Monday, 30 September 2013

The destruction of the NHS and a complicit media

Only a little local affair
You might have missed it yesterday, but some 50,000 people took to the streets to protest about something.

If you did miss it, you can hardly be blamed: it might sound like a newsworthy matter to you, but to the BBC and others, it was – at most – just a little local affair.

The demonstration itself – which the local police force involved went to some bother on social media of pointing out was the biggest it had ever had to deal with and was entirely peaceful – was about what’s happening to the National Health Service (NHS).

The protestors included not just patients, but those working in the health service itself, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and porters.

In a nutshell, the protestors believe that it is being deprived of funds and privatised by stealth using the inevitable consequences of that reduction in funds as the excuse to bring in private companies to make private profit from the service.

The process has been ongoing since the government came to office in 2010. Before the election that year, the leader of the Conservative Party, now Prime Minister David Cameron, sought to quash fears by stating both that: “there will be no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS” and “I will cut the deficit, not the NHS”.

On the former, this would have been welcome, after some years of changes that seemed to come on a weekly basis and left staff reeling. Unfortunately, it was a lie, since his government has subsequently been involved in the biggest top-down “reorganisation” of the service ever.

On the latter, policies have seen him wrong on both counts.

Austerity has helped worsen matters – including the deficit – to the extent that even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), hardly a bastion of anything that could be remotely described as socialist, has criticised the government for its approach.

So you could be forgiven for imagining that the reality behind such electioneering statements would be picked up by a conscientious media: that a prime minister who made them would be help to at least some account.

But no: no more than the reality of statements by secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, who has been caught out by the Office for National Statistics – more than once – playing fast and loose with figures of those claiming benefits or those on benefits for lengthy periods of time.

Indeed, when once challenged over this, IDS retorted that he “believed” the figures to be correct – ergot they must be correct.

Thus we now know that only a belief in it is required for a politician’s statement to be true.

But back to yesterday’s protest.

It took place in Manchester – a sunny Manchester, so presumably God was smiling on the demonstrators and the cause.

It took place there because the annual Conservative Party conference has just opened at a conference centre there. It was organised under the auspices of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and was attended from people from across the UK.

Both the Conservative Party and the TUC are national bodies. The conference in question is for the national Conservative Party, and the NHS is a national health service.

Yet the BBC decided to relegate reports of those 50,000 to regional news pages.

On the other hand, a report of a man being ill after swallowing drugs during a drugs bust – also in Manchester – was linked to from the front page of the website. That, in other words, was decreed editorially to be of national interest.

The Conservative Party conference is being reported as national, headline news – as it should be: it’s a national story.

But mass opposition to government isn’t?

Much of the media will avoid the story altogether for entirely political reasons. Much of the media now works on the basis simply of promoting the core political-economic agenda of its proprietors. It has long since given up any idea of being a fourth estate that holds the other three to accountability.

The BBC should, theoretically, be above this, but it has, over the last 30 years, allowed itself – under pain of losing the licence fee and charter, presumably – to dance to the tune of whomsoever is holding the reins of political power at the time.

It has been dismal on reporting the NHS since 2010, except where there are negative stories.

Now I dislike conspiracy theories, but one does ask whether it is entirely a matter of coincidence that the ultimate head of the Beeb, Chris Patten, has had anything to do with this.

In which case, it is worth noting that Lord Patten seems to have a conflict of interest on the matter.

Not that he is alone: Social Investigations has also pulled together information showing that over 70 MPs – and that’s without mentioning the peers – have similar potential conflicts of interest.

Wouldn’t you also wonder about this too?

There have been a number of situations that have occurred in the last few years where hospitals have seriously erred and patients have seriously suffered.

But staffing levels have been reduced and it’s hardly rocket science to say that in health care, there will be safe levels of staffing and unsafe ones. In the last few years, the posts of more than 5,000 nursing staff alone have disappeared. That is not conducive to safety.

Waiting times have increased; accident and emergency units are being strained to the limit – not least after the axing of the NHS Direct service and the 111 debacle that has followed.

Entire units are being downgraded or threatened with closure: the scheme, earlier this year, to close the A&E and maternity units to Lewisham Hospital in London, on the grounds that an entirely different hospital in a neighbouring borough was struggling financially, is just one illustration of the state of the fiddling that’s taking place.

