I’m just old enough to have seen the 1970 World Cup on TV. I watched the outrageous skills of Pele — the shot from the inside his own half against Czechoslovakia, the dummy against the Uruguay keeper, the header that forced that save from Gordon Banks — along with the incredible attacking flair of Jairzinho et al and, because I was young, I thought that this must be the general standard of football. I still love football, but it’s been downhill since 1970…
I’ve supported the Boro — Middlesbrough Football Club — for as long as I can remember. My first game: my dad took me to see Boro vs Benfica (a pre-season friendly on 10 August 1971; it was a 1-1 draw and, yes, Eusebio was playing).
For many years I was a season-ticket holder, both at Ayresome Park and then the Riverside. Now I live 312 miles away, so I only get to a few games each season.
The best player I’ve seen in a Boro shirt is, undoubtedly, Juninho. (I did once meet Wilf Mannion. But it was in a garden centre, and he was about 70. For people of my dad’s generation the “Golden Boy” was one of the all-time greats.) Although we’ve had many terrific players — Bryan Robson, Fabrizio Ravanelli, George Hardwick, Brian Clough, Bobby Murdoch, Graham Souness — we’ve seldom had a terrific team. Maybe next year…
As a teenager I played cricket as well as football. (I was a better cricketer than footballer, but my main claim to cricketing fame is dropping a catch off Geoffrey Boycott in some informal close-of-play practice during a Yorkshire game at Acklam Park.) I rarely watch cricket now, but I still enjoy reading a good cricket book; compared to football, cricket has inspired far better literature.
As a kid I read everything I could about Sir Don Bradman. I didn’t see him play of course (he retired from the game 15 years before I was born) but my neighbour, a retired schoolmaster, shared his memories of playing against him in 1930. The Don’s achievements are staggering: they clearly will never be matched. Not only the best batsman of all time — the best sportsman.
I know I shouldn’t like boxing — and most of the time I don’t — but I grew up watching Muhammad Ali. What a man.
And I’m grateful that I was around to see Usain Bolt run. I watched him run 9.58s for the 100m with a feeling of unreality — how can anybody be that quick?
My collection of Asimov books is almost complete. Considering that he had over 500 books published, that should perhaps give you some idea of my reading interests. Or perhaps not — Isaac wrote not only science fiction, but also mysteries and limericks; and books on science, literature, history, the Bible, Gilbert and Sullivan … pretty much everything, really!
There’s a separate section of this blog devoted to SF, so here are some non-SF books (in no particular order) that are important to me.
- Pale Fire — Nabokov. This is such a clever book from a clever writer.
- The Code of the Woosters — Wodehouse. All Wodehouse is wonderful, but this one with the “cow-creamer” is probably my favourite.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — Pirsig. Decades after first reading this, I still don’t quite know what to make of it. But I’ve never been able to forget it.
- The Feynman Lectures on Physics — Feynman. Ah, the red books…
- Fatherland — Harris. Probably the best thriller I’ve read (although Gorky Park by Cruz Smith runs it close).
Films & TV
Nowadays I hardly watch television, and it’s been years since I last went to the cinema. Production values nowadays are undeniably better now than they were in the past, but it’s often to the detriment of story and characterisation. They tell me that we’re living through a golden age for filmed media, but consider the following list of my favorite films and TV and tell me: who’s making stuff as good as this today?
I fell in love with this film the moment I heard the “electronic tonalities” by Bebe and Louis Barron. I like most SF films from 1950s, but Forbidden Planet is in an entirely different league to those others.
Although I love Forbidden Planet, I’m not blind to its weaknesses. But Chinatown is a perfect piece of cinema. Acting, script, direction, music, cinematography, costume … it’s flawless. If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself.
My favourite TV show of all time: funny, smart, terrific scripts, great actors…
Britain has produced some great TV comedies — Fawlty Towers, for example. But only 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers were filmed; everyone involved knew that the quality would decline if further episodes were made. The writers of Cheers managed to maintain its quality for 275 episodes — amazing.
Hill Street Blues
Easily the best cop show there’s been. The opening to each episode of Hill Street Blues was perfection — police car, sirens blaring, heads out into a cold, rainy street while a despatch operator says “We have a 9-11… Armed robbery in progress…” and the haunting theme tune begins…
Tinker Tailor Solder Spy
When I read any of Le Carré’s books featuring George Smiley, I can’t help but picture Alec Guinness.