Wednesday, 28 July 2010


Ugh...can it really be that the last time I posted on here, the Raoul Moat saga was still unravelling? By now the t-shirts with the slogan 'Harder Than Moaty' are already kitsch items. I'm going to post today about the day I met a potential future leader of the country, but that day was ten days ago now, and I really have no excuse. I apologise to both of you.

Monday last I took a train ride to London, fast becoming my second home-from-home in these days of post-apocalyptic financial meltdown. UNISON, my fair trade union and sponsors for the day, wished to send support to sister union NASUWT (the teaching union that isn't the NUT) who stand to see planned improvements to buildings and infrastructure under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project cruelly denied by the coalition government and its incompetent representative, Michael Gove.

What they needed was numbers, vocal support, people with stories to tell about how the cuts were impacting on real lives. What they got was me. And I didn't even have a placard.

As I said earlier, I must confess to becoming something of a Londophile of late. I have reached the point now that I can actually connect the geography in my head and name the Underground lines simply by looking at the colour. This won't be much to regular city-dwellers but it's huge for me, a man born with an innate fear of the Oyster Card. Regardless, it's good to know where you're going without having to seek the advice of the giant coloured wallcharts. It also makes it much easier to be righteously offended when every single line seems to be simultaneously closed.

Several of my friends have suggested that I should go into politics, and I would have readily agreed if it were not for a closet level of sexual deviance and a passing contempt for the average man on the street. However, having now met the Shadow Secretary of State for Education and some of his more enthusiastic entourage members, it is clear to me that in Parliament, I would be a minnow amongst sharks.

It was Labour stalwart and outside bet for the Labour leadership Ed Balls who held the podium at the rally, and commanded the attention of every camera in the room. Balls! He of the booming rhetoric and psychopathic eyes, a man who claims to have visited three hundred British schools in the last twelve months. I only went to one in my entire life, and that was fifteen years ago.

It is immediately clear to even the casual observer that Balls Believes In Himself. Note the capitals, for they are significant. And it's no bad thing. Speaking as one (admittedly less successful) professional about another, you need to have a certain pomp to get anywhere in life once the average grunts fall away. But there is something of the Vladimir Putin about Mr Balls. Unfortunate surname notwithstanding, he definitely strikes me as the kind of man who would have you killed and then tell your corpse that it was for your own good.

It was after the rally, in the gardens near the Houses of Parliament. We had marched en masse from Methodist Central Hall, tripping over photographers eager to pap the politician. Balls marched at the centre, radiating that aggressive confidence as he did so. His eyes bulged from a space above jowls that seemingly met his shirt collar without bothering to stop for neck. Several of my more media-conscious UNISON colleagues saw an opportunity and descended upon him for photos. I was dragged along for the ride as political self-interest met political self-interest, and somewhere out there, there is now a picture of me waving a giant purple solidarity flag above a large collection of gurning unionites.

This would have been surreal enough had the crowd not suddenly parted, leaving me face-to-face with Ed himself. He raised his chin, looked me directly in the eye and boomed, 'I thought that was a really good turnout, don't you agree?' I was suddenly aware of flashing cameras on all sides and dozens of pairs of eyes focused on me, and I blinked a couple of times while I searched frantically for an appropriate answer. Mercifully, after what seemed like an eternity, I squeaked, 'Yes.'

It was Balls' turn to look somewhat nonplussed. When you are used to political dialogue and the subtle complexities of intrigue, it is perhaps somewhat disarming to encounter banality. We sized each other up for a few seconds, before his staff swarmed around him and hustled him away to meetings with genuinely important people.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Ending Badly

So the Raoul Moat story is over, but for a few investigatory ends which have to be tied up. Accusations are beginning to be made that police were the aggressors in the final stand-off, that not enough was done to negotiate with Moat, but the 49-page letter that he sent to police threatening to 'shoot them until he was dead' gave every observer a fairly clear indication of how the manhunt would end.

The news is rife at the moment with different psychologists, eyewitnesses and media outlets analysing the final stand-off and events in the days leading up to it, and as you'll know if you've read my last few posts, I have an interest in the psychology of killers, so I'm officially jumping on the bandwagon. However, I am going to use a different analogy to look at the psychology involved - that of a poker player.

Caught on CCTV with his new mohican hairstyle, trained physique and bright orange clothing, Raoul Moat clearly liked to stand out from the crowd. In that respect, he was no different from a million other wannabes, simply waiting for an opportunity to distinguish himself. However, a man with Moat's ego was never going to be able to cope with the daily frustrations of an ordinary life, and he clearly demonstrated this in his violent actions towards his family and those who he felt had crossed him.

I have no idea if he played poker, but if he did, Moat would have liked to boss the table. He was clearly a man who loved to feel in control of a situation, which will have been necessary to him to compensate for the lack of control he felt over his life. His angle would have been aggression, pure and simple, raises on top of re-raises, and speech play to intimidate his opponent.

As is often the way with wannabes, they get themselves into trouble by biting off more than they can chew. Moat liked to be thought of as a hard man with links to a shady criminal underworld, though that image will be challenged somewhat by eyewitness reports, who had heard him say to police negotiators at the end that he 'didn't have a dad' and that 'nobody cared about him'.

It is an important maxim at the poker table that all successful players are aggressive, and this is definitely true. However, aggression alone will only get you so far, and you must employ it selectively or more techincally-gifted players will play back at you and leave you (to use poker terminology) drawing dead.

Likewise, if the police seemed inactive in the days up to the final events in Rothbury, this was a calculated slow-play designed specifically to trap the unwary. Rumours flew that they had drafted in armoured cars from Northern Ireland, that half of the UK's armed response units were in the immediate area surrounding the town. The message was clear. We are not messing around. All the best poker players know when to fold.

If the shooting of his ex-girlfriend's new partner was a poorly-timed raise, there was still a chance for Moat. He could have handed himself in, served his time under the label of a crime of passion, and possibly begun to rebuild his life. However, shooting a policeman was his suicidal bluff-raise into a player holding unbeatable cards and from that point on, events started an inevitable slide downhill as his chips sailed into a pot he could never hope to win.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Quickie...

Just a quick update tonight, it's all I have time for.

I've been concerned that the content of my blog is becoming increasingly sport-oriented - perhaps understandable given the world cup is on, but it's not what I wanted the blog to be about. Fortunately, in true Smashy and Nicey style, I've acquired a writing buddy and we've created an entirely separate sporting project right here.

So there will no longer be any sports posts on this blog, unless they directly relate to me. And somehow, that just doesn't seem very likely :)