31 January 2010

Charlton 1 Tranmere 1

It's always tense at the Valley these days. I think the crowd is becoming part of the problem. Not just the bloke next to me, who can't get ten minutes into a game without telling everybody "We could lose this, you know", even if we're a goal up. Or the bloke a few rows behind me, whose analysis is on the level of "See, the problem is, we keep losing the ball."

The big problem is lack of patience. I thought Charlton started fairly well, playing a tidy passing game, miles better than recent performances, but lacking any bite up front. This means you have to hold on to the ball, pass it around, wait for the opposition to do something stupid, and then take the chances. This is what Charlton were doing, but it wasn't enough, and the dissatisfaction from the crowd became audible. It translates into panic on the pitch. The team revert to a long-ball game, and the crowd don't like that either. And so it goes.

Some people have short memories. The team is playing so much better than last season, with the same manager and without any major new players.

The team isn't far off playing well. I'm hoping that the fact the next three games are away is a positive thing. Next home game is v Yeovil on 20 Feb. We'll demolish them, you mark my words.

27 January 2010

How to be a saint

I read the headline on the Guardian's front page with joyful disbelief:
Pope John Paul II 'whipped himself'
Book claims late pontiff regularly self-flagellated, which may boost case for giving him status of saint
The article just expands on the point.
Now, I don't want to go into details, but really! What kind of messed-up belief system says that whipping yourself is a sign of holiness? I'm sure theologians could argue this point by point, presumably along the lines that identification with Christ's suffering brings one nearer to an understanding of God. But for me it's one of those occasions where you can say that if this is the outcome of a set of beliefs, something is seriously wrong there.

26 January 2010

Bereavement and grief

Christ, that's an off-putting title! But I've recently discovered an extraordinary example of science-denial. When you talk about bereavement and grief, most people, I think, will have some vague awareness of the theory of going through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. This is known as the Kübler-Ross model, and it has even featured in The Simpsons. I've assumed it was more or less correct, but it turns out it probably isn't.

The Kübler-Ross model was based on theory, not observation. When George Bonanno actually did some investigation, he found that most of the time, people just get over it. There's a resilience that overcomes the sadness, just as we recover from extremes of happiness. Most people, his view goes, will bounce back without any help. Sometimes they'll use jokes as a tool in this.

It makes sense in evolutionary terms, of course. Life has almost always been harder for people than it is now: plagues, wars, natural disasters must have posed enormous challenges. Even in my parents' childhood, it was relatively common to lose a sibling at a young age. That must select for people with a natural resilience.

In a similar vein, three American psychologists carried out research which suggested that most victims of childhood sexual abuse got over it. The research was denounced by the American establishment, with both houses of Congress passing motions to condemn the research. Again, it seems natural to believe that people have an inherent ability to recover from the most appalling experiences, but to say that doesn't mean that you're condoning those experiences.

Meanwhile, the widespread belief in a five-stage model means that people who don't follow it - people who go back to work a week after their father has died, saying it was, after all, inevitable - are treated as pathological.

I really don't have the knowledge to be authoritative on this. But it seems to me that popular belief (including mine, until today) is being moulded by a theory that isn't backed by any experimental evidence.

There's an interesting and accessible article about this by Malcolm Gladwell here. The wikipedia article on Bonanno is interesting, too, but badly written and unbalanced, so I won't link to it.

Charlton 0 Leyton Orient 1

The first thing that strikes me is that this blog is becoming a Charlton blog, when it used to be much more varied. With another home game coming on Saturday, this may mean three Charlton posts in a row, and nothing in the way of fancypancy literature in the meantime. This will not do.

So, the game. Actually, I thought Charlton played better than they did against Hartlepool. When I say better, I do of course mean less shit. But finally and at last we didn't get away with it. Orient fully deserved the win. I could allege various lacks: Sodje and Youga in defence would make a difference. Llera was at his hilarious worst. Shelvey, oh my god Shelvey! what's happened to you? Why on earth are you in the 11? OK, you're young - much younger than you look - but you seem totally out of your depth.

But let's not pick on individuals. For some reason, the team is acting as if they don't know each other. Compare this to the start of the season, when a settled team produced some of the best football I've ever seen Charlton play.

The scuttlebutt after the game was pessimistic: that's automatic promotion gone. Nonsense. Leeds are faltering, and Norwich are due a falter. I'm such a pollyanna I hope this defeat will be a wake-up call. We'll demolish Tranmere on Saturday, you mark my words.

20 January 2010

Charlton 2 Hartlepool 1

A casualty of the snow, this game had been hastily rearranged for a cold Tuesday night, so let's generously assume that's why there were fewer than 50 away supporters. Most of them, I would imagine, were Hartlepoolians living in London, so if the circumstances were reversed, there'd be even fewer away supporters, there being few Londoners who have decided to head to Hartlepool for a better life. The fact that I'm going on like this, and that in the first half I actually counted the number of Hartlepool supporters may tell you enough about the match.

