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A definite feeling of fin de la saison

A mid-December day OFF.

Grey, but clear and still remarkably mild weather, and Lapwings flocking across the corn stubble. A very long dog walk with a view to keeping some of the winter pounds at bay. Not a few daffodils out in various places - fully 6 or 8 weeks earlier than normal.

A ton or more of free firewood collected. The rediscovery of my lost Distance glasses - hidden by one of the cats.

We had promised ourselves a return to the old hunting lodge - now the Devonshire Arms in Long Sutton, which we chanced on in early autumn, and today was the day; a fine and gentile lunch with Mum and Williams. Recommended as a dog-friendly hotel/restaurant with a reasonable and reasonably sophisticated menu, and a decent wine list and even a hand-pulled beer or two. Very professionally run and obviously popular - 60+ covers all full.

A nap. Something I all too rarely get the chance to do.

A late afternoon sort and stash a few books, clothes, tools, ornaments & presents, and a quiet fireside evening reading a book and listening to music, with a glass of cider made from our own apples (well made by Roger Wilkins, who took our 80 bags up to Mudgely just yesterday, muttering that he has not got his own off the hill yet).

Definitely fin de la saison mode.....

Book piles

One 'issue' with shuffling, moving, importing and just generally handling well over 8000 all around the house this year(quite apart from the 3000+ that have needed pricing and putting in the shop), is the -

'ooh - I must read/reread that' pile, which has now offended both dogs and at least 3 of the cats by toppling over on them.....

As a card-carrying butterfly-brained Gemini, I can virtually never read a book from cover to cover, and almost always have about 15 on the go, and right now several half-finisheds have gone missing - one suspects at the bottom of one of the 90 or so 'books to store till we find/buy/build shelf space' boxes.

I did manage John McCabe's excellent 'The Comedy of Stan Laurel' in one sitting donated by Mother. I had forgotten the source of this book and tried to give it to her as a shop import/present, just to reduce our pile a bit. She was having none of it.....

The ones I had to take off Cass's head just now include :

David Crystal Linguistics (pelican p/b) - an excellent summary of the establishment of a new science.
Ernst Doblhofer Voices in Stone (paladin p/b) - well loved and about half-read
Colin Tudge The Secret Life of Trees (pelican p/b) - which I did not know we had
RJ Stewart The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision (defiantly self published) - being the story of Ronald Heaver & others and the Sanctuary of Avalon
Kate Dunn Exit through the Fireplace (john murray p/b) - an irreverent look at Repertory Theatre
Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare (vol 1) - a very early h/b with a delightful front cover pasted illustration
Clive Holland Old & New Japan, now more than 100 years old and 50 illustrations - a fascinating and early look at what was then still an alien culture

And it goes on, as I try to shoehorn another several hundred books into boxes - books which have just 'ended up' in the living room with no shelf space for the moment......

Living with TWO authors and being a bibliophile can be 'interesting.....


NFL mid-season roundup (week 9)

Everyone has now played at least half their games, and the season is taking shape. There will be one or two 'late run' teams who are currently at or under .500 who will make it in, but probably ten teams now are toast, which leaves 4-5 teams in each division still very much in the Wild Card hunt, and a few coaches waiting for the Black Monday carousel.

In the NFC West - the strongest division in 2013, Arizona have done me proud (my pre-season tip for a February spot). Top of the League now at 7-1, but their second half schedule is fairly brutal - with 5 tough divisional games remaining - they will do well to finish 12-4, which even so should be enough for the NFC West this year. Seattle & the 49rs will probably cancel each other out, and the Rams are not the worst 3-5 team in the league, having already seen off both their coastal rivals once.

The NFC South is still waiting for a hero - my bet is New Orleans, just now starting to look like themselves, and again I think Atlanta ill take off a little now to stump the efforts of the other to. Looks like a 10-6 winner and 2 .500 teams.

I'll look at a couple of divisions in detail each week as we start to see a little more clearly which teams can still hope to be playing in January.




NFL Week 8 roundup

Pretty much everyone was just starting to BELIEVE in the Lone Star team and their undoubtedly tough and talented QB. Cue a division rival, on a 9-game road losing streak, and looking like challenging for the #1 Draft pick on 2014 results. The Redskins come in and manage to keep said QB on the floor most of the game, and give us all a sense of a return to normality in Gerrydome.

