30 October 2010

Charlton 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0

A very encouraging performance. Or it would be encouraging if it was a normal team. A team that has some degree of consistency, which builds on its successes. So far this season, Charlton aren't that team. But I certainly feel a lot better than I did this time two weeks ago.

What's working now? Some players seem to be getting steadily better. Prime example is Paul Benson. In his first few games he looked like one of the many forwards who've failed at Charlton. Maybe he wasn't quite fit, or maybe it was lack of confidence, but he's a different player now.

In midfield today we saw Semedo and Racon playing more creatively than they have for a while. In recent games they've tended to merge into the back line, which actually weakens the defence by making it too square, while also making it more likely that the team will use the long ball to try to get the ball forwards.  Racon had the best game I've seen him play for ages - really getting involved and often finding the right pass to turn on an attack.

Wednesday were pretty mediocre, really, and any chances they had tended to come from some sloppy defending. Their keeper was Charlton oldboy, Nicky Weaver, who never really won the hearts of the fans. He looks slimmer these days, and was responsible for three or four brilliant saves.

The third division is stupidly tight, and this win put Charlton into a play-off place. Considering how badly they've played at times this season, that's almost incredible.

28 October 2010

Bad shopfronts

Now that I'm out and about a bit, I might try going with the theme of Bad Shopfronts, and to give you an idea of what I mean by that, here's my picture, taken from a bus, of a shop in Camberwell.

I've no idea if it's a good shop or not, and I do like the way they've got a ramp at the entrance, but that signage is just hilarious. Obviously, only primary schools should be allowed to use comic sans anyway, but the construction of the sign says "Amateurish" rather than "Basic". Then the carefully colour-matched "HEALTH FOOD" in chubby letters that suggest a Victorian concept where healthy=fat.

I'm sure there's loads of examples out there, and as usual, I'll be happy to feature any examples my dear readers like to send in.

27 October 2010

Return of the shopping list

I'm sorry I've not featured any shopping lists for a while. Two main reasons: they do seem to be much rarer than they used to be; and my printer/scanner has packed up. I could photograph the lists in situ on the trolleys but that would be even more bizarre behaviour than furtively slipping them into a pocket.

Thankfully, Clive has sent me the list you see here. He comments: "Seemed daft printing out a list and then just buying a few items including hard tomatoes." But let's apply those failing powers of investigation. This list was printed on the back of a letter to someone at the Darby & Joan club so my guess is that this is a kind of checklist for people - volunteeers - who do shopping for Darby or Joan.

The letter includes banking details for a local choir, which I have sold to a friend of mine in West Africa. (He's the nephew of the former minister of defence.)

19 October 2010

Snappy title still being focus-grouped

You'd be surprised how many people have asked me How's the cycling going? Nevertheless, here's an update.

Just so you know the background, I used to be a really committed cyclist. I've cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, I'll have you know, and from Dieppe to Paris. But for some reason I stopped cycling about 15 or 20 years ago. As time went on, I began to think I'd never have the legs or the nerve to cycle, especially in London, again.

But I honestly think the streets are kinder for cyclists now. There's more traffic, certainly, and there aren't any quiet backstreets any more. What on earth do people find to do that keeps them driving along dozy residential avenues at all times of day? But there are more cycle lanes around, and even if they aren't always directly useful, they are an emblem that gives cyclists confidence and gives drivers a reminder. There's much more use of shared space with pedestrians, and a feeling that cyclists aren't actually a threat.

The best thing that's happened, speaking locally, is the Waterlink Way. It's a network of paths, tracks and cycle routes that lies alongside the Ravensbourne system. Just 100m from my house I can be on a path that can take me to Beckenham or Deptford in relatively car-free safety. The Ravensbourne system is one of the few London rivers to run on the surface, and it's been extensively remodelled in recent years to give it a more natural appearance.

North of Lewisham Station, redevelopment has been designed so that there are segregated cycle routes. This means that the route from Lewisham to Deptford, passing through Brookmill Park, is one of the nicest parts.

Yet it's not all perfect. My local Tesco's, for example, is the perfect cycling distance away, and if I wanted to pop out and get something in the evening, it would be ideal. But its cycle racks are tucked away in a dark corner, unsupervised. I'm not going to use those. On the other hand, if you're cycling you're more likely to use small local shops, where you can leave the bike outside for the few minutes you're inside. That's a good thing.

Every shopping parade in Lewisham seems to have good cycle racks outside. Petts Wood, though, where I was this morning, is rubbish for this.

Physically, it's still a challenge. Relatively gentle hills can defeat me, and these old muscles of mine are taking a long time to get the strength back. But it will happen.

