Saturday, 28 May 2011

From Poetry School to Football School




Earlyish train to Cambridge to take a class for The Poetry School. Eight people and one of the best classes yet with a majority of interesting original poems, so a real pleasure. People come from quite a long way - one all the way from Lewes. It's five hours teaching with an hour break, but we decide to restrict lunch to about forty minutes as there is a great deal to say.

In the market square a boy on a monocycle is juggling knives. The woman on the hot dog stand gives me 20p off because that is all the change I have. I have time to drop round to David's bookshop where I pick up two books of poetry for £1 each, one The Very Man, by Charles Boyle, the other by Alistair Elliott.

*

I read most of the Boyle on the train back - a good sign as I wouldn't do so if I didn't like it so much, but it's rather brilliant: thin, lost, dangerous poems, a lot of elegance. Somewhere in the vicinity Michael Hofmann is speaking in a low voice. Ian Hamilton stalks the area too. Is that Hugo Williams in the distance? Well yes, these other voices help orientate but it's just a part of town we're talking about, not a crowded flat. The poems are absolutely delicious. There is something annoying about them in their svelteness, but I even like whatever is annoying me. Lovely things.

A tall rough looking woman sits down opposite me on the train as I read. She asks if she might read my newspaper and I say, of course. A working class woman with a bit of education. Friendly. Her face is comical, hard, a touch masculine, her voice deep, faintly London overspill. Not as deep or overspill as the woman in the seat opposite us across the aisle with her teenage daughter. They must be returning from somewhere abroad or overnight because they are both sleepy, and soon enough the daughter, whose voice is very quiet, curls up and falls asleep. Mother's voice is pure Eastenders. An attractive woman, possibly in her forties, she is on the phone a lot as it keeps ringing. She barks loudly back down it without malice but without much patience. She isn't really barking: it's her normal voice. I suspect she has a fist on her that she would not hesitate to use in a quarrel. Daughter remains asleep.

After the woman with my newspaper returns it to me and gets off at Thetford, I am on my own for one stop, still reading until, at Attleborough a fat man with a very bad limp levers himself into the seat facing me. He is wheezing and creaking. Everything is an effort. He wears a natty light suit,a slim boldly patterned tie and a black felt hat. He has a big white beard that froths about his face and billows from under the hat. He eventually manages to tuck his legs under the table. He immediately gets into conversation about the weather. He tells me he has been staying at an adults-only holiday camp where there was absolutely nothing to do. Half an hour allowed for breakfast, half an hour lunch, an hour dinner, he says. And by the time he got to the head of the food queue they were out of whatever he wanted. Attleborough is just one stop from my station and only about ten to fifteen minutes. As I prepare to leave he asks what I do. I say I write. What, books? he asks. Yes, books, I have time to reply as the train draws in.

As I am leaving the station one of our near neighbours, an elderly woman with a beautiful face, gracious manners - she was once a journalist - seems to be rushing onto the platform with someone younger. She says hello. You'll have to run, I say. The train is about to move off. Then I myself move off and walk down the hill and across the traffic lights. A car stops and a woman I don't recognise hurries towards me. I'm sorry, she says. I wasn't thinking. Would you like a lift? I tell her I only live about 400 yards away. I know she says. That's where we're going. The driver is the elegant elderly neighbour. They weren't going to catch a train: they were meeting someone off it - the young woman in the front seat. So I get in the car. A brief friendly conversation follows. It is the shortest lift I have ever had in my life. It is charming.

*

Then in the evening I see my team get the pasting of its life, by an out-of-this-world Barcelona, who are heaven to watch. Or rather they would be if it weren't my team they were beating. United are lucky to lose 1-3. Mind you, I think to myself, if you have Messi in your team, you can beat anyone on a half-decent day, and this day is more than decent. Messi drifts and spins and wriggles through the tiniest spaces with the ball never more than an inch from his feet. He has scored 53 goals in 55 matches so far this season. Park haunts him and harries him for the first ten minutes, but even 'old three-lungs' has had it by the middle of the second half. Everyone panics when Messi has it and forgets about anyone else. They are, of course, quite right to panic. Only they shouldn't. The rest of Barcelona fly this way and that. It's like being caught in a swarm. Rooney scores a great goal but it's out of nothing. Giggs lasts the match which is the best I can say for him. No one actually plays badly, they are just worn down and perhaps even a bit frightened. Now Messi has 54 in 56. Better than Maradona, I say.

