Being a Pilgrim

I began to follow football in 1959, the year after my family moved away from Plymouth. The probable trigger for this was watching the FA Cup Final live on TV that year. I distinctly remember that it was between Nottingham Forest and Luton Town, and won by Forest 2-1. Roy Dwight scored the first Forest goal, but broke a leg after 33 minutes so they played much of the game with only 10 men.

Genteel Gerrards Cross didn’t have a football team so I must have decided then to follow the club from the city we had recently left. We did still have a connection with Plymouth since every summer we used to return to the West Country for a holiday, and therefore spent many wet days driving the 50 miles from Polzeath to go to one of its many cinemas.

Such was my enthusiasm at the beginning of my first two or three seasons as a fan, I started a scrapbook in which I dutifully pasted Argyle results and match reports. Given that I usually only had access to the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Express, the latter hardly ever appeared. However, when we were on holiday in Cornwall I could get the reports from Plymouth’s very own Sunday Independent, a welcome addition. My enthusiasm for scrapbook compiling usually waned by Christmas, however, so I don’t think I ever managed to complete a full season.

Nevertheless, I’ve been a armchair supporter of Argyle since, “through thin and thin” (to quote a eulogy given at the funeral of long-time fan Michael Foot). (See also this lovely interview which Foot gave to a fan website at the age of 90.) But I had never been to Home Park until a couple of Saturdays ago, when I headed off with my son and my brother to see Argyle take on another habitual lower division side, Crewe Alexandra. (Also, incidentally, another team with a unique suffix.)

Plymouth 1955 and 2020

Andrew was lucky in finding a parking space in a street near the ground and Storm Dennis did its best to both soak us and blow us over as we walked up. The ground staff had been working hard and were still prodding at the surface with forks a few minutes before kick-off. It seemed as though everyone had agreed that they wanted the match to go ahead. Which was good news for us.

Before the match. Pic: PAFC

Fortified by Ginsters pasties and cans of St Austell Tribute, we found our seats near the back of the recently rebuilt Mayflower stand, where we were pretty well sheltered from the worst of the storm. It seemed as though we were surrounded by other middle-aged and elderly men, all with Devon accents.

Both sides had chances in the first half: indeed Argyle had the ball in the net, but the goal was disallowed for offside. Crewe also had two shouts for penalties unanswered. The Devon voices all around seemed to agree that it had been a pretty even session. “Come on Jephcott lad”, kept repeating one of the older men. They all liked young Luke Jephcott, because he’s a local lad. He actually hails from Cornwall rather than Devon, but in this city whose hinterland straddles the border between the two counties that means he’s a home town boy.

A few minutes into the second half Crewe went ahead, and the few hundred travelling fans in the stand to our right went berserk. But five minutes later Byron Moore got away down the right wing and sent in a terrific cross for Jephcott to head home. We rose as one from our seats to show our delight.

Then followed a bizarre moment as a Plymouth defender tried an ill-advised back pass to the goalkeeper. The ball slowed to a trickle on the heavy surface and a Crewe forward intercepted it and rounded the keeper. He squared it to a team mate running in towards the far post who, somehow, scuffed his shot wide from two or three yards out.

The lad Jephcott making a run. Pic: PAFC

The day got worse for the visitors. Antoni Sarcevic, another Green Army favourite, had a shot from inside the box blocked. The ball dropped to Danny Mayor, who was then brought down by a Crewe player. “Penalty!” everyone screamed, and it was duly awarded. Sarcevic took it with aplomb – 2-1. Another few chances followed, but that’s how the game ended.

A good result and a great afternoon. There was a passionate but friendly atmosphere, helped by the belief that the club now has both a dynamic young manager in Ryan Lowe and a bunch of good players. Argyle are pushing for automatic promotion from the bottom tier this season, and on the form they showed against Crewe, they may well make it. The crunch match may well be that against local rivals Exeter, who are currently one point and one place higher in the table. That is coming up on 21 March.

To round off the visit, there in the Exeter Airport newsagent the following morning was the Sunday Independent, still in a print edition some sixty years since I last saw a copy. One for the scrapbook, I think.

In my second full season of being a football fan, a friend’s father took him and me to White Hart Lane to see a Spurs home match. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who was the opponent. However, this was of course the Glory Glory Season in which Spurs won the Double. I was hooked on the glamour of that side – think Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Bobby Smith, John White, Cliff Jones – and have supported Spurs ever since. I’ve never had a problem following two teams as their paths have only crossed once in my lifetime, when they met in a Fourth Round FA Cup Match in 1962, and Spurs won 5-1.