Big Ben should have been given the pigskin one more time - he would have gone very close to the all-time single game yardage record. Carolina & Seattle showed how strong their defenses are, but they will both find a few stronger offenses over the back half. Denver, painfully good. Cincinnati & Baltimore close, and both good. Tom Brady might win out (possible exception this Thursday - see below); Cutler certainly won't. Vikings may still be toast, but they managed to win this week's Toilet Bowl. Arizona and Philly can look forward to January, and so can New Orleans, provided they can win just one of their remaining road games - they are essentially unbeatable at home.

It is really too early for 'IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY', but let's stick forks in the Jets, Titans, Jags, Raiders, Falcons, Bucs & Rams. Dallas have proved amply that they can still blow it, but if that leaves the NFC Least door open for the Giants or the 'skins, my money's on Big Blue, especially since RGII.limp will be back soon. That still leaves about 24 teams vying for the 12 playoff spots, so a heck of a lot to play for, including next year's coaching jobs.

There is a titanic battle on Thursday Night football this week. Two of the best, both in great form. Brady holds most of the aces over Manning, but on any given day.....

That one I'll call at the very last minute.

NFL Week seven already!

Well - week 8 actually already - my where the time goes! Thursday Night Football - Broncos - as advertised. The Denver D is looking VERY quick - not an enormous amount of pressure on the better QBs like Rivers, but taking a well-established Run & screen game apart led to the inevitable giveaways, and the Broncos look like winning out unless the wheels fall off.

I hate 'If the season ended now' talk, but - right now we'd be looking at Dallas & the Broncos to square off, and I know who I'd trust more to get THAT job done, BUT - there is a hell of a lot of football to come yet.

We can eliminate the Titans, Jags, Jets, Oakland, Redskins, Vikings & Tampa Bay, and probably Atlanta too, but that still leaves lot of teams to fight for the playoffs.

Looking at both conferences as I see it right now -


North - Rodgers has seemingly righted the good ship Green Bay, but Detroit are still very much in that mix. Cutler, average at best, should do just enough to blow a playoff berth yet again.
East - appears to be heading for two teams playing in January, with the Eagles looking good and still one of my tips for a deep run. Romo can't blow it AGAIN? Surely? (I might run a book on that).....
South - pathetic - no right to send ANYONE right now, but I'd still bet on New Orleans to scrape it rather than a weak looking Panther team.
West - right now, not quite the powerhouse of last year, and Seattle would not be the first SB Champions to go home on New Year's Eve. Cardinals have this one if they stay healthy - again one of my tips for the NFC big one.


East - Patriots. End of. Look to the Jets to try saving Rex's skin and spoil the wild-card chances of the other two.
North - looked open and strong at the beginning of the season. Looks open and maybe not quite so strong right now, but Ravens are very quietly getting it done.
South - Colts - many people's tip for the big one. Houston - the wheels done fell off, as usual, but given the other two are pathetic, they may be in the mix for the wild-card.
West - Broncos are way better on D than last year, which means Peyton not throwing for his life the whole time. They just look comfortable, and staying healthy, may not lose again in 2014. February 1st 2015? You can't really bet against them right now. I won't count the Chiefs out just yet, but they need to win at least 2 of the next 3 to stay in the Wildcard seat. Chargers (well rivers at least) were flying high, but just got told exactly where they belong - not at the big table just yet.

MAYBE it will become clearer after week 8? I wouldn't bet on it.....

A lot of football to come just yet.....

State of the Nation - shop & home

Approaching Samhain (Halloween of you must), we start to draw breath and plan for the harshness of winter, both the weather, and in our case the seasonal shop trade downturn.
Long, beng an annual statement of where I am and where I want to be - personal and business - so skip if you -

A) have a very short attention span
B) want cat pictures
C) are looking for the more usual NFL smacktalk.

Shopwise, The Cat & Cauldron is a highly seasonal business, and in the winter we need to sell more actively (Facebook promotions, website deals, etc), and we also take time out to recuperate and stock making. In the darker half of the year we actually CLOSE the shop on Thursdays, and on Cheltenham Race days (Liz says this is for my mental health, and she's probably right!).

Trade does start to tail off from mid-September, but this autumn, with the outstanding warm weather, and the cost of fuel FINALLY coming down a little bit, people are definitely venturing out more, and shop visitors seem to be browsing more attentively. It is still shirt-sleeve and open door weather at the Cat & Cauldron!

