It’s time to stop being lazy – welcome to my blog!

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Hello, and welcome to my blog!

So, why am I doing this, you ask? Well, I guess it mostly for my benefit as anything. My own blog, as with many things, is something I’ve always been meaning to do. So what better way to stop that that to make it something I am doing.

Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed, since being young – and I was fortunate enough to be quite good at it. It’s one of the main reasons I studied English at University and eventually became a journalist. However, I suppose writing all day for a living gave me the ready-made excuse to stop doing it in my spare time, and to be lazy!

But inside I’ve always had that nagging voice telling me I should do more – whether it’s fiction writing, or about something I know or current events. Not to mention the friends and family I’ve had telling I should start a regular blog. And it’s probably a good rule in life to listen to those inner voices – and to other people.

Of course, some of you may know that 2017 has been a difficult year, in some ways for me. Last January I certainly didn’t anticipate taking anti-depressants and beginning therapy during 2017. Hopefully writing some of my thoughts out in this blog can help me on my own mental journey – better out than in and all that.

I don’t have a plan for this blog or any one particular topic I want to share. I will try and update it at least once a week with whatever comes to mind; whether it’s sport, politics, this crazy thing called life in general, or something personal. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the best things in life are usually unscripted so I don’t wish to be too prescriptive on myself.

I hope I find doing this helpful, and maybe cathartic, in some way. And if some of you actually read it and get something from it – all the better.

See you soon.

Simon

Happy Christmas to you all!

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Well, as it’s after midnight and I’m lying in bed with the laptop, just a quick note to wish all of you a Happy Christmas!
It always amazes me when people ask if I like Christmas; as if you couldn’t love this time of year.
(If it wasn’t for Christmas I’d be tempted to try hibernating until about February).
There’s always something special about Christmas, the build-up, excitement, people getting cheery, visits from relatives and people you haven’t seen for most of the year, Christmas Eve Mass and then the day itself.
It’s the only time of year that feels like the hustle and bustle of the world stops and you can just sit back and appreciate the truly important things.

And many thanks to all of you who have read and commented on this blog and for the kind feedback I’ve had so far.
It means a lot and is always much appreciated. Have a good one. See you soon.

Si

It must be Christmas – why I love the PDC World Darts Championships

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There’s nothing quite like the excitement I feel on the opening night of the PDC World Darts Championships.

The first tangible sign that Christmas is around the corner, and the start of a fortnight of riveting easy-to-watch TV it is probably one of my highlights of the sporting calendar (of course it’s a sport!)

Since I first got into watching the PDC on Sky in around 2004, the game has enjoyed a boom period under the stewardship of Barry Hearn and I have become a hooked armchair fan with the world championships the highlight of the year on Sky Sports (not the crappy inferior BDO one they show on the BBC in the new year).

A lot of people like to snigger at darts with, in my view, often with no less than a large amount of snobbery. Their loss.

What makes it so damn watchable? Darts has two strengths – its simplicity and fast pace.
It’s easy to follow and the rhythm and entertainment of a quality game is absorbing.

Add to that no shortage of razzmatazz with the MC’s introductions, walk-ons, players’ nicknames (not sure about James Wilson’s new ‘Lethal Biscuit’ moniker – only in darts!), the music, the rather stunning walk-on girls, the personalities and not to mention the now iconic darts tune played at the break (Planet Funk Chase The Sun).

And as a ‘St Helenian’ there are a couple (three if you count Liverpudlian import Stephen Bunting) hometown interests to cheer on; Dave ‘Chizzy’ Chisnall and Michael Smith.

Who’s gonna win it the? It’s hard to look past the relentless odds-on favourite Michael van Gerwen who started well last night. Gary Anderson can trouble him but I think it is the Dutchman’s to lose.

Of course it’s the great Phil Taylor’s last championship of course – but I suspect a 17th tile may be beyond him now, although I’m reluctant to ever fully write him off.

Outside shouts – Serbian-born Mensur Suljovic has had a great year and may do well and it would be great to see crowd favourite Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright progress far again.

Game On!

