Jose Mourinho, manager of moneybags west London club Chelsea FC, is winning trophies and losing friends.
He seems to be admired, envied and hated in approximately equal measures, often simultaneously by the same confused football aficionado (or ‘pub bore’ as they’re often known).
Why the confusion?
Mourinho is talented, very successful, intelligent, usually more polite than most football managers ever are, handsome and smart (in both senses). Envy seems an obvious response, but then the modern sports fan has a plethora of envy models from which to choose, so many in fact that envy becomes boring and hence fades away.
The admiration, too, is explicable. Most non-Chelsea fans would, given only the slightest nudge, acknowledge a respect for the man’s prodigious achievements.
The problem, it seems, is the hatred. Why do the great steaming masses (yes of course this includes me) rise up in a universal expectoration of bile at every perceived faux pas, every smug look, every statement expressing calm and certain superiority?
The question is not whether Mourinho commits these solecisms: every week provides a new instance of a Mourinhism that raises the hackles of stout-hearted, stout-drinking English yeomen. The question is why, in a game full of managers who are crooks, criminals, drunks, bullies, cheats, egotists, liars and backstabbers (excluding the sainted Strachan, who always got away with everything by virtue of not pretending to be a saint), is a little bit of Continental cockiness the new Worst Thing in the World?
I think it’s the scarf.
Follow that link at the top again, and this time examine the man’s scarf. Follow its contours, the precision of the draping, its raffish sweep. This is a scarf that has been put in its place. This scarf is being worn, worn by a man who knows how to wear scarves. (Make no mistake, this scarf is being worn that way for effect: Mourinho also deploys the straight up and down position of scarf in its proper context.)
If ever you needed evidence of the sartorial sensitivity of the British man (you probably did), this is it. The British male has very firm views on the place of scarves, and that place is unequivocably in the cupboard.
This is an attitude bred in from the playground. Scarves are to be worn only when it is freezing enough to make breathing painful. To be bescarved otherwise is to be a mummy’s boy, and therefore beneath contempt. Scarves must therefore be surrogate jumpers: as bulky as half a sheep and nearly as impossible to manage. There is axiomatically no such thing as a light scarf for men in Britain.
For adults, an even more horrifying category than the mummy’s boy is opened up. A man wearing a scarf stylishly self-evidently belongs to at least three of the following groups:
- A playboy
- Hiding something
- Southern European
Given that any combination of these would currently get you marked down as highly suspicious in any self-respecting public house in the country, and therefore a top ten candidate for being placed under house arrest by Charles Clarke. Therefore, with inexorable logic, Jose Mourinho is almost certainly a spy, and should be deported immediately.
I rest my case, m’lud.
Sometimes you read a piece that knocks you back in your seat, that makes you want to sit, and sit, and consider.
This interview with Daniel Tammet, an autistic prepared to describe about his savant abilities to the rest of us, bursts with questions.
I barely know where to begin — the autistic savant who can read two pages simultaneously? I’ll restrict myself to two comments.
First, on Tammet’s love of G.K. Chesterton:
Tammet will read anything and everything, but his favourite book is a good dictionary, or the works of GK Chesterton. “With all those aphorisms,” he says, “Chesterton was the Groucho Marx of his day.”
Bless him, the Groucho Marx of Chesterton’s day was, of course, Groucho Marx. But, as I was reading some of Chesterton’s essays in the bath this morning (and what a Chestertonian thing that is to do), I was being constantly struck by the fabulous oddness of the man. He seemed quite capable of surviving only on a good theological paradox, something (anything) to read, plenty of drawing chalk and a pint of beer. I begin to see why he would ring a bell for Tammet.
Second, Tammet is spending his spare time constructing a language:
The vocabulary of his language - “Mänti”, meaning a type of tree - reflects the relationships between different things. The word “ema”, for instance, translates as “mother”, and “ela” is what a mother creates: “life”. “Päike” is “sun”, and “päive” is what the sun creates: “day”. Tammet hopes to launch Mänti in academic circles later this year, his own personal exploration of the power of words and their inter-relationship.
An Adamic language, no less, in which the place of the individual sign in the language is mimetic of the place of the thing it signifies in the world — what we might call a metonymic language. So our Tammet is a modern-day John Wilkins, pursuing a perfect language.
If this were one of the Chesterton essays I was enjoying this morning, it would end now with a startling turnabout, a revelation, a paradox. But it isn’t, and all the revelations, as usual, are elsewhere.
I’m not enjoying BBC2’s nostalgic curiosity Look Around You. I recall Tomorrow’s World back in the early 80s, and it was quite bizarre enough not to require this sort of painstaking, laborious parody.
There is, though, one peerless moment in each show. At the end, Peter Packard (Peter Seranifowicz) closes the programme by saying (to take last night’s example): “Thanks, Andy”, then turning to camera and studiously mangling this to “Thandy” (see this note for an example).
Weightlessly absurd, this grace note is everything the rest of the show, sadly, is not.
The British and their queues.
Once outside the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, I asked an usher if this was the queue for admission.
“The queue. To get in.”
“You mean the line?”
“For a moment there I thought you were foreign.”
I’d always thought to that point that use of the word ‘queue’ irrevocably marked me as British, and perhaps English.
Last night I dashed out of the rain into the supermarket on the way home. There were four teetering stacks of baskets next to the automatic doors. I stood there while juggling my bag, coat and recalcitrant umbrella into an order good enough to allow me to pick up a basket.
