On top of a steep hill a mile from where I live, where cows now placidly graze, you can still see the concentric rings of the ancient earthworks of an impressively large Iron Age fort. It’s a well-defended strategic position, giving wide views over the bay and inland for several miles along the valley. Two millennia ago the inhabitants would have been showing their blue bottoms and heroically brandishing bronze daggers before being cut down by the well-drilled mobile mincing-machine of the Roman army.
Perhaps half a mile from there, next to the sea, the stub of a tower rises forlornly above ruined walls and battlements, the grassed-over keep of a once-mighty medieval castle, around which a bastide town grew and turned into a jolly destination for Victorian day-trippers. On the other side of the harbour, the sealed-off gun embrasure of an overgrown World War Two concrete pill-box points blindly out to sea, never having fired a shot in anger.
For centuries, generals and rulers have been constructing fixed defences in an attempt to deter, detain or repel invaders. Of course, we’re all familiar with the Great Wall of China; Hadrian’s Wall; Offa’s Dyke – Israel’s ‘wall of peace’ – Trump’s wall of Mexicans. By the middle of the C17th, Britain’s medieval castles had become no match for Cromwell’s mobile artillery. After the Civil War many of them turned into, or inspired the building of, grand private houses, architectural whimsy for the nouveau riche in a nod to the ancestral world of chivalry; or were just allowed to decay into the landscape, to the delight of the poets and artists of the Romantic movement.
Nevertheless, the redundant strategic value and vast cost of fixed fortifications seems never to have troubled the notoriously rigid cast of mind of the military. During the Napoleonic Wars, the famous white cliffs of Dover were extensively tunnelled and fortified against an imagined invasion, that never came. Pressed into service again in the Second World War, the Dover fortress had limited effect as a long-range gun platform, able to shell fortifications on the French coast; as an observation post, and as an ammunition dump. It’s now a tourist attraction. It was the ever-moving sea, and the fluid war in the air that prevented the Wermacht from setting out in the invasion barges.
In the 1930s, seemingly oblivious to the recent butchery along a static Western front, literally deadlocked, with its thousands of miles of hasty fortifications linked by trenches, failing to note that the British invention of the ‘Land Ironclad’, the highly manoeuverable tank, had turned the ground war at Cambrai; but mindful only of two wars lost in the C19th against an expansionist, unifying Germany, French War Minister André Maginot ordered the building of a chain of massive bunkers and fortified artillery positions linked by a railway along the German border: the Maginot Line. In the event, in 1940 the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ just drove round and through it all, encircling the garrisons in their rear, before moving on to occupy France.
Never a master strategist, against the advice of probably his best general, Erwin Rommel, and heedless of the abject failure of Maginot’s grandiose project, Hitler then ordered the construction of an ‘Atlantic Wall’. Built by slave labour, using up every ounce of concrete and steel Germany had to spare, a chain of supposedly impregnable gun emplacements and forts was constructed along a 3,000 mile coastline from Norway to the Spanish border. Taking heavy casualties, as air and sea bombardment had made little impression, nevertheless the Allies simply drove through, round and over it, and on into occupied France; as Rommel, who advocated a mobile defence-in-depth, had predicted.
Built by master castle designer, James of St George, to subdue the Welsh and give his supply ships safe access from the sea, the C12th castles of Edward 1 were an obsessive project said to have cost more than ten times the amount of money in the royal exchequer, a staggering sum expressed in modern money of £33 million; which might in its time have roughly equated to the £60 billion cost of renewing Britain’s now strategically outmoded but nevertheless mobile Trident fleet of four nuclear submarines. It wasn’t enough; there was no money left for maintenance of the garrisons and the castles soon fell down, or being betrayed from within were easily overrun by rebellious local warlords.
