Category Archives: Family

Living with Alzheimer’s: Tips for Making the Most of Each Day – by Vee Cecil

Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, or learning that a loved one has, can be devastating. In fact, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are currently living with the illness. Although there is still no cure, scientists are working every day to find a way to eliminate Alzheimer’s for good.

For many people, finding out they have the disease is a reminder to appreciate every single day, and inspires them to make the most of their time. Here are some tips for embracing each day, whether you’re flying solo or spending time with loved ones:

Know the facts. You and those close to you will probably have a lot of questions about how you will be affected by Alzheimer’s. Don’t be shy about asking your doctor too many questions – he or she has likely answered them for other patients, and will never make you feel embarrassed for seeking information.This helpful infographic also includes lots of helpful facts about the nature and possible risk factors of Alzheimer’s, as well as what to expect in its different stages.

Be giving. Many people have found comfort with their diagnosis by helping those who are less fortunate. Volunteering for those in the end stages of a terminal illness, such as cancer patients, or volunteering to feed the hungry at a homeless shelter may help you find a meaningful way to spend your time. Making positive waves in your community is also a good way to spend time with loved ones.

Enjoy some live music. Whether you catch your favorite band in concert, listen to your grandchildren play the piano, or sing along to a catchy tune on the radio,there is evidence that music has positive effects on Alzheimer’s patients. Plus, listening to music is an activity you can appreciate whether you’re home alone on a rainy day, or surrounded by loved ones at a family picnic.

Get moving. Exercise is not only good for your body, it can also improve your mood by boosting your endorphin level.This article points out that there are many seniors with Alzheimer’s, and that swimming can provide them these benefits in a fun way that minimizes aches and pains. Swimming is a great solo activity. For example, try doing a few laps on your own around the pool. Of course, it’s also a great group activity – who doesn’t love going to (or throwing!) a pool party?

Although Alzheimer’s is a life-changing diagnosis that creates challenges for those affected by it, there is no reason to let the burden consume you. It’s perfectly OK – and normal! – to have bad days as you cope with the disease. But the more you can learn to appreciate and revel in the little things each day, the more you can simply enjoy life – and that’s a goal all of us should strive for.

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Vee Cecil is a health coach and bootcamp instructor with a passion for overall wellness. When she’s not busy with clients, she enjoys spending time with her family, and sharing her favorite tips and recipes on her new blog.

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Three Top, TOP Leeds United Away Trips – by Rob Atkinson

We all have our favourite LUFC memories, and many will relate to games away from LS11.  Here, in reverse order, are my three favourite road trips following The Whites.

3. Sheffield Wednesday 1, Leeds United 6 12.1.1992

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Sergeant Wilko

This was Sergeant Wilko’s first return to Wednesday since he had quit Hillsborough to become Leeds boss in 1988.  It would also be Lee Chapman’s last game before his season-threatening FA Cup injury, which resulted in the drafting in of one Eric Cantona – with all the long term consequences that would entail.  But Chappy was destined to be sidelined only temporarily, and he went out in the most emphatic style.

There was a crowd of 32228 at Hillsborough, the usual vociferous contingent of travelling Leeds fans rivalling the home crowd for noise from the outset, and completely drowning them as the game went on.  Leeds United were weakened, so it seemed, by the absence of the injured Gordon Strachan and suspended David Batty, half of their legendary midfield Fantastic Four.  Any side, surely, would miss performers of such calibre.  Leeds, though, seemed determined to make light of the problem, and tore into their hosts from the start.  Full-back Tony Dorigo made an early darting run, cutting in from the left and making good progress down the centre of the pitch, before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that Wednesday ‘keeper Chris Woods had to tip over.  From the resulting Gary MacAllister corner, Chris Fairclough rose to head downwards, and found Chapman in splendid isolation four yards out; his finish swift and deadly for 1-0.

For a local derby, the contest had been decidedly one-way traffic – Chapman was to send two towering headers just wide before Carl Shutt had a scuffed shot smothered by Woods in the home goal.  Then, a true champagne moment as Mel Sterland fed the ball to Chapman on the right.  In a completely untypical burst of pace and control, Chappy surged between two hapless Wednesday defenders, raced into the area, and unleashed a shot that beat Woods completely, just clipping the frame of the goal to rapturous applause from the Leeds fans at the Leppings Lane End.  I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible now, if Lee Chapman could do something so utterly out of character.  And so it proved as, from a free kick awarded just right of centre some ten yards outside the box, Dorigo stepped up to absolutely hammer a left foot drive past the helpless Woods.  Cue mayhem and cavortings as the Leeds hordes behind the goal, celebrated as clean a strike as you could ever wish to see, the ball a blur as it arrowed into the far corner with deadly precision and power.

At 2-0 down, the home side were making increasingly desperate attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the match.  This desperation was adequately demonstrated when, from a harmless-looking ball into the Leeds area, Wednesday striker Gordon Watson ran in front of Chris Whyte, continued on for another step or two, and then hurled himself into the air, landing in agonised paroxysms of simulation between a bemused Whyte and Leeds ‘keeper John Lukic.  Such obvious fraud and villainy could have only one outcome, and the stadium held its collective breath for sentence to be passed on the miscreant.  Instead – amazingly – referee Philip Don pointed to the spot.  Whether none of the officials had seen the extent of Watson’s ham-acting, or whether they were moved by sympathy for the mauling Wednesday were taking from a rampant Leeds, it’s impossible to tell.  The outcome was the same either way.  Ex-Leeds hero John Sheridan stepped up, saw his penalty brilliantly saved as Lukic tipped it against his right-hand post, and then gleefully belted home the rebound to give Wednesday a massively unmerited lifeline.

