Row Z edition 82; dateline 11 December 2013

With Sideliner recovering following a long-overdue splenectomy, diary duties have fallen to a stalwart of the leisure industry who, having seen it all over a long period at the very heart of all things chlorine-related, was dragged willingly towards the Row Z biro to take up the cause of telling truth to power. Or something.

● Word from the mean streets of Europe is that German authorities developing a “Nazi Shazam”, a phone app that police will be able to use to identify neo-Nazi songs. Given the UK government’s taste for information-gathering and the repression of long-established freedoms of movement, assembly and speech, the Home Office will no doubt be looking on with feverish excitement. It may well be time for readers of The Leisure Review to put those Billy Bragg albums at the back of the shelf just in case Inspector Knacker comes calling with his iPhone and truncheon at the ready.

● Who wanted to be The Leisure Review’s 500th follower was the timely but undeniably solipsistic question and in a Sunday-night shootout among people old enough to know better our winner was @planetchampion. We offer many thanks for indulging us and an appropriate prize will wing its way to the victor when we’ve thought of something appropriate for an academic dedicated to “designing and implementing complex systems”. Currently we think it may have to be a copy of Eli Goldratt’s The Goal with a covering note asking whether it might not be more sensible to design simple solutions to apparently complex problems rather than the other way round.

● Joy unconfined at the news that Hull is to be the 2017 UK capital of culture. We have not been able to find anyone in TLR Towers who has been to Hull so we are not well positioned to comment on the city’s charms but one thing is certainly in its favour. Unlike Derry-Londonderry, it only has one name, which should make the job of the graphic designer slightly easier and the printing a tiny bit cheaper.

● Francis Bacon’s 1969 work Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold recently in New York for $142 million (£89m) to become the most expensive painting ever sold. This is good news for Oxford Ashmolean, which is hosting an exhibition of Bacon and Moore. A lecture to accompany the exhibition revealed that one interesting aspect of Bacon’s triptychs is that it is not unusual to find aspects of the individual pieces, perhaps features in the background of each image for example, do not match across the three works. Rather than the demands of the muse, this is thought to be a result of the extremely cramped studio space Bacon occupied, which meant that he could only work on one large canvas at a time.

● While we all ponder the future of public service in the brave new dawn of permanent austerity, a momentary thought for the National Audit Office report that reveals that more than £4 billion of public funds has been paid to four of UK’s biggest outsourcing contractors: Serco, Capita, Atos and G4S. The NAO wonders whether such corporations are becoming too big to fail, with chair of the public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge, noting that “quasi-monopolies that have sprung up in some parts of public sector” and that public authorities cannot outsource responsibility. Estimates that the four companies made worldwide profits of £1.05 billion but paid between £75 million and £81 million in UK corporation tax is one thing; that Atos and G4S are thought to have paid no tax such tax is another.

● Rejoice! Beach volleyball is coming to Afghanistan. Following the success of football and cricket, the beach-based, ball-based game is next in line for growth in this particular war zone. Volleyball has apparently been popular in the mountainous north and east for some time, largely because it requires not much space and only rudimentary equipment. Nor is a lack of sand proving too much of a impediment, although the only facility in Kabul has a soil-based court. It seems that the absence of beaches need not be a handicap to progress to the world stage but the rules regarding who can play and what they might be wearing may prove a little more problematic.

● We hear reports that Brad Pitt’s new film, The Fury, is currently filming in the Oxfordshire countryside. Some alarms have already been raised by the locals following sounds of gunfire and the sight of tanks rolling down the village streets as if intent on taking Thame for the first time since the civil war. However, filming on Remembrance Sunday went beyond the pale, according to local residents. Rumours abound that these same locals are currently having a whip round to see if they can raise the funds to commission a retaliatory air strike on the Hollywood blowhards. Given the British government’s preference for outsourcing everything and slashing funding for everything else, initial discussions with the Royal Air Force have apparently revealed the opening price point for negotiations to be embarrassingly low.