Petition on government pledge to lift cap on Catholic schools

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I would be grateful to anyone willing to spare a few seconds to sign this petition which aims to ensure the government fulfils its pledge on lifting the cap which effectively prevents the creation of new Roman Catholic schools.
The Tory manifesto pledged: “we will replace the unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools, instead requiring new faith schools to prove that parents of other faiths and none would be prepared to send their children to that school”.
Now the government is threatening to renege on this promise, deciding to have an enquiry to decide whether to do what it promised.
As someone who benefitted hugely from a Catholic education and believes strongly in the concept of faith schools, I was shocked to learn of this situation.
The petition can be reached here: catholicnews.org.uk/education-cap

Blood, guts and no glory

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Wow. What a bruiser that was.

I’m still catching my breath now after just watching, as Australia edged England to win the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

A mere 6-0 scoreline can’t possibly tell the story to do justice to one of the most brutal and tense games of rugby I can remember seeing.

But in the end it was yet again agony for us long-suffering English RL fans as the Aussies took the trophy as a 15th minute Boyd Cordner try ultimately made the difference as England’s heroic efforts fell short.

We threw everything at them and for the first time in a while against the Kangaroos looked the stronger team going into the late stages.
In the humid Brisbane heat, the Aussies looked out on their feet, happy to protect a 6-0 lead as England kept hammering at the Aussie line trying desperately to find a way over.

But that chink in the Green & Gold armour was never found as England were again heartbreakingly left to ponder what might have been.

As so often in Test matches, the little crucial moments seem to go against us.
What if Kallum Watkins had released the ball earlier to McGillvary when we had the overlap in the first half? What if Watkins hadn’t had his ankle tapped by a last-ditch effort? What if we had a left-side attack as half as effective as the right? (Bateman at centre I’ll never understand, Wayne).

But, despite me left wondering if the glorious day I do see us win a major tournament against Australia will ever come, at least it provided a fitting end to a memorable tournament.

International rugby league has received a huge boost for its future. And, hopefully, despite the agony, so have England.

A home series against New Zealand awaits next year followed by the return of Great Britain on tour Down Under in 2019. I already can’t wait.

Time for one more World Cup fairy-tale?

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It was threatening to be a tremendous flop at one stage but overall I must say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Rugby League World Cup.

After witnessing successful tournaments in 2008 and 2013, my hopes were high for a great festival of the Greatest Game Down Under.

But with some sub-par crowds displayed the Aussies’ NRL and State of Origin-centric mindset fears were it was set to be the most disappointing tournament since the fiasco of 2000.

And then it was saved.
Undoubtedly the story of the competition, Tonga gave international rugby league its biggest shot in the arm in ages as the tipped pre-tournament dark horses beat the Kiwis in Hamilton and bring the tournament to life.

A further shock was still to come when the Kiwis succumbed to a 4-2 quarter-final defeat to Fiji, with the Bati captain Kevin Naiqama’s post-match tears an enduring image of the tournament.

My expectations of good crowds off the field but predictability on it had been completely inverted. While attendances have been a mixed bag (with great turnouts in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand), the tournament will be remembered for finally seeing the cartel of rugby league’s ‘Big 3’ broken.

And the drama continued in the semi-finals as England reached their first World Cup final in 22 years after seeing of the late Tongan resurgence to win 20-18 in Auckland.

What an occasion it was with a packed out 30,000 crowd of mostly fanatical Tongans making what mus have been an atmosphere unlike any other the English players had experienced.

As I had my head in my hands fearing a repeat of Shaun Johnson’s last-minute heart breaker in 2013 at Wembley, Adam Fifita was denied what would have been the match-winner in the last seconds as the Aussie ref ruled he’d knocked on. Looking at the replay I think he did get it right (England bias aside) and Whitehead went for the arm. Not that the thousands of Tongans who took to the streets of Auckland to demand a rematch will believe it.

Hopefully we’ll see the Tongans involved in more top-level international competition and that the tournament can leave a true legacy for a brighter future for international rugby league.

