Three Score and Ten
The early years
When I was born in 1954, fresh from my warm-womb foetal purity
The white supremacists still ruled the roost, still lynching with impunity
And Senator McCarthy was still at his trade, strutting with senatorial immunity
But in Brown versus Board, the Supreme Court ruled, against a racially segregated community
And Billie Holiday released her ‘Strange Fruit’ lament, a tragically haunting ingenuity
Meanwhile, the French got a whipping from Ho Chi Minh, in a battle for Vietnamese unity
But I was in London, screaming at the top of my voice, with my new-born insecurity.
In 1955 when I was one year old and experimenting with some pre-ambulation
Rosa Parks was heroically taking her stand, against Southern racial segregation
And Martin Luther King was coming to the fore, with some serious civil rights agitation
But Uncle Sam crept into Vietnam with some typically nasty aggravation.
And Albert Einstein had reached the point in his life where he would make his very last calculation
Meanwhile I was furiously fighting tooth and nail, to get my fair share of parental adulation
Welcome to the letter A, an ambitious letter that makes new links
I think of ‘Apeman’ by the incorrigible Kinks
And ‘Abbey Road’, a Beatles classic that rarely shrinks
Or ‘Alien 3’, Sigorney dodging every Xenomorphic bite
And ‘Angel Heart’ to give all souls a devilish fright
Or Steven Spielberg’s ‘Amistad’ for a heroic anti-slavery fight
Then ‘Annie Hall’, for something frothy, something light.
Or ‘Apocalypse Now’ could be darkly next
Followed by the chilling ‘American History X’
Then Ayan Rand’s, ‘Atlas Shrugged’, an idealistic and highly controversial text.
Of course, I loved ‘The Americans’, TV at its Cold War best
And ‘Armchair Theatre’ from the ITV, always seems to pass the test
Or ‘Apache’ from 1954, with Burt Lancaster on an indigenous quest
Not forgetting ‘Americanah’ for some real Adichie Nigerian zest.
‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, Enrich Remarque’s wartime thriller
And ‘All My Sons’, from Arthur Miller
And ‘All About My Mother’, from Almodovar
Or Mike Leigh’s, ‘Abigail’s Party’, to bowl you over.
Then ‘All Things Must Pass’ has George Harrison swimming in musical clover
Then there’s ‘Amnesia’ from Australia’s Peter Carey
And Kormakur’s ‘Adrift’ is pretty scary
And ‘Amadeus’ paints Mozart as quite contrary
Whilst Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ should make us very wary.
Jack Palance in ‘Attack’ makes a great wartime adversary
And of course, McEwan’s ‘Atonement’ should be in every library
‘Amour’ from France shows true love is never temporary
And A is for ‘Akala’ is a top rate rapper with a radical commentary
Kitchen Table Ping
Compass is pointing in the right direction.
Covid in a Sick Nation
It may seem poor timing to polemicise on the causes of Britain’s horrendous death toll at the hands of the coronavirus. But many people in the UK and around the world are starting to debate just that. So, at the risk of being labelled insensitive, I think, in the very midst of the pandemic, this is precisely the moment to address this question. And the answers are likely to be disagreeable to say the least. The government and the official UK opposition Labour Party are far too compromised to ask the big questions, both being highly complicit in the whole sorry mess.
It’s a bloody mess to be sure. Poor housing, poor health infrastructure, decades of social care underfunding and good old fashioned government incompetence. But there’s more, much more. And it centres around the health of the nation. And that is the thorniest of things to discuss. It boils down to one central question; are we all victims of a dysfunctional, greedy, corporatist culture that puts profit first and foremost, or are we culpable for our own failing health. The unpalatable answer is both.
I’m drowning in a sea of conspiracies
QAnon, 5G and much more
And while shielding from a deadly old virus
A conspiracy has crept in, right through my open back door.
FOOTBALL, WATER CARRIERS AND WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER, EVER EMPLOY A ROCK STAR
September 1996 saw Manchester United come up against Juventus in the group stages of the Champions League. More intriguingly it saw United’s French superstar Eric Cantona come up against his countryman Didier Deschamps. The battles on the pitch went the way of the diminutive midfielder with Juventus winning home and away, but in the war of words between them, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Cantona flicked away his rival by damning him the faintest of praise. “He gets by because he gives 100%, but he will never be more than a water carrier”. Dechamps could only agree. “A water carrier? Yes, that’s exactly what I am. Great teams are not just created by the architect but also by bricklayers and hod carriers.”