In that case, when you add in the information that Lewisham is a Labour stronghold and the neighbouring borough is a Conservative one, it’s hard to escape the sense of a nasty smell in the air.

We seem to be headed back to the halcyon days of the last Conservative government, when elderly people were dying on trolleys in hospital corridors.

That’s not to pretend that the Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown do not have much to answer for.

The eager adoption of the PFI schemes first imagined by John Major’s government was always a recipe for disaster, based on short-termism and an apparent lack of any comprehension of the financial implications of what was being signed up to.

And Labour also continued and expanded the initial privatisation of the health service that had begun under Margaret Thatcher, when ‘soft services’ were put up for sale.

The result of that should have stood as a lesson for all: perhaps it is a coincidence, but after the numbers of hospital cleaners were halved in order for private companies to make any money from the service, there was a concomitant rise in the number of hospital-acquired infections such as c-diff and MRSA.

Which is a perfect illustration of the operational problems that privatisation and fragmentation of the service and workforce produces. If cleaners, for instance, are employed by a company that is outside of the health service itself, who do the staff answer to?

If the nurses on the ward want to call in a cleaner and have a job done – and done now – who do the cleaners answer to?

For some years, the trade union UNISON, which organises in the sector, has been calling for cleaning services to be brought back in house – and for a restoration of ward sisters who had both the responsibility for and the authority to organise cleaning as and when it was actually required on the basis of medical judgement.

Indeed, a few years ago, the union funded research, in a Glasgow hospital, to see what happened if a ward was returned to such a system, with proper numbers of cleaning staff. Rates of infection declined and costs went down at the same time. Report here.

Yet Labour continued down the same privatisation road, selling off the likes of NHS Logistics to parcel company DHL in 2006.

That was an award-winning arm of the health service that delivered everything from beds to bedpans. There was no business case and none was ever given - in spite of demands for one from unions and other campaigners.

None of this is to say that the NHS had or has no problems. It's a vast organisation, so of course it will.

But much of the media has been complicit in spreading the lie that it is failing on most counts, and failing to challenge the other lie that a privatised system such as that of the US is better.

Indeed, the US spends more per person on healthcare than the UK and has worse outcomes. And the reality of private health insurance there, where small-print - or even downright invisible print - can see people consigned, in effect, to poverty and/or death when serious conditions emerge, should warn anyone against following such a path.

But 30 years have seen the UK electorate sold the lie that private is always better than public – and even as we see fuel poverty rising, in part because of the massive rises charged for costs of domestic fuel by highly profitable private companies – the privatisation goes on, even without any massive debate over what it will offer the country as a whole and whether it will actually benefit the national economy.

And nor is it just the likes of the Royal Mail.

In Cambridgeshire, Hinchingbrooke Hospital was handed over to Circle, a private company, which has already had to go, cap in hand, to government for a loan of £3.5 million. Since when did private companies in a market economy get to beg government to bail them out if private is so much better than public?

Yet further hospitals could be headed in the same direction, including George Eliot in Nuneaton.

So yesterday’s protest, which passed outside the Conservative Party conference, was hardly a local story.

A BBC correspondent claimed, via social media, that it had been stopped from filming the demonstration outside the conference centre by security.

Conference security is being provided by G4S, which cocked up mightily last year when it was supposed to provide security for the Olympics, and the state had to sort out the mess, with soldiers drafted in at the last minute – in many cases, straight after tours of duty in places such as Afghanistan.

It’s also the same company that has, since then, been found (along with Serco) to have been overcharging the government (ie the taxpayer) for services in the justice sector.

One wonders why the Tories want such a dodgy company guarding them in the first place. But if the claim of that BBC correspondent is correct, and a private firm that has been awarded millions of pounds worth of contracts (in spite of dodgy or inadequate behaviour), and is unelected and unaccountable, is getting to help censor the news, then that causes another nasty smell to impinge on the nostrils.

Not that this excuses the BBC. G4S couldn’t stop them filming other parts of the demonstration or the rally that followed. And frankly, they should have tried to find some balls and film anyway – the roads around the conference centre are not private property – and see what G4S was going to try to do about it.

Because it would raise further points if a private company tried to start invoking anti-terrorism legislation to stop the filming of an entirely legal demonstration that was following its entirely legal and agreed route.