Homewise, we inherited family earlier in the year, as Liz's father declined in health to the point where mother was not able to cope, so they moved in, and dad has since been more or less permanent hospitalized, so we are living day to day with that. Mother has adapted to country life remarkably well after 55 years in suburban Gloucester (she was born a country girl), but she has adopted at least two of the cats, feeds the horse, and does more gardening (at age 87), than Liz & I manage combined. We are slowly emptying the old house ready to sell in the New Year, so she now has more than half her lifetime collection of books around her, many of which she is passing on to me, 'because I thought it might be interesting, dear'. Of course that started as a little trickle, but I made the mistake of being very enthusiastic with such an eclectic collection, so it is now about 6-10 books a day as she comes to terms with the fact that there is never going to be enough space in the flat for all hers.....

On the personal front I have begun to think about what 'retirement' holds - I have no pension, and thus no prospect of retiring unless I can find something to replace the 70 hour week of the shop. I've been looking more closely at bookbinding, which would keep mind and body occupied, provide a useful and valuable service to 'my' community, and also help conserve the now several hundred books we have which have suffered in their lives.

I am also considering (and at this stage ONLY CONSIDERING), resurrecting my OBOD Bardic Review, to see if another tutor might take a different stance than the American lady I never met, who rejected my review. At the time I had throat cancer and did not have the inclination to write another word. I still don't (see WHY I SHOULD write another word), but another set of eyes may help reach a compromise.....

Told you it was lon.



Week 5 NFL

Almost half the league was on 2-2 after week 4 - which I feel is a direct result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which severely curtailed pre-season practice, meaning that many teams were actually finalizing their rosters during weeks 1-3. The Giants did not have time to consolidate a new Offensive system during the off-season, but Eli has become more comfortable every week, and the Giants have turned it round. The NFC LEAST jokes had better be shelved for the minute - because at 12 wins after Sunday (and I'll assume the Redskin get their arses handed to them on a plate by Seattle on MNF), they have more wins than any other division!

AFC South - Titans and Jags play each other in week 6 in the Toilet Bowl - both already TOAST. Texans & Colts are hard to separate except we are talking pigskin donor & #1 pick here. This division takes shape this week.

AFC East - Jets look as appalling as ever. Neither Geno nor Vick want the ball, when they are getting pasted every play. No easy fix. Rex is surely on a short leash. The Bills - just no. Not convincing. Dolphins still 2-2, and they look like what their record says they are. Patriots are not fixed yet, but they certainly woke up....

AFC North - as strong as ever, and I can't call it at this point, although I tend to trust the Ravens more than the Bengals, and they seem to have closed ranks after AP-Gate.

AFC West - Oakland have had a visit from none other than Mike Holmgren, but not for the Coaching job - just for some 'outsider advice'. They are still TOAST. the other three teams all deserve play-off spots again, and the Chargers are yet to have a division game. Chiefs and Broncos good and solid.

NFC East - no longer NFC LEAST for the moment anyway! More wins than any other division - and two of the 3 4-1 teams (Eagles & Cowboys) - who'da thunk that week 1? Are Dallas for real? Nope, not especially. Eagles look the part, but not invincible.

NFC North - still looks like going down to the wire - 4 8-8 teams? I still like the Vikings, but then I did last year too.....

NFC South - Panthers at the top? Really? NFL - Not For Long..... Saints do not look 'right' - offensive line protection is weak after all the player departures. Falcons need to right the ship.Bucs sadly TOAST.

NFC West - still the strongest division in reality. I called the Cardinals to play a part again this year - and they came out all guns blazing - 11-5? Seattle may have shed a few players to free agency, but seem to have held position, and the 49ers have positive record as well.

I'm going to go in depth on two divisions a week from now to end of season - starting next week on the East Coast.


NFL September - team statuses

AFC East :

Not one winning team -

Bills (2-2). Staff are desperate to 'win now' with a new incoming owner, hence the benching of EJ Manuel. The move to Kyle Orton is probably dumb, but the Coach will almost certainly be on the carousel at the end of the season anyway, and probably Orton will be hoovered up as a backup yet again. They have the weapons to reach 8-8 or a little better, but they are surely just going to tread water till black Monday now.

Miami Dolphins (2-2). Did not have much to beat in London, and did so imperiously, but I'm not trusting them just yet.

Patriots (2-2). Probably grateful for that given their pasting in Kansas City. Wake up call for the old guard at very least, but they do not yet look settled and may be suffering more than most with lack of pre-season reps.

Jets (1-3). Same old same old, and whilst Rex obviously does see improvement in Gino Smith (something the stats bear out to an extent), the interceptions are killing any real productivity or progress. The gang green defense does not look watertight either, even given it is on the field too much.


