Sunday, 21 October 2012

"Why do you even play football?"

SBFC 3 Fishponds Town 1

FC Bristol South 5 SBFC 4

Legion 3 SBFC 3

Quayside 2 SBFC 8

As some of you know, I asked for a private word with today's ref after the final whistle. I told him I thought some of the challenges we received were plain reckless and he could have done more to stop them. I'm not accusing Quayside of anything malicious, it's just a fact that in Sunday League, tackles are mistimed for the same reason most 25-yard volleys go absolutely nowhere near the goal. That reason is that most of us are shit at football.

There's a tendency among some refs to shrug their shoulders at the shambolic tackling at our level, to just dismiss it as part of the amateur game. But the lower level of defensive skill means the refs have to exercise more control, not less. A hilariously sliced volley is harmless, but an unskilled centre-back hurling all 13st of himself, studs up, at the standing leg of a winger isn't funny, it's just dangerous.

Credit to the ref, he let me make my point before condescending me into another dimension.

"How long you been playing the game?"

He asked me this knowing full well, as a 60 year-old man, that he would have been refereeing longer than any number I could tell him. So, I reminded him that I was being polite and that if he disagreed with me, that was fair enough but there was no need to be a prick about it. Undeterred, he continued with his line of argument.

"I've been reffing 25 years and I have the experience to know when something is dangerous or not."

I said what happened 20 years ago had nothing do do with it, you're not allowed to jump into tackles anymore. If I were getting 40 grand a week, then maybe I'd risk a broken leg, but for an amateur game to be played like this was just crazy. He then asked me a question I've been thinking about all afternoon.

"Why do you even play football?"

At the time it didn't really register, I just thanked him for letting me make my point and wished him an enjoyable Sunday afternoon. It was only later that this question struck me as odd. Was the ref really saying that if I was worried about one of my teammates getting seriously injured, I shouldn't even bother turning up? That's like complaining to the waiter that you've been served raw chicken, only for him to ask "Why do you even go to restaurants?"

More on this later, but I suppose I had better talk about how SBFC have been getting on first.

A few weeks ago now, SBFC gave the 10 ten men of Fishponds Town an exhibition of passing verve and profligacy. Jack Britton opened the scoring early doors, latching on to a neat through ball from Andrew Morris and finishing with 'aplomb', whatever that is. SBFC then proceeded to spurn one chance after another, as opposed to spurning all their chances at the same time, which is physically impossible.

Eventually, Dave scored a couple of penalties. He didn't kick them very hard though. If they'd have been saved, Alan Shearer would have called them 'bad penalties'. But they went in, so Shearer would have called them 'good penalties', had he seen them. Then Shearer would have grinned 'A good penalty is one that goes in', seemingly making an ironic joke about his inability to take his own analysis to an abstract level. This would be a clever thing for Alan Shearer to do, so if he ever does it, this isn't what he actually means because the man is a fucking idiot and anything clever he ever says is an accident.

The week after we lost 5-4 to FC Bristol South. I don't really remember much about this game except that at one point I tried to clear a corner, but all I did was kick the ball vertically upwards into my own face. At the second attempt I then hoofed it 50 yards to Colin, which may have been the furthest I have ever kicked a ball.

I went off at 70 mins and then went round telling everyone my pass completion rate was 100%, which I genuinely thought was true at the time. I then remembered a couple of misplaced passes and felt quite embarrassed about going round boasting about my 100% pass completion rate like some sort of madman when it wasn't even true.

Their last 2 goals were pretty good strikes and we can't really complain about losing the game, not that I really remember much of it. According to the spreadsheet Steff and Ben Wyatt both scored (I have some recollection of this being a good goal Ben?). Dave got a penalty. If anyone has any memories to add, please do so in the comments below.

On to our away game against the league leaders, Legion. We didn't win, but I think this was one the best SBFC performances I have been a part of. We were competitive and passed the ball well against a very good side. We had no Dave or Jack, but everyone on the pitch stepped up and played with skill and courage.

