Still untitled – Chapter 2

How would you describe Michael Phillips? Well most people wouldn’t think to.

Michael Phillips, the kind of man who blends into the background. The kind of man who causes no trouble to anyone, and receives none in return. You want someone to rock the boat and tell it how it is to your unreasonable boss at work? Michael is not your man. Nor is he someone to tell his child’s teacher she was out of line for giving little Erica detention for persistently disagreeing with her in class – even though it turned out that 12 year old Erica was correct about Canberra being the capital of Australia and not Sydney; a fairly routine fact for a secondary school teacher to know. No, in Michael’s experience it has always been far easier to adhere to authority and toe the line. An easy life is far preferable to a dream life that has been achieved through nothing but adversity. Make the best of what you have, what more could one want?
Michael works in IT. What he does nobody really knows. Far easier to be vague than have every family member and acquaintance call you all the time to help them remove the latest virus taking over their computers. He learned that the hard way. It wasn’t fixing the problem that bothered him; it was the fact that every problem that came up afterwards was blamed on whatever he had done when sorting out the initial issue. After 9 months he figured he should just buy his sister-in-law a new laptop. He hadn’t caused the new problems, it was just easier that way you see.

Tuesdays were always quiet in the office, and for some reason the commute was always quicker as well. As such, and as is tradition, Michael had stopped just round the corner to grab a take-out coffee and croissant. He liked this weekly ritual, it made a nice break from the otherwise monotonous existence the office catered for.
Always the same order; one ham and cheese croissant and one medium skinny latte. Always to go.

Today felt different to Michael. Not for any reason he could fathom, but different nonetheless. He had plenty of time so thought to walk the slightly longer route. He could cut through the park and allow himself to forget about the drudgery of the next few hours spent wishing he was good at anything other than IT.

The mother duck seemingly teaching her ducklings how to swim, the two puppies that had never previously met, now chasing each other around for the pure hell of it. Even the children, too young for school but not too old for swings, screaming with joy as they played on the various toys and equipment they had played on many a time before, but never as well as this. All of it made him smile, all of it allowed him a few seconds of pleasure and a brief but welcome escape from his own state of tedious existence.

“Michael! How are you?” It was Ted. He never greeted anyone without needing something doing.

“Great,” Michael sighed, his brief feelings of happiness now extinguished, “how are you?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ted replied in his unique way of both friendliness and dismissiveness.
“How is your diary looking this week? Do you have much on?”

“Well James was hoping that we could get the human resources department fully integrated into, and operational on the new system. We need to roll it out company-wide at the end of next month so we’re fairly busy making that happen.”

“Not so busy that you can afford to be a few minutes late into the office after stopping for coffee on the scenic route. Come on, I only need you for an hour a day, 90 minutes tops. I have a graduate starting as our department’s dedicated IT man, I’d appreciate the help familiarising him with the network and common issues. Just for the next week.”

“Really we are very busy, pretty much flat-out,” Michael replied, hoping that would be the end of it.

“I know, we all are since they trimmed so many of us. You’d be doing me a real favour if you could do it this week so that we can all ease our workload with a more efficient network at our disposal. You designed it, who better to teach him?”

Wow, this guy should be a salesman Michael thought to himself. What is he doing wasting his time in middle management? He could be retired by now. Michael had resigned himself to doing whatever Ted asked as soon as he had walked over. He always did. And he knew that the 90 minutes would be at least three hours. Just as he knew a week would probably be two. And really he didn’t have the time to do the favour anyway, especially as he wouldn’t be paid extra for his troubles.

But at the end of the day, what was the point of refusing? Ted was well connected and liked by everyone, a useful ally to have. Besides, Ted opened the door for him in the company in the first instance, Michael always felt like he owed him. The fact that in the 10 years since he started he had repaid the favour a thousand-fold in small requests and large, off-the-record, staff surveillance on Ted’s behalf would always be overruled in his head as paling into insignificance against being given that first opportunity at a reasonable salary.

“Fine, but it would be better if you tell James. Let him know that I’ll stay on task on a day-to-day basis, but that some of the work will be done each evening and outside office hours. It’ll come better from you, if I tell him that he’ll tear me a new one.”

“Fair enough, he won’t let you stamp your timecard for the additional hours though; I appreciate you doing me a favour.” The second part of that sentence was so casually dropped in that Michael had to fight the impulse to smile in spite of himself. Even if he had the desire to ask for the additional money he was due, that small phrase had done its job in dissuading him from doing so.