But Argyle has always been first in my affections and I was proud and happy to sit in the stands at Home Park and see them for the first time.

[Special thanks to Andrew, who’s more of a rugby fan, but still gave up a Saturday to drive us into the town of his birth. Always a Janner!]

Hot news from Hackney

Hats off to John for the latest update to the Hackney Radical History blog – digitised versions of all the 1977 editions of Hackney People’s Press. As is pointed out in the post, this was a big year for the paper. We started 1977 as a bimonthly A4 newsletter – printed in single sheets, hand collated and folded by ourselves. We ended it as a 8pp A3 tabloid, printed on the Bethnal Green web press belonging to the SWP’s printers, Feb Edge.

I spent a happy hour or so browsing through the content, most of which I had forgotten. John has singled out the full page cartoon which made up the back cover of issue 23, seen above. I’m fairly sure that the artist was called Tony. I particularly like the representation of my old Austin A40, “rushing the sheets off to the printers”, complete with its actual number plate, 309 YPP. This had been manufactured in about 1960/61 and was reaching the end of its life by 1977. I sold it for scrap a year or so later, and bought a green 2CV instead.


Reithian values: a new typeface for the BBC

The BBC’s newish corporate typeface Reith is being slowly bedded in across the corporation’s many platforms. Designed by the foundry Dalton Maag with wide user consultation inside the BBC, it made its first appearance during 2018. The early spring of 2019 saw the typeface’s arrival on online sports pages and in the summer it began to be used for on-screen graphics (see above; go to this article for several more screenshots). The serif and sans serif blend very nicely in the examples shown.

The ten minute film on the first link above serves as an excellent introduction to the importance of typography in presenting a huge corporation’s image to the world, as well as some delightful detail. I particularly liked the description of how the letter Q was designed. Altering the descender so that it stayed level with the baseline has made it much easier to use in all-caps settings. There is a lovely little piece of animation in the film at about 5.57 mins showing this:

Getting back to real life use, the Reith Sans cap Q can be seen at work in this screenshot from BBC Sport:

Contrast this with the Helvetica Q still being used on the news site:

What is slightly odd is that the news screenshot shows that in fact the descender on a Helvetica cap Q doesn’t extend below the baseline. The same is true in Arial, although it does in other sans serifs such as Gill Sans and Verdana:

So it’s probably a good idea to build a descender-free set of caps to future-proof against some other sans serif turning up in a CSS sub-menu.

As an afterthought I must say that, as a fully paid-up member of the Matthew Carter fan club, I still quite like Verdana. I’m not sure exactly when the BBC stopped using it, but I found this rather charming example on a page created in 2005.

Are compostable bags really compostable? Part 5 (final)

Part 5 of an experiment in home composting.

I started this experiment on 28 April 2019 to see whether The Guardian’s compostable bags do actually degrade in a home compost heap. I’ve added a few further items along the way, and am now checking up on everything for the final time this year.

I dug over the heap once more on Monday 28 October, eight weeks after the last check and 26 weeks after I started the experiment. Again, I removed all the material carefully with a spade and trowel, placing it as I went into a large bin.

The only possible sighting of the compostable cup which I had placed in the heap on 1 September was this small fragment.

However, it could be a small piece of cardboard from an egg box or similar. Either way, I think we can record this as something which has pretty well completely composted.

Further down I came across the Happy Pear compostable pouch which I placed in the heap on 4 August. It has still not decomposed much – if at all – as you can see from the picture below. I didn’t expect to find much progress on this, even after twelve weeks. The label says it is designed for industrial composting, so I’m not very optimistic that it will ever break down in a domestic situation. But we shall see.

I had to dig right down to the bottom of the heap to come across these very small fragments of the Greensax compostable bag placed in the heap on 28 April, distinguishable from the Guardian bag by the green printing. These are just a few centimetres in length. There was no sign of the original Guardian compostable bag.

These were at the bottom of the heap, so I concluded the experiment. Here is a report on all the items in the form of a table:

 Date  Item Completed
decomposition time
28 April 2019 Compostable bag: source The Guardian Approx 26 weeks
28 April 2019 Compostable bag: source Greensax Small fragments at 26 weeks
7 July 2019 Compostable wrap: source NJB Approx 8 weeks
4 August 2019 Granola pouch: source Happy Pear/TIPA Not yet decomposed
1 September 2019 Compostable cup: source Down2Earth Approx 8 weeks

I put all the part-composted material back, and have added a layer of fallen leaves and some more kitchen waste since. Now I am going to leave everything until next spring.