This act of base and scurvy treachery required nothing less than a riposte of the utmost nobility and beauty, so we said to ourselves, though probably in more Anglo-Saxon terms.  And, happily, that’s just what came to pass.  Only six minutes after the home side’s ridiculous blagging of a comically unfair route back into the game, Leeds took effortless control again with a goal sublime in both its conception and execution.  Lukic bowled the ball out to Dorigo on the left flank; he sent it first time down the line to Gary Speed, who took one steadying touch before sending a beautiful flighted cross into the Wednesday area.  And there, inevitably, was Chapman, horizontal in mid-air, neck cocked to hammer the ball unanswerably past Woods, the perfect counterpunch to Watson’s knavish low blow.  It was a gorgeous goal, sweeping the length of the left side, taking the entire home team right out of the game, and re-establishing the two goal margin which was the least Leeds United deserved at half-time.

The second half that ensued was simply a story of how a blood-and-thunder Yorkshire derby turned into a stroll in the park for Leeds United.  It seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of the home team – a Wednesday side who, let’s not forget, were unbeaten at home since the opening day of the season, and who would go on to finish third in the table.  So they were no mugs, but Leeds United were absolutely irresistible on the day, and would have hammered far better teams than the hapless, bewildered Owls.

It’s possible that Wednesday were simply embarrassed about that cringe-worthy penalty, possibly they were dog-tired, having been run ragged since the start.  Whatever the case, their heads dropped steadily further and further as the game progressed, and they offered little resistance as Leeds proceeded to throttle the life out of them.  Chapman completed his hat-trick five minutes after the hour, heading in after Speed had struck the bar from a corner.  Poor Speedo was looking the other way, bemoaning his bad luck when the ball hit the back of the net after all, turning his frustration to joy.  Then, perennial bit-part player Mike Whitlow ventured forward, just because he could, and rose unchallenged to meet Rod Wallace’s right-wing cross and head easily over a stranded Woods.  It was left to little Wallace to administer the coup de grâce, striding clear after a shimmering exchange of passes in midfield to dink the ball over the advancing ‘keeper, and put the suffering home side finally out of their misery.  A highly satisfactory awayday slaughter of the Wendies.

2. AC Milan 1, Leeds United 1 8.11.2000

Dom Matteo....Scored A Very Good Goal....In The San Siro...

Dom Matteo….Scored A Very Good Goal….In The San Siro…

This match is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the San Siro were in fully, throaty voice for most of the proceedings, drawing incredulous glances from the attendant Carabinieri who were in full-on riot gear but friendly enough, muttering to each other about lunatic English tifosi (hooligans.)  The first half was a decent contest – Milan were through already, but not disposed to give Leeds an easy ride – especially after paranoid noises emanating from Barcelona, who – nervous about their own prospects – had done their best to warn Milan off taking it easy against Leeds.  So Milan pressed in front of a crowd of 52289, and their winger Serginho was causing Gary Kelly plenty of problems.  In the 26th minute, a slightly soft penalty was awarded to Milan at our end of the stadium, and 6000 Leeds fans held their collective breath as Andriy Shevchenko took careful aim only to rap Robinson’s right-hand post, the ball bouncing away to safety as the masses behind our goal celebrated as if we’d actually scored.  And then, miraculously, as the first half ebbed away, we did score.  A Lee Bowyer corner from the right found Matteo rising majestically at the near post to meet the ball with a punchy header which soared high into the net.  Cue utter pandemonium at the Leeds end as all the tension, passion and belief exploded in one almighty roar which almost lifted the hi-tec roof off the famous stadium.

The party went on throughout half-time and into the second half, drawing more bemused glances from the Italian police; there was only a brief hiatus in the 67th minute when the superb Serginho deservedly equalised, but then it was mounting fan fever again all the way to the final whistle and beyond as Leeds held out to qualify for an equally difficult second phase of the competition.  The scenes after the game are at least as famous as the events of the ninety minutes; the team coming back out onto the pitch in response to the demands of the faithful who were held back in the interests of crowd safety.  What followed was described by respected football commentators (as well as Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  Even the uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision.  It was a unique experience, and the Latin cops were clearly by now utterly convinced that these English people were absolutely barking mad.  As football nights go, you’d have to travel a long way to find one more worthy of memory – only a trophy could have improved it, but the spectacle of the game and its aftermath is one I have seen imitated but never repeated.

1. Sheffield United 2, Leeds United 3 – 26.4.1992

Jon Newsome, Superstar

Jon Newsome, Superstar

If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from this game hundreds, thousands of time.  It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead.  Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back.  A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who bounces the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net.  Pandemonium in the away end.   Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.

The crazy game continues crazily.  A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again.  Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger.  And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United.  From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion.  Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the unguarded net…

Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net.  A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a helpless wee St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygeeeennnn!!!  I’m going to have a heart attaaaack!!!”  The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer.  We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

And so, of course, it panned out.  Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted.  Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U concede a second.  “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face.  Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was).  St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment.  All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.  My finest hour as a Leeds fan, and my greatest ever awayday.

-oO0Oo-

Two from the same season, and one abroad that was “only” a draw – but each had a special appeal for me among the many away games I’ve seen.  I could have chosen so many others, going right back to my first ever away game, a 3-1 League Cup win at Bolton in 1977.  Still in the League Cup, there was that 6-0 win over Leicester City at Filbert Street, on a night when Robbie Savage never gave up, but proved that he was even worse than we thought.  How could we have known that he’d be worse yet as a pundit?

The golden memories are so many, I could possibly have managed a top ten quite easily.  I’d love to hear which away games others rank as their best memories.

Leeds’ Master Blaster Tony Yeboah – Which Scorcher Was His Best?

