SNOOKER: Madness (& Planning)

Jurassic Park!

It’s an incredibly rare occasion that I’m aware of snooker events before they occur. As I become more of an ardent fan of the sport – a veritable green baize junkie? – perhaps this first will become more of a norm?

Anyway, whilst catching up on my FB news feed (Paul O’Grady has died, aged 67!), I learned that the next snooker World Championship ‘takes place from 15 April to 1 May at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.’

It seems, according to the article that informed me of this, that this year we’ll see an influx of geriatric male stars – Hendry, White and Doherty, specifically – and several female contestants.

Could be interesting. But I’m glad that for once I’m aware of the event before and not after it’s started (or, at best previously, whilst it’s on). In the meantime my quest for the classic matches of yesteryear continues.

I kind of fancy going really old school, and watching a ‘Hirricane’ Huggins match, or maybe even that Davis vs. Taylor black ball one… Hmmm!?

SNOOKER: Trump vs. Williams, 2022 Semi-Final

The match started in good sportsmanlike style.

‘Oozing class’, ‘a marvellous match… a Crucible classic’, ‘one of the best matches we have ever seen’. So sayeth the pundits, of this match. And i’sooth, it’s all true. ‘Twas absolutely fab!

Trump opened up a blistering and dominant 12-5 lead, only to have Williams, ‘the Welsh potting machine’, come roaring back at him. Some sublime snooker from both of them took us to the brink.

At 16-15 in Williams’ favour, the humbly eccentric former boxer looked poised to deliver one of the greatest sporting comebacks ever. But Trump dug in, or went to the well as they say, and took it to 16-16.

A standing ovation prior to frame 33.

The decider was a terrific frame, by far the longest of the match, clocking in at about 45-50 minutes. Both players had chances. And in the end there was a long safety duel, as Williams tried to beat the ‘astronomical odds’; he needed three or four snookers (and he laid a good few more than that).

But in the end, Trump triumphed by potting the blue. What an epically exhausting but exhilarating match. One for the ages.

What it meant to Judd.

MEDiA: Saxondale

Watching this terrific little series again. What fun! as Miranda’s mum liked to say. Saxondale really tickles my funny-bone. And laughter is great medicine when you’re wrestling with a St. Bernard’s sized black-eyed dog.

The ageing quite clever and quite articulate ex-roadie turned pest controller is a great creation. Struggling with anger issues, and having to deal with the excruciating Vicky (Morwena Banks) to get jobs.

He encounters a Top Gear presenter, his ex-roadie pal Deggsy, animal rights protestors who object to his pest control methods, and a plethora of other characters, from the occasional appearances of hapless shopping centre-salesmen (Tim Key), to regulars, like Vicky, Raymond, his girlfriend, Magz, and his anger management counsellor, Alistair (James Bachman).

Vicky, Raymond, and Tommy.

In a similar yet different way to Coogan’s sublime Alan Partridge, the whole attention to detail thing with Saxondale’s music-obsessed character is a real pleasure for those who, like me, share similar interests.

And, again, as with Partridge, we love him as much for his myriad foibles and failings, as for his ‘good qualities’ – be they his ‘Stang, ready wit, or ‘classic rock’ schtick – all the while squirming in embarrassment when he goes off on another misplaced tanned-genital rant.

The scenes with his daughter and her beau are great, as Saxondale battles with his responses – whether natural or conditioned – and piles mistaken assumptions on top of angry prejudices. And all the while Focus or Tull, and similar ‘70s sounds, pump up the irony of the disparity between an ageing rocker’s dreams and visions of himself, and the humdrum reality.

Vicky, perma-tanned denizen of a Stevenage industrial estate.

The rapport with Vicky, via whom he gets his pest control jobs, is truly and deeply and excruciatingly excellent. Indeed, all the relationships are really well observed, teetering between very broad humour, and finely nuanced observation.

There are just so many moments that resonate: the comfy old slippers, the lines of coke with Deggsy whilst lamenting the follies of the world, the inadvertent self-harm at the gym (and the hilarious drive home after), and the struggles with ageing.

These latter range from Saxondale’s quirky facial tics and odd snuffling noises, to his inability to hoist himself into a loft (as his young assistant Raymond does), the glasses scene with hooker, the need for Viagra, and limitations on sexual positions due to a body that’s gradually wearing out.

Another dimension to all this, besides the 70s rock thread, is the general cultural milieu, with Tommy quoting Zulu, and frequently harping on about everything from Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Barnes Wallis. A set of … eugh! tropes (spits and washes mouth out) that fit a certain demographic, to which I belong, like Cinders’ glass slippers.

It’s humour that cuts pretty close to the bone, for some of us viewers. And, I think, is all the funnier for it.

Tommy smoking a dolphin bong. Brilliant!
A fab scene from Tommy’s anger management group.
Several fab scenes from Tommy’s anger management group.

I love the scenes at the anger management group that Tommy attends, at the local library. His humour and sarcasm are tragicomic, and, as with much comedy (also very much so with Partridge) he says out loud what many might think, but either then think better of, or at least choose not to say out loud.

