28 July 2010

Sounds like home

In summer, a young man’s fancy turns to…folk music?

Well, it does in our household. Our spare room resembles a small music shop with 4 violins, 3 guitars, 2 mandolins, a cello and a dulcimer. My Darling English Boy is an avid musician, and the vocalist-guitarist for local folk duo, Lazy Manz Flute.

Being only “vaguely musical”, my contributions to the band’s efforts are purely supportive. As their principal groupie, I have followed them to various gigs across Warwickshire, and thus have been introduced to the wonderful world of English traditional music.

The most significant event of the Warwickshire folk calendar is the Warwick Folk Festival every July. Last year, I followed Lazy Manz Flute to a “session” at The Roebuck on the Festival’s opening night. This event was a musical free-for-all. Whoever showed up was welcome to participate.

Dating back to 1470, The Roebuck is said to be the oldest pub in Warwick. With its dark, beamed ceilings so low that even I felt tall, it was the perfect conduit for this timeless music.

The tiny pub was packed with performers singing and playing an array of instruments: banjoes, fiddles, spoons, bagpipes, harmonicas, mandolins, accordions, whistles, bodhrans and guitars. I recall an ancient man sitting alone playing “the bones”. There was no predetermined format, one musician merely started to play, and the others joined in, as they willed.

The evening was a wonderful time warp, stepping back to a time before television, cinema or the internet; when people had to make their entertainment. It was a delight to hear songs from Britain’s bygones days: tragic tales of star-crossed lovers, sea shanties, highwaymen’s laments, and ballads in praise of the ever-present barmaid.

To my surprise, the experience was at once novel and familiar. This music of England’s past, immediately reminded of my own. If no one had spoken, I could easily have imagined myself in the Ozarks, the foothills of Appalachia, or along the Mississippi Delta. The same tales, told in different voices, in similar keys.

This ‘novel, yet familiar’ quality is what I admire most about traditional English music. A firm favourite of mine is Kate Rusby – a lovely Yorkshire lass with a long standing affection for Warwickshire.

This past May, Rusby gave a spectacular show at the Royal Spa Centre. During that performance, her partner, Damine O’Kane, an impassioned banjo player, sang a doleful lament for his native Northern Ireland, called “Summer Hill”. He sang longingly of a place I have never seen; and yet, I was struck deeply by how familiar it felt and sounded.

This is the remarkable thing about traditional music. It crosses cultures and geography and binds us through common experiences, narratives and harmonies. A friend of mine put it thus: “It resonates, because it’s all the same people.” Meaning, of course, that culturally the English-speaking world is the same at its heart. Perhaps, that is what makes folk music so fantastic. Fancy that.

Warwick Folk Festival, 23-25 July 2010 - www.warwickfolkfestival.co.uk

23 July 2010

Smart is sexy, Dumb is just dangerous

It is a topic I have successfully and purposefully avoided. But now that former Alaska Governor and defeated Vice-President contender, Sarah Palin, has compared herself to Shakespeare, I have no choice, and must enter into this dreadful fray.

Not surprisingly, my inbox has been flooded with requests for my thoughts on and possible explanations for (is any possible?) for the cultural phenomenon that is ShakesPalin.

I only dare to throw caution to the wind, as I take comfort in the fact that were the She-Wolf in Moose’s Clothing (or any members of her virtual and frightful army) ever to come across my discourse, she/they would flounder at the word “phenomenon”, give up on the reading and move on to something else.

Needless to say, Sarah Palin and her followers frighten me. I am frightened by their zeal, their anger and their popularity. I am enraged by her arrogance and her glibness and her ‘holier-than-thou, cos I’m dumber-than-thou’ attitude.

Ignorance is not bliss, it’s dangerous.

I will not waste time here chronicling the minutiae of Palin’s gaffes, shortcomings and nasty tactics. No cautionary tales of how powerful, successful and perilous a “simple, folksy, home-spun, person of the people” can become. History is glaringly full of examples: Hitler, Mussolini, etc.

“Why do Americans love her so?”

This is a question with which I am repeated faced. The answer is, I think, neither straightforward nor simple. Another question that arises is: “Could Sarah Palin become President one day?” To that, and my heart withers at the thought of it, there is a simple reply: “Yes, she could.”

There seems to be an enduring appeal to some sectors of the American society for leaders who would make “good drinking (bingo/hunting/poker/what you will) buddies” or “coffee companions”.

