Category Archives: Personal

My contribution to the 1986 BBC Domesday project is online

A PR representing the BBC has been working hard to get my attention with regards to Auntie’s attempts to upload, and reload, the 1980s Domesday Project. The pitch in itself is not surprising because, well, that is what PRs are supposed to do. But I was pleasantly surprised to be targeted.

My pleasure comes from the fact that I have a special place in my heart for the original BBC Domesday project. As I wrote in a piece for IT trade paper Computing in 2003, the scheme was set up to mark the 900th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s original Domesday Book in 1086 and was intended to provide a snapshot of British life in the late 20th century.

The new Domesday provided a cute collection of information. But as I also wrote eight years ago, while the data in William the Conqueror’s original manuscript is still accessible 900 years on, the pace of change in technology meant that the BBC Domesday project had become inaccessible. Mid-1980s video disc technology had been superseded by portable compact disc systems. And the LDV hardware used to run the BBC project’s video-discs was in short supply.

Which was particularly upsetting for me. You see, I was in the original Domesday project (the BBC one, not the one from 1066). When I was kid, I lived in a place called Hampton Magna. It is a small village outside Warwick (in fact, it is close to the site of a deserted village called Budbrooke which was in the 1066 Domesday but which was wiped out by the plague). However, I digress. As I wrote in the Computing article of 2003:

“I never won much as a child, so I was genuinely proud when I was chosen to represent my school on the BBC Domesday project … I was asked to provide a description of my house in Hampton Magna.”

The Computing piece subsequently detailed the attempts of researchers at the University of Leeds to preserve the Domesday material. I remember that they were lovely chaps, even providing hard copies of my data for illustrations in the magazine. Anyway, I completed my editorial folly in Computing with the following conclusion:

“Thanks to the emulator, the BBC Domesday is available again. Now it’s time to sort out the copyright situation and make its treasure trove of data accessible to us all.”

And almost exactly eight years later, those issues seem to have been sorted. BBC Learning today unveiled its resurrection of the 1986 Domesday project and a dedicated web site called Domesday Reloaded. And yes, MARKS [sic] HOUSE IN HAMPTON MAGNA is there (as well as pictures from the school summer fete).

It is, as you can see, a work of low-level genius. But it was my first publication and I loved going to look at the description on the BBC Micro at Warwick Library as a kid. BBC Domesday – it is good to have you back, old friend.

Pterodactyl lost – please return to very loving owner

There are, or were, five members in my family: me, my wife, our two daughters and a soft toy pterodatyl called Terrence. Sadly, Terrence is missing, presumed lost in action on Wanstead High Street.

For the last year-or-so, Terrence has been everywhere with the Samuels family. He’s been on holiday, to school, to London, to bed and on film (many, many times). Virtually every picture of my eldest during that period includes her holding tightly to Terrence.

But no more. Unfortunately, he wasn’t held tightly enough yesterday morning on Wanstead High Street and the little pterosaur slipped from my eldest’s grasp. We returned to the scene of the event but could find no sign of Terry.

The pterodacytl in question is available at the Natural History Museum in London, so all is not completely lost. But any replacement will not be ‘the’  Terry. Personally, I feel terrible. My eldest loved Terrence and I miss him being around. To anyone that lives in Wanstead and that might have been on the High Street yesterday (I have asked all the shopkeepers and market traders), here’s what Terry looks like:

If you see him, please let me know. We miss you, Terry!

Do footballers actually like football?

That might sound like an odd question, given that most football fans would give up just about anything to wear the shirt of their beloved club. But I have a theory. And it is one I regularly bring up with my mate and fellow Villa fan Steve Wilson, who thinks I’m talking rubbish.

My theory is as follows. Some people at school are good at English; others are good at maths. Whatever your specialism, you’ll probably take a career direction that follows the ability – I work in journalism; Steve works in finance. So, what of people who are good at football? If they’re lucky – and I mean really lucky – they’ll become professional footballers.

