Literature

GE2017 – Tracker – Sunday 30th April – Corbyn bounce

Conservatives: Av u/o seats = 388.8 – 24hr change = 0

Labour: Av u/o seats = 160.2 – 24hr change = +1

Lib Dems: Av u/o seats = 24.2 – 24hr change = -0.6

*

Spreadex | Con 387-393 (24hr -1)| Lab 155-161 (-2) | LD 24-27 (0)

Sporting Index | Con 386-392 (0) | Lab 158-164 (-2) | LD 25-28 (-1)

(2015 result | Con 330 | Lab 232 | LD 8)

*

A couple of slightly more promising opinion polls for Labour over the weekend, showing percentage point leads for the Tories in the early teens (rather than the twenties). A narrower but still chunky advantage for May – although judging from the reaction of some parts of twitter you’d think the revolution is imminent.

The betting markets don’t believe in the Corbyn bounce though with little movement in the seats markets.

I recommend over 152.5 Labour seats – 5/6 @ SkyBet. 150 seats is pretty much the floor of Labour expectations – it would take a spectacularly bad night for Corbyn to do any worse.

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From Russia with love…

One of the highlights of Euro 2012 so far has been the pun-tastic ‘team specials’ dreamed up for each game by Sporting Index. We’ve had Stevie Wonder, Back of Donetsk and now, drumroll please, my contribution.

The folks at Sporting Index have priced up my idea for a literary themed team special for Russia’s upcoming Group A match against Greece. Just a bit of fun, it’s called the Dostoevsky:

The fact that the market includes an element called ‘The Gambler’ suggests this isn’t one for the avid studier of form!

Nice to see that they’ve run with the world of literature and the Greece team special is ‘Greek Tragedy’:

Snooker loopy

(p.s. ‘cos I wear these gargles’ is probably my favourite lyric in any pop song ever)

If a bell made Pavlov’s dog salivate in anticipation of food, for me, the clink of balls can bring out a cold sweat at the prospect of imminent exams. For six of my formative years, from GCSEs to Tripos finals, the World Snooker Championships coincided with best-laid revision plans. What a cruel twist of fate that The Crucible showdown should have to compete for your attention with Latin verbs, the statecraft of Nazi Germany or the plays of Arthur Miller (that’s a vague attempt at a literature gag there).

Worse still, snooker is a procrastinator’s dream (or nightmare); a sport designed to soak up your time. Admittedly, anything might be a more attractive prospect than heading back to the books, still, there’s something about snooker, especially those long format marathons in Sheffield, that makes it particularly appealing come late April.

Like all the greatest sports, the concept is relatively straightforward; in the words of Chas’n’Dave you just pot-the-reds-and-screw-back-for-the-yellow-green-brown-blue-pink-and-black. However, spend more than a few minutes watching and you are drawn into a beguilingly complex world. Anyone who has ever played a bit of snooker – and if you’re anything like me will celebrate a break of 9 – knows all too well the astounding skill of the pros. (I think most lads, maybe some girls too, can remember the first time they saw a full-size snooker table in real life and struggled to get over the sheer size of the thing – a swimming pool of green where you practically need binoculars to see the black from the baulk end).

Snooker at the Crucible (unlike those execrable 1-frame shootouts) is also somewhat of a slow burner: safety exchanges and calmly composed breaks build towards crucial frames, or even individual shots, on which a match can turn. Like watching Test cricket, snooker demands the investment of time (honestly mum, I’ll get back to the physics at the mid-session interval!) to get the most out of it – to appreciate the light and shade, the ebb and flow. I think that’s one of the reasons why snooker highlights never really work for me; one becomes all too aware of the repetitive nature of snooker, which, when watched live is rhapsodic.

Unlike football, drip-fed into our consciousness every night, we gorge ourselves on snooker for two weeks in the excellent company of Hazel, Steve, Terry and the rest of the Matchroom Mob.

Now that I’m finally clear of exams and dissertation deadlines, I’m glad to say the World Snooker Champs have lost none of their appeal (even if I do miss the red velure fixtures of the cigaratte-sponsored days that made it look like a sport’s premier event was taking place in the lobby of a 3* hotel).

