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Merry Christmas from MTMG

Posted on 24 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

Wishing you all warm fires, an unlimited supply of good wine and food, and whatever it is for you that would make all this splendid and memorable. Thank you for your superb company in 2010.

Here comes 2011. Brace, brace, brace!

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Apollo 11 and a Football Pitch

Posted on 12 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

Apollo 11 Astronaut Routes Superimposed on Football Pitch

You might remember this map – showing the walking routes of the Apollo 11 astronauts superimposed onto a standard-sized football pitch. On MTMG previously

The original map is actually taken from one of NASA’s own excellent sites – here – but still everyone treated it as something of a joke.

Not so. Astonishingly, this turns out to have been deliberate. You might want to reimagine the pitch with gridiron markings – or not, as NASA was laced through with Germans, Brits and other footballing nations (a thriving USA footballing culture was felled by the 1929 Crash, and wouldn’t get back onto its feet until a few years after Tranquility Base).

Not only deliberate – but it yields one of those occasional stories of blogging serendipity, perhaps the best one ever. Robert Krulwich had written about Apollo 11, wondering why the astronauts hadn’t ventured further than about 90 yards from the lander.  He used the map above in his post, and another which superimposed the astronauts’ routes onto a baseball pitch (which is worth a look: the fit is eerily close).

Neil Armstrong wrote to him the next day, at length, to explain. Well, beat that!

Dear Mr. Krulwich

I was delighted to read your December 7 column on the the Apollo 11 lunar surface traverses, The NASA maps do accurately portray the locations of the pathways used to complete the myriad of tasks we were assigned. And, although I have not checked, I believe the comparison with the size of athletic fields is reasonably accurate.

You asked: “Who knew?”

The answer to that question is: Just about anyone who had any interest in learning the answer. The plan for the lunar surface work was widely distributed and we even did a full dress rehearsal for the press at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Read the rest. My interpretation of it is this: the astronauts, many of them fine high school athletes in their day, would have possessed an instinctive feel for the confines of football and baseball pitches. Distance was very hard to calculate by sight on the moon – dangerously so on later missions which went further – and so, one way or another, NASA took deliberate, conscious advantage of that inbuilt “feel” for the 50 yard, 100 yard lengths that players take from football, rugby, American football or baseball.

This is the first age in human history to have, in football and in space travel, two things more exciting than war. It’s a good thing, and delightful – in that very English sense – to see them come together like this.

Of course, the first sport to be played in space was not football – although Apollo 11 counts as the first pitch inspection to take place away from Earth. Golfer Alan Shepherd, playing with partner Edgar Mitchell, was superbly first on Apollo 14, and look at this way: at least they were quorate, even if the greens, had they reached them, would have been less than satisfactory.

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James Elsewhere

Posted on 15 September 2010 by JamesHamilton

Dabbler-3logo

I’ll be writing some short pieces for new cultural group blog The Dabbler – the first, which tracks the declining intelligence of English football managers, is here.

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Good News

Posted on 31 July 2010 by JamesHamilton

We arrived home in Edinburgh tonight to find the letter from the Home Office on the mat. My wife’s application for British citizenship has been accepted.

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A Sport Blogger’s Reading Habits

Posted on 07 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

A Sport Blogger at His Desk (Shorpy.com)

These are my answers to a fairly random and unserious set of questions, culled from Norm and Tiberius Gracchus. I can’t help thinking that they are most aimed at exactly the kind of reader that I hate most of all – you’ll see what I mean. Nevertheless I’d be very interested to hear your own answers, or answers to whichever of the questions you find interesting, in comments.

Private habits can be revealing. I’m not sure that this particular private habit is. But I’ve done my best.

Do you snack while reading? > It’s more that I don’t really snack per se, but even if I did, most of the books I find myself reading are too large or too delicate or too heavy to leave me a spare hand. I’m one of those people who tries to avoid splitting paperback spines – a hangover from an admired teacher’s advice in primary school – and that’s not something you can do with one hand. (If I’m going to be using a particular paperback heavily, I won’t put off the inevitable – that book gets properly roughed up early on, just to get it over with).

What is your favourite drink while reading? > Coffee, or Coop orange squash in the evenings. I’m not really a pub reader: pubs are for talk, music, friends and people-watching, and anyway, I prefer wine bars. I did get through a Wordsworth £1 “Middlemarch” and a four-pack of Flowers Best Bitter at the same time once, on an overnight ferry to Dieppe. It was as unglamorous as it sounds.

