Some brief thoughts on healthcare

Healthcare is nowhere near good enough and that’s the fault of politicians who would rather play with our lives or have forgotten why they are there in the first place.

There has never been any justification for making barriers to research for any substance: cannabis and psychedelics. Don’t legalise until the evidence is clear and a plan is in place, sure, but never block the channels to research.

Cannabis could have stopped people from ever having to go on to opioid painkillers. And why is it that our mental health resources are not anywhere near good enough (WHO: 300 million people with depression worldwide) when psychedelics show such incredible promise.

And not just as a medicine but for the betterment of well people.

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A 20th century warning on #WorldBeeDay

A 20th century warning on #WorldBeeDay, which was yesterday, it appears…

In 1958, Chairman Mao Zedong started the Four Pests Campaign, otherwise known as the Great Sparrow Campaign, as part of the Great Leap Forward.

Mao ordered the eradication of rats, flies, mosquitoes and, notably, sparrows.

But this ecological imbalance caused insect populations to boom, with locusts in particular wreaking havoc, eating crops intended as food.

This horrific error on the part of the Chinese government is widely considered to have worsened the Great Chinese Famine, which caused between 20 to 45 million deaths. Just because sparrows were being exterminated from the ecological system. Seemingly irrelevant animals are often anything but.

Cross-pollination facilitated by bees has a role in the growth of around one-third of the world’s crops. We need to look after the bees.

2017: The year I went numb

It horrifies me to think that I once considered “mental health difficulties” to be attention-seeking bullshit. That changed a few years ago, but the reality of my naivety only truly sank in this year when a single negative occurrence could smack me with waves of darkness punishing enough to leave me bed-stricken for the day. In such periods, the only thing you don’t become numb to is the surprise that matters can get even worse – for me, that happened when I ordered a pizza.

I can’t even remember what pizza it was, but it would have been a very nice pizza. Well, if I could have stomached more than two or three slices without wanting to churn my guts up. Christ, this was bad. I love food – as long as it’s not green. How could I not eat a pizza? How could I not eat anything? Not long after I was in Bristol poking and prodding at a Five Guys burger – usually my favourite – for 15 minutes. But I couldn’t get it all down. Barely touched the fries.

This vicious sickness that was toying and tormenting my brain had started to show itself physically. I felt bony, having shed two stone in about a month. Upon mentioning this struggle to my friends, one noted that I had slimmed down. I hadn’t a clue, so trapped in my own head that reality had ceased to exist. And at that point, what did I care? It was fucking shit anyway.

I tried an experiment a week or so earlier at one of my lowest points. University had ended, three great years with several great mates who pulled me along even if they didn’t realise it at the time.

India and Pakistan were set to duel in the Champions Trophy final at the Oval, about an hour and a half up the road. I didn’t have a ticket, so I paid an obscene amount of money for a ticket. Money was no object, not because I had a lot of it, but because it had ceased to mean anything – a personal economic crash, if you will.

I am a sports nut. I would get up in the middle of the night during school time to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat, Lleyton Hewitt scuttle on the baseline and Ana Ivanovic lose. It was madness but I never cared – I loved it. To watch India v Pakistan live in a match of such importance should have filled me with unmatched adrenaline and joy – but it didn’t.

It was merely okay. Fakhar Zaman’s unexpected, punchy hundred to set the tone was just alright. Mohammad Amir’s unprecedented dismantling of Virat Kohli left me no more than appreciative. Being on the guest list at Pakistan’s date with destiny as they downed their greatest foe should have felt magical, instead, I was numb. Thoughts on other matters. Dark matters. I had a similar experience in Bangalore earlier this year. It was a wonderful trip and I met some wonderful people but one night, at an Indian Premier League match of all places, I felt dead inside. Couldn’t even get hyped for MS Dhoni launching a six out of the stadium.

I was physically and mentally drained by the time I got home from that Champions Trophy final. It was, admittedly, an extremely hot day. I felt my legs going by the time I arrived back at London Victoria. I was knackered, but it was more than the heat. As far as everybody else was concerned, I’d had an amazing day. And while at the time it was indeed my best in weeks, in the grander picture, it was just another blob of misery. And I’m sad for that, because somebody else could have been in my seat to drink in the action and enjoy the atmosphere between the Indian and Pakistani fans – frenemies, always.

