Sunday, 29 May 2011

Coping with Defeat, Illness, Loss... and Victory

Acknowledgement to TUFC
(no infringement of copyright intended)
Yesterday Kevin Nicholson, played for Torquay United FC in the final of the English League Two playoffs at Old Trafford - much more convenient for us, living in Yorkshire as we do. This match would normally have been played at Wembley Stadium, but some rather less important football game was already booked to play there yesterday evening, so Old Trafford it was; and ready we were to celebrate their achievement. I mention Kev because he happens to be my my son-in-law.

It may be a case of poetical deja vue, that I had already written a short poem and an associated commentary on my poetry library following their defeat in the fourth round of the FA Cup in January. They therefore missed the opportunity to play against Manchester United in the fifth round, ironically at Old Trafford. This was of course accompanied by exceptional feelings of disappointment and self-deprecation; the fact that they had got to the fourth round of the FA Cup was of no consequence at that moment. My son-in-law, at 30 years of age is an accomplished professional footballer and has experienced many highs and lows, triumphs and disappointments in his career, which started more than half his life ago at the FA's National School of Excellence at Lilleshall. Through him we have come to learn a lot about the Football world, with all its imperfections and particularly about football management (with all its imperfections), which has probably, in equal measures, helped him toward and deprived him of opportunities; when Managers and Coaches have had and used the power to encourage and progress a footballer's career ... or condemn it!

He has come through it, always with a positive mental attitude and sometimes enormous fortitude, to say nothing of his professionalism. He has often said that he feels lucky to be doing what he enjoys (most of the time) and getting paid for doing so. And any number of the footballers he has played with along the way, not least of all the rest of the squad at Torquay United, where Kev has played for the past four seasons, making one hundred and seventy five appearances in the process, have done so too.

Acknowledgement to TUFC
(no infringement of copyright intended)
When you are a professional sportsman, defeat is hard to take at any time. When it's in the Final of the League Two Play-offs - and they lost by a single goal - against a side who haven't beaten you in eight games over the past few years, with the promise of promotion to National League One at stake, however well you have trained your mind psychologically to deal with defeat, sometimes it is nearly impossible to rationalise it by thought processes alone. In these circumstances, recovery of confidence is much slower than normal and can take it's toll in all sorts of ways, including sleep, mood, relationships, team spirit. This is particularly worsened when you're surrounded by a squad of players, each of whom, in varying degrees, is having their own struggle to come to terms with losing such an opportunity. At least now they all have a summer break, which is albeit much shorter because of the three play-off games in May, to recover their composure and rest their aching legs and battered feet.

There is no easy way through this horrible situation, other than to put one foot in front of the other, do something physical (not too much to ask of a footballer, more so for their fans), get back into the saddle, run up hill for a while!

It's not unlike having to recover from illness or even loss. And yet, I hear you say, these are privileged members of society; there are many people in all walks of life and all parts of the world, who have far greater challenges, whether this means coping with illness, loss or privation; and you'd be right: so what, they lost a game of football! It's only a game! Get up and get on with it! And they do (get up and get on with it) unless their short contracts have terminated and they are having to look for another club to play for; not so easy in these lean times.

In answering this, I can only add here the feeling I have always had for this very human tendency to compare the privileged with the not so privileged in the world; and it is this: Each one of us is born where we are born; something we as individuals have no control over; and for most of us - nay all of us - in spite of our greater mobility and economic opportunities in modern times, we still effectively have to 'bloom where we are planted'. By 'where' I mean not just our location, our environment, but the brain and body we were born with and into; the skin we have to wear and the bone structure that it covers; we have to accept that 'nature' part of the nature-nurture composition that forms our being; the make up of our personality, the way we are 'wired' and the community - and I mean 'community' in its widest sense - that we are wired into. I could argue that, given the expectations of life that are aligned with the faculty that any one of us is born with, in a sense, it is no different a task for a professional footballer to deal with the trammels of their trade than it is for, say, a child born into the poverty of a slum on the outskirts of an African city to ensure they have enough to eat...

... now I'm expecting some shock-horror responses to that suggestion! But please hold on for a moment before you do react...