Cantona, of course, would end up being so much more than your average footballer, as likely to digress into philosophy or art as well as he was to execute the odd flying kick on a mouthy Crystal Palace supporter. Deschamps went on being a water carrier – tackling and passing his way to multiple titles and eventually leading his country to win the World and European Cups. It should come as no surprise that of the two, he was by far the more successful football player.
Rebel Ideas Matthew Syed, John Murray Publishers, London, 2020
In his latest offering, our Oxbridge educated author is very keen to trumpet and celebrate the concept of ‘cognitive diversity’ but manages to shoot himself in the foot in the very first chapter.
Masquerading under the title, “Rebel Ideas” it turns out that our champion of cognitive diversity is himself trapped in a ‘collective blindness’ that he is either unable or unwilling to break out of. I suggest perhaps ‘unwilling’ because our esteemed author is in fact a fully paid up member of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire, a criminal enterprise if ever there was one. And I’m not just referring to the industrial-scale phone hacking that went on for decades in the backrooms of his sordid media empire. When the light is finally shone on this most malevolent of enterprises, it will transpire that Murdoch’s most heinous crime is that of persistent and calculated climate change denial. (Even two of his own children are so appalled at this criminal editorial policy that they are threatening to jump ship. Or have they already done so?) So, once you have sold your journalistic soul to the corporate devil, a process of self-censoring inevitably creeps in. Conscious or unconscious, if you want to keep those lucrative monthly pay checks coming in, you tend to avoid any really controversial conclusions that might just challenge the prevailing status quo. And it becomes patently clear from the very start, that our self-proclaimed free thinking author, despite the grand sounding title of his book, has absolutely no intention of breaking with that corporate status quo.
I’m proud to say I never lost a game of ping for a full three months. That’s definitely a record for me. Of course, I must reluctantly add, that due to lockdown restrictions, I didn’t actually play for those three months. Not inside, not outside, not nowhere. Schools were shut, clubs were shut and even the outdoor tables were generally no go areas. But all that changed in the summer. There were a couple of great sessions up at the London Academy where I was duly beaten by a high flying eleven year old. And there was a wonderful birthday party where two mini tables were in constant use by children and parents alike. I even managed to get myself back into action in three West London schools. Tournaments were out of the question of course, but coaching and after school clubs with the ever popular ‘top table’ were given the green light. West London Ping was back in business. But the real highlight of the lockdown era has been outdoor ping. And don’t let anyone tell you that the weather is an impediment. As our friends from the North would say, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing.’
Jon’s new book
In the beginning, at the dawn of time, all energy exploded into matter
And the silence of nothing was spectacularly disturbed
With a splish and a splosh and a splatter
Though this miracle has probably happened a million times before
Where perfect stillness becomes a noisy cosmic chatter.
We like to imagine we are singularly unique
All the better, our fragile egos for to flatter.
Furthermore, there may well be an infinite series of universes
Some bigger, some smaller, some fatter
But I would humbly suggest, at this point in our journey
That these speculative questions of cosmological theory,
Absolutely and definitively don’t matter.
Ever since I can remember
And probably much like everybody else
I’ve been doing things of grand importance
Or so I tried to convince everybody,
Everybody including myself.
Doing things of great and worldly significance
Things that would enhance the very fate of mankind
But I was like a rat on the proverbial treadmill
Barely pausing to reflect or unwind.
A time of plague – no time to play
When busy men and women stop their lives and say;
Will it be me? Will I be next? Why me, I hear them pray.
These are the burning questions of the day.
It’s on all our lips.
Princes and peasants and political bigwigs.
And children too.
And their parents and their parent’s parents.
All seeking to know the fake from the true.
