Welcome back to the Meerkat Muse!
July began with the promise of gloriously hot weather – after the first week or so. Initially July followed the pattern of overcast and gloomy, continuing June’s miserable end.
Loitering within the lure of nicer, brighter skies was a potential trap. The much-desired heatwave that summer should bring held more than merely warm, pleasant sunshine. It held the threat of 35C and upwards, which is definitely on the scale of ‘too hot’. For this meerkat, 25-30C is fine. It’s perfect conditions for breaking out the barbecue and lounging in the paddling pool with a cold beer. Once we move beyond 30C, and especially once we get to 35C, we hit scorchio territory.
Still, in many ways we should be grateful – Canada saw temperatures soar to unprecedented heights, reaching 49.6C in parts of British Columbia. That’s crazy. People have died from this heat, and that was back in June! To put that into perspective, back in June we had some parts of Essex hit 25C and that felt hot. It’s hard to imagine what doubling the temperature would feel like.
I’ve recently been involved in some surveys and Zoom chats on the subject of climate change, on behalf of Essex County Council. I can’t go into specifics, but there are a few ideas on how to support the environment at a local level. However, for there to be lasting, meaningful change, the behaviour of governments and big businesses needs to be the focus. Not for the first time, Jill Dennison has hit the proverbial nail on the head with this. The big oil and coal corporations have an interest in denying or playing down climate change (and their role in it), because profit matters more to them. Until governments hold these companies to account, any change will be glacial.
Toxic Fandoms and Inconsistency
By all means dislike a TV show and by all means criticise it. I’m a great believer that nothing should be free from criticism. Without the right to criticise and challenge, we lose an important avenue for self-discovery and exploration. In fact, I am growing increasingly concerned that anyone who so much as utters a bad word against Star Trek Discovery comes in for unnecessary flak. I say that as a fan of the series and as someone who has been outspoken about the Fandom Menace crowd.
That said, I have a complete lack of patience for spurious, slanderous allegations, especially when those allegations are made for the purpose of being a childish troll, as appears to be the case here. I have no idea if Oliver believes his claims or not – if he does, I can only assume he is deluding himself, if he doesn’t, he is baiting the audience for reasons only he understands, and all because he can’t separate his dislike of a TV show from the people making it.
As a further irritant, some of Oliver’s Fandom Menace supporters appear reluctant to confront baseless claims. The extent to which they will bat away his behaviour goes as far as to tell me what I can and can’t discuss in a Twitter thread I created – and the best part is, Oliver himself hijacked the original thread to inject his allegations of wife and child-beating in the first place!
I guess little details like accuracy, facts and honesty don’t matter when you’re committed to spreading disgusting rumours. Confronting someone who is inventing these sickening rumours also seems beyond the abilities of some of the Fandom Menace commentators. There is often internal friction within fandoms, but within Star Trek it often feels worse than others. I discuss this more in a recent podcast:
A couple of weeks ago England had completed a cathartic victory over their traditional bogey side, Germany. The win and performance offered the nation a lift, at a time when, between the pandemic and the hypocrisy of a useless government, a lift was desperately needed. However, in football you are only as good as your last game, and no one remembers the teams who fall short.
The quarter-finals of the competition delivered drama. Spain and Switzerland played out a 1-1 draw in a game where Spain just couldn’t score without enjoying a huge slice of luck, and then Spain got the luck in a penalty shootout, which was ironic, given Spain’s miserable history with shootouts. Next came Belgium (ranked no.1 in the world, despite having not actually won anything, either historically or recently) against the form team of the tournament, Italy.
Italy were heading for a 2-0 cushion at half-time after two well-taken goals, but a penalty gave Belgium’s talented squad a lifeline. The second-half saw a lot of attacking football from Italy (traditionally not their approach, but very much their approach at Euro 2020), with Belgium counter-attacking and threatening on a number of occasions. In the end Belgium’s big names couldn’t find the little bit of quality to get the equaliser, and were consigned to football oblivion.
To Denmark and the Czech Republic, doing battle in Baku. Many a neutral was behind the Danes, after a horrible, terrifying start to the tournament, where Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during their first game. Eriksen has since recovered and the team has been full of spirit, crushing Wales 4-0 in their round of 16 tie and playing some good football in the process. The Czechs had looked pretty average against England in the group stages, though they’d seen off a skilful Dutch side in their previous game. and done so in a pretty convincing manner. Both sides had potential match winners, but who would deliver?
In the end the Danes, through first-half goals from Delaney and the ever-improving Dolberg, took their place in the semis. Early in the second-half Schick (scorer of a variety of goals in the tournament) pulled one back during a spell of resurgence for the Czechs, but they couldn’t maintain their momentum.
