To dream or not to dream..

The view that one can achieve anything if you really put your mind to it is one that has followed me throughout my life.

There’s a line from “The Rocky Horror Show”, don’t dream it, be it. Great sentiment and certainly part of a motivational process that allows many to achieve great things. If you dream it, you can achieve what you wish. Or as one lost little girl once sang, “The dreams that you dare to dream really can come true”.

This year, Leicester City Football Club achieved the impossible. Winning the Premier League title is a huge achievement for any football club. A task that can surely only be completed by capturing the best players, and for that matter, having the most money, all under the guidance of the best manager.

In September 2015, nobody, not even anyone working at Leicester City would have thought any of that was the case at their club. Having narrowly escaped relegation, a squad of players turned up to play for a manager who, although once considered one of the best in the game, had been a Premier League flop at one of the biggest clubs in the country. At Chelsea, you aren’t allowed to “dream it”, you have to “be it”, or you’re out. And that is exactly what happened to Claudio Ranieri after six seasons in charge at Stamford Bridge.

So what could Ranieri and his plucky lads have possibly “dared to dream” of as the 2015/16 season kicked off? One of the mantras of goal setting strategies is that any target set should be achievable and realistic. I imagine the first goal was to avoid the drop. Achievable? Yes. This was something they  had just done. Surely they could dare to hope for that. Perhaps a mid-table finish? Yes, I’ll give them that. Anything can happen in football and of course a club can ride the wave of avoiding a relegation battle to stamp their authority on the lower half of the table and be a strong contender to be one of the best “alright” teams in the Premier League. They could even aspire to be the best “alright” team in the Premier League. Yes, spectacularly alright. I’m sure Danny Drinkwater and his colleagues would have taken that. Can we dare to dream of a top ten position? Or even Europe? Don’t be daft.

And what of those who dared to place a bet with the bookmaker at odds of 5000-1? What sort of madness is this? Who on earth would waste money on that? Well a huge amount of Leicester fans did exactly that. There can surely only be two categories under which such people would fall. Those die-hard fans who are foolish enough to expect that their team can do anything. The kind of optimistic foolhardiness usually only reserved for children who walk past ice-cream stalls on their way to the dentist, and Donald Trump supporters. (I really hope I’m right with the last one!) The other could only be that oddity of a football fan who just puts bets on everyone, a couple of quid for every team in the league. I’m sure the latter category will grow exponentially next season.

Well, those dyed in the wool idiots who wasted a tenner on Leicester are now fifty thousand pounds richer. The fools.

So, what the hell happened? Who wrote this ridiculous Disney-esque fantasy of a script that could possibly allow these losers to triumph over adversity and defeat the best in the land.

Well, firstly, it wouldn’t be cruel to Leicester to acknowledge that the best in the league certainly weren’t at their best. The defending champions, Chelsea, were inexplicably poor. The odds that this particular group of players, led by Jose Mourinho, would defend their title in such an appalling manner would be almost as great as those on Leicester to win the damn thing. That particular event deserves a study in itself, but with the defending title holders dispatched from proceedings with the speed of a supporting character in an Agatha Christie novel, the remains of the “big four” must have been wetting themselves with the prospect that their chances had spectacularly increased by December. “What? Some farm boys are the top of the league? We don’t need to worry about them”, I imagine Louis Van Gaal must have contemptuously spluttered at Christmas, assured in the knowledge that this little provincial club he had probably only heard of in the last five years would very soon falter. And he wouldn’t have been alone. Perhaps there is something in just that. The removal of Chelsea from contention changed the landscape for Arsenal and the Manchesters,  United and City. This clearly uneased them. Well, actually it didn’t unease Arsenal that much as they played their part with predictable perfection. Genuine title contenders as the tinsel and fairy lights went up, wheels coming off the barrow as the last morsels of haggis at Burns suppers were being scraped off the plates at the end of January. Manchester United seemed to still be smarting from the hangover that was Davie Moyes and hadn’t quite got their act together yet. And on the other side of that famous footballing town, Manchester City were clearly too busy waving big wads of sweaty money in everyone’s faces to realise they actually had a job to do.

And so the way was paved on the yellow brick road for one of the pretenders to the throne. Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and even West Ham led the charge. A change in manager took Liverpool out of contention. Excitement about the future under Klopp is high at Anfield, but the Merseyside red contingent were almost unanimously contented to accept that this new era was destined to begin in the summer when the talented German could start to build his own team.

