TFSOM’s Holiday Project: ten things you can see, hear, touch, drink or eat in Australia.

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  1. The wombat

The world’s most adorable animal. A wombat is like a 35kg teddy-bear crossed with a hedgehog, only without the spines. Looking at the face, there could be a bit of harvest-mouse in there too (a very big one). I stroked a wombat between its shoulder-blades, one evening just after dark, grazing placidly on the lawn at my son’s wedding celebration. They can be seen plentifully in this location, known as Kangaroo Valley. Australians present said they’d never seen one that tame, and I shouldn’t assume every wombat would let me get away with it. Even so, a must.

  1. Hi-Vis parenting

Like many young middle-class Portuguese parents, a lot of young middle-class Australians go in for high-visibility, high-audibility parenting, leaving nobody within earshot in any doubt about their highly-developed skills. Overheard (therefore) on the Manly ferry, as it rounded Bradleys Head on its way to Sydney:

Mother: (excitedly) And when we get round that point there, what are we going to see?

Toddler: (looks blank) …

Mother: (prompting) We’re going to see …

Toddler: (with wild excitement) Tigers!

Mother: No, it’s a building, remember, a big white building

Toddler: (obliged to insist a little) Tigers!

Mother: (obliged to insist a little) No, it’s a white building

(We round the point, to see The Opera House 2 kms off in the distance)

  1. Sydney Opera House

Not white in fact, but a gorgeous creamy caramel colour. Unexpectedly huge, and even more beautiful than the hype has led you to expect.

  1. The Friday afternoon yuppie piss-up

From late Friday afternoon onwards, drinking places like the The Island or the Manly Wharf Hotel are crammed with smartly turned-out Sydney-siders, drinking with a single-mindedness which would make a football hooligan stare. The Island is on a posh boat with a flat bottom, and the cheerful roar it gives off can be heard half a kilometre away. It can be rented for a very reasonable $25.000 a day.

By the way, a Sydney-sider is defined simply enough in Wikipedia as ‘a native or inhabitant of Sydney, Australia’. The Urban Dictionary goes further: ‘a person who lives in Sydney, Australia and really hates Melbourne. Their hobbies include sooking about how Sydney is better than Melbourne because they have a massive chip on their shoulder. Most of them are having trouble dealing with the fact that Sydney has had its day, and Melbourne has no where (sic) to go but up.’

If you’re now wondering what ‘sooking’ means, the barely literate and apparently not very self-aware Urban Dictionary can help again: ‘to act like a pussy ass bitch. Wine (sic) like a two year old’

So now you know all you need to know about Sydney-siders.

  1. Asian tourists

Year-round, Sydney boasts large groups of Asian tourists, mostly female, often wearing colourful hats or visors. Polkadot patterns are often seen. These groups queue with other groups of Asian tourists at the main attractions, so that they can take photos of one another grinning and shrieking in front of  them.

To summarise the remaining items:

6-9.  Tasty pies, good coffee, birds, The Royal Botanic Gardens,

There are pie-shops everywhere, and the takeaway coffee is always good. There are loads of birds, and the botanical gardens are very nice, with great views of downtown Sydney, the harbour, the bridge, the opera house etc.   Shit, this isn’t very good, is it?

Not great. How long were you there?

Two or three weeks.

Perhaps something else will come to mind. You know you haven’t even managed ten items. Perhaps you need to change the title to ‘nine’.

I can’t be bothered, to be honest.

Ok, don’t beat yourself up about it. So did you read about that cricketer David Warner hating the English?

Yes. He seems like a nasty little git.

Very much so. At least he’s lost the parade-ground moustache.

What I didn’t understand, though, he said he has to dig deep into himself to activate his hatred of us, which seems like a greater effort than any self-respecting Australian should have to make.

Ha ha. Who’s us?

What do you mean? You’re English, aren’t you?

I’ve got a good quote I found in an article. Do you want to hear it?

If you’re not English, what are you? OK, go on.

It’s some Aussie bloke who was chief executive of Australian Rugby Union during the 2007 World Cup, and he said: “Whether it’s cricket, rugby league or rugby union, we do all hate England. All I’m doing is stating the bleeding obvious. No one likes England … Sadly, this is all a by-product of their born-to-rule mentality. It’s been there for a long time now and nothing has changed.”

Yes, Warner also said history was a big part of it. You can see his point, of course. They have a wine called Nineteen Crimes, which is nineteen of the 200-odd offences that could get you transported.