All of this is a mess – and not least because of the mess that is the UK’s mainstream news media at present, where any belief in the role of informing the populace has been subsumed by an agenda of pouring out uncritical propaganda for, by and large, the neo-liberal agenda.

And that in turn is why the present abject, cowering behaviour of the BBC is of equal concern.

Further reading

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The shock of the modern

Wheatfield and Cypresses; van Gogh
Art is addictive. After nine months in which I’ve probably visited more galleries and exhibitions than in any comparable period in my life, I now want the occasional dose.

On Friday evening, with three and a half hours between the end of my working day and the beginning of the play I had a ticket for that evening, I headed down to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square for a top up.

It’s huge gallery; so labyrinthine that a map is vital. The first time I visited was right at the beginning of the 1980s.

I was studying for an art ‘A’ level at the time, and I made a point of going to see Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, which had already become my favourite painting after studying it in class. Painted in 1434, the detail staggered me, together with the ‘joke’ of the artist reflecting himself in the mirror on the wall behind the couple.

It wasn’t that I only liked old pictures – I loved the sheer photographic gloss and perfection of photorealisim and hyperrealism – so for me, that picture was a 15th-century example of something as close to that as it was possible to be.

Sunflowers; van Gogh
Amazingly, there were so few visitors that day that I could actually get really close to it – close enough to marvel at the detail.

But elsewhere, there was a revelatory moment lying in wait. The Impressionists at their most chocolate boxy were always going to delight me, but what really took my breath away was van Gogh’s Sunflowers from 1888.

I didn’t like modern art. I simply couldn’t see – couldn’t ‘get’ – anything that was beyond the clearly and obviously figurative.

It’s probably hardly surprising then, that while I could draw impeccably, I had the devil’s own job of being able to take a drawing an develop it beyond the obvious and photographic.

And I’d thought little of the likes of van Gogh. But that day, I suddenly got a least a little bit of the sense of the texture and the colour.

I’ve loved the artist’s work since.

A few years ago, I did an Open University humanities foundation course. One of the sections concerned art, and included a documentary about a Jackson Pollock painting.

Girl on a Divan; Morisot
It used computers to strip away each layer of pain, illustrating that there was a balance to the work – that it wasn’t just random drizzles, and that each layer added something without which the final piece would not work.

It was a step forward in ‘getting’ modern art – at least the non-figurative variety.

Then, this summer, something struck me.

Memory had long suggested that we didn’t really study any modern art at school. But memory had been playing tricks.

Because I started to recall that, however such it was that I had forgotten that part of the course, the reality was that I had studied the Fauves – which presumably means Matisse. I remembered suddenly that I knew the word and had known it for decades, because and I had first heard it at school.

How extraordinary the human mind is.

I’m currently reading Matisse: The Life by Hilary Spurling – not least because that, when he gained the burst of energy or inspiration that, in effect, led to the creation of Fauvism, he was in Collioure.

Bathers at Asinères; Seurat
Looking at reproductions of some of the paintings – in particular, at Open Window, Collioure from 1905, and it was with a dawning of what he had been doing. Because now I saw the light and recognised it.

And then I started to see colour as I hadn’t before – to look at it for its own sake, if you will.

Maybe that’s the key: Like Matisse himself, in a way, I needed the revelation of the south.

Anyway, with the time to spend on Friday evening, I headed to the gallery, armed with the knowledge, gained from a search of the website, that it has one Matisse – Portrait of Greta Moll, which was painted in 1908.

However, in my enthusiasm, I’d missed the little link for ‘key facts’, which also revealed that it is “not on display”, and therefore spent some time trailing from room to room, double checking whether I’d somehow missed it.

Still Life with Mangoes; Gauguin
However, it was never intended as a visit for just a single picture, but one in which to return to the most modern works on display.

Speeding past the Canalettos and the Hogarths, I found myself in a large room with the Turners – something else I’d not given much consideration to in the past.

This time, I stopped and looked. And started to wonder why on Earth I’d always preferred Constable. You can see why the likes of Matisse felt they owned something to the former: they don’t appear to have found anything from the latter.

And then the Monets and the Manets. I’d had a substantial (if brief) dose of Manet at Easter, so appreciated them differently, and there was also a Berthe Morisot, Girl on a Divan, from 1885.

Hillside in Provence; Cézanne
Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, dated 1884, is one of the gallery’s most famous canvases.