“I like George Bush because he talks like me. He’s just an average guy like me,” these words were uttered by the father of a close friend of mine. He was, and still is, a wonderfully simple, decent, and caring man. A man whom I respect, and a man I respect far more than I ever could W.

Herein, as Shakespeare put it, lies the rub.


In world that seems to be spinning out of control with endless war, debt, duplicity, crises and crashes, people long for simplicity. Directness. Fairness.

Palin and Co have seized upon this opportunity, and shaped the debate in their own image, and in their favour by drawing battling lines in the sand between the “Crafty, smarty-pants Elitists” vs. the “Down-to-Earth Dumbkins.” The message is, quite simply: “You can trust us, we’re as stupid as you!”

Sarah Palin wears her ignorance like a badge of honour. She’s proud of the fact that she doesn’t have wall full of degrees and certificates, she’s just a mom with a gun. Well, frankly, I feel that qualifies her to be just that: a mom with a gun.

This how we have lost our way, and before the General Election here, I feared Britain was headed in the same direction. The “everybody’s winner, because there are no losers” ethos. The “You-can-do-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-you’re-sassy-enough!” principle.

I blame Paris Hilton.

Success is not an equal opportunity, reality TV show; it must be earned. The American country singer Reba McEntire once put it beautifully: “Success is 10% talent, and 90% hard work.”

I believe this maxim to be true, and one that can be adapted for the leadership realm. A successful leader should be 10% personality/charisma, and 90% ‘hard work’ (i.e., knowledge, intelligence, skill, education, preparation, experience, etc.)

The bottom line for me is that I don’t want ‘the bloke next door’ to rule the world. (No offence to my wonderful neighbours!) I think world leaders are and should be special people. Ordinary people, yes, but ones with extraordinary gifts to match their extraordinary mission.

They should be well read. Full stop (Period). They should be educated. Education has become a dirty word thanks to Palin and Co. The ShakesPalin routinely and ruefully disdains the antics of “East coast college graduates.” However, education is about much more than if, and where, one went to school.

One of our most inspired and inspiring Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was largely self-taught. I was staggered to find that this great man had only received about 18 months of formal education, but he was an avid and lifelong reader. He pushed himself to read any and all that he could.

The works of Shakespeare were a firm Lincoln favourite, as were the treatises of ancient and modern philosophers. The man was an incredible thinker, as well as a remarkable and eloquent do-er.

Potential leaders should be well informed. Having and regularly using a passport would also be a bonus. At the very least they should know the difference between countries and continents.

They should be able to communicate effectively, with grace and decorum across a spectrum of society --and without the need to make up their own words.

Imagine Sarah Palin meeting the Dalai Lama.

After quizzing her minders, “Hey, who’s that dude in the sheet? Is he going to jihad me or what?” Without skipping a beat, she would no doubt burst into song: “Well, Hello Dalai!”

And the folks back home would just love it: “Oh, that Sarah, what a character!”

I recall a recent news clip wherein the BBC interviewed some of Palin’s supporters outside one of her book signings. “I just love her!” a woman squealed into the camera.

When asked which of Palin’s policies she found most significant, the woman paused, stared about her wildly, then turned to her fellow Palinites and pleaded: “Y’all are gonna to have to help me with that one, I don’t know!”

Like leader, like follower.

I long for the days when “character” actually meant something. When a leader was someone you admired, looked up to, and even revered in some way -- even if you disagreed with his/her principles and policies.

The Roosevelts. Churchill. Gandhi. Kennedy. Golda Meir. Mrs. Thatcher. The list could go on and on.

I rarely, if ever, agreed with former President George H. W. Bush (Bush 1.0) in terms of politics and policy, but the man was undeniably a statesman, a scholar and a gentleman.

I recall seeing him in an interview wherein he was asked to name writers/commentators whom he enjoyed reading. Of course he listed several Republican/conservative stalwarts, but he also added, with a smile, “Lightening may strike me, but I really enjoy Maureen Dowd. She’s an excellent writer.”

Maureen Dowd, a featured New York Times columnist (and a hero of mine) was the bane of Bush 1.0’s existence. She dogged his steps at every turn, filling pages and pages with adroitly woven and beautifully written critical analyses.

What a wonder, that the former President not only read her work, but appreciated her skill and ability, even as she used them to criticise him.