SBFC's first goal was magnificent. Sam Bebbington, who has been having an excellent season so far, made a great intercepting header from a threatening Legion long ball. Raj picked it up in midfield and nudged a short pass to Andrew Morris who had time to turn and play a superb ball through the defence to SBFC's notoriously aggressive right-winger Colin. After a bit of high-paced jiggery-pokery, Colin whipped in a cross with such ferocity that Ben Wyatt didn't have time to get his instep under the ball and lift it over the bar as usual, and much to his own disgust, scored from short range.

Lovey stuff, Saints in front.

Legion's 'little man with a big attitude', Turbo, then scored a clever back-heel flick from a cross that should never been allowed to skid into the box the way it did. The SBFC of old would probably have folded at this stage. As ever, the opposition were more physical, but did that mean they 'wanted it more'? No, no, a thousand times 'no'. Well, three times 'no' really. Four if you count that last one.

Anyway, Legion gave away a moronic free-kick on the D. Now, the whole point of the D is that it marks 10 yards from the penalty spot so the ref can make sure no defending player is within 10 yards of the ball when the penalty is taken. So, the Legion wall should have been on the penalty spot right? No, not according to the ref. When I pointed out this simple fact to him he said

"I've called my ten yards, now walk away".


So while I was getting pissed off about that, Steff calmly sent the ball over the wall and into the top right corner. 10 yards, 6 yards... whatever... it's all the same to the man they call 'A Wizard'.

Turbo then demanded his teammates 'up the tempo' and 'box us in' by getting all of Legion's players to stand in the SBFC half for our goal-kick. This odd decision was exploited by SBFC when Ellis picked it up in midfield and needed only to poke the ball past the Legion defensive line so that Steff could collect it in acres of space. Steff sent the keeper left with his eyes and slotted the ball neatly into the recently vacated centre of the goal.

Four minutes to go and 3-1 up, good times. But Legion scored twice and it was 3-all. Turbo, and Legion in general, are quite annoying, but he and they are quite good at football. Fair play to them. Bailey was Man of the Match after making a string/host/plethora of superb saves.

Finally, today's 8-2 demolition of Quayside. SBFC played some smashing stuff at times, lots of crisp, short passing and clever movement. Colin had a magic game up front. A triffic game. A top, top game, but Andrew Morris was Man of the Match after bitchslapping Quayside till they begged for mercy. Their beg for mercy took an unusual form, mainly just a series of daft sliding tackles, but I know begging for mercy when I see it.

I can't quite remember the sequence of goals, but I'm pretty sure the almost perfectly cubic hairy-hat-trick-hero Sam Greenwood was first. Sam G, as nobody calls him, has fitted in to the SBFC squad like an old-lady with a slipped disc getting into a hot bath. It's taken a bit of time, but... errrmmm... fuck I dunno. I've been writing this for an hour now. Complete the analogy yourselves. Big-ups, shout-outs and wet kisses to Ben Mudge for his strong performance and first 90 minutes of the season and to Steff for nobly volunteering to play in goal.

Highlight of the game, for me anyway, was one of Andrew's goals. I picked it up inside the SBFC half, beat one of Quayside's midfielders and played it through to Dave, who then played it back to me. Playing a 1-2 with Dave is like playing Swingball with Roger Federer. You're kidding yourself if you really think you're contributing to the flow of the moment, but I enjoyed it anyway. So, collecting the ball 15 yards inside the opposition half, I looked up and slid an inch perfect pass between the centre-backs to Andrew Morris who finished superbly.

In the context of the game, it was pretty meaningless, we had already won at that stage. But, it was probably the most satisfying thing I have ever done on a football pitch. I'm not blessed with a particular talent for football, I mainly play because despite my ineptitude, I enjoy the game. Sometimes when we're getting beaten or if I'm playing awfully, I wonder why I bother, but then once in every dozen games I execute a moment of creativity, probably just as well as a professional would have done.

Sure, Sunday League football is pointless. But then even winning the Champions League is pointless if you want to be a prick about it. We're all still going to die. One day the pitches upon which we play will probably be a post-apocalyptic nuclear dust-bowl and nothing any of us will have done will be remembered by anyone. But that's not the point. To master your surroundings, even for just a few seconds, is something to savour. To do it in the company of teammates that you genuinely enjoy playing with makes it all the more special.

Why do I play football?