Do you tend to mark your books while you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? > I worked in libraries for years and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I have one or two friends who are superb self-footnoters of books (I remember a Louis MacNiece Selected and Lyndall Gordon’s biog of Virginia Woolf which had been made much better for the same person’s pencilled attentions, and then there are the fabled Amis/Larkin scrawls from the 1940s), but in general I’d associate writing in books with nutters and the green ink brigade.

How do you keep your place? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book open flat? > I keep torn paper slips in a bulldog clip on my desk. Over time I must have owned at least a dozen souvenir leather bookmarks, but they were all gifts and I can’t remember ever having used one in anger. Library call slips are probably the authentic solution, if one exists. But in all truth, unless it’s research and I’m juggling 15-20 books, journals and papers at once, finding my place just isn’t a problem and never has been.

Fiction, non-fiction or both? > Almost entirely non-fiction. Obviously, a lot of non-fiction reading has gone into More Than Mind Games, but my reading’s always been that way. It’s more likely to be poetry than fiction (I follow modern poetry – including journals etc and most of the Bloodaxe/Carcenet/&c. output as it comes out – but poetry I re-read is unlikely to be any later than “High Windows“). Although I buy and read hardback fiction from time to time – most recently Martin Amis’ superb Pregnant Widow – I’ve a gut dislike for the kind of book-lover who reads mostly fiction, “loves books”, jokes lamely about e-readers not catching on, thinks that because they live amidst piles of rotting, unsorted volumes that they are the salt of the earth, the last of a breed, and isn’t it terrible about Iraq?

Do you tend to read to the end of a chapter or can you stop anywhere? > This isn’t really a non-fiction sort of question, is it? Whether or not it stems from my having read Tony Buzan in the ’80s, but I read books backwards, or from the index, or “first and last chapters”, or picture credits first, or jumping in at random, as often as I’ll go straightforwardly from front to back.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you? > I have thrown books. David Winner’s “Those Feet” was the last one to get it, a real shoulder-and-elbow job – brought on by his snide, stupid and ill-informed chapter on “Sexy Football”. It’s not a bad book, really – but it is stupid to judge Victorian sexual mores as if Kinnaird and company had penicillin and the pill.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away? > Without being unbearable about it, I don’t really come across unfamiliar words any more. But I do come across words that I’m interested in, and I’ve reference works and a good ISP, so yes, I will stop. The word “fan” is an americanism, for instance, but “soccer” isn’t – it’s been borrowed there and forgotten here. “Fan”, like the idea of a league structure, has its roots in 1860s American baseball.

What are you currently reading? > “The Thirties: an Intimate History” by Juliet Gardiner, “England Expects: a history of the England Football Team” by James Corbett, “Blood, Iron and Gold” by Christian Wolmar, “Does God Hate Women” by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, “Towards the Light: the story of the struggles for liberty and rights that made the modern west” by A.C.Grayling, and “Eleven Minutes Late” by Matthew Engel.

What is the last book you bought? > Jonathan Miller’s “States of Mind: Conversations with Psychological Investigators“, found in a Stockbridge charity shop. Raeburn Place in Edinburgh must be one of the best remaining “strips” in the UK for non-fiction second-hand books. I’ve a first edition Kipling that I found in Shelter. Its late-Victorian first owner bowdlerized Gunga Din with spectacular style and humour: Kipling’s later poems are written out in the same hand and pasted in, but there’s been a change of heart, and they’re left unintefered with.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read? > On long-distance trains, late at night. Something about looking up from Gunther Grass to find you’re doing 180mph and heading for Berlin. But I tend to do most of my reading of whatever kind on a bed with the books spread around me, pens, notebooks, paper and laptop at hand, Radio 5 on in the background and, ideally, hot afternoon sun seeping through the curtains.

Do you prefer series books or stand-alones? > Eh? Is this something to do with fiction? If it is, I don’t want to know.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over? > It used to be “Lucky Jim” by Kingsley Amis and “Right Ho, Jeeves” by Yer Man. But this is the Golden Age of science and sport writing, and could claim to be one for history: there is too much out there at the moment to focus down on just one or two writers. For practical, running-your-life purposes, David Allen’s commonsensical but revelatory “Getting Things Done” has saved my life on more than one occasion.

