Through the looking-glass with George

Bizarre tales from the frat-boy-in-chief.

The publication of George W Bush's memoirs, Decision Point, and the accompanying media blitz reveal some bizarre anecdotes from one of the most controversial presidents in US history.

Some of more tasteful vignettes include his recounting of the time his mother showed him the remains of a foetus, saved in a jar after she suffered a miscarriage. This, Bush recalled in an interview with MSNBC's Matt Lauer, was intended to show that

It's important to understand my relationship with my mom . . . She says to her teenage kid: "Here's a foetus!"

On his troubling relationship with alcohol in the early part of his life, Bush recalls with enthusiasm the saucy repartee that endeared him to many. He suggests:

OK, so here's one of the worst . . . I'm drunk, at the [family] dinner table . . . I'm sitting next to a beautiful woman, a friend of Mother and Dad's. I said to her out loud: "What is sex like after 50?" Total silence. Not only silence, but serious daggers . . . From my wife.

On a more serious note, Bush argues in his book that the waterboarding of al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed helped prevent terrorist attacks on US targets and Heathrow and Canary Wharf. He writes:

Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.

In an interview with James Harding, editor of the Times, Bush makes similar points (£). His tome covers many other topics, from considering replacing Dick Cheney as vice-president during the 2004 elections to other statesmanlike quandaries such as having to pick up his dog Barney's mess after he left office.

Oh, and contrary to what we all believed, he was, in his words a "dissenting voice" on the invasion in Iraq in March 2003.

I was a dissenting voice. I didn't want to use force . . . I mean force is the last option for a president. And I think it's clear in the book that I gave diplomacy every chance to work.

George, you old rascal, you!

 

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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