What a stupid question.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


"The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought, with some reason, that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. But the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." - Albert Camus

I often find myself, during games, sliding into a deep trance as Dave's hypnotic hips turn him round and round in ever smaller circles. I get a better vantage point than most, a few yards behind him and about ten to his side, but I'm told wherever you are on the pitch, it's a beautiful sight.

"Look at that!" I think to myself, while I'm probably meant to be doing something useful.

But the joy doesn't last long, because nine times out of ten, Dave's endeavors will have been in vain and then he will scowl. Or swear in Italian, while doing that thing that Italians do where they look like they're holding an imaginary hand puppet up to their chin. Then, I feel guilty for my pleasure, like I've just been applauding an elephant that can walk on its hind legs, only to notice tears in it's eyes.

At moments like these, I remember the legend of King Sisyphus and feel like the sort of fool who applauds each journey up the hill, entirely missing the point that I am witnessing a man condemned to eternal torture. But then tonight I came across that quote from Camus and I thought 'well, at least Dave is consumed by an emotion strong enough to make him feel alive'. This is not a consolation as such, but I suppose I can rest easy knowing that on some level, Dave's soul is at peace.

So yeah, we played football earlier, a cup match against a side from the league below us. It was alright, a good game. We were a bit cocky beforehand, I  heard someone say "Yeah, they're shit, but we're not good at playing shit teams, we might only beat them four nil or something."

So, we were looking pretty stupid when they took the lead early in the first half from a 25 yard speculative half volley. It got worse and we had to ride out a 15 minute period when we were almost totally incapable of making even the simplest passes to each other. We did well to stay in the game and our stand in keeper, Jim, did brilliantly to tip a header over the bar from one of their many corners.

Then, for no particular reason, SBFC remembered that it is easier to score goals if you pass the ball to people on the same team as you. We finished the first half much improved from the first half of the first half because in the second half of the first half we were better than we were in the beginning of the first half which was the beginning of the match when we weren't playing so well.

A constructive half time brought about a slight rejig of the midfield and an agreement to get the ball wider, faster. This strategy of the midfielders passing it to the attackers who then kick the ball into the goal reaped immediate dividends. Something weird happened up there between Colin and Steff which ended up with the ball in the net. It's hard for me to give more details (please feel free to add your comments below), I was quite a long way away.

1-1 became 2-1, mainly because we then scored another goal. Raj Chande ran on to an HCC clearance ten yards inside their half and slid a no-look reverse pass to an unmarked Steff who took one touch and finished with aplomb. It was a lovely goal and would have looked fantastic from the camera that they usually keep just inside the post.

The game then turned a bit scrappy and SBFC probably should have scored another. SBFC defended well, Sam Bebbington made an excellent defensive header with about 20 minutes left. There was a lot of long-ball-back-and-forth nonsense and that's when Dave started getting a bit annoyed, but these things happen Dave. These things happen.

Then came the most important moment of the match. HCC won a corner with one minute left on the clock. The keeper came up. THE KEEPER CAME UP! God it was exciting. It was a damned good corner too, flat and with pace, but Sam Hayhurst rose above the crowd and headed it to the edge of the box to Steff, who headed it on to Sam Greenwood, who then ran the length of pitch just about slowly enough for their keeper to get back to his goal, before sliding the ball into the net.

3-1, SBFC go through to the next round.

The End.

SBFC 3 City South Farm 4

This match report comes a week late for a few reasons, but mainly because every time I remember this game I smash my face against a wall until I pass out.

First things first, City South Farm are good at what they do. They had a plan, they all knew what it was and they played to their strengths. So rigidly did they follow this plan that I spent the vast majority of the time I was on the pitch looking up at the sky as the ball sailed over my head towards their red faced front man.

Indeed, their first goal was an excellent header to a cross brilliantly delivered from the half way line. I'm not sure anyone could have saved that, let alone our makeshift keeper James Carnevale (who did a great job in goal in the first half).

St Bernadette's recovered well though I don't remember much of it now, maybe the repeated self-inflicted concussions to block out the memory of the defeat are to blame for that. But I do remember Colin Clements scoring an excellent goal to make it 2-1 to the good guys before the half time break.