“I know. I’m doing you a favour.” Had he been more enthused Michael would have drenched the last word in sarcasm, but it would have been lost on Ted anyway.

“Great! I tell you what, I’ll let James know we had an impromptu meeting this morning to discuss this and that’s why you’re late. My way of saying thanks.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” you had to admire him Michael thought to himself. In all that Ted had managed to leave the request in way that would seem like he was helping Michael out of a hole. He really should have been a salesman. “So Steve, the graduate, turns up midday, let’s get together at 11 to go through what I need to get him up to speed on and how we prioritise his training.

“OK,” Michael replied hesitantly as he watched his fears of 9am-8pm for the foreseeable future fast becoming a reality. “I think that’ll work.”

“Great! See you then.” Ted grinned as he turned sharply away, having got exactly what he wanted before adding, almost as an afterthought, “and don’t worry about James, I’ll speak to him.”

A good morning ruined thought Michael when he started walking again a few seconds later. As he slowly plodded through the remainder of the park, he had no sign of the bounce in Ted’s stride, already 50 yards ahead of him. It could be worse was his only, clichéd, thought as he sipped on his coffee. He threw the croissant into a bin as he passed it by – no good eating it now, after that excursion it would be cold by the time he sat down at his desk.

_________________

Soft Solutions was an ordinary IT solutions company. Based in a grey office block in the greyer town of Basingstoke it occupied seven floors of the shared tower, each one seemingly the same as the preceding floor.

Michael walked through the non-descript reception and returned the shadow of a nod he received from the bored but serious looking man working the visitor desk. Michael always assumed he was some sort of security; he had a radio and wore a cheap blue blazer and tie combination to signify this was his domain. He had never bothered to ask however, in fact in the 10 or so years Michael had worked in the building he had probably only spoken two words to the man who was sat at the desk before he arrived and was still seated there after he had left. He wondered if anyone spoke to him, or gave him more than a shadow of a nod. It can’t be a pleasant existence, stuck on that same desk all those years with the most stimulation being the annual fire drill, no wonder he looked bored and serious – it probably wasn’t the job he had always dreamed of having. But who was lucky enough to get their dream job Michael thought bitterly to himself. He had considered striking up conversation before, but what do you say to a man you’ve seen every day for 10 years but never learned their name? No, a nod would suffice in place of an awkwardly forced exchange.

He got the lift up to the second floor, and then took the stairs to his third floor office. He always had done since he read on a London Underground poster that just a couple of minutes of exercise a day could prevent heart disease. He always took all three flights on his way down in the evening and at lunch.

“Good Morning Michael.” It was Tracy; she was a general office assistant for the third floor and a nice woman to go with it. Curvy but pretty, her extra pounds suited her, even if she described her own face as looking like the moon.

“Morning Tracy.” He smiled a genuine smile back at her. She was five years younger at 28 years old but they had always been friendly since her first day as a wide-eyed 22 year old, fresh into working life after a year of travelling post-university. It was only meant to be a stop-gap for her, but as with everyone else employed at Soft Solutions she just seemed to stagnate. She had put her plans of pursuing a career in architecture on hold for so long she had almost forgotten about them and seemed content to just get by for the time being.

They used to talk much more and the thought saddened Tracy. But, since the accident with Michael’s wife everyone seemed to view him more with pity than warmth. It was to be expected, but as Michael had retreated even further into his already sizeable shell it became difficult to do anything but act as you do around sick relatives in a hospice. Any genuine relationship he had with anyone was now reduced to insincere niceties. Sure, she was slightly different, they had been firm friends at one point and for a while Tracy thought that there might be something more to it, particularly as their friendship grew closer in the aftermath of the death of Michael’s wife. If it were possible to have sexual tension with a man of Michael’s personality then she had shared that tension, they even kissed in a drunken fit of uncharacteristic passion at the Christmas party nine months after Marie’s passing. And then Michael had, for the only time she had known him in six years, dropped the mask with which he hid his emotions and poured his heart out to Tracy about the guilt he had over Marie’s suicide, the fear he had in bringing up little Erica alone and the hatred he had for the vacuum for which his life had become. If people were staring when they caught Michael and Tracy kissing then they were stood with their jaws open when they saw him crying into her chest. Not that anyone would say anything to the man given the emotions of the first Christmas without his wife, but the inevitable awkwardness between the two lasted six months. He had only started to look her in the eye and say good morning rather than muttering it in the last few weeks.

Michael sat down at his cubicle, it was 9.30am and his manager was straight over to him.