Such as?

I happen to have the list here. One was ‘Petty Larceny. Theft under one shilling’.  Another was ‘Stealing fish from a pond or river’. Have a look for yourself.

‘Impersonating an Egyptian’ is a good one. And ‘Stealing a shroud out of a grave’. They were weird times. 

They also have a beer called One Fifty Lashes, which is what the bloke who first brewed beer there got for stealing the ingredients, so the legend goes. They seem to revel in all this stuff.

Good beer, is it?

Excellent. Australia is awash with excellent beer, mostly pale ales, draught or bottled. That’s my tenth point, thank you.

 

A Spot of Rain

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Another delayed post.

11th October 2017

It’s about five-thirty, a hot and humid late afternoon. The sun is quite low, sloping in at 45 degrees or so, but its heat is still weirdly strong as I step out into the garden.  I potter for a while, bending, straightening, dead-heading, snipping.

Then, out of nothing, a quick patter and rustle around me, and spots of coolness on the back of my white work-shirt. I straighten up.

After three months, it is raining.

The sun continues to beam hotly from the south-west as the rain intensifies. I crane my neck to see a rare sight, a grey cloud directly above, slowly heading north.

‘It’s raining, it’s raining!’ I enthuse, but the dog has headed indoors.

I hurry to turn over the cushions on the garden chairs, and fuss about in wonderment for a while. But it’s over quickly – before the dots and spots on the tiles of the terrace have had a chance to join together, the rain has stopped.

Very interesting, what an afternoon you had, but at the top there, are you sure ‘weirdly’ works? You just mean that it was unseasonably hot, yes?

When I get right down to it, you mean? No actually, I  don’t ‘mean’ that, whatever ‘mean’ means.

Fine, just trying to help.

And it makes no sense anyway.

Don’t start, of course it makes sense.

It has no meaning.

Everyone knows what it means. It’s even in the dictionary.

But unseasonably hot means that the heat was unseasonable, doesn’t it?

Obviously.

Well, also obviously, when something is called unseasonable, that means, and only means, that it cannot be seasoned. ‘Unseasonably hot’ thus means that the afternoon was so hot that it couldn’t be seasoned. And since an afternoon is not something that can be seasoned in the first place, the expression is meaningless.

You’ve lost me a while ago there. Listen, it’s clear to me and everyone else what it means, and it would have made things a lot clearer if you’d just used it in the first place.

Thanks for your views. I’ll give them some thought.

 

 

TFSOM is on the Sofa this Week

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This post is running a bit late.

6th September

We had eaten in a quiet restaurant in Rebelva, near Carcavelos, arriving early so as to get dinner out of the way by mid-evening. It is one of those little restaurants which are packed with quietly grazing elderly couples at lunchtime but are quieter in the evening. The food is simple, tasty and cheap, in the Portuguese way. I’d had some excellent braised pig’s liver with proper hand-cut chips, my wife had the sardines, and I’d had the lion’s share of a half-litre jug of wine.

On the way home we stopped in Carcavelos to drop off one of those light recliner-rocker chair things for babies, the sort of thing you strap a one-year-old into to watch cartoons until they doze off. My wife’s son and daughter-in-law have a new baby.

We parked and walked towards the flat along a quiet street. I was carrying the chair. In a two-and-a-half-glasses-of-red-wine sort of way, I thought it would be jolly to demonstrate an amusing thing I’d once done when carrying an empty Moses-basket across the school lawn (someone needed one, and I had one to lend).  It was lunchtime, and noting a number of chatting teachers observing me idly, I made a show of clucking and grinning into the empty basket as I approached, before simulating a trip which sent it somersaulting into the air, drawing gasps and shouts and screams of alarm in the split-second before everyone realised it was empty. I told you it was amusing.

Unfortunately, this time I was walking on an uneven pavement of those sharp-edged little Portuguese cobblestones, and in theatrically pretending to trip I actually did trip, falling forward  heavily and hard onto my right knee. It was a second or two before I was able to collect myself and inspect it. The impact had opened a jagged three-cornered gash in the kneecap, the shallow flesh split open in the manner of a burst sausage. Blood had splattered around it and on the ground. I gripped the kneecap tightly in my right hand to stem the bleeding.

Is there much more of this?

Quite a bit, but I can hurry it up.

If you wouldn’t mind. That’s probably enough detail on the knee, for instance.

Synopsis.