● There has been a new intake of trustees at the newly chartered institute for something and something else to do with leisure that we lovingly refer to as CHIMPS. Among the new faces are some self-proclaimed firebrands who are intent on raising the temperature of debate, stirring things up  and, they promise us, giving a few of their fellow travellers on the road to institutional enlightenment a bit of a roasting. Mindful that recent history, not least the story of our banks, shows that the role of corporate contrarian is an essential but highly underrated and rarely appointed position, we will watch with interest.

● Lance Armstrong now complains of his “massive personal loss of wealth” following his spectacular fall from grace. Some have suggested that this is part of media charm offensive in preparation for the outflow of effluence in his direction from numerous film projects currently delving into the realities of his career. Lance is naturally upset that others are profiting from his story when he worked so hard to achieve such notoriety. It’s not about the bike: it’s always about the money.

● And on the subject of sporting soothsayers, a plea for all broadcasters to end the practice of interviewing any sportsmen or women in any form or format until they have been retired for at least a decade. The latest lump of supporting evidence to be added to this pile is offered by Rory McIlroy, who, having snippily assured interviewers that there had “never been any distractions” to his on-course career, now admits, a little less snippily, that “definitely there have been a few things that have impacted”. We implore broadcasters to point the cameras at the pitch, the course or the court and let players walk away to foist their hubris and self-deception on the people they pay to listen to listen to them whine.

● New year’s day cannot come too soon. Only then will it be time to settle down for the denouement of Sherlock, the BBC’s celebrated and cerebral reinterpretation of the Baker Street consulting detective for the 21st century. Speculation is rife regarding the details of how Holmes managed to effect the deception that convinced the ever-faithful and now stylishly turned-out Dr Watson that Holmes had hurled himself to his death from the roof of Barts hospital. Writer Stephen Moffat reckons that there is a “clue everyone missed” but we’re quietly confident that we didn’t miss it. No spoilers from us but our guess is that it involves a laundry truck. Now all we have to do is wait.

● One of the best things about having a long-standing and deep-seated aversion to Rupert Murdoch and all he purveys is that we have come to the writing of Caitlin Moran rather later than those prepared to sully their hands with copies of The Times. How to Be a Woman, a cross between a memoir and a user’s guide to feminism in the modern age, was a delight and now Moranthology has allowed us to access highlights from Cat-Mo’s columns and features in The Times. There is much for the leisure professional to devour, particularly in the explanations of the cultural impact of libraries and, most notably in the piece titled The Gay Moon Landings, the necessity of the arts as an environment in which we can explore different possibilities for ourselves. Put it on your Christmas list.

● And speaking of Christmas, it seems that the Dutch festive tradition of Zwarte Piet (which translates into English as Black Pete) has reached the attention of the United Nations. It seems that the UN is now pondering the cultural implications of tales of a black figure coming round at Christmas to give presents to good children and put the naughty ones in a sack. The baroque horror of the full story are, we are pleased to say, far too involved to permit detailed explanation here but if you have a Dutch friend do ask them to explain the tradition. Failing that, find David Sedaris’s account, published among his monologues, which captures the flavour admirably. While we await the UN observations on St Nicholas’s little helper, we take comfort in the knowledge that getting children to leave their shoes outside their bedroom door on Christmas eve in preparation for their own imminent abduction by a stranger and between six and ten shadowy assistants is perhaps the most magical aspect of the whole affair.

● Hopping channels recently between Masterchef and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, there was a fleeting moment when Rebecca Adlington appeared on the screen clearly in a state of distress. Further enquiries revealed this to be the latest episode of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, in which Ms Adlington, Olympian and doyenne of British swimming, had apparently been persuaded to appear motivated only by a large pile of money and a desperate need to appear on television. Among the less disturbing aspects of a young woman’s life to emerge from the 24-hour monitoring of conversations was a confession, or perhaps more accurately an assertion, that Becky was not averse to peeing in the pool when needs must. At TLR Towers the general view was to interpret this as an indictment of the pressure placed upon our Olympians in training by too many early mornings but our good friends at the STA seized the opportunity to remind people that their posters displaying “Rules for Clean Pools” are now available. Presumably a T-shirt displaying the poster is winging its way towards Mansfield.



Mrs Smith



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