The massive Crusader castle of Alamut, in Syria, was thought to be impregnable. Occupied as their main base by the feared Ismaili sect known as the Assassins, after an eight-year seige it fell to the Mongols on their versatile little ponies and the Fidai’in were put to the sword. These formidable-looking stone structures in reality proved to have little more than symbolic value and their (mostly – some have been restored) ruins are now UNESCO-listed tourist sites. In the ironic words of the Romantic poet, Shelley: ‘Look on my works ye mighty, and tremble!’
(Is there a point to all this, Bogler? Ed.)
Which is all but a mighty masonic preamble to the point I wanted to raise, about the ‘defensive wall’ that is ordered into place in football whenever a free kick is given in front of goal, just outside the penalty area; or whenever a ‘corner’ kick is given.
This human Maginot Line, a fixed fortification – players in the ‘wall’ are not allowed to move before the ball is kicked – seems to me, a complete non-expert who has been riveted to the Euro 2016 tournament for all of a week now, eating up two entire games in a day, to be quite self-defeating on a number of fronts.
Firstly, the deepest and most mobile defender is the goalkeeper, whose view of the kicker is partially blocked by the line of players forming in front of him (or her); a comical sight as eight or nine young men stand there, nervously clutching their private parts in case they come into contact with a well-struck round of artillery. Twice in the past week, we have been treated to the lovesome sight of Britain’s most expensive export, the Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale (annual salary Eu 15 million), playing for his tiny home country of Wales, bend the ball skilfully over the heads of the ‘wall’ and curl it into the net; the goalie having no time to react.
Tying up all but two members of your team in the penalty area seems to me to be tactically unsound. Often, the free kick rebounds off a player in the wall, and the free positioning of the attacking team gives them options to make new plays, either a shot at goal or a pass to another player who can move into position, from where to shoot or to put the ball into play across the goal for another attacker to run through and score, while the players from the defensive wall are still trying to reposition themselves to ‘mark’ the attacking players. And sometimes the opportunity to counter-attack is lost by having not enough players ‘up front’, to receive a long pass from a defender.
This seemingly unshakeable faith in fixed fortifications still seems to infect all areas of the combative human psyche; it’s the limpet versus the crab, as history – and logic – suggest that mobility and defence-in-depth ultimately pay better dividends.
Anyway, I also wanted to comment on something that seems to happen far too often, when an attacking player receives a pass or a rebound on the edge of the penalty area, they seem to lose their heads and take a wild swing at the ball, sending it ballooning over the top of the goal into the crowd. It hasn’t caught my attention just once, it happens time and again that highly paid, highly trained professional players fail – unlike Mr Bale – to control the ball well enough when faced with an open invitation to score. Why they then look so bewildered and chapfallen, I have no idea: they’ve just behaved like an idiot.
(What are we to make of Senhor Ronaldo, the perfectly coiffed Portuguese matinee-idol and Real Madrid centre-forward, missing several open goals and a penalty kick against Austria, eh? Eu 17 million a year? Blimey, I’d offer to do it for half that.)
There has been a suggestion that the official ball has become too light, so that it is less easy to control in the air. Bale’s ability to curl the ball more than other players might be down to his recognising that: angling his foot to impart more spin to the side, striking lower on the ball, he can be more like a snooker player playing off an angle. (When I used to play at school, balls were still made from cow-hide with an inflatable inner ‘tube’ of rubber. In wet weather you could practically break your leg just kicking one.)
The tendency of young players to overshoot is more probably due to that rush of blood to the head that comes when they see an opportunity to show-off (and to put a few extra millions on their next contract). And, admittedly, with defenders hurtling at them from all sides they don’t have very much time on the ball in which to line-up their shot.
What I have noticed, however, is possibly a correctable error: players in that situation always seem to lean backwards slightly when they come to kick the ball. If they could be trained to position themselves over, rather than behind the ball, the shot would stay lower and be better controlled.
Just a thought.
(Yes, Bogler, now kindly get about your business. Ed.)
Is it your impression too that things are going a bit, well, strange? It’s like the planet is passing through some sort of cloud of hysterical irrationality gas. Taylor Swift is really a person of very little importance in the scheme of things, okay? Jesus.
