Sunday, April 30, 2006

Deckchairs on the Titanic

The dominant theme throughout tonight's five games, was chairs, or to be more exact the connection seats have with luck - good and bad. I admit to having a certain superstition about which chair I should position myself in at the start of a night's play. It has more to do with angles, seating position of other players and where best to avoid any smoke that may drift over my way. I would like to think that my ploy works more than it fails, and tonight's games were a test of my carefully worked out theory as I was second to arrive and could take my pick.

But first maybe an explanation into the etiquette of seat positioning for 3 Player Mahjong. The old Sage, Noda is the ringmaster with regards this attribution of chairs. During my years of playing with him, he has used 3 different systems for allocating where one sits prior to commencement. These are as follows:

"I have no Idea what Noda is doing" System.
The most complicated and frankly I suspect not entirely without prejudice way in which Noda chooses 6 tiles, (the 4 Winds and 2 suit tiles) and then wriggles them around to find out where we seat. It almost seems like how the Wise-man would read his runes and then offer a cataclysmic prediction. I can not explain further because neither Kenyon nor I could fathom the system on Friday.

"Winner Chooses his Seat" System.
This was the first method that I was introduced to back in the heady days of 9pm starts and regular 2 tables of play. The four wind tiles would be distributed to each of the players, the one who ended up with East chose his seat of preference and the others had to switch around to accommodate the Mahjong Winds cycle.

"Bloody Easy" System.
This is the one we normally adopt and is by a marathon margin the simplest. This being that whenever you get to the parlour you choose one of the available seats and then just get on with it.

It was the latter system that was adopted on Friday and almost immediately I was pining for a change of seats, a plea Kenyon was keen to ignore as he galloped into a commanding lead. At one stage Noda owed Kenyon 20,000 points and I was sinking slowly as one does in Saharan quicksand. The 1st game ended up with only one winner, Kenyon on +56, Noda slightly down after a recovery at my expense and myself with an empty tray...

It was midway through the 2nd game when again I was faced with an empty tray that my mind made the somewhat far-fetched leap to France of 1966. Whilst England were in the throws of World Cup celebration (something after the Rooney injury sadly not to be repeated this year) President de Gaulle was boycotting EEC Institutions over CAP financing. This led to a six month hiatus in which bugger all happened in European decision making because every time the matter came up the French delegate excused himself and left. I looked longingly at the empty chair to my left and decided that I needed to cuckoo it as soon as possible. Oh and in the actual game, Kenyon extended his lead to a Everestian 103 points. Noda was -21 and I -55. Things had to change. I was now effectively bottom of the whole Mahjong Pile less than 5 weeks after I was Hiroshima's Edmund Hillary.

Now Hurley has a theory about Mahjong being played in cycles. Basically, he believes that like the Ashoka Chakra, we mere mahjong mortals move between various moments of joy, bewilderment and a few things in between. Hurley's System operates in a 3-monthly cycle. From Christmas to April I was top dog, Kenyon was the pound pooch and Ray, Noda and Hurley in the middle somewhere. Since April I have been losing, Noda Top Cat and Kenyon and Hurley somewhere in the middle. Could I break the gnarled old Hurleydamus's predictions. Well, Yes I could actually.

At the beginning of game 3 we switched seats, I took over Kenyon's and Noda stayed where he was. Immediately the worm turned. I was winning and Kenyon was struggling. Just in case you are in any doubt about Kenyon's feelings, just count how many times he says "freaking". I racked up as Oya, the others didn't. I also managed a Kokoushimasou, but regretably as a tsumo and not a ron, which considering I was oya at the time....the game ended with me up a little and Kenyon down a lot. He wanted to move chairs, but Noda decided that we should change only after every 2 games played. That was fine by me.

The 4th and 5th games resulted in me moving ahead a lot and then having my wings clipped in the final game. Noda also stormed out of the hole he was digging for himself to finish only slightly down. The highlight of the last 2 games was the first Noda Chombo of the year. Whilst Oya and with a nice little hand developing, I threw out a risky 9 Bamboo. Noda was obviously collecting bamboo, and I was concerned that it could be a rather stupid thing to do. Yet still I did it - why? To my relief Noda looked at the discarded tile but made no movement, so Kenyon took the next from the wall and immediately thumped it on the table with a guttural like noise that sounded a bit like "freaking....". A puzzled look remained on Noda's face...he had made a chombo! Should have nailed me on my risky 9 and I would have been looking at a big loss. There was a small complaint about tiles being thrown out very quickly (Raise your eyebrows Roger Moore style here please). But he paid up and my night had turned around.

