Thursday, March 7, 2019

Goalie or goalkeeper?

                                        Gordon Banks

There's an old saying, what I know about football wouldn't get my hair cut. And that about sums me up as I haven't been watching it for very long – well about ten to twenty years; forty – let's face it sixty and I still only know it from the survival end. I have no knowledge about tactics, plans, diamond shaped formations or pressing. I just know what I know. The people in the crowd at football matches know everything about it - or think they do.
What I know about football – we are talking about asSOCiation football, and you can see that little word in caps there which is why America calls it soccer – is that I have followed, for all that time, a team called Aston Villa. I am in good company as Tom Hanks likes the Villa and so does King Billy – the next king after Charles (if, indeed he calls himself Charles; his granddad, Albert, called himself George – bit like the pope, you see).
I have followed other teams too – Liverpool and Manchester United – but only as a passing interest.
The one thing I have noticed about football, in all that time, is that it has changed and not always for the better. When I first started watching, a ball would be passed from either of the wings and as the ball reached inside the six yard box, the goalie and the centre forward would jump up for it and if the goalie caught it the centre forward would shoulder charge the goalie over the goal line and it would be a goal.
When Aston Villa last won the cup, they played, maybe, the best football team ever; the Busby Babes. The team of 1957. The final was marred by a collision after only six minutes between Villa forward Peter McParland and United goalkeeper Ray Wood, which left Wood unconscious with a broken cheekbone. Wood left the pitch and Jackie Blanchflower took over in goal for United. Wood eventually rejoined the game in an outfield position as a virtual passenger before returning to goal for the last seven minutes of the game. 

Not long after that game, on February 6th 1958, most of the United team were killed in a plane crash in Munich.

In doze daze (those days) there was no such thing as a substitute as, before you ask, no, Wood wasn't subbed. In another cup final someone went off after a short time and the team carried on with ten men. So they introduced substitutes after a lot of nagging with old sweats saying the game will never be the same; an injury was the only reason for substitution which has evolved in to making the use of substitutes into tactical decisions which football has never been able to use correctly like other sports such as Basketball; even Rugby have a more sensible approach to new ideas – but not football. You may think they need to come into the twenty first century but I would say they need to come in to the twentieth first.
It is such a reactionary sport, very conservative when you can count on one hand the number of gay footballers who have ever come out; there are quite a few, believe me, but the powers that be in football are only just about managing racism.
I missed most of the Premiere League when we lived in America, only watching the World Cup, which was strange when we would hear the American commentators referring to PKs (penalties) and one of them used to call the goal the onion bag. So when I came back and started to watch the Premiere League I was startled at the quality of the football, the skill of the players and the excitement of the whole thing. Of course most of the live football is on Sky TV which costs an arm and a leg so I am quite satisfied with Match of the Day which is on BBC TV.
The one thing I did notice was that the goalie, these days, doesn't seem to run out to punch the ball away, or even catch it, as often as they used to, preferring to stay on the goal line and taking a chance.
Talking of goalies, I was talking about football to a pal, when I lived in LA, and I mentioned the goalkeeper; 'the what?' my pal said 'the goalkeeper!' I said – 'never heard them called that before' he said.
Gordon Banks died recently; possibly England's greatest goalkeeper, maybe even the shortest. He made a famous save in the 1970 world cup from, maybe the greatest ever footballer, Pelė, which people say was the best save ever. The people who say that didn't see all his saves, of course, and, even though I have used it once or twice, there is no such thing as the greatest anything – even a country (sorry America) – but Banks would be up there if there was such as thing.
At his prime Banks got into a car crash and lost the sight in his right eye – he was a great ambassador for football after that, but had to sell his world cup medal later on because of financial difficulties; footballers were always on low money and these days most of them are not great earners but Banks was dedicated as most footballers are.
Banks would dive for every shot – even the ones he knew were going wide – and when asked about this he would say it would warm him up, get him ready and make him feel part of the game.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Between the Sheets; a gambling tale.

