From Thailand to Russia, what a week for football coaches
Few resignations have quite so succinctly summed up a career as Boris Johnson’s. The first real clue anyone in Westminster got that the foreign secretary might be about to step down came when people inside the West Balkans summit in London – a conference put on to show Britain was still planning to play a leading role in Europe post-Brexit – began tweeting to say Boris had not bothered to turn up to give the opening address.
It then emerged he was holed up in his official residence with a snapper – Boris doesn’t believe that any event has actually taken place unless there’s a photograph with him at the centre of it – as he tried to come up with some kind of wording for his resignation letter that might make him look as if he had acted on principle rather than having been shamed into leaving by David Davis the night before.
Typically, he failed miserably. The only principle he found he had was self-interest and his letter was a long rant of onanistic self-pity. It also turned out to be inaccurate, as it included the bogus claim that the EU had tried to block a law to make female cyclists safer. In fact, the EU had tried to toughen the law and Britain had wanted to block it. In his endings were his beginnings.
The rescue of the boys’ football team who had been trapped underground in Thailand for two weeks was mesmerising and uplifting. A rare moment of good news when altruism took centre stage. Most of the attention understandably focused on the bravery of the divers and the plight of the boys, but I was particularly struck by the actions of the coach who had been in charge of the team. Even when he had no idea if they were ever going to be found – let alone saved – he organised the boys so well that food rations were conserved and no one panicked. All in near total darkness. A truly remarkable achievement. One that I am fairly confident would have been well beyond most of us.
When I was a boy I managed to lock myself in the boot of my parents’ car for about 15 minutes and was a complete wreck by the time my mother heard my screams and came to let me out. Another hour – let alone days – would have been unbearable. Given how contagious hysteria can be, it would have only taken one boy to lose control for the whole team to be in meltdown. I’m sure there were plenty of moments when they all privately wondered if they would ever get out, but somehow their fears were contained. It’s been a very good week for football coaches.
You’d have thought after decades of intensive training spent watching Spurs, I would have got used to the pain of defeat. Yet somehow each loss merely compounds all the others. Victories are experienced as transitory highs while the defeats become incorporated into my natural pessimism. A victory is only a defeat postponed. The semi-final defeat was all the more painful because my feelings of attachment were so recent.
Normally I don’t really care about the England team and look forward to World Cups as a time as a rare opportunity to enjoy stress-free football. But this England team and its manager got under my skin and I found myself unexpectedly invested in their success. Though the semifinal defeat to Croatia was eased both by England having progressed further in the competition than I had believed possible and by being beaten by a better team, I did still feel shattered at the end of the game and not just because England had scored first: experienced fans will tell you there is no greater pain than taking an early lead. There was no despair, just a sense of emptiness. The football was almost incidental: what I was grieving for was the end of a four-week period when normal dismal service was suspended and that I would never get back.
John Cleese has announced he is going to move to the offshore tax haven of Nevis in the Caribbean. The one-time Python and genius creator of Fawlty Towers, who has seemingly spent 30 years of his life being angry about everything, has now decided he is too good for Britain and that the Brexit he voted for isn’t the Brexit of his dreams. For Cleese, almost nothing works out as he hoped: he even insists on blaming each of his wives for marrying him.
Taking responsibility for his actions doesn’t appear to be his strongest suit. Something of an oversight from a man who has spent so long in therapy over the years that he even ended up marrying his own therapist. Though that could have been the problem. Clearly a false economy.
I’ve probably been in therapy for almost as long as Cleese and the closest I ever came to co-habiting with my shrink came when I saw an analyst. I started going once a week, but after six months or so she said I needed to see her twice a week, on the grounds that I was very angry with her and I needed to work on my anger issues. Six months later, she put me up to three sessions a week because she thought I was getting even angrier. “Of course I’m angry,” I told her. “I’m fucking furious. I’m spending most of the week with you and I appear to be getting steadily worse.” She then suggested that four sessions a week might help. The impasse ended when I had a psychotic, depressive breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital.
Those needing some kind of respite from Donald Trump, Brexit and England losing to Croatia can find some solace in the BBC Proms. The new season was due to get under way with a performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, along with a short piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a new work by Anna Meredith, and it continues through to early September. I never get to as many performances as I would like – I seem to spend a lot of each late summer berating myself for either being on holiday or too dopey to get to concerts that I later hear were sensational – but over time I have collected some fantastic memories.
One of my favourites, a year or so after I first became an opera lover, was going to hear the legendary Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson sing some Richard Strauss songs and the Liebestod from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde back in 1981. Nilsson was then in her 60s and the person I had gone with rather sniffily pronounced that she wasn’t at her best, but I was spellbound just to be in the same hall as her and hear her sing.
It later turned out that Nilsson’s verdict on her performance was much the same as my friend’s because she retired shortly afterwards and never sang in the UK again. Still, in my mind she was, and always will be, a vocal goddess.
‘I’m sorry, I draw the line at handling the Brexit negotiations’
‘Is this the letter I wrote pledging my loyalty or the one in which I resign?’