But just because they’re good at football, doesn’t necessarily mean they have to like it. I would have loved to have been a footballer because I love football. Yet some people must have a natural ability and not really like their profession. And there’s proof. Take this excerpt from a BBC interview with Tottenham player Benoit Assou-Ekotto:

“For me it is just a job. When I used to play in France I was near my home, my mum, my friends and everybody I know. So why would I come to England? I didn’t speak English or know anybody. It was just a job. I’m sure in every job everybody wants progression and it’s the same for me. But I understand when I go on the pitch I have to give the best of myself because the season ticket is very expensive.”

And he’s not alone. The Guardian collected evidence of stacks of players who took a similar stance to the game in 2007, including former Tottenham and Watford goalkeeper Espen Baardsen.

He became disillusioned with the game at 25, gave it up and completed an Open University degree, before becoming a financial analyst for London-based hedge fund Eclectica. ”It is a great myth that football is easy,” he insisted. “It’s quite miserable compared to what I have now.” Footballer-turned-boxer Curtis Woodhouse is another who disliked the game to such a extent. “Everyone loves football, but I didn’t. It felt like a job,” he said. “I felt empty playing, it got me angry. I could have carried on playing football until I was 35, making a nice wage and having a nice life, but that’s not what I wanted to do.”

So, what do you think? Do footballers actually like football?

Dino, T-Rex, the barbecue and the dream

I haven’t updated my blog for a while, so I thought I’d use readily available child labour and get my oldest daughter to pen a contribution. She is obsessed with dinosaurs; completely obsessed. So, we used this web site, where she could add words and automatically create a story. And here is big sister’s final work:

One day Dino decided to go for a walk. It was a sunny day and the earth was especially terrible.

Dino was really happy and was thinking about Pterodactyl. He noticed a T Rex in the volcano. Then he saw that the T Rex was heading for the bush. Dino got very scared when he saw the T Rex coming with a dead dinosaur.

So he went to a barbecue and he had no money. As Dino was walking his luck had turned. He was trembling with a Triceratops when he decided to go into the bushes. It was then that Dino saw a Parasaurolophus and the volcano. And he thought it’s time for lunch.

He found some treasure and he liked to play. For dessert he had pumpkin and squash. He then went outside and began to dream about a crocodile. Oh, Dino thought, another dream.

Five reasons why football is finished

  1. When I was a kid, the excitement associated to the anticipation of pre-season was almost unbearable. Every season, you’d look at your squad and think, “this could be our year”. As a Villa fan, that misguided belief would now be laughable. It must be a shame for all these Brummies growing up and never, ever thinking: “This could be our year”.
  2. Go to football. There’s a severe lack of kids. Why? Well, the lack of competition – producing a lack of anticipation – could be one thing. Expense is another; who can afford to travel round the country with their kids? Computers are also significant. Most kids would probably rather play Fifa then watch the Premier League. And if they do, they won’t pay for a ticket, or pay for a Sky subscription. They’ll watch if free on the interweb.
  3. In fact, there’s a severe lack of anyone. Newcastle got just over 40,000 for their match against the Villa last week. That was the Toon’s first match at home in the Premier League since they’d been promoted. Villa, for their part, have been associated to an (unproven) 40% drop in season ticket sales. Their lovely local rivals Small Heath attracted just 6,000 for their mid-week League Cup match against Rochdale. Meanwhile, attendance figures for games have been modified to include tickets sold rather than people actually in the ground. I wonder why…?
  4. The reason people don’t go to matches is because football is bloody expensive, and you’re basically paying for flash gits to drive round in stupid cars with naff paint schemes. These flash gits finally got their comeuppance at the World Cup, when the so-called Golden Generation exposed itself as an over-rated generation that, well, couldn’t give a toss.
  5. You know how everyone loved football after Italia ’90? Well, South Africa 2010 will be like 1990 – except in reverse. Everyone has finally woken up to the fact that the Premier League is uncompetitive, the ‘Chumpions League’ is a closed shop for rich swines and the players are nowt like us ordinary peasants. Bring back trips to Brum with my Dad as a kid, stopping at the sweet shop in Aston to buy a bag of chocolate éclairs and then watching the Villa lose 2-0 at home to Charlton in the pouring rain. At least I used to be able to think next year could be our year (expect it never was, of course).