The second half was a load of boring bullshit. City South Farm played one long ball after another and swore a lot. Occasionally, the ball would ricochet into the St Bernadette's goal, but their goals were as much 'goals' as Chris Moyles' autobiography is a 'book'. Sure, all the components of a book are there. Words. Sentences. Pages that turn over to reveal yet more words and sentences. But, if you were in any way responsible for the creation of those pages, you'd have to immediately kill yourself by swallowing a cocktail of broken glass, bleach and shit.

We did score a third, but I was looking the other way so I don't even know what happened really.

Wasn't all bad though. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and I went to play a few games of ping pong and watch Dredd and it was alright I suppose though it's a shame they got locked in the building and that because it was interesting until then but maybe they will do that more in the sequel and also I won at ping pong.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

DKL Athletic 2 SBFC 6

Questions. Questions. SBFC had questions to answer. Not the sort of question that a striker must ask of the keeper in a one-on-one situation. No, different questions to those. After Steffan Cole's controversial resignation following his unfortunate outburst on the disabled, reincarnation and karma, how would his successor Sam Hayhurst cope on his competitive managerial debut? How long would it take for the club's new signings to adapt to SBFC's passing ethos? Why is Bailey always naked?

Today, those questions were answered. Except the last one.

The pitch was not suited to SBFC's sophisticated playing style. Sure, in Sunday League football, the odd divot is to be expected. But this afternoon, the entire pitch was just one big divot, itself made up of thousands of smaller divots. The altitude drop from the touchline to the centre circle was so dramatic that several players complained of their ears popping during the revamped warm up. But warm up they did.

Indeed, the all new warm up (which introduced the revolutionary concept of kicking the ball about a bit before the game actually started) immediately reaped dividends. DKL Athletic could only gawp on like the sort of simpletons who still point at aeroplanes as SBFC pinged the ball round the pitch with precision, enthusiasm and verve. DKL didn't take it lying down though and came up with the master strategy of appealing for "HANDBALL!!!" every 15 seconds.

Surprisingly, the one-dimensional tactic of repeatedly claiming free-kicks failed to repel the SBFC onslaught and some tidy build up play led to Andrew Morris shimmying into the penalty box and squaring for Colin Clements to score SBFC's first goal of the season. Andrew Morris then added a second after some majestic centre-forward play from Ben Wyatt. Perhaps it's lazy for me to exploit Wyatt's obvious physical resemblance to the big Ivorian, but it was a truly Drogba-esque bit of play.

I'm not sure exactly when DKL scored their first half goal (to make it 2-1 or 3-1?), but I'm not really going to talk about it anyway because it was shit. But, I had a lovely view of our third. I'm not quite sure why Colin was running towards me with the ball, but what a sight it was. Colin then dinked a left foot pass 20 yards, between 4 DKL players and into the path of Mike Malay who calmly slotted home. Sure, we all would have preferred it if he'd headed it home, but it was still pretty good.


The 2nd Half started with something of a spirited fightback from DKL who really upped their intensity. The "HANDBALL!!!" appeals were coming in thick and fast and tempers started to fray after a counterattacking Colin Clements refused to accept that he had run the ball out of play. The game and the human race as a whole was brought into disrepute as Colin petulantly kicked the ball a good 50 yards away.

"I thought you whistled to say I should play on ref." smiled Colin.

"He didn't think that. He's a fucking liar." said their slightly dimwitted number 9.

DKL then nicked another and in fairness, they deserved it. SBFC need to find a way to cope with that kind of pressure, we just can't allow teams to keep appealing for "HANDBALL!!!" like that. As SBFC resumed the game, Raj Chande did what he does best and shouted some non-specific encouragement about 'concentration' and 'work-rates'. By golly did SBFC listen. No sooner had DKL pulled the game back to 3-2 than SBFC had restored the 2 goal margin which they had had previously in the half and also in the 1st half when they had been winning 2-0 which was what was happening earlier before this bit.

And what a goal it was. Birthday boy David Amesbury and his perfectly square torso collected the ball deep into the DKL half, turned round and round in semi-circles before burying a left foot shot into the bottom right hand corner. DKL heads went down. DKL went quiet. DKL thought 'fuck this'.

Then some other stuff happened but this is already quite long so I'm going to start winding it down. James Carnevale marked his debut with a goal, which is the only appropriate way to mark a debut really. Andrew Morris scored another goal from distance which isn't worth discussing in great detail because from where I was standing it looked like the keeper caught in and threw it into the goal.