Back to my weight. The first stone I lost was unnecessary chub, the second I decided I could bargain away providing there was no more. But I couldn’t eat. I just couldn’t fucking eat. It was unexplainable. I feared losing three, four, maybe even five stone and wasting away entirely. Sometimes that even felt for the best. Depression is a nasty illness. Anxiety stops you from doing the things you love. Depression stops you from even wanting to try.

If you have ever known me personally, you will know I am something of an eccentric. I have grappled with whether that’s a fake persona or not many times. I have concluded it isn’t. Sure, it’s served as a coping mechanism at times, but my quirks are who I am. But the depression demons first want to kill who you are, before deciding whether to kill you. I’ve never felt suicidal, but I’ve understood why people would. And unless you find a way off that road, I don’t doubt that suicide is likely if not inevitable. Today’s world may well be drugged on hyperbole and exaggeration, but trust me, I’m speaking sober.

Things aren’t so bad at the moment. I’m afraid there’s no monologue as to why – I don’t really know why, and frankly, right now, I don’t care. Certain areas of my life are better, others are worse. But I am encouraged. My anxiety is more under control than it has been for four years. I am laughing again. I am loving sport again. I care about those two things as much as I care about anything.

If you’re struggling, I’m afraid I have no advice. Only you know your situation. The advice given in this area is the most well-meaning in the world, but that doesn’t mean it will help. Nearly everybody recommended I tell my closest family. It was natural advice, the best advice for pretty much anyone I’m sure, but not for me. Because that’s what I did, and it provided additional, needless stress.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate it. More than you’ll ever know.

Mensur Mania reigns in Cardiff

I won’t feed you any PDC propaganda about Mensur Suljovic winning a “major”, because he hasn’t. But as far as exhibitions go, this BBC gig, the Champions League as its called, is just about the best of them. And if anyone was going to become the first new TV winner in a full-strength field since Michael van Gerwen scooped the 2012 World Grand Prix (not including World Series events or Peter Wright’s 2017 UK Open – a tournament without van Gerwen and Taylor), who better than Big Mensur?

One could say that Suljovic was at an advantage over his rivals, in that he likely didn’t give a damn that this tournament was on the BBC — unlike Peter Wright, who frittered away eight match darts against Gary Anderson in their group-stage decider.

Taylor stitches up van Gerwen once again

What to make of van Gerwen, who has now suffered consecutive humiliations on telly to Taylor? There’s no doubt he’s back in Phil’s pocket, who, in what he promises is his final year, has craftily orchestrated the crowd to ensure they give the Dutchman hell. Imbued from his 16–6 dismantling of MvG at the World Matchplay, Taylor felt confident enough to break out the Green Machine’s double fist pump celebration as he dumped him out in the group.

I don’t buy the line that Phil is on a free roll on his last lap of the circuit — his bratty antics in losing to Corey Cadby in Melbourne last month reek of a sorer loser than ever. He cares alright, and after van Gerwen’s dominance over him in recent years — a sustained run Phil had never experienced in his career — he’s revelling in landing a few blows of his own.

Just desserts for van Gerwen, one could argue, having been so overconfident at the Matchplay to text fellow Dutchie Vincent van der Voort during the interval of his second round match against Simon Whitlock to say that he’d already beaten him. Not that we can glean too much from Taylor’s word salad interviews nowadays, but it was clear that had riled him, as he made sure to mention it in his post-match spiel after beating the world number one in Blackpool.

He mused again in Cardiff on how van Gerwen was a bad loser. Hypocritical, but that doesn’t stop it being true.

After storming to his second world title in January, the Dutchman has found himself facing some unlikely adversity. He’s going to keep getting it in the neck against Phil, and right now, he can’t hack it. Frustrating, really, that the PDC’s greatest, most intriguing and genuine rivalry will be no more after January. They really do not like each other.

Taylor has opted out of next month’s Grand Prix, denying us of a showdown there, but we’ll hopefully see them go at it in Wolverhampton for the Grand Slam of Darts or at the World Championship.