“Christ Michael! I’ve just been on the phone to Ted. Do you not get how important the next couple of weeks are to the running of this system? London wants it ASAP, and you are jeopardising the implementation of this project!” James, who hadn’t paused for breath between words, looked red-faced as his voice rose into a firm shout that grabbed the entire floor’s attention. “All because you can’t learn how to say no to that cocky little shit on the second floor. I mean fuck Michael! Who pays your fucking wages? Is it Ted? No, he just piggy-backs off you because you let him treat you like an inferior and you treat him like a fucking God.”

“Sorry James, he said he really needed the help and it would only be an hour or so a day. Just for this week.”

“And you believed that bullshit?” James asked incredulously, knowing full well that Ted’s favours were always larger than perceived.

“Well I guess not, but I figured, I mean, I know the system inside out. I can work on this whilst I run through things with his graduate.”

“You’re damn right, you make him come up here to learn and you make sure he knows this takes priority. If we have any issues or something needs looking at then he can twiddle his thumbs for all I care.”

“I know, I’ll keep up to speed with everything. I can make sure that each update is ready prior to midnight the previous day. Any hours I miss with Steve I’ll make up each evening.”

“You’re damn right you will.”

“Honestly, James, you won’t even realise I’m multitasking. I’ll report to you before you’ve even asked.”

“For fucks sake Michael.” James replied, he was no longer shouting, exasperation seeped into his tone and everyone had their eyes on their own screens again, realising the morning entertainment was over. “Why do you do it to yourself? You have enough on your plate without helping that self-serving arsehole. Why do you feel like you owe everybody?”

Michael knew the question was rhetorical and the lecture part of his telling off wasn’t quite finished yet.

“I get that you don’t like confrontation and saying no, but look what it just caused? That was a confrontation. I am majorly pissed off at you this morning and you had better not let me down on this. Now as you agreed it with Ted there isn’t a lot I can do as he has already had it signed off, but had you just come to me first we could have worked something out that doesn’t involve you neglecting your little girl every evening for the next two weeks.”

“I won’t let you d-”

James held a hand up to signify he wasn’t finished. “I believe that, but the fact remains that you have a job to do and in future if anyone comes calling to you then you run it by me first. Until I can trust you to make better judgement calls then I’m making them for you. Now, get the fuck into the meeting room, I’ve had to move a project briefing forward to accommodate your new engagements.”

“Sorry.” James didn’t know whether to feel lucky or unlucky that he was the designer of this new system. He felt lucky in the fact that it had probably spared him a formal warning, such was his importance and James’ willingness to make everything run smoothly, but decidedly unlucky in the sense that if his input wasn’t so large he might have been taken off the project due his inability to prioritise. He would have been spared James’ stresses for the next three weeks at least.

“Tracy. Come here.” James barked at her and she scuttled towards him. “You are helping Michael train Steve. I want you to do anything that he tries to teach him that you are capable of teaching yourself in order to manage Michael’s time better. I want you to attend the planning meeting with Ted alongside Michael and I want you to stand yours and his ground. You are now the balls Michael doesn’t have Tracy. Got it?”
Tracy nodded, taken aback by the suddenness of her new role.

“Erm, OK Mr Winters.”

“James,” he corrected her. “For the last time use my first name. We’ve known each other three years. And Ted is Ted, not Mr Parker. I will not have him walking over
both of you. Now, I also want you to keep a diary of Michael’s actions each day and hand it to me at 9am each morning. That is to include what he has done the night before; not what he said he will do, what he has done. So get him to show you each morning after he has done it. That means you both get in at 8am each morning until this project is seen through. If you have an issue with that then I suggest you take it up with Michael.”

Michael’s eyes shot furtively downwards as Tracy shot him a look of pure evil.

“Sorry,” he muttered under his breath, though truthfully he didn’t know why he was sorry or why she was angry at him – he hadn’t decided this was the plan of action. He hadn’t decided to punish Tracy for his sins.

He sighed to himself as they walked towards the meeting room. It wasn’t even 10am yet.

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Untitled First Chapter – Creative Writing

Two years after last posting I am re-starting this blog on a different note to give a little more variety.  This is the first chapter of a story I am writing…

 

“There is no greater sin than to kill a man.  I don’t know how else to word it, how to get that through to you.”

“Aye, Father I agree.  But is there any greater glory to be had than by slaying a monster?”