Bengals (3-0). Probably did not want the bye so early to stall the momentum. One of two remaining undefeated, and clipping at 34 points a game, with a schedule that may just allow them to stay on top in October.

Ravens (3-1). Looking like a playoff team already, dismantling the Panthers in week 4.

Steelers (2-2). Struggling to get an identity, but a decent chance of consolidating in October with a fair schedule.

Browns. (1-2). Can stave off the Fork with wins at the Titans and home over the Steelers next 2.


Texans (3-1). Look real, but I've said that before, and let's remember . Watt is up for his second Player of the Year.

Colts (2-2). Solid enough and beating teams they should.

Titans (1-3). Toast.

Jaguars (0-4). #1 Draft pick here we come.


Chargers (3-1). Looking hot, and Rivers is up there with the big boys as always.

Broncos (2-1). All in to get back to the Superbowl, provided they stay healthy. Got much closer to the Seahawks in Seattle, and possibly have their measure now.

Chiefs (2-2). Spectacular Offense against a weak New England team, and looking poised for another good season.

Raiders (0-4). Toast. Looking for a new coach already, and vying for the #1 draft pick.

NFC EAST : No longer the NFC Least?

Eagles (3-1). As advertised, and got close enough to the 49ers. Not too many issues to report.

Cowboys (3-1). Can't be convinced; seen it before, but despite my comments about there being no 'D' in Dallas, a bunch of no names seem to have their mojo going. Let's see how they do as the weather turns.

Giants (2-2). Destroyed their division rivals (as they usually do to be fair), and finally getting to grips with an all-new Offensive scheme. Eli ain't done yet.

Redskins (1-3). Rumblings had begun before RGIII took himself out for the third year running (or rather limping) - it is possible he may not get his job back.

NFC NORTH : solid and impenetrable as ever - no team with a losing record

Lions (3-1). Comfortable against a miserable Jets team, and plenty of momentum.

Packers (2-2). Dismantled division rivals in Chicago - that may well be the defining game in the division.

Chicago (2-2). Ouch. Cutler being Cutlery.

Vikings (2-2). One of my tips for the playoffs, showing a few decent early signs, and now Bridgewater, the most league-ready of the Draft QBs, is primed to take over (ankle sprain notwithstanding).

NFC SOUTH : No winning records

Panthers (2-2). And deserve to be. Inconsistent but talented in some areas.

Falcons (2-2). Caught the Vikings on a good day but have looked better than that. Still the most likely team to challenge the Saints.

Saints (1-3). But shouldn't be. Not running out of time exactly, but will be concerned to stay in the hunt. They still cannot win on the road, and that needs some culture changes to scotch.

Bucs (1-3). Beating the Steelers? Really? I had stuck a fork in them, and they are still the team most likely to be propping up the division

NFC WEST : All rested apart from the 49ers

Cardinals (3-0). The other undefeated team, with a relatively kind October schedule (after Denver!)

Seahawks (2-1). A close game against their Superbowl rivals, and looking good enough to be in the mix.

49ers (2-2). Not convinced, but a good shut down of the Eagles gives them something to build on (started 1-2 2013 too).

Rams (1-2). Tough to be a good team in a great division, but without a franchise QB they will probably fade away quieter than previous years.


No surprise Dennis Allen is out of Oakland early after an embarrassing drubbing in London, to which I was witness, with a depressed lifelong Raiders fan for company.To quote the words of one G.R.R. Martin, indeed 'life is miserable and full of pain'. The interim job will fall internally, and a hand will be extended to Jon Gruden, but the owner will want a headliner, and any incoming headliner may well want his own General Manager, so expect another 3 seasons of disruption, but this time hopefully without the heavy Salary Cap issues which hobdayed Allen from the beginning. The NFL site said today, his 4-12 seasons can be looked at as a major success given he inherited at best a 3-win team (which may be harsh on Jackson, who finished on 8-8).

No surprise either, given injury attrition, that now most of the prominent QB Draft picks have been given the pigskin, if not yet the keys to the owner's Cadillac. Bridgewater was thought to be the most League-ready of the crop, and certainly seemed to be more than a game manager before he sprained his ankle.

In other QB news, EJ Manuel started the season with two wins, but could not show improvement fast enough for a coaching staff that needs to 'win now' for a new incoming owner. This move is shabby and shallow, and it won't work, and they will ALL be out of a job in the coaching carousel come Black Monday in January, and will take Orton with them.