How do you organize your books (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)? > By collections. Antiquarian, Amis/Larkin books and papers, Sport,Psychology, Fine Art, History, Poetry, Reference, Oversize, Bound Serials etc. on a series of mission-style folding bookcases. I keep past notebooks (mix of Moleskines, Rhodias, Filofax pages and latterly BlacknReds), accounting/finance books and the 1912 Boy’s Own Book of Outdoor Sports and Games in my office. In the bathroom, Wodehouse, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Stephen Fry. There’s a shelf of cookery in the hall. My wife keeps 4-5 shelves of working material for her research, and we’ve a cupboard of boxfiled ephemera (some of it real ephemera, most of it maps and guidebooks). We’re hoping to have everything catalogued on Librarything by the end of the year. Both of us spent 10+ years working in libraries – good places to develop a grouch against the sandal-wearing brigade who love libraries and think they’re terribly important (once something’s become THAT, it’s doomed for sure) – but, like restaurant kitchens, libraries aren’t bad places to pick up a kind of discipline around certain things.

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James Elsewhere: Aston Villa v Chelsea

Posted on 09 April 2010 by JamesHamilton

I spoke to Chris Bevan of BBC Online yesterday about the prospects for Aston Villa v Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup Semi-Final.

Context gives the game unusual interest. Only two weeks ago, Chelsea thumped Villa 7-1.

Scores of that magnitude just don’t happen to top-four candidates like Villa. Just about every other instance of a seven or more goal haul has featured a title candidate against a relegation certainty. Nor do scores of that kind happen to Martin O’Neill. It’s not what being Martin O’Neill is all about – nor is it what employing Martin O’Neill is all about. You can get 7-1 by employing more or less any manager you choose: you bring in O’Neill to prevent it.

What’s more, the game is unusually important for both clubs. Villa really do need to reach Europe directly this season, in order to demonstrate the real on-field progress they have made in the last two years. The top four might be too much, but the FA Cup could be just 180 minutes away. Villa lost at Wembley in the Carling Cup Final, and the players will be desperate to get back. But Chelsea will want to win the double to make up for both the humiliation of Champions League defeat to Jose Mourinho at Inter, and the FA Cup is now every bit as important to the blues players, now on a huge roll, as it is to Villa.

Chris’s post pulls in opinion on the game from far and wide, and includes my views on what options Martin O’Neill is left with against Chelsea. You can read the whole thing here.

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Brain Tumours and Sport

Posted on 04 January 2010 by JamesHamilton

John Hartson

This post is in memory of Willie Logan, supporter of both our friends Dunfermline Athletic and our charity Brain Tumour Action. Willie died in 2009 at the age of 45, two years after his own brain tumour was diagnosed. He leaves his wife, Karen, and son, Ewan, and a host of others who miss him greatly.

You’ll know the names and the stories. John Hartson, whose testicular cancer spread to his lungs and brain. Seve Ballesteros, who underwent multiple neurosurgeries in 2008 for an oligoastrocytoma. Kirsty Taylor, the European Womens Tour golfer, who spent the same year fighting a tumour that just seemd to become ever more serious.

It’s likely that what you’ve read about them has followed the classic style of every celebrity cancer story in the media: diagnosis is followed by the very latest treatment, and then there’s recovery: the famous patient thanks their supporters, pledges to “fight this thing” and cues a host of sporting metaphors about difficult rounds and a full ninety minutes.

Most of my work for the last year has been for the charity Brain Tumour Action and I can confirm what you’ll already have guessed: behind the scenes, things are very different from their press portrayal.

Brain Tumour Action exists to support patients and their families, to fund research, and to provide information and education about brain tumours. We’re nearly 20 years old, but the needs we seek to fill are as desperate as when we started. Let me explain.

Brain Tumours at ground level

Before I began my work with the charity, I believed what most people with no direct connection to brain tumours believe. It’s a cancer, which is bad, but there are new treatments and things are much better than they used to be. You’ll have an op, or perhaps a series of them, then what’s left will get cleared up with a bit of radiotherapy and chemo and good luck.

For sure, survival rates are substantially higher than they were forty years ago when President Nixon declared war on cancer. Even the truly wicked cancers that creep up on their victims, like lung cancer, which can be undetectable until it’s almost too late, are no longer just death sentences.

These days, the average 5-year survival rate across all the cancers hovers at about 50%. However, forty years ago, 5-year survival rates for brain tumours stood at about 10-12%. In all that time, we’ve hardly made it to first base. It’s about 12% now for men, and for women, 15%.