It wasn’t actually a pointillist painting, since the artist hadn’t created that style when he painted this, but he did incorporate some dots into the picture.

I’d seen it previously, but never realised just what a luminous quality it has.

Paul Gauguin’s Still Life with Mangoes from 1891-96 was seemed to radiate with the same lessons about colour that I’m learning from Spurling’s book.

Of the Cézannes on display, Hillside in Provence (1890-92) is beautiful in it’s light and colour.

And again, looking at it anew, I could start to appreciate the breaking down of the painting style and the capturing of something different from the merely ‘photographic’.

Les Grandes Baigneuses (1894-1905) is a very different canvas, with the artist setting out to reinterpret he sort of nude in landscape that had been painted by Titian and many more.

Les Grandes Baigneuses; Cézanne
The gallery had acquired in 1964, but I don’t remember seeing it before, and it’s so striking – in terms of colour and composition: look how the eye is drawn.

You can also quite clearly see the link to Matisse here, in both the simple way in which the figures are conveyed and the use of colour.

And then there were the van Goghs – and what turned out to be two very special treats.

First, Two Crabs (1889) is on loan from a private collection – exactly the sort of reason to visit nearby galleries on a regular basis so that you catch such gems.

The colour is sumptuous, while the varied brush strokes used to convey the textures are fascinating.

And then, A Wheatfield with Cypresses from 1889.

Two Crabs; van Gogh
Now this has been on display for a long time – and I’ve seen it more than once before. But somehow, on Friday, the colours seemed to take on a new intensity and vibrance.

Sometimes, a painting is so famous that you possibly don’t even really see it in all its glory because you can’t see beyond its reputation.

And suddenly, this had a 'wow' factor about it, with its swirling, curvaceous quality, and its wonderful hues.

The moral of the story is that you can never stop learning or seeing anew.

There might also be a second moral – the chance to repeat the old saw that travel broadens the mind, not least when it comes to appreciating art.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Naughty language and wicked laughs

Sheila Hancock, Lee Evans and Keeley Hawes
“It’s the language of Shakespeare, you cunt!” exclaims a character early in Clive Exton’s Barking in Essex, and it’s a line that could provides a nice little snapshot of what this comedy is like.

Penned in 2005, two years before the writer’s death, this coarse and enjoyable crime farce has only now received a premiere, at the Wyndham’s Theatre, London.

Exton’s writing career had produced a remarkable variety of work, including the screenplay for the dark crime drama 10 Rillington Place, with Richard Attenborough as real-life murderer John Christie, to co-writing big Arnie sword and sorcery romp Red Sonja, to all 23 episodes of the Jeeves & Wooster TV series that started Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, plus 20 episodes of the David Suchet Poirot.

None of which would quite prepare you for this.

In essence – and without revealing any spoilers – a criminal family from Essex is awaiting the release from prison of one of their number.

However, where he’ll be expecting to enjoy his multi-million pound share of the robbery that saw him incarcerated, his family is expecting trouble, since his mother and sister-in-law have already spent it.

And nobody imagines that he will react to such news in a way that doesn’t involve fatal violence.

Thus the scene is set for the farce that follows.

It’s a feather-light piece, but short and with some funny dialogue that, in the hands of a super cast, crackles.

Sheila Hancock as Ellie Packer, the matriarch of the family, is simply a joy to behold, apparently relishing both the chance to play such an utterly immoral character and deploy the colourful language that is not gratuitous, but a natural part of the rhythm of the piece.

This is, after all, a sort of Only Fools and Horses meets The Sopranos, but there is, at the theatre, a warning about the language.

Alongside Hancock is Lee Evans as Darnley Packer, her somewhat intellectually challenged son.

It’s a role that’s perfectly suited for such a physical comic as Evans, who can actually play straighter than required here (see the very charming 1995 film Funny Bones).

But here, Evans’s well-known comedy style is perfectly suited to the piece.

Karl Johnson as ageing hit man and family friend Rocco, and Keeley Hawes as Chrissie, the orange-tanned wife of Darnley, are also perfect in their roles.

Lightweight it might be, but it’s got some clever little plot twists that you won’t have guessed at, and the ending is smart.

The character observation is good and the language, even if offends some people, is realistic.

