Spurs and the Y-word

November 10, 2012

Fact one. I am a lifelong Spurs fan. My father took me to my first game as a fourth birthday treat and I have been going ever since. I had my first season ticket in time for the glorious 1960-61 double.

Fact two. I am one of Spurs’ many Jewish fans.

A few years ago my synagogue organised a two-day trip visit to Poland. About fifty of us made the trip. We were to visit first the town of Lublin, which pre war was the major seat of Jewish learning in Europe, and then the Nazi extermination camp of Majdanek situated just on the outskirts of the city.

On the morning of our second day, before visiting the camp, we were walking through the town when we were suddenly confronted by a group of locals. We could sense instantly their hostility and then as they brushed past us became aware of them hissing the word “yids, yids, yids.” Visiting Majdanek was always going to be an emotional experience but after that encounter, it became even more so.

Fact three. No matter how you dress it up “yid” can never be anything other than a vile, abusive, hate filled word. Spurs, you have got this wrong. No matter how good the intentions of our supporters, they can not take ownership of the word; they can not change its meaning.

It is time to accept that there is no longer any place for the Y-word at White Hart Lane or anywhere else.

Hotels and the Disabled

October 14, 2012

The recent Paralympic Games opened many eyes to just what magnificent feats can be achieved by people living with severe disabilities. Hopefully, as the Prime Minister said in his speech on Wednesday, from now on people will see the person in the wheelchair and not just the wheelchair. However, just a few weeks after the Games, I have discovered that there still exist some areas where lessons have yet to be learned.

In 2004, as a result of an accident, my wife developed a severe form of cellulitis which all but destroyed the muscles in one leg since which her mobility has been significantly compromised. Then, in 2009 she contracted cancer with which she has been battling ever since. The illness, and two lengthy courses of chemotherapy have reduced her mobility still further.

Having just finished the latest course of chemotherapy, we decided it would be nice to get away for a few days. My wife wanted to get some bracing sea air and we wanted to travel no more than two or three hours away from our west London home. She also wanted to go somewhere we had not been before and so we settled on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Our hope was to find a nice country-style hotel where if the weather was not good, a distinct possibility in November, there would be a warming log fire in comfortable public rooms, a pleasant bar, a decent restaurant and a friendly personal service. Of course, because of her mobility issues, she would need the hotel to have either a lift or rooms on the ground floor and the room would need en suite facilities including a walk in shower.

Easy, you might think. There must be dozens of such places. Well you would be wrong. Time and again when I called to make enquiries I was told that because the building was old or listed, it was not possible to install a lift. Now I believe that this is simply not true. A quick internet search reveals that there are companies that specialise in installing lifts in very old and in listed buildings.

Some hotels have converted outbuildings into bedrooms with suitable facilities but do I really want to be pushing a wheelchair across a courtyard in the pouring rain every time we want to go to the main building? Should I have to? What I found in Dorset is I am sure repeated all over the country, which means that there are hundreds of wonderful “character” hotels that are off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, a class of people, who unless things change, are forever condemned to cold, soulless, modern chain hotels.

If planning regulations really are part of the problem then those regulations need to be changed. People are more important than buildings. If cost is an issue, as it may well be for some smaller hotels, than the government needs to help with grants or cheap loans.

The Paralympics have changed people’s perception of the disabled. The hospitality industry must sign up to this new reality and not marginalize them any longer.

No To A One State Solution

September 23, 2012

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes has called for a one state solution to the Israel – Palestine conflict. I suppose one should not be surprised at such a wooly piece of thinking from him, but let us be clear what he actually means; the abolition of the State of Israel; nothing less, for that is the inevitable consequence of that particular “solution.”

This is why it finds favour with those on the left. It is the ultimate aim of the delegitimizers, the boycotters and their fellow travellers.

When left leaning politicians and commentators like Hughes look at the Middle East today they look at it through the distorting prism of current “liberal” orthodoxy. That means that they view only the bits of the puzzle they want to. Thus they see and readily condemn the Israeli reprisals against terrorists in Gaza but not the hundreds of rocket that those same terrorists have launched against the towns and villages of southern Israel. They choose to ignore the fact that thousands of Israeli children are forced to spend a large part of their lives in air raid shelters to avoid the daily rocket barrage.