A 6th game was requested from Kenyon, but I decided now was a good time to leave before more damage could be inflicted. After all, it was time to change seats again....

Final Result

Jaime +42
Noda -17
Kenyon -25

Friday, April 21, 2006

Charles III

The Queen, Elizabeth II is 80 today. Anyone who reaches this milestone age deserves all the birthday salutations they receive. It is a grand achievement, more so given that she has not exactly had the easiest of lives. Yes, being the head of state in a constitutional monarchy is not really as difficult as working down a pit, but all those ribbon cuttings must have led to the odd arthritic twinge. Say nothing of countless state dinners, where unpronounceable and often unpalatable leaders are wheeled in and one has to keep on smiling and pretending to have any interest in the average snow fall in the Congo. Plus, she has been doing it for 54 years. Most people are well into their retirement by their 9th decade.

Sadly her ability and skill seems to be the exception to her family and not the rule. Her uncle thought Hitler's social programme a stroke of genius, her husband can't seem to enter a factory or foreign embassy without insulting some ethnicity and her I need to explain? Well OK, Charles seems to think that the Glorious Revolution never happened and thinks himself more Charles I than III. Andrew....plays some golf, Anne...rode some horses in the Olympics and Edward, well Edward is a documentary film maker. He has made 2 films, one about his uncle the wannabe fascist and wait for it, the Windsor family tree. Original that.

The monarchy has its defenders and the Queen's service is chief among them. She has brought stability and a sense of a watchful godmother guaranteeing that no harm should befall her wards. Lets give credit where it is due, in 56 years on the throne how many mistakes has she made? One or two at the most. She has been through the dismantling of the British empire, the economic collapse of the 1970s and Margaret Thatcher. She also handed over the world cup the only time England have managed to win.

I applaud the Queen, it really can not have been easy to be a role-figure with your family background. But, the institution that she represents has had its day. There is no rational argument that can be presented that could prolong its role. It is no political power, so it can not be used as a defence to protect democracy. (As offensive as this next argument is) Its importance to British tourism can be offset by visiting figures at Versailles, or the White House. And well, that is it. There are no other proposals that have any sway. Zero.

There is one simple and compelling argument that is the King Kong of them all, and it was proposed by an aristocrat. As Tony Benn once proposed; you should gauge reaction to the following line if said on a plane, "I'm not, in fact, a trained pilot - but don't worry, my dad was." Your feet wouldn't touch the carpet as you grabbed your duty free and scuttled off.

If you want a more academic approach then I give you the English revolutionary, Thomas Paine who wrote that assigning roles and jobs by birth was as bonkers, "as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; as absurd as an hereditary poet laureate".

Oh and if you are really not convinced by the above, dwell on this:

King Charles III

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Bleeding Obvious

England coaches are either completely useless or footballing geniuses. Usually they are both, it depends on the result of any given game. To be coach of England's national team is a study in short attention span syndrome. Grand conclusions and expert analysis revolve around individual results. The current man has be hailed as a maestro after England thrashed Germany 1-5 (I'm sure this must be somewhere on Hurley's blog) and a befuddled dunce after they lost abjectly to Northern Ireland.

English footballing fans are guilty of myopic "here & now" vision, where nothing in the past or future has any impact or importance. This is not helped by the English footballing media who when they are not caracaturing the coach as a vegetable are lambasting him for either not being a Churchillian motivator or for being a little Englander. Or worse still, not being English at all which you have to admit is a bit unfair when you are born in Sweden.

Yet their is an organisation that towers above the media and the fans for their ability to come out with lunatic, moronic and just plain dumb comments - the F.A. (insert your own meaning) They are responsible for leaving the nation panic-stricken with their choice for "our man in the coach's seat". This collection of worthless fools (I excuse Trevor Brooking as long as he never ever resumes his co-commentary duties) seem intent on appointing a coach, who not only is not the overwhelming choice of the fans, players, other coaches and media, but who is actually not even the number 1 choice of any of the selection committee.

This sub-committee, or Committee to Elect the Next England Coach - CENEC for short, have compiled a short list of 4 names. They have drawn out the selection process in a way that can only be explained by their being on a paid by the day stipend. It really is very easy, all you have to do is find a coach to answer the following 3 questions:

1) Do you want the job?
2) Can you coach?
3) Are you any good?
Those that answer 'yes' to the first question usually mean that they should be automatically excluded from the next two, but occasionally a man squeezes through the mix and rises like sausages in a toad-in-the-hole. That man is Martin O'Neill.
It is a no-brainer. It is just that plain and simple. He wants the job. He can coach - look at his medals and trophies and here is the clincher, he is an excellent coach! He took Leicester City twice into Europe! Twice! He got a Scottish team to a European final. He is lauded as an intuitive and innovative coach who got Steve Guppy and Emile Heskey England caps!
Furthermore, this is an ex-professional footballer with a law degree! Remember this also, this is a man, a Catholic, who was captain of Northern Ireland in the early 1980's and led his country out at Windsor Park and refused to be curtailed by threats because he did so.
Martin O'Neill is the right man for the job, his record proves that, his coaching proves that, his basic intelligence proves that. But more importantly, he has shown this ability over a number of years, not just the last few weeks. Steve McClaren is a gifted coach, part of the Manchester Utd team than won the treble in 1999. Alan Curbishely has established Charlton Athletic as a Premiership team with little money. Sam Alladyce has shown tactical nous and a high-quality man-management style to soothe troublesome and childlike egos.
Those coaches all have merits, but non are in the same league as Martin O'Neill. A player who won League titles and European Cups, who captained his country in a 16 team world cup against the back-drop of civil war, who coached a non-league team into football league and established them there, who took Leicester into Europe, who took Celtic to a European final and who knows the true place that football has in the scheme of things. Really, it is bleeding obvious.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wallsend Boys 'Brazil' 8
North Shields Robbins 1

I was really pleased of my performance on Sunday. We won, we played against North Shields Robbins, their second team. The score was 8-1. I scored a wonder goal!!!!!!!!!! Really I did. I scored the goal of the season with my left foot!!! The coach , Bill, said it was the goal of the season and so did Oliver's dad!!!! (Oliver is a teammate) I am still practicing, and working really hard. Also I am really pleased that Newcastle beat Tottenham. Jermaine Jenas missed a sitter and it was a open goal!!!!!

F Sygrove

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Бог је прво себи браду створио*

We are currently in the Hiroshima City Sunday League off-season, so attempting to replicate professional players as much as possible both David and I are on a 'strict' Spring diet. Those of Christian persuasion will also be fasting because of Lent. Now David being a pseudo Red Sea Pedestrian, tries to follow certain ecclesiastical observances as much as he can. So he is the middle of a 40 day holiday from imbibing alcohol. That being said...there does seem to be certain sacred occasions where according to church doctrine (The Church of Hurley the Chaste) those abstaining can break their fasts. Such allowances are as follows; drinking at Italian chain restaurants, drinking in the middle of 18 holes and drinking to celebrate the return of fellow drinkers. It might be perhaps more of a challenge to renounce not not drinking.

For want of a opening paragraph I have poked a little fun, but to be fair there was a splendid reason for the breaking of David's alcoholic abstinence - the grand opening of the new Hurley Heights in the suburbs of Hiroshima. A significantly vast improvement on his last abode for nothing else than the spacious head room that can now allow one to walk from chamber to chamber without sustaining a gashing head wound. The house is indeed a little gem with a tardis like ability to conceal wardrobe space larger than the living area.

After drinking a free bottle of red wine at said Italian Chain restaurant (like an absent minded great-uncle they very kindly forgot to write everything down on the bill) and with a rabble of the Hiroshima Gaijn Set, our small menagerie headed to more drinking and a game of mahjong at Hurley Heights.

Now I wish to avoid repeating events regarding mahjong that will be documented on Hurley's blog, so I will omit such details. One story that I will re-tell refers to a rather amusing put down flung at me from one member during play. Tim, who in another walk of life would have made an excellent Catholic Priest - in the best way, is usually a reluctant mahjong player. I believe his average breaks down as 1 game per year. He is though somewhat of a game old thing, especially when it doesn't involve any disruption to his beer intake. Beer to Tim is what blood is to a thirsty vampire. During one very long hand where Tim and I were getting thumped he made a very piquant observation to my lack of victories despite being a so-called Mahjong veteran:

"In this game, you are to me what the Dutch were in Srebrenica."

Not quite Oscar Wilde, but it has to be admitted that this was sharp intellect nonetheless. It did also get me thinking about Dutch proverbs - are there any good Dutch proverbs? In Hiroshima we do have at least one resident Dutchman, Alex, a good bloke despite being an Ajax supporter. The studious option would have been to get myself down to Kulcha and asked him, but that was just too much effort for 10pm on a Sunday night. So with the beauty of internet search engines, I ended up on the following couple to retort to Tim with:

"Hoge bomen vangen veel wind"
(meaning - The more important the person, the more criticism he receives)

"Kleren maken de man"
(meaning - Good clothes add to a man's stature)

I did try and go for cheap laughs by combining national stereotypes and wooden footwear, but alas to no avail could I find a decent one and well, Ruud does ply his trade with the Busby Boys...

*The first thing that God created was his own beard.