Three-wheeled buggies are practical and (kind of) cheap

A former editor suggested to me that anyone who doesn’t buy The Guardian in their 20s hasn’t got a soul, and that anyone who doesn’t buy The Times in their 30s hasn’t got a brain.

It is, of course, an over-simplified generalisation. Like the quote (wrongly?) attributed to Margaret Thatcher which suggests: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”

But I digress – and the point I am trying to make is that over-simplifications, however generalised, can sometimes strike a chord. Take the recent column in The Guardian by author Jenny Colgan, which rejoiced in the falling sales of three-wheeled buggies.

The column – which starts with the word “Hurrah!”, possibly the poshest introductory one-word sentence imaginable – explains why the three-wheeled buggy is the noughties symbol of “more-money-than-sense parenting”. The offroad buggy is, apparently, naff conspicuous consumerism: “No longer would a handed-down Maclaren do,” she says.

In our case, Colgan’s kind of right – but not for the reasons she suggests. We have two children who both need to be pushed in a buggy. The three-wheeler allows us to push both at the same time. It’s not possible, you see, for one person to push two buggies.

And naff conspicuous consumption? Do me a favour – our buggy was passed on free by mates, who’d had it passed to them by other parents. So talk to the hand, Jenny Colgan; our offroader is practical and cheap as chips.

Over-simplifications? Like I said at the start, they never work…

Wanstead Villa FC: Dads seek Dads…

…for fun and limited exercise. GSOH absolutely essential.

This isn’t an online dating exercise, but it is a call for more men. Me and some of my middle-aged mates play in a 5-a-side league in Wanstead on a Sunday evening. We are, in short, rubbish.

There are only six teams in the league at present. However, it’s pretty professional – games are arranged and results displayed on our own league web site. It’s not only the set-up that’s professional, either. Some of the teams are mustard – The Unknows (who caned us twice) are basically semi-professional. They are everything we are not: fast, energetic and talented.

We managed to win two games all season. The first was a stunning 5-2 victory over fellow strugglers League of Asians. Our second win – an unexpected 10-0 triumph – came last weekend as the result of a no-show. That sneaky tactic lifted us to the glories of fifth (and in the Premier League, that would be an automatic Europe League place).

But this isn’t the Premier League, it’s the Sylvestrian Football League. And we stink. Still, there is hope – and a new round of games is set to begin in just two weeks. By way of a season round-up, special mention must go to the following players:

  • Steve Wilson (captain) – Organiser, goalscorer and often goalkeeper (by default, rather than choice)
  • Richard Walsh – Looks like a rugby player; scores like Zico
  • Adrian Mason – Essex boy that bangs on endlessly about a volley he scored earlier in the season
  • Greg Demetriou – Late starter; scores regularly but always picks up an injury
  • Mark Samuels – Another late starter; scores very, very infrequently
  • Ben Lock – Specialist in ankle injuries
  • Niall Magennis – Fellow IT journalist with a mean line in tackling
  • Cathal O’Donoghue – Good at missing the middle part of the season, basically
  • Kevin Malone – Mysteriously absent for later matches

If you’re in Wanstead and want to get stuffed at football, check out the league web site – matches are on a Sunday evening and your team is almost guaranteed two wins against the Villa (Wanstead, not Aston).

World Cup sweepstake update

If you’re not a member of the Samuels family, you should probably stop reading about now. If you are – and you’re not Dan – you’ll probably stop reading anyway.

The premise, for those of you that are still with me, was simple: eight members of the family drew a team from each of the original seeding pots for the World Cup (which gave me South Africa, in terms of the top seeds – lucky me).

The winner of each seeding group (that’s the team that goes the furthest in each pot, please keep up) wins the huge sum of £2. So, in terms of two of the seeding groups, we already know the winners – Japan got the furthest out of pot 1 (extra time, last 16) and Slovakia got the furthest in pot 3 (2-1 defeat, last 16).