Prison Ping: Coaching to a Captive Audience
Got an invitation recently to help out with a table tennis coaching session at one of Her Majesty’s maximum-security prisons. I duly accepted the invitation, grabbed my bat and ball and set off down the road. This was to be part of an ongoing project to get the best ping players in the prison up to scratch and ready to take their official Level 1 coaching badge. From there, they would fan out across the prison wings, passing on their newly acquired skills to anyone and everyone that cared to learn. And, as an added bonus, when they had done their time, they would leave prison with a marketable skill which just may help with their reintegration into the outside asylum. I was arriving about mid-way through the project so I would get a fairly good idea of how it was all going.
The power and potential of ping pong & parkrun
When considering the next stages in the rapid development of Brighton Table Tennis Club, I have been reflecting on the parallels between the development of parkrun and the potential realisable for table tennis, with an emphasis on social cohesion and community as well as success in the game.
Some clubs are already on this road and are leading the way. Over the last year London Ping has been running fully inclusive London Community Rankings tournaments that are Ping Pong’s equivalent of parkrun in many ways. Absolutely everyone is welcome from senior internationals to six year old complete beginners. There is total flexibility from the organiser to accommodate everyone by putting up minimal barriers to entry. There is an online, easy to use form to enter, and if players turn up on the day then everyone is welcomed and put in the band that they ask to play in.
Burst your filter bubble
Psst? Wanna know a secret? The Internet is indoctrinating you with your own ideas and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
Where do you get your news? Who do you follow on social media? Be honest, does your feed provide you a steady stream of information that is culturally and ideologically similar to your own?
Change the narrative and you can change the world
I recently joined the volunteering team at the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which was launched in August 2016 in the wake of the EU referendum result – originally a response to the surge of hate crimes following the Brexit vote. Since then, what has followed is a near 95,000 following on Twitter and a campaign flourishing into a grass roots phenomenon.
Down’s Syndrome World Table Tennis Championships.
We all have our petty prejudices. Even me. It’s probably something to do with our tribal origins. Left unattended, our prejudices can all too easily morph into irrational hatreds and bigotry. Under extreme conditions one might even kill in the name of defending one’s dearly held prejudice. It happens all the time all over our sorry little world. It is often forgotten that, along with communists, socialists, trade unionists, homosexuals and transgenders, Roma and Jews, people with varying physical and intellectual disabilities were ruthlessly and systematically murdered by twentieth century fascist regimes.
PING London: From London Progress to London Ping
There is nothing inherently wrong with success. It is, in all probability, hardwired into the human condition. Success in adapting to new circumstances was everything to our ancient ancestors. Success or failure in hunting could mean the difference between survival and an early death. Success in securing a suitable mate could mean the chance to grow the tribe and stay one step ahead. Whichever way you look at it, either in terms of cooperation or competition, or an intricate matrix of both, success has been at the heart of the human journey. The forms and definitions of success continue to vary over the millennia, but it is hard to envisage the history and future survival of we homo-sapiens without the drive to not only compete but to succeed both in collaboration with and at the expense of others. And we have some claim to be the most successful species ever.
London Ping Ranking Tournaments get off to a Flying Start
It is traditional in sports journalism to immediately zoom in on the winners of any given sporting event, be it the humble local fixture or the more exulted national and international contests. It’s all about the winning and the rest is merely background noise. That is the norm and we rarely deviate from it. And in that tradition, London Academy Table Tennis Club should be heartily congratulated for their near clean sweep of trophies in the inaugural London Ping Community Ranking Tournament.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There are many reasons for me to be hooked on this novel and not solely because the two leading protagonists happen to be table tennis enthusiasts. Not even because the central character is a blogger of some considerable merit though these facts do help to endear me to the novel. No, the fundamental reason that I warmed to this work is that it is a fine polemic on both race and class and all the thousands of interweaving connections and nuances between the two. Anyone who naively imagines that either class or race are simple binary questions will be quickly disabused of this childlike belief after a close reading of Adichie’s fine novel. We learn very quickly that race and class might mean one thing in Africa and an all-together different thing in America and Britain. In the United States, class and race have become so inextricably entwined so by the end of play, nobody is precisely clear what it is they are fighting against and what it is they are fighting for. It’s the ambiguities in Adichie’s Americanah that make it such a worthwhile read and of course the wonderful self-deprecating humour that she effortlessly supplies throughout every page give it quality that elevates it to amongst the best novels of the century so far.