It's no shame losing like this though. This Barcelona is by far the best team I remember seeing since the Real Madrid of the fifties and sixties. They are a lot faster, of course. Some say they are the best team ever. Not having been around for ever (though close!) I can't personally say, but even if they are the second-best ever, it's no shame. I don't think any other team would have beaten them. Maybe a wholly defence-minded team might have lost just 1-0, but there's no credit in that. So congratulations to them and thanks for the pleasure. Because that's what it became after a while. If you're going to be beaten get beaten by angels. Back to mortal business.



15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Barcelona gave a masterclass of how football should be played, and indeed, is played by the greateat club team in the world at present.

United, the greatest team in Britain, lacked the urgency, wit, imagination and drive their opponents have in spades. What struck me most forcefully was how the Barcelona players harried Utd; as soon as they had the ball in the 30% of possession they claimed during the game, the Spanish team were right at their feet challenging for the ball. Utd, on the other hand, did not go for every ball, indeed it was only when they went two behind they put in any effort to tackle. The difference in class was all to clear, and I say this as a Utd fan. The deficiencies in our game, the absence of our passing game, reliance on lumping it up the park in sheer blind hope, and the long ball strategy at the heart of the English game; well, we were well and truly shown up by the far better team.

Andrew Shields said...

Remember how Inter beat Barcelona last year? What struck me most about it was how close Barcelona came to winning anyway. An offsides goal, a penalty that did not get called (one of those borderline things where you just have to go with whatever the ref's immediate decisions is). And afterwards everybody said, "Mourinho figured out how to beat Barcelona." But if Barcelona had scored in the last minute, then everybody would have decried Mourinho's strategy (see Barca-Real this year).

Not being either a ManU or a Barcelona fan, I could just enjoy it, including Rooney's excellent goal.

Mithridates said...

The link to Krasznahorkai's site has gone dead. Do you have any idea why?

George S said...

Yes, Anon, and yes, Andrew. For the first 10-15 minutes United were harrying. Park was practically Messi's Siamese twin. But the problem is that Messi kept moving and picking up spaces on either side, about ten yards outside the penalty area, then drift back and run forward again. His chief job was to run at the defence. That was why the defence stayed back and held off him. They knew Messi could beat to or three of them in a tight space - he demonstrated that several times - and they couldn't afford to commit themselves and then be out of position for the next part of the move. Barcelona wouldn't be the team they were without Messi. Not just because of his individual genius in action but because the team facing him are so busy worrying about him they can't follow the others.

Yes, United lobbed the ball forwards but that was when they were most successful. The midfield was impassible and impossible. I think it is unfair to say that United didn't put in an effort to tackle. I think it was because they didn't know what would happen, particularly with Messi if they tackled and missed. Messi paralyses the defence. The defence feels they have to close up and practically form a wall so as not let him pass. But that gives space to others and as soon as the defence moves to one of the others, Messi finds the space he needs.

And of course there was Xavi whose chief job seemed to be to hang back a little and find Messi. Barcelona revolve around Messi and in this match Messi was unplayable. The longer the game went on the more tired United got. Barcelona, by comparison, grew ever quicker into the challenge . They had total control for about 25 minutes of the first half and all of the second. They crowded midfield and switched positions so the United markers lost them. The only way United could score was to bypass midfield, or through a mistake. It was through a mistake United scored, Barca losing the ball from a throw in.

United at the moment are a very good team without any great midfield players. They play on spirit, which I love, and on precision, which I admire, and they can generally beat most teams in England and in Europe. That's not bad. In fact it's outstanding. But they don't have a Messi and they don't have a Xavi. We'll see what Ferguson does about that in the summer.

George S said...