Tony "Master Blaster" Yeboah

Tony “Master Blaster” Yeboah

Mention the name Tony Yeboah to any Leeds fan – in fact to any football fan with a memory long enough to stretch way back to the mid-nineties, and you can bet that a faraway look will come into their eyes, and they’ll say “Ah, yes – that incredible goal against Liverpool.  Goal of the season, that.”  It’d be difficult to find anyone to argue the point.  But as a fanatical Leeds United fan who has a very special place in his Hero File for Anthony Yeboah, I’m going to try.

The Liverpool goal certainly was a brilliant technical piece of finishing; volleys from outside the box against a class goalkeeper invariably have to be.  At Leeds over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to see a fair few of these bazookas, and Yeboah’s late effort against the Anfield men stands comparison with any of them.  The fact of the goal being at the Kop End of Elland Road was of some assistance to the spectacle, but any way you look at it, this was a hell of a strike.  It wasn’t the first goal of this type in front of the Leeds Kop and against the Reds though.  A few years before, Gary MacAllister, a future Anfield hero, scored another fizzer, the ball being played to him in mid air from the left; he let it go across his body before wrapping his right foot round it to thunderous effect, the ball scorching into the net before the ‘keeper (the same David James beaten by Yeboah) could even move.

Yeboah’s strike though was probably marginally better.  It came from a headed knock-down forcing the Ghanaian to adjust his body shape slightly as the ball descended towards him, and he caught it so sweetly and with such ferocity that James was probably slightly lucky he didn’t get a hand to it; broken wrists have been known in similar situations.  It was a violent, arcing shot, the ball dipping slightly in its trajectory and just clipping the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down to rest, relieved, in the back of the net.  David James can perhaps count himself unlucky to have been beaten by two of the finest volleys I’ve ever seen at Elland Road, then again he might reflect they’d probably have beaten any two keepers on Earth.

The thing is though – tie me up and burn me for a heretic, but I don’t think Yeboah’s howitzer against Liverpool that balmy August night was his best goal for Leeds.  In my humble opinion, that came a few weeks later at Selhurst Park, temporary home of Wimbledon FC, when the phenomenal Yerbugger struck an even more vicious blow.  Reliable witnesses, standing close by as the man from Ghana hit his shot, swore blind that they actually heard the ball squeal in pain.   I am supported in citing this strike as Tony’s best by Guardian writer Dominic Fifield who, writing in 2011, saw it as his favourite Premier League goal.  He described it thus:

“Watching the ball cannon up from a series of scrappy headers and attempted clearances clearly tested the Ghanaian’s patience. Yeboah snapped on to the loose ball, controlled it on his chest then instep, exploded away from an opponent and lashed a glorious half-volley in off the underside of the bar from distance. It is the ferocity which is most impressive; a blistering effort.”

Sadly, I only saw this goal on television, though I’d planned to attend the match at Selhurst as I was due to be in London that weekend.  Four days previously though, I’d seen a pallid performance against Notts County in a 0-0 League Cup draw – and I just thought, well sod it, I’m not wasting my London time and money watching that sort of crap.  So I was exploring the delights of Selfridges when Yeboah broke Sky TV’s velocity-measuring equipment, and serve me right for a lapse of faith.  At least my wife found it funny, but I was understandably not amused.  Leeds won 4-2 as well, with Yeboah completing a hat-trick, and Carlton Palmer scoring a goal that might well have been Goal of the Month any other day, but which paled into insignificance next to the awesome might of Yeboah.

There are several YouTube videos devoted to paying tribute to Tony’s goals in his too-brief stay at Elland Road, and I’d heartily recommend a search, they’re well worth watching over and over.  I’d be interested to know what others think – I suspect that most will feel his effort against Liverpool was the best; it was a late winner after all, and scored in front of a packed Kop.  I should think this really, because I was actually there, stood right behind the line of the shot as it ripped past the startled James.  But I just can’t help harking back to what I think was an even greater goal, albeit in humbler surroundings.  How I wish that I’d been there for that one.  Tony Yeboah: thanks for the memories – and a belated Happy 48th Birthday from last Friday.

Can Olympic Champion Murray Mint Himself a Wimbledon Winner’s Medal at Last?

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Two breathtaking, heart-quaking performances in this week’s Wimbledon quarter and semi-finals have seen British No. 1 Andy Murray through to the Final on Sunday, a progression many foretold from the start of the tournament, and all the more so following the early exit of both Federer and Nadal.  That formidable pair had loomed threateningly at the start of the Wimbledon Fortnight, promising to be Murray’s nemesis as they had each been on far too many previous occasions.  Their obliging co-operation in bowing out before any such calamity could strike has kept alive the dream of so many British tennis aficionados who have been yearning for a lifetime to see a British lad lift that famous trophy aloft.

Up to last year’s Final, Murray had been regarded by many with a sort of grudging respect which rarely if ever amounted to actual affection.  His slight tendency to taciturnity and the odd throwaway remark about his non-support of the England football team apparently did not endear him to many fireside patriots.  In the pubs and front rooms nationwide, as well as on the internet, you’d see many actively hoping for an early exit for our  only hope of ultimate glory.  Whether or not any of this was fair, it changed radically in a few tear-stained moments after Murray’s Final defeat to Roger Federer last summer. Trying manfully to fulfill his after-match obligation to speak to the crowd, Murray choked up with genuine emotion and palpable distress – and the stony old heart of England melted in a trice.  That iconic moment, together with the somewhat more relaxed and natural demeanour Murray displays since his happy partnership with coach Ivan Lendl began, seems to have converted the majority of the nation into supporters of our Andy. My wife, who is usually the best example of any feminine trait you might care to name, typified this sea-change.  She was a committed disciple before Murray’s first handkerchief was properly bedewed with manly tears, a complete volte-face from her position a mere few moments before when she had been relishing the Scot’s impending defeat.  Women, eh?