They see the separation barrier but forget about the bombed buses and restaurants and the random shootings that claimed hundreds of Israeli lives in the early years of this century which was the reason the barrier was erected in the first place. Of course it would be preferable if the barrier was not there, but the fact remains it has worked and an untold number of lives have been saved because of it. Perhaps it is the fact that it is Jewish lives that have been saved that renders that little detail irrelevant to those on the left.

It is not only their view of the current situation that is so warped. They also display a disturbingly selective memory where the region’s history is concerned. As Palestinians deliberately try to destroy all evidence of Jerusalem’s Jewish history, the delegitimizers happily ignore the four millenia of continuous Jewish history in the Holy Land.

So, when he calls for a one state solution, Hughes is putting the blame for the impasse on Israel Alone. Never mind that during the British Mandate whilst the Jews accepted the 1937 Peel Commission recommendation for a two state solution, the Arabs rejected it outright. Never mind that they again rejected it in 1947 after the UN voted for partition and then launched a deadly attack on the newly formed Jewish State when it declared independence.

I was in Israel as a volunteer in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War. Almost without exception the opinion I heard from every Israeli I spoke to was the same. “Now at last they will have to talk with us and make peace with us.” Alas, just three months later came the infamous Khartoum Declaration. “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Since then there have been negotiations of course but basically the Arab position is as intransigent today as it was then.

At Camp David in 2000, Israel offered huge concessions to the Palestinians, but Arafat would not budge. As Abba Eban said at the time, “Arafat never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” As a consequence, perhaps the best chance for a lasting peace was lost.

To achieve a lasting peace requires two interlocutors willing to achieve an agreement and prepared to make the concessions necessary. In 1937, in 1947 and again in 2000 Israel showed that commitment. Sadly, whenever called upon to rise to the challenge, the Palestinians have not.

So when Hughes calls upon the British Jewish Community to put pressure on the Israeli Government, this member of the community will have no part of it. That is not to say I always agree with everything the government does; I do not. But I am able to put its actions in context. I can understand what living in a country surrounded by an intransigent enemy sworn to wipe it out can do to that country’s psyche.

Of course the Palestinians would welcome a one state solution. They know, that were it to happen, they would succeed in their oft-repeated aim of driving the Jews into the sea. Look at the placards at any anti-Israel demonstration and you will see several proclaiming “Palestine from the river(Jordan) to the sea.” That always has been their aim and I fear it still is.

Is Simon Hughes not aware that he is inviting a second Jewish Holocaust? When hatred of Jews is taught every day in Palestinian schools does he imagine that Arab and Jew would leave peacefully side by side in such a State? Is he unaware that all over the Arab world, internecine warfare is a fact of daily life. If the Arabs can kill each other so easily, and they do as we all know, can he not see the probability of a Jewish bloodbath if his idea came to fruition? Or maybe he just does not care.

Consider what is happening in the Muslim world right now with the protests at a silly film shown on You-Tube. As Islamists tighten their grip over all Muslim countries, does Mr. Hughes expect those hard liners to tolerate, liberal, democratic, freedom loving Israelis in their midst?

Women have full equal rights in Israel. Homosexuality is not a crime in Israel. Freedom of expression is a right in Israel. None of this is so in any Arab or Muslim country.

So a single state solution cannot be the answer. What Simon Hughes and his ilk need to understand is that as long as they continue to view the Middle East through their distorted prism, there is no reason for the Palestinians to make peace with Israel.

If a lasting peace in the region is really his objective he should start by being even-handed and ensuring that the Palestinians understand fully that the Wests commitment to Israel’s survival within secure borders is non negotiable.

Sports Personality of the Year

September 11, 2012

After Andy Murray’s epic victory in the US Open, my Twitter timeline is awash with tweets saying how impossible it is to pick a winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

I cannot remember a year when their have been so many truly worthy candidates. Bradley Wiggins; David Weir; Sarah Storey; Mo Farah; Jessica Ennis and of course Andy Murray himself.

