Vague ramblings

Coming home, losing touch and the penalty of missing

Posted in Life, Musing, Personal by Ian Cundell on 11 July, 2018

Paul Kirwan was one of my circle of chums when I was at LSE, a garrulous and quick-witted son of Essex, a Billericay boy through-and-through.

Chuck that first reaction away – Paul was all the good bits of “Essex boy” without the whole “dodgy wide boy” crap. Don’t get me wrong: some of us learned the hard way not to play him at pool for money, but he was cheerful, witty and generally fun to be around. He was also the best assembler of a three-Rizla spliff I ever met.

I’ve been thinking about him a fair bit since England earned a place in the  World Cup semi-final

It wasn’t just the fun and games. During my Masters exams I was having my usual stress-fuelled existential crisis, such that some kind soul thought I was a suicide risk. I wasn’t, but I was feeling a strong urge to chuck it in. As I leant on the balcony of Carr Saunders Hall’s cafeteria – a makeshift study space – Paul wandered over and asked what was up and I said I felt like jacking it in. “Well that would be bloody silly after coming all this way,” he said and slapped me on the shoulder before heading back to his own revision. It was just the kick up the arse I needed at just the right moment,

So it was no surprise that, come Italia ’90, when the important England matches were on we ended up at his flat just off Russell Square, which he shared with his girlfriend (and future wife) Julie. We thoroughly enjoyed his delighted phone call to his Irish dad when  England won and The Republic didn’t. It went right to the fateful semi-final against West Germany. When Chris Waddle’s penalty ballooned over the German goal Paul took it harder than any of us (and we were all pretty gutted). Yet it is a treasured memory of the bit “when Lineker scored” from the song.

Time moved on and it was no surprise that Paul got offers from all of the big six (as then was) accountancy firms and before too long he had moved to Boston. We kept in touch for a little while, but this was the days when even email was in its infancy and a lost contact list meant we lost touch. As with many of that cohort, the four winds took us where they would.

But that semi-final has been a bittersweet memory of the pain of defeat and pride in performance for 28 years.

Twenty eight years.

It’s also nearly ten years since Paul died. I only found out about six months after, by chance, doing a bit of random “I wonder what they’re up to” Googling. His obit was the only place he showed up  – other than as a listed partner on some Deloitte report or other – and it wasn’t until I saw the photo that I was prepared to accept it was the right Paul. I don’t know what happened – he was prone to black moods, but also fond of an ‘occasional’ kebab or burger – and a letter to Julie was unanswered. I didn’t really expected a response after all these years, but I couldn’t just let it pass.

Since I have other friends in Boston, I had simply assumed that sooner or later we would catch up. But the next time kept getting put back to next year, then the next.

Fuck me, 42 is no age.

So, come the final whistle this evening, win or lose, give some thought to the pals you haven’t seen for a while, and maybe check in to find out what they thought of the match.

Because Paul would have bloody loved it.

 

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Night, lights

Posted in That which is cool by Ian Cundell on 24 December, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I drove down Olney High Street and as I passed One Stop it seemed to me that the lights were designed to offer a path to the church end of town. I don’t know if that was intentional, although the effect would be even more compelling were the spire of St Peter and St Paul Church more brightly lit. But that’s a small grumble: the lights made for some cool pictures, so enjoy the video.

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.

November 11

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 11 November, 2017

One reason why, two words that matter

Posted in Life, Personal, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 24 April, 2017

I don’t know who did it.

It is likely that she (or he) was younger than me, since Carr Saunders Hall was mainly full of undergrads and I was one of the small group of postgrads; it is probable that he (or she) was one of those who volunteered to staff the front desk out-of-hours; I suppose it is possible that it was one of my friends, but really they are the sort of people who if they have something to say about me, would pull me aside and say it to me. But I don’t know.

What “it” was, was this:

Smack in the middle of exam revision time, I wandered into Carr Saunders and the woman on the desk (a fellow student – I can still picture her: quite tall, short red hair, but for the life of me cannot recall her name. Maybe it was her.) said “Ian, Ed has said can you pop up and see him.”

Ed was Ed Kuska, former US Marine (or so the legend went) and Warden of Carr Saunders Hall. I can’t recall if I went straight up to the warden’s residence, but when I got there Ed sat me down and told me that somebody had reported concern for my welfare and, in particular, that I might be a suicide risk.