By contrast, Sarah Palin, who is clearly unable (she would say ‘inable’) to read in the first instance, would merely have made minced-meat of such as adversary, by calling into question their patriotism and morals. She would then swiftly and dexterously lead the charge in an attack against “the East coast, liberal, elitist, feminist media that has tore this place apart!” [Sic]

And indeed, all very sick.

21 July 2010

Whose farce is this anyway?

"Mother Superior" awaiting her cue backstage

The DEB and I have recently signed away our sanity, and joined the village Drama Group. As a result, earlier in the summer, I auditioned and was cast as one of the seven nuns in a production of “None The Wiser”. Ho, ho!

The play is gag-filled farce, about two female shoplifting gangs who disguise themselves as nuns, and hide out in a convent. Obviously, both sets of nuns think the other set are “the real thing”, and hope they won’t blow their cover.

The play was great fun. It was silly, contrived and over-the-top, and I loved every minute of it!

I have mentioned before that have I spent decades of my life training actors and directing: Shakespeare, Chekhov, Strindberg, you name it. But this production, placed me on the over side of the directing table, faced with a style of dramatic literature with which I am unaccustomed, and forced me to ask myself a very basic and fundamental question: “Can I be funny?”

This was in fact a real challenge for me, and taught me a great deal about British humour, how it works and why we love it.

Throughout the rehearsal process I found myself striving for realism and depth, when in fact neither of these were essential. That is not to say that our characters were caricatures and not real people, far from it.

I thought my “Sister Jean” was a fully-fleshed out character, with clear objectives and intentions, but the difference was the way in which the characters, and everything else, evolved.

The most important mechanics in our rehearsals were the skills of speed and lightness of touch. I found myself, in a rather American way, pushing the obvious, forcing the joke, when that is the opposite of what is needed, actually.

Of course, when I trained actors in the past, I stressed to them that a comic character doesn’t necessarily realize/realise that he or she is funny, that’s what makes us laugh. And this could not be more true than in the realm farce.

Incredible mishaps, uncanny near-scraps, and obviously mistaken identity are just a few of the features of farce to which actors and audiences alike must turn a willingly blind eye.

(Of course, none of this is new. Dare I say that Shakespeare was the Ray Cooney of his day?)

Whether it is a Carry On film, Ray Cooney romp, or Hyacinth Bucket’s antics on “Keeping Up Appearances”, there is something so distinctly British about farce – even though the French would argue that their man, Feydeau is the undisputed master of the form.

As Jude Law (*sigh*) once put it, “We Brits aren’t afraid to be a bit naughty.” Although Jude may have taken that maxim a bit too far in real life, I think he makes a valid point for the success of British humour on stage and screen.

Even the word itself, “naughty” makes me blush ever so slightly, and want to giggle a little. And that really is the essence of so much of British humour and farce. Yes, it can seem very dated and old-fashioned in some instances, but it can also be very, very funny.

The village Drama Group is gearing up for our next big project, the annual “Music Hall” which happens every November. And the sell-out shows for Music Hall are very naughty indeed!

The DEB and I went along to a Music Hall planning meeting last Friday. The goal of this meeting was to glean preliminary ideas for music numbers and musical sketches.

This involved a group of us crammed into the Drama Group secretary’s cosy living room, gathered round the piano, surrounded by dozens of lyric books, sheet music, and several bottles of Beaujolais and Pinot Grigio.

“I don’t sing.” I said flatly.

However, egged on by my very supportive drama group chums, once the Beaujolais kicked in, I found myself belting a rendition of “Don’t Tell Mama” from Cabaret!

I can only guess where all of this will lead. I have serious doubts whether I will have to guts to attempt a command performance before the entire village come November!

In the meantime, I am becoming more aware of how British farce, absurd as it can be, does in fact imitate British life.

“I haven’t seen you for days!” my dear friend Sally, wrote in a very serious email. “We must get together, you only live up the road! Must tell you, poor dear Minnie. She’s beside herself. As you know, her beloved Oscar is dying. Well, he’s going to be put to sleep tomorrow. Can’t even bear it. And poor Bettye’s had a fall, too.”

Sally’s message left me wracked with guilt. I’ve been such a bad friend, I thought to myself. I need to be better about staying on top of what happening in the village.

My heart broke to read about poor, sweet Oscar. He is such a lovely dog, and we have all been hoping that the tide would turn for him. Minnie will be so lost without him. Right, I thought to myself, this going to be rough for Minnie, she needs a bit of support.