So how to resolve this conundrum? I suggest we do not even try to pick one from that incredible list. To do so would be invidious. I believe that the BBC should give the award collectively to a group, who for nothing more than their love of sport contributed so much to ensure that the Olympics and Paralympics were such a huge success?

I am referring of course to the Games Makers. Whether based at the sporting venues or miles from the action in airports and stations, they worked long hours often performing unglamorous tasks; they were always cheerful, never officious and won the praise of athletes and spectators from every corner of the globe. That these games have been acknowledged universally as the best ever is largely down to their extraordinary endeavours.

So instead of trying to make an impossible choice, let us honour those seventy thousand volunteers and award them our unanimous vote as sports personalities of the year.

Wheeling and Dealing

September 1, 2012

There is much to admire in Daniel Levy’s stewardship of Tottenham Hotspur over the past few years. His ambition for the club is clear for all to see. He has backed his managers with funding to buy players; he has delivered what is by all accounts one of the best training facilities in the country; Work is already underway to build a magnificent new stadium at a cost of £400 million. Furthermore, all this has taken place without ever putting the underlying financial stability of the club at risk.

And yet I still have this nagging doubt that there is an inherent flaw in his character which has held us back from becoming one of the major forces in European football. That doubt is centered upon Levy’s lust for a deal. During the transfer windows Levy appears to forget about the main objective which is to build a squad capable of at least finishing in the top four every season thereby securing the vast riches that flow from Champions League qualification. Instead, his focus seems to be solely on the deal itself, getting the extra pound here for a player being sold, saving an extra pound there on a player being brought in.

As I made clear earlier, I do not have a problem with Levy’s prudence. Nor do I have a problem with him being a tough negotiator. Overall I do think he is doing a great job and the last thing I want to see is for Spurs to go the way of Portsmouth or Rangers or Leeds. However, reading the comments of Olympique Lyon’s president reinforces my feeling that in the end it is the negotiations that become the main event, and not the transfer itself.

That is why I believe, so many of Spurs’ deals are left to deadline day. Last season we missed out on Champions League qualification by one point. Forget how the fates conspired against us to deny us our place; if Parker and Adebayor had been signed before the season started we might not have lost our opening two matches. This season we have taken one point out of six from our first two matches, both of which we should have won. In the week since the last match we have signed three players. Is history going to repeat itself?

I hope not. To be sure, all our new signings seem to be quality players. But what about the ones that got away? Had serious talks about Mouthino started days ago, with the benefit of a few extra days would we have resolved the problems that prevented the transfer taking place? He was the one AVB wanted above all. Was “the deal” more important to Daniel Levy than supporting his manager? These are the questions that for me, refuse to go away.

Neil Armstrong

August 26, 2012

Over the course of my life there have been a few of those truly historic moments when you never forget where you were when you first heard of them.   Mostly they were about death and disater.   The JFK assassination;  The death of Princess Diana;  9/11.

The first Moon landing was different.  That was about mankind’s constant voyage of discovery.  In September 1962 President Kennedy said in Houston, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

NASA took up the challenge and on 20th July,1969 Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on its surface. There were two wonders that night. The first, obviously was that the landing had ocurred. The second was that back in the comfort of our living rooms, wherever we were on this planet, we could watch it happen, and listen to Armstrong’s famous “One small step ” live.

And watch it we did in our millions. I remember going to work the following morning and all of London seemed bleary eyed. Everyone had stayed up into the small hours to see history being made.

Neil Armstrong, together with his colleagues on that epic voyage, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins inspired a generation. It seems strangely unreal to think that these true superheroes are merely mortal like the rest of us. But then while they may be mortal, they are not like the rest of us for who among us would volunteer to be strapped into a tiny cabin sitting on top of a rocket containing 960,000 gallons of fuel and then having been propelled into space journey down to the Moon’s surface in a rickety contraption that looked like a bad scool project?

Today the word hero is much overused but Neil Armstrong was most definitely one of the finest.