Veronica, that’s my wife, went on to the flat to get help. After some time an ambulance arrived, and I was taken to Cascais General Hospital, emerging an hour and a half later in a wheel-chair with nine stitches in my knee-cap. Since then I have been twice to the local Health Centre, for follow-up and to have the dressing changed. I was well-treated by the emergency services and have been well-treated at the Health Centre.

Main Characters

Very drunk man

Kept me company (ie wouldn’t go away) when I was alone sitting on the pavement. Kept trying to make me stand up by reaching under my arms, while I waved him off ineffectually. Every time he wandered off, he came wandering back.

Policeman

Called from the police station round the corner by the very drunk man. Young, calm, courteous and helpful. Seemed intelligent and well-educated. Called the ambulance.

The ambulance team.

The young woman who saw to the first aid was capable, courteous, articulate and friendly. In Portugal, the ambulance service is mostly provided by the Bombeiros Voluntários. This is the volunteer fire brigade (men and women), who are paid either nothing or virtually nothing. 90% of firefighters are volunteers. Anything up to a dozen are killed each year (in 2005, it was 16). This friendly and efficient young woman told me she was a trained  socorrista, which is translated not very helpfully in my dictionary as ‘lifeguard’. Her dream was to complete her nursing qualification.

The doctor who stitched up my knee.

Young, capable, overworked. She’d been on all day. Asking advice from a slightly older colleague, she asked how long he’d been on. ‘Since yesterday’ he replied.

Can I see the wound? Have you got a photo?

Ah. I thought you’d never ask.

Well. I’ve seen worse.

I was expecting you to say that.

So, about the chips.

What?

They’d be called ‘hand-crafted’ in England of course. And they’d be ‘heritage potatoes’. Ridiculous, the menus these days. I read an article in the Mail the other week which summed it up for me …

OK can we come back to that? My point is how efficiently and politely I was treated by the emergency services, in a country suffering badly from economic austerity.

And what does that even mean, anyway?

‘Difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure’.

Is that from a dictionary?

And what it’s meaning is that huge numbers of young, well-trained Portuguese doctors and nurses can’t get a job in their own country, and are now working in places like Britain.

Lucky Britain

Lucky Britain unless they get kicked out because of Brexit

So the article was about a menu at some big dinner, and a piece of cod ‘delicately balanced on a sumptuous organic pearl barley risotto, hand in hand with an English courgette flower beignet.’

Was it tasty?

I didn’t eat it, I read about it. I told you, in the Daily Mail. You don’t listen.

Was it ‘line-caught’? You do see that on menus.

I’m not discussing fine dining with someone who eats braised pig’s liver when they go out to eat.

Suit yourself, but it was very tender and tasty. I’ll take your wishes for a prompt recovery as read, shall I?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2002594/Why-ludicrously-pretentious-menus-turn-stomach.html

https://www.bombeiros.pt/homenagem-2/

 

But first, the World Cup

So today’s the day. England Under-17s take on Spain in the World Cup final. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, this. It ought to feel inevitable that an England football team will choke, or look suddenly ordinary, or in some other way mess things up, against a big-name team like Spain. As everyone knows, it’s fifteen years since a senior England side beat a decent team in any finals. That was in Japan in 2002, when we scraped through unconvincingly against Argentina with a Beckham penalty.  In the 2004 Euros we really fancied ourselves, but both France and Portugal beat us, and I won’t go into what has happened since, golden generation and all.

Coming down the age-range a notch, four months ago the Under 21s got knocked out of the Euros, by, yes, you’ve guessed it, Germany on penalties. OK, you may point out that three weeks earlier, the Under20s had beaten Italy on the way to deservedly winning their own World Cup. But the unpalatable fact is that England very rarely indeed beat a major footballing nation at any level. So, my reasoning goes, if we had any sense we wouldn’t expect too much today.

But for anyone who has been watching this team, it’s hard to shake a feeling of quiet confidence that they can beat Spain and win this World Cup. This isn’t because they have swept through the tournament, outclassing and out-passing every team they have come up against. 4-0 against Iraq looks good, but England were laboured for much of the game, and didn’t finish the Iraqis off until late on. They needed penalties against Japan (when you may remember the England goalkeeper Curtis Anderson put on an unedifying display of poor sportsmanship, unchecked by the referee), and in the quarter-final against USA, they spent quite a bit of their time wondering where the ball was. But what they have is a solid and physically imposing back four, a consistently high-class midfielder in Phil Foden (who looks eerily like Jack Wilshere on the ball), and a proper centre-forward who knows how to put the ball in the net. They like to play the ball forward quickly and positively, rather than pass it around aimlessly, predictably and riskily at the back (as the senior team do, because they’ve been told over and over that they must do whatever it takes, no matter how negative and pointless, to deny the ball to the opposition). Above all these boys play with conviction, as if they don’t just intend to win but know how they are going to do it. That was enough to put a talented and highly-fancied Brazil side away, and might well be too good for Spain.

