Sunday, 30 November 2008

Hang on a minute.......

To early Mass. Whilst I've forgotten most of the religious education of my Primary School I do remember that the first Sunday of Advent is the start of the church year.  As a child Advent was the start of a seemingly interminably long period that ended with those much anticipated presents on Christmas Day. Recently I have looked forward to Christmas less with anticipation and more with dread. The pressure to spend, eat and drink when we have plenty of everything seems a bit incongruous. I can well understand that in Victorian times the prospect of Christmas in the middle of a long cold and hard winter must have seemed like a ray of hope.  What is so special about Christmas now? Seems to me its an excuse to spend money we haven't got on things we don't need and in any case we could afford to buy on  360 other days of the year.   
Today's homily at least suggested that there was more to think about at Christmas than the opening times of Marks : the real meaning of Christ's coming. On that basis  I am going to enter into the spirit of the thing. Quiet contemplation mixed with the watchfulness that we are exhorted to display as Christians. I will of course do the other stuff; but I want this to be  the year  I enjoyed Christmas  and I think now I can.  
Surprise, surprise! The rain held off for an hour or so which meant we could get some digging done at  the allotment.  Although the plot looks a bit bare that means its quiet for the weeds as well as the veg. We've not always been too lucky in having neighbours who keep their plots under control. Now at least on one side they've done wonders which means that when the border is tidied up it will stay tidied. That's sufficient motive to get the whole thing looking decent - not a prize-winner perhaps but not an eyesore either. And we are still getting the odd cabbage and with luck there'll be sprouts before too long.  

Saturday, 29 November 2008

abandon hope.........

It seems only yesterday that we were on a high after the match against Reading. Since then its been disappointment heaped on despair. The events of the last three months have seen us tumble into the relegation places, move a manager on and now release the striker who, nominally at least was brought in to replace Darren Bent.
There are times when the thing you most need is to stop falling and feel you're standing on solid ground. For Charlton in truth the falling started soon after Alan Curbishley walked out the door (and at the time there were plenty who thought that a positive development) and we haven't really stopped since. An unwise choice of replacement for Curbs (Iain Dowie) a clutch of new players brought in at considerable expense but who did not strengthen the team,  dismal form prompting more managerial changes and all the time the light at the end of the tunnel was no more than a new trap door opening. We now face the real prospect of 2 relegations in 3 seasons. Unthinkable really but best face up to it and start dealing with it.
What do you do when things are so out of control, nothing you do makes any difference (in fact it seems to make it worse) and you are reduced to the role of hapless onlooker. There are at present plenty of suggestions doing the rounds. Some of them involve reshaping the team, others a change of manager, others hoping that new owners will coming charging over the hill, laden with gold to bail us out. 
Today complete with new manager and a clutch of new loan signings we take on Southampton in a relegation six-pointer. Southampton themselves have preceded us on the journey out of the Prem and into the lower reaches of the Championship. Last season a whisker away from the drop. But recent form suggests that they are finding some form. Charlton in recent weeks haven't always played badly either but that in itself is a concern - playing well and losing is no basis for survival. 
 If anyone has the key to turning this round it ought to be   Phil Parkinson although  if he has he was certainly keeping quiet about it when Pards was at the helm. One grain of hope is that he does seem to have put in some work on his communications skills with the press at least and it would seem  the players.  The margins between success and failure at this level can often be measured not in terms of team strengths but in confidence and self-belief.  If he really can improve things in this area then who knows the free fall may stop and the Charlton machine will rise gracefully back into the air again. But then again, I know nothing.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Fight the good fight......

Wednesday ended with the shocking reports from Mumbai.  I suppose the reports that the "terrorists" were seeking out holders of British and American passports was a reminder that in this war on terror we are the enemy. It was also a reminder that we take peace, order and normality for granted. 
The words of  Andreas Liveras  a British multi-millionaire marked me. His final hours were broadcast to the world through the BBC. He'd gone down to the hotel dining room for a pre-dinner drink and something to eat. He could reasonably take for granted that all would be well, his visit to India  would end and he'd come back home to whatever life awaited him back in the UK. We cannot live our lives in any way other than assume that this will be the case. Perhaps the people in Baghdad were living out their day to day lives  on the night when the words "shock and awe" took on a new meaning.  And so tonight I'll go to bed wondering whether Charlton can pull things round, if my daughter will get through her GCSE mocks OK, my son will make any progress with his university application; if my contract will be renewed.
Is that reasonable or is that just complacency. I remember as a boy going to a Christian retreat and being terrified by one of those "fire and brimstone" sermons designed to shake me into repentance. The message then was you might be going back to your tent in 30 minutes but what if this was the night when God's judgement rained down on the world. What account would you be able to give of yourself?   I am not sure about fire and brimstone but perhaps if we embraced the notion that all this  could end very quickly, that those plans for our futures were futile, that the reckoning was going to begin now and not in 20 years we might treat the here and now and the people around us very  differently.  Certainly we would remember that in the war on terror the victims are not "terror" but fellow human beings. 


Monday, 24 November 2008

Better days ahead?