The thing is though, it’s not just the women.  Many blokes of my acquaintance and further afield – really, quite blokey blokes – now display positive support for Murray, and wish him well.  Apparently a few raw emotions, wrung from a stoic by the agony of defeat, can seduce even the proud male of the species.  I was a fan before, so I can’t really comment on the phenomenon, other than to observe that it has happened, and maybe just in time to stop the nation scowling sulkily at his ultimate triumph.

After last year’s Wimbledon, and the tears, Murray returned to the same venue shortly afterwards and carried off the Olympic Gold Medal, thrashing Federer in straight sets in a Final that he had reached – interestingly – via his only grass court meeting with Djokovic, his opponent on Sunday.  This also was a straight sets triumph.  An omen there, we may hope?  A first Grand Slam triumph followed too, with victory at the US Open where he beat Djokovic in the final. Another omen?  Murray is now very much “our lad” as he heads for his second consecutive Wimbledon Final on Sunday, and the vast majority will wish him success.

Murray can certainly seal himself in the affections of the nation for good this weekend. His demeanour on-court, and in his dealings with the press, still attracts criticism in certain quarters, but those people should remember that tennis is a game played, more than many others, in the head – the mental demands of a war of attrition over the best of five sets are gruelling at the best of times.  Murray will have learned from last year’s experience, and it seems likely that after his slightly less demanding semi-final, as compared to his quarter, or indeed to the epic semi that Djokovic had to weather, he should be in prime nick, both physically and mentally.  He’ll certainly need to be in order to beat the World No 1 again, and he’ll be aware too that in order to create further history, he now simply has to win the crown.  Last year, he wrote himself a page in the annals of British tennis just by reaching the final.  Now it’s time to take that last, decisive step.

Good luck, Andy Murray – we’re almost all right behind you.

Thatcher Day? No Thanks – Let’s Have a “Heroes Day” Late August Bank Holiday We Can ALL Support

British Heroes Day

British Heroes Day

Britain woke up on Wimbledon Men’s Semi-Final day to one of the dafter ideas of the year – the proposed re-naming of the late August bank holiday as “Margaret Thatcher Day” – shook its collective head incredulously and gaped in frank disbelief that anyone could suggest anything quite so stupidly divisive. Then it sighed with relief as it realised this was just another attention-seeking ploy by one Peter Bone – simply another of those tiresome so-called politicians who define their function by just how best they can publicise their tragically unremarkable careers – and fell instead to wondering whether to have toast or cornflakes for breakfast.

There was never anything to get really upset about, or to take too seriously.  Peter Bone MP has form for this sort of thing, after all.  His record reads a bit like a litany of gibbering lunacy and reactionary stances on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty and conscription. He clearly subscribes to the maxim of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, and sallies forth on a regular basis, seemingly with one solitary thought in his head: how best to get Peter Bone MP in the news. He’s regularly one of the most enthusiastic expenses claimants, pays his wife top dollar for “secretarial duties” (so he’s big on nepotism too) and has a string of failed businesses and other ventures to his name. He also boasts a consistent record of losing supposedly safe seats in elections, sometimes bucking a national swing to the Tories by actually reducing their vote in the constituency he’s fighting.  All in all – not the sharpest or most useful tool in the box.

So those of us who do not inhabit the lunatic hinterland of the Tory Right can dispose of the latest Bone rant with a derisive sneer and a muffled chortle, and leave the Daily Heil readers to linger lovingly over what is a dead-in-the-water idea right from the start. But it does perhaps raise a legitimate question of the potential dedication of that anonymous late August holiday – many other countries use such occasions to pay tribute to their notable figures, so is it such a bad idea in principle?  Maybe not – so long as we manage to disregard the blithering of Bone and his ilk, and consider instead ideas from the saner end of the spectrum. The fact is that, whoever one might select as a deserving recipient of an honour such as becoming an eponymous bank holiday, the tribute is likely to be divisive to a greater or lesser degree. If you put forward the seemingly obvious name of Winston Churchill, you will hear voices raised by those with an awareness of his role in the General Strike in 1926. Those who espouse a free-market philosophy and howl in horror at the full-employment strategy that underpinned British politics until 1979 will not take kindly to any suggestion that Clement Attlee should be honoured by such a dedication. We’re a nation of many threads – and you can’t please all the people, all the time.

Why not then have a day when people of diverse views and differing affiliations can define their own tributes and make their own dedications – either singly or in smaller or larger groups?  It could be called “Heroes Day” and it would be an occasion for everyone to think of the person who means most to them personally, and commemorate that life and its achievements in the way they consider most fitting. Those who can gather like-minded people together could perhaps organise groups in tribute to a favourite hero or heroine. One group might have their Florence Nightingale Day, another might wish to raise a flag for Arthur Scargill.  Any or all of them could use their hero or heroine to create a local event, or maybe even something on a wider geographical scale.  They could raise funds for an allied cause, and generally do a lot of good.

Heroes Day.  It has a certain ring to it; the inclusive context tends towards the subjective nature of hero-worship, yet there is a patriotic flavour to it as well.  There might of course be a down-side: there will always be individuals or groups who will seek to ignite strife by seeking to glorify the names of those who most would feel are unfit to be remembered or revered.  That could be a knotty problem; the whole concept of a Heroes Day would be for self-expression to have its head and for people to be able to pay tribute as they see fit, and the introduction of any form of censorship would strike a jarringly flat note in that symphony of personal freedom.  It almost brings us back to the ridiculous idea which prompted this article.  Clearly, some careful thought would be needed.

