Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Simon Mann: Plenty of rounds!

No-one who writes for a living and has the usual degree of interest in lawyers, guns and money can fail to have been diverted by the saga of Simon Mann, who today returned to the UK from Equatorial Guinea, pardoned by the dictator whom he once hoped to unseat - on behalf of exactly which interests, we wait to learn.
Like most people who don't know Mann personally, I first spotted him in Paul Greengrass's film Bloody Sunday, and I wrote at the time, "Greengrass's smartest piece of casting is Simon Mann, a chiselled SAS veteran of several tours in Derry, who makes an authentically no-nonsense fist of playing Colonel Derek Wilford, commanding officer of One Para. Wilford instructs his Paras to ‘scoop up’ selected ‘yobbos’ on the march, and fire if fired upon (‘Plenty of rounds!’)."
Mann's best line in the movie, though, comes in the wake of the terrible slaughter to which Wilford has exhorted his men: ‘We’ve just fired a fucking horrendous amount of ammunition, we’ve got to know why, and we’ve got to have some weapons...’ I think I know better now why Mann was so convincing here. (Paul Greengrass, interestingly, has been quoted describing Mann as "very English, a romantic, tremendously good company". Yes, I would imagine.)

NUFC: Sort it out, lads

Those champion-standard NUFC blogs True Faith and NUFC.COM have been staunch in their efforts to marshal and exhort the fans into active protest against the latest risible stunt from that walking gastric hazard Mike Ashley, and that travelling band of monkeys to whom he's given big jobs at SJP.
So, we'll see what transpires in the ground on Saturday as Toon entertain Posh at what might yet (per the impassioned blog of the Chronicle's Lee Ryder) come to be known as Coors Light Park. (Ashley's chief baboon Derek Llambias insists 'that' sort of renaming won't happen: an assertion which, in light of the recent FA tribunal verdict in the Case of Monkeys vs Keegan, is worse than meaningless - or, if you like, just as meaningful as Llambias's infamous overheard remark that he wanted to 'slap' Kevin Keegan - the sort of thing Ashley and his apes like to tell each while supping their lagers and scratching themselves, since talk is cheap, as are they.)
That said, True Faith in particular are now throwing down the gauntlet to fans whom they suspect of big-mouthing it in pubs while hoping that braver cohorts of protesters will get the job of ousting the Monkeys done. Well, come the final whistle on Saturday I'll still be in North London, on my backside, writing a book. So my opinion on this matter carries no weight whatsoever. Still, for what it's worth: Monkeys, Monkeys, Monkeys - Out, Out, Out.
As to the game of football itself, the excellent George Caulkin ran a highly interesting interview with wor skipper Alan Smith in the Times last week, wherein Smith did a convincing impression of a man committed to the team, indeed the club, and to getting us out of Division 2, which he endearingly described as a 'muck and nettles' league ('It's Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday.') Remarkably Smith claims to have 'enjoyed this season as much as any in my career.' Well, I'll go to the top of our stairs. And he even sounded genuinely geed up about wanting 'to lift that Championship trophy.'
In other intriguing news, Caulkin’s piece usefully confirms that ‘a cabal of senior [NUFC] players have fulfilled a powerful role under Chris Hughton’s management.’ To wit, Smith described the dumbfounding events after the team returned from their 6-1 pre-season tonking at Orient:
'It was clear that five or six of the players wanted to leave which was fair enough. We had a meeting when we came back from the game - just us players. We said, ‘Whoever wants to leave, they can leave, and we'll help them to go. Whoever want(s) to stay, then commit yourself to stay’. That was a massive turning point… It was one of the strangest things ever. We were managing ourselves… Chris knew that we were having that meeting and he stood back and let us sort things out.'
Strange, indeed. It must have felt like a good stiff wielding of the broom, though, once the fraudulent badge-kissers like Beye and Duff had cleared their pegs. Smith and Kevin Nolan in particular seem to have brought a much-needed edge of honesty to what has emanated from NUFC this season, in the lamented absence of Shay Given, and in spite of the cloud of lies stirred up by the Monkeys. Nonetheless, this clearly pleasant but suspiciously passive Chris Hughton chap is the one to whom Monkey Mike has just given a full-time manager's contract. So I hope Chris and the Cabal don't have a big falling-out before end of season.

Monday, 2 November 2009

FT today: RTK on Robert Harris's Lustrum

My short-ish write-up of Harris's second Cicero novel runs in the Financial Times today. This was my first real encounter with Harris's bestselling storytelling, though I've long been a big fan of his non-fiction, especially his books on Neil Kinnock and Bernard Ingham, both of which evoke brilliantly a world of British politics that now feels like aeons ago - albeit not so far-distant as 63BC, where Lustrum begins.
So wryly skilful is the novel's use of ancient history that I wish it had been around in those years when I was studying Classics for 'O' and 'A' Level (years when Kinnock still had his tin hat on, trying to lead Labour out of the trenches, while Ingham was browbeating the press corps Yorkshire-style on behalf of his beloved Margaret.) Still, at least in the late 1980s I had Gore Vidal's scurrilous Creation to help me inject some irony into the 'Golden Age of Athens' part of the examination paper.
Had I the word-space in the FT I would have added of Lustrum that it clearly extends Robert Harris's compulsion to explore the mindset and behaviour of Tony Blair through fictive means. Throughout, there are meaningful if toga-clad allusions to things Blair has said and done, sometimes expressed through the vehicle of Cicero, other times through Gaius Julius Caesar - in other words, sometimes in a reasonably sympathetic manner, other times with the sort of animus that John Rentoul has instinctively deplored.