Not too long ago my brother tried his hand at some short fiction which I thought was very good. And it kinda inspired me to write something myself, which is rather shorter and not as good, but had been tickling around my mind for a while. He will be reassured to know that it is not based on a true story.
The doctors came together when they took my brother away.
I don't know why there were two of them, perhaps they thought that one by himself wouldn't be able to convince me that my brother was a madman. Are you allowed to say 'madman'? It seems such a silly question, what am I allowed to call the person I've known all my life, who I've spent a thousand afternoons doing nothing with, but it still feels wrong, somehow. Like I should call him by some medical name that I don't know and that can't make any difference.
The doctors didn't say 'madman', but they didn't need to. Looking at him, just looking at him, there was something in his eyes that had changed, something that hammered into me that this wasn't really my brother any more; this was a different creature in the same body. Different eyes in the same face. Plenty of things in this world scare me, but I don't think I've ever been as scared of anything as I was when he looked at me then. Not scared that he would hurt me, although he probably would, now, but scared that my world could change so suddenly and completely and uncontrollably.
What made it harder– no, it was already as hard as anything could be; what, I don't know, added to that infinity was that it came so soon after Dad. It was the same thing with him: the same alien eyes, the same sudden collapse of a familiarity that had been there all my life. There were two doctors for him, as well. Maybe that's what they do; policy, or something, because for them this sort of thing happens all the time. I wonder if that makes it easier. Mind you, when they looked into my Dad's eyes they probably just saw his eyes. They wouldn't have known what they looked like before, they wouldn't have my memories of mealtimes, walks in the countryside, board games and countless other times he looked at me and was just himself. Maybe they couldn't tell that, now, there was something wrong, something lost that couldn't be got back. Or perhaps it's always obvious when someone is mad, even if they're not your Dad or your brother. Or your Mum, your friends or your colleagues.
That's probably it. The first time I saw that look in someone's eyes it wasn't anyone I knew, it was just a stranger on a railway platform. But, even then, I could tell.
Of course, for the doctors it's different, because they have the same look in their own eyes. I wonder if that stops them from seeing it in other people, or if it makes it easier. With madness, who knows?
There are a lot of mad people, now. Almost everyone I see. And I know that mad people can be dangerous, can be violent. That's why I'm glad they've all been locked away, locked away from me, locked away outside.
May 10th 2014
I bring you sad news from Bristol, where the return of ferocious winds has meant the return of my fence panel to the ground below. Despite the combined efforts of the Thomas family, three nails and as many things as we could find in the surrounding ten metres that might be able to prop up a fence, our handiwork has not passed the test of time. Sheepishly, therefore, I have dragged the panel back to my patio and hoped that the neighbour's fence has not been noticeably damaged by my fence falling into it... I think there's just a minor scratch, but then that's what Ed Balls said. If anyone knows (i) how to fix a fence, or (ii) who I'm supposed to get to fix a single fence panel, please let me know.
In other news, you might have spotted that the FA has announced its proposals for fixing the England team, and chief among them - in terms of column inches, at least - is the creation of a new division in the football league, made up of Premier League B teams alongside teams currently in the conference. The proposal has been greeted warmly by several Premier League clubs as well as the England manager, but - forgive me for going Mandy Rice-Davies on you - they would, wouldn't they? The teams who compete in the lower leagues are less likely to welcome the imposition of Chelsea B into their fixture list, and speaking as a fan of a team who spent the last season in League One, I am not impressed by the FA treating the lower divisions as some kind of breeding ground for Premier League clubs. The proposal seems purpose-built to tarnish one of the great strengths of the English game, which is the high level of support throughout the football league. Stealing my stats shamelessly from the Times, the average attendance at Championship (second tier) games this season was 16,555, which is more than double that of Spain's Segunda División (their second tier). In fact, our League One (third tier) had a higher average attendance than the Segunda División managed. So, while Spain have got B teams playing in their third tier (a group of four divisions called Segunda División B), it's not really the same as if Man City B rolled up at Bradford City.