Would England, fresh from their brilliant win over Germany, progress to meet the Danes at Wembley, or would Ukraine, who had scraped into the knockout rounds and fought hard to beat Sweden with penalties looming, provide a Rome reckoning for Southgate’s men?
England not only triumphed but did so emphatically, with captain Harry Kane lunging to connect with Sterling’s delightful pass after just four minutes to give England the lead. Ukraine began to grow into the game as half-time approached, but England were organised and proving difficult to break down. After the break the Three Lions cranked up a gear – a very early freekick was delivered into the box by the outstanding Luke Shaw for centre-back Harry Maguire to head home, and a few minutes later another another Shaw cross found Kane, who headed the ball through the stricken ‘keeper’s legs to put England in complete command of the tie. A fourth goal followed from Mount’s corner, finding substitute Henderson, who headed home his first England ever goal in over 60 appearances.
The post-match mood was pretty euphoric. England had played five games, won four of them, and hadn’t conceded a goal. In fact, going back to the pre-Euros friendlies, England had kept seven clean sheets in a row – a new English record.
Despite England’s run and performance, there were inevitable critics, with the same inevitable arguments when England perform well. ‘Their opponents aren’t very good’. ‘England have had an easy run to the final’. These arguments are, to be blunt, bullshit. Firstly, England earned the right to the so-called ‘easy side’ of the tournament by winning their group. The first team to stand in England’s way on the ‘easy’ side? Germany. Four-time World Cup winners and three-time European Championship winners. Granted the current German side is not the side of the past, though several of their squad had lifted the World Cup trophy in 2014 and many German players had lifted major honours at club level.
Meanwhile, on the so-called ‘hard’ side of the draw, much-fancied France (reigning world champions) were beaten on penalties by Switzerland. Croatia had been beaten finalists in the World Cup three years ago; an ageing team had struggled and they weren’t at their best, yet they took a stuttering Spain to extra time. The Spanish were taken to extra time again by Switzerland, as mentioned earlier. Italy have looked very good but still made hard work for themselves against Austria and an inconsistent Belgium. Where exactly had England been over-achieving? By dispatching the teams in front of them with a professional, disciplined approach? By controlling games with a cool, calm maturity?
To the semi-finals. On Tuesday the 6th Italy and Spain faced each other at Wembley. The Italians had lots of attacking potential and Spain had players who knew a thing or two about keeping the ball. A somewhat end-to-end game was best characterised by Spain’s inability to do the most crucial thing – score. Mikel Oyarzabal spurned two glorious chances, either side of which Italy punished Spain for their wastefulness. A surging counter-attack brought a powerful strike from Chiesa, handing Italy the lead after an hour of play.
With the Italians being masters of defending leads, the task seemed mountainous for Spain. A misfiring forward line against an incredibly experienced defence? It seemed like a recipe for disaster, with Morata on as a sub and immediately showing a lack of confidence in front of goal.
Except, international football can do funny things. With ten minutes of normal time to go, delicate and neat linkup play between Morata and Olmo brought Morata in on goal and for once, he coolly slotted home. Suddenly Spain had the momentum. No one could find a winner in normal time, so extra time beckoned, and after the first half of extra time there had been no more goals. Spain had produced most of the attacking pressure, but Italy defended resolutely, albeit with tiring legs.
It was hardly surprising that the pace of the game was dropping off as extra time continued. Both sets of players were feeling the effects of the long slog, though Italy began to probe a bit more, creating one or two opportunities and even putting the ball in the net… but it was ruled out for offside. Parity resumed, with things finely poised – the Italian defence was experienced but old by footballer standards. Spain had already been taken to extra time in their previous two games. Who would make the fateful, fatigue-driven mistake?
The answer? No one. Penalties awaited. After a pulsating match, it seemed a cruel lottery, but it was the only way to separate the two sides.
Both sides missed their opening penalties; both scored their second. Italy scored their third. Spain scored their third. Italy slammed home number four. Spain’s fourth was saved. If Italy converted their fifth it would all be over.
With nerves of steel Jorginho calmly stroked the ball to his right, with Spain’s ‘keeper going the other way. Italy were through to the final of Euro 2020. Who would face them? Denmark… or England?
I dared not dream. Denmark, in theory, would be straight-forward. In theory. The reality? Any team capable of reaching the semi-finals deserves respect, and Denmark were riding the crest of a wave, heavily backed by virtually every neutral fan. England would be roared on by a home crowd, in a Wembley that wasn’t quite at full capacity.
