on the 2007 Chicago Cubs baseball schedule. Order your Cubbies tickets now!

Last time I was in the States we had a few days in Chicago and got tickets for the Cubs. My host let their offspring find tickets on the internet and (apparently) he paid an exorbitant amount for them. It was explained thus: some time ago the Cubs sold all the tickets to an agency and the agency charges exorbitant prices for tickets. Still people come to the ball park. You would think they would blame the Cubs for this blatant misuse of the free enterprise system – but, apparently, not.

It was a night game (one of the few at Wrigley) and we spent the pre-game hours in the pub in downtown Chicago. Sensible plan I hear you say. Very sensible as it was raining. The game was delayed – so we decided to stay in the pub. Good plan I hear you cry.

Eventually, we got word from someone at the ball park that they were going to start the game. It was now getting on for 10 pm.! We rushed to the elevated and raced to Wrigley Field. We poured from the train and into the hallowed halls. We found our seats – the game had only just started. Heaven!

Except we discovered that a goodly proportion of the crowd had been in the ball park for some hours, sheltering from the rain under the upper deck and drinking beer. I mean all the beer. They had run out and we not selling any more, either on public health grounds or simply because the vendors were exhausted.

Baseball without beer! Unthinkable!

I did manage to find a few very sorry looking hot dogs.

Four guys sitting not far from us were more drunk than I can ever remember being. They must have consumed most of the missing beer themselves. It turned a bit chilly. We were poorly prepared for cool weather – even though it was now approaching mid-night. Most of our party decided to retire to warmer more liquid surroundings. I stayed on with a buddy until after the seventh-inning stretch. Tradition!

I expect that's the last game I will ever see at Wrigley. Saw my first game there when I was about five. Fifty years had passed, but it was still better than sliced bread.

Cricket's like that, Bill. I'm surprised you never noticed.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Football Fighting

Seconds Out – Round Three?

Arsenal and Chelsea footballers have been brawling again – this time at a reserve team match. Coupled with the fracas at the Inter Milan v. Valencia match we now await Round Three to break out, somewhere.

No doubt, some do-gooders will claim society is tearing itself apart or predict the imminent demise of the national game. Fortunately, neither case is true or likely.

Football is a violent game. Twenty-two athletic men run about trying to kick a ball. Mostly they succeed. Sometimes they kick each other by mistake. Sometimes they kick each other intentionally. That's pretty much inevitable. Perhaps deplorable but almost certainly inevitable.

When they do kick each other, either by mistake or on purpose, they get angry. Sounds reasonable so far. You and I would get angry if someone kicked us. There however the similarity ends; for, if you or I decide to kick or punch or bite or whack over the head with a shoe our assailant, we would find ourselves in court. Footballers don't.

Why you might ask?

Perhaps if footballers were prosecuted for assault there might be less assaults. Certainly it's worth considering.

Clubs and players find themselves in front of the FA Disciplinary Committee instead. This is where the fun starts. If not fun, then, at least, laughs.

Having looked at the referee's report and viewed the video evidence, the FA then dispenses “justice”. Players, managers and clubs get fined. The problem is the fines are not really very expensive. Some money ( nothing like what the players earn! ) maybe, and a few weeks of forced rest. Everyone moves on – until the next time.

Is there a better way? Probably. Could we stop footballers from fighting? Not likely.

So, what's to be done? First, make the players primarily responsible. Second, get some independence into the investigation and punishment process. Third, make the “punishment” fit the “crime”.

Making clubs responsible is really just a cop out. If there is evidence that a club actively or even surreptitiously supports or condones violence by their players, throw the book at them. I doubt this happens. Players lose their tempers and irresponsibly retaliate. Players who are violent to each other should be banned (for a substantial period – months not weeks) and their clubs should not pay them while they are banned. Their salaries could go to support youth football or battered wives.

The FA should not be judge and jury when dealing with violence among the players. An independent body composed of members of the public, serving magistrates, retired judges and ex-professional footballers should adjudicate on appropriate punishments for acts of violence in football.

By removing wages from banned players, some kind of self-regulation just might ensue.

Yesterday's laughable slug-fest between Valencia and Inter Milan would be a good place to start. A UEFA panel will decide what to do with the players who spent quite a long time chasing each other about the pitch trying to hit, kick or otherwise injure or maim.

Whoever said, “It's a funny old game!”

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Another Brick in the Wall - Part Deux

Exasperation Rules! OK?

With uncommon regularity, reports of teachers suffering abuse at the hands of pupils appear in the local press.

For example: Teachers have demanded proper protection as a survey revealed a shocking catalogue of physical and verbal abuse launched against them every day by children in Norfolk's classrooms. - EDP

Sounds familiar? It should do, for I have commented on this before.


This is becoming what I call a Quarterly Story: i.e. four times a year it will appear in the press and nothing will be done, therefore, it will appear four times the next year.

Almost 150 incidents were recorded in a week chosen to provide a snapshot of some of the extreme behaviour that goes on in the county's schools. Among the incidents recorded were foul-mouthed racist and homophobic abuse, physical attacks, assaults with objects, threats of violence and verbal attacks by parents. - EDP

Charmed, I'm sure.