August 24, 2012

When Liliom, the play upon which Carousel is based, first gained global acclaim in the early 1920’s composer Giacomo Puccini begged playwright Ferenc Molnar to grant him the rights to turn it into an opera. Molnar turned Puccini down flat. “Liliom is my masterpiece,” he said, “and I want it to be remembered as a Molnar play, not as the libretto for a Puccini opera.”

A little more than twenty years later, after being taken to see Oklahoma!, he granted the musical rights to Rodgers and Hammerstein paving the way for the pair to write what Time Magazine would call “The Greatest Musical of the Twentieth Century.”

Had it been written by Puccini, I am sure Opera North would have staged many productions of the musical Liliom over the years. As it is, we have had to wait until now to see and hear how a major opera company would tackle the most operatic of Broadway musicals and boy, they have done it brilliantly.

Richard Rodgers, who with his rich melodic and harmonic gifts I consider to be the Puccini of Broadway, was asked if he had ever been tempted to write an opera. He replied that he and Hammerstein were sorely tempted a couple of times, and he imagined Carousel in those terms. If, like their leading man Billy Bigelow they could look down from heaven and see this production, they surely would be delighted.

Nicholas Hytner’s 1993 National Theatre production reminded us what a classic show Carousel is. This production, while not forgetting the importance of the acting, focuses as one might expect on the music. It does not diminish the importance of Oscar Hammerstein’s superb book and lyrics, but it is in Richard Rodgers’ music that the true glory of this Carousel lies. It is like seeing a great painting that having been hidden in the vaults for a number of years, has been lovingly brought back to life by a master restorer.

Director Jo Davis stamped her own authority on the production. Her decision to use the prologue to show Billy’s back story was clever and I thought moving the story from 1873 to 1915 worked well. The production was well paced and had a good narrative flow. I especially enjoyed the setting of the introduction to the Act 2 ballet, transforming Heaven’s backyard into a movie set. Perhaps only in the final graduation scene, when Billy is at last able to help his family did the direction lack a certain clarity.

Gillene Herbert was entirely convincing as Julie, the strong New England girl who would survive whatever life threw at her, whilst Eric Greene as Billy showed us a tortured soul struggling with the unfamiliar emotions of love and fatherhood. They nailed the classic Bench Scene and If I Loved You completely.

Claire Boulter was a comedic delight as Carrie and Joseph Shovelton as her beau, Enoch Snow excelled too. Together with Elena Ferrrari as Nettie , whose rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was spine tingling, the entire cast sang their roles superbly. A special word of praise too for the chorus – seldom can the big set piece numbers such as June is Busting Out All Over have sounded better.

Anthony Ward’s uncluttered but effective sets and Bruno Poet’s lighting were a delight and Kay Shepherd’s choreography, sometimes lusty, sometimes tender, enhanced the story exactly as it was supposed to do..

James Holmes conducted the Birmingham Royal Ballet with a great feeling for the music. If I have one gripe it is that Richard Rodgers composed the score with a full orchestra in mind. When Carousel opened on Broadway the pit contained thirty-nine musicians. For this production there is twenty-nine. With such wonderful voices on stage it is a shame that they could not be backed by the full orchestra that the composer had in mind.

Nonetheless, this is a wonderful production and one that will live long in my memory. I do hope that Carousel stays in Opera North’s repertoire and I hope also that other opera company’s add it to theirs.

Opera or musical? In the end it does not matter for what is certain is that Carousel is magnificent theatre.

Sporting Loyalty

August 16, 2012

Now I am not naive enough to believe that all Olympians are saints. But in the week following London 2012, I cannot help but contrast the attitudes of some of the heroes of those games with those of some well-known footballers.

Take Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter for example. No-one who saw their interview with Jon Inverdale immediately following their final in the lightweight double sculls when they apologised for finishing “only” second is ever going to forget it. Their distress at what they considered “letting everyone down” was heartbreaking, particularly having seen them give absolutely everything and then some, in their attempt to hold off the Danish boat.