Now, you need to know that I was very aware of how eccentrically I acted at exam time. I was (and am) pathologically incapable of sitting and thinking. I need to pace. I preferred to revise in the bustle of the bar, rather than the silence of the library or solitude of my room. This restlessness drove a lot of wandering the corridors deep in thought, at all hours of the day and night, randomly stopping wherever I happened to be, to write something down or look something up. Reading that back it doesn’t seem anywhere near as bonkers as it looked in real life. Anybody from Kingston or Francis Bacon would have recognised it, but it hadn’t occurred to me that people at LSE had never seen me in exam mode.

I was not – and never have been – a suicide risk, at least in part because I have seen the devastating impact of suicide. I explained to Ed that it was usual exam behaviour for me and that I would be right back to normal after the last exam (or 13 hours sleep after the last exam, as it turned out). I was somewhere on a slightly wonky spectrum between embarrassed and amused.

In the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter:

I have thought about this occasionally over the years, especially when I was in chronic clinical depression and when I was finally being treated – it was a little spark in the gloom . And I’ve thought about it quite a bit over the past couple of weeks, having watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

This is an unflinching and harrowing tale of the events that led to Hannah Baker, a high school junior, taking her own life. Katherine Langford’s stellar performance in the lead made me cry for a fictional character for the first time in a very long time. I think anyone who cares about people should watch it – not just in school but in any cohort, be it college, the workplace, the armed forces. It is not easy viewing. It goes to the very darkest of dark, dark places. But I think it might be important, because it is the first time I’ve seen these issues taken on so directly, entirely without the cloak of metaphor.

I still am somewhere on the ’embarrassed-amused’ spectrum. But there is something that has muscled in as the three or so decades since have passed: I am grateful.

And this is my one reason why: That a nameless member of my cohort saw something alarming and took action to ensure it was dealt with, took action to protect me.

How fucking cool is that? And how likely is it that my mystery benefactor has, in those three decades, done much the same for other people in real distress and in urgent need of somebody to give a damn? Pretty much odds on, I’d say.

So, in the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter: thank you.

 


Housing: if only there was a way to encapsulate the problem….

Posted in Life, Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 10 February, 2017

So a housing White Paper came out. It called for a wider range of housing providers. Up to a point.

If only there was a single image that encapsulates where the real problem is. If only there were… oh. Wait.

If only there was a way to encapsulate the problem

If only there was a way to encapsulate the problem


Death, the people and journalism: the year of stupid

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 31 December, 2016

This has been a stupid year.

Death was stupid

I know death is pretty stupid at the best of times, but couldn’t it at least have taken an out-and-out evil twat, as well as all the nice people? Not some half-witted, brainwashed suicide bomber, but someone who actually matters? How hard would that be?

The people were stupid

Ian Dunt make a cracking case that it is quite OK to tell Trump voters they are idiots. He’s right: the left (especially the Old Left that has hijacked the Labour Party) ascribes everything bad to structural defects in the economy, the right subscribes everything bad to personal choice. But the truth is that there are manifestly huge structural defects with the economy (unless you are loaded, in which it is all tickety-boo), but nobody is forced to do bad things. At least not until they have a gun to their head. Voting in such large numbers against your own best interest – perhaps for no reason other than spite at the mythical “liberal elite” – is an act of idiocy.

But there is a corollary. To seek to punish “London” (a place with some of the poorest people in the UK) for its alleged sins, by spitting in the face of the one organisation that was actually providing funds (yes, the EU 100% funds UK regional policy) is an act of self-destructive idiocy. That it delivered a Prime Minister with delusions of Margaret Thatcher, but a fraction of the intellect, just compounds things. Boris Johnson in the FO. Idiocy.

Journalism was, and remains, stupid

Every time an attempt to make journalism accountable for its wrong-doing happens, it gets met with cries of “freedom of the press”, rather ignoring that we don’t have a free press. We have a private press, which even in definitional terms is quite different – but is grotesquely so when the concentration of ownership is thrown into the mix. That’s a sort of meta-stupid. The press will be free only when it is without both government and proprietorial influence.

But that is nothing compared to how journalism has fuelled the flames of fascism (not “populism”, not “alt-right”, fascism). That it has done so with the most breath-taking credulity beggars belief. Do not call yourself a journalist if all you are doing is recycling, be it a press release from the Government Press Office or tweets from the Orange-headed sex offender. You stupid fucking fucks were complicit in perhaps the greatest electoral fraud in history and you didn’t even try to be part of the solution. Far more clicks to be had in Clinton’s emails that Trumps sex offending or his, you know, clear and present danger to US national security.

And I’ll probably have a stroke if I get into the British media’s “let’s use balance as an excuse to avoid asking awkward questions” approach. Seriously: never once challenging a toff City dealer’s man-of-the-people act? Andrew Marr’s feeble interview with Marine Le Pen? Failing to call Jo Cox’s assassination an act or terrorism? “Balance” is not a substitute for truth, stupid.