"Recession: A Time when money is returned to its rightful owners"
No time to catch up with the detail of today's PBR. But I caught some of the headlines on the way home. Presumably its still up for debate whether this is a much needed stimulus for the UK economy, a damp squib or a cynical pre-election bribe. 
I would like to think it will help those people facing  difficult times. Not sure whether a 2.5% drop in VAT was the right measure. I preferred the 20% income tax rate and was sorry when it was dropped. 
Taxes and public spending being in the news here are two passing thoughts. 
a. Every government pledges that it will pay for some of its election pledges by cutting down on Whitehall waste.  This is easier said than done. The fact is that no pound spent by Whitehall feels like it is a wasted pound in the hands of the beneficiary. Even a bureaucrat travelling Business Class at ludicrous expense will justify the cost one way or the other. The recipient of a grant or benefit will call foul when that money is withdrawn and will do so far more vociferously than the tax-paying public who will obviously see little or no direct benefit.
b. In today's paper there was extensive coverage of the battle being fought out in Manchester over plans for a new congestion charge. Now a congestion charge which raises money for better public transport seems like a pretty good idea to me. Wider public benefit, reduced congestion  and cleaner air. What's not to like about that? Hang about and maybe most of Manchester will tell you. Votes in the balance and if it falls then prospective green taxes may follow suit.  Perhaps taxation isn't the best way to catch people's attention. Sadly perhaps we need some environmental catastrophe before something which commands a consensus of the majority can actually be done.    
Yesterday was not one of the better November days in living memory. Snow, hail, frozen rain and just plain torrential rain for the most part. But as I returned home from a shopping trip I realised that no rainbow ever turned up except when we had rain. So a bit of consolation when I was on my home. David Bailey it isn't but you get the drift. 

Sunday, 23 November 2008

"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man". 
Sunday. Sunday starts with  8 o'clock mass. And the reason for the quote above is that I have returned via a very long winded route to what my grandmother called "high church". As a boy I went to a small church school on the South East London/Kent borders. Our church was the local Cof E which observed very Anglo Catholic traditions. Every Wednesday the priest visited and taught us incomprehensible things (to my very young  mind anyway) like the catechism. Thirty years later  and after periods punctuated by Sunday School (United Reform), agnosticism and  apathy I returned to regular church going. I was confirmed in the C of E but then courtesy of my wife and children became  a (non-communicant) regular  at the local Roman Catholic Church. The desire to remain CofE whilst not giving up on  catholic worship has taken me full circle to a church that could have been the one of my boyhood. Does this simply prove that the Jesuits were right as the earlier quote suggested. Or is something else at work? The reason for this blog I now realise is in part the search for an to answer that question. But for now 8 o'clock mass is a cornerstone of my life and I am eternally grateful for the peace and spiritual nourishment that it brings. 
Nourishment of another kind sadly missing today. Rather than harvesting home-grown vegetables to go with the Sunday roast,  heavy snow, sleet, hail and rain forced me to seek alternative forms of physical labour - the local gym to be precise. On the treadmill (they have little televisions) I watched England getting their customary pasting from Sehwag and Co; whilst burning off the excesses of the previous week.  If our cricketers could only raise their game this would be a great "win, win":  watching sport and getting fit.
On the Charlton fan pages this evening the talk is of only one thing - Pardew's replacement. In truth whilst I felt it was time for him to go I do feel sorry that things didn't work out for him and that after two years he lost his job. Yes, he was well paid and yes he probably doesn't go  away empty handed but I doubt whether that was what he hoped for when he signed on the dotted line.    
At the highest levels of professional sport the margins between success and failure are ridiculously thin. For Alan Pardew he may well reflect that two or three moments in a game or decisions on a particular  team selection could have changed everything . Actually I hope he does think that because he may then see that he still has a lot to offer the game. 
One of the posters tonight said that they have been supporting the team long enough to know a relegation team when they see one. I was there yesterday so I know what they mean. We may yet  get the right person in and when we do, they may well  start a revival. But in football there have to be losers as well as winners and the biggest challenge for us fans is to recognise that as with  others before us - Wimbledon, Leeds and Leicester, for example - things can get worse before they get better. 

Saturday, 22 November 2008

.....12 hours later

I use to play football at weekends. Park stuff, certainly not the Premier League. And more often than not the team I played for was not exactly setting the place on fire. You know when confidence is low.  You allow other teams to dictate play, boss you around. And when you do get the ball it is treated as the proverbial hot potato - to be got rid of at all costs. 
Watching Charlton today put me in mind of those days. The defending was not school-boy; school-boys would not have committed the sort of howlers I saw today. By the time the opposition's fourth goal went in I was laughing. I actually applauded their fifth because it was well taken and was the first time we hadn't actually handed it to them on a plate. 
We have got some good players: Moutaouakil, Bailey, Bouazza, Hudson and so on.   Pound for pound they match anything in the Championship. But today I got the feeling they would all have been plying their trade somewhere other than the Valley.  Maybe doing a bit of Christmas shopping at nearby Bluewater. 2 - 5!  That was a bit of a let-off really.  
I am not good at the body language thing but   watching Alan Pardew being interviewed on Sky was painful. He didn't look into the camera. He looked a  haunted man. Sure enough a couple of hours later and he was on his way.  By mutual consent - a compromise agreement. He doesn't take the club for too much compensation and he can argue he wasn't sacked.  A sad end but the best outcome in all the circumstances.  I hope he can move on to something that works better for him. For Charlton something better is getting pretty pressing. Don't fancy League 1 next year.
Tomorrow is time for other stuff on my list.  To early Mass - to lift the spirits and to help me see things in their  perspective - followed by an hour or two's digging on the allotment. By 4 o'clock tomorrow evening the grouchy spectator at Charlton today will be a fading memory............. 

It's 8:21.......

......and its very cold, the sort of weather that prompts you to start a blog. So here goes.

I am no obsessive so no single theme - in any case I couldn't hope to match the passion or devotion of those other bloggers. But in no particular order here is what might turn up:

- Charlton Athletic 
- Religion
- Allotment gardening
- Music 
- Politics   
- Film
- Books

At present Charlton are likely to turn up most. To start with we're at home today and I'll be there. We are in a relegation dogfight already and a blog seems as good a place as any to vent my feelings. I fear Sheffield United may present yet more opportunties for a cyber-rant but I go full of optimism.