On the whole, though, the idea of a Heroes Day has much to recommend it, and is no more open to abuse than any other such suggestion might be.  To a certain degree, you just have to accept that grown-up people have to be given the latitude to express their views and celebrate their beliefs as they see fit, and the existing laws and by-laws are after all in place already to deal with any extreme manifestations which might crop up.  On the positive side, there could be great benefits which might arise out of the events which could be organised nationwide to celebrate a Heroes Day.  Fund-raising and education spring to mind, cultural events and perhaps even job-creation could be possibilities.  And in these times of gloom, with austerity piling up all about us and threatening to drown us all under it’s murky incoming tide, don’t we need something positive to focus our attention and creativity?  A national holiday, with thousands of individual events dedicated to the whole panoply of heroes, both past and present, a source of pride perhaps comparable to last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, a surge of national well-being in the recognition of who we are and who we have been.  Heroes Day.  I really do think it’s worth considering.  Who would your August Bank Holiday hero or heroine be?

Game Giant Mattel’s “Complete Disregard” for Their Legion of Online Scrabble Fans

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Toy manufacturing giant Mattel are under fire from thousands of fans addicted to their online version of “Scrabble“, the popular word game played on a board with letter tiles, which has sold approximately 150 million sets worldwide. The row has erupted since the virtual web-based game, played regularly by a legion of Scrabble addicts on the Facebook platform, underwent “improvements” recently – changes which actually amounted to a complete revamp and not, according to angry users, in a good way.

The first inkling of change came in an online message seen by users as they started or rejoined ongoing games. A better experience was promised, and an exciting new look. What wasn’t flagged up was the overnight loss which would ensue, of game records, results, scores and contacts built up in some cases over years of enjoyable competition. Overnight, hordes of dedicated users found that their treasured online profile of games and opponents had been lost. Many thousands of people who had found friends in this virtual Scrabble world were angered to find that their fellow players were not in touch with them anymore, no warning having been given, no consultation having been entered into, and no option to retain the friendly competition that had lasted for so long and given such enjoyment.

What these frustrated online Scrabblers are left with is the unwelcome sight of a new version of the Facebook-hosted game which some have described as “brash” and “vulgar”. The rankings they have built up over long periods of participation, some players having many games on the go at any one time, have been lost, utterly and without warning. As many as 3.5 million online users were left with an unwelcome surprise as their opponents vanished along with the Scrabble-based friendships which had grown up between so many of them. Is this right or fair? More importantly perhaps for Mattel, is it even good business? There is, after all, that powerfully iconic word “goodwill” which many business people (and even some international conglomerates) keep close to hand at all times, as a reminder not to go stomping all over their customers, for fear that they may take their custom elsewhere. But Mattel seem curiously insensitive to the implications of goodwill in this case, and appear instead to be determined that there should be no going back, despite the growth and proliferation of some vociferous movements of protest and resistance.

The fury of the people affected, who have been so abruptly denied their daily “fix” of Scrabble and companionship alike, is readily understandable. A typical player is 72 year-old Kath Ward from Dunstable in Bedfordshire. She told the Mail Online:

‘My daughter knows that I like Scrabble, so when she found the game on Facebook she encouraged me to join and I signed up just to play. I have loyally played it every day since unless I am on holiday or terribly busy. I play for about three quarters of an hour to an hour depending on how many games I have on the go. I have made friends with people all over the world. People were very nice, you start off saying something like “that was a good word” and go from there. You get to know people. One of the people I regularly played with is in Spain and when we were there she invited us to visit. It saved all your games, so you had a record of all the people you had played and your statistics. This game means a lot to people – mostly silver surfers – they had dozens of friends on it. But it’s all been wiped overnight.’

Mrs Ward’s is one voice among many thousands being raised angrily at the sudden and arbitrary way in which their pastime has been wrenched from them. Users are talking about friends they’ve been in touch with for years, forming an online community of online Scrabble addicts, often chatting about general matters in between games, sometimes arranging to visit on holiday – but in many cases the previous version of online Scrabble was their only contact, and for some – shatteringly – the friendships have been lost with the abrupt deletion of all existing data.

On a purely competitive level, the point is also made that this was Scrabble – not some passing fad as many online games are – and that Scrabble people are obsessed with their records and rankings. Who should know this better than Mattel, the creators of the game? And yet they have acted in what seems an extremely rash manner to eradicate all these records, rankings and scores. The Mail Online reported a spokesman for Mattel as stating:

‘The Scrabble Facebook game is now managed by a new partner EA Mobile. The benefits of the new game include gameplay across devices, the addition of the Collins Official Scrabble Wordlist, the ability to play in six languages, the option to customise boards and tiles and the option to play ad-free. As part of the transition, we were unable to carry over ongoing games and statistics, the timer mode and the manual match-making function. The new version will have the same robust statistics moving forward.’

On that last point, many long-time Scrabble users are highly dubious, claiming that the ongoing stats include many people who have actually abandoned the game in disgust at the changes which were imposed. Mattel appear determined to remain obdurately on course with the new game; outraged former users seem equally set on maintaining their loud objections and making as much of a protest as possible for as long as it takes. The strength of the movement against the changes appears to be growing: one Facebook group maintains that the Scrabble changes are reversible, and continues to demand that Mattel see sense, look to their customer goodwill and set matters straight.

Watch this space!

Royalty: Isn’t it About Time For a Change at the Top?