As Major Tim hurtles back to earth in a 3,000 deg. ball of fire (he rose into the sky originally on a column of the same stuff, you may recall), weirder things than the hysterically nationalistic British media coverage of our lone astronaut hero are happening everywhere.
Take sport: The Olympic Games. Not only are this August’s Games in Brazil threatened by the Zika virus, and there are the usual delays in getting everything built on time, but Rio de Janeiro municipal authority says it has run out of money to pay for any public services during the Games and is threatening to cancel them unless bailed out. Buses may stop running and garbage pile up.
In the background, the International Athletics Federation is having to investigate what its new President, the former medium-distance gold-medallist Lord Seb Coe ‘knew’ for years about the long-term concealment of drug abuse in the sport; having been recommended to the job by a top official who has since been found guilty of corruption.
At the same time, the IAAF is trying to ban Russia from competing in the Games because it has no faith in the Russian anti-doping agency. Two dozen Russian athletes have had their medals withdrawn from the London Olympics after their dope tests were recently reviewed; while the world’s ‘sexiest tennis player’, grunty ice-maiden Maria Sharapova has been hit with a two-year drugs ban. Mr Putin is reportedly entering a new Olympic event: madly hopping.
To France, and Euro 2016. Following a series of domestic terrorist attacks last year, the French riot police have totally lost it, attacking the usual rowdy but well-intentioned bunch of miscellaneous England fans with batons, teargas and pepper spray, goading them into acts of defiance and gaoling several of them in an absurd overreaction to a few chairs and bottles being thrown in a drunken spat that may, it transpires, have been provoked by Russian ‘fans’.
It seems no-one has told the French that the once-feared English football hooligan (known as ‘les fuke-offes‘) is now an overweight, perspiring, middle-class dad wearing a pair of inadvisable shorts.
It then became clear that a group of 150 specially trained and superfit Russian ‘ultras’ were also agitating in Lille, attacking British fans and throwing flares and firecrackers at the match between the two countries. The suspected leader of the Russian provocateurs has been deported. Mr Putin, despite having been photographed with Alexander Szprygin, a known neo-Nazi, has naturally cried Foul! But the Russian team has been warned by UEFA; any more trouble, and you’re out.
Thirty-five thousand NATO troops are meanwhile playing war games on the Russian border with Poland.
Just as the matches were getting underway, a lone knife attacker assassinated a French police commander and his wife at their home in Magnanville. The Guardian reported: ‘Larossi Abballa, a Frenchman previously convicted of taking part in a jihadi recruitment network and claiming allegiance to Islamic State, streamed a video of the fatal attack on Facebook Live.’ Perhaps the failure of the French judicial system to tackle home-grown terrorism has struck a raw nerve with the CRS, but somebody needed to tell them: English football fans are not the IS, and this heavy-handed persecution based on ancient prejudices is only going to compound British feeling that it’s time to get out of Europe.
Meanwhile, on Thursday more flares were thrown onto the pitch and a firework blew up a stadium official during the match between Croatia and the Czech Republic. Croatian fans then began fighting amongst themselves and the game had to be held up; following which, Croatia, having led 2-0 for 87 minutes of the match, conceded two goals to finish with a 1-point draw – if they’re not disqualified.
The problem was not Croatian animus towards the Czech opposition. It now appears the Croatian fans are evenly divided between those who like the national team as it is, and those ‘ultras’ who wish to protest that it (and Croatian football in general) has been hijacked by two crooked politicians in particular. The Balkanisation of the terraces had begun! Their domestic dispute is now manifesting itself as protest against their own team on the field, with several Croatian players suggesting in despair that they should just go home and forget it.
The question remains, how so many spectators are able to smuggle powerful fireworks into the grounds, despite the ‘tight security’.
