Here we go again…

Soccer - FIFA World Cup England 66 - Final - England v West Germany - Wembley Stadium

The TFSOM offices are knee-deep in postcards sent in by readers keen to hear more about aquarobics classes, megaliths and dog-mess, and concerned that nothing has been posted for a while.  A number of correspondents have been worried that I might already have died, and will therefore have to give up the blog. I am happy to reassure them that my health is relatively good, but I have been kept too busy to write by the following:

  • We spent a week in deepest France, visiting one of Veronica’s brothers and his wife.
  • We spent a week in Yorkshire, visiting just about everyone else in her family.
  • The World Cup is on.

We have also had the builders in, and now summer is starting in earnest, bringing visits from my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, plus my son and daughter-in-law will be over from Australia.

But I thought it would be civil to say hello quickly, so here goes a short post.

France, Vendée, ‘La Petite Noisette’

We were in the Vendée, which France-lovers (not quite the same as francophiles) will already know is a very rural area near the west coast, to the south of Brittany (think wheat-fields, huge trees, stone-built villages, duck-egg blue window-shutters, massive stone crucifixes everywhere.) We spent a relaxing time eating and drinking too much and playing off-piste boules around Martin and Cheryl’s big garden. A gastronomic curiosity (apart from being amazed all over again by the French custom of soaking buttered toast in their morning coffee before drinking it) was the fact that the best place we ate out (by far) was a small village gastro-pub run by an English couple (the worst was a place in Nantes, where I made the mistake of ordering steak, and was served the worst meal I have had set before me in many years [i]). The pub was called ‘La Petite Noisette’, and the food was excellent throughout, from amuse-bouche to starters to fish to puddings. An even greater curiosity was the fact that within ten minutes of our arriving, the place was suddenly filled with a party of over a dozen Scottish, English and Welsh people of a certain age, keen to wet their whistles before their dinner. I couldn’t help glancing from time to time at one of the Scots, a stocky, larger-than-life character who looked exactly like Ally McCoist’s overweight dad, until I realised that it must in fact be Ally McCoist. This gang were finally sat down at a long table, but the well-lubricated roar of rosbif banter, gossip and argument stopped a young French couple who came in in their tracks, jaws comically ajar. Anyway, if you are ever near Vernoux-en-Gatine, in Deux-Sèvres, try the place out. Four of us ate extremely well and drank a litre of decent house wine (OK, I drank half of it) for less than 130 euros.

Yorkshire, leafy Sheffield, the moors,

We were in Sheffield, Veronica’s home-town. Sheffield people are up in arms about all the tree-felling over the last year or two, but outside the not-very-picturesque-to-say-the-least city centre (I am being careful here) it is a gorgeously leafy place, where we had a busy family time, once again involving a lot of drinking and eating. On one outing I had excellent cod and chips, scoffed from a paper bag, followed a little later by half a truly succulent pork pie and a small bag of pontefract cakes, before going home for tea and dinner. On the same outing I had asked for a quick trip up to the moors, where everyone else stayed in the car with the windows up while I staggered about leaning into the refreshing summer breeze, before sheltering for a few minutes behind a large rock bearing a sign announcing forbiddingly that this was Holm Moss Car Park.

The World Cup