I had a super busy day with work at Charlecote, and one thing and another. But managed to organise myself enough to run by Sainsbury’s to buy some sunflowers and a Sympathy card for Minnie; as well as a Get Well card and flowers for Betty.

I rushed home, sat down, penned my cards, and headed out to make deliveries around the village.

I walked to Minnie’s, deep in thought, pondering what on earth I would possibly say to offer her my support and comfort. “Just give her a hug.” I thought as I rang the bell.

After pressing the buzzer, I heard what was unmistakably, the sound of a dog barking. And not just any dog, it was Oscar.

My heart sank as I stood there, flowers and sympathy card in hand, realising I was there to offer my condolences for a pooch that was still very much with us.

So, I did what any other rational human being would have done in such a moment, I made a break for it!

Yes, I tried to run. But, this is farce, so, of course, any attempt at escape is futile.


Minnie called after me, in that familiar British way wherein my name is divided into four syllables with a long “s” sound in the middle. I stopped dead in my tracks. I closed my eyes and tried to think fast.

I swiftly and forcefully crammed the Sympathy card down the front of my top, turned round and beamed, “Hello! These are for you!”

12 July 2010

Girl Power

I was browsing on eBay UK late yesterday morning. What for, you may ask, Dear Reader? Some snazzy, Chanel sunglasses? A pair of mint condition Jimmy Choos? No, I was looking for a Buildwas alb.

Although it sounds like it might be either this season’s latest Scandinavian fashion accessory, or German low country mountain range, an alb is a liturgical vestment. From the Latin word for “white”, it is the long garment worn by clergy, ministers and lay servers in the church.

I’m in the market for one as the liturgical team of lay person servers at our little parish has grown, and we need an extra. Being a liturgiophile (person who loves liturgy), I volunteered to purchase a new one for myself, allowing the new team member to use the old one.

Could be tricky, as I am a petite, would I find one that would fit? A pleasant surprise -- to find major clerical outfitters, like Hayes and Finch of London, all have sections on their websites for “Ladies Garments”.

What an irony also, just as I finish purchasing a rather fetching pale cream alb from Hayes and Finch, to spot reports of the latest “women bishops” controversy in the Sunday paper. The headline: “Williams ‘humiliated’ as bishops deal is rejected.” (Sunday Times, 11 July 2010)

I admire the Archbishop of Canterbury immensely. I think he is a great man in a very difficult job. Moving the Church – any church – into the 21st C is undoubtedly an enormous task, with considerable challenges.

And, unlike the Catholic Church that seems to approach change by simply denying its existence, the Church of England wrestles quite openly with change and the all challenges it brings.

As I understand it, the deal that Rowan wished to offer was one that would effectively allow opponents of the ordination of female bishops a sort of “opt out” cause, whereby they could bypass the authority of a woman bishop.

The result would essentially create a “church within a church,” with the real status of women bishops being essentially compromised.

Williams is feeling pressure from Anglo-Catholic opponents within the Church who are being openly – and rather naughtily—wooed by Pope Benedicte XVI and his strict, intolerant, Catholic wiles!

A word to the wise for the Archbishop; and perhaps this is just a woman’s take on things, but, as every girl knows, if you’re in a relationship with someone who is unwilling to compromise, who routinely threatens to leave you when things don’t go their way -- and adds salt to the wound by taunting you with prospects of forming a new attachment with a more amenable Italian -- this is not a relationship worth having!

If Rowan Williams were one of my girl chums (let’s call her Rowena), I’d invite her out for a coffee, sit her down over a steaming grande soy latte and dish out some tough love! “Listen, Ro, you have got to let this guy go! He is so not worth it, and you deserve better.”

Flippancies aside, I do believe there are some underlying truths here for this very serious situation. If the Anglo-Catholics want to move on to Rome, let them. As any person who has been through a bad marriage can tell you, sometimes, when something’s broken in a relationship, you can’t fix it.

Appeasing extreme views – in either direction – for the seek of appeasement, to take keep someone from leaving, never works. Church relationships, like any other, must be based on love, and love is all about working together and compromise.

The traditionalists’ stance is philosophical, and their philosophy is not going to change. So, let them go. Let them shake the dust from their feet, and move on.

I understand Rowan’s view that “we should all try and stay together”; and trust me (no disrespect intended) but the last thing I would want to support is a swelling of the Catholic ranks, but, I believe that if one is not happy where one is, than it is best to move on.