Darts in capable hands on the BBC

Unlike the BDO, the PDC has given the BBC something to work with, and they did a capable job once again. Jason Mohammad fronted the coverage well, while Paul Nicholson and Mark Webster proved good sidekicks.

The only real downers were the showings from Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall, who both failed to record a win. That and a boring Taylor-van Barneveld match, which flatters to deceive more often than not now — even their quarter-final at the World Championships felt flat for the majority. Taylor won this one 10–6, for the record. ‘El Dartico’ or ‘darts’ El Clasico’ is rather generous.

It was a far superior event to last year, which was dulled by far too many one-sided contests. Mensur, whose personality we’re starting to become more acclimatised too, was the highlight throughout — his ballsy 160 match-winning checkout in the semis versus Raymond van Barneveld really was a cracker. And he held his nerve well in the final against Anderson, rallying superbly in the latter stages to finish the job, since he looked tetchy after being pegged back to 6–6.

Suljovic winning with a sub-88 average — that was more than 10 points inferior to Anderson’s — was also a delight. It won’t deter those drunk on statistics; we’re sure to keep seeing “leg averages” and being told “you can’t win with anything less than 100 average”. But it’s nice to know darts remains a game of checking out 501 more quickly than your opponent, with each leg being independent from the other.

More darts on the BBC? Yes please. More Mensur Mania? Yes please. More El Darticos? No thanks.

Michael van Gerwen fires fantasy darts in performance for the ages

Picking the correct adjectives is essential when describing sport – labelling every significant moment “fantastic” or “great” just serves to devalue your lexicon. Very rarely do we see the stuff of fantasy that would equate to being fantastic, or an act of true greatness. We have to find ways of separating the highest tiers of brilliance in sport, or we cannot do them justice.

Last night Michael van Gerwen was fantastic. Last night Michael van Gerwen was great. Raymond van Barneveld fell barely short of both descriptors, yet he was still hammered 6-2 in the PDC World Championship semi-final by his ruthless Dutch counterpart.

Yes, van Gerwen’s romp was nearly 10 points shy of his imperfect – yes, imperfect – 123.40 world record average, but you cannot compare eight exhibition legs with eight of the hugest sets in darts. This semi-final showing was the best performance of all-time, beating a subjective honour previously bestowed upon Phil Taylor for his 7-1 thrashing of van Barneveld in the 2009 world final, where his average nudged 111.

Here comes the van Gerwen stats barrage: the highest ever average in a World Championship match 114.05 – almost three points superior to Taylor’s destruction of Shayne Burgess in 2002 –15 180s, 29 140s and a further cluster of big scores utilising the treble 19. Compared to van Barneveld’s two-out-of-three doubling, the 26-year-old was found wanting, but he still nailed more than half of his attempts. Oh, and he missed double 12 for a nine-darter too.

Barring Barney, the least enchanted by this darting wizardry was van Gerwen himself, who espoused the same brutal and commendable honesty he has for weeks. Some call it arrogance, that it may be, but we all know it’s what he’s thinking, and we’re thinking it too. Should he not win seven sets before Gary Anderson does and lift the Sid Waddell Trophy on Monday evening, the year will go down as a failure for Mighty Mike. Beating van Barneveld was another step towards that goal, the manner of it was just a happy little bonus, and something he won’t dwell on or coo over – the rest of us can do that.

Van Gerwen’s stunning second-half assault makes it easy to forget that for the first four sets this match was looking like a classic to end all classics. One constant of this famous rivalry has been van Barneveld’s feisty fight, a trait he has invariably brought to this contest even if it’s been sorely missing elsewhere – last year’s World Championship scalp is well-documented, but the less-talked about 2012 Grand Slam of Darts final is an exquisite example too.

Van Barneveld, seeking a first TV title in more than five years ran into a rampant young protagonist finally finding his feet in the PDC. Van Gerwen had blown away the field, including Phil Taylor, and was seeking a second PDC major to go with his first at the World Grand Prix a month prior, and he was the undeniable favourite to claim it.

But the elder Dutch boss hadn’t read the script. Clutch 180s and key finishes tormented a van Gerwen who just wanted to bulldoze, but he was unable too. Nerves crept in for van Barneveld near the end, but he banished them with a match-winning 11-darter against the throw to pinch the tournament 16-14. For four sets on Sunday we were seeing that same resolve, but in overload.