Director Harry Burton keeps it all going at a nice pace, and Simon Higlett’s set, particularly in the first half, is an absolute delight of tastelessness – the zebra-stripe curtains being a perfect example.

Not for those with tender ears, but a good fun evening otherwise.

And oh boy, I’d love to think I could be like Hancock if I reach 80.

Note: for those outside the UK, Barking is both a place in Essex, not far from London, and also a slang term for ‘mad’.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The great scampi and chips robbery

No colour manipulation – just pale food
Ok: how hard can it be? How difficult is it to make fish and chips that are halfway decent?

Today was one of those days when I required a somewhat more substantial lunch than usual so, after a week in which I’ve been disciplined enough to bring fodder in to work, I set out in search of somewhere to go and eat.

Now let’s be frank. I haven’t eaten at the North Sea Fish Restaurant for some time – well, at least three years.

I am well aware that it is far from stunning, but it usually manages to be adequate, particularly when judged within the context of the apparent inability to make decent fish and chips 'darn sarf'.

Today, I went along there because I also had a lunchtime errant to run, to a business that was just a couple of doors further along the road, so fish and chips made perfect sense.

I ordered my old usual of the Scotch scampi, not least because the fish is usually so vast that it threatens to drop off the plate, which in turn means that it’s way too big a portion for me.

So, scampi and chips, with mushy peas and a diet Coke.

I also appreciate that the scampi will have come out of the freezer, as will the chips.

In other words, I’m not expecting an haute cuisine experience.

The restaurant boasts about its homemade tartare sauce. Frankly, it would better if they invested in a machine that cut proper chips, because the ones that arrived for me were dire.

Pale, little more than lukewarm and almost rock solid. Or pretty much inedible, as it might otherwise be known. They could hardly be further from a real, proper chip.

The first few scampi were as pale, but tasted okay, but rapidly descended into the rather chewy state.

The mushy peas, having presumably come out of a tin and been warmed in the microwave, was the warmest part of the meal, while the Coke was barely cold, even with ice in the glass.

The tartare sauce is decent, but it does not compensate for everything else.

And why, oh why, go to the bother of making tartare sauce if you can’t be arsed with making much effort with anything else?

For goodness sake, it’s not difficult.

You cut chips to about the size of a thumb and soak them in water for a bit. Dry them off and then fry them twice in something decent, like dripping.

Which is cheap, natural, cooks at a high temperature without burning and becoming carcinogenic, gives a great colour to chips – and battered fish – and a good taste too.

'Once you've eaten here, you'll the English even madder'
It’s all very well saying that I didn’t expect much, but this was worse than memory had led me to expect.

And nor was it cheap, rolling in for that luxury nosh up at a grand total of £15.85. Yes: you read that right. For frozen chips and scampi, mushy peas and a soft drink.

There was no point in complaining – and I really didn’t have time – but it was also clear that increasingly, the place is marketing itself to tourists.

The rather scuffed table mats, which have changed since my last visit, make a point of explaining cod to visiting furriners, as well as noting that it is used in traditional fish and chips, with "chunky chips" and mushy peas. I leave you to look at the picture at the top of this post and say whether those chips are "chunky" or not.

Two pairs of tourists were there when I was. It used to be quite busy on a Friday lunchtime, but it wasn’t even half full today. I wonder if some of the old regulars – local workers – are now staying away?

Mind, the two staff on duty – neither of them young – didn't seem particularly interested.

I found myself dreading to imagine what those visitors thought of something that was being sold to them as indicative of our culinary heritage.

Now in fairness to the restaurant, a work acquaintance was entering as I left, and later reported that her scampi and chips was enjoyable. So perhaps I was particularly unlucky.

Fish and chips (or scampi and chips), done properly, is a thing of great joy. It’s not complex. It doesn't take long to prepare; it's quick to cook.

But this, I’m afraid, wasn’t even halfway decent, and at nearly 16 quid, it’s not out of order to expect basic decency on your plate.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Gary Owen put his arm around my shoulder

Gary Owen and me. Maine Road, 1979
I used to love this time of year – I mean, I don’t hate it now, but I used to really love it: perhaps more than any other. The end of August and the start of September brought with it the start of the football season and the start of the school.

Add to that that harvest was always my favourite time in the religious calendar (closet pagan that I obviously was).