It was one of those nights where passes just don't connect, and a better team than Pools would have taken advantage. Once again, though, Charlton's spirit proved more enduring than their skill, and a late second half rally saw the best play of the match, including Charlton's winner, well taken by Scott Wagstaff, and a mysteriously disallowed third goal.

Man of the match, everyone agreed, was the pitch invader in a lime-green mankini in extra time. He may as well have been naked. It was so cold, there'd have been nothing to see anyway.

19 January 2010

Kate McGarrigle

Cover of first album
It's less than a year since the death of John Martyn, now another of my musical heroes has died. Kate and Anna McGarrigle's first two albums were maybe the first time I realised that the best music comes from people who personally embody a meeting-place of different cultures. They put together a basically celtic folk background with unavoidable elements of pop, which wasn't that unusual, but then they added the influence of Quebecois folk and French chanson, which made a sound like no-one had ever made before.

I remember seeing them at the Albany in Deptford. They were utterly entrancing. When they introduced the song "Une excursion à Venise", Kate explained that it wasn't as glamorous as it sounded. "Venise is just a fairly tatty suburb", she said, and paused, then added, "Quite a bit like Deptford, really". I fell completely in love with her, and my girlfriend at the time accepted this without jealousy as an irresistible, and of course meaningless, natural phenomenon.

Probably my favourite song of theirs is "Kiss and say goodbye", and I'd like to listen to it right now, but it would make me cry.

16 January 2010

I'm not sure if I should be proud of this ...

Various websites I visit serve up adverts for Marks & Spencer, and because I've bought things from them, the adverts feature items I've recently viewed. It's obviously a brilliant use of cookies, but you've got to wonder if it's sensible to offer me things I've already bought or decided I don't want to buy.

In my case, this meant I was seeing adverts for cheap t-shirts and jackets. (I bought the cheap t-shirts, reader, but not the jackets.) That's no longer any use to me. So, in the interest of scientific experiment, I have viewed different items, things which I have no intention of buying. And now the Marks & Spencer adverts show me women in underwear, and they are telling me "A good push-up bra is a wardrobe must-have. Mix and match with all your favourite knickers."

I feel happy that I've subverted their advertising targeting, but slightly grubby that, in doing so, I've become a 12 year old.

08 January 2010

The Curse of South-East London

I'm generally speaking happy to be a South-East Londoner. I'm foolishly proud that my Catford corner of the capital has been resisting gentrification for 100 years now. It means I have to order decent coffee and tea by post*, and I can't sell this tiny house and buy a flat in Brighton and a cottage in the Dordogne, but it has a grimy authenticity that gives me a nice warm glow.

But the problem is the trains. I don't mind not having the Tube. I hate travelling by tube**. But at least the tube normally manages to keep going. On the other hand, Southeastern Railway Company (SER), the current franchisee of the local overground operation is a disgrace.

In case you haven't heard, it snowed in London on Monday and Tuesday***. SER's response was to run a less-than-Sunday service for the rest of the week. While it's stayed cold, there has been no more significant snow, but the service has been reduced to a half-hourly frequency, with the last trains leaving London around 8 o'clock. This is so ludicrous you'd think surely our publicity-loving Mayor would have something to say about it. No. Instead, the buffoon has made comments pointing out that if schools don't open it can cause problems for parents, and schools ought to consider this. Open your window - just for a second - and you can hear the chorus of sarcasm from teachers: "D'oh, we never realised that ..."

(And of course, my two MPs' websites give no indication that they are still alive, far less that they are concerned about their constituents.)

SER have announced that tomorrow, Saturday, they'll run a normal service, accepting the terrible risk that trains will turn into pumpkins if they're out after 9pm. People who know more about these things than me have said that their action has been based on a calculation of how to avoid paying refunds.

They really are a shower of shysters, and I'm so glad I don't have to use their services any more.

*From the Algerian Coffee Stores. I've used them for the first time recently, and the service was quick. The goods came in a proper brown-paper-and-string package. And you can see that they're currently celebrating the second anniversary of updating their webpage. Marvellous.

**in London - once I get abroad I love to find out about a foreign city's underground railway. I love the way in Madrid the train indicators tell you how long it's been since the last train left, rather than make a ludicrous prediction about when the next one will arrive. I love the smell of the Paris metro. And I found myself rather surprised at the law-abidingness of the tube travellers of Barcelona.

***One of the happy discoveries I've made during this more than usually weather obsessed period is that a fairly near neighbour of mine has an online weather station. It's quite fascinating to see how the temperatures varies during the day.