26 September 2011


I met Siobhan when we were studying on day release for our qualification in housing. It was pretty much love at first sight on my part. She had that curiously Irish colouring of pale skin and dark hair, with slate grey eyes, a cute turned-up nose and a mischievous smile. Over the three years of the course I grew to know her very well, and we'd often bunk off for the afternoon, finding a Hackney pub where, in those less enlightened days, they had to close the curtains and pretend they were shut. When she had a few drinks, she spoke with a Brummie accent, which is always amusing, and when she’d had a lot she lapsed into the Dundalk accent of her childhood.

Our careers followed each other around for a bit. For a time we both worked for Islington, and then we were both at Lewisham when they were developing their Neighbourhood Offices. It was obvious she was going to be very successful. She was brilliantly clever, quite driven and very hard-working. But once she had stopped working - often well into the evening - she definitely switched off and became a fun monster. She was terrific company and the best person to be with, either in the pub or at the theatre.

We slept together a few times but it was obvious there was no future in that. Obvious to everyone but me, that is. Every time we met I'd fall in love with her again, hoping that finally she would see sense and stay with me. I know now, and probably knew then that it would have been better for me to keep her as a very good, exciting, entertaining friend, but I could never do that.

After I left the housing business, more than 15 years ago, we gradually lost touch, but I followed her career. Sure enough, she did well and this year she was the Head of Housing in a London borough. I'm sure this was no less than she deserved. From time to time I thought of contacting her, but I feared a repetition of the heartbreak.

One evening last week she came back to mind, and the next day I did a google search on her name and the name of the council she worked for. The first few results were normal: she was still there, and I found she was Head of Housing (East). I skipped over a few results for someone of the same name who had died – her name’s not that unusual – then found this announcement  in a committee agenda.
[Siobhan ____], Head of Housing East, passed away suddenly on Sunday 24th July 2011. [Siobhan] joined _____ in 2006. She initially worked as the District Housing Manager for _______, and later became Head of Housing Services for the east of the Borough. [Siobhan] was committed to providing the best possible housing service for residents and worked hard to improve the management of our stock. She passionately believed in resident engagement and had a great relationship with the tenants’ representatives in her area. Her passing is a terrible loss to _____.
I did the sums. She must have been 49. That can’t be right. The Siobhan I knew was bursting with life. Death couldn’t touch her. But then I looked back at the results I’d skipped over. A newspaper in Dundalk had reported her death. Not much more detail, but some things I didn’t know. She’d been living in Blackheath, and had a daughter. Suddenly there was a huge gap, a loss. I had missed so much of her life, always assuming I could pick up the pieces later. I found a death notice that had been published in a local paper, with a photo of Siobhan that must have been taken around the time I knew her.

Nearly a week later I’m still in shock. Part of the reason I’m writing this self-indulgence is to try to come to terms with this. I know that with time I’ll stop thinking about her, feel less sadness, feel less guilt for losing her friendship through cowardice. If you’re reading this, and there’s a Siobhan you’ve lost touch with, pick up the phone, give them a call. You may not get another chance.

(Siobhan isn’t her real name, of course. One thing this experience is shown me is that people – even fairly private people like Siobhan, who wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter – have a kind of afterlife on the internet. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Her Linkedin profile is still there: why would anyone ever think to delete it? I don’t want anyone to stumble over this blog entry the way I stumbled over that committee agenda.)

25 September 2011

Charlton 3 Chesterfield 1

See, I thought this was a great game, but the Football League Show disagrees, seeing it as just another 20 seconds of action. Bizarrely, they showed Chesterfield's unsuccessful penalty appeal (no way) but didn't show Charlton's (which looked clear-cut to me live - I haven't seen it again). I really don't know why I even bother recording it any more.

After a bright opening spell by the visitors, Charlton battered them through the first half, and only a few brilliant saves by keeper Fleming kept them in the game. The first goal looked a bit scrappy live, but on television you could see that Hayes put a crucial and quite subtle deflection on BWP's shot. (Oh, yes, that's why I record FLS).

The second goal - a smartly taken set-piece that a better team than Chesterfield should have taken care of - and a hilarious close range miss from Clarke ("are you Torres in disguise?" the Covered End sang - it wasn't a compliment) meant that Charlton took a two goal lead into halftime. And that should have been enough, but

After the break Charlton's play slowed down quite noticeably. Again, Chesterfield started brightly but this time didn't fade. Charlton sat back a bit, and as Chris Powell has said
for a 15-20 minute period in the second half I didn't like what I was watching too much.
Chesterfield didn't look too threatening from open play, though, and needed a penalty (which looked nailed-on) to score. Charlton raised their game after that. Just think what would have happened a year ago after such a setback - negativity, defeatism - and saw out the game fairly comfortably. Very comfortably, after BWP's injury time goal.