I haven't yet mentioned the Man of the Match, Ellis Jones, who started the game at Left Back, moved to Right Back and then ended up at Right Wing. He was bloody brilliant everywhere, composed on the ball and hard working without it. Ellis Jones is an example to us all and I am going to name all of my children Ellis Jones, regardless of their gender or how many I have and how confusing it gets.

Later in the dressing room, Bailey was naked and there was some banter and everyone laughed and we all said 'well played' to each other and it was nice and then I went home and ate some chicken and some rice and some broccoli.


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Footballers are amoral scum

So I'm watching the Olympics and reveling in its unbridled positivity and marveling at what a cracking bloke Sir Chris Hoy appears to be even with all his success and I'm thinking "God, aren't footballers a bunch of twats?"

But then I thought about it a bit longer and I figured that Hoy doesn't complain to the ref because, well, there isn't one. Not one that influences what's happening during the sprint anyway. Then I thought, "Hoy doesn't dive either", but then it occurred to me that's because there wouldn't be any point.

I'm not sure how everyone will react to the uglier side of football once the season resumes, I guess gobbing off at the ref will (briefly) be tolerated less than it was before the Olympics. That is of course absolutely a good thing. But I always find myself getting defensive on behalf of footballers themselves. I don't think these guys were born without the capacity to act morally and there are plenty of players who, generally speaking, compete pretty fairly.

Pretty much all athletes, in any sport, are gaining an advantage any way they can. Some of them don't know when to stop and go too far. But cheating takes many forms, it's just that footballers cheat in an ugly way.

Pretending to be hurt, pressuring officials, these are unpleasant ways to behave and many point to rugby as a shining example of sportsmanship. But, rugby is a sport where it appears perfectly acceptable to punch your opponent in the face or gouge their eyeballs, as long as you shake hands afterwards. It doesn't seem so much that football's critics have a problem with cheating, but rather that they just prefer the cheating takes some 'manly' form.

I hate diving in football, though I hate two footed lunging tackles even more. I can't stand it that players aren't penalized for swearing at the refs and I think kids should be set a better example. But I also don't think that there is something wrong with footballers as a species, largely because they aren't a species. Most of them are responding to the incentives laid out in front of them. Those who still act honorably should be noted for doing so, much as clean Olympians are lauded for resisting the temptation of doping.

Football has problems, but endemic drug problems and on field violence don't seem to be an issue. Maybe instead of talking about footballers, rugby players and athletes as different species, we should consider them all as human beings who succumb to temptation in different, but perhaps not so morally distinguishable ways.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

If You Can't Lose, You Can't Win

Last night I watched a surprisingly brilliant documentary on Victoria Pendleton, reigning Olympic and World Sprint Cycling Champion. I say 'surprisingly brilliant' because I was expecting a tedious montage (which I still would have watched) of talking heads jabbering on about how driven Pendleton was as a little girl and how proud she was to win gold in Beijing and blah blah blah.

But this really wasn't that. Within the first few minutes Pendleton despairs at being 'trapped in her own success' and says she's only ever competed to make other people happy. When she wins, all she feels is 'relief' at not having let them down. Not an obviously heartwarming start.

Stupid and Boring
Elite athletes often sound stupid and boring, but only because the journalists that interview them are, well, stupid and boring. This excuse cannot explain why Alan Shearer is so stupid and boring, as he appears to be stupid and boring regardless of context. If Alan Shearer were alone in the woods and there was nobody there to hear him, he would still be stupid and boring.

But this documentary was immediately compelling. There was very little of the usual 'It was hard, but I'm delighted to have won' guff that sports fans are usually forced to endure. Instead, we were given an insight into just how psychologically draining it is to be an Olympic athlete. 

Pendleton could tell the viewers she rides 300 miles a week and leg presses 400kg every day and it would mean almost nothing to the rest of us. Those things sound difficult, but the vast majority of us have no conception of what those numbers actually mean. But when we're allowed to see that she's just a person, like us, who is terrified of failure and yet she still puts herself out there, year after year, even when winning doesn't make her happy (at least not in a way that we immediately understand)... then our jaws drop in admiration. Well, mine did anyway.