Also on Thursday, as the bitter political infighting over the European referendum was rising to a climax, a widely-admired young British MP was gunned-down in the street by a lunatic armed with knives and a home-made pistol. 52-year-old Thomas Mair, a ‘quiet man’ spoken well of by his neighbours, gave his name as ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain’ when he appeared in court, charged with murdering 41-year-old mother-of-two and champion of Syrian refugees, Jo Cox.
Ms Cox joins the Venezuelan opposition leader Herman Navare and ‘at least six’ ANC campaigners in South Africa this year as victims of a rising tide of gratuitous ‘voter violence’ against politicians. The ultra-right-wing USApoliticstoday-dot-paranoid website reported that Russian security recently warned Donald Trump of a plot to assassinate him; the story was picked up by some even crazier sources, mostly promoting ethnic-cleansing of Muslims. Trump supporters and Trump himself have expressed considerable hostility towards anti-Trump demonstrators at rallies’ as well as towards Muslims.
(postscriptum: 21 June, a young British (non-Muslim) drifter has been charged with trying to steal a security man’s gun with which to shoot Trump at a rally in Las Vegas. He’d been practising with a 9mm Glock at a public gun range in California. In the wake of the Orlando massacre, the worst gun crime in the USA since Wounded Knee, the Senate has rejected moves to prevent suspected terrorists buying assault rifles over the counter, on grounds of the 2nd Amendment guaranteeing their right to bear arms.)
My own view, previously stated, that the senseless murder of Jo Cox seemed to cap a month of rising Chauvinist rhetoric by members of the Leave campaign and in the right-wing press, ought perhaps to be tempered by the news today that Ms Cox was also vocal in her opposition to a neo-fascist organisation, Britain First, that advocates expelling Muslims. Perhaps the reasons for her death lay even further to the right than Nigel Farage is prepared to stand without holding his nose.
(There is no knowing what crazies will do. A doleful list on Wikipedia of US political assassination victims since 1800, for instance, includes the Mayor of Long Beach, Louie B Edwards, gunned down in 1939 by his own police security detail after switching his vote to oppose Governor Dooley; Ed King, Mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, killed in 2013 by a fellow councillor in a row over a drain, and dozens more.)
Politics is a dangerous sport, racking up the nationalist rhetoric really doesn’t help. Nor I suspect will French Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron, who warned today that Britain will be reduced to the status of Guernsey, a small offshore trading post and financial services provider on the fringe of Europe, if it votes to Leave the EU. I suspect not many Britons will recognise his picture of a return to the Iron Age – the Plastic Age, more like. But he is right, that is exactly how and what we used to be and there is no reason to think that in the 23rd century, virtual Phoenicians will not once again be trading in Cornish tin and Beakerware, while the rest of us paint our bottoms blue and shout at French people.
So, yes, you’re right, Emmanuel, but please shut up, tait-toi cheri, you’re not helping.
Meanwhile, in a standout gesture, Baldwin County, Alabama refused to lower the US flag to pay its respects to the victims of last week’s Orlando ‘gay club’ massacre, in which 49 young people were shot dead by Omar Mateen and another 53 seriously injured, arguing that it wasn’t a sufficiently serious event. Mateen, a failed former G4S security guard, has since been outed as a ‘closet gay’ who had no success at picking up partners at the Pulse nightclub, which he frequently visited. His attractive young wife has been charged with complicity.
Perhaps he thought IS stood for ‘I Suck’.
An Australian politician, Bob Katter, 71, was at the centre of a row after making an election video in which he is depicted shooting two of his opponents dead with a toy gun. Bob, leader of north Queensland’s Australia Party, described the video as ‘screamingly funny’. Media commentators shrugged: so, he’s an Australian politician! What did you expect?
And finally – In India, a man has died in a cinema, apparently from a heart attack, while watching a horror movie called The Conjuring 2. He was taken to a hospital mortuary in Tiruvannamalai, where later, the Times of India reported, it was discovered that his body had gone missing.
So, I thought that was spooky enough, until I read that the latest Internet craze sweeping America is for new dads to see how many Cheerios they can balance on their baby’s nose while the child is asleep.