I’d describe the opening spell as belonging to England, albeit without creating anything substantial. Denmark gradually grew into the game until they won a free kick 25 yards from England’s goal. Damsgaard struck the ball sweetly to deliver it to the back of the net, becoming the first player to score past England in Euro 2020. It was a disappointing moment from England’s perspective, but it was a great goal. Denmark looked confident and they were forcing England into mistakes.
England needed to respond. Kane played Sterling in from the right but Sterling fired right at Schmeichel from close range. A moment later Kane slid the ball to Saka who played a sweet ball across the box; Simon Kjaer, harried by Sterling, poked the ball into the net for the equaliser. It marked the 11th own goal of the competition.
The game was deadlocked, despite England cranking up the pressure as the game wore on. Chances were carved out, but Denmark held firm. As a result extra time would provide a chance for someone to be a hero. That hero? Well, Sterling certainly took a lot of credit for making determined runs, and in the first half he won a penalty (possibly in dubious circumstances), which Schmeichel saved from Kane, but Kane scored as the ball bounced back to him. It was a due reward for sustained attacking pressure, and England would see out the remainder of extra time fairly comfortably to book a final against Italy. For the first time in 55 years England would be in a major tournament final!
Inevitably the doubters and the miserable miscreants began their denouncements. England were lucky. England didn’t deserve to beat Denmark (overlooking how England created more chances, dominated possession and in the latter portion of the match were the only team trying to win).
On top of that came some truly absurd claims about England fans being feral. Yes, historically England fans have behaved poorly, but in recent tournaments that hasn’t been the case. Unfortunately the blinkered and biased see what they want to see; they live in a parallel universe, not in this reality.
All of that aside, many England fans, myself included, were now in uncharted waters. The last time England had gone this far I was over a decade away from being born. For many England fans 1966 was a legend, an abstraction. For many, including a number of the current England squad, the 1990 and 1996 semi-finals were as mythological as 1966. An entire generation had grown up experiencing nothing but tame, nervous and early exits from major tournaments. Gareth Southgate’s men had changed that. Suddenly the fans could take pride in the team, whether or not they won in the final. Suddenly the nation, so beleaguered by the disastrous handling of the pandemic, had reason for cheer. The same could be said for Italy, a country that had also suffered badly with covid.
Italy would be formidable opponents. The Azzurri had played very well, especially in the group stages, and boasted an experienced, talented squad. In Roberto Mancini they have a tactically competent and experienced manager. Indeed, Italy, unbeaten in 33 matches (a new Italian record) had turned things around dramatically from the 2018 World Cup, a contest they had failed to qualify for. In Gianluigi Donnarumma they have arguably the best ‘keeper in the world. Defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have considerable experience. Marco Veratti and Jorginho have tremendous technical ability, and Ciro Immobile knows a thing or two about scoring goals. Indeed, I believed Italy would be favourites and I expected them to win.
So we came to it at last. For both Italy and England this was a chance at redemption. As mentioned before, Italy had failed to even qualify for the last major tournament, and England had waited 55 years.
For England the final got off to a dream start. A quick breakaway saw Kane play a good ball to Kieran Trippier, who delivered a peach of a cross to Luke Shaw, who slammed the ball into the back of the net from close range with less than two minutes on the board. In the first half England contained Italy and prevented the Azzurri from creating anything meaningful, but as the second half got underway Italy began to ramp up the pressure. England couldn’t keep the ball and Bonucci poked in the equaliser in a scrappy moment within England’s box.
So with just over twenty minutes to go before extra-time, Italy had asserted themselves and England needed to respond. A slightly better spell of keeping the ball followed and England saw out normal time without further incident, though some questions had to be raised. The game was crying out for the skills of Grealish and/or the pace of Sancho, yet Grealish would not be introduced until extra-time, and though England grew with confidence during the additional period, they could not unlock the stubborn, experienced Italy defence. That would mean the dreaded penalty shootout.
Pickford saved Italy’s first effort, but misses and saved attempts from Sancho, Rashford and Saka meant Italy became champions of Europe on a murky July evening at Wembley. For England fans (including this meerkat) it was heartbreaking, but reaching the final had been an achievement in itself, and the team had not disgraced themselves on the night.
Sadly, a minority of ‘fans’ decided to vent their pain by racially abusing the trio of young men whose penalties had cost England. To anyone who believes such abuse is acceptable, I say you don’t deserve to call yourselves English, and to be blunt, you can fuck off. No one deserves the kind of cruel comments that racist trolls love to make, and said trolls are often anonymous cowards too.
Five Nights at Ponyville
I know you’ve all been desperate for me to get back into drawing, so I thought I’d treat you all to the somewhat unnatural combination of Five Nights at Freddy’s and My Little Pony. Enjoy.
