Tuesday, 27 August 2013
By Derek Lord
IN the course of the 20 years or so that I wrote a weekly column for the Aberdeen Press & Journal, I would occasionally recount my experiences of the paranormal.
This would inevitably result in readers’ letters accusing me of being a liar, a fantasist, a raving lunatic, or worse. Never once did I get a comment from anyone who had had similar experiences, so I thought I would just throw this one out there in the hope of finding someone who could identify with those experiences.
My interest in the subject of the paranormal began at the tender age of 19. I had just beaten more than 50 applicants for the post of junior sports reporter with the Belfast Telegraph. The late, great Malcolm Brodie, a Scotsman who became a legend in Northern Ireland , interviewed me for the job.
I was over the moon when I found out he had selected me. I received my letter of acceptance on the Wednesday telling me to report for duty the following Monday.
Later that Wednesday morning, a cleaning lady called Margaret O’Flaherty arrived to do some dusting round our house. My mother wasn’t in the best of health at the time and needed a hand with the housework. When Margaret had finished, my mother sat down with her for a cup of tea.
These were the days before tea bags. When they had finished their tea, Margaret offered to give Mum a psychic reading based on the tea leaves left stuck to the inside of her cup. When she had finished, my mother called for me and insisted that I get a reading.
As a cynical teenager I thought it was all a lot of nonsense but I reluctantly agreed. I drank my tea and proffered the empty cup. Mrs O’Flaherty gazed into it and then told me that I would be crossing water shortly and that I would go into a building with a very long counter in search of a job.
I would be met by a woman who would lead me up some stairs to an office where I would be interviewed by a man with a moustache and glasses. The man would be very impressed by me. I sat grinning smugly as she spoke. She didn’t know that I would be embarking on my chosen career just 10 miles up the road in five days.
Two later my mother and father separated and my mother insisted that I accompany her to Coventry where she planned to stay with relatives. It broke my heart to have to phone Malcolm Brodie and tell him I couldn’t accept the job he had so generously offered me.
So there I was on the Belfast to Liverpool ferry within days of O’Flaherty’s reading. Two months later I applied for a job as a cub reporter with the Coventry Evening Telegraph. It was only when I entered the building and saw the long counter that I remembered Margaret’s prophecy.
Would I be met by a woman and shown upstairs to an office? Tick. Would the man interviewing me have a moustache and glasses? Tick. Would he be impressed by me? Tick (In the event, he put me on a shortlist of six out of 70 applicants). Unfortunately the editor gave the job to one of the other five and I spent the next year working as a quality control inspector in a very noisy factory.
Over the course of the next 40 years, Margaret O’Flaherty continued to predict what lay ahead for me in the same minute detail she had delivered in that first reading. And she never charged me or anyone else a penny.
Her reputation grew and she would have captains of industry lining up at her door for her advice. But, when she was put in front of the TV cameras, she froze. If she had been a phoney she would have prepared some Doris Stokes-style codswallop to get her through. But she was honest enough to say that there was nothing coming through for her that night and most viewers would have concluded that she was a fake.
I knew differently.
Friday, 23 August 2013
By Bryan Cooney
THE new Scottish football season has barely tied the laces of its new, streamlined boots and yet finds itself experiencing a siege situation. The ominous shadow of gambling has fallen across us again.
There are many questions to answer. Has the normally somnambulant SFA, for instance, woken from a stupor and gone uncomfortably over the top in its pursuit of Rangers star Ian Black?
The latter, I would remind you if you need any reminding, must answer charges of betting against his teams and, in many eyes, has assumed pariah status. Has the governing body been right to name him at this early juncture ?
Is former footballer Kevin Twaddle exaggerating when he says that the betting bug has turned into a virus ? Or is this only the tip of an iceberg that could sink ten Titanics?