Now here's a little tale for you; and it's true. A tale is usually a tale, which means it's not true and I sometimes have to think whether it's tale or tail but when I see tail I know which one it is.
Some time ago when I had only been acting for about three years, this was after a year of night school and three years full time at drama school, although most of the rest of them called it college – in fact that college is now a university, or UNI, as they call it.
We were living in Northampton; we moved there, or relocated, as they say, because we could afford to buy a house there and it was about one hour from London by train or car.
Near to Christmas I got a job in a TV series called Hunter's Walk which was shot at Elstree Studios, less than an hour from our house.
The series was set in Northampton and that may be why I got the job as they guessed I might be able to do the accent. The people from London usually think that the Northampton accent was the same as Birmingham and the Birmingham people hear it as a London accent.
The fact is the director didn't know where I lived and when I met him I was up for the leading guest role – if there is such a thing. In America it would be called guest star. When I walked in to the waiting room one of the other actors, who was up for the same role, told me that he knew the director. He was touching wood with his hand and saying 'I know him – I know him' and crossing his fingers and when he went in he said 'wish me luck!'
Well what do you know – what about my luck?
I went in and we got on okay; I read for the role in my cod Northampton accent and the director seemed very pleased and was telling me how much he liked my portrayal, now ordinarily I would take this as a lot of encouragement but then I remembered the words 'I know him – I know him' so I didn't quite believe him.
'I think you did very well with that' he said 'you could easily play it' then the kicker came in – 'there are a few other roles to cast, as this character has some pals if . . .' and I knew what was coming ' . . . if you don't get this role would you be interested in one of the other parts – he has three pals.'
'Yes' I said and when I left the room he said 'see you in rehearsals.'
And that's how it turned out.
I didn't know the other actor but he was well known and I've seen him on TV and in movies and I think he went into one of the soaps.
There was a very well known Irish singer, exceptionally popular in Britain, with hit records, his own television show called Val Doonican. On the first day I arrived in reception at Elstree he was talking to a receptionist and I walked straight up to him, shook his hand warmly and said 'hey Barry – what are you doing here?' he looked totally confused. 'Barry' I said, then I realised who it was; Val bloody Doonican.
I made my apologies and slinked off. Every time I went in the bar after that, and he was there, he would say 'hello Barry' and laugh.
It was a fine friendly job and I was in a few scenes, too long ago to remember exactly, but we had to go to Wellingborough, which is in Northamptonshire and come out of a pub, drunk, get in to a taxi after making a load of noise and banter and then after that back to rehearsals in Elstree.
I can't remember how long I worked there but it was a few weeks and when we finished it would be Christmas. Seems easy, up to Christmas, a nice load of money from the job but . . . . it usually takes a few weeks to get paid by the time they have sorted everything out; we didn't get wages we got a fee. Bit like an attorney or some other professional but to me I had to try and make sure I could pay for Christmas. Three kids and Santa to think about, in laws or parents and all that food booze and presents to buy but I reckon I had it sorted.
I know what you are thinking; this piece is called 'Between the Sheets; a Gambling Tale' and you are thinking what's that got to do with what I have been reading.
But relax dear reader as I think it comes now.
There is a card game called Between the Sheets. So you see it is nothing to do with romping rattling.
In the card game two cards are dealt to each player around the table. Everyone can see your cards as they are dealt face up.
So let us say you are dealt a four and a nine. The dealer now asks you if you would like to bet and how much are you wagering. The idea is to get the next card between those two numbers. You had a choice of (something like) 50 pence, one pound or the lot. If your card is now five, six, seven or eight, you are between the sheets. You get a pound back if you wager 50 pence, two pounds if you have bet one pound and if you have bet the lot you get all the money from the kitty in the middle of the table.
If your card is not between the sheets you have to throw your fifty pence, your pound or – and this is the interesting bit – you have to put whatever is in the kitty which is in the middle of the table.
The games last a long time as people go for the lot sometimes and clear all the money away. Sometimes people take their two pounds and they are quite satisfied with that especially when the money in the kitty has really piled up.
Oh? Something very important. An ace counts as a one or eleven – like in pontoon or black jack. If your two cards are both aces, one can count as an eleven and the other as one so if that happens you go for the lot as there is very little chance of you failing unless you draw one of the two aces left in the pack.
If you do that, and have three aces, you have to double what is in the kitty and if the game has been going for a long time there is a load of money on that table.
We had a few games, in the bar/canteen during breaks but the last time I played it, the game had been going for a long time. Some of the regular members of the cast had gathered round, people came over from the bar – not Val – and one of the clever clogs regular members of the cast said 'It's simple. All you have to do it go for the lot every time.'
Well we all heard him and as the cards went around we would win some, the odd two pounds, the odd one pound than I was dealt two aces. I didn't have a lot of cash with me, it was in the days before the ATMs but the cards were there like Steve McQueen in the Cincinnati Kid; two aces. I looked around and no one had been dealt another ace which meant there were two others in the pack and if one came to me, and I bet the lot I would have had to cover that huge pot, in fact double the whole amount.
I had to think about it. I could have bet the maximum, get two pounds but I knew I needed to take a chance. I had heard what clever clogs has said 'It's simple. All you have to do it go for the lot every time.'
But I didn't have any money – what I did have was a cheque book and with it a cheque guarantee card, which are extinct now. So I took my cheque book out, my card and said 'okay if I lose I'll settle with this.
The dealer said 'what do you want to do?'
Three kids and Santa to think about, in laws or parents and all that food booze and presents to buy and I reckoned I had it sorted but would I have it sorted if the wrong card came up?
'Deal' I said.
He dealt the card and I won – don't ask me to tell you what card it was, all I know is that it wasn't an ace.
We all shook hands and off I went in my Hillman Minx up the M1 to Northampton and Christmas.
This is a good gambling story – a bad one would be to try and do it again but there we go.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Moseley Road Swimming Baths revisited.