West Ham battled bravely, and, like Leicester, performed above expectations. The acquisition of Payet proved him to be a breakthrough star, but they just couldn’t find that consistency.

It was left to Spurs to show their metal, and in the season’s last hurrah, put up the bravest of fights. The only genuine title contenders, they suffered at the hands of a Chelsea side who, with bare faced shame, turned up for the one game in the season that mattered. Chelsea fans must have had a right good laugh at Spurs’ expense on the night. On further inspection however, they must have been asking where that team had been for most of the season.

Leicester City showed how easy it is to win a title. You just have to keep winning games. A series of 1- 0 victories might have on paper suggested a run of dogfights, knuckling down to grind out result after result. The reality was in fact a series of highly entertaining games, usually dominated by a side who were learning fast in the steepest of learning curves. Perfectly organised, psychologically tuned in, fit as a butchers dog and just as hungry. Everything that champions should be.

In the end, it was easier than history will probably show. Fans of the future will perhaps assume that Leicester spluttered over the line, gasping and wheezing like a runner dressed as Scooby-Doo in the London Marathon, just happy that it was over and they got there. In fact, clearing the post with ten points to spare only underlines how astonishing this feat was. If Arsenal or Manchester United had done this, the media would have been wrecking their brains to come up with “Best United side of all time” type headlines. I hope history remembers this when the big book of football is written. Leicester deservedly cantered it. They ARE one of the best sides of all time.

But how on earth did they do it?

Was it triumph over adversity? No not really, they had done that the year before when fighting relegation. For a club the size of Leicester, getting into the top ten of this league has no adversity attached to it, it’s a fun ride that you want to keep going.

Was it a battle against the odds. It would have been if the odds weren’t so absurd that the story doesn’t just read as fiction, its science fiction. Odds don’t come into it.

This is a story of what happens when the impossible starts to take form. It becomes more real because you can see it and think about what it would be like if you won, but by being top of the league for so long, Leicester most likely started fantasising about the win in the way lottery ticket holders do on a Saturday afternoon. The notion that it is not impossible anymore, but improbable, may have kept the pressure and tension to a minimum. By March and into April, they were already winners. Now it was all about momentum. They really could dare to dream.

This sounds like I am building up to an answer. I’m not. And maybe nobody will ever have an answer. And frankly, I’m not sure I want one. I think I’d like to believe it was magic, or the Force or something. But when it comes down to it, it’s the perfect mix of teamwork, high self-esteem, organisation and hard graft. Leicester FC aren’t the 2016 Premier League Champions because other people didn’t do well. Or because they were lucky. They are the champions because they did better than anyone else. Simple as that. And I am happy to accept that.

Good luck and congratulations to each and every one. The only talking left for the players to do is, who will play them in the movie.

Macca Your Mind Up

In the week when Sir Paul McCartney surprised everyone by releasing some new work, I thought I’d write about Macca. I’ve always admired him and been a fan, and yet he seems to be a figure of ridicule and derision. Something I’ve never quite understood. Yes there have been some public debacles, but then you only have to look at the recent antics of Lynsey Lohan to know that he isn’t alone in that.

His contribution to popular music cannot be denied. His songs, yes “Yesterday” was HIS, as are many other Beatles. John did too, I’m not disputing that. I’m also not going to do any Lennon bashing either. His death was a pivotal moment in my musical education. It drew me into the world of his music and indeed that of The Beatles, listening to them on a much deeper level than just the hits. And yet, Paul has been the target for much criticism over the years, and for pretty much no more reason that I can conclude other than he has a pulse.

McCartney’s body of work in the 70’s as a solo artist and with Wings is exceptional. He produced an album, “Band On The Run” which many agree is a seminal work. He knocked out a string of great pop songs from “Coming Up”, “With A Little Luck” and “Let Em In” to what was recently voted the best James Bond song of all time, “Live And Let Die”. Not my favourite Bond song, but definitely up there in the top three. (That could be another blog!) His live shows were considered to be spectacular. And, well, he was a fuckin Beatle for Christs’ sake!

Then 8th December 1980 came and went, and Paul would forever be considered with resentment in many quarters. And there are a few significant reasons for this, and I’m going to try and make the case to forget some of them. I’m even going to defend “The Frog Chorus”. Surely that in itself is worth reading on for!