So, all that remains is the small matter of England against the Aussies in Brisbane for the final. Being a mere infant the last time we reached a final, this is the first World Cup final I’ll see England (or Great Britain) play in and I’m already looking forward to it, with the mercifully later kick-off of 9am making it easier to catch live.

While it would be a touch optimistic to say I think we’ll win, I’m confident we’ll push them close. England have improved gradually through the tournament, and were excellent for 70 minutes against Tonga.

There should be no danger of us switching off as we did last week and if we can put in another improved performance you never know.

We’ll certainly need the Kangaroos to be off their best but who knows, perhaps our first World Cup success in 45 years would be the perfect way to end a tournament of many ground-breaking rugby league stories.

Prediction: Australia by 10.

Why I’m becoming ashamed to be a graduate of the University of Liverpool

I will always have very fond memories of my three years at the University of Liverpool. Great friends, tutors, part of a friendly department and campus.

And graduation day itself; July 19th 2012. Travelling to Liverpool early in the day, meeting fellow graduates and friends, sharing congratulations, beaming with pride in our achievements. Me cringing slightly in my pink graduation gown, and feeling ever more sick with nerves as the ceremony drew near (mostly fretting over a justified fear my mortarboard would fall off while on stage – which happened a few times earlier on).

And the post-ceremony celebration and relief headwear disaster avoided. Top of the world, at the peak of academic achievement, yet to be punctured by the bleak postgraduate gloom of trying to get on the first rung of the employment ladder.

However, I have to admit to recently feeling some quiet shame of my old Alma Mata.
Now this isn’t anything a case of sudden academic snobbery – even if someone did charmingly refer to the university as the “arse-end of the Russell Group” to my face the other week (in mitigation I wasn’t completely flattering over his workplace: Salford University).

No, I was dismayed to see Liverpool students are set to vote on removing the name of William Gladstone’s name from the Roscoe & Gladstone building.

William Gladstone

Dismayed, though sadly not surprised. Neo-Marxist campaigns like this to wipe out “unwanted history” are of course becoming alarmingly common on western campuses, most notably across the Atlantic where students are more and more keen onremoving statues of historical figures than recently-liberated Iraqis.

Apparently this ‘Preferendum’ (for which there is no set date yet) has come about due to some students’ concerns over the Victorian Prime Minister’s “racially marred legacy” for failing to wholeheartedly support the abolition of slavery.

This follows a few weeks ago when, conservative journalist Peter Hitchens refused to talk at the University because of “intrusive conditions” being imposed by the Guild. The event was rearranged and ended up taking place in the street after the owners of the new venue failed to turn up (it turned out to be a delightful event which I was fortunate enough to attend).

Of course Liverpool’s student Guild always had a strong modern leftist influence. Like anyone with any kind of conservative mindset I just kept my head down and got on with it. What can you do? (As the phrase goes now, people don’t come out as gay anymore, they come out as conservative).

But I find these type of campaigns chilling. Not only do I vehemently disagree with the vote and the prospect of removing Gladstone’s name. Judging historical figures by contemporary standards is, to me, not only self-evidently ludicrous, but an incredibly simplistic view of history, and human beings. Reality is complex, and so are people. We are not split into ‘nice people and racists’, good and bad, black and white. Thus kind of retrospective moralising (however well-intentioned those behind it may be) comes across as incredibly patronising. As if we can pass judgement on those gone before us.

I have no personal knowledge of Gladstone’s views on slavery, undoubtedly an appalling thing. I can’t of a reasonable person who would say otherwise. Yet the implication is having buildings named after Prime Ministers, or statues of Confederate-supporting figures is some kind of implicit societal endorsement, capable of causing grave offence which needs to be quickly resolved and stamped out.

These types of campaign always brings to mind the brainwashed fanatics in Orwell’s 1984 spewing uncontrollable hatred towards Goldstein in the Two Minutes Hate. As the famous quote from the dystopian masterpiece goes: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past”. Maybe that is becoming more and more apt in our society.

I just hope the sensible majority among the student populace (assuming there is one) defeats the campaign and we can do Liverpool’s Prime Minister the courtesy of being allowed to have existed.