Teams still in with a chance of bringing you the cash are in bold. And to think, everyone laughed when I pulled out Ghana. Here’s that draw, and the remaining teams, in full:

  • Mum | 1. Honduars | 2. Chile | 3. Serbia | 4. England
  • Dad | 1. USA | 2. Ivory Coast | 3. Switzerland | 4. Spain
  • Annette | 1. South Korea | 2. Cameroon | 3. France | 4. Italy
  • Mark | 1. Japan (ladies and gentlespoons, we have a winner!) | 2. Ghana | 3. Denmark | 4. South Africa
  • Lily | 1. New Zealand | 2. Uruguay | 3. Slovenia | 4. Netherlands
  • Jemima | 1. North Korea | 2. Nigeria | 3. Portugal | 4. Argentina
  • Louise | 1. Mexico | 2. Algeria | 3. Greece | 4. Brazil
  • Dan | 1. Australia | 2. Paraguay | 3. Slovakia (ladies and gentlespoons, we have a winner!) | 4. Germany

Football is now a young man’s game

Common consensus has it that a player peaks at about 27 or 28. Clubs traditionally look to buy players in their mid-to-late 20s, knowing they’ll have four years at the top of their game. That pattern is slowly changing.

Arsene Wenger has made a career of selling players in their late 20s at the Arsenal. When he sold Thierry Henry to Barcelona in 2007,  it was a controversial move – Henry was at the top of his game. Now, three years later, the sale of the then-29-year-old seems like a master stroke. Henry has never recaptured his best form for Arsenal.

Now look at the England team. The average age of the England squad at the 2010 World Cup was over 28; they were well-beaten by a team (and that word in the case of England’s defeat is also an explanation) that was on average four years younger. Even England’s younger players – such as Rooney and Milner – are experienced; both started their first team careers at 16.

The peak in football is no longer 28. It’s more like 26, possibly younger. England need to freshen their team up but the problem is that there are few talented youngsters coming through. Just James Milner was a member of England’s 2009 U21 European Championship team, a side that lost 4-0 to Germany in the final. Four of Germany’s side yesterday came from that triumphant team.

England need a younger team. But while Lampard et al might look spent at international level, there are no young replacements coming through. Once again, it comes back to the way we produce football players – and the bad news for England is that the talent simply isn’t there. Welcome to the international wilderness. We might have to get used to it.

England will never get better at football

“Oh, this could be enjoyable,” suggested the over-excitable and frankly tiresome Clive Tilsley four minutes into England’s first World Cup match against USA. For the record, it wasn’t.

England huffed and puffed to a tedious draw against the nation of baseball and basketball, before looking far worse against Algeria. Another similar performance against Solvenia on Wednesday will see the country that invented the sport returning home.

Having invented the sport is part of the problem. Our “proud history” creates some sort of rose-tinted effect, where everyone – the media and the populace at-large – believes we have a right to win the World Cup (or at least to get pretty close). For the record, we don’t.

We might have invented football in England but we have always been pretty naff. The rest of the world quickly surpassed us – Scotland, for example, showed us the short passing game at the end of the 1800s. Hungary, on the other hand, showed us how to play quickly and intelligently in the post-War era.

The last 50-or-so years, 1966 excepted, have shown us to be a second rate footballing nation that relies on kick and rush. Our record in major tournaments is woeful. Added to 1966′s World Cup win is a fourth place in 1990; Sweden, hardly a football giant, has finished second once, third twice and fourth once.

We might go and beat Slovenia. We might then go and win the World Cup. I doubt it but it would be bloody great. If we don’t succeed, everyone will start bleating about the need to change the way we play football. Yet 130 years of kick and rush suggests this will not be easy.

England has a woefully poor coach to player ratio, unlike other major nations such as Spain, Germany and Italy. Fifa sees this ratio as the “golden thread”; the key to success in major football.

Nothing will change unless you stop people shouting “just get the ball forward”. And this is never, ever going to happen. It’s the soundtrack to watching football in England, from school pitches to Wembley. Enjoy the World Cup.