We do love our celebrity deaths. And what we love most about them, is the opportunity to elevate them onto a higher plane in the celebrity world. To a place where they are free from criticism and rebuke. This happened to John Lennon. Since then, “Imagine” has been voted the best song in the universe, actually probably multi-verse. It peaked at number one following Lennon’s death in 1981 and since we’ve all shed a tear whenever we’ve heard it. Although it is interesting to note that it wasn’t even released as a single in 1971 when the (very weak) album came out, and when released in 1975 to promote a Greatest Hits it peaked at number 6, disappeared and then for four years very few gave a shit about it. Where McCartney spent the 70’s touring, writing and recording, and yes probably smoking weed and partying as well, Lennon spent them in and out of rehab and preaching to the world with Yoko. He wrote some great songs but nowhere near the same output as Paul. He cleaned his act up, wrote half the songs for a seminal album (the other half of Double Fantasy were Yoko’s dire efforts) and then got pumped full of lead. Game over.

The argument here is, we cannot compare like for like. We can only compare the two up to that point. We have no idea the genius or shit that Lennon would have gone on to write so therefore, the comparison beyond that is null and void.

So, Paul continues. He writes some dubious stuff. I concede Ebony & Ivory. I concede Pipes of Peace. I’m not saying that I don’t like these songs but I understand why some don’t. They have a saccharin quality that I know isn’t to everyones taste. But lets not forget. They were BOTH number one hits.

And then came the moment that the anti-Macca brigade couldn’t wait to pounce on, and have wailed about it since. “Rupert and the Frog Chorus”. A huge hit, a silly video and definitely a novelty song. Well actually all it’s a commission for a movie. And a children’s movie at that. Paul has kids, I’m sure he thought it would be a nice little thing to do. The film producers no doubt thought if they released it, then the film would get a little publicity. And they are entitled to do that. They did, it worked. And that’s pretty much it. It’s not like Paul was saying this was a new direction he was going in musically for crying out loud. He wrote to a brief, and did a good job within that brief. That song wasn’t meant to be for us. And the nation’s children loved it. Quite right too.

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There is also his biggest hit. Still number four in best sellers of all time and the subject of endless debate, “Mull Of Kintyre”. Well, put simply, it’s a folk song. That’s about it. He lived and loved that part of the world and wrote a tribute to it. And, I have to say, as a Scot, I find the criticism the song receives to be mildly offensive. But the key part of this argument is, it was a double A-sided single “Girls’ School” and the radio industry decided that the little folk song and NOT the rock song would get played the most. The rest is history. And for the record, I love “Mull of Kintyre”! It evokes every fabric of joy within me in the best way that nostalgia can. It reminds me of family. Of Christmas, and of, dare I say it, simpler times.

Since then he has had ups and downs, as you do with life but he has continued to work. His 2007 album, “Memory Almost Full” met with critical acclaim, and he continues to ply his trade. I would like the man to be given his place. To acknowledge that his contribution where inconsistent, has, at his best, been every bit as good as his late writing partners was. And if you’re still digging your heels in, then go listen to “My Love”, your heart will melt.

Something to teach the kids…..The facts of death

Ok so here’s the deal. I’m dying. Well, actually we all are. Like the inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy, it’s going to happen. Don’t try and avoid it, honestly, you do that and it will hunt you down. It’s a bugger that way!

Thing is, we love death. When an actor leaves a soap, the first thing we often want to know is, are they being killed off? And the next question? HOW?

I killed someone today! 30,000 words into my novel and it was time for a main character to go, and it felt good.

So, we are obsessed with death. If Diana had married Dodi Al Fayed, had another couple of kids and lived happily ever after, her life wouldn’t have had a tenth of the coverage that her death did.

Viewers of “Downton Abbey” are eagerly awaiting the new series, and morbidly anticipating the impact of the death of Matthew Crawley following the departure of Dan Stevens. The aftermath is often as much fun as the manner of the demise itself. Oh yes, this will be good.

Until death appears on our own doorstep. That’s a different matter. Because one of the most bizarre things about the unavoidable shuffle off the mortal coil, is we just don’t talk about it.

So in 1992, my brother in law died suddenly of heart failure. Awful for my sister. Six weeks later, my mother died quickly after being diagnosed with lung cancer. A year later my brother was told he had liver cancer, he passed away 18 months after that, and simultaneously, my father contracted mouth cancer and died a year after my brother. So 1992 – 1997, not the best for my family. Yeah I know, it’s like a soap isn’t it? Only, too far fetched for a soap I imagine, but it happened nonetheless.