How is that modern journalism on the one hand claims to be important, since it holds the powerful to account, and on the other soils is collective underwear when asked to do so? Fascism isn’t beaten by indulging it, but by confronting it.

Yes, social media compounds your challenges in all its click-baity shallowness. But just as structural challenges don’t force you to be criminal or stupid, social media doesn’t force you to be dickheads. Do you job or stop pretending that you are not part of the problem.

That gun to the head might come quicker than you think.

Anyway, at least we still have JK Rowling. Have a read of this thread, and all the best for 2017.:

Aberfan: how bright their frail deeds.

Posted in Life, Various meats by Ian Cundell on 21 October, 2016

Aberfan – 50 years ago today – is the earliest memory to which I can put a specific date.

I don’t know if I can truly remember the World Cup final in the same year, because the key imagery has been shown so many times I can’t sort real memory from received memory. But Aberfan is fused in my mind by a single image from TV news, a rescue worker (in my 6-year-old head a soldier, but more likely a policeman or a Welsh miner) giving a young girl a hot drink in one of those enamel tin mugs.

The treatment of the victims’ families was a disgrace and shows that callous indifference by the Establishment knows no party allegiance, but an appalled nation responded with a kindness and generosity that seems to belong to an earlier era. In this – of all miserable years – the British people, I think, would do well to remember how bloody marvellous they can be.

Ask any émigré of Welsh descent where they want to go when visiting the Old Country, and Aberfan is high on the list – as it was with my Canadian relatives – as a place to pay their respects. The pits are all gone now, along with the lethal slag heaps, but the memory remains.

Anyone who has ever read accounts of the disaster will appreciate how touched by genius this Karl Jenkins tribute is. The quiet morning, the unmistakable Welsh accent of the hymn. And then, and then…

Tip: it does not end when you think it does:

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Balkanisation: the shape of things to come?

Posted in Life, Musing, Regionalism, Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 24 June, 2016

The trouble with economists and political scientists is that they do not understand space. While the notion of borders may seem clear to them, they are not properly trained to understand geography.

So forget the market turmoil and the potential threat to the UK’s dominance in key markets, especially financial. Forget that the UK has chosen to complete its transformation from global superpower to complete irrelevance.

Consider these two maps (you can click for larger versions, or follow the links to the source). The first, from the Guardian, shows the distribution of referendum results, adjusted for population. The source has some interesting graphs as well.

The second, from the BBC, shows the distribution of various immigrant groups (no Scotland because that’s how Census data is published).

In the context of a Leave campaign that was shamelessly (and shamefully) racist, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the areas where people have actually met migrants, day-to-day – worked with them, socialised with them, talked to them are the ones who voted most strongly for Remain – the main exception being Birmingham. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. UKIP’s heartland in the East of England is the part of the country with fewest immigrants (although farming relies a lot of migrant labour).

The big cities and the centres of knowledge voted Remain.

But the largely white, English (not British, English) working classes in areas that have been pretty well bankrolled by the EU voted for Leave and a truly impressive case of cut-off-nose-to-spite-faces.

This white son of a truck driver has written quite often (sometimes intemperately) on the capacity of the white English to find other people to blame for their woes. But, really, it is to do with the crushing of aspiration more than anything. They do not care that our kids will find it harder to travel for work to 27 countries. They (we) are no longer expected to aspire – indeed aspiration is actively discouraged, so when times get tough the fingers get pointed. Compare and contrast with the get-up-and-go of the stereotypical Polish brickie, who could be a poster child for Norman Tebbitt’s childish aphorisms.

When I graduated there was nobody in the room prouder than my Dad – left school at 13, Burma Star, drove all over the continent for Marconi, grafted his way to a senior position, dyed-in-the-wool Conservative. He and Mum couldn’t afford the “parental contribution” to my grant, and I only once made the mistake of asking for it.

And, of course, that was in the days of a grant: even if the modern white English working classes could be persuaded to aspire, to lift their eyes and look around the World of opportunity, they would be discouraged by the prospect of a lifetime mountain of debt.

It is an ugly, ugly situation in a homeland that is becoming nastier by the day.

But look back at that map. It takes no imagination at all to see Scotland opting for independence. If I were Nicola Sturgeon I’d be seriously considered going for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.  OK, probably not – but it is hard to see David Cameron as anything other than the PM whose hubris cost us the Union.

But what of those cities, and especially of London?