There again, can we blame players for punting when the encouragement for doing so is all around us 24-7? You are almost programmed to gamble these days, after all. So, where is our caring Government hereabouts? Wasn’t it only yesterday that the Labour lot were advocating the opening of giant casinos to assist us with our leisure time?
In fairness, let’s put such hypocrisies aside and wait until next month’s Hampden hearing before any conclusions are drawn.. All I know is that I feel great compassion for anyone whose life is governed by gambling. Bitter experience insists that it draws you in with all the efficiency of a wanton woman - and spits you out with the haste of a vindictive one.
Most of us, I’m sure, are in favour of instant reward. I remember my own instincts being sharpened in a smoke-filled, subterranean room in an Aberdeen backstreet. One evening, circa 1964, at 19 years of age, this apprentice sports journalist initially experienced the vicarious buzz of being a winner.
Having shipped a considerable cargo of ale, I tumbled into the Belmont
Club. It looked, at first glance, as if the local prison had agreed an amnesty. Intoxication, however, ensured that I didn’t give a damn who was there. I eventually secured a seat at a packed chemin-de-fer table and opened my account with a ten bob note.
For those unfamiliar with the process, chemmy is a card game whereby you take the bank and proceed to draw two cards against the two cards of the person who has challenged your right to be banker. If your cards add up to eight or nine, you turn them over for victory. If not, you draw another card in attempt to get the highest score. A face card counts as zero. You can either draw your winnings or let them accumulate, whatever your fancy.
Anyway, Lady Luck was my very special companion that night. On my first attempt at the bank, she saw to it that I won ten times on the trot. By the time my turn came round again, the envious eyes of all the Belmont Club were on me. I had become everybody’s friend and could scarcely breathe for people breathing down my neck - people, I may point out, whom you would not take home to mother for afternoon tea and crumpets.
I embarked on another glorious winning run and, when it ended, was attempting to add up the bounty. I needn’t have bothered. The resident mathematician, who made it is business to known how the dosh was being distributed, had completed the calculations. “You have exactly one hundred and eighty pounds,” he offered.
At which point, commonsense kicked in. I figured I would never make £180 from a ten-bob starter again. I was taking home circa £9 a week back then. It was time to go home, by ordered taxi, of course. There were too many dark alleyways and cobblestones around Belmont Street to chance an early-morning stroll. Besides, Craiginches Prison was enjoying an amnesty, wasn’t it?
It would be nice to report that this was my first and last visit to the Belmont Club. Or else to say that it led to a rapid expansion of my private wealth. Unhappily, like most mug punters, neither was the case. The narcotic proved immediately addictive. I found I was drawn back there repeatedly as if someone was employing a giant magnet to guide me in. Triumphant repeats, however, were not to be part of the subsequent agenda, But, by then, I was gripped in a particularly sensitive area by the wicked lady of gambling: and, there was no denying it, she was beginning to do my bollocks in.
The unhealthy obsession multiplied. Everything seemed to have my name on it: horse racing, greyhound racing, clandestine card games in the bowels of my place of work: the Aberdeen Press Journal; challenge snooker matches for half crown and dollar stakes at the local Burroughes and Watts snooker centre. If it seemingly moved, I wanted a bet on the outcome. And I’d do anything to sustain the habit: lie, cheat, steal, pawn my possessions. I was familiar with my own crime sheet. I didn’t need a Jeremy Kyle figure to tell me I was a disgrace to the human race.
One day, I realised if I didn’t do something desperate, I’d resort to the ultimate form of desperation. Suicide seemed an appropriate alternative to a life teetering on the razor edge. Thankfully, commonsense prevailed and I transported my desolation to my father. This was by no means the easier option. This was the father who’d always inhabited a distant planet, the father who refrained from overt displays of affection, the father whom I believed was so fixated by his books and his garden that he didn’t have time for me.
I told him everything and, figuratively, curled up into a protective ball, waiting for the explosion of anger and derision. There was none. Instead, there was tolerance and understanding. And also revelation. He told me that at one time he, too, had been overly fond of a bet and that if it hadn't been for the poverty-stricken circumstances of his youth, he, too, might have found himself in my position.