Father Danny shook his head and exhaled an exasperated sigh as he pondered the best way to respond to the man sat the other side of the thin wall separating them in the confessional.  He felt like he knew him rather well by now, well enough to know his words were wasted and there would be no changing Jack’s mind.  He’d been trying to for the best part of four years; every few weeks Jack would come to Father Danny and confess his sins, invariably the first one would be a new murder he had committed.  He had tried blocking it out, telling himself the man was lying for attention – that was when Jack first told Father Danny of his plans before the killings would happen.  Now he would vary his approach, today he was indeed giving warning of what was to come.  And Father Danny felt so helpless, almost taunted.  Taunted by his inability to do anything but try and reason with the madman the other side of that impossibly thin wall.  And Jack knew this.

“If you feel so strongly about it, I have given you fair warning.  Do something about it.”

The silence lasted for what felt like a minute, maybe two to Father Danny.

“Exactly.  You can’t.  You took your vows, and I took mine.  I kill the scum of the earth and you say nothing about it.  Why? Because vows or no vows, you know the world is better off without them.  And do you know what Father?  Whatever you say, I think you admire me somewhat for doing what has to be done.”

“What you are doing Jack, it isn’t God’s work,” Father Danny finally replied, the passion stirred in him by what he perceived as the relentless mocking of himself.  “There will be no seat at God’s right hand for you.  There will be no eternity in Paradise and there will be no glorification of your crimes when you are gone – no glory to be had in either this life or the next.”

The same debate every time.  And then again, every night in his dreams, every waking minute in his head.  It was no wonder Father Danny felt so exhausted.

“You’re wrong!” Jack exclaimed it so loudly and belatedly that it caused Father Danny to sit upright in surprise.  “We all get tasked with different things in the world,” he had quickly regained his calm demeanour; “to some people I might be mad, I get that.  But I imagine the vast majority, if they knew the facts of what I did, would see me as braver than themselves and no less sane.  I expect the same people would look at your life of celibacy and discipline as the epitome of insanity.  It takes all sorts to make the world go round Father.”

“Your sort isn’t needed Jack.  There’s a system for the people you murder.”

“The system is broken, and all I’m doing is serving the justice the public require to stay safe.”

“To stay safe? Safe?  You make the world a dangerous place yourself Jack!  What if you miss a shot, or take out the wrong man?  What if people were to get caught in the middle of of it all?  Would you kill yourself in the name of justice?  It is madness.  Utter madness.”

“You give my skills too little credit Father,” Jack chuckled to himself.  “I’m good, very good.”

“I don’t doubt it.  Let us say hypothetically that you were given a wrong or false target.  Could you live with yourself then?”

“It wouldn’t happen Father.  I take my orders from a better man than I, and a better one than you for that matter.  He follows his convictions and consequences be damned. “

“He’s just another dangerous man.”

“Maybe in your eyes Father. “

“Then leave it to God to serve justice.”

“The same predictable argument every time.  He will cast his judgement on them in the afterlife I agree, but I see no harm in hurrying them towards their day of reckoning.  Anyway, I must be off.  I’d appreciate your absolution for my sins.”

“You haven’t committed the sin Jack, only talked of it.  You don’t need absolution for something you haven’t done.  That you don’t do.  You don’t need to keep doing this.”

“In that case Father I’ll see you on Thursday.  God Bless.”

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The Greatest Sporting Summer Of All Time

I was going to write a post straight after the Olympics to say how right I was about how great London 2012 was going to be.  But now I have a whole summer of sport to praise.  What a summer.

First up we had the end of the Premiership season, the most dramatic climax of all time.  Think Man Utd v Bayern Munich, think Johnny Wilkinson v Australia.  Stunning, just stunning.  Just days later, somehow, against all the odds Chelsea won the Champions League.  And before you had time to catch your breath we were off to Poland and Ukraine for what we were assured would be a three week long racially fueled fight.  It wasn’t.  The expected reports of violence were noticeable by their absence, the tournament was more entertaining than World Cups, England didn’t embarrass ourselves (and in a noble gesture bowed out on penalties in the 1/4 finals so someone else could win it) and we saw Spain win their 3rd tournament in a row – greatest international team ever?  They have earned their place in the debate, certainly the best of my generation.  Good start sporting summer.

And with football done with we had the staple diet of our normal summers up next.  The soon to be knighted Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France.  The first British man to ever do it.

The British Grand Prix yet again provided an unpredictable weekend of sheer excitement and The British Open saw the most spectacular collapse in recent memory – Ernie Els somehow triumphing over a devastated Adam Scott.

Cricket provided us with a thrilling three match series between England and South Africa.  We may have lost, KP continues to divide opinion but tearing your eyes away from the contest was near impossible.

