The Meerkat Muse: 10th July 2024

Welcome to what promises to be a very busy Meerkat Muse! There’s a lot of territory to cover here, but first, I need to pay special attention to today, the 10th of July…

The First Day

Yes, there is a Writing Prompt post with this title, and it just so happens to have gone live at the same time as this Muse. The 10th of July is a very significant day for me, especially this 10th of July, because it is today, 20 years go, that I met my wife.

We had talked on the phone a few times before we met face-to-face, and one of my early thoughts is chatting to her as I walked around Stevenage on a warm day. I may have actually voted at a local election (which were held on the 10th of June that year), because that sticks in my memory of chatting to her as I walked about. Another of my early thoughts is ‘her voice is lovely!’ I found her so easy to talk to, but would our phone conversations lead anywhere?

The original plan for the 10th of July involved a group meetup from a bunch of us, at the time all members of the official Bruce Willis forums (long story!). When I headed to London (and got my first ever sight of Fenchurch Street station), I saw her, and she was beautiful (as she still is!). I don’t know if she had hopes of something romantic happening, and I will admit, my own hopes were tentative (I was stupidly cynical at that point), but after spending the day together, we finished it cuddling and kissing, and I had never felt so much warmth in my soul. Somehow, despite all my mistakes and stupidity, she has stuck by me. She is an absolute warrior, tougher than she knows, and I am so incredibly fortunate to have her in my life. Thanks to her, I am a proud father too, and thus, my life is as enriched as I could hope for.

It Got Hot… for a While

Alas, I do not look that good, but the temperature is about right.

The last few days of June delivered some scorching temperatures. It was lovely, but there was a part of me that was thinking – as is typically British – that it was too hot. Leave it to us Brits to moan about the weather, no matter what it is! Still, just having the opportunity to get some sunshine was a welcome, much-needed change from the gloomy, overcast conditions that loitered for far too long.

These conditions, whilst exceptional, did not last, though the warmth did not entire fade away. Instead, another great British summer ‘tradition’ emerged from hibernation: the warm rain.

On the 4th of July, there was a different kind of rain. The rain of judgement, from the British people…

The 2024 General Election

This has been a long time coming. After 14 years of what crassly-yet-accurately can be called a ‘shit-show’, the British public could put the putrid Conservative Party to the sword. The question was: would they? Poll after poll suggested Labour would not only win, but do so with a landslide similar to, or even eclipsing, the majorities won by Tony Blair in his first two terms. Of course, polls, whilst generally serving up a decent indication of the public mood, can be wrong, and the predictions of a huge win had the potential to leave voters thinking ‘I don’t need to vote, they’ll get enough votes anyway’. I have said before that if you do not vote, you cannot complain about the outcome. I fully understand that to some people, none of the parties represent a good option, but equally, if you believe that the Tories absolutely need to go, you need to vote against them to ensure it.

So, getting people voting was crucial. Another crucial element behind this election was the split right-wing vote. It is ironic, and faintly hilarious, that the hard-right Reform Party would help ensure that Labour would crush the Tories, assuming that the polls and predictions carried truth…

The battleship Self-Serving Parasite burns.

In the end, the result was a resounding indictment of the Tories. Labour won 412 seats (as of the 5th of July, with two seats undergoing a recount), to the Tories’ 121. This means we’ve gone from a Tory majority of 80 seats at the last election, to a Labour majority of around 170.

The shift is massive, though it owes as much to resentment and loathing of the Tories as it does a genuine belief in Labour. The extent of this judgement is such that many traditional Tory voters sided with Reform, who won four seats. This split of the right-wing paved the way for Labour (and also the Liberal Democrats, who shot up from eight seats, to 71 seats) to scoop up seats. Elsewhere, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stood as an independent in Islington, where he had previously served Labour, and won the seat. The Greens added three seats to their original holding in Brighton. In Scotland, the SNP were mauled by Labour, and the Tories have been completely erased from Wales (nice one!). My town sadly kept the Tories in power, though not by much.

With the Tories gone (with the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss losing their seats, along with several other ministers), it is now on Keir Starmer and his Labour Party to steer the ship. Will they honour their pledges? Can they heal this country? Time will be the judge.

England’s Misery

I didn’t squeeze the England/Slovenia game into the previous Muse, party because it was late in the day, and partly because it was yet another dull, tame display, punctuated with only a handful of bright moments. The third and final group stage game for England was a 0-0 draw, meaning that England – somehow – topped the group, having only scored two goals. A case could be made for Group C being awful, and England had certainly contributed to that! The outcome of England’s position as group winners would be a pathway on the ‘easier’ side of the knockout stages (if such a thing even exists anymore), and a 2nd Round fixture against Slovakia. Slovakia had pulled off one of the shocks of the tournament by beating Belgium, but had wound up taking only one more point in their group. Like nearly every team at the Euros, they had battled to get through to the next round.