I might use this pic to express confusion in the future. I can only apologise in advance!
I had a recent Twitter ‘discussion’ (I can only use the term loosely) about a recent attack on an LGBT event in Tbilisi, Georgia. I’ve posted this section of the Muse on the Coalition Site for good measure. The European nation has a government that tried to blame the attack on the Pride event organisers, suggesting they provoked a confrontation. Yeah, that’s right, they provoked a confrontation by existing…
An awful lot of mental gymnastics needs to take place before we can arrive at the conclusion that the violent attack on the event was somehow the fault of the LGBT community. Clearly this is yet another demonstration of the far right’s unbridled bigotry for a community that wants nothing than the right to exist, without having to live in fear. The conservation on Twitter took a different turn, with what I can only presume are attempts to justify the violence…
Jay has an odd perspective. For starters he was very keen to get an answer as to whether or not I was Jewish (I’m not), but failed to properly address the relevance of the question. Secondly, he pressed an argument that the LGBT community is connected to paedophiles. This is an old argument brought forward by the far right, but does it actually have any basis?
The trouble is, bigots like Jay are often easily led and convinced by propaganda. It’s easier to submit to biased sources and a broken narrative than to listen to reason. Sadly, this is not a new argument, as I discovered… or should I say ‘rediscovered’. The conversation with Jay jogged a memory of an old sparring partner who subscribed to these nonsense views. Whether they still do is anyone’s guess, but a few minutes of racking my brains and Google uncovered what they had to say. Unfortunately my encounters with Hippiepooter in the past made it very clear they valued style over substance and preferred to avoid constructive dialogue in favour of back-handed compliments and snide, snivelling insults. Whether he has matured or not is anyone’s guess.
Homosexuality is a perversion. If it is normalised it will open the floodgates even worse forms of depravity being accepted.
People afflicted with homosexuality should helped, not endorsed.
Yet responding to this by pointing out bigotry is apparently grossly unfair…
Unfortunately my encounters with Hippiepooter in the past made it very clear they valued style over substance and preferred to avoid constructive dialogue in favour of back-handed compliments and snide, snivelling insults. Whether he has matured or not is anyone’s guess.
As I type this, my daughter is on the cusp of finishing her time at junior school. The other day my wife and I attended her end-of-year school play, ‘Porridge’ (no, not the prison-based comedy series). A tale of fairy-tales gone awry, my daughter delivered her lines in a brilliantly deadpan manner, in a play filled with puns. It was an enjoyable moment, a moment that felt a bit like a farewell to the junior school. She has a few more days to go, but things are wrapping up.
As part of the end, she brought home her schoolwork. Among the various books was a paper star, and on it were words written about my daughter by other students. Words like ‘funny’, ‘patient’, and perhaps most importantly, ‘kind’.
As proud as I am of her performance in the play, I’m even prouder of her for that. Her friends and classmates regard her as kind. Kindness is a virtue that feels like it’s getting rarer and rarer, so it’s wonderful that others see in my daughter what I see.
I had a dream the other night where I had a stalker. No, not that kind of stalker, you perverts – rather, a crazed ‘fan’ was determined to be a part of my life, even though I didn’t want them to be. This included trips to where I work and even breaking into my home to threaten my wife with a blade, though I was able to get my wife out of harm’s way before the dream took an darker turn.
What prompted this is completely beyond me, but we’ve firmly established my subconscious is a peculiar place. I’m in no hurry to repeat this kind of experience, which felt tense and frightening.
The other day I’d been about to empty the outside foodbin into the main food waste wheelie bin, when I spotted movement from within. A quick inspection revealed a tiny mouse! We have a large tree in our garden and the branches overhang the bin; presumably the little thing had climbed out on a branch, curious about the food, and fallen in, whereupon it couldn’t escape. I wasn’t about to tip the poor thing into the wheelie, so I grabbed a glass and scooped it up, showing it to my daughter before setting it free. I think there may be a family of mice living under or near the tree, which is pretty brave, considering we have a cat!
The 10th of July
On the 10th of July 2004 my life started down a new path. I took a trip to London to meet a woman. Heading into our meetup, I didn’t know that the occasion would lead to something else, something more. I’ve made mistakes by her, at times I’ve driven her mad, but the woman I met that day would become my wife, and I would become her husband. Our love led to the birth of our daughter, and the journey of a lifetime. I am I better person for her being in my life and in my world.
The 12th Doctor once said ‘love is a promise’. I couldn’t agree more. I belong to her.
Oh, she also got me this awesome Timon t-shirt!