But steady on, let’s not get too cheerful. Since the senior team’s grisly tournament record has ended any expectations of their having it in them to do well when the chips are down (only a lunatic would bet on them doing well in a tournament against Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Belgium, Portugal or plenty of others) England fans have wedded themselves to hope. It’s nice to dream about the future, and commentators and journalists have spoken excitedly about the year’s age-group successes as if this is a successful senior England team in waiting. But it isn’t.

A big part of the excitement in watching the Under-17s is the fact that hardly anyone outside football (perhaps excluding the diehards who turn out to watch club training-sessions and reserve matches) had heard of these kids until a few weeks ago. It’s like finding a box of chocolates you didn’t know you had, all with new names and flavours. There’s something dream-like about it.

That is a very different feeling from what you get with the Under-21s, where you find yourself watching the likes of Calum Chambers or James Ward Prowse; or even the Under 20s, with Calvert Lewin, Solanke and so on. The problem is that, unlike the Under-17s, we have seen these players for their clubs, and have got used to seeing them look decent-but-nothing-special-yet, and in most cases not even likely to be special. Nobody in his right mind gets dreamy-eyed about a future England team based on Chalobah or Ward-Prowse (let alone Chambers, God forbid) because we have seen what these players offer in league football.  And it’s no use comparing the FA’s development programme with what Clairefontaine did for the French team. Good young French players get regular games for their clubs, but when English commentators enthuse about players for the future like Solanke, Gomez, Maitland-Niles and the rest it’s hard to resist a sceptical twinge at the back of your mind, because you know that unless they keep improving at a very steep rate indeed, Klopp or Wenger are going to move them on to Sunderland or West Brom after a year or two, and that might very well be the end of them (I’m not even going to talk about Chelsea’s market-garden approach to youth development).

So caution is advised when making predictions about even this exciting Under-17 team: the real challenge will be getting a game for their clubs.

But first, the World Cup.

 

* Note to the reader. This post is not intended to be (particularly) humorous, but I can’t make the Categories work properly.

Forewarned…

grim-reaper

Why I am writing this blog

This is a new blog. WordPress say new bloggers should say something in the first post about what their blog is going to be like and what the point of it is.

I live in Portugal. I am retiring from work very soon, and people concerned for my mental welfare are keen that I should keep myself occupied. They fret that I may become depressed if I knock about the house doing nothing. This is nonsense, because I don’t get depressed. However I may become:

  • bored
  • scared
  • gloomy
  • prone to bouts of staring introspection
  • unable to get up in the morning
  • a convert to Catholicism

so I have had to give it some thought. My wife will not be retiring for a year or two, and likes to assure me that a lot of my time will be taken up with cleaning, changing bed-linen, dealing with laundry, planning meals, sorting out the garden, going to the supermarket, cooking dinner, loading and emptying the dishwasher and so on. She also thinks it would be good for me to have an allotment and to spend more time with the grandchildren.

So I have decided to write a blog.

Why a blog?

Two reasons:

  1. I enjoy writing, and a blog may help the time pass more quickly until I can give up without embarrassment and begin quietly waiting for my final ailment.
  2. The other week a colleague at work said ‘Well, you could always write a blog’.

What will the blog be like?

  •  A sort of irregular journal, a way of publishing mockery and sarcasm at the expense of things which annoy or amuse me. There will be quite a lot about living in Portugal, language, sport, and what’s on British television. It will mostly aim to be humorous, but not always succeed. It will avoid complex issues like the plague.* It will not, even intermittently, be Tolstoyan in its seriousness, ambition and moral scope.
  • There will be anecdotal descriptions of incidents, places and so on. The easily-embarrassed reader may wish to give these literary sallies a wide berth, but I enjoy writing them.
  • It will be a ragbag of bits and pieces, reminiscences, jokes, other people’s poetry, critical comment on old pop songs nobody cares about any more…
  • And so much more.

* I don’t have much to say about the plague.