England went behind in the first half, off the back of another awkward, stilted performance. Needless to say, I was not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. We were better in the second half, but considering the glittering array of talented players at our disposal, were we anywhere near good enough? No, absolutely not. However, football can be a dramatic game, and from the Slovakian perspective, cruel. In the 95th minute out of 96 to play, the ball found Jude Bellingham in the box, and he performed a bicycle kick that nestled into the bottom-left corner of the net. No sooner had extra-time started than captain Harry Kane steered a header goalward, and England closed out a 2-1 win that they barely deserved. Their reward would be a match against Switzerland in the quarter-finals.

Against Switzerland, England changed their system. A 3-4-3 formation would in theory yield a way to deploy Bellingham and Foden in a more adventurous way, and generate more positive football. It certainly seemed to have the desired effect, though at half-time the game was goalless. During the course of the second half, the Swiss grew into the game, and began to exert more pressure on England, and as the game approached the 70-minute mark, everyone waited to see if Southgate would make changes to counter the rising Swiss confidence. England certainly needed to do something, for the positivity had ebbed out of England’s game, and they were dropping dangerously deep.

England did manage to regain a measure of control, but the prevailing problem was a lack of quality in the attacking third of the pitch. A lack of incision was making for a frustrating watch, and the game was crying out for the likes of Bowen, Palmer and Gordon, all gifted, creative players. Instead, whilst Southgate dithered, the Swiss would strike. With little more than 15 minutes on the clock, they got in behind England, and poked the ball into the net to take a late lead.

Lest anyone question whether this was a flash in the pan, it was worth noting that the Swiss had beaten Euro 2020 champions Italy in the previous round. They had quality and they were organised. They had been proactive in their substitutions and this had enabled them to put a stamp of authority on the game. Southgate would have to react, and he had little time in which to muster effective changes. Would it prove to be a question of too little, too late? The changes occupied England’s left flank, but it would prove to be the right flank that delivered a redemption arc. Saka cut inside on the edge of the penalty area, and struck the ball with his favoured left foot, sending it skidding across the grass, and pinged off the post to nestle in the net. With ten minutes to go it was once again all to play for.

In the end, the Swiss finished arguably the stronger, but neither side could find a winner, and whilst both sides would have half-chances in extra-time, no one could find a breakthrough, so the dreaded penalty shootout, something feared by England fans across generations, would settle things. My personal instinct was to assume we would lose, but England drew first-blood, with Pickford saving the first Switzerland penalty, after England had scored theirs, and believe it or not, somehow, the lions would retain their composure, slotting away all five penalties with a cool, collected confidence that defied pretty much everything about their entire Euro 2024 experience.

Who would be England’s opponents in the semi-final? For a while, it appeared as though Turkey would overcome the Netherlands, having led from the 35th minute. The Dutch steadily increased the pressure, and took advantage of two defensive lapses to equalise in the 70th minute, and take a 2-1 lead on 76 minutes. Turkey tried to get back into the game, and created a few good chances, but would they be able to find an equaliser of their own?

Tempers frayed, and a Turkish player who had been subbed off managed to get himself sent off. They couldn’t muster a way through a stubborn Dutch defence, and the Netherlands would move on to face England on Wednesday. You’ll have to check out the next Muse for my thoughts on that particular game.

Putting Pen to Paper

I’ve been struggling a bit with writer’s block, but it seems the advent of warmer weather has helped shift me out of my slump, and I find myself feeling encouraged to write once more. The project that has gripped me is the third – and possibly final – part of the Chon’ith Saga, which began with The Awakening, will be followed with The Schism, and concluded with… well, you’ll see. I have also been thinking about a story going back to the earliest days of Chon’ith civilisation, a sort of distant prequel to the events of the trilogy.

The Banana Request

The other Saturday, I had an appointment for a bathroom design. The customers were running late, and as is now typical, turned up within seconds of me going to lunch. I ate my sandwich, because frankly I was hungry, they were late, and I am entitled to eat something, then got to work. The trio – a husband, wife and small child – were generally pleasant enough, though the child – a young boy – was a bit grumpy at times, and even went as far as to hit his parents, and tried to bite his dad. Now, it is always possible he is merely badly behaved, but it is possible he could also be on the autism spectrum, so I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, his deeply, rumbled intonement had me having to contain my reaction.

“I waaaaaaaaaaaaant aaaaaaaa baaaaaaaaaaannnaaaaaaaaaaaaaana!”

Well, it’s good that he wants fruit! Still, I’ve never heard anyone – let alone a child who appeared no more than three – let loose a near-demonic command for a banana, until the other day. I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Deranged Dreams

Hold on to your hats people, because these dreams were seriously weird.