With Wimbledon we had the usual question – could we find a British winner for the first time since Fred Perry in 1936?  No, but not for lack of trying.  Andy Murray came close; taking a set off Roger Federer before succumbing in 4 in the final.  There’s no shame in losing to the greatest player of all time on his best surface but we all shared Murray’s pain as he broke down in the post-match interview.  Could he recover?  Well the small matter of Olympic gold 28 days later and beating Novak Djokovic in 5 sets at the US Open to become the first British Slam winner in 76 years certainly made up for the loss at SW19.

And meanwhile in the sport of kings two stories were capturing the imagination.  Camelot ultimately came up short when trying to win the Triple Crown but Frankel continued to leave commentators looking for new superlatives as he first kept on trouncing his rivals and then did it with even more ease when stepping up in distance.  He retires to stud after Champions Day next month – savour him while you can.

And that would normally be that.  Except it wasn’t.  We had the small matter of hosting the Olympic games in London to deal with.  And didn’t we do well.

I didn’t see much of the Paralympics, but a sell-out of 2.5million tickets suggests that others may have done.  We won 34 gold medals, 43 silver and 43 bronze to finish 3rd in the medal table behind China and Russia – but ahead of USA.  Not a bad effort at all and with an uncountable number of touching stories.  David Weir won 4 gold medals in his wheelchair ranging from 800m to the marathon.  Ellie Simmonds won 2 golds, a silver and a bronze in the pool – despite being just 17.  Wherever you looked there were success stories and the games captured the public imagination in a way never before seen.  On an international level they were also notable for having the most athletes and participating countries of all time.

As for the Olympic games themselves?  Started off by a stunning opening ceremony by Danny Boyle that included James Bond, Mr Bean, a cameo from the Queen, the red arrows and all manner of other guest appearances from famous faces and sporting legends it could surely only go downhill?  Well they surpassed all expectations.  29 golds, 17 silver and 19 bronze medals.  An incredible 3rd in the medal table.  The most successful British team ever.  Crowds packed cycling and marathon routes up to 20 deep the whole way round.  Every event was sold out.  Every athlete afforded a rousing reception.  Every reception for a British athlete threatened to take the roof off.  70,000 games-makers kept everyone smiling, armed forces kept spectators safe and it all coincided with the only dry spell of the summer.  All the cynics and doubters held their hands up – we pulled it off in even more spectacular fashion than us cheerleaders had dared hope.

And stand out moments?  Well Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time and Usain Bolt proved that he is superhuman.

From a British point of view?  Take your pick.  Bradley Wiggins following up the Tour de France with another gold medal?  His 4th gold, and 7th overall in 3 games.  Andy Murray gaining revenge on Roger Federer by beating him in the Gold Medal match?  Sir Chris Hoy gaining his 6th gold medal in the velodrome to overtake Sir Steve Redgrave as Britain’s most successful Olympian?  Or the changing of the guard as Jason Kenny won the sprint in place of Hoy.  Whilst on the waves Ben Ainslie won gold again – for the 4th games in a row.  Laura Trott’s omnium win was one of the most tense races you could wish to see.  Team GB gaining a bronze in the team gymnastics was another incredible achievement – made all the more sweet by the fact it was so unexpected.  Tom Daley in the diving had it’s own emotion attached.  Mo Farah winning his second gold, in the 5000m, defied belief and watching the Brownlee brothers get gold and bronze to take home to Yorkshire was another of those moments that sticks with you.

Of course it goes without saying that we dominated rowing and cycling.  But the best moment for me?  That glorious hour in the Olympic Stadium when British Athletics rose like a phoenix from the flames.  First the poster girl Jessica Ennis completed what had become a procession in the Heptathlon in front of an adoring crowd of 80,000.  But that was just the start.  Out of nowhere Greg Rutherford took gold in the Long Jump to set us up for the grand finale.  Mo Farah had the simple task of becoming the first Briton to win the 10,000m.  He did it.  The stadium erupted.  The commentators lost all semblance of neutrality.  And so capped the greatest hour in British athletics history.  The 3 gold medals made it 6 for the day.  Super Saturday indeed.

And now it is all consigned to history and stored in the memory.  A glorious summer of sport made unforgettable by the joy of hosting the greatest show on earth.  Sport’s Personality of the Year should make for unmissable viewing this year.  2013, and every other year after it for that matter, will do very well to come close to the sheer joy the summer of 2012 gave us sports nuts.

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Giving up smoking…

I have been a smoker for 5 years.  Slightly longer actually but that’s not important.