 To me, this is the essence of sport. With time and practice, most people can muster some sort of competence at most physical skills. But to truly compete requires an all-consuming commitment that leaves the person as emotionally vulnerable as they are physically formidable. That's the bravery in what elite athletes do. The goal must be pursued with a deranged urgency, even though sporting achievement is ultimately as arbitrary as anything else. Commitment is scary, it's much easier to hold something back so you can pretend that if you fail, you never wanted that success in the first place. Elite athletes do not have this luxury.

Take a look at this picture of Amir Khan from his possibly career-ending defeat last weekend. Yes, he was bruised and battered, but so what? Boxers look like that even after fights that they win. It's his bewildered expression rather than the blood on his face that makes me wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life.

I don't think physical pain really registers that much with viewers anymore. Most people have no clue just how much effort it takes to break away from the peloton on an Alpine climb, or how hard it is for an injury-addled footballer to play through pain. 

But I think most of us 'get' psychological pain. Most of us know what it's like to want something (or someone), to try to achieve it but still to come up short. Likewise, many of us also know how frustrating it can be to achieve what you've worked so hard for, only to find that you feel absolutely nothing when you hold it in your hands.

When that documentary finished last night, I thought about how pointless most fictional narratives seem in comparison, especially if they are sports related. Sport needs a dramatized fictional narrative like the sun needs tinsel to 'brighten it up a bit'.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

Economists are often mocked for the assumptions we make in our models. People accuse of us surging ahead with elegant computations, forgetting that our entire analysis rests on some wholly implausible assumptions. Well, yes, these assumptions are often totally ridiculous. And yes, given their general contribution to the financial crisis, the macroeconomists of the last 20 years have got a hell of a lot to answer for. But, a good model, humbly deployed, can still be useful despite it's implausible assumptions.

A model is just a system of hypothetical propositions. A model is to Economics what the word 'if' is to Philosophy. Imagine if every time a philosopher said 'if' they were shouted down by everyone else because their 'if' simply wasn't true. 'If' is a bloody useful concept. "All models are wrong, but some are useful", said the statistician George Box. We know the assumptions we make are frequently implausible, but that doesn't make the results of our models useless. The tedious stereotype implies we economists believe these assumptions to be true, or will assume anything to reach some predetermined conclusion. I would suggest the opposite, that economists deliberately propose false assumptions in order to try and prove their theories to be false.

Take the following statement:

"Grammar schools and selection on ability only benefits the children of the wealthiest families because ability is so highly correlated with SES (socioeconomic status)."

You might agree or disagree with this statement and God knows plenty of people have a view. But to actually know whether this is true requires the analysis of several phenomena at once. Grammar schools likely increase the access to quality schooling for high ability children in poor neighbourhoods. They also probably harm the children remaining in those poor neighbourhoods as their more able peers leave them behind. Then again, schools in poorer neighbourhoods might be able to better target their teaching at their remaining students, so this segregation by ability could help the less able and so on.

Proper, objective analysis of this issue becomes very complicated very quickly using language alone (or as an economist would say, both the first and second derivatives of complexity with respect to language used are positive). Each of the statements I made in the previous paragraph can be articulated more precisely with algebra. You can sit in the pub all day long and argue about which of the above effects is the strongest, but persuasive anecdotes skilfully delivered with elegant rhetoric can't deal with internal theoretical inconsistencies in the way maths can. For this reason, the evolutionary biologist J. B. S. Haldane said "an ounce of algebra is worth a ton of verbal argument". Words can paint a picture and give you the perspective of the artist, maths can build a 3D (or more) model that can be manipulated and examined from any angle we like.

With this example, a mathematical model could articulate the conditions that would have to be true for selection on ability to benefit children from poorer families. Say we assumed, for the sake of computational simplicity, that all parents were aware of all possible schools they could send their children to. Ignore, just for the moment, the likely scenario that high SES parents will be more informed of their choices. Now let us suppose show that even if this assumption were true, our model showed that allowing all schools to select on ability would cause such strong social segregation that the implied necessary improvement in teaching quality for less able pupils in poorer areas was implausibly large.