First up, I dreamt I was preparing to go to Australia, all by myself. Prior to flying, I was at some kind of bedsit, surrounded largely by the elderly, and I was to be the last one to leave this little bedsit for my Australian adventure. I was getting ready to leave, when a bunch of kids got in and defaced my passport. From there, I had to battle past some automatic gun turrets (?!) to get out of the building, and then mount an escape through a courtyard! The whole affair escalated rather quickly!

If that sounds like a strange subconscious voyage, I dare say the next dream eclipses it. Here, I was adventuring with Captain America and Bucky Barnes, along with a bunch of non-descript comrades. We were trying to solve the mystery of Bucky’s troubled memories, and we wound up at some sort of abandoned Russian theme park. To get to one particular building, we had to use a zipline and navigate a rickety ‘bridge’ to get across a lake. For some reason, I had been trusted with Bucky’s rucksack, which managed to be simultaneously heavy and light. The line gave out as I was crossing, and I didn’t want to drop Bucky’s bag into the water, but I was unable to cross unless I did. I also had concerns has to how deep the water was.

In the end, my comrades fetched a net, which caught me, but not without dunking me in the cold waters. However, they were not very deep, and I was able to walk out of them!

Subsequent to all this, we ended up inside this building, and were faced with some sort of highly dangerous, energetic interdimensional portal, that was sealed off via a security door. At this point, Donald Trump appeared, and then we ended up in an arcade, where we played… I want to say Mario Kart.

If anyone has the means to interpret what all that means, please, let me know what you think.

Computer Consternations

Le sigh.

It seems computers and meerkats don’t mix. My Lenovo laptop, which is a good piece of hardware, unexpectedly and abruptly died. There had been no sign of any budding issues, it simply kneeled over. This has certainly provided me with the impetus to sort out the repair of the power port on another laptop, which is otherwise fine. In the meantime, I have access to a Google Chromebook, which has an irritating approach to capital letters!

Bidding Farewell

Things at work are about to get a lot tougher, at least in the short-term. One of my colleagues is resigning, and heading off to new pastures. This will reduce us to two people at work for the immediate future, and that will ramp up the number of lone-trading days. To be clear, I do not begrudge my colleague in any way, they have to do what is best for them, and I wish them the very best of luck with their new endeavour, but I am not especially looking forward to all the lone-trading. Still, it is what it is, and I need to get on with it. There are challenges ahead, and they will need to be met with strength and conviction.

In the meantime, I hope my friend thrives in his new role.

Self-inflicted Pressure

My colleague’s move to leave seems to have coincided with a sudden surge in design requests. I have several designs on the go, which in some respects is great, but in other ways, I have heaped pressure upon myself. Well, I chose this path, now I must walk it.

A Foxy Visitor

Foxes are a common sight on my patch, and they can often be heard fighting and playing in the evenings. They will also wander by the house quite a lot, and they may have a den not far from us. I can never get over how adorable foxes are, and they are clearly cunning creatures, but it is important to remember that they are wild animals. They have not nearly enough fear of humans, and hence they will end up in our gardens, and our streets, and they may look cute and cuddly, but they are liable to react badly if anyone tries to pet them.

They get regarded as pests and vermin, but we need to remember that humans have encroached upon their territory for centuries, and the waste and excess of urban society has created opportunities for foxes within our towns and cities. It is hardly their fault that they’ve taken advantage of some of humanity’s worst traits, even as they are also disadvantaged by them as well.

The Cream Rises to the Top

Sir Lewis Hamilton at the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix. Photo via Governo do Estado de São Paulo.

I haven’t had much to say about Formula 1 for the past couple of years. 2022 and especially 2023 were basically episodes of Max Verstappen’s Magic Roundabout, and I cannot claim to have enjoyed the processional proceedings. In my heart, I am a Hamilton fan, due in no small part to sharing a small connection to him. He and I are both originally from Stevenage, though to be clear, we never met and moved in completely different circles, in different parts of the town. Nonetheless, that little detail proved enough for me to pay extra attention to the career of Hamilton, and I have watched as he went from a talented rookie, to the most successful F1 driver in the history of the sport.

As of this Muse, Hamilton has 104 wins, and he took his 104th win on Sunday, following a two and a half year drought. Finally the stars aligned for Hamilton after a small eternity, and to take that win at Silverstone, the home of British motor racing, was especially sweet to witness as a fan, and clearly a very emotional moment for Hamilton himself. For all the success, even the top sportspeople can have doubts as to their ability, and Hamilton has made no secret that he has suffered from such concerns. To rediscover what it means to win will galvanize him, and I for one could not be happier.

It is highly unlikely anyone will catch Verstappen in the race for the world championship, given he is 84 points clear (a margin of more than three race wins), but at least we have a season where six different drivers have won races. The signs are promising that we may finally have more competitive seasons going forward, and this meerkat would love to see it!

So, from all of that, what will come next? By the next Muse, we’ll know if England can somehow fluke their way to Euro 2024 glory. I don’t expect this, but there’s always a fool’s hope, right?

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