I wrote this particular post on March 31st 2010 and someone wrote some very kind words about it the other day so I took a look at the post and as it interested me I thought it might interest you.

I am continually surprised just how far in to the future these posts go.

I passed Moseley Road Swimming Baths last year as I was in Birmingham, for a funeral, and the building is still there.

Here is the post warts and all:

There was something that happened at Moseley Road Swimming Baths when I was about eight years old which, I suppose, I will remember for the rest of my life.

It is as clear to me today as when it happened all those many years ago; sounds like ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier doesn’t it but let’s proceed.

Someone posted some photos on the Internet from a book about Balsall Heath and Highgate; both neighbourhoods of Birmingham, UK.

I bought the book they were in from Amazon;, that is, and there was a photo in it of Moseley Road Swimming Baths; it looked exactly as I remember with dressing rooms surrounding the pool.

So before telling you this little story I looked up to see if the place is still there and in fact the building is being rescued by the Birmingham City Council.

Moseley Road Swimming Baths sounds a strange title and of course there is no such thing; the correct expression would be Moseley Road Baths and if you look above you will see the massive Edwardian Building that is situated on Moseley Road, Birmingham; looking at it from this perspective it looks like some Russian Government Building which I suppose a lot of Edwardian buildings in the UK look like.

For instance a very good film about Guy Burgess, the spy, called An Englishman Abroad was filmed in Dundee for Moscow.

But back to the baths; the building was built in 1907 about ten years or so after the Public Library, which is a similar looking building, next door.

At the front of the building there are three entrances: one for the first class facilities for men, another for second class facilities for men again and the third was the women’s entrance for all classes.

England was more obsessed with the class system back then than it is these days.

The first class facilities included a slipper bath and a swimming Pool; next to the pool there were cubicles for the men to change and the baths would supply swimming trunks and a towel; a slipper bath, by the way, was a hot bath and the bathtub, itself, was called a slipper bath because when it was upside down it looked like the underside of a slipper.

The second class men’s facilities included a slipper bath and a swimming pool but the pool didn’t have changing cubicles; the men had to change from a bench on the side and the water that was used in the first class pool was decanted into the second class pool every week; now there’s a thought!

The women’s facility was just a facility – the slipper bath.

The place has closed down now but in its latter days the homeless and the elderly would go there for a bath; the elderly because it was a safe place to take a bath and the homeless for obvious reasons.

When I started to go there to swim there was only one pool being used; the first class one and you can see a picture of it below.

I attended Clifton Road Junior School and when I was around eight years old we would go once a week to baths for swimming lessons; I used to love to go in those days although I was never any good at swimming and spent most of my time in the shallow end which was around three feet deep; the middle of the pool was five feet and the deep end with the diving boards was six feet three inches.

Freddie Bishop, a friend of mine, never came swimming and no matter how hard I tried he would refuse.

His excuse was that he had no swimming trunks and I told him that he could get a slip; a slip is all it was as it was just a piece of thin cloth you tied around you with a piece of string that was attached; it looked a bit like a baby's bib; unlike the swimming trunks of the old days of first class service.

We would walk from Clifton Road School, up Clifton Road itself and onto Moseley Road and to the swimming baths which were situated on the west side of the street; so it took a lot of supervision by the teachers getting us across busy streets and the walk must have been about fifteen minutes or so.

After our swim I think we were allowed to buy Wagon Wheels or other pieces of chocolate of the day.

After a lot of nagging from me Freddie Bishop finally decided to come one of the weeks and off we trotted on our usual route; I was delighted that my friend was coming.

When we got there I shared the dressing room with Fred; the cubicles went the length of the pool with the boys changing rooms on the left and the girls on the right, in the picture.