Then one could talk about Andy Murray who drew so much strength from the success of his fellow Team GB members, or Joanna Rowsell proudly claiming her gold medal without the wig that she wears to cover her alopecia. Some like Gemma Gibbons had to overcome personal loss and take part-time jobs to keep up their training. What courage she showed in winning her silver medal. Then consider the dedication shown by so many of the team: the dawn training sessions, seven days a week; the endless separation from families; the constant physical and mental pressure. The cycling squad are not even allowed to shake hands in case the contact with another person leads to them picking up a bug which might cause them to miss a day’s training. Throughout the games, the talk by every athlete was about the team and what it meant to be a part of that team.

And all this is done without a thought about financial reward.

What a difference to football.

There are two big football transfer stories today. One involves Robin Van Persie of Arsenal and the other involves Luka Modric of Spurs. Both stories are perfect example of the total lack of “Olympian spirit” that exists in football today. Now let me lay my cards on the table. I am a Spurs fan and have been for over 60 years. So to see Arsenal fans crying over the loss of Van Persie leaves me cold and unmoved.

But he and Modric are both still under contract. Van Persie has a year left on his and Modric has a full four years left on his contract with Spurs. It makes sense for Arsenal to sell van Persie now especially at the price Manchester United are offering. But Spurs should not have to sell a player who two years ago was happy to sign a new six-year contract with the club that gambled £16.5million to provide him with a global stage on which to perform. At the time of signing that contract Modric said “Tottenham Hotspur gave me my chance in the Premier League and I want to go on to achieve great success here with them. Yes, there have been enquiries from other big clubs, but I have no interest in going anywhere. Last season’s Top 4 finish was an indication of where we are as a Club and I feel I can continue to improve and go on to achieve everything I want to at Spurs.”

That is until an even bigger club comes along offering shedloads of money. In which case I will go on strike and threaten to poison the atmosphere in the dressing room until I get my way. Loyalty? Forget it.

It is a shocking indictment of the modern game that two of the country’s biggest clubs cannot prevent players effectively tearing up contracts. It is an ever bigger indictment of the modern player that they have no qualms in doing so.
It may be a forlorn hope, but none-the-less I do hope that the children growing up today, take as their role models as the heroes of Team GB and not the pampered spoiled brats of the Premier League.

A Bad Week for Minorities

July 14, 2012

This has been a bad week for some minorities in this country.

First of all there was the Church of England Synod decision to endorse the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The Jewish community, led by the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies, together with various interfaith groups had pleaded with the Synod not to endorse EAPPI because it  takes a totally partisan view of what is a hugely complex problem.  Its graduates leave the Middle East without any understanding of the Israeli perspective and then return to the UK spreading that one-sided point of view around the country.

Sadly, the Synod chose to ignore those pleas and passed the resolution to endorse EAPPI.  As bad as that decision was however, what was worse was the language of the debate.   Phrases such as “powerful lobbies”, “Jewish sounding names” and “bringing shame on the memories of the victims of the Holocaust” are a strong indication that this debate was not about Israel but about Jews.  Most telling of all were the closing comments from Dr. Dinnen who proposed the debate.  He said “the Palestinians are being pushed over, while the Jews are quite powerful”  he corrected himself by saying “Israelis” instead of “Jews” but the cat had been well and truly let out of the bag by then.

That such language could be used in any serious debate in this country is a worry: that it should have been used by some of the most senior members of the Church of England is nothing short of alarming.  To me however it is not entirely surprising.   The so-called liberal left, as exemplified by the Guardian and the BBC, have been spreading anti -Israel propaganda  for a number of years, their language becoming increasingly violent all the time.  It is hardly surprising that the anti- Israel line should gradually morph into anti -Jew.  What we heard this week is a clear indication that this process is now rapidly gaining speed.

The  John Terry case is bad news for all minorities.  That he called Anton Ferdinand a f**king black C*** is not in dispute.  That he was found not guilty of committing a crime  is also not in dispute.  This might show how fair our legal system is by proving that you cannot be found guilty where there is a reasonable doubt about your guilt, but how is this decision not going to be seen by racists as a licence to be equally obnoxious to  people they do not like?  And how do we know that what starts off as bad language does not in time become still worse?

I do hope the FA ensure that Terry does not get away with it totally.