I think my local church provides a wonderful microcosm of this idea of compromise. Ironically, I would consider myself a firm traditionalist, though they have certainly lost me on this one. To be more accurate, I am a liturgical traditionalist. My father used to refer to me as a “devout bower and scraper”. It is a badge I wear proudly.

I recently had a rather crackling exchange with a visiting priest, when we landed quite accidently on the subject of liturgy and he said, “God does not need all the bells and whistles.” I paused, and responded quite firmly: “God doesn’t need them, but God certainly deserves them.”

So, yes, it is safe to say my traditionalist streak is firmly ensconced. As such (and I have mentioned this before) I loathe, loathe, loathe, loathe contemporary Christian music. Guitars, bongos, tambourines, drums, and heavens forfend, the insipid words of the trite, little song printed out on video screens for us all to read and follow along!! It gives me hives.

Did I mention I loathe this?

In my sweet, little, village parish, there a small, very English gesture toward this sort of music within our main Sunday service. There is one song in the service that is of the “happy-clappy” variety. (Thankfully, no tambourines or videos screens as of yet…)

Instinctively, at this point in the service, I sigh. I roll my eyes. I try to recall the names of the moons orbiting the planet Uranus, anything but participate in the proceedings.

Tiring of my anti-happy-clappy antics, and my routine whinging about “the happy-clappy moment” before, during and after each service, the ever-wise DEB, had a word with me. “Well, love,” he said. “Here’s what you can do, don’t go to that service, if you don’t like that music.”

How sensible!

It really made me think. There are a few members of our congregation that have actually made that decision, and only attend the completely music-less service at 8:00 AM. I very often serve at that service, and really quite enjoy it. But, I haven’t made the decision to vote with my feet altogether.

Also, I was recently elected to the Parish Council, and one Sunday, just as I was about to roll my eyes in disgust as the choir geared up for their “Aren’t We Modern?” number, I thought myself, “You’re a newly elected member of the Parish Council. You love this church. It’s just one song. Stop acting like an 8 year old!”

That told me.

And frankly, I think a general dose of this kind of medicine would not go amiss.

So – to the meat of the matter. Women leading the church. The traditionalist view on this is based on what they see as the Biblical precedent that: “Jesus did not have any women disciples.”

My response to this is, of course, both flippant and serious. (The flippant always comes first.)

Last week, I gave a Shakespeare lecture in Stratford-upon-Avon to a lovely group of university students from Chicago. One of them asked: “What was Shakespeare’s intention in writing King Lear?” After giving the bog-standard, scholarly, academic answer I am supposed to, I added, “…But you know, we don’t really know. How can we know? None of us were there.”

They all laughed, but they also got the point.

I think the same is true in this instance: none of us were there. And if we could be truly honest with ourselves, we’d admit that we can’t possibly know who all of Jesus’ friends, followers, disciples and eventual church leaders were.

But, Biblical interpretation aside, I think it is far more pragmatic and productive to look at the present. In other words, who are “Jesus’ friends” now?

I have always found it ironic (and infuriating) that Catholic leaders can never get their heads around women serving or leading the Church, when the simple facts are that there would be no Church, or indeed a very small one, without the involvement and dedication of women.

I don’t just mean in a procreative sense, I mean quite literally, across the board (and across the globe) women are the ones keeping the church wheels turning, Catholic, C of E, or otherwise.

Yesterday, I gazed around my village church. In terms of leadership and activity, there is a solid and indisputable female presence. We have two Church Wardens, a huge leadership role, and both of them are women.

In the bell-tower, 50% of the ringers are women. In the choir, 10 of the 14 choristers are women. We have two Readers, one man and one woman. Serving on the altar, our team of four (4) Chalice Bearers and Eucharistic Ministers is 100% female.

What would happen if we all walked out?

And of course, no surprise that the congregation is also largely female. (Typically, and dare I say traditionally, it is the female side of the familial equation who pushes everyone to church, gets everyone ready and there Sunday after Sunday!)

As I sat in my pew, I imagined what my church would look like, what it would be like without its significant female presence. A very different and empty place indeed.

Last Christmas, I had the pleasure – and for me it is a true pleasure – of serving on the high altar at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Our Reverend Cathy was the Celebrant, Reader Anne was 1st assistant, and I was 2nd. Three women gathered round the altar.

Moments like this are not lost on me. Of course, I am always fully focused on my job and duties, but I am also able to stand apart, and observe.