Most important, he offered an alternative. ‘Look,' he said, ‘you get paid of a Friday night, don't you? Okay, from now on, I'll come down to Broad Street on a Friday night and you'll hand your pay packet over to me. That way, (some of) the temptation will be removed. It'll be all down to your willpower after that. But, just consider this, I'm an old man, not in the best of health, either. If I go out of my way to do this for you, whatever else you do, please don't let me down.'
It became a Friday night ritual. My father, my undemonstrative, non-tactile yet caring father, would appear, around 6.30p.m. Even with his health deteriorating, he never missed an appointment with a dissolute son. In the side alleyway of the newspaper office. I'd open the brown pay packet, extract enough for a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of beer, and hand the rest to him. Willpower can be an extraordinary force. Somehow, I religiously kept my promise not to gamble, staying away from clubs and bookies' offices as if they were plague-ridden and would contaminate me.
Whenever temptation arose, I thought of the man who, in what would be the last, precious years of his life, was devoted to the correction of misspent youth. In essence, it was easy. If he could make the effort, then I would be strong and make the effort, too. I vowed there would be no going back, no return to the madness.
Today, as far as gambling is concerned, the straight and narrow is a precious place for me. I’m not being sanctimonious when I say that. I shiver when I remember the past and really feel for those who cannot find the postal code of that precious place. Thank God I had someone to show me the way. Some men are anxious to make sportsmen their role models. But life’s most authentic role models often are to be found far closer to home. I know mine was…
*Adapted from Fingerprints of a Football Rascal.
Thursday, 22 August 2013
BY JIM BLACK
O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, an’ foolish notion.
Robert Burns penned these words 227 years ago after noticing an upper class lady in church with a louse roving feely in her bonnet.
The Bard chastises the louse for not realising how important his host is, and then reflects that, to a louse, we are all equal prey, and that we should be disabused of our pretentions if we are to see ourselves through each other’s eyes.
Perhaps certain members of the golf fraternity would do well to familiarise themselves with Burns’ words.
Standards are slipping in the Royal & Ancient game and some who earn a handsome living from the sport are in danger of becoming “twittering wrecks.”
Ian Poulter, inspiration for the miracle of Medinah, was rightly lauded as Europe’s principal Ryder Cup hero 11 months ago.
But why does Poulter feel such an overwhelming need to tweet almost all of his waking thoughts?
Clearly unhappy with his first round performance in the Open and the pin positions, Poulter tweeted that Muirfield’s 18th hole needed a windmill and a clown’s mouth.
What exactly did he mean by his comment? If he considered the pin position to be nothing short of a joke, why didn’t he just say so in plain speak?
Of course plain speech is not always wise. Steve Elkington caused a furore when he tweeted during the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale that the host town, Southport was full of fat tattooed guys and girls before adding that the local fast food was s...t.
Had he stopped there, the Australian might have escaped with a slap on the wrist, but he risked prosecution on the grounds of racist behaviour likely to cause offence when he also made several disparaging remarks about members of the local Pakistani community.
So incensed were Poulter and Ryder Cup team-mate Graeme McDowell that they felt a need to respond to Elkington’s rant, adding to the sense of over-importance that was attached to his comments in the first place.
More recently, Lee Westwood became embroiled in several anger twitter exchanges when he reacted badly to criticism of his last round in the USPGA.
The Englishman later conceded that alcohol had helped fuel his reaction.
Poulter, Elkington and Westwood are not alone in looking like twits.
But why do so many modern sportsmen and women feel such an overwhelming desire to tweet?
Is it the case that they believe the world will be a much poorer place without their particular take on life or is it ego-driven by the need to constantly hog the limelight?