So this year's "Football for a fiver" (unlike last year's) was a total success. A pleasantly mild, sometimes sunny afternoon, an incident-packed match, and three points. Three points clear at the top of the league. It's great to be an Addick at the moment.

Other views
Charlton website match report
News Shopper report
Deepest Darkest
Blackheath Addick
Drinking During the Game

11 September 2011

Slavery and Servitude

Slavery and Servitude ought to be one of Jane Austen's grittier novels. It isn't, but it is a work of fiction. The BBC is reporting that 24 people have been rescued from forced labour in a Travellers' camp in Bedfordshire. This is a story I want to keep an eye on, because it presses a number of buttons: some of the "slaves" were east European migrants, and the alleged enslavers were Travellers. A dilemma for the tabloids!

But the BBC claims the arrests were made under the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010. I'd never heard of that Act (Acts of Parliament don't usually have such evocative names) so I looked it up.  It doesn't exist. Less dramatically, the relevant piece of legislation is the Coroners and Justices Act 2009, section 71. It came into force in April 2010.

Well so what, you say, does it make any difference? It bothers me that if the BBC can't get something as basic as this right, how many of the other details of the story can we believe to be accurate? It's particularly important where the story is one where the media might be expected to have a biased view already. As I say, I'll keep an eye on this. And, to be fair, The Guardian also refers to the non-existent Act, so I suppose the mistake arose with the Police or with the news agency that spread the story.

*Ooh, and there's another button pressed: the Act refers to the European Human Rights Convention, which, as every tabloid journalist knows, allows Travellers to do whatever they bloody well like.

Charlton 2 Exeter 0

Another really enjoyable afternoon at the Valley, not always because of the quality of the football.

The key incident happened after 18 minutes. Nardiello thought he'd scored for Exeter, and so did I, but the officials thought the ball hadn't crossed the line. While I was feeling grateful that we don't have goalline technology, Nardiello was taking it out on the east stand linesman. According to one source (@LouisMend on twitter), he said "Lino you p*ick, that was a goal you f*cking cheating c*nt'!" Kevin Nolan's report has the even more asterisked "You’re a ******* waste of space. And while we’re at it, you’re also a ****** **** of ********, not to mention a complete ******." Which is normally enough to get you sent off, after all. The halftime twitter verdict on the "goal" was mixed: even people who were sitting near to each other differed in their opinions. My telebox wisely refused to record the Football League Show, but I understand the goal probably should have been given.

Anyway, the sending off forced Exeter to switch to a defensive style. This wasn't actually a big change in tactics. And it worked quite well until Bradley Wright-Phillips finished a neat passing move after 43 minutes.

In the second half Exeter made all their substitutions in the first ten minutes and you have to give them credit for having a decent go. But they didn't make many real chances. Meanwhile Charlton were only at their best in flashes, but finally got the second goal.

The result, and the fact that MKDons (spit!) lost, puts Charlton 2nd in the table. What might have been less noticed is Charlton's disciplinary record. According to this site, before yesterday's game Charlton shared bottom place in the yellow card table, with just six so far (compared to Sheff Utd's 19, for example. Oops, make that 23.). With no bookings again yesterday, that's where they stay. Another sign that Chris Powell is building a team in his image.

06 September 2011

Charlton 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Deadman and Slaughter were two of the match officials last night. If I were a tabloid sub I could made something out of that. Wednesday should have been deadmen by halftime. That's probably true (metaphorically, obviously*). A great start with a 3rd minute goal by Bradly Wright-Phillips saw a dominant first half performance, but with only one really clear chance. It wasn't the best football Charlton have played this season, but it should have been enough to sweep away a sadly limited looking Sheffield team.

Slaughter at the Valley didn't happen. It was one of those games where suddenly the whole team seems to lose its way. Passes fail, frustration builds up, and the pattern of play disappears. Players fall back onto what they're comfortable with, the apparently safe option of a long ball aimed at BWP. Better than Shaun he may be, but not much taller; he's never going to win these balls against any regular 3rd division centreback. So possession is lost.

Even that wouldn't have mattered though, if Charlton hadn't helped Weds out. Their open play looked unlikely to bring then a goal, but once again slack defending of a corner was Charlton's downfall. Goals from corners should be very rare, but it seems as if Charlton have already conceded several this season. I hate to place individual blame but it struck me that Ben Hamer generally had a poor game in goal, suggesting he hasn't yet established an understanding with his defenders, and that has to be Chris Powell's priority in training.

*Clearly, I'm not cut out to be a tabloid sub. Can you imagine a Sun front page ever featuring the phrase "metaphorically, obviously" after a blast of hyperbole?