The big dark evil elephant in the room

In the brain tumours world, in the brain tumours “scene” if you will, we tend not to dwell on this. That’s not because of positive thinking, or because people think that they’ll fool their cells into healing with a smile. Nor is it because people regard their brain tumour as a “gift” that has opened them up to truth and life. We don’t dwell on it, because it’s the big dark evil elephant in the room.  Every patient wakes up each morning to a forcible reminder of impending mortality. They know. And that’s enough of that.

So it won’t be dwelt upon at length in our newsletters or on our websites. Instead, you’ll find the upbeat stories, the successes, the overcomings of adversity. These aren’t propaganda. People do win the little victories against meaningless, against the cruelty and randomness of what is, so very specifically, their fate. But it can be worse than 12% and 15%..

The survival rate of GBM IV, one of the worst malignant types of brain tumour you can get, is at around 4% after five years. And five years isn’t some kind of finishing post which you get past and then relax in a silver dressing gown. It’s just the standard measure. Brain tumours recur, and can recur at any time in the future. Brain Tumour Action‘s former patron, the late and much missed Fife MP Rachel Squire, died after her tumour returned for a third time.

Grim reality

This means that the stories that don’t make the web or the newsletters or the tabloid press are grim ones. There’s the man with a new GBM IV diagnosis, whom I sat beside during the presentation on GBM survival rates that first brought home what really lay ahead of him. There’s the young women whose  tumour is inoperable but slow growing, who “lives life” with gusto now but is who always “waiting” and who “can’t believe when I wake up every morning that I won’t grow old.” There’s the once brilliant professional man, ten years on, whose personality changed totally after his treatment, or the teenager whose operation saved him for a life in a wheelchair, his face hanging limply down on one side. There’s the nurse who, having treated many patients with tumours herself, was diagnosed with five of her own, and knows all too much about what she is in for. Then there are the people whose lives are sustained by a “shunt”, a plastic pipe relieving fluid pressure on their brains, a pipe that can block at any time without warning.

Fortunately, brain tumours are rare cancers. But that scarcity can present problems with diagnosis: the average GP may only see one every seven years. Bad, late or wrong diagnoses are a common topic on our discussion board. But they are not so rare, as a proportion of cancers or as a problem, as they once were.The facts may surprise you. Here they are:

What you need to know about brain tumours:

  1. Brain tumours are now the biggest cause of death from cancer amongst children. They are a bigger child killer than leukaemia.
  2. Brain tumours are the biggest cause of death from cancer amongst adults under the age of 40.
  3. 25% of all cancers now spread to the brain.
  4. Brain tumours receive a disproportionately low level of research funding – less than £1m per year in the UK, compared to leukaemia’s £14m.

The problems we face

  1. Brain tumours are very hard to diagnose. A scan alone is usually insufficient. A biopsy – in which a slice of your brain is removed for examination – is often necessary. That, of course, comes with its own consequences.
  2. The quality of treatment and aftercare varies dramatically across the UK. Edinburgh is, relatively speaking, a good place to be diagnosed with a brain tumour, thanks to a concentration of focussed, dedicated people in the local NHS, and the work of charities like Brain Tumour Action and Maggie’s Centres. So is Birmingham, thanks to people like the brilliant surgeon Garth Cruickshank. Other areas are less well served. This must change.
  3. Aftercare needs are deep and complex. For instance, there is the transition a child patient makes from paediatric care into adult wards: the teenage years for patients with brain tumours are fraught ones. Patients may need alterations to their home, or help with getting around. Getting a job or a career underway after treatment is hard: the chances are that, during treatment, your financial situation fell away around you – many patients lose their home.
  4. Because brain tumours are rare cancers, it can be hard for helping agencies like Brain Tumour Action to make contact with people who are spread thinly and living quietly across small towns and villages. Patients still in treatment will probably have to travel many miles from home to receive it.
  5. Brain tumours are rare cancers, but there are more than 120 varieties. Furthermore, GBM (glioblastoma multiforme) is, in effect, many different kinds of cancer at once. You can imagine how hard that makes even what limited treatment is available.