I cannot say fully what moments like this mean to me, both as a Christian and as a woman. It is so powerful and inspiring to watch Mother Cathy, and to hear the words of the Eurcharist being intoned in a feminine voice, a voice that could be my own. My eyes welled with tears as I watched Mother Cathy lifting and breaking the Body of Christ.

It is not lost on me that many lived and died so that a moment such as this could happen; I am also very aware that many lived and died to keep this moment from ever happening. But this moment did happen. And it is a privilege none of us takes lightly.

The moment of the woman bishop in the Church of England will also happen. Stand up for her, Rowan! You will not be standing alone.

02 July 2010

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

…sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines… (Sonnet #18)

June 20th was officially the hottest day of summer. Temperatures reached a record 30C (86F). Of course, this is nothing compared to the scorching weather I was subject to growing up in the American South will temperatures regularly crept easily past the 100 C mark!

My summer thus far has been ruled by the weather and England’s erratic fortunes in the World Cup. The D.E.B. was supporting England of course, but wouldn’t describe himself as a football fan. He “doesn’t mind a bit of footie,” but isn’t obsessed by it, as are so many of his fellow countrymen.

By contrast, I have been bitten quite firmly by “World Cup Fever”, and have gone a bit football mad. I quite literally wept in my beer watching England being pummeled by Germany.

My flirtation with English football began in 2006, during the last World Cup. I was here teaching on a summer short course in Stratford-upon-Avon, and arrived in time to join in the “Come on, England!” mania.

My friend Tracey’s brother, Simon, dared me to “have a flutter” and gamble on the first England match. So, I “screwed my courage to the sticking place” (Macbeth) and sauntered into Ladbroke’s – the infamous, British, high street betting shop.

Apparently, at that time, Ladbroke’s were trying to improve their image and public perception of “the betting shop”, so while I was expecting a rather seedy sort of establishment, it was not actually.

There were of course a quite a few blurry-eyed men wandering listlessly through the premises to be sure, but overall it was not the smoke-filled den of iniquity that I’d imagined.

“How may I ‘elp you, Miss?” The man behind the glass window chirped at me, pleased to see that Ladbroke’s “family-friendly” re-marketing had obviously paid off.

“I’d like to place a bet, please.” I said shyly. “Well, you’re in the right place, then.” The man beamed and smiled at me broadly.

I was offered a number of options to pursue on England’s opening match against Paraguay. The prospect that appealed to me the most was: “Who will score the first English goal?”

Being a novice in all things football, I relied on the only source I had had back in New York: movies. I didn’t know who any of the English footballers were, but I’d just seen Bend it Like Beckham on DVD. It was a fun movie, and he’s cute, so he got my vote.

“David Beckham!” I exclaimed to the man behind the counter. “You’re quite confident.” The man smiled again. “And, why not?” said I. We both nodded as I slipped my £10 note under the glass counter.

No one could have been more shocked than I was when David Beckham actually did scored the first English goal!!

As the ball struck the back of the net, my phone rang. It was Simon, my friend Tracey’s brother: “I do believe you have just won £100. Well done! But, don’t let it go to you’re ‘ead. And promise that you won’t ever bet again!”

He needn’t have worried. I thoroughly enjoyed my “beginner’s luck”, but have since left betting well enough alone. Still, I am proud to inform anyone who will listen that I once won a hundred quid off David Beckham’s boot!

I placed no bets this time around, which was probably a good thing, given England’s World Cup results. But, watching the World Cup has really inspired me to take more interest in the game.

I decided that I should find an English Club side to follow/support. Given my David Beckham connection, supporting Manchester United seemed the obvious choice. But, then everyone supports Man United, and I’d like to be a bit more creative than just following the crowd.

So, I started to approach this in a serious way, by considering the skills and performance of the players on the national side (team), and them looking at their club teams. This approach eventually failed, as Manchester United was again the most represented side.

I then thought about locality. If I chose a team close to where we live, I’d have more of chance of seeing them play live, as opposed to just seeing them on telly/TV. This gave the edge to Aston Villa, as our nearest Premiere League side.

To settle the score, I decided m final criterion would be: which side has the best-looking kit/strip (uniforms). With that, Aston Villa won outright, with their very fetching claret and sky blue home colours!

As an added bonus, Aston Villa is owned by Randolph D. Lerner -- an American entrepreneur from Brooklyn!

Now that that’s settled, it’s nice to know there be more football (and tears?) after the World Cup has finished.