Each one of us has to survive and attempt to thrive within the constraints of our particular environment and the limitations and capabilities with which we were endowed at birth. However, in the final analysis, we should be judged by our response to the level of privilege (or lack of it) we were born into; this does, of course, require those of us who have more of it to acknowledge those with a lot less of it and make absolutely sure that we do not exploit them; but this is enough comment on a very important part of the human condition, which probably requires a whole book to be written on the subject.

But, whatever your views are on the foregoing philosophically controversial debate, to move on swiftly to the main objective of this post...

Acknowledgement to TUFC
(no infringement of copyright intended)
... for now, it is to recognise endeavour and I salute all the players of Torquay United Football Club, who have this season punched above their weight; they are a fine bunch of players and people, ably and passionately led by their Captain Lee 'Manse' Mansell, who have all given of their very best. I can only wish for them all to be fit and able to give of their best again next season. I also salute the loyal supporters, who, if you ever go to an away game, travel in their droves and provide a massive voice, which measures in decibels a noise well above their number, to cheer the team whether in defeat of victory. And last, but not least, here's recognition of the players' support systems: their WAGS and the club staff, all of whom play their part in making it the unit that it is; a family unit and a very successful one at that.

Acknowledgement to TUFC
(no infringement of copyright intended)

The poem, if you want to read it, is here. The poetic structure will seem unusual to the casual reader of poems, but it is in the form of a traditional Japanese Haiku, which I've used because it perfectly distills the message and gives it a brevity, which is so appropriate to a situation where few words are needed.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Tweeting, Blogging, Facebook'ing &... ... Listening

I wrote a poem this morning. Suddenly appeared on the tip of my tongue; just like that, out loud blooming rude!

It is, in fact, a diary note for myself.

I have for many years been guilty of reacting or responding, in writing, without fully digesting the question, the post or the point of what I'm commenting on, answering or responding to.


I'm not on my own...

Blogosphere, Facebook and any other of the innumerable social media sites I am sure are full of comment trails and posts full of comments, which clearly leave the point, wander into rants; I've done it so often and sometimes it makes interesting reading. However, I have recently, been involved in 'conversations. which have not only shown me up as guilty of not paying attention to the point, but also others. It is a sign of internal anger at a situation, which, I guess, has to come out sometime.

This poem, therefore, is a little bit of a sideswipe at my own, as well as others' occasional tendency for unthinking response.

In conclusion

Writing, Blogging, Tweeting, Facebook'ing, along with one or two exceptional individuals I have met along the way, have all taught me a great deal about 'listening', concentrating and, above all, showing respect for what the writer is trying to say.

(Read the Poem)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

John Stuart Mill - On the freedom of the individual

I give you the following from John Stuart Mill's view on the liberty and freedom of the individual.

"The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right...The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns him, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

Sums it up for me.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Ignorance is Not Bliss


I will retain forever a conscious vein of thought, a very specific moment in my very early adulthood, probably in my late teens, when I first felt an agony of ignorance. It was a moment when I was trying to find words to describe my feelings to someone, in the midst of a storm of emotional angst. As a result of this experience, I now know that what I was actually going through was an expression of ignorance; this was not an ignorance of the right words, I had learned lots at school; it was not even an ignorance of how to put the words together, I’d learned that too, pretty much. No, this was an ignorance of my own ignorance; the ignorance of a young man, afraid to have a go at expressing himself; frightened of saying something, if it wasn’t going to be perfect; terrified that someone might criticise my efforts; a cowardly denial of my inability to have an honest go. Perhaps this was the sort of ignorance that could, and may be did, lead to a certain amount of arrogance on my part; although I guess I would never have recognised it as arrogance, at least until now. Instead, I think what I wrote was a compromise of emotionally garbled and mainly incomprehensible crap, if you’ll pardon the use of a common but expressive word! I might just as well have not written anything at all. And there were to be many more failed attempts at expressing myself in the years to come, before I began to twig.