Part 1, 28 April 2019. 
Part 2, 7 July 2019.
Part 3, 4 August 2019.
Part 4, 1 September 2019.

Sticking it to Boots for unnecessary plastic

Until a year or two ago, Boots had a simple own-brand dental stick available, made out of wood, and therefore fully compostable and biodegradable.

Then it replaced them with these plastic dental sticks. This is at the time when other large multinationals are reducing production of single-use plastic items such as cotton buds and coffee stirrers. There was a predictable online furore.

Fortunately, my local supermarket, SuperValu, now sells this range of wooden dental sticks. We will be buying these from now on. And Boots should hang their heads in shame.

My best pal Joe and his email campaign

Sometime shortly before Christmas in either 2009 or 2010, I noticed a post on Iain Dale’s blog about a nifty seasonal message on the Obama White House website. If you handed over your name and email address, you then saw a video message with your name apparently being written at the top of a Christmas card. The camera then turned to a smiling President Obama who wished you a happy Christmas.

I must have clicked a box somewhere allowing the White House to send me further emails, and this they did. Not very often, as I recall, but then the pace hotted up in the run up to the 2012 election. As a political nerd I was quite happy to get these communications. Fast forward to the run up to the 2016 election, and my details had obviously been forwarded to the Democrat National Committee because I got a lot of stuff during the campaign, culminating in a heartbreaking message from defeated candidate Hillary Clinton on the morning after the vote.

No such thing as GDPR in the USA of course, so this spring my details were on the move again. They were sent on to Joe Biden’s American Possibilities PAC. How this happened is explained in the following piece from Mediapost.

Whatever his other assets and debits, former Vice President Joe Biden has one clear advantage going into the 2020 Presidential primaries: Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign email list.
That list, which reportedly drove more than $500 million in donations in 2012, is now apparently at Biden’s disposal. He was a member of that ticket, giving him a leg up on other  contenders.
The fact came to light when Biden supporters received an email from Biden’s American Possibilities PAC asking them to sign up for updates.
Some had not registered for PAC emails, but had put their email addresses on the Obama list. A Biden spokesperson confirmed that the PAC has access to the Obama file, according to the Daily Beast.
It is not known how accurate the list is after eight years. Certainly, there has been churn, and some donors may even have gone over to Donald Trump in 2016.
Still, the Beast calls the list “one of the most valuable pieces of infrastructure in all of politics.” It was made available for the use of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, and presumably was updated.

Here is the original piece from the Daily Beast which broke the story.

As those of us of a certain age know, Joe Biden has effectively been running for the Presidency since 1987. It was in that year’s campaign that he channelled the words of Neil Kinnock when making a speech. (‘I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?… Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?’)

You might think that Biden would be happy to have eventually reached the summit of his ambitions with his position on the victorious Obama ticket in 2008. There was a very funny article on Politico about how the Obama-Biden relationship has spawned an unlikely type of fan fiction. See these great covers below:

But, unfortunately, it seems that he still wants to go one step further. In my view, the last thing the Democrats need in order to take on a 73-year-old Republican sociopath is a 76-year-old has-been. Especially a 76-year-old with a son who has dodgy business interests.

In the 180 days since 25 April, I’ve had 321 emails. And the tone gets more and more desperate:

“Charles, I’m coming to you LIVE from outside the debate venue in Westerville, Ohio. I’m so excited to be here with Joe before he takes the stage tonight!
The enthusiasm for Joe here is electric, and I want to give folks on #TeamJoe a chance to get in on the Debate Day excitement with one of my favorite things — a fundraising challenge!”

Really. Much more likely this was written by a junior copywriter back in Doomsville, PA. S/he sounds super excited, but must be wondering whether the campaign will run on through to next spring.

For what it’s worth, my money is on Elizabeth Warren to win the nomination. She is also older than me (!) but I think she has the nous and the ability to get under Trump’s skin. And beat him.

[I know I could press the ‘Unsubscribe’ button at any time, but in a rather exasperated way I quite like getting Joe’s emails. And I’m looking forward to seeing whether my email address makes a further trip after the Democratic convention next year.]

Are compostable bags really compostable? Part 4

Part 4 of an experiment in home composting.

I am conducting an experiment to see whether The Guardian’s compostable bags do actually degrade in a home compost heap.

I checked up on the heap again on Sunday 1 September, four weeks after the last check and eighteen weeks after I started the experiment. Again, I removed all the material carefully with a spade and trowel, placing it all into a large bin.

