24 January 2011

The Dalai Lama again

When I previously posted about the Dalai Lama, I kind of assumed the vacuity of his tweet was an unfortunate one-off. But someone else has retweeted another, similar, fortune-cookie motto, and so I've gone to the source. Here's a selection of some of his wisdom.
With the realization of ones own potential and self-confidence in ones ability, one can build a better world.
Because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence.
We need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.
By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.
 There's one of these every day, eagerly (I assume) read by 1.25 million followers, and frequently retweeted.

It feels a bit like kicking a puppy to criticise. Obviously these are worthy sentiments, and even if you can question the truth or even the meaningfulness of some ("If we develop a good heart, then whether the field is science, agriculture or politics, since motivation is important these will all improve") you can't help hoping they're true and that people become better from reading them.

But it's all so unbelievably trite and unproblematic. The worrying thing is that the Dalai Lama's thoughts fit so well into the 140 character limit. Of all the things Twitter does extremely well, it really doesn't work as a guide to big moral questions.

22 January 2011

Charlton 2 Plymouth Argyle 0

Here's how it works. In five and a bit years' time, Chris Powell's Charlton are back in the Premier League, and strongly in the running for a place in Europe. The stadium capacity has been expanded to 40,000 but there's still a waiting list for season tickets, because the team is playing with ruthless beauty, and more than half the squad are local boys, products of the Academy.

That's when 40,000 people will claim to remember being at the Valley for the first game in the new era.

Maybe ... but in the meantime, what really happened?

The general view was that the first half was a bit flat, and it's true that there were only a few chances at either end, but I thought Charlton were playing better than they usually have at the Valley this season. They had the patience to hold on to the ball, and a bit more than usual competitiveness in the challenge. And they didn't panic when all that possession didn't bring a goal.

The second half saw Plymouth a little more adventurous, and it developed into a quite exciting game. Scott Wagstaff's goal was a gift from Plymouth - an underpowered backpass let him slip the ball neatly past the stranded keeper. From then on Charlton's play grew stronger and more confident, and Nathan Eccleston's last minute goal sealed the points.

The game itself was unimportant in some ways. It was only when I got on the train at Lewisham and saw Plymouth fans that I had realised today was more than just a party. The welcome for Chris Powell was as warm as anyone could expect. I wonder if the Plymouth fans could begin to understand it.

Powell was a dapper figure in his elegant suit, still as fit as ever, it seemed. He looked strangely relaxed as the game went on, standing well back from the edge of his technical area, as if realising that once the players are on the pitch, there isn't much he can do. When he made substitutions, you could see him smiling and encouraging the subs, an arm around their shoulder. Surely that sort of warmth and camaraderie must motivate the players to do well for him.

Of course, we'll see, over the rest of this season and beyond. It was a very promising start, though, and, like most of the 40,000 people who will one day turn out to have been at the match, I came away very happy.

15 January 2011


Who says modern life is rubbish? Well, keep your head down, Damon, because here's an example of something great that couldn't have happened even 10 years ago.

Listening to Radio 3 last week, I was struck by the voice of the announcer, who I'd never heard before. The accent was a weird blend of Irish and, I guessed, Indian. The Radio 3 website confirmed that her name was Karishmeh Felfeli - a spelling which I probably wouldn't have guessed. So a quick google finds she has a wikipedia entry, which confirms she was indeed born in India (in Pune) but has lived and worked in Ireland for some time as a musician with a wide range of interests.

Follow the links and you find her Glenn Gould Project, or Sarabande, which is largely self-explanatory but covers a wide range of musical topics, and her show for Dublin radio, Offbeat, with a complete online archive of shows, including one dedicated to a Belfast dog that had been impounded by the local authority for looking a bit dodgy. She has also spun off into a blog about animal welfare. Clearly, a fascinating woman.

There's so much interesting stuff here that I have only begun to explore, and all of this springing from an intriguing accent heard on a rainy afternoon. Modern life is brilliant.

14 January 2011

Chris Powell - head and heart

Although we're still waiting for the formal announcement, it seems likely that Chris Powell will today become Charlton's new manager. For those who don't know, he was Charlton's left-back in three different spells, playing around 250 games. More important that the stats, though, was his incredible charisma and charm. At every club he played for he became a fans' favourite: he just emanates topblokeness, and people who've been lucky enough to meet him (such as ChicagoAddick) confirm that he is simply wonderful. One thing for sure is that when he is introduced as manager next Saturday, the Valley will be a bewildering cauldron of man-love. Can you imagine - a stadium full of football fans worshipping a black man from Lambeth, whose first team was Palace!