How well will England’s great centres of finance and knowledge respond to being asked to pick up the tab for regional policy that is, right now, 100% EU funded? Anything that is seen as moving resources out of the capital – financial or physical – will, history shows us, be seen as anti-London and resisted fiercely. Twitter jokes about a London Independence Party will remain just that, of course, but the underlying feeling will not go away. London, for better or worse, has kept the UK afloat since the days of Thatcher (and there is a very strong case for saying “the worse”, but that is entirely moot).

Add the Government’s (perfectly laudable) taste for city-regions exercising greater autonomy – and note that the main one, Manchester, voted Remain;  season with the thought that Plaid Cymru might see a nice anti-English stick to beat the campaign drums with, and division may not be limited to the exit of Scotland.

It’s called Balkanisation for reasons that history (not just recent) teaches us. It doesn’t need to be at all literal.

It will still be cancerous.

Brightwing: as childhood slips away

Posted in Life, Music, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 25 May, 2016

It was, pretty much, an impulse purchase.

Since somebody had gone to all the trouble of sorting out absurdly complex music rights, it seemed downright rude not to take the opportunity to wallow in a bit of nostalgia for lazy Sunday mornings watching Channel 4’s diet of comfort telly.

A bunch of graduates and postgraduate students, more or less hungover, in the back end of the 80s easing themselves into the day. The Waltons (entire, in the correct order) and a rotation of The Fugitive, Bonanza or The Invaders – all terrifically atmospheric. But teeing it all up, The Wonder Years.

It is a show that succeeds for a variety of reasons – music from when blues-based rock and pop was in its pomp, tight scripts and stories rooted in truth. Mostly I think the key is that it was never afraid to let central character Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) be a total dickhead. Despite entirely American cultural references, the suburb could have been anywhere on in the industrialised World where people had no choice but to work hard for a living and, even then,  earned barely enough to get by – something the kids didn’t quite get.

So I settled in for a wallow. It it was fun, rediscovering how it knew when to prick the humour with pathos and vice versa, and exactly why it got us out of bed of a Sunday morning. I remember Karl and Gus and Alex and Maria  and, of course, Kath, from Rowfant Road with whatever the inner equivalent of a dopey grin is.

And then the last 5 episodes of Season 2 happened. They are an extraordinary essay on the pain of childhood loss – of the brother killed in Vietnam, of childhood starting to slip away and for a society showing the first signs of the fragmenting that would shape the World ever since.

And it began with Brightwing, which centred not on the three main characters, but on Kevin’s big sister, Karen (Olivia d’Abo). She induces Kevin to help her bunk off school, and lures him into her rebellious hippy world – blind that he is desperate to rekindle their earlier childhood bond. But she is trying to get out of the suburbs and, despite a promise to Kevin, jumps in a car with friends and tries to run away to San Fransisco. I doubt that Donovan’s Catch The Wind has ever been used to greater emotional effect.

There’s a lot of literature about brotherly love, about sisterly strength, about the pain of parents letting go and children moving on. There is much about father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter, father and son.

But this story understands the brother-sister bond, and that seems to be a very rare thing indeed.

It is a bond that cannot be broken, whether you like it or not. It can be stretched until it is a filament, no thicker than a molecule of DNA. It can rip at your heart, or ignite you rage.

But it doesn’t break.

When rain has hung the leaves with tears” it will still glisten in the morning mist.

Days of Iron

Posted in Life, Various meats by Ian Cundell on 10 May, 2016

Profoundly envious of those making the trip tonight. Bugger depression for fucking me up so badly that I had to sacrifice the season ticket to stay afloat.

A few years ago I wrote this, as part of a  paying gig for one of WHU’s advisers. I was there for that goal:

It was football as poetry. At 3:10pm on Saturday 23 March 2000 Marc Vivian Foe played the ball out to Trevor Sinclair on the right wing. Sinclair’s lofted ball to the far side of the penalty box should have been straightforward for any reasonable player to trap and lay back into the box, for the advancing Frederick Kanoute.

Paolo Di Canio is not a reasonable footballer.

As the ball made its 35-yard flight, Di Canio slipped past the retreating Wimbledon defenders, never taking his eye of it. Near the far edge of the box, about twelve yards from the touchline, he leapt into the air, adjusting his balance constantly – while in the air – and struck the ball on the volley with the outside of his right foot. It flew just inside the far post. To Hammers fans it will always be “That goal”. More than 25,000 of them gasped in astonishment, before exploding into wild cheering.

It’s that gasp, as people tried to work out what they had just seen, that those who were there remember.

Anyway this is lovely and the best of many videos from people exorcising their sadness:

And this is wonderful, via David Squires at the Guardian: Designing Herbie The Hammer, and other stories.

 

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