Thursday, 9 May 2013

How good is Bale? And how bad is Suarez?

Was there ever any real doubt that Gareth Bale would walk away with every Player of the Season award available to him?
Not since the heyday of Paul Gascoigne have I seen one player so completely dominate so many games in one English football season.
Even while watching him destroy your own team you couldn’t fail to appreciate and applaud the skill, the commitment, the talent and the work to make the talent pay.
Football may be a team game, but Bale is one of those individuals who can surpass that, raising a perhaps moderate team to a much higher level.
Such players – Gascoigne was one, Lionel Messi is the other one currently at peak – can make the professional game look like the games I used to take part in on the school playground. Those games where one kid is just so much better than the rest that he runs the whole show and seems to be having most of the fun.
(For me the greatest enjoyment to be had – and boy did I enjoy it – was in taking the ball off an opponent of that kind. I remember one 15-year-old future professional chasing me round the yard in fury after I denied him a scoring opportunity by ending his show-off run with a well-timed tackle.)
How the powers that be England must gnash their teeth at Bale’s Welshness.
But how relieved the FA must also be that his annus mirabilis has denied the next most plausible contender any chance of the season’s individual gongs.
What an embarrassment it would have been if Luis Suarez had been named Footballer of the Year just days after picking up a 10-game ban for yet another revolting misdemeanour.
Suarez too takes the game into playground territory – in his case that of the pre-school nursery.
Most kids learn at a young age that calling people names isn’t nice, that cheating isn’t acceptable, and that biting people is a definite no-no. Somehow Suarez seems to have missed those lessons.
Still, however juvenile his behaviour may be, is a bite that doesn’t break the skin and leaves no lasting mark really worth special punishment?
Is it really worse than, say, a feet-off-the-ground, studs-first challenge that risks putting someone in hospital? We’ve seen far too many of those go unpunished this season.
The appropriate sanction for Suarez’s latest misdeed would be to make him stand in the corner for the rest of the day. Then off to bed with no supper.


Labour’s local government spokesman Hilary Benn says politics is about policies, not personalities.
In an ideal world, maybe.
Can anyone, though, help noticing what a sadly disappointing chip off the old block Benn himself (son of Tony) is?
And as a response to UKIP’s alarming successes in last week’s elections, his remark was especially odd.
For what single policy, relevant to local government, could a single UKIP voter point to?
Come to that, could you name a single UKIP politician – other than its leader, Nigel Farage?
How that chinless wonder can win any contest, except perhaps Monty Python’s Upper Class Twit of the Year Show, beats me. Yet some people, apparently, find him appealing, even plausible.
That other supposedly lovable buffoon, Boris Johnson, is a clever man who likes to appear stupid. Farage seems to be the exact opposite.
Which doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous.
Hitler, Stalin and George W Bush were all once clownish non-entities no one could take seriously.
None of them were notably keen on foreigners either.


One may not make a summer – but two?
While waiting for my morning train to Ipswich, I watched a pair of swallows very busily repairing an old nest at Woodbridge station.
Were they, I wondered, the same pair I watched gathering insects to feed their young in the same spot last year? Or might one even be one of those infants, whose early training flights I was so fortunate to observe?
Either way, while we’ve been waiting and wondering whether spring – never mind summer – was ever going to arrive, they’ve been making their way home from the heart of Africa. Crossing the vast, barren Sahara while we looked out for the first buds in the hedge.
And here they are, those emblems of summer heat, swooping and twittering while the magnolia and daffodils, those harbingers of spring, are still in full bloom.


Barbara Kingsolver is a remarkable writer, an outstanding “literary” novelist who also manages to be justly popular.
Her novel The Lacuna – about, among other things, the last days of Leon Trotsky in Mexico – is, I think, one of the great books of recent times.
I’ve now come, a little late (it was a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1999) to The Poisonwood Bible.
The tale of an evangelical baptist, his wife and their four daughters in the Congo is highly recommended to anyone interested in 20th-century African history, the evils of US foreign policy, the madness of missionaries, or just a rattling good story expertly told.
Among its many sharp observations comes one comment – made by an African-raised boy in mid-1960s America, but just as relevant to the here and now.
Standing wide-eyed in a supermarket aisle, little Pascal asks: “But, Aunt Adah, how can there be so many kinds of things a person doesn’t really need?”
That’s a good question.