It was the best van Barneveld, a veteran of more than two decades and a winner of five world championships, had ever played on television, and it came because van Gerwen is the only man able to extract such darts from him. Not even Taylor could inspire Barney to this standard – in fact, after a while, he would rather quit than battle.

In terms of this match, van Gerwen started like a sloth, as van Barneveld cruised to the opening set 3-0 with a settling 107 and a gorgeous 131. All doubts surrounding which RvB would turn up following his long overdue scalp of tormenter Taylor 48 hours earlier diminished.

Red-hot Ray was in an even meaner mood after the break, sinking a never-in-doubt 160 to break – van Gerwen, who was waiting on 25, cast a slightly stunned look but was unperturbed. Then came the most crucial leg of the match, and had van Barneveld won it, he would have taken a commanding two-set lead. But he was never winning it, despite being on double 12 after 12 darts thrown.

Bish, bash, bosh. Triple 20, single 14, double 20 for MvG. A 12-darter, a break, a set back on throw and a dagger in the heart of his opponent. Van Barneveld positioned himself on the same double in the deciding fifth leg after four visits – once again, he never got a shot.

The bizarre was happening at Alexandra Palace. The averages were north of 110, the crowd were watching darts, and ‘Chase the Sun’ had been shunned for ‘Freed from Desire’.

Van Gerwen whizzed to the third set flinging yet more fire, but he was kept honest by his adversary, who pinned a routine 127 effortlessly on his way to levelling the scores after the Green Machine missed tops for a 94 that was, in the context of this match, a blink.

With no precedent for such mastery, one wondered whether the pummelling would eventually tell on somebody. It surely had to, and it did. Van Gerwen, somehow, got better while van Barneveld lost a couple of percentage points – but it was no more than that. MvG didn’t run riot for fun in the latter sets, he did so because he had to. The ageing Dutch master was nipping at his heels throughout, and even flirted at a comeback in the eighth set, before being savagely snuffed out.

A gutted van Barneveld oozed class in a beautifully miserable interview in the backroom after. He was devastated, not in awe. He couldn’t give a jot that he averaged 109 or played in the most mind-boggling match of all-time. Why give a valiant loss the time of the day when you’ve been crowned five times? Van Barneveld and van Gerwen have the same champion brain – there’s no substitute to this tournament and being successful in it.

It’s why van Barneveld has reached the semi-final at this event four times in the last five while generally being a pale shadow elsewhere. He doesn’t care about the rest. Victory in the Premier League was nice but it’s a mere career footnote.

For van Gerwen, oodles of expectation will be on him versus Anderson, who has staved off 11 World Championship challenges as the hunted – however, the 12th will be the Scot’s toughest by far. If van Gerwen has an outing remotely similar to the semi-final, Anderson will have to be more powerful and clinical than ever before. A rubbish cliché, granted, but it is true: if anyone can do it, he can.

The third and possibly deciding part of the Michael van Gerwen-Gary Anderson World Championship saga promises everything. The former won the first but invigorated the latter’s career in doing so, and Anderson repaid the favour 12 months’ later on his way to his first world title.

The darting world awaits a showdown usually only sports entertainment can provide. Buckle up.

Two years on, what to make of the PDC’s monster?

Two years ago I wrote an article on why I considered the Professional Darts Corporation’s decision to sell its events as a party rather than a sport was a gamble. Safe to say, the piece attracted a lot of attention – around 10,000 reads, about 70 percent of the total views this blog has garnered in two and a half years.

The response was mixed, although it was more positive than not, and as it’s still applicable, the post continues to receive comments today – especially at World Championship time. With a lot of water under the bridge, now is the appropriate time to revisit it. Much I continue to believe, although a few comments were admittedly slightly naïve.

In suggesting the PDC has become slaves to a monster, I dare say the past 24 months have vindicated that. Crowds have worsened, so much so that we now hear as many football chants as darts ones, while it sometimes feels as if few would notice if the players just packed up and walked off, given the backdrop behind the players is often a sea of backs instead of faces.