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One of the many oddities in the life of our Queen, Elizabeth II, is the fact that she has two birthdays each year – as if one wasn’t enough when you already have rather too many years on your shoulders, weighing you down along with all those cares of state. That’s twice the messing about anyone else has, and there’s Christmas too, although happily there are flunkies by the dozen to lend a hand. But let’s face it, Brenda – as Private Eye magazine almost affectionately refers to her – is now in her 88th year even when you don’t count “Official” birthdays. Most ladies of her considerable wealth would expect to have had their feet up relaxing with the Dorgies for at least the last 27 years, rather than still be loaded with all these ceremonial duties. Is it not time, perhaps, for her to consider genteel retirement, or at least a more consultative and less active role?

Adding to the whole age question is the fact that her likely – though not inevitable – successor, son Charles, will himself reach state retirement age in November this year, and therefore stands the very real chance of becoming entitled to his pension before his pre-destined career has even got off the ground. The poor bloke finds himself in a dilemma uncannily similar to that which faced his illustrious forebear King Edward VII, known to his more intimate acquaintances (prior to his eventual accession) as Bertie the Bounder, due to his notorious predilection for the wilder pleasures of life. Bertie of course did realise his lifelong destiny, and became rather a successful King – entering history as “Edward the Peacemaker” due to his diplomatic efforts on the Continent. Sadly, all these admirable endeavours merely delayed a worldwide conflagration, and a scant four years after his death we were landed with the Great War. But Bertie the Bounder certainly Did His Bit while he was above ground and able to; Charles, who some might think has been a bit of a bounder himself on occasion, must be wondering if his own chance to serve will ever come.

The world nowadays is a very different place to the one which Queen Victoria left in early 1901. At that time, the Monarchy was simply a given – a fact of life along with the Empire over which it presided. The Monarchy and all the trappings thereof seemed in tune with the times, whereas now a lot of that ermine and jewellery has an almost defiant air of anachronism about it, as if the whole institution is saying to us, “Look – we know the Empire is long gone, and that we’re a tad outdated, but it’s just how we are – have you got a better idea?” The transition from a monarch who has been there forever, or so it seems, to a new King on the block (sorry, Charlie, if that’s a phrase which unhappily conjures up the headless spectre of the first King Charles) may well be much harder to manage today than it was when Bertie came to the throne 112 years ago. It may even be that there is a case for the new lad to be eased in to his unaccustomed role by an older and possibly wiser head. This is the argument for the Queen to step down now so that her guidance and counsel should be available to King Charles III, or even to King William V if that’s the way the Royal cookie crumbles.

Of course any suggestion like this, threatening as it does to advocate a departure from The Way Things Have Always Been Done, is likely to be met with a pretty frosty response from the patrician mandarins of the Establishment. They will tend to gaze snootily down a long collective nose and wonder out loud just who on earth this frightful oik IS, mooting such radical and frankly dangerous possibilities. But just because something has always been done a certain way is no reason to continue down that path. Small boys used to be shoved up chimneys to clean them, and they used to drag heavy loads in narrow seams underground in the mines as well. These are old traditions which nobody outside The Cabinet Office much misses. And we used to effect changes in the line of Succession to the Throne by the simple expedient of lopping the incumbent’s head off, or by defeating them in battle – a manifestation of the now unfashionable “Might is Right” syndrome. One such defeated King (Richard III) has only recently been dug out of a Leicester car park having wound up there over five centuries ago in the least dignified manner imaginable, mute testimony to the fact that lèse-majesté is not a new idea. And in any event, it’s not my intention to advocate abolition of the Monarchy – well, not in this article anyway – I just have the feeling that a few fresh ideas wouldn’t go amiss in the corridors of regal power.

One of the other oddities of the Queen’s life – so it has been suggested by various irreverent comedians – is that she thinks the world smells of fresh paint, as wherever she goes there is some industrious decorator a few steps ahead, adroitly wielding his brush and roller lest Her Maj should see a mucky mark and shame be piled on the heads of her civic or diplomatic hosts. Many a true word is spoken in jest – and she really has lived her whole long life, certainly since her maverick Uncle David gave up his Edward VIII crown for an American divorcée, with people trying to make things as brand-spanking glossy and new as possible for her. It’s a cosseted, artificial sort of existence, surrounded by eager sycophants, and let’s face it – you only live once. Shouldn’t our venerable Queen have the chance to savour a bit of real life before her time is up?

Isn’t it finally time for the job to be passed on to a new chap?

King to Reign at Elland Road? Marlon Tipped to Sign for Leeds

Marlon King aka "The Accused"

Marlon King aka “The Accused”

Yesterday I wrote an article about Leeds United being linked with Celtic’s Anthony Stokes, a rumour which – I think I made it clear – I’m not at all happy with. There were two planks to my argument against the recruitment of Mr Stokes – firstly that he’s not very good, having failed to pull up any trees south of the border (he’s done better up in Scotland, but quite frankly my Gran could score for fun up there and she’s been dead for 21 years) – and secondly that he doesn’t appear to be the nicest of chaps, with various indiscretions laid at his door, including the alleged nutting of a hapless Elvis impersonator.

Today was another day, and it has brought another none-too-tasty rumour. This one I find more palatable on the grounds of ability, but possibly even less so where personal conduct is concerned. Marlon King. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The lad can play a bit, and even at the ripe old age of 33, it’s likely that he could be relied upon to give most Championship defences a thing or two to think about. He’s done the business at this level for quite a few clubs – one notable failure being a loan spell at Leeds, but at that time he was played out of position by the famously clueless Kevin Blackwell, so it was hardly a surprise that he ended up goal-less.