But Scotland’s Marc Warren may have sparked a new trend away from twitter after announcing that he will no longer be engaging in regular social exchanges
Warren, a self-confessed Rangers fan, was sickened by a stream of vile bile and has decided to de-clutter his life.
What are the chances of any of Warren’s sporting counterparts in the world of football following suit?
Don’t hold your breath. I confidently predict that we’ll go on being bombarded with a daily diet of tripe and nonsense that fuels the worst excesses of those who feed off such largely worthless tosh.
Moreover, it appears that football clubs and sport large is incapable of applying constraints. So, too, the government, it would seem.
Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and the various other social media websites are here to stay, but at what price?
Even a single youngster taking their life as a consequence of cyberspace attacks by trolls is one too many.
Sunday, 18 August 2013
|George O’Grady and Sergio Garcia, Picture by USA Today|
EUROPEAN TOUR chief executive George O’Grady threatened to resign in the wake of “Garciagate.”
No Grey Areas can reveal that O’Grady had to be talked out of quitting after becoming embroiled in the race-related controversy that followed Sergio Garcia’s ill-judged comment concerning Tiger Woods.
The 33-year-old Spaniard created a furore when he took his long-year feud with Woods to a new low during an interview during the European Tour players’ dinner on the eve of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May.
When asked if he would invite Woods to dinner during the upcoming U.S. Open, Garcia replied: “I will have him over for dinner every night and we will serve him fried chicken.”
The remark caused outrage and forced the shame-faced Garcia to issue not one but two public apologies.
Garcia’s comment evoked memories of Fuzzy Zoeller’s equally inappropriate remark after Woods had won the Masters in 1997.
Zoeller - a past champion – caused an outcry when he commented that he hoped Woods would not order fried chicken for the traditional champions’ dinner where the menu is chosen by the holder of the green jacket.
Zoeller recently claimed that his remark was a “joke gone bad”, while Garcia pleaded ignorance.
But Garcia was totally stupid at best, if not deliberately racist, and the fact that he escaped with little more than a public slap on the wrist caused further outrage.
And the racism row took another ugly turn when O’Grady was forced to apologise for using inappropriate language during a television interview.
Ironically, O’Grady was trying to defend Garcia’s apology to Woods when he sparked a fresh storm.
“Most of Sergio Garcia’s friends are coloured athletes in the United States,” he said, and barely had the words been uttered by the 64-year-old than the backlash began.
Various groups including Show Racism The Red Card pilloried O’Grady for his faux pas on Sky and there were calls for O’Grady’s head.
O’Grady, who heads a staff of 155 at European Tour headquarters at Wentworth, moved quickly and issued an immediate apology for his racially hurtful terminology.
He said: “I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologise.”
But that was not enough to satisfy some of O’Grady’s critics and the continuing fall out left the popular golf boss considering his position after 39 years with the European Tour, which has gone from strength-to-strength under his leadership.
An insider and close confidant of O’Grady told me: “George was very badly hurt and shocked by the reaction to what was an unfortunate and wholly unintended slip of the tongue.
“Anyone who knows him will be aware that George does not have a racist bone in his body and some of those who were quick to condemn him should know better.
“George gave serious consideration to his position, but, fortunately his closest colleagues rallied round him and he was persuaded against resigning.”
Without wishing to be an apologist for O’Grady, if he was guilty of idiocy it was born of a generational use of the words “coloured” and “black” rather than malice aforethought.
It is not so long ago that it was taboo in newspapers to describe a black athlete as “black” rather than “coloured.”
It was left to Colin Montgomerie – certainly no stranger to controversy himself – to urge the golf world to draw a line under Garciagate.
He said: “It’s a mountain out of molehill. Christ, we’re all frightened to say anything – we’re scared to open our mouths in case we say something that isn’t kosher in 2013.
“Somebody should tell us what to say because no one is quite sure what is right and wrong.
“George says coloured, somebody says black, but who is to say who is right and who is wrong?”
BY JIM BLACK