There’s nothing that can be done about this now. Indeed, referees seem to realise the once customary “thank you” is as useful as a Kevin Painter lesson in bottle. That’s the route they’ve gone down and it’s fair to say we’re not near the tipping point yet. A night at the darts remains mighty appealing, even if a night watching the darts doesn’t. With more – albeit anecdotal – evidence that I’ve had from people who say they no longer attend PDC events because of the crowd situation, it’s inevitable that things will keep moving in this direction.

Sadly the PDC revels in drunken tomfoolery. During Wednesday afternoon’s second-round session, the corporation’s official Twitter page shared a GIF of somebody taking a “PINT TO THE FACE!!!” – along with that god-awful crying with laughter emoji –before later deleting it after copious criticism. I cannot think of any other sport that not only allows its spectators to behave like idiots, but actively endorses it.

Any attempts to exercise crowd control are fruitless – they will do what they like when they like and make a lot of noise while doing it. And, as far as the PDC’s finances are concerned, that’s fine for now. But there are undeniably sustainability questions – surrounding having a darts crowd that isn’t there to watch darts – that will become pertinent eventually, although it’s hard to say when. What could change things is a serious kick-off at a UK event that makes headlines outside darts – the likelihood of that seems about as improbable but not impossible as it has ever been.

All of this gloom isn’t to say darts hasn’t made some huge strides, and my comment that the World Championships should have stayed at the Circus Tavern was a mistake borne out of pernicious nostalgia. It was a special place (sort of) and it’s a shame it’s not used for anything, but looking back, moving was the correct decision.

Purfleet’s finest was never the Crucible or a second Lakeside. Ultimately, the Circus was merely a venue that happened to stage darts’ most iconic match as its last World Championship salvo. With darts bidding for the big time, it wasn’t worth saving. The deteriorating atmosphere over the past decade hasn’t been caused by the change in arena, but by the PDC’s refusal to firmly stamp out the nonsense behaviour when it started.

Painting the PDC a “bleak long-term future” was clumsy. There’s plenty of reason to believe, with the growing European market at least, that further expansion is likely and forthcoming. Shipping a big major, ideally the World Grand Prix over to the Netherlands or Germany seems a logical step with the Citywest Hotel in Dublin having the most trouble filling the hall up of late.

That pretty much falls in line with what I said at the time, although it’s slightly bizarre that aside from now hosting a Premier League night, the Dutch are still being ignored. Encouragingly, folk out there and across the continent – while in for a good time – appear to care about what’s happening on the board too.

I still reckon the PDC will have long-term problems keeping its product fresh in the UK, but with other countries chomping at the bit, the organisation should stay in rude health providing it harnesses that potential. Finding a marketable replacement for Phil Taylor will be the bigger challenge.

Nobody has the lure of the Power, not even Michael van Gerwen. Taylor’s world finals against van Gerwen and Anderson in 2013 and 2015 respectively brought in around 1.2 million viewers apiece. Contrast that to the 668,000 who tuned in for van Gerwen versus Peter Wright in 2014, and the 908,000 who switched on for Gary Anderson’s title retention against Adrian Lewis last year. If nothing else, it’s a warning signal, as was the PDC’s foray onto the BBC back in September – despite getting the showpiece Taylor-van Gerwen final, fewer than one million watched it.

So, all in all, I’d like to think I’ve largely been proven right, despite being a tad heavy-handed in certain areas. The PDC has certainly created a monster, but for now, it’s a stable one, and they should be able to keep it so for a while yet. For real fans, who enjoyed going to the darts to watch the darts – such a novel concept – the long-term future is indeed bleak. Darts sold itself to reach new heights, and Barry Hearn concluded neglecting his core, dedicated audience in favour of a wild, carefree gang was for the greater good. Time will tell whether he’s right.

A list of everybody who absolutely destroyed Donald Trump in 2016

​Donald J. Trump really has been the gift that’s kept on giving over the past 18 months. His presidential bid was literally hilarious and provided all of the highly-respected late-night liberal TV hosts a never-ending wealth of material that could be condensed – either daily or weekly –  into YouTube clips and shared across social media.

Trump’s brash, triggering style, which earned him widespread condemnation from our favourite Hollywood stars and paved the way for Hillary Clinton’s storming victory in the popular vote.

Here’s a list of everybody who absolutely destroyed Donald Trump in 2016:

The end.

Question everything

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