I smoke 20 a day, have done for the entirety of my smoking.  Now we all know the health side effects, such as dying, but the truth is I enjoy smoking.  I like having a cigarette to break up my day, I enjoy the rare bit of thinking time you get smoking by yourself, it is a truly brilliant way to meet new people and it is particularly pleasant when sipping a pint of San Miguel in the sunshine.

It is also a fantastic stress reliever.  I don’t know why anyone would want to give up…

However, after much thought, and the fact that I spend £2,800 a year on something that is killing me, I have decided to cut my losses.  Using an online calculator I discovered that over the last five years I have spent about £12,000 on these little fitness sticks and smoked roughly 35,000 of them.

Where I used to be ridiculously fit and covering every blade on the football pitch I now prefer to make the easier and  less effective runs, I am no longer a fan of closing someone down and I would rather take a booking for a cynical foul than chase after someone who has gone past me.  Granted some of this is down to drinking but let’s handle one vice at a time!

So for mainly financial reasons I am now replacing each cigarette with a mug of coffee, or two minutes of fresh air.  I haven’t tried to give up before but I don’t believe in the stop-smoking aids.  I will work out my own way to do it.  Thus I am at work with no cigarettes to tempt me, and there isn’t a shop for a mile.  Tonight I will run somewhere.  Then I will drink lots because otherwise I won’t sleep because of all the caffeine.

And once I am no longer addicted to nicotine I will allow myself a couple of fags when I go to the pub.  If I can go from 20 a day to 10 a week I’ll have won.  That is my aim, but it first means going cold turkey.  Besides I can’t quit completely because quitters never win.

The problem I guess is that I am used to having less money because I have smoked for as long as I’ve worked, and though serious health problems could manifest themselves tomorrow, at the age of 23 they are impossible to get my head around.

I will probably use this blog as a bit of a vent and detached from the usual writing.  Today is the first day of my first attempt to give up smoking.  And I’m pretty pissed off at my decision.

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Celebrating London 2012

The famous Olympic rings in front of the iconic Tower of London

Later this month London opens it’s doors for the 2012 Olympics – a games that has been shrouded in controversy since it beat Paris in 2005 to host the biggest sporting festival in the world.

For the past 7 years people have rushed to claim that for a variety of reasons we shouldn’t be hosting the games. Some arguments have been frankly ridiculous such as the feeling we will embarrass ourselves as host nation because we won’t win enough medals – unlike the sporting powerhouses Greece in 2004?  Others argue that the budget (up to an eye-watering £9.3billion) would be better spent on MP’s expenses reducing the deficit and helping Britain climb out of the biggest economic crisis in generations.  Unfortunately this doesn’t take into account that London won the 2012 games in a time of huge prosperity.  Despite whopping salaries, nobody (for reasons yet to be explained to me) saw the recession coming or I’m sure we wouldn’t have bid for the Olympics.  Having won the bid, you can’t just walk away…

So we make the best of what we can.  And there are certain elements that the negative sport-haters are always too happy to gloss over.

Could the money have been spent better elsewhere?  Yes.  But equally we could make better savings by slashing the number of people in the civil service, pulling out of Europe, getting rid of the red tape that strangles businesses, deporting Bob Crowe, clamping down on benefits or cutting immigration. In short, money can always be better spent elsewhere.

But you can’t look at the £9.3billion spent and not consider potential benefits.

Would the East End of London have had such a monumental, and long overdue, face-lift if the Olympics were not going to be held there?  I doubt it, and even so it would have cost a vast amount of money.  Now they have some of the best sports facilities in the world on their doorstep, a mass of affordable housing post-games once the athlete’s village is converted, a huge new shopping centre, incredible transport links and the potential for new business investors to see the area first hand during the games.  Not a bad return for that often overlooked part of London.

The ‘London Legacy’ is a vague term, but if at a time of unprecedented obesity having a 17 day sports event on your back doorstep with wall-to-wall coverage on TV and radio doesn’t inspire people to get off the sofa and into an activity like football, athletics, swimming, boxing, cycling or tennis then nothing will.  And if nothing will do it then people will get fatter.  Fact.  So by my logic some of the £9.3billion will be recouped by an NHS that spends 10% of it’s budget on diabetes because fat little children think weightlifting is actually just standing up.

Equally what better way to build community spirit than by getting involved in a local team?  Most of my best mates play for at least one of the two football teams I play for.  Now I’m not a subscriber to the opinion that the UK riots of last summer were to do with a breakdown in community – I believe it was all done by a bunch of lowlife scumbags – but if you are then the thought of the community spirit being re-kindled through a few matches of doubles on the local courts should make you go all warm and gooey inside.