We all cope in our own way. The first thing you realise is that the cliches are all true, probably why they’re called cliches. It’s fair to say that the cliches inspired me to do what I do today, and I love my life as a writer and performer, even though it’s been with varied success, I’m having a go, I’m not rehearsing.

For some in my family it was easier than others. I ignored it, battled on, as you do, in that oh so British way. And yes it hit me like a tank later in life, but that’s not what I want to talk about. No, this is about how other people react. Yes, YOU! Man you’re all weird.

The first is in the immediate aftermath of the event. Some people can talk to you, some people want to share in the grief like a fan, obsessed with it and wanting in on the act, others can barely look you in the eye, and others totally ignore it.

I get that, because death is the reminder of mortality. The all too real awareness that this WILL happen to you at some point. But really it’s because they don’t want you breaking down in front of them, because that’s just too embarrassing. And the other reason is that simply, they don’t really want to talk about it. And that’s ok.

The main problem I had to face, was talking about it myself. Not for comfort, or indulgence or psychological need. Just the fact that in life, you HAVE to talk about family. Like when you meet new people, or crucially, when you start dating. OH MY GOD! That’s the worst.

Thing is, it CAN’T be avoided. There you are, date two or three, nice restaurant and things are going well. “How was your soup? My prawns were lovely”, “So what’s your favourite Star Wars film?”, “Have you been to that Monet exhibition, it’s amazing”, “What team do you support?”, “Tell me about your family?”

AH SHIT!

It was all going so well. In the early days, I was just honest, took the bull by the horns and went for it, often prefaced by “Look I’m ok now, and well over it” (Of course, in truth, I wasn’t over it, you’re NEVER over it, but you say that just to make others feel better)  and then I spill it all out. 8 times out of 10, you’d think I had just shat in their soup. Faced with the look of a guppy on dry land, trying to figure out what to say, how to process the information and still look like a normal human being.

Often I would end up comforting THEM!

The process then took some bizarre twists and turns. Now I know that my case is pretty rare in terms of the amount and time scale in which all the events occurred. So one thing I found myself doing was bizarrely editing it down, as in my poor brother and brother-in-law would be left to a later date, so as not to overwhelm. Other times I would just say to leave that one for another time and move on. They would often assume that I was either an orphan or hated my family and didn’t get on. And on a few occasions I got round the fact that my new squeeze couldn’t meet my parents because I told him they were aqua-marine biologists on a four year mission analysing squid in the south China seas. That way if it didn’t work out, I never had to put either of us through the pain.

It often didn’t work out, mainly because when you start lying that early on, it’s doomed from the off.

So here’s the deal. And really, I suppose, my point. Don’t ignore death. Don’t treat it like a debt collector, a bastard child or Harry Stiles. Talk about it. It’s there, it’s going to happen. And DO NOT wait until it happens to bring the reality of it into your conversation. Talking about it WON’T make it happen. That’s rule one.

Rule two. Don’t think that because someone has passed away that they no longer exist. So ask about them, talk about what it was like coping with it, and most importantly, talk about that persons LIFE, not their death. You will very quickly discover if the other person is up for talking about their loss or not. Often we do, because the people who are gone are obviously still very much a bit part of our lives, so it’s ok to ask, it’s ok to talk.

Rule three, showing emotion is ok. It’s not anything to be embarrassed about. My god, isn’t that the way we are supposed to act. But don’t allow over indulgence.

This embarrassment can often be useful to use. My mate who I drive to the gym with hates that I listen to BBC Radio 2. Every time he’ll try to change the channel, I’d often say “Leave that song on, that was my late Mums favourite song”. The car would go silent and the the channel would stay put. It took him three months to work out that my late Mum had an awful lot of favourite songs. He was particularly stupid about it, I mean, my Mum died about ten years before the Black Eyed Peas had even formed! Rule four, if you’re smart, you can use death to your advantage.

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Rule five. think about your own. Think about the send off you want. Think about the style and tone of your own final journey, and tell someone about it. My brother who passed away at the age of 35, asked for some modern aspects to his funeral, and the tight-assed fraternity known as the Church of Scotland refused his requests and he never got the funeral he wanted. So be clear and insist.

Finally, rule six. Respect for the dead. An asshole in life, is an asshole in death. If someone you didn’t like dies, don’t get all mushy and guilty about it, it looks pathetic. And if someone you didn’t really know dies, don’t try and get in on the act because you’re a drama queen and you behave as if they saved your life in the war and had “BFF bracelets”. That’s even more pathetic.