We don’t know the causes

There is very little solid information about the causes of brain tumours. Indeed, their very scarcity might mean that there are no specific causes and that they are the consequence of random genetic mutation. There is no good evidence to link brain tumours with mobile phone use, overhead power lines or local geographical factors. There is a faint correlation between instance of brain tumours and employment as a firefighter, and suggestions of similar links in the cases of some chemical workers and nuclear energy workers. It is known that chronic immunosuppression can be involved with primary CNS lymphomas, and that cranial radiotherapy can be linked – cruelly, as it’s a treatment, of course – to gliomas and meningiomas. But, for the most part, we just don’t know.

Brain Tumours and Sport

It’s only limited comfort to John, or Kirsty, or Seve, that their cases have done a little bit to improve public knowledge of brain tumours. Improved public knowledge, above all else, is key to obtaining political support to fund research into improved treatment and care for this neglected area. I’ve been throwing what weight I have behind the new Seve Ballesteros Foundation for this reason. The Foundation, like Brain Tumour Action, raises funds for research, and is a partner of Cancer Research UK. That Seve has been able to get this up and running whilst seriously and debilitatingly ill says everything about the man (and I can confirm that he is constantly, heavily involved in everything it does).The opportunities his involvement has opened up are extremely exciting. He might represent a kind of breakthrough for people who have spent years fighting unsuccessfully for public and political attention.

He’s not the only golfer involved. Brain Tumour Action are organising a golf-centred day in autumn 2010 with the assistance of committed Rotarian players from St Andrews. Other sportspeople are on board with us. We’ve had a lot of help from the good people at Dunfermline Athletic.  Zuku.com, the people behind the Soccer Pro nutritional supplement, have come forward. And then there’s the host of cyclists, runners and swimmers who have used their sport to get people behind our cause over the last few years.

How you can help

Getting involved with brain tumours in 2010 is like getting involved with cancer research in 1970: you will be in at the beginning. Almost everything that needs to be done remains to be done. If you like pioneer territory, here it is. Furthermore if you want to experience charitable work at a high, policy and decision-making level, this is a good place to start, as the field is largely one of small, cooperative groups rather than one huge faceless body. You can start a voluntary sector career here if you wish.

Here are some straightforward things you can do that will make a difference:

  1. If you are a blogger, or use Twitter or Facebook, please consider a link to this post and to www.braintumouraction.org.uk if that would fall within your chosen remit.
  2. If you are a journalist, and would like to write about brain tumours, email me at james@braintumouraction.org.uk
  3. If you are a friend or relative of a patient, then let them know about Brain Tumour Action. We are here to help them when they need it, at the times of their choosing.
  4. If you are experienced in political lobbying, and would like to volunteer your experience to us, email me at james@braintumouraction.org.uk
  5. If you’d like to help us to increase public knowledge about this issue in your local area, email me at james@braintumouraction.org.uk
  6. If you’d like to raise funds for us, email me at james@braintumouraction.org.uk
  7. If you are an Edinburgh resident with strong graphic design skills and would like to bolster your portfolio by volunteering with us, we’d like to see your CV!

And thank you, everyone, for reading.

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Merry Christmas!

Posted on 25 December 2009 by JamesHamilton

Merry Christmas, everyone, and two contrasting, non-sporting things for you today:

A message to the Empire from King George V:

And an Irish folksong. It’s not about the words – which we’ve had before – it’s about the accent. After 15 months in Scotland of bringing conversation to a halt every time I open my mouth, it’s my turn to laugh at someone else’s voice:

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Euston Manifesto

Posted on 13 April 2006 by JamesHamilton

Today, 13Apr06, we — bloggers, academics, campaigners, writers, scientists, journalists, citizens — launch the Euston Manifesto. With this document we hope to publicly assert our progressive, democratic, egalitarian, internationalist principles in the face of recent attacks upon them from the Right and, to our dismay, the Left.

Many of us are of the Left, but we come from across the range of political positions. We are not founding a political party. There were differences amongst us over Western military intervention in Iraq. Our declaration is not definitive, final, or perfect; it is, we hope, the beginning of a renewed debate, grounded in a common set of progressive values. You can read and sign the document at our Website where donations towards our costs are also welcome.

Comments are closed on this announcement alone because that is all this post is: an announcement. We simply want to launch this movement in a co-ordinated way and make sure there is time for people to understand exactly what we stand for before criticising it. We welcome discussion of the Euston Manifesto across blogs, in the media, and in the public world and intend that the Euston Manifesto Group, the organisation founded upon the manifesto’s principles, will promote such debate by organising meetings, sponsoring seminars, and publishing ideas.

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