The first item I came across was the Happy Pear compostable pouch which I placed in the heap just four weeks before. It hadn’t decomposed much – if at all – as you can see from the picture below:

I didn’t expect to find much progress on this, certainly not after four weeks. The label says it is designed for industrial composting, so I’m not very optimistic that it will breakdown in a domestic situation. But we shall see.

Further down was the remnants of the compostable cup which I had added in July, at Stage 2 of the experiment. This has now further disintegrated further, so I’m pretty confident that this will vanish completely in due course.

Of the clear film bread wrapper left in the heap at the same time, I now found nothing. I can therefore record that this was composted completely within eight weeks.

Finally, I dug right down to the bottom of the heap to see what was left of the initial two compostable bags. These have been further reduced to a few very small scraps of compostable film:

It’s not now possible to tell from which of the two bags the scraps come, which is good news. It seems to me likely that there won’t be anything discernible by the time I next open up the heap, but we will see.

Finally I have decided to add another item to the heap: a compostable coffee cup made by Down2Earth Materials in Cork. (This firm may well have made the earlier cup which I placed into the heap in July, which you can see above. Unfortunately I didn’t keep a note of the manufacturer which is why I’m adding a new cup at this stage.)

Here’s the cup:

And here it is in the heap:

Once again, I’ve put all the part-composted material back, and topped the heap up with plenty of new kitchen vegetable scraps and garden waste. I will take another look sometime in late October.

Part 1, 28 April 2019. 
Part 2, 7 July 2019.
Part 3, 4 August 2019.

The neighbour pays a call

The Guardian, 10 September 2019

Yesterday morning, on the way to the garage where I buy my newspapers, I saw the tail end of the motorcade carrying Boris Johnson disappearing fast along the canal road towards his appointment with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Government buildings. By the time I got home the TV showed that his car was drawing up, so they had made good time.

Johnson was pretty restrained during his brief press conference, but the contrast between his demeanour and the calmness displayed by Varadkar is well exemplified by the lovely quartet of photographs used today by The Guardian. You can imagine the little whoop of joy from the picture editor working on the spread when he or she came across this sequence, and realised what a nice combination image they would make.

There was also a great remark from a commenter in yesterday’s rolling coverage: “For the Irish, Brexit is like having a neighbour smash the fence between your adjoining properties, and then come to your door demanding that you pay the bill to have it rebuilt.”

Exactly the sort of people you want living next door.

How the UK has put Ireland in a catastrophic situation, by ex-Tory

RTE’s shoestring budget just about stretches to the excellent Audrey Carville being flown to London to co-present the Morning Ireland radio programme from Westminster.

I am not a Tory, and normally I would be happy to see the party mired in even more confusion than it finds itself in at the present time. But I have much respect for those of its members who espouse what is usually called ‘old-fashioned One Nation Conservatism’. They love their country, they respect other traditions and, above all, they are democrats. So it has been shocking to see so many of them turfed out of the Conservative Party after daring to vote for the anti-no deal bill on Tuesday night. One such was junior minister Alistair Burt, who was first elected as an MP in 1983. In Wednesday’s debate he spoke as ‘the proud but slightly bemused independent Member for North East Bedfordshire’, In his excellent speech, which you can read in full here, he said:

Many in the UK have failed to grasp that it is we who are leaving the EU. That means that it is a negotiation between us. We have never really understood the EU or its arguments, believing that a negotiation was a series of demands from the United Kingdom, not a negotiation. That and the language that we have used—built on 20-odd years of the drip, drip of poison about the EU—has made sure that we did not get a deal.
… [W]hy do we want to avoid no deal? I will not repeat all the things that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, which are obvious; the economics are clear. For me, there are three reasons. The first is the threat to the Union. I am a Scot, my mother and father from Scotland. I am a proud Scot. I am also British through and through. I could not believe a recent poll of Conservative members that said they would abandon almost anything, including the Union, providing they left the EU. I regard that as a terrible threat. We should not risk it.
My second reason is Ireland, which is treated by some here as some sort of irrelevance and a place that has made up the border issue to prevent us from leaving the EU. With our history in relation to Ireland and everything that happened there, it became our best friend in the European Union. Our choice to leave—our Brexit—has put Ireland in the most catastrophic situation of any country, and we now expect it to accept another English demand that it should do something. Have we no understanding of what that relationship means and the damage done?
My third reason for wanting to avoid no deal is the damage to Europe and the relationship with Europe itself. I grew up as part of the first generation to avoid war in Europe for countless hundreds of years. I arrived in the House of Commons when there were giants here such as Denis Healey, Willie Whitelaw and Ted Heath—people for whom Europe was the place where they and their friends had fought and died—and they wanted something different. That has always motivated me in my sense of Europe. Whether we are in the European Union or not, that relationship with Europe is clouded by the sort of language that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) mentioned. I do not want to see that relationship threatened by a no deal.
Thirdly, let me end where I began, as the Independent Member for North East Bedfordshire. I do not complain at the removal of the Whip—voting on an issue of confidence, I accept the rules—but I say to my colleagues: just think how this looks. Last week, the Conservative party lost Ruth Davidson and George Young in the House of Lords resigned the Whip. This morning, we lost my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) —who made the economy we were cheering just a few minutes ago. What are people going to think about what we have left and what we have lost? Some will have been very happy at the fact that some have been purged—purged. A few weeks ago, one of our colleagues retweeted an article in The Daily Telegraph that looked forward to the purging of remoaners in the Conservative party. That was disgraceful. I say to my colleagues, if we are being purged now, who is next? Watch a film called “Good Night, and Good Luck”, and you will take my point.
This may be the last substantive speech I make here as I am not standing again—and who knows when the election will come? I will leave with the best of memories of this place, friends and colleagues on all sides. The obsession that my party has developed may have sought to devalue my past as a friend of the EU, of our sister centre-right parties, and of many friends, and it may have curtailed my future, but it will not rob me of what I believe. I will walk out of here looking up at the sky, not down at my shoes. [Applause.]

Burt went further in a compelling interview on today’s Morning Ireland programme on RTE radio. You can hear the piece in full on the programme website but here is an extract:

The obsession with leaving the European Union which has grown in the Conservative Party over the past 20 years has now reached an almost irrational position. Your listeners may have seen the polling which was done a couple of months ago where they asked Conservative voters in the UK what they were prepared to sacrifice just to leave and it was virtually everything. If the economy and agriculture collapses but we leave the EU is it OK? The majority said Yes. If we lose the Union, are you happy with this as long as we leave the EU? They said Yes. It’s become almost irrational. …
My particular hurt on behalf of Ireland is that I am aware of how this affects Ireland. I think my colleagues have been incredibly careless and have felt that the issues surrounding the border, whether it’s trade or the fear of the troubles returning, have been seen as part of a political game being played by the European Union and by Irish politicians instead of something fundamental which affects people because of decisions that we have made which Ireland had no say on. That’s made me particularly upset, which is why I mentioned it yesterday.

It’s refreshing to see a British politician, from any party, spell this out. It is not said often enough, which is what everyone this side of the Irish Sea finds so frustrating. Too few English Brexiteers have thought about the disaster they have inflicted on the rest of the UK and on Ireland, an independent country. But that’s all right. They just want to get on with it.

If I hear that said in a vox pop interview one more time, I think I might throw something at the screen.

A 2 minute interview with another ex-Tory MP, Ed Vaizey, was heard later the same day on RTE Drivetime, where he also expressed sorrow for the fact that the Irish position has not been discussed. Link is here. Starts at about 4min 10sec.

Are compostable bags really compostable? Part 3

Part 3 of an experiment in home composting.

I am conducting an experiment to see whether The Guardian’s compostable bags do actually degrade in a home compost heap.

I checked up on the heap again on Sunday 4 August, four weeks after the last check and fourteen weeks after I started the experiment. Again, I removed the material carefully with a spade and trowel, placing it all into a large bin. A few inches down, I came across the material I had deposited four weeks ago. On the left you can see what it looked like then – a paper cup and a large transparent bag, which had been a bread wrapper.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that there is very little left of the transparent bag – in fact the printed label is the only distinguishable bit remaining. Here is what it looked like:

So hats off to NJB who say they make a compostable film. My experiment would seem to justify this claim. The compostable coffee cup has decomposed less, but it looks as though it is also on the way to breaking up completely.

I carried on removing material in order to reach the bottom of the heap, where the two original compostable bags were placed back in April. Here is what I found:

There is now very little left of either bag. The pieces shown above were the only traces of both, and I therefore have every hope that there will be nothing left to report next time round.

My latest addition to the experiment is a pouch which once contained Happy Pear granola, manufactured by the Israeli company TIPA. The packaging tells you to put this into ‘industrial composting’ (i.e. a brown bin) but as I only use our brown bin very rarely, I decided to see how well it goes in a home compost heap. Here is how I left it:

I’ve now returned all the compost to the heap. I will keep on adding more material on top and we will see what it all looks like again in a month or two.