The story is rather different in Germany, where huge increases in attendances over the last decade mean they actually get more fans at second tier matches than we do, but they provide no more of an advertisement for B teams. Bayern Munich B managed only 328 fans at their last match - less than half the number that Stenhousemuir brought in at their last home game - and while that was a low point, their average attendance isn't much different to that of Worcester City. There's no reason to believe that Arsenal B would bring the punters rolling in, but I think that's actually missing the point. Even if thousands turned up to watch the fruits of Arsenal's youth development, how much would they really care about the scoreline? Throughout the league, from Premier League title chasers to League Two also-rans (and below), fans really and truly care about their teams. Supporters of Leyton Orient experience joy and pain in just the same way as supporters of Liverpool; the respective quality of the football doesn't change that. It would cheapen our national competition beyond belief if Leyton Orient started playing Liverpool B, with one set of fans just as eager for victory as ever and one set only turning up because they can't get tickets for the real team. The kids aren't allowed to get promoted, anyway, so who cares how they get on?
Fortunately, the proposal will almost certainly never come to fruition - the FA, after all, doesn't even remotely have the power to make it happen. Which hints at the problem with this whole process: the FA has the interests of the England team at heart, and rightly so, but doesn't care a jot about lower league teams; that's not their remit. Speaking for myself, I care far more about Wolves than about England, and I don't think I'm in the minority. Even if B teams were the answer to England's woes - and it seems unlikely - I would still be vehemently against them, and even the targeted 2022 World Cup victory wouldn't make up for the marring of our domestic league.
So, what would I suggest for England? As I've said, I'm hardly the most dedicated of England fans, and my attendance at football matches (six live games this season, at Wolves, Bristol City twice, Ipswich, Charlton and Notts County) puts me some way down the list of experts, but I've said for years that the big problem with England is that we very rarely have any players in foreign leagues. We all know that the Premier League is a different kettle of fish to La Liga, Serie A, etc. because of its fast-paced and physical nature, but continually we end up with England teams whose experience is almost entirely - or, as often as not, entirely entirely - limited to the Premier League. A breadth of footballing experience will give an extra dimension to our game, as well as giving more opportunities to English players - after all, it's not surprise that not enough English players are getting playing time, given that they've effectively limited themselves to a single league.
A friend and I had a Twitter discussion on this very topic, and he disagrees, pointing out that Spanish, Italian and German teams are largely drawn from their respective leagues. He has a point, but looking at their most recent squads there were a total of 9/22, 5/26 and 7/30 players from foreign leagues. In England's most recent 30-man squad our only two players plying their trade outside the English league were a reserve keeper from Celtic, and Jermaine Defoe, who had theoretically moved to Toronto FC the week before but was actually back at Spurs on loan.
If you consider teams like France (15/23 from foreign leagues) and Brazil (19/23), you can see what an outlier England have become. Fair enough, that says more about the quality of the French and Brazilian leagues than anything else, but in all likelihood no nation will go to the World Cup with a squad containing as few players playing abroad as England will. And until that changes, I don't think we'll ever stand much of a chance of winning the thing, B teams or no B teams.
May 28th 2014
The bank holiday weekend saw me make the journey to Oxford to see Simon, the first time I have driven on the motorway by myself (other than between nearby junctions a few times in Bristol) and the first time I've seen his house, his fourth or fifth since graduation (pfft... I was on my fifth last November, although I rather imagine I'll not be moving to my sixth any time soon) and the best yet, in my view. As well as enjoying the sunshine in the afternoon, we headed to his local(ish) quiz on Sunday evening to test our knowledge against Oxford's finest. Before pitting our wits, though, I ate what Simon had long been telling me was the greatest burger ever created, something which I suspected wasn't true given that it was served at a vegetarian pub. As is so often the case, I was right - what can I say, it's my gift; it's my curse - and while the burger was decent enough, I've had better at football matches. Honest to goodness, football matches.
Anyways, the culinary excitement having died down, the quiz commenced with its theme of ale. Not my strong point, as a teetotaller, but happily the theme was fairly tenuous (e.g. the music round featured types of ale in either song title or artist name, and typically such obscure ales that knowing this didn't really help) and we managed to win the bally thing. That makes it 2/2 for me when joining his team, and this time I even managed to get 'answer of the week' in his quiz team's notebook. A high honour indeed. There was some confusion from the quizmaster as to whether I was still the evil twin (the goatee proved it before, apparently, but I entered more or less clean-shaven this time), which I'll leave as an exercise for the reader. I think I'm an all right guy.
In other news, allow me to recommend X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is in all good cinemas as we speak and is the best of the series thus far, in my view. Contrariwise, allow me to steer you away from The Wolverine, which I watched tonight and is, I reckon, the worst of the series thus far. A more prolonged review might appear here at some point, but I wouldn't hold your breath.