27 December 2009

Nicola Barker

Picture of Nicola Barker
I'm going to alienate some of my few readers again, by letting literature creep into this blog, diluting the normal diet of football and anticatholicism (which sounds like I must be a Rangers supporter, which is unfortunate.) But once again I'm girlishly excited at the prospect of a new book by one of my favourite novelists. This time, it's one of my favourite living English novelists, Nicola Barker.

Among the forgettable predictions in the Observer's Hot List 2010 (it puts the trite into detritus), there's notice of her new novel, Burley Cross Postbox Theft, and the publisher's website says it's coming out in April.

It's an epistolary novel, which I don't think she's ever done before, and I wonder if that will mean some loss to the quirky (I say quirky, you say irritating) style that she has been using with increasing intensity. The last novel, Darkmans, was a baffling, entrancing work. I still don't really know what happened at the end, but the sheer brilliance of the writing kept me hooked for the 800+ pages. It's the opposite of transparency, of course: writing that refuses to be ignored.

Here's a partial summary from the publisher:
From complaints about dog shit to horse-trodden turkeys, from Biblical amateur dramatics and a failing novelist's fan mail, a chicken that turns out to be a duck and an Auction of Promises that goes staggeringly, horribly wrong a dozen times and more, Nicola Barker's epistolary novel is one of immense comic range, her characteristic ambition, her shrewd humanity but, above all, about how we laugh at ourselves and fail to see the funny side.

If that was about a more mainstream novelist, I'd be worried. But I trust Nicola Barker, and so will be pre-ordering the book as soon as Amazon feature it.

20 December 2009

Charlton 4 Millwall 4

A fantastic game warmed everyone up on a freezing cold day, in a vibrant, proper derby, atmosphere. Before kickoff the parents of Jimmy Mizen, a Millwall fan, and Robert Knox, a Charlton fan, were presented to the players and the crowd. Both lost their sons to street violence and the game was dedicated to the campaign against it. It was hugely symbolic, of course, to use this game. It's 13 years, I think, since Charlton last played Millwall, and back then I'd have been quite worried about my safety on the way to and from the match. Millwall have changed - not entirely, but noticeably. I remembered during the game that fans used to chant to each other "You're going to get your fucking heads kicked in" and "You're going home in an ambulance", and that just doesn't seem to happen anymore. Of course improved police intelligence and tactics have made a difference, but when the revolution in fans' behaviour has even reached Millwall, it looks like it's here to stay.

And so to the game. Wow. Millwall started by far the more enterprising team, and in the seasonal spririt they'd show all afternoon, Charlton's defence gave them an opening goal. The referee joined in, giving them a corner no-one else had seen, from which they scored the second. It was quite depressing at this point. Losing the home unbeaten record to Millwall, of all teams! But all those years when no referee would give Charlton a penalty were repaid when the referee gave two. One of them resulted in a Millwall sending off, so at half time, it was level and Charlton had a numerical advantage.

The second half could not have started better - a super goal from Nicky Bailey inside 35 seconds. Surely it would be simple from here? You would only say that if you've never watched Charlton. They went off the boil, as so often inviting the opposition to come forward, and another defensive mix-up let Millwall equalise. Charlton retook the lead near the end of normal time but five added minutes was plenty of time for Millwall to get another equaliser. Their fans celebrated as if they'd won, while it did feel a bit like a defeat for Charlton. But a draw was as much as we deserved, and Millwall absolutely earned their point so no complaints.

Both sets of fans cheered the news that Fulham have beaten United 3-0. An unusual show of London unity, and although I may be the only person to see it this way, a fitting reminder of the display of unity against violence before the match.

12 December 2009

Less than three months

I went to two Christmas dinners this week with former colleagues. The first, on Monday, was with the investigative team I used to work with. The second, yesterday, was some people from corporate services. What's astonishing, in less than three months, is how things have moved on already. The pace of change always seemed continental drift-like while I worked there. Now it seems merely glacial. They are recruiting mainstream investigators - the post from which I was made redundant - to fill the gaps left by secondment of existing investigators to the new work areas. This is stoopid, evidently, but I'm happy to have benefited from it.

There's a new knowledge management manager, and the intranet really is, after all this time, just about to get updated. Meanwhile, computer systems are being tightened up, and made more corporately uniform. I don't think I'd like that. My desktop had a picture of St Mary in the Marsh in Kent, which I found more attractive than an intranet home page is likely to be. (But I was always astonished by the number of people who hadn't changed the desktop background, and still had the windows default "teletubbies hill" picture. Presumably they won't mind.)

It's all overdue and inevitable, I suppose, but some things don't change. It was really nice to see Rita again. She's an HR person, and with two very young children she's been on maternity leave for a very long time, it seems. I can't deny I've a bit of a crush on her; she's very attractive, and has an infectious laugh a lot like Alesha Dixon's - only louder and dirtier. Her husband (curse him!) is a lecturer, and his job has taken them to Birmingham. So she asked the management if she could return to work but based at the Coventry office. With apparently not a moment's thought, the answer was no, so she's leaving. Such a waste.

08 December 2009

Pets after the Rapture

I love the Christian fundamentalist belief in the Rapture. The idea is that soon, very soon, the holy people will be raptured away to heaven, leaving the rest of us behind to suffer the painful, drawn-out end of the world. Armageddon, and all that. See the Book of Revelation for more details. Apparently in America some Christians have bumper stickers warning that in the event of Rapture, the car will suddenly be driverless.

Sadly the belief's not widely spread this side of the Atlantic. Sadly, because a bright atheist spark in America has shown it's a money-making opportunity. For a fee of $110 Bart Centre (that's the name of a man, not a public building) guarantees to look after the pets that are left behind. And being an atheist, he's able to guarantee that he'll still be here. He says "a handful" of people have bought the service.

More details here: and thanks to the Atheist Revolution blog for mentioning this.

05 December 2009

Charlton 1 Southend 0

After recent performances, I went to this game with guarded optimism. There could be another big win in prospect against a mid-table team. But Semedo would be missing, and his presence in front of the defence is an often overlooked factor in Charlton's best performances. On the other hand, Frazer Richardson was back, and his developing partnership with Lloyd Sam could prove decisive.

It was a bright game throughout, with Southend looking lively and positive - playing better than their position in the table would suggest. It took a while for Charlton to get into the game but after 25 minutes Deon Burton scored the only goal. The game continued open and even until half-time, with both goalkeepers making impressive saves.

After the interval, Richardson was replaced by Omozusi. He presumably wasn't fully fit, and his linking with Sam wasn't working. In fact Charlton had played more attacks down the left than the right. Charlton's play became much more defensive. I've seen it suggested this was because of uncertainty about the referee, and he was - all so typically of the division - inconsistent, so the Charlton players may have feared yellow cards. Semedo should be an important part of such play, and the defence were called upon to make some desperate blocks and clearances. But they did it. It's one of the big differences this season that even when things aren't going well, the defence holds out. I think Racon also benefits personally from Semedo's presence; he had a noticeably poor game. (And was booked. He must be close to a suspension.)

So, for various reasons most of the second half was worrying, but the win was achieved without any real scares. The last ten minutes or so saw Charlton comfortable again, as Southend appeared to lose breath and conviction.

Other results went well. Leeds dropped two points so we closed the gap on them. Millwall and Palace both lost 3-0. And Chelsea lost.

The next home game is Millwall. In recent games the North Stand's favourite chant has been "We hate Millwall". They're building up for it. It's going to be a bit intense.