So, on the grounds of ability and scoring potential, and especially for free, this seems potentially a good signing. But there is a flip-side to Marlon’s coin, and that is his conviction in 2009 for sexual assault and ABH whilst on the books of Wigan Athletic, offences for which he received an 18 month sentence. It was also alleged that King had headbutted Dean Windass whilst at Hull City on loan, though this is not a crime which would necessarily alienate him as far as Leeds supporters are concerned. But the fact that Mr King has 14 convictions on his record since 1997 is doubtless a concern to Leeds United or any other club thinking of taking a punt on him. The rumour I saw today was on a Birmingham City fan site, and the responses from Leeds fans were not entirely positive. We’ve had our bad boys in the past, of course – Bowyer and Woodgate are particularly unedifying examples – but King appears to be a repeat offender at least in terms of getting on the wrong side of the law. Some of his transgressions are much worse than others, it must be remembered, and a record which includes a sexual assault conviction is a severe drawback to say the very least.

The fact remains though that King seems to have settled down somewhat since leaving jail on the more recent of two occasions. He has served Birmingham well, and he does retain the knack of scoring goals at second tier level. Worryingly however, he has been arrested and bailed yet again as recently as April this year after a car crash which left one man severely injured.

On balance, I feel that this would not be an ideal signing for Leeds United, though I’m not quite as emphatically of that opinion as I was with the Stokes rumour. If that leaves me open to a charge of putting on-field ability ahead of off-field misdemeanours and convictions, then – well, guilty, m’Lud. King will certainly end up wearing some club’s shirt next season, and quite probably in the Championship. If push comes to shove, I’d rather see him scoring goals for Leeds than against us, but overall I’m hardly impressed by the standard of striker tipped to be joining us down at LS11 for the new campaign. Can we have some better quality rumours, please?

“Loadsamoney” Cameron in “Tasteless and Ignorant Flash Git” Row

ImagePrime Minister David Cameron has had his judgement called into question yet again after a “date-night” meal out with his wife on Friday at a pizza restaurant in Soho.  Having enjoyed a simple repast of pizza and lasagne, accompanied by dough balls and a bottle of red – amounting to a bill of around £45 – the Premier stunned onlookers by airily leaving his delighted waiter a tip of £50.  One diner, struggling to find a reason for this munificent largesse, later wondered in a baffled tweet whether Mr Cameron was perhaps feeling flush after saving some money on his order by using a discount coupon.  Others have speculated that a tendency to be a heavy tipper could be compensatory behaviour given his history as a former member of the notorious Bullingdon Club, an exclusive society at Oxford University noted for its habit of smashing up restaurants and paying up on the spot for damage caused.  But Cameron has not always been so generous, once failing to leave a tip at all for a waitress who, not recognising the PM, said she was too busy to carry his coffee order to his table.

Whatever Mr Cameron’s motivation – and let’s not forget there’s a very happy waiter at the centre of this story – such extravagant actions are always open to criticism for a man so very much in the glare of public scrutiny.  Given that, and allowing also for his government’s implacable stance on its much-criticised austerity programme, it may be felt in some quarters that a £50 tip on a bill of rather less than that sends out all the wrong messages.  It’s an action, some may well carp, that can easily be related to the archetypal “flash git” yuppie of the eighties, so memorably portrayed by Harry Enfield as his “Loadsamoney” character, who would flaunt his wealth ostentatiously, waving wads of cash and lighting cigars with twenty pound notes.  This was of course satire, which is at the very cutting-edge of good comedy, and rightly so.  But all the best satire has that kernel of truth which validates its message, and the “Loadsamoney” image had many parallels in real life.  In casually handing over £50 to an incredulous waiter, Mr Cameron surely risks criticism from those who will say this shows the extent to which he is out of touch with millions nationwide to whom £50 would represent a weekly family shopping budget.

It’s not so long ago that Cameron’s blundering Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, unwisely raised his head above the parapet with a claim that he’d be able to live on £53 a week, only to have to duck it down again hastily when a massively-supported public petition called on him to do just that.  The Coalition government seem a little damage-prone in terms of such tactical own-goals, and whatever message they are trying to get across about the need for everyone to tighten the belt, grin bravely and get on with it, is continually undermined by examples of individual ministers piteously whining that their lot is not a happy one.

The Tory MP for Mid Derbyshire, Pauline Latham, recently described how she was “left in tears” after clashing with officials from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) over the matter of her security enhancements and just who is expected to pay the £9000 bill.  That’s a story which many will find less than heart-rending when so many pensioners face the “heat or eat” dilemma.  MP’s of all parties have agitated for a while now for salary increases of up to 32% at a time when public pay is frozen.  Failed bankers and incompetent Chief Executives are still routinely walking away from the disasters they have created with severance packages well into seven figures, whilst the poorest of the poor face a struggle to find the weekly bedroom tax bill, a struggle that has in several tragic cases terminated in suicide.

It is doubtful whether Cameron, replete with pizza, dough balls, wine and relaxed, chilled-out bonhomie, will have had any of this to the forefront of his mind when he grandly tipped his waiter before heading off back to work at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, where all his food and hospitality will be funded by grateful taxpayers.  The point is though, surely, that he should be aware of all of these issues, all of the time, and that this awareness should advise his every move.  To expose himself and by extension his government, to such ridicule and criticism over what was quite probably a sincere enough gesture (assuming that the tip really was from the PM’s own back pocket), shows a want of understanding and a failure to appreciate just how such public generosity, on a scale out of the reach of 98% of the population, will resonate with those who are struggling to make ends meet.  The lack of political awareness in a man elevated to Cameron’s high office is more than a little worrying.  If the tip had to be given, could it – should it – have been made in a less public way?  At least then, even if the story had come out, the effect would have been diluted by relative subtlety instead of appearing so crass and opportunistic.