And whilst we talk community spirit and money spent and recouped; the Olympics are a fantastic way to increase tourism.  Every airport in the city will increase their passengers and revenue, as will all train companies operating in and out of London.  Hotels and bed and breakfasts seem to be doing rather well and tourists love to spend money on things you and I wouldn’t.  Already the increased revenue stream is a boost to the economy.  An economy which the nay-sayers claim will take a hit as people work from home – yes people will, but mainly in the civil service with their newly planned three day weeks over the summer.  Another argument (and one for a different day) that this sprawling public sector can save the most money for the economy by being gutted like a fish.  Private businesses will do just fine and work around it because they have to.

Are we going to embarrass ourselves with our medal haul?  No.  We came 4th in the table last time and we are stronger this time around.

Is it going to be a lot of fun?  Yes.  Even if you hate sport there are music events, parties and cultural events happening around the games to make the most of the public footfall.  Check out Heineken House or go to a Brazilian bar when they win the beach volleyball.  It will be a 17 day party if you want it to be.

Why does everything we normally have to spend money on have to be so boring?  Just for once let’s stop thinking about how many speed bumps we could build for £9.3billion or how many times Ed Balls could afford to flip his second home.

Instead, put your feet up and grab a beer from the fridge.  Turn on the TV and cheer on our athletes as they make history.  Witness world records being broken and legends being made.  Definately check our the gorgeous Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon.  Enjoy the spectacle because it is the only time we will see the games in our country in our lifetime.  Basically stop moaning and be proud of London pulling off the biggest event in the world.

Just maybe go to the pub for the opening ceremony because it’s rubbish every year.

If you get behind London 2012 Jessica Ennis will love you

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John Terry – A rare controversy

One year on and a brand new post!  I thought I’d make it easy for starters as Mr John Terry is in court (not for the first time).  And this time for “a racially aggravated public order offence” – basically he is accused of being racist to Anton Ferdinand.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest defenders of his generation, he has been capped 77 times by England, captained his country under two different managers and he has led Chelsea through the most successful period in their history.  He most recently made a make-shift defence look like a solid unit at Euro 2012 – all in the twilight of his career at the age of 31 and without regular England centre back partner Rio Ferdinand alongside him, although seeing as he allegedly called Rio’s brother Anton “a black cunt” the real question is why it was Rio who was dropped.

So, surely we should celebrate the magnificence of ‘JT’ and his remarkable career which has been built on being a blood and guts defender who puts his body on the line for the cause.

Unfortunately for Mr Terry, footballers are not simply footballers anymore.  Rightly or wrongly they are viewed as role models for children across our nation and expected to behave in a manner befitting the responsibility.  Which Terry does not.  Has not.  Will not.  Ever.

If we start at the beginning of his charge sheet we arrive in September 2001.  Notable for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11, American tourists at Heathrow were lucky enough to have a drunken John Terry harassing them after his match with Levski Sofia was cancelled due to the terrorist attacks.  He was fined two weeks wages.

Far be it for me to criticise someone for getting drunk and acting out as a result (but then again I am not a highly paid athlete and ‘role model’) but it is only a few months later in January 2002 that he is charged with assault and affray after confronting a nightclub bouncer.  Terry was later acquitted, but perhaps if he hadn’t been out on the lash 36 hours before a game he could have saved himself the trouble…

Then of course we have the infamous stories of John Terry offering private tours of Chelsea’s training ground to undercover reporters. He was cleared by his club.  He allegedly tried to sell his box at Wembley (a perk of being England captain) for thousands of pounds – because £130,000 a week just isn’t enough.  And don’t forget the failed mutiny he tried to muster in South Africa against Fabio Capello because he didn’t like the system Capello employed and decided to believe his own hype.  ‘JT’ decided that despite being an international footballer he qualified for disabled parking while out for dinner with his family – then again the £60 fine is only four minutes work for him…

Whilst Terry is making his own mistakes he isn’t helped by the family around him – a mum arrested for shoplifting and a father caught on camera dealing cocaine.  Surely with the wealth of “Captain Marvel” he could ensure his immediate family don’t need to resort to measures that are bound to reflect badly on him.