The survey by three Norfolk teaching unions paints a chilling picture of the intimidation and fear endured by people who are trying to give the next generation a good start in life. Some teachers said they were so ground down by the constant abuse that they were looking to quit the profession. - EDP

Sound familiar?

The latest findings show an extraordinary lack of deference to teachers and raise serious questions about Tony Blair's much-heralded Respect agenda.- EDP

Lack of deference? I'd be surprised if any teachers complained of a lack of deference! I would hope they would only want and expect the amount of respect people performing a public service are entitled to.

Colin Collis, Norfolk secretary of the NASUWT, stressed that some schools did not have a problem, while others dealt with incidents very well.

But he said: "I would like to know what makes youngsters think it's okay to abuse their teachers.

"I think it's a disgrace that they feel they are in a position to do that. Part of the problem is that they don't believe there are any consequences for doing it.- EDP

Yes, Colin, congratulations, you have identified the problem! The questions is: what consequences are you recommending?

"We are in discussions with the county council about it. It's not about getting at the council - we want to work with them to find solutions.

"One of the things I'm very unhappy about is the number of times an incident was reported and there was no proper follow-up by the management. That's not good enough." - EDP

Great! Let's have some discussions! That will solve the problem, oh yeah!

Tony Mulgrew, county secretary of the NUT, said: "The issue of it not being dealt with properly is a big factor in people leaving the profession." - EDP

So, Tony, what makes you think some more discussion groups will help?

Mr Collis added: "There needs to be proper support to our members under the duty of care.

Excellent! What I don't understand is why, if and when their staff are assaulted, the NHS policy is to call the police and prosecute. Why don't schools do the same? Don't they have the same duty of care? Obviously not.

  1. At the county's joint consultative committee in January, union leaders and school bosses agreed that all schools should display notices like those in doctors' surgeries and hospitals, warning parents and pupils that verbal or physical attacks would not be tolerated. - EDP

Excellent! They have read my mind! Now convince me, let's see a prosecution. You can't have it both ways. If assaults are happening all the time, prosecute them. It's not rocket science!

Lisa Christensen, director of children's services: "We have an expectation that everyone working for the county council should be treated with dignity and respect and work was already under way on a county wide behaviour strategy. - EDP

I am so comforted. Just what we need – another discussion group. You're in the hole lads – stop digging!

My solution is simple. Expel pupils who assault, verbally or physically, either their teachers or other pupils. Give them a week off. Twice. Then, permanently. Let them and their parents come to school and beg to be let in.

I think it's called Zero Tolerance. Dashed good idea!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Waterloo Road

Tripe masquerading as entertainment!

I compulsively watch Waterloo Road. There, I've confessed. Perhaps I'll now feel better.

It all started by accident. I was vaguely aware that this programme had something to do with schools and I had nothing much else to do, so I turned it on. I watched for a bit, puzzled. It clearly had something to do with schools, but I couldn't really figure out what that something was.

Eventually the penny dropped. It's a soap opera masquerading as a drama about school. I was so pleased with myself for figuring this out I forgot to switch it off. I don't “do” soaps. Never have. Never will. But, the sheer grotesqueness of the characters and the idiotic story had me mesmerised. Never have I seen such tripe paraded before prime time audiences.

The characters are completely unbelievable. That's just the teachers – the pupils are worse. The plots make the machinations of a hundred hashish-smoking Bedouin horse-buggerers seem pale by comparison.

This programme should be banned. Many parents and (worse) pupils probably think that Waterloo Road is a kind of documentary dealing with contemporary issues in education; for, occasionally, the writers attempt to introduce some topical educational issue, like Academy funding, as a sop to the viewers. This is disastrous! The unsuspecting viewer will only have their prejudices reinforced. According to Waterloo Road, Academies are all funded by dodgy blokes who make a killing selling porn and then return to their Alma Mater to make things better by ensuring that the present generation get a worse education than they did.

I'm not kidding. That's as good a précis as you might get of a recent plot.

The producers imagine that the teachers spend all day either bickering or bonking – or possibly both at the same time. The children swagger around in various states of scruffy dress or possibly undress. The administrators' plots to undermine each other rival any plan personally stamped by Machiavelli himself. The unwholesomeness of the relationships between staff and pupils is a disgrace and a travesty of real life. Need any more reasons for a ban?

Waterloo Road is so bad that it has become compulsive viewing in my house.

Here's an episode “taster”: “. . . a student teacher struggles to learn the ropes when he takes on the Waterloo Road kids ( yeah, Guv, better not send any weedy student teacher to Waterloo Road – we'll 'av 'em for breakfast! )– Steph ( a grown woman and, supposedly a responsible teacher ) continues to help Maxine ( a teenage girl with a drug habit and abusive step-father who hates school but has been dragooned back by the aforementioned Steph ) by trying to find her a new home – Lorna finds comfort in Tom ( who up until last week was living with and expecting a child with one of the other teachers ) as she gradually comes to terms with her illness, ad nauseaum, ad infinitum, ad circulum !

That's it Sweeties, please pass the hemlock, I think I might need it.