So, more than forty years on, I have finally started, nay only just begun in truth, to express the formerly inexpressible by my writings in this blog, my contributions to other peoples’ blogs and in the poetry that I write over in ‘My Poetry Library’. Now I’m less afraid of what anyone might think about me, less afraid, albeit still with some reservations, of being thought of as ignorant, shallow, superficial or bigoted - all of the things that I now realise I can be, from time to time.

My purpose in writing this post will probably become self-evident, but it was given one final nudge yesterday (Tuesday, 3rd May) by my significant, dare I say, intrusion into another blog, about a particularly significant event in world news.

Judgement Day

The news broke on Monday of the death of Osama Bin Laden, the infamous terrorist leader, who apocryphally, had become the spiritual leader of terrorist groups around the world, who spawned a period of terror, the like of which, has not been experienced in modern history. The most horrific act of terror that is attributed to him is the flying of two civil aircraft into the twin towers of what was the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001.

So, the death of Bin Laden was brought about by Navy Seals following the discovery that he had been living under the military noses of a base in Abbottabad, Pakistan for the past few years and not, as most suspected, in a cave in the remote mountains of neighbouring Afghanistan. It was swift and was announced to the world by the Democratic President, Barack Obama, in a controlled, even reserved and unemotional way on the same day. The response, certainly in America, but particularly in New York, was an emotional outpouring that exhibited itself in a variety of ways, from the chest beating, sabre rattling of the Republican opposition, trying to claim the credit for the George W Bush administration, to the angry yet joyful expression of happiness and celebration at the demise of the perpetrator of the most horrendous and inhumane single act of terrorism ever experienced inside the boundaries of the USA; an act that left very deep scars.

The following day I got involved in a Facebook comment thread, that turned into something of an epic, by my measures, anyway. I am Facebook ‘friends’ with a particular American and very humorous poet, Madeleine Begun Kane, whose ‘Mad Kane’s Humour Blog’ is a very popular outpouring of fun. It was a limerick that she posted under the blog banner of ‘Mad Kane’s Political Madness’, which was entitled “Limerick Ode To Bin Laden’s Death”. The numerous comments that followed, on her Facebook entry for this posting, were becoming quite vociferous by the time I joined in, but my contribution rather inflamed the situation. You can read it here or find it through my own Facebook pages, and draw your own conclusions.

Of the few good qualities I thought that I could with reasonable confidence attribute to myself, particularly at times of disappointment, illness, loss and grief, it is sensitivity to other people’s feelings, or at least knowing how to deal with these once I am aware of them. Well, wake up and smell the coffee, John! Because of this piece of self-delusion or, if I’m to be kinder to myself, a moment of thoughtlessness, I just waded in with a self-righteous, pontificating air; I woke early this morning, - at around 4 am – and heard the dawn chorus start half an hour later, followed shortly afterwards by a veritable chorus of self deprecating and critical thought streams about the part I played in this discussion. I had no choice other than to rise early to write this.

I had propounded what effectively amounted to civilised behaviour and mercy with the possibility of eventual forgiveness, to some really good folk who were clearly feeling the release of a whole decade of latent, pent up emotion brought about by an atrocity, which was cynically planned and executed by a group of people, who are clearly wired in some almost inhuman way; who beat a sacred drum, claiming religious justification for their implementation of an evil that is riven with ignorance, an evil that seems to have no boundaries, other than death! And death it was that visited Osama Bin Laden on Monday, 2nd May.

I am sorry for my insensitivity, which was just another exhibition of my ignorance. I have always valued my ability to learn something new every day, as well as the freedom I have to do so. I have learned something about my own human condition today; I hope to continue doing so for the rest of my days.


This being so, from here on, I must consciously assume a position of ignorance in almost all things, but not the ignorance I displayed in my early adulthood; rather a more informed ignorance, an openly confessed ignorance, which can take a relationship beyond the shallow, beyond the merely superficial; perhaps I’m also talking about being open minded. Surely, such an attitude can only help strengthen human relationships. What this needs is for me to pause and think more carefully before I expound my views and opinions, because there is more to human relationships than the mere logic of ordinary, descriptive, functional and even emotive words can reveal; much more. Those, who can read and feel between the lines of our everyday language and convey the essential qualities of the human condition, are true poets. I think I need at least one more life to get there.