Friday, May 24, 2013


“Archie, you colossal shit! You’ve drunk all the Blue Label.”

Martin was not happy. This was his general state. He did once crack a genuine smile of contentment, but that was in Amsterdam and he soon forgot why he had done so. It was his considered opinion that, as mistresses go, happiness was the most fickle and that he would be better off letting it go on its merry way, rather than wasting his time constantly chasing it. On this particular occasion though, Martin was actively unhappy.

His brother, the aforementioned Archie – a man as affably diminutive as that name might imply – had consumed (through blissful ignorance) his sibling’s most treasured scotch. He had only had one glass (though it should be noted that it was a large one), and, in the process, had finished off the bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. The mitigating fact that there had only been a glass (and a dribble) left was totally negated for Martin by the undeniable truth that Archie was not even a scotch drinker, as was made evident by his decision to put water in with the whisky. It was, from Martin’s perspective, a tale of several solecisms, and his raging sense of injustice was made all the worse, because, as is so often the way in these incidents, the object of his anger was beyond the reach of his wrath, Archie having left the night before for Swansea.

Martin poured himself a double Famous Grouse, a blend which he only kept strictly for use in hot toddies, but in this case he was willing to make an exception, so much so that, having stared mournfully into the glass, he made it a triple.

He sat, ponderously. Martin did ponderously very well. It was how he maintained his air of detached intelligence, which filled him with a melancholy which he hoped might make him mysteriously attractive, but actually made him look like a slapped St. Bernard. He continued to sip, quickly realising that, as he was loathed to let a single drop go to waste, the decision to make it a triple merely meant that he was a glutton for punishment. Suddenly the thought occurred to him that he really should not get so upset. He was young. He was affluent. There would be other bottles of Blue Label.

Surely, he should brighten up a little. It would help him, make him more approachable. People might actually listen to his jokes. If he was having a very good night, they might even laugh. Perhaps by pretending to be cheerful, he might actually happen to really become cheerful, much as in a story he had once heard about a young man who had pretended to be an airline pilot so successfully that he was accepted as such by airline workers (he did not recall how the story ended, but he could only assume that the consequences were amusing at first, but ultimately disastrous).

This was an intriguing idea. If he just put on the same sort of fake smile that he saw countless others do on an hourly basis, it was perfectly possible that he might become more likeable.

And at the thought of the word “likeable”, he instantaneously lost all interest in the idea. He had never cared for the word “likeable”. It seemed so tinny and inconsequential. Think of it when it’s used: “Oh, Jeremy’s so likeable.” Certainly, Jeremy sounds borderline bearable, but he also sounds like the sort of person who consistently loses drinking games and humiliates himself afterwards, gets overwhelmed in group conversations, and is so utterly inconsequential that his acquanitances, not wishing to offend anyone, simply call him “likeable” in order to safely indicate that they did not have any dislike toward Jeremy, and to successfully hide the fact that they might struggle to pick the wretch out from an identity parade.

“Best drop the whole idea,” muttered Jeremy, after another regrettable intake of Grouse. “If I continue to be an inexpungible spot of grey, at least people will be glad to see the back of me.” With that he downed the rest of the tumbler, winced a little, and returned to bed.

It was 4 am, and the June light was all but dawned. This made it hard to regain unconsciousness, and when Martin got to work later in the morning he was, if anything, worse than usual.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Farewell Sir Alex

As a Manchester United fan, I look back on the numbing shock of the sudden end of Sir Alex Ferguson's 26 year reign.

Aside from the Queen, Sir Alex Ferguson has been the only constant during my life. I have lived through 12 England managers, nine Italian Prime Ministers, five British Prime Ministers, four US Presidents, four Archbishops of Canterbury, three Popes, but only one manager of Manchester United Football Club. On a more personal level, he's been at the helm of the club for almost as long as my elder brother has been alive, and that guy's old. He can remember when the Tories last won an election.

I and millions of other United supporters are going into uncharted territory. We know that we are hated. No matter what any of us do, we will be despised. One of the most treasured compliments I have ever received was from a Liverpool supporting friend of mine who said: “You’re the only United fan I like.” The roots of this antagonism are many and varied, but one of them is undoubtedly Sir Alex Ferguson.

If we are frank, Sir Alex was what made us different from other clubs, not just because of his success, but because of his longevity and durability. Since his appointment in 1986, Real Madrid have had 24 managers, Inter Milan have had 19, Chelsea 18, Bayern Munich and Juventus 14 and AC Milan 13. The managerial merry-go-round was something that happened to other clubs.

A trophy-less season was no disaster: Sir Alex would set it right. Three seasons without a Premier League title (a difficulty that brings whole new meaning to the phrase “first world problems”) was troubling, but we knew Sir Alex would set it right. Our biggest player was threatening to leave: Sir Alex would set it right. With perhaps the exception of the continental challenge of the supreme Barcelona side, there was no problem to which Sir Alex did not have the answer. In terms of longevity, Arsenal have their own version of Ferguson in Arsène Wenger, and despite having now been trophy-less for eight seasons, they still say “In Arsène We Trust”. It wasn’t trust with Sir Alex: it was blind but justified faith.

We have known that this day has been coming, and we all know that we’ll never see anything like him again. There will not be another era of 13 league titles in 21 years, and when you have become accustomed to such incredible success, the comedown from the high is going to be difficult. In fact, Sir Alex’s retirement is nothing short of terrifying, and everybody knows it. The news hadn’t been known for a few minutes before friends started telling me that United are doomed to plummet, and the final twist in the Matt Busby comparisons came home to roost: not too long after that great man’s retirement, we were relegated to the second tier. In this modern era, it strikes me as unlikely that a club of such resources as United could descend so low and so quickly again, but a new era is upon us. We have lost the object of our unquestioning faith, and there is no replacement.

But, we have always known this was going to come, and we always knew this age wouldn’t last. We have been beyond blessed by a genius and now it is for us to know what it is to be like other clubs. That sounds arrogant and it probably is, but there can be no denying that Ferguson’s United has been unlike any other era for any club in the history of English football. He and his reign have been genuinely exceptional, and he will be missed by many of his rivals too, as the competition was so greatly valued. Indeed, for many fans of football, when next season comes, it will be a very strange beast. What will English football be like without its Godfather?

At the end of it all, there’s but one thing for this United fan to say: thank you Sir Alex.