From a spread betting perspective the match markets offer some interesting propositions and tend to be, like The Crucible cloth, extremely responsive. Spin’s staple supremacy market offers 10 points for winning the match plus 3 for every frame won by. For example, Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Peter Ebdon 10-4 in their first round match meaning a make up of 28 (10 + 6×3) in favour of the Rocket. This system can make the market very volatile, particularly as a match reaches its climax and the advantage shifts from player to player.

This morning’s match between Ryan Day and Ding Junhui, for example, went down to a final frame decider after a magnificent comeback from the Welshman. Ding looked nailed on to win frame-and-match, and the supremacy market reflected this (trading at around 8-10 in his favour), before he missed a red with the rest. Instantly, with the balls nicely spread, Day became favourite (6.5-8.5 if memory serves) and duly went on to clinch a second round place. Trading this market is not for the faint hearted, but its fluidity can make it rewarding – a botched safety or fluked snooker can have an instant impact of the price. If you feel you can ‘read’ how a frame might pan out you could well have an advantage here.

Another tip is to watch players’ reactions to the behaviour of the cloth and the supposed ‘tightness’ of the pockets. The Crucible is renowned for having the fastest, tightest tables on the circuit – to what extent this feeling exists in the players’ minds is debatable – but if you see a few players struggling to control the cue ball or pot down the cushions, you might want to look at selling ‘ton ups’ or ’50-ups’ (predictions on the cumulative points scored above 100 and 50 breaks respectively), markets that, in my opinion, tend to favour the seller in any case.

One of the last exams I ever took, the Part II Practical Criticism paper on the English Tripos, included a question asking candidates to compare Amy Winehouse’s Love if a Losing Game with a Raleigh lyric (the paper actually made the national news). The late-Winehouse’s song includes the line “O what a mess we made/And now the final frame” – it’s testament to my snooker heavy revision programme that I couldn’t get the image of Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis c.1985 out of my head – not, I fear, what Amy had intended.

Practical criticism

My Prac Crit skills are a little rusty, it’s been a few years since Tripos now, but I’d thought I’d flex my critical muscles on this intriguing sonnet I came across recently:

"vast and trunkless legs of stone"

***

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

***

The poet uses an encounter with a “traveller from an antique land,” whom scholars have confidently identified as a Barmy Army cricket fan, to muse on the mutability of power and the transience of world domination. The text posits that the passage of time renders previous great achievements moot.

The speaker, having been introduced by the poet, begins with a reference to Ian Bell’s attempts to counter the Pakistani spinners – “two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert” – although certain critics (cf. Atherton, Boycott, Pringle et al.) have argued that this might refer synecdochally to the entire England middle-order.

The following lines cryptically identify other protagonists – once proud performers who now lie ruined in the desert: we have “half sunk,” doubtless a reference to Eoin Morgan’s batting average; “shatter’d visage… whose frown and wrinkled lip,” a somewhat cruel description of Graeme Swann’s face; and the “sneer of cold command,” a swipe at Strauss’ aloof and unimaginative captaincy.

The following three lines (6-8) form a conceit detailing how the team’s reputation has been destroyed by the very agents that elevated it (namely the media and zealous fans). Some commentators have ventured that these “lifeless things” are, in fact, the one-day squad who must remain amongst the cruel sands and mocking hands.

Critical consensus has associated the “Ozymandias” of the poem with Kevin Pietersen; this reading would appear consistent with the South African’s eye-watering arrogance and refusal to acknowledge that he is hopeless against left-arm spin. The text devastatingly unpacks the discrepancy between that batsman’s words and his recent accomplishments; the would be “king of kings” is now humbled, reduced to missing straight ones and sweeping lamely down fine-leg’s throat.

The line “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” is, in fact, a biblical reference taken from the Book of Boycott and, through this intertextual nod, the poet asks us to juxtapose Pietersen’s failings with the supposedly unblemished career of the great Boycott.

The final three lines of the closing sextet bring the reader back to the point of departure, the oasis stadiums of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but also look anxiously to the horizon, and an upcoming tour to Sri Lanka.