But in terms of the new term, that was not because I was some sort of dreadful swot – I wasn’t – but in essence, because by the end of six weeks, I was simply lonely.

Mossley was wonderful in many, many ways, but when we moved there, fellow pupils at my new primary school had already had four years to establish friendships - many of which would already have been formed before they even started school - and when I went to Fairfield, I was the only one from that same primary school, it was two bus rides away and I lived nowhere near nobody anyone in my class.

And in footballing terms, for many years, close seasons were also a quiet time.

Manchester City, so often a laughing stock during a season, were rarely worth much gossip outside of it.

It has been part of the strange new world of winning football’s lottery that we’re now rarely out of the media, whether it’s genuine news about the club, speculation masquerading as news or just gossip.

The last of which brings to mind a very northern vision of gossip - and one that, in theory, I'm far too young to have: Norman Evans doing 'over the garden wall'.

Okay, so Les Dawson didn't invent it, but Evans, a comic right from the music hall tradition, should be way beyond my own memories. He is - but like many who grew up with parents who had lived through the war, the cultural memories were handed down just as much as the stories of, in my immediate family's case, the bombing of Liverpool and Plymouth.

I could mimic Evans before I eventually saw footage of him.

Mine, I think, was a generation caught between worlds: that of the pre-war, in which my parents grew up, and then the sixties and seventies, in which we grew up. A muddled collision of two very different worlds, split by such a short time historically, yet changed out of all recognition by the events that took place within that timeframe.

I offer a single, but very different cultural illustration.

City even invaded my art studies. Niall Quinn
Take Hollywood. Take The Maltese Falcon from 1941. And then take The Big Sleep from 1946. Just five years divide them, yet one remains modern and the other seems dated. They seems to be worlds apart.

My parents, like many others, I'm sure, struggled with these changes – certainly with the moral/ethical ones.

In many ways, I've long felt that I was brought up in a sort of time bubble: it was often really rather 1930s.

My father used to quite openly declare that he wanted a son, but that as a tomboy, I was the next best thing.

When it came to football, I discovered and adopted it all on my own and in spite of my earliest memories of the game, where my father was screaming at the TV set while England were playing (particularly against West Germany).

Rather perversely, although he had – and still essentially has – a very conservative attitude toward women, he seemed to welcome my interest, and bought me football cards and comics, albeit drawing the line at actually taking me to any matches.

My mother, herself every bit as much a traditionalist in terms of what a woman’s role should be – and arguably more so – remains a cricket and Rugby League fan. But somehow football was beyond that – not least as I tried to play at every possible opportunity.

For some years, I was only allowed to go and watch Mossley AFC – the realisation dawned years later that my father had his personal Stasi on duty wherever I went (or parishioners, as they’re sometimes known) and besides, Seal Park was only just behind our house.

In those lonely summer holidays, I’d spend hours bashing a ball against the garage door, lost in a world where I was scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final, until my distracted mother would come out and tell me to stop making such a noise.

Mind, come Wimbledon, I’d thrash a tennis ball against a wall and imagine victory in south London.

I was, in other words, sportily inclined, and also somewhat competitive.

For all the attempts to bring me up as a delicate and refined example of the female species, my genes seemed to scream something rather different.

Eventually, in 1979, I was permitted to go to A Real Match.

My parents had taken me to cricket at the real Old Trafford – I have seen Gary Sobers play – but much as I liked and still do like cricket, it made no odds to my blossoming love of the round-ball game, and I had continued to nag.

The Real Match in question was a rearranged fixture at the end of the 1979 season. In other words, it was one of the last opportunities for me to go to Maine Road before we were due to move away from the area.

In retrospect, I rather think this impending move featured in parental calculations.

Since it was rearranged, it took place in midweek. I went with Dorothy Edwards, whose own parents allowed her to go on a regular basis. My envy knew no bounds.

We got there early. My school tie was slightly pulled down – the very limits of rebellious behaviour for me at the time – and I had my school bag slung around me. The photographs make me look far younger (to my middle-aged eyes) than the 16 and a half that I actually was.

With Kaziu Deyna at Maine Road, 1979
I bought a few postcard photos of some of the team in the club shop (a portacabin) and then we went to wait outside the players’ carpark. There, I got several of the pictures autographed, and Dorothy took two photographs of me with players: Kazimierz Deyna and Gary Owen.