Someone came and stood behind me. I continued fighting with that one spoke of the umbrella that refuses to furl. As I finally snapped it down, the polite German (for of course it could be no other) inquired:
“Are you queueing for the baskets?”
Is there, I wondered as I suppressed what would have been a rather rude laugh, any limit to the solicitious concern of your modern German for local sensibilities? The poor man must spend most of his day diligently lining up behind idling people in the nervous dread that they are secretly, imperceptibly, queueing for things.
Forget all that Belle de Jour craziness, the blogger you should be reading is Thomas Mahon, bespoke Savile Row tailer, London.
On a red hot August day in early 1990, I sneaked out of the side door of Anderson’s to a cafe, no more than 50 yards away, for a sandwich to go. Unknown to me I had been spotted by Mr. Hallberry.
To go out at lunchtime was not a crime, however I had committed a cardinal sin. Not only was I without a jacket, but I was wearing braces (suspenders). For this I was summoned and duly berated for my sloppiness. As Mr. Hallberry said, cutters of A&S do not go out in there shirt sleeves, let alone their underwear.
The barrage of electronic debris seems now to be coming on three fronts.
First, of course, there’s your common or garden spam. I don’t think I’m imagining that it’s on the rise again.
Second, there is that bane of the blogger, comment spam. Well, all I can see is three cheers for Wordpress, and for Kitten’s Spam Words and Spaminator, which seem to be doing mighty work for me.
Now I’m seeing a lot more phishing: spam that purports to be from Paypal, Amazon, your bank or, hey, any bank at all. Here Gmail has one of very many nice touches. It doesn’t delete emails that look like phishing attempts, but it stripes a big message across the top saying it’s probably a con. This doesn’t really make a difference if you’ve seen the same attempt ten times in the last week, but it might just save you that all-important first time.
Tonight I saw one example of the craft that sadly gave itself away. Allegedly from PayPal, it went through the usual scare ploy of insinuating suspicious activity on your account (without giving the account number, of course), then laid down the law:
However, failure to restore your records will result in account suspension.
Please update your records on or before February 30, 2005.
On the tube, already doubly late, trying to get to King’s Cross in time for the Intercity, I noticed in the squeeze a woman with a smut on her forehead.
It was sizeable, and didn’t look like the result of a single rub against something dirty.
Now a tricky interplay of concerns starts up.
If I don’t tell her there’s something on her face, that’s bad. But what if, somehow, crazily, she already knows? I really don’t want to tell her. I’m British, I’m in London and I’m on the tube, for pity’s sake. This is the ninth circle, where the uncommunicative are sent to sit in silence for eternity. It’s rude not to tell her, but now I’ve been sitting here for a couple of stops, it will seem bizarre if suddenly leap up to tell her there’s something on her face.
I could pretend that I’ve only just noticed. That’s ridiculous, and my pantomime of realisation will be, frankly, embarrassing for all concerned. I’ve got it: she’ll be more unhappy knowing she’s got a smudge on her face that in her present state of blissful ignorance. She’ll find out as soon as she sees herself in a mirror.
Finally, match-winningly, she’s a young woman and I would rather do without seeing that involuntary flinch as she assumes as I speak to her that I’m trying to pick her up.
The woman next stands up to leave at this stop and, as she does so, leans over and tells her, in a stage whisper, about the mark.
The woman replies tartly: “Yes, I know. I put it there”.
The blood-rush roar of the train starts up again as I sit, faced controlled, looking at the poorly-drawn ash cross on her forehead.
In my field of view they’ve been building a sprawling conglomeration of flats. They’re probably called ‘apartments’ in the brochure. In order to make space for the accompanying garden, they have bulldozed a small community square and a brick-walled astroturf football pitch. The bulldozer scraped up and down the pitch like a lawnmower designed for Texans, tearing up the pitch in front of it. Although you knew it was artificial turf, your eyes still couldn’t overcome the awful feeling that the very skin of the earth was being sliced off.
Now they’ve been chopping down, and up, some trees close to me. At this time of the year the trees are bare, of course, but they’re still very obviously healthy. Seeing them cropped to nothing so quickly and simply is almost thrilling in its wrongness. A machine with a sort of vertical buzzsaw on the front grinds at the stump for about half an hour, and then even that is gone.
I’m left with a sense of vertigo: either I or the world have been mauled and some subtle balancing of the world has been changed. I find myself wanting to tip my head sideways as a frail attempt to compensate, to correct the gravity of the situation.
Is it really that the change of landscape has affected my sense of balance, of where the weight of the world around comes to rest? Or is it purely a visual trick, that more light is unexpectedly now coming from one part of the sky? Which sense is confusing me like this?
I suspect it’s the sense of loss.
The Mind Hacks book is excellent bathtime reading: semi-discrete chunks of state of the art on mind matters. It’s not half as interactive or hackish as the promotion material would have it, but it’s got the same spirit of deep-breathed, steady-gazed analysis that informs co-author Matt Webb’s Interconnected. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the site reported on an interview with Andrew Solomon. Solomon suffers from, and has written on, depression. I walked the long way home just so that I could listen to the rest of the interview uninterrupted. Today is your last chance to listen to the interview, courtesy of the Beeb and, I am assured, free.
From unexpected pleasures to wholly anticipated ones. The Idea of North is everything it was ever going to be, and rather beautiful to boot. Everything from Ravilious and Auden through Nabokov to Knut Erik Jensen and the poet Morley.
Finally, the bad. That deadpan observer of the boggle-eyed, Jon Ronson, has had an eye-gouging weapon named after him. Delightful.