Mithridates - his website seems to be down. I'll check with him and see what is happening.

Winger said...

In Stoke when a player is looking knackered you hear this rather evocative expression: He's breathing out of his arse!

I've never seen Park put in that predicament until last night; I would like to know what the phrase is in South Korea.

United should have played it long (wink here) and in the last ten minutes they got two super line out positions but they had No Rory. That manager needs to take a look at himself (another wink here).

charles said...

George, I think you paid a fair price for The Very Man. And your timing contributed to a curious groundhog day: yesterday afternoon I wrote a blog post about why I've written no poems for a decade; yesterday evening three poets far younger than me, in separate conversations, quoted to me titles and lines I'd truly forgotten having written. I feel a piece (a poem? I doubt it) coming on about the stopping. (Any football analogies?)

George S said...

I think United had one corner. They had one shot on target, though they did look dangerous in the first fifteen minutes. Then the carousel started. I think Park was man-marking Messi but he certainly lost him in the second half.

Funnily enough, some way through the second half I actually did think that Stoke (on a very good day) would probably stand a better chance against this lot. Hit them hard, hoist it into the area.

That last ten minutes when United were knocking the ball round the back (Vidic to Ferdinand to Evra to Ferdinand to Vidic) simply because they couldn't get out was a bit heartbreaking. Presumably Chicharito up front was simply exhausted. He ran around like a hare all the time without getting on to anything substantial. Rooney looked the best bet, but neither Evra nor Fabio were making the runs because they couldn't, and Giggs had no space. There was no one to find because those would be there under normal circumstances could no longer run hard enough.

Great credit to Guardiola for that. Ferguson was clearly angry that his players didn't do as told. Huge gap between defence and attack, all filled with Barca boys. In the end it wouldn't have mattered what United did. Messi's goal tally for the season speaks for itself. As does the fact that he has actually played all those games without serious long term injury or fatigue.

George S said...

Charles, it is a marvellous book of intimations. Maybe it's hard to go on intimations for ever. There are two sequences in there that gather momentum. The Office Suite and Scan. Those might still be ways to go. If I've kept going it is partly because I have been willing to accommodate my own unavoidable second-language clumsiness. That is harder for someone more fastidious. Your endings allow you to slip out of the poem so perfectly I can only envy them. It is a very beautiful book made up of very beautiful dark poems.

George S said...

Charles again - Should have read your blog first (and I can't think why I don't have it in my blogroll, it is going there at once!)

It's nice to think it might be Rimbaud. And I came across your Shakespeare and Co blogpost. I read there a couple of years ago and loved it.

Gwilym Williams said...

I was very shocked when I saw the close-up of the trembling hands of Fergie late on in the second half.

It's time he got out and enjoyed his retirement. Before it's too late. He really doesn't need much more of this kind of pressure.

George S said...

Yes, I saw that too, Gwilym. I suspect Ferguson will die on stage, like Jock Stein. Terrible to see. It is very hard for people like him to retire. Retirement might kill him first. I doubt he'd enjoy it. But who knows.

Poetry of the Day said...

poetry school would be nice!
William Shakespear | Poetry

Gwilym Williams said...

One's Swansea AFC going up is very very nice.

The modern young 'Windsor' wants to be 'Wales'. Good pub in Tenby, but they know that already!

Perhaps gran can spare cash for the Swans ... dare we hope? After all, a law says she owns them!

Dan Wyke said...

Apologies for coming to this a bit late, George. Messi and Charles Boyle in the same thread seems appropriate to me. I'm a great admirer of his work and have felt his influence in my own poetry. I am sad to hear he isn't writing poetry anymore but understand that complex personal reasons can change one's life in such a way. For a variety of reasons I stopped writing in 2005 and wrote next to nothing for over three years. I gradually strted writing again a few years ago - a changed person with necessarily a changed attitude to writing. Coincidentally (you might have seen the fb update) I found Charlescollection 'The House of Cards' (1982) in a second-hand bookshop a couple of months ago and read it on the train home! Perhaps an online petition expressing support might persuade Charles to resume writing!