Teresa isn’t so keen. ‘It’s a boy’s thing’, she says. And maybe she’s right? Still, I love it!

MUSiC: James Brown On The TAMI Show

It’s funny how long some things take to happen. I’ve been listening to Sting sing the line ‘James Brown on the TAMI show’ since my early or mid-teens, and I’ve been seriously into James Brown himself, or more accurately his musical legacy, for three decades or more.

And yet only now have I actually tried to check out exactly what is ‘James Brown on the TAMI show’? And, thanks to YouTube and the interweb, I finally found out.

I’m only in to the second tune at the time of posting this. And whilst I love JB and his Famous Flames, the squealing ‘Beatle-mania’ type audience response is messin’ with my noggin!

SNOOKER: Ronnie Calls 147 After 1st Black…

Yet more snooker therapy. And boy-oh-boy, does Ronnie deliver!? He’s pulled out some classic 147s, from his first awesome five minute jobbie (below), back in 1997, to this!

‘Absolutely sensational’ enthuses the affably avuncular John ‘JV‘ Virgo. And one cannot disagree!

BOOK REViEW: Finest Hour, Clayton/Craig

This is another book gifted to me on my recent birthday, by friend and neighbour, Chris. Thanks, mate!

The first I read from this new batch of books was Waiting For Hitler (read my review of it here). That was about the 1940 invasion scare, and there’s a significant amount of overlap with this book, which is mainly about the 1940 Battle of Britain.

I say mainly because this really quite epic and yet very homely account starts with the collapse and retreat of the BEF, in France, and is therefore initially more land and sea based, rather than aerial.

Authors and historians – and, I guess, TV presenters; this is the book companion to a BBC TV series (which I haven’t seen) – Clayton and Craig expertly weave together accounts from every level of British society (plus a few others, mostly Americans). There are sailors, pilots, soldiers, child evacuees, WAAFs, secretaries, journalists and even the big guns, like Churchill and FDR.

I found this a thrilling and very gripping read. And I was glued to it from start to finish. Starting out in France, with an ignominious retreat in the face of the seemingly invincible Wehrmacht, via the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’, to the Luftwaffe’s battles to first destroy the RAF, and then bring terror and ‘revenge’ to London and Britain’s cities.

I’ve knocked off half a star, about which I feel a bit conflicted, for the slightly ‘tally-ho, chaps’ populist tone the books slips into occasionally. It is in truth a very broad ranging and nuanced account. But just every now and then it tips a little too far towards the ‘celebratory patriotic myths of WWII’ vibe.

But in conclusion, Clayton and Craig very deftly weave together a highly exciting and often quite moving tapestry of accounts of this incredible period in British and World history. One is drawn into the very real moments, and even the feelings, from the mundane to hugely significant, from personal sorrow, to national hope.

A superb book that I’d highly recommend.

SNOOKER: Sullivan vs Williams, ‘23 Masters

Ronnie seemed unstoppable.

I didn’t see half as much of the recent Masters Snooker tournament as I’d have liked. But I did catch a few matches. Some, like the Trump vs Bingham semi, were quite dull. Even excruciating at times!

I’d heard the pundits mention that this one, O’Sullivan vs Williams, was a good ‘un. So I thought I’d check it out. I wasn’t disappointed.

‘The best shot so far this afternoon’, quoth Dennis Taylor, as Ronnie pocketed the above pictured long red, clean as the proverbial whistle. This quarter final clash of two snooker Titans, both legends in their own lifetimes, lived up to its billing. Quite a rare thing, I find.

Williams, as funny a player as this face suggests.

Mark Williams is, as any Snooker fan will know, an oddball. Perhaps ironically, being one of the best ‘single shot’ snooker players ever makes him a formidable break builder. A lot of the time he favours floating the balls into the pockets, ‘dead weight’. And this slow measured approach means that sometimes you might forget how good his technique is.

The contrast with Ronnie’s more attacking and aggressive flair makes for a great pairing. And both are super canny, and can, as Hendry likes to observe, be as hard as granite in freezing other players out. Both have superlative Snooker brains, often seeing things others wouldn’t.

This match was great. Perhaps the best of the tournament? Ronnie looked unbeatable at the outset. But Williams turned the tables on him. Both showed how, sometimes, just one mistake can be super costly.

Williams took ages over this shot!

The match reached a final 11th frame decider, and – after a typically gonzo one-armed off the cushion shot (missed!) – Williams played the ‘best shot in this wonderful match’ (Taylor) – pictured above – which had Hendry frothing: ‘magnificent, absolutely magnificent!’

I love Snooker. I find it very relaxing. And I particularly enjoy a really great match, like this: two players playing at the top of their game. Williams finished with a total clearance. Fab!

FiLM REViEW: Planes, Trains & Automobiles, 1987

Of course I’ve seen this movie before. It’s one of those they put on every Xmas. But you can really see why. It’s a lovely film. Schmaltzy? Hell, yes!

The moment the odd couple first meet.