And everyone has heard about his infidelities.  To break it down nice and simply – Man marries woman.  Man cheats on woman. It happens.  It is a sin that has been committed since time began and will continue forever more.  The big difference (apart from the fact that as England captain that alone will cause you problems in the media) is most people don’t decide that after training they are going to pop round to the house of a teammate’s ex-girlfriend, a teammate they just spent a few hours with, someone who as a defender they must have a level of trust with and as a footballer must have some sort of relationship with, and shag that teammate’s ex.  Who happens to be good friends with their own wife.

And so to the point.  We all know that John Terry is an awful role-model, but if we look at the incidents that have plagued his career it has always been misjudgment on his behalf that has got him in trouble – regardless of whether or not he was later cleared of the incident.  There is no doubt that the misjudgment shown is also stupidity, at best.

Harassing Americans after 9/11, confronting bouncers 36 hours before a match, getting stung by undercover reporters, parking in disabled bays, letting mum and dad fall foul of the law, cheating on your wife with teammate’s ex.  These are all misjudgments.  To continually make these misjudgments whilst Chelsea and England Captain, and thus one of the most talked about and reported on sportsmen in the country, is sheer stupidity.

It is for that reason that I simply do not believe Terry’s defence that the comments he made to Anton Ferdinand were exaggerated sarcasm.  Nobody who makes the errors Terry has could possibly be bright enough to know what exaggerated sarcasm is.  Equally anyone bright enough to know what  exaggerated sarcasm is would have to be bright enough to know that using it in a racial context, as England captain, in front of a TV audience of millions is just asking for a career destroying inquest.

It is a paradox that doesn’t fit, an oxymoron seems an apt word for Mr Terry and his defence.

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Its not simple… but it isn’t difficult

I am no expert on economics.  I simply do not understand it in the complicated way in which it is presented.  However I do think I have a basic grasp of what is wrong with the economy – we spent more than we have, we owe more than we can pay off.

As I walked back from work today there was a march going past Westminster with the usual predictive placards in place – “Stop the cuts” or “Same old story, same old Tories” or the ever present “There is another way”.  What, pray tell is this other way I keep hearing about?

I see the same posters telling me of it’s existence, the same people talking of it’s mythical solution and the same sound bites capturing my attention.  But I haven’t heard another way that makes sense other than cutting costs.

I know from experience that if I earn 2,000 a month (apologies for a keyboard that doesn’t have a pound sign) and have no debts or necessary expenditure then I have 2,000 pounds to play with.  If I earn the same amount but owe 500 on an overdraft and 500 on living costs such as rent or travel to work then somewhere along the line I need to cut 1000 pounds out of my pleasure money that month.

It isn’t rocket science.  But even though seemingly sane people accept this in their own lives, for whatever reason they cannot get their heads around the fact the State operates with the same basic rules in place.  If it spends more than it can afford, then in order to pay off the debt it needs to cut back on spending in the future.

And regardless of your particular political preference the fact remains that Labour built up a huge debt and the Coalition are left trying to sort out the mess.

Now where these cuts should be made is a debate worth having.  The bloated public sector needs trimming.  People live longer so should work longer.  Expenses for public servants should be cut – for example why should ministers have a chauffeur service when the rest of us spend 350 pounds a month getting to work on crowded trains?  .

The health service needs to be ring fenced, because not everyone can afford private health cover.  The defence and security budgets can never be underfunded.  And however you feel about it, foreign aid to blossoming countries such as India and China is essential.  Has anyone ever considered that it might be an investment in the future because we know our time at the top table is limited and having countries like these owe us is only good for our long term stability?

These are purely my opinions on where it should happen, but the fact remains that cuts need to be made.

If you can’t see that 12 years of borrowing money and sinking further into debt brought the economy to it’s knees, then it explains why you are stupid enough to strike.  But striking and marching doesn’t mean that plodding on in the same self destructive fashion will work if we stick at it for the next 12 years.

Teachers get about 12 weeks holiday a year and work 9-4.  Tube drivers earn 45k a year.  And pensions for the the public sector are gold-plated to say the least.  Meanwhile, whilst salaries improve in the public sector (funded by both public and private sector taxes), wages in the private sector go down, jobs get cut and people worry about the figures from the next quarter and what it means to them.

The private sector understand that striking is not an option because if you have a job you should count your blessings.  If your business isn’t making money then it only makes sense to slash your expenditure.  If that means wages, jobs, pensions, hours, etc, then so be it.  If the business doesn’t exist then you won’t have any of the above anyway.

The public sector doesn’t understand that striking is not an option because the State is a business in it’s own right.  And if it isn’t making money then it makes sense to slash your expenditure.  If that means wages, jobs, pensions, hours, etc, then so be it.

Because if the state fails then we become a basket case like Greece.

 

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