Deyna was the Polish World Cup captain at the time and a quality midfield player. Because of injury, he only made 38 appearances for City, scoring 12 goals. I saw two of them that night – even though we lost 3-2 to visitors Aston Villa.

Owen was one of our homegrown young stars. He was also the only player that I ever had a crush on – my footballing priorities were never about sex.

I look gauche as all hell on the pictures. In one sense, I hate them. But I also love them too, because in this very new world for Manchester City fans, they're evidence that I am not a bandwagon jumper.

More evidence can be found in a ring I still have – a Christmas present from Fairfield friends Susan Prince and, I think, Kay Grimshaw. It was a typical 1970s stainless still job, with an enamelled crest on top.

Some years ago, I was travelling north to a game and was offered a tenner for it by a fellow passenger. No way. Even if I was broke, that's a sentimental item I’d hate to be parted from.

It was also on a finger the day we won the title in May 2012. It was on my hand again last Sunday, when we handed out a serious thrashing to Manchester United that left me, once again, without much of a voice. Four goals = four screams = half a voice left.

Oh City, City, City: how can I explain my love for you? A love that has, over the years, been so often tested by the most dismal performances; by an unparalleled ability to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory; by off-pitch shenanigans; by farce masquerading as tragedy.

I recall a midweek League Cup game at Anfield when we lost 6-0, followed by a Saturday league match at Maine Road, just days later and also against Liverpool, when we lost 4-0.

“Alan Ball’s a football genius!” we sang at the then coach, who eventually emerged from the dug out to rather drily applaud.

And “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll score again some sunny day.”

Or at Bramall Lane for a fixture against Sheffield United, with the Blades fans chanting: “We hate Wednesday, we hate Wednesday,” to which our retort was: “We hate Saturday, we hate Saturday”.

Yet in May 1999, I came away from Wembley in the full and certain knowledge that that afternoon’s win against Gillingham in the Division II play-off final had been one of the greatest days in my life.

A word here, though, for the Gills fans, who were superb that day and well into a somewhat drunken evening.

And that’s without going over the story of 13 May 2012 when we won the title in extra time, in the kost dramatic fashion possible, and were crowned England’s champions for the first time in 44 years.

Another sketch. Tony Coton this time
In a nomadic life, City has, since I was around 13 or 14, remained a constant. Often a constant misery, a constant disappointment – but a constant nonetheless.

And these days, it is no longer quite like that.

On Sunday, I took the train to Manchester for the game against Salford United.

I was the first home game this season that I could get to.

And it was a wonder. If the 6-1 at The Swamp two years ago is already legend, this may well end up being even more so. Because while that certainly owed something to flukishness, with one of their side sent off with almost half the game to go, and many of our goals coming on the counter, this did not.

At 4-1, the scoreline might not have seemed as dramatic, but the performance was arguably much more so.

It was sandwiched between a Champions’ League away win in the Czech Republic (3-0) and a 5-0 drubbing of Wigan, who, only a few months ago, were much the better team on the day when they beat us 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley.

I’m no mathematician, but three games, 12 goals for and just one against is looking pretty good. The big, BIG test will come next week, when we face reigning champions Bayern München in the Champions’ League.

But hell – we’re IN the Champions’ League! And that is sort of match we all dreamed of for years.

We might have started the season in an mixed fashion, as new coach Manuel Pellegrini got his feet properly under the table and then faced some crucial injuries, but in the last week, we seem to have been on fire.

The Engineer is doing well: with Kompany and Nastasic back, central defence is solid, meaning that Yaya Touré can move further forward.

Indeed, Pellegrini’s decision to switch Yaya with Fernandinho, leaving the Brazilian further back, looked superb on Sunday.

Kolarov, who is unquestionably good in attack, even looked the part in defence at the weekend, and Clichy is now fit again.

Džeko is looking revitalised by a coach who, by all accounts, doesn’t work on the basis of hairdryers, grand funks, not talking to anyone or only talking to the press.

Oh, and before you think otherwise, I still love Roberto, but just understand that he had taken us as far as he could.

Football – I love you. Even though I wasn’t supposed to.

And City: one of the few constants in my life, I love you too. It may not be the case, but I do suspect that, if you cut me, I’d bleed blue.

And there’s very little that could better the catharsis of that day in May 2012. Or last Sunday.