And winter's coming. So far, autumn's been gentle, and I've been able to cycle a bit almost every day. In the wind and the rain of November, it might not be so great. 

16 October 2010

Charlton 0 Brighton 3

The fourth goal doesn't count because I, like many others, had left by then. Three-nil's bad enough, isn't it?

Trying to be positive, Brighton were excellent. They played a neat, patient passing game, with some exquisite crosses. Gus Poyet has clearly got them well-drilled and organised, and they thoroughly deserve to be top of the table. They are a template of what a third division team can be, with presumably even less resources than Charlton. They haven't even got a proper ground at the moment.

It's hard to be positive about Charlton. They weren't as bad in the first half as they were in the second. That's about it. Oh, here's another thing: because they had clearly lost by 4:40 I was able to get a much earlier train home than usual (so I'm currently watching someone else bumbling around and falling over a lot. Norman Wisdom, but I've never found him funny either).

You'd hope Charlton would look at Brighton and learn something. You'd hope so, but not with much conviction. They don't seem capable of learning anything this season, from either wins (where the lesson is, keep doing that) or defeats (which ought to suggest you need to do something different).

(Stanley Unwin has now turned up in the Norman Wisdom film, talking his brand of gibberish. It's like one of Alan Pardew's post-match press conferences. Sounds like language but doesn't quite mean anything.)

Inevitably, there will be calls to sack the manager. I suspect that's financially impossible, so we'll just have to get used to a season of underperformance, and the financial disaster that another season in this division will be. All we have is a choice of flavour of financial disaster. Told you it was hard to be positive.

08 October 2010


Something I never thought I'd say: BBC3 has some of the best programmes on television. Something I thought I'd never do: last night I watched BBC3 for two solid hours without wanting to exterminate all young people and all tv executives who think they have the attention span of a goldfish who's watched too much Friends.

The first programme was Are You Fitter Than A Pensioner? It's pretty formulaic and describing it makes it sound like the usual patronising tosh. Four young unfit Brits are taken to America where they spend a week in the company of elderly fitness freaks. At the end of the week, they must face the Americans in some sporting competition, and they come back having learned a lot about themselves.

But it works really well. The first shocking thing is how unfit some of the young people are. Last night one of the women, whose real age is 20, was assessed of having a "fitness age" of 75. (Actually the concept of "fitness age" is a bit debatable, but let's pass on that for now - these kids are seriously unfit.) The second shocking thing is how nice they turn out to be. Most frequently they start the show as sullen lumps of resentment, but under the carpet love-bombing of the Americans (who obviously treat them as the grandchildren they'd like to see more often) they blossom into confident, determined individuals. By the end of the week they maybe haven't learned that much about themselves, except how unfit they are in years, but they have learned to take some responsibility for themselves. They also seem to gain knowledge of and respect for older people. Altogether, thoroughly heart-warming.

After that, a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a strong contender for the title of the worst place in the world. Stacey Dooley, the presenter, apparently featured in an earlier BBC3 programme investigating third world clothes production, and the encounter with children in sweatshops turned her into a campaigner for children's rights. In DRC there's a UN-assisted programme to demobilise child soldiers - children who've been kidnapped by militias, and brainwashed and dehumanised into cheap killing machines. I wouldn't go to DRC in any circumstances, but I'm a chicken, and Stacey Dooley, though the fear is obvious at times in her very expressive face, isn't. She went to a camp where the rescued boys are given rehabilitation. Part of this is drawing pictures of what they've seen and done, and acting it out, using tree-branches rather than rifles. She mentioned the difficulty of being among this group of boys, who have all killed, and probably have all raped. There was the obligatory happy story, where we saw one boy taken back to his overjoyed family, but it couldn't dispel the overall impression that DRC is hell on earth.

But again, there's a heartwarming basis to the whole thing. Before she became involved in children's rights, Stacey Dooley was obsessed by fashion. We oldies might have considered her trivial and shallow. Somehow, though, she has found this enormous courage and compassion and put it to good use. She comes across as quite naive, looking younger than her 23 years, but that's her strength: her honest, unspun reaction to the horrors she sees and hears is powerful.

BBC3 is considered a youth channel, and I'm far too old to be watching it, but I don't recall any "grown-up" channel covering this issue. Next week, Stacey is going to Cambodia, to investigate child prostitution. Obviously, I'm a little bit in love with her. But watch it, and I defy you not to love her too.

(Incidentally, the law in DRC - hell on earth, remember - prevents anyone under 18 from becoming a soldier, in militia or the regular army. Frustrated 16-year-old Congolese boys needn't worry though. Come to Britain, where it's just fine to be a soldier at that age.)