Our cubicle was by the deep end and I quickly got changed and ran to the shallow end to join everybody else; we would start with the same exercises every week which consisted of holding on to the bar, which encircled the pool, and kicking our legs out at the back to simulate swimming; we did this for quite some time and soon everybody was in the pool; except Freddie.

So I got out of the pool and went to the dressing room to sort him out.

He still had his socks on, when I got there, but couldn't sort out the slip. I think he couldn’t undo the previous knots, or something, and after I tried to help him for a while I left and went back to the pool.

The teacher looked at me and wondered where I had been but I just got back into the water and continued splashing.

A few minutes later I saw him leave the dressing room and jump into the deep end; he had his hands in a kind of dive position with his palms flat and as he hit the water they caused an enormous splash; I wondered what was going on and when I didn't see him come up I shouted to the teacher “Freddie Bishop has jumped in the deep end.”

“Don't be silly” the teacher said and started to supervise some children at the other end of the line telling them to kick harder.

I looked back up to the deep end and saw his head bob up and then disappear again.

“Look sir! Look!” I shouted.

The teacher looked up as Freddie’s head came up again – then disappeared.

We were ordered out of the pool and the teacher ran towards the deep end; we kind of wandered up there too.

Thinking back I can't understand why the teacher or a member of the baths staff didn't just get in and pull him out; Freddie kept coming to the surface and then he would go back down and it was obvious to us, even then, that he was drowning – but nobody got in.

A grown up found a big hook on the side and tried to hook him but he went back down again under the six feet of water; the next time he came up he reached with his hand outstretched; thinking back now he might have seen the hook but all I saw at the time was his hand and then we saw it go down to the depths of the deep end again and I thought it was for the last time as there was a look of finality about it – then we were kind of shooed away.

They did get him out but I never saw it happen.

I got back to the cubicle and his clothes lay there; I kind of thought it was my fault for persuading him to come swimming when he could have been back in the safe warm school.

When we were dressed and ready to go back to school I saw Freddie sitting behind a desk near the slipper baths entrance with towels and blankets wrapped around him; he was breathing very deeply and I could see his very frightened brown eyes staring ahead like a wounded fawn that had been rescued.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Los Angeles to Chicago by train: including a death in Fort Madison Iowa.