Steve Martin is city slicker ad exec Neal Page, who winds up sharing an adventurous road trip with larger than life curtain-ring salesman Del Griffith, played by John Candy. Director John Hughes is very good at this sort of thing. And Martin and Candy are perfect in their roles.

Travelling by bus…

Themes that it touches upon are friendship, family, and coping with adversity. What relation it has to any form of reality, who knows? But it’s a pitch-perfect Holiday Season movie, a Hollywood dream-machine confection par excellence.

Funny, moving, it’s a real pleasure to watch.

SPORT: Football, World Cup ‘22 – Morocco beat Spain

Bono, formerly of U2, now taking Morocco further…

Well, whilst working on the shed roof, I watched the Morocco vs Spain game. It wasn’t the most exciting. For 90 minutes, then 30 more, the teams seemed pretty evenly matched.

I was rooting for Morocco. They played better.*

But when it went to the dreaded penalty shoot out? Then things got very interesting.

Morocco just beat Spain on penalties. And I have to say, they deserved the win. As I said above, it was not the greatest match I’ve ever seen. But Morocco dug in their heels, kept Spain under the cosh, and had the better opportunities.

This guy was a hero.

And when it came to the penalties, they were just better. They took them better, and their goalkeeper saved them better.

Achraf Hakimi’s penalty, and the celebration afterwards, were fabulous.

You could actually see it all in the player’s eyes. The Moroccans clearly wanted it, and believed they could do it. The Spanish, by contrast, were weak; you could see the doubt and fear in their faces. Astonishing!

* Oh, and I liked their kit better! I know this is silly, but sometimes I go with aesthetics.

On a separate but related note. I’m really digging this current England team. Just saw Grealish talking about facing France. The guy is as solid as his Giant Redwood tree-trunk legs. And he’s right. We have an excellent team.

With Sterling gone home, it’s interesting that the England team still have loads of firepower. France have Mbappe (ok, they also have Dembele, Griesman, etc.). But we have Kane, Saka, Foden, Henderson, Bellingham, and Pickford in goal (oh, and Grealish, lest we forget!).

That’s the spirit!

It’s unusual for me to say this, but I have faith in our team.

SPORT: Football, World Cup ‘22 – Day 2, England vs Iran

Bellingham celebrates his first World Cup goal.

I managed to get home early enough to catch the England Iran game yesterday. I missed the first ten minutes or so, and arrived back during what turned out to be a marathon time-out, due to the Iranian goal keeper bashing heads with one of his defenders.

This wound up adding 14 or 15 minutes of extra time to the first half. Is that a record?When I got home I knocked on our neighbour’s door, knowing he had the day off, and thinking watching the footy on the social might be fun. It was. Too much fun, in the end!

The match itself was goalless when I arrived. But, once play resumed, the goals started coming thick and fast. I think it was 3-0 by half time. Not the dull game I had worried it might be.

Saka – scored twice – celebrates.

In the end we wound up having dinner round there; I picked Teresa up at the station, and Regina very kindly fed us all. The only bum note was my excessive intake of alcohol (ah, the irony!*). I bought a couple of cases of Shipyard Ale, on a two-for-one (almost) promo’, at Sainsburys. And then drank way too many cans.

Now I’m paying for it. With a hangover, and a gassy bloated tummy. Aaargh…. How I hate being an idiot! Still, at least the football was fun.

* Qatar tried banning booze altogether, upsetting sponsor, Budweiser. I’m still not clear what the situation is! Here’s something on the subject.

Pickford and Kane celebrate.

Amazingly, with six goals, Kane – instrumental in a few of them (feeding Sterling the third goal, and Rashford, the fifth – on his third touch! – for example), and still key to our success – didn’t actually score any of them. He must have been both very chuffed at the result, and a bit gutted not to be on the scoresheet. Speaking of which:

J. Bellingham 35'
B. Saka 43', 62'
R. Sterling 45+1'
M. Rashford 71'
J. Grealish 90'

M. Taremi 65’,90+13' (P)

Taremi’s first goal for Iran was superb. His second – a penalty – prob’ shouldn’t have been given. But you can’t begrudge him or Iran their two goals, in the end. England’s emphatic dominance and victory were still more than adequately reflected in the final result.

How good was it to get off to such a good start!? Amazing.

And, amidst all the political controversy, it was lovely to note that Jack ‘Calves’ Grealish dedicated his goal (England’s sixth of the match!) to a young fan:

Grealish meets Finlay.
A celebratory move is agreed upon…
… and, very sweetly, a promise is kept.

BTW, the politics of the region once again made itself apparent: the Iranian players didn’t sing their own national anthem – which caused Gary Lineker to make the observation that it was ‘a powerful and very significant gesture’ – and there were protest placards in the crowd, with slogans such as ‘Iranian women’ (in ref’ to the death in custody of Mahsa Amini).

On a lighter note, I met Miklas’ pet rat (very cute!), and had a go on their Carlsbro e-kit. I was so drunk and the kit is set up for southpaw Chris… I could barely sit on the stool, never mind play!