After all that, well, enjoy life! Don’t spend it worrying about death, the reaper does that on your behalf, because you know what? Yes folks it’s cliche time, life just IS too short!

Peter Capaldi – A cool adult for kids to love

Well the dust has settled, everyone has calmed down, well apart from the clutch of fans who will debate it endlessly, some of whom still haven’t quite got over that Tom Baker didn’t appear in “The Five Doctors”. But the new guy has been given the keys to the TARDIS.

Peter Capaldi is an astonishing actor, he’s a lifelong “Doctor Who” fan, he has kudos and respect, and most importantly of all, he’s 55. Yes, fifty bloody five folks. Can that be possible? In a world where generally the only people talking to kids are under 24 and adults are mostly demonised, ridiculed or caricatures, it’s wonderful to think that they will worship this man who is five years away from a bus pass.

Why is this important? Well, for a start, 21st century youngsters are pretty much vilified by us old curmudgeons as lazy, unimaginative, selfish and, importantly, lacking in any kind of respect for adults. Well, who’s fault is that?

I am a kid of the 70’s. Now, set aside the 3 day working week, power cuts, recession and Peters & Lee, and you’ve pretty much got glam rock, prog rock, punk rock, Star Wars, The Wombles, Fawlty Towers and proper kids telly.

That sacrisanct time between 4pm and 5.45pm. It was ours, you came home from school, you threw off your uniform in favour of some kind of flared jean type trouser and, in my case, a David Cassidy t-shirt (seriously, I don’t think my Mum knew what she was doing, pretty much confirmed my blossoming sexuality) sat down and watched the wonderful range of programming.

“Think of a Number”
“Ask Aspel”
“Screen Test”
“Grange Hill”
“Jackanory”
“Play Away”

….the aforementioned guardians of litter on Wimbledon Common and many more. And each and all presented by or featuring cool adults. Adults that we admired, respected and laughed at.

Johnny Ball, Tony Hart, Tom Baker, Brian Cant, Derek Guyler, Michael Aspel, Michael Rodd, John Craven and many, many more.

Now, I’m not going to say that Operation Yewtree hasn’t harmed my argument here, and I do write these names with a little trepidation that one of them will fall next, but I’ll take the risk. Man, I even debated whether or not to use the word “love” in the title of this blog for fear of it being misread. But I’m going to batter on anyway.

Our engagement with these TV personalities, most of whom either seemed to be, or were in their 30’s and beyond, gave us a healthy sense that grown ups were ok and that it will be ok to be a grown up when you get there. Let’s be honest, few of us look to our parents for any notion of coolness and most are embarrassing when they try. If you’re lucky there may have been a cool aunt or uncle kicking around, and although there is also the odd teacher kids look up to and like, there is still the stigma of “education” hanging over that relationship, where the teacher inevitably has to be the bad guy. These guys on TV were vital.

We weren’t sold a notion that youth was the most precious commodity we would ever have, and that when it’s gone, there is nothing left to offer.

Travel forward in time to a world where most children’s programming is populated by presenters who are under 25, or have to apply make up vigorously enough to make them look younger. One of the most popular shows of recent times, “Skins” consistently portrayed adults as idiotic, cliched or two dimensional. And according to “Hollyoaks”, Chester is 90% populated by post-pubescent neurotic messes.

One only has to look at the YouTube video going around of a teenage girls reaction to Capaldi’s announcement. Greeted with horror and cries of “but he’s old and ugly” So is most of the world dear, get used to it. Image

Even the world of stand-up comedy, historically requiring the need for life experience and maturity in order to confidently make humorous observations of the world at large, has now become a young man’s game, and with that seeing the rise of surreal comedy or endless observations on facebook, girlfriends periods and masturbation.

And then along comes a 55 year old Scot, given the keys to a time and space machine and quite literally charged with the task of saving the children of the universe from the fear that when they hit 30, life will be over. Anything is possible. I have a suspicion that BBC executives are mulling over bringing a hot young male companion on board the TARDIS to correct the balance. The Doctor, Clara, and hot young hero figure, and that’s fine. I can live with that. Now children have a proper grown up to worship, and wish that they could jump into the TARDIS and travel the universe.

As I learned from a very young age, you can ALWAYS trust the Doctor.