There is our train engine resting in Chicago after the two day journey from Los Angeles.
Here I am in the wee small hours of January 28th 2019' earlier I was talking about this train journey with one of my daughters and because I was put in mind of it I am, once again, repeating a post of my blog from eight years ago.
Here goes:
We are on a train and stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico where the temperature between the inside of the train and outside is vast. We were out walking along the platform, looking at the array of Indian trinkets, blankets and the like and as we were doing this it was over ninety degrees Fahrenheit.
The journey, so far, has been entertaining. The priority of time on this train has taken a back seat to the attention to detail, the running of the system and the pleasure of travel.
There is no wi-fi on the train so I will write in bits over this journey through America from Los Angeles to Chicago; unless anything extraordinary happens between Chicago and New York I won't write about that part of the journey as I've already written On a Train in England in March, 2011.
The first thing we heard last night when we got on was a message over the speaker system from Chip the lounge car attendant telling us he was delayed slightly getting his groceries and had a problem with his fridge and asked us to give him a break and that he would be starting shortly with a bill of fare which includes coffee, beer, pizza, burgers and potato chips.
After a little while he came on again to say he was open which meant that everybody on the train went to Chip the lounge car attendant and lined up; his little lounge car is like a mini Seven Eleven – maybe about 30 feet long with passengers seats on either side – so you can imagine the hustle and bustle.
On the menu it said that they had 'freshly brewed' decaf coffee but when I went there afterwards he told me they were out of decaf!!!
After that we heard from 'Jackie in the Diner' – she was asking people if they wanted to make dinner reservations; she would say 'this is Jackie in the diner – would anybody wishing to book for dinner make your reservations now.' This voice would come on at various intervals asking people to come in for dinner, lunch or whatever.
Then Chip from the lounge car would come on again telling us he was going on a break so if anybody wanted anything they needed to hurry up and come and get it.
Things were swinging along and we were travelling then Jackie came on the speaker system again and wanted to know if people could hear her as the system didn't appear to be working. Chip from the lounge car came on to say he could, in fact, hear her.
When he said this a woman, sitting close by, used her mobile phone and speaking quite loudly in a New York accent said 'This is Dolores from Delaware; I need to speak to Mr Jefferson.'
This sounded interesting but Jackie came on the speaker system again saying 'I can't hear you at all, Chip; you're not coming through.'
Then again 'This is Delores from Delaware! Can you put me through?'
Then 'This is Chip from the lounge car – I am back from my break; if you want bagles or drinks now is the time to come.
Whilst this was going on over the speaker system a ticket collector interrupted all by saying he was coming around for tickets and 'don't forget to sign them in the top left hand corner.'
Each time he took a ticket from someone who hadn't signed it he would say 'I need you to put your autograph in the top left hand corner.'
Jackie came on again 'This is Jackie in the diner – am I coming through?'
'I can hear you, Jackie' said Chip from the lounge car.'
'This is Delores from Delaware – is Mister Jefferson there?”
The ticket inspector approached us puffing and blowing after climbing some stairs 'those stairs are killing me' he said; we're on the top deck.
'This is Jackie from the diner; I will be coming around to take dinner reservations, starting with the sleeping section and then couch.'
I sat reflecting about my years in America knowing that they are contemplating an all electric super duper rail system which will get you from point A to point B faster than a speeding bullet and wishing they wouldn't do it as it would spoil this lot.
The food in the lounge car was ropey to say the least but the food in the diner was excellent and reasonably priced.
There are four seats at each table so you are forced to face the other two people which more or less forces you to communicate with them.
On the first evening at dinner we sat with a Navajo professor and his wife; he was quite famous as he was the first Indian professor – I don't know if he was the first in the state or the country but he told us he had celebrated his 67th birthday recently by walking down one side of the Grand Canyon, along the flat bit and up the other side; he was a very fit looking 67 years of age and he told us he does 10K runs and used to be a baseball pitcher. I don't know if he was a major league pitcher or just played at college level as we never got that far but they were getting out at Flagstaff, Arizona the following morning at 4:30.
The next morning at breakfast we met Tom and Jenny from Victorville California; famous for the place where Roy Rogers used to live and have his western museum; I remember his horse, trigger, nearly stepping on me at the stage door after I saw Roy Rogers live at a theatre in Birmingham, England. I have to say that as there are quite a few Birminghams in America apart from the one in Alabama.
Tom and Jenny were also an interesting couple having cycled the world, by all accounts, and regular train travellers.
In the Observation Car I met another Navajo Indian but this one lived on the reservation. As we sat watching New Mexico flash by he pointed out lots things about the area and showed me some black stones which he said were from the top of 'that mountain' which exploded with the help of the volcano hundreds of millions of years ago. He went on to say that they used the black stones (he had a name for them which I have forgotten) in their sweat lodges.
He was going from Gallup, New Mexico, to Albuquerque to meet his son; he was sending his son a message using the modern equivalent of the smoke signal; his Blackberry.
He said he was proud of his son as he took the decision to leave the reservation and set up by himself 'abroad.' He said he had lived 'abroad' for a short time – abroad was anywhere off the reservation.
Indeed it is abroad as the reservations have their own sovereignty.
Later that day, Saturday, we had dinner with two people on their way back to live in Chicago from Los Angeles – we wished them well on their journey and they did the same for us.
Before we met them for dinner – in the usual accidental way – a man two seats in front of us was getting leery; he had been drinking all day and his voice was sounding very horse.
Whilst we were away he called everybody names and started shouting; someone called the conductor who came and told him off; he sat in his seat for a moment but when she went he started again. Then the same things again but this time he was really screaming so the conductor, a young woman, threw him into his chair, called the cops and they threw him off the train and into gaol somewhere; we were oblivious to all this as we were at dinner with our bicycle travellers.
Chip in the lounge car came on the loud speaker as we pulled in to Fort Madison, Iowa, to say that he was running out of food in the lounge car; he was out of bagles, pizzas and most of the cheese and ham sandwiches.
As the train pulled out of Fort Madison the train suddenly stopped; we had run over somebody. We were travelling at about 15 - 20 mph and apparently the person was killed. We don't know anything about it at the moment but within two or three minutes a cop car arrived and scaled a six feet fence outside; then he was told where the body was by some kids outside.
The latest news is a few young guys tried to cross the tracks and the last one was hit and killed by the train; there's no need to describe what we know or what I saw but you know what train wheels are like; the young guys were all in their twenties.
As we sit here waiting to move a voice in the background is heard: 'This is Delores from Delaware; I am just north of the train station in Fort Madison, Iowa. Today a man was killed . . . .”
As if oblivious to everything, whilst this was going on, another voice was heard ' this is Chip in the lounge car – I'm just back from my break.'

Cops look at the body whilst paramedics call the coroner.