September is in the books, but to these sore eyes, the standard of play and the depth of the playbook has looked more like the pre-season for a number of prospective playoff teams, which I have to put down to the CBA practice & contact . The Giants started off notably slow, and the Patriots just do not seem to be on the same page at all - they should be grateful they ARE 2-2; even the Chiefs, who handed Brady his arse on a platter on Monday Night Football, were appalling against the Titans in week 1.

On adjudication, the rule 're-emphasis' on illegal contact seems to have filtered in to Defense play, which is just as well given the appalling number of interruptions pre-season, but Mike Tomlin, who sits on the Competition Committee, and thus knows the rules better than most, must be spitting nails with at least three discipline errors at the weekend

More on individual teams later.....

Bring on the fog & rain.



Our little British league table of predictions is running just as well as if we had all used a pin - we are all three of us within a whisker of .500. I am officially annoyed with myself for changing my mind about the Chargers at the last minute!

Teams that start 0-2 have an 11% chance historically of making the playoffs, but that trend has been downwards recently - only ONE 0-2 team in the last 5 years has made it through to January.

Jags, Raiders, Chiefs, Giants, Saints, Bucs, and quite possibly the Colts by the end of the Monday Night game evening - TOAST already?

The Ravens emphatically prevented themselves being included on the fork by wiping the floor with the Steelers on Thursday, but first impressions of the Sunday games -

By Division -

I was right not to trust Miami, and Buffalo look OK all alone at the top of the AFC East. I had called the Jets to join them, and for quite a while they looked like they might hand the Packers a drubbing, but they could not hold it together, and due to a BIZARRE and incorrectly refereed timout miscall, their last minute game-tying TD was disallowed - old school foot-shooting. I also felt New England might be on the Toast list, but they did indeed bounce back big time.

Bengals deserve to be top of the AFC North. I did not expect them to put up such a solid show against Atlanta. Browns made a phenomenal effort against the Saints, and join Ravens & Steelers 1-1.

AFC South - Houston do look good, and ANY road win is valuable, even against questionable opposition. Titans managed to catch coin-toss Dallas on a heads day, but showed most of their long-standing problems are still there. Colts could be in trouble. Jags - toast.

AFC West - Raiders did not acquit themselves well against an aggressive Texans team, but have some hope that the offense will become productive yet. Chiefs are 0-2 and may be toast, but they played well enough to hold Denver close most of the game. Denver looked like they were not going to open the hole playbook just yet, and seemed confident throughout. The Chargers posted a phenomenal physical game to hand the Seahawks their first loss in 9 months. This is still one of the strongest divisions in the league.

NFC LEast - Let's see if the Eagles can separate themselves from the remains. Giants have gone 0-2 before and got to the Superbowl, but they really did not look comfortable with the new offensive scheme, and pundits are predicting it will take Eli another 6 games to get up to speed. They also have other obvious weaknesses. Washington had some doubts about the remaining ability of RGIII, but he did what he does best - got himself injured without impact from the other team, and has sidelined himself for a while. The backup QB was still good enough for a 40-burger on the Jags. Cowboys are a classic 8-8 team - week 1 crap, week 2 a 'surprise' comfortable looking away win. I'm probably destined to call them the wrong way all season.....

NFC North - all square at 1-1. Vikings playing outdoors seem to have forgotten what grass is, and never looked like staying apace with the Patriots. Lions did not follow up on their opening win, and their much vaunted D Line was not a major factor - other teams will be looking at how they were contained here. The Packers looked a little empty in the first half, and the Jets in the end were unlucky not to extend the game, but a grinding win is ok. The Bears CAN win away, or is it just that SF is more brittle than we have been used to?

NFC South - Panthers look solid enough for their pole position, and contained the Lions well. The Falcons did not have the answers to a sold Browns performance. Saints have been on play shy in both games, and will not officially press the panic button just yet, but the Bucs look like toast again.

NFC West - still a VERY strong division with three 1-1 teams and Arizona clear on top after a good road win against a floundering Giants team. Seattle are going to get the A game from every team, and San Diego, with their own elite QB, proved they are not invincible. 49ers do not look like the team they were last year yet, but they can be late starters. The Rams pulled one out of the fire, but probably won't make the playoffs from this division.

Anyone wanting a more in-depth analysis of their team or any of the games - please buzz me here - I'm happy to oblige as long as I can find tape.

George R R Martin won't mind me repeating his mid-season mantra regarding the Giants - life is miserable and full of pain. Never mind George - only 14 weeks left.....