The sad fact is that many in the Tory party, or even in the coalition government as a whole, will tend to dismiss an item of news like this as “pointless and frivolous” or a “storm in a teacup”.  But they would miss the point in so doing.  Because the incident is in the public arena, it has to be viewed in the context of the times, and that is very much a picture of so many people suffering and struggling due to our rulers’ insistence – against the better judgement of such bodies as the International Monetary Fund – on cutting, cutting and cutting again, cutting to the bone at the lower end of society where any further cuts are likely to lead to collapse.  And while this is going on, the PM is out on the town, taking in a show, heading off to a politicians’ junket with the finest of freebie food and drink, and casually, arrogantly chucking 50 quid at a waiter as if to say, “There you go, my good man.  It’s nothing to me.”

Mr Cameron, really.  It is time to give your head a shake, re-awaken whatever political awareness you ever had, and start to think about what you say and do.  Some of us out here would just love to have a chat with you about Real Life.

Leeds United: Will “Fame” Attract Quality Signings Over Money?

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The most worrying sound bite I’ve heard out of Elland Road this summer – and I won’t name names here – is the following little gem: “If a player has the chance to play for Leeds United, but turns it down for the sake of a few extra bob elsewhere, then we’re not interested in that player anyway.”  Or words to that effect.  Now that really worries me – and whether it’s arrogance we’re seeing here, or just naivety – I think it should worry all of us who have the club’s best interests at heart.

In case I need to remind anyone – professional football is about money, first and foremost.  Really, let’s not kid ourselves otherwise.  There’s a clue right there in the name: Professional Football.  The players are professionals – so are the coaching staff.  Even the directors are these days, though you might beg leave to differ on that one.  But no-one’s in it for the pure and simple love of the game; they’re all there to earn a crust or, in the current lollied-up climate, more likely a whole bakery full of bread.  This is not small boys and jumpers for goalposts.  This is the hard-nosed, mercenary world of professional sport.

So when a senior representative of Leeds United Football Club says – in all seriousness one presumes – that if a player declines the honour of wearing the famous white shirt with the fat blue stripe for more money elsewhere, then he can basically sling his hook; how should we feel?  Honoured, maybe, to support a club with such a clear appreciation of its own innate desirability?  Pride, at the sound of our club stating its values in the face of a money-grabbing world?  Or despair at the sheer, fatuous stupidity and hollow arrogance of imagining that any player worth his salt is going to put “prestige” ahead of the bottom line?  Make no mistake – this is arrogance.  It’s an unattractive characteristic we can ill-afford in our current, humble circumstances, and it’s one of those unwelcome features that gives our club, and indeed us fans, a bad name.

Prestige is all well and good.  It’s fine and dandy to be a world famous football club, albeit fallen on hard times, yet with a history containing a certain amount of glory (together with a whole lot of bad luck and “we wuz robbed” stories).  All of that is very nice, and we’re all suitably proud – let’s face it, it’s better than being Barnsley.  But prestige butters no parsnips, not on its own.  It doesn’t pay the rent, nor does it foot the bill for that penthouse apartment and flash car; the hallmarks of even Mr Joe Average Footballer in these Sky-funded times.  Sadly, in today’s Real World, you need lots of cold, hard cash for that sort of thing, and if Joe Average isn’t going to get it at Leeds, then he’s going to say “thanks, but no thanks” and head for somewhere more financially enlightened.  And where does that leave Leeds?  Still holding forth about what a great club we are, and what an honour it is to play for us?  Or might we perhaps, hurt and wounded by such rejection, sadder and wiser as to the ways of the world, give our head a shake and reflect that if you pay peanuts, you’ll attract only monkeys?  (This is all imagery and metaphor, Mr Brown, and no reflection upon any of the current playing staff, so chill.)

If Leeds start the new season having missed out on a succession of Joe Averages, and therefore with a team populated instead by too many Michael Mediocres, and all for the lack of that extra few bob, then the notoriously easy to disgruntle body of support will have good reason to be less than happy. What, they might ask, are we trying to achieve?  Can we not look to the negative example of the current government, who are achieving outstanding levels of apathy, feeble performance and general lassitude and failure to compete by the simple expedient of austerity as an alternative to investment?  Isn’t investment, indeed, what it’s all about?  The shimmering yet distant prospect of the Premier League with its promise of more millions than you could shake a stick at – surely that’s a prize worth investing in a chance to compete for?  Well, you’d think so.

Last season, around January transfer window time, there was talk of signing Birmingham City’sChris Burke, the kind of winger that might, just possibly, have solved our goal-scoring problems by increasing the quality of supply to our starving strikers.  For the want of £300,000, we now hear, that deal died a death.  And yet at that point in time, the play-offs were a realistic prospect, and that small shove in the right direction might have seen us over the line, and lo! The Promised Land might have beckoned.  Instead, we finished in a desperately disappointing lower mid-table position, reduced to the ranks of party-poopers for Watford on the season’s final day.  300 grand could have made such a difference, and reaped such rewards, but no-one was willing to be so visionary and to dare speculate with a view to accumulating a promotion.  How depressingly short-sighted is that?

Wind forward twelve months from now and – judging by the pearls of wisdom falling from the various media outlets of Leeds United so far this summer – we might easily be looking back on another drab and disappointing season.  And all because we’ve persisted with this policy of trying to make ten bob do the work of a quid.  If the people in charge of Leeds genuinely believe that the kind of players we now need to get us up where we still think we belong – the equivalents of Strachan, Sterland, Jones, Hendrie and Fairclough – are actually going to sign on the dotted line because “it’s an honour to play for the club” – then they’re sadly mistaken and bigger fools than I thought.  Investment is needed, if not in transfer fees – I’ve nothing against free transfers as such, there are diamonds out there in these Bosman days – then certainly in wages to make us competitive with the others who will be vying for the riches of the top flight.  Surely, after too many seasons of hollow promises and under-funding, someone at Leeds must see this?

Fingers crossed.