There’s nothing like humiliating your kids before they do it to you.
That strikes a chord
Has composer Stevie Wonder (with Syreeta) ever thought of suing the Stock, Aitken, Waterman songwriting machine for several million bucks for ‘borrowing’ the chords from the Detroit Spinners’ 1970 hit, ‘It’s a Shame’, on Rick Astley’s celebrated 1987 Rickrolling single, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’? (Just noticed it… baritone, Astley’s new album hit the Number One spot on Friday. One in the eye for the girlie castrati tendency.)
We should be told.
Led Zeppelin, too, are in trouble for ‘borrowing’ the plagal cadence of chords used in the first six bars of a 1968 melody called Taurus, by someone called Spirit (now dead, portentously) in the famous acoustic guitar intro to their 1971 prog rock anthem Stairway to Heaven, generally considered by non-Spirit fans (teetotallers?) to be one of the great musical statements of the 1970s, if not of all time.
Page and Plant are being sued for $gazillions by a rotweiler working for the estate that owns the copyright. The prognosis is not good: US courts have previously ruled that even a three-note phrase is copyrightable; while Kraftwerk notoriously obtained a German court ruling that copyright on a sampled drumbeat can be infringed, even if it is virtually unrecognisable as the original. (And did the German court not realise that pretty well every drumbeat imaginable, including those electronically faked by Kraftwerk, had previously been played by the likes of Gene Krupa or Ginger Baker?) In Zep’s case, however, it’s the whole four chords.
Currently, lesser talents – let me put it another way, less successful talents – are suing Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake for a share of their huge royalties. But it’s not always that way round. The Stones mercilessly clobbered a barely known Wigan band, the Verve (see, I’m sampling some of this stuff from the ‘M’ website… sorry) for sampling The Last Time – when they had actually got permission, but used too many of the notes. All the royalties and a full writing credit were awarded to Messrs Jagger and Richards, whom I can now only think of as greedy rapacious bastards. Another recent win, the late Marvin Gaye’s family took Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for $5 million over a song, Blurred Lines, that sounded to me (I’m an amateur musician) nothing like the original Got to Give it Up, except in some echo of a similar production style the plaintiffs claimed was unique to Mr Gaye.
It seems everyone in the music business has always tried to get a little extra mansion tax from suing everyone else: Wikipedia carries a long and dispiriting (sorry!) account. And with sampling it gets very murky: sampling attribution has become a whole new branch of the legal industry. But needs must, as ‘illegal’ downloading and streaming and burning and Spotiwhatnot is making it ever harder for musos to scrape a living from selling their stuff; although it really all began with the cassette recorder.
Of course, there would be no point in suing the late Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy for ‘borrowing’ the melody for the Judy Garland song, I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, wholesale from Frederick Chopin; they gave him full attribution. Anyway, it was already out of copyright. And who knew Mozart wrote Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?
A note on terminology
A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who (sic) governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.
*Official explanation on the BBC News website
From the Office of Herr Professor Doktor Ernst von-und-zu Bogl, Boglheim am Rhein, 18 June (for it is he):
“In line with the BBC’s lazy and stupid policy of discriminating against foreigners in general (provided, of course, we are moving – the others are probably dead) by lumping us together under the single, arguably pejorative heading of ‘migrants’, thus enabling the Daily Mail to write pithier, more encapsulated headlines and Boris Johnson to tell bigger porky-pies, the Board of Trustees of the Boglington Post have decided to use the term ‘freeloading tossers’ to collectively refer to the BBC Board of Governors, Director-General Tony ‘Haw-Haw’ Hall, Head of News, Mr Jams ‘Brexit’ Harding and any or all of the serried ranks of smug, self-congratulatory unicorns at Broadcasting House helping themselves to salaries of £300,000 a year-plus out of our licence money just for shoaling around in glass and chrome fishtanks, sipping latte Macchiati and talking cleverly in their obscure foreign dialect, while the programmes endlessly recycle.”