The initial implausible assumption was there to provide the ideal scenario for some hypothesis to be true, just as engineers initially simulate plane designs in frictionless skies. If, given that ‘ideal world’ assumption, that plane doesn’t fly, or the theoretical model generates implausible results, then we can probably ditch that design or rule out that hypothesis altogether. The model was wrong, but it was also useful.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Drive, the Artist and Annie Hall

A week ago I decided my daily afternoon naps were getting a bit weird and that, for the sake of my PhD at least, I should start drinking coffee again. Since then I've been reading journal papers like Johnny Five, mumbling 'Innnnn-puuuut' while dribbling through my gurning chops.

Caffeine hits me hard, I've been off it since 2007. Back when I traded European stocks, I started work at 6am. This meant getting up at 5am and downing 2 coffees by sunrise just to jolt me into coherence. Then I moved to the US shift (12-9.30pm) and due to an abundance of sleep, I just kind of gave up. Ever since then, the merest whiff of caffeine has had me rocking back and forth in sweats. So, this week, some of you may have noticed a higher than normal tweeting frequency, an added adamance to the crap I usually talk and an all round more intense demeanor.

Or maybe you didn't. Who knows. I'm told I go on a bit, but that all in all, it's part of my charm. I've always wished I was a quieter person, but it's not in me. If I'm enjoying conversation, I'm happy for it to go on for hours. I insist people watch my favourite documentaries like Hoop Dreams, (or Senna, or Hands On A Hard Body) or listen to Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden. I think drinking coffee has intensified this behavior this week, but then I'm not too sure, I've been too wired to reach a considered judgement.

Sometimes, I wish I could be more reserved, more silent, and leave everyone else wondering what I'm thinking. But I'm not that kind of a guy and most of the time, I'm fine with that. A week ago, I was especially reassured by my second viewing of Annie Hall. Now, obviously I am not claiming to be as witty as Woody Allen, but it was great to see a beautiful woman like Diane Keaton fall in love with a skinny neurotic guy who can't stop talking.

Alvy Singer... here's a guy I can relate to. He doesn't really know what the hell he is doing, makes jokes in inappropriate situations and gets wound up over nearly everything while carrying an air of genuine "damn it all we're all gonna die anyway" irreverence... and he can't park for shit either. A friend of mine said she thought I was just like him. I was tremendously flattered. After that, I had a good week.

Last night (also for the second time) I saw Drive, a magnificent film with a beautiful soundtrack. But good grief, I say more in my sleep than Ryan Gosling does in the whole film. I'm sitting there watching it thinking, "Is this what women want?" He more or less just sits there, bulky-chested, wonky-jawed and boss-eyed, like a roided-up Rodney Trotter that's just munched an ice cream tub full of Valium. Gosling, referred to as 'The Kid' is basically exactly that, a child. At least the actual kid next door (that Gosling befriends) occasionally proffers some sort of cartoon based view on the world. Gosling's only response is to knowingly clench his jaw. I wish I could do that, carry that air of strong silence, but I'm scared if I just stared dead ahead, saying absolutely nothing, people would just think I was plain weird.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the film. I like a doomed love story. I like a protagonist that bears his cross with a silent dignity. I love all that shit. But I'm not too thrilled about the current love for men who have nothing to offer but their bodies. Gosling says nothing, while occasionally smashing someone's face in with a hammer for the sake of the woman he loves.

 "Don't worry. We can walk to the curb from here."
Meanwhile, everyone goes batshit crazy over the Artist, a 90 minute tantrum from a recently redundant performing monkey. We no longer watch silent films for a reason. Yeah, there's a novelty to it, I grant you that. But it's just a novelty. Serve me a bacon sandwich with no bacon in it at all and I will temporarily reconsider my conception of the sandwich. But once is enough.

There's more to being a man than violently protecting women and nodding sagely at fatherless children. We're not here for the benefit of other people's amusement and the tortuous process of understanding our existence is not one giant slapstick performance. Sure, some things are better left unsaid. Sometimes a silence can be deafening. But just staring wistfully into space shouldn't necessarily imply that someone is thinking something profound, or that there is something profound to be thought. Sometimes, I suspect filmmakers are just using the ambiguity that such silence provides as a substitute for actual ideas.

Give me a sandwich with actual bacon in it, any day of the week.