But not everyone's happy with the appointment and I can understand why. He's inexperienced. This is his first managerial appointment, although he's been getting praise as a coach, and no-one really knows what kind of team he'll field. Is he just too nice? How will he deal with troublesome players when the charm doesn't work? Can the club afford to take the risk? The only good reasons the head can give are that he's presumably cheaper than an experienced manager, and that he will at least give a short-term boost to attendances.

I'd had all those thoughts before but yesterday, as the rumours grew firmer, I found myself grinning with excitement. If he does well, if he leads the team to promotion, won't that be a much better feeling than getting there with Phil Parkinson, or some other manager who's slumming it in the third division to resurrect a faltering career?

Football, thank goodness, isn't about always doing the sensible thing. If it was, I'd be supporting a team that wins something occasionally, or Arsenal. Following a club like Charlton is foolish and romantic - it's daring to hope against expectation that some dreams come true. And there aren't many dreams bigger and better than seeing Chris Powell leading Charlton to glory.

07 January 2011

Cycling update

All the snow in December really cut down the cycling I could do. Even when a quick ride was possible, the temperature was so low that I barely got warmed up before it was time to finish, and then all the stretching needed to stop these old limbs of mine seizing up meant that all I could really do was remind my muscles of what it's like. Meanwhile, of course, the Christmas food'n'booze was transforming itself into fat: useful supplies for the hungry depths of winter if I were a caveman, but a bit of a nuisance in the age of Ocado.

One thing I noticed is that the tyres were a bit spongy, so earlier this week bought myself a proper track pump. I've never had something like this before, but it's brilliant. About five strokes and the tyres are pumped up to 55 psi. Oh, but then the rain! So I've been stressing out watching the sky until today, when the rain stopped and I was able to get out. (It's also quite a bit milder.)

Even my unexercised legs felt the difference in the firmer tyres and by the time I'd warmed up I was able to use one gear higher than I'd previously done. Still only a short ride as the sky was, in James Joyce's dad's words, as uncertain as a baby's bottom. Tomorrow is supposed to be dryer still, so maybe at last I'll get out for a longer ride again.

Sorry that this post is, for regular cyclists, a statement of the bleedin obvious. But, hey, motorists - maybe your tyres need more air too. It would be a really simple way to improve your mpg. And no, you can't borrow my pump.

04 January 2011

Charlton 2 Swindon 4

You can pretty much re-read my comments on the Brighton game, except that Swindon, though competent, weren't nearly as good to watch as Brighton. But Charlton did their very best to make a mediocre team look good. All the Swindon goals were the product of defensive errors, with even the usually solid as a rock Christian Dailly giving away the second goal.

The scoreline flattered Charlton. According to people who've had the nerve to look at the replay, the first goal could have been ruled out on three separate grounds. Another bad refereeing decision, which I feel obliged to note even though it might have worked in Charlton's favour. Charlton's second goal deserved a better reception than it got: a brilliant acrobatic volley from Pawel Abbott, but too late to change anything.

But, as after the Brighton game, you have to ask what's going wrong, particularly at home games. Why is the team morale so brittle? I didn't comment in detail on the Walsall game - I couldn't bring myself to think about it again, but this is two consecutive home games when there hasn't been any evidence of team spirit, and only patches of individual commitment. That Brighton debacle seemed to provoke a bit of a renaissance, and for a while my gloom in the comments on that game looked overstated, so I won't repeat that. I still don't think that replacing the manager is the answer, but he has to change. At times he can bring out a superb team performance, but he seems to have difficulty finding a plan B. He's still relatively inexperienced, and maybe he needs a partner who can challenge his ideas. For example, someone else noted that whenever Kyel Reid got the ball, Swindon put two defenders on him, effectively taking him out of the game. A lot of teams do this. Same thing happened with Lloyd Sam last season, but Parkinson still doesn't seem to have found a way of exploiting the gaps this must open elsewhere in the defence.

The club now has new owners. We know very little about them, but they must have some money. I hope they don't take the obvious route of getting more players in. I honestly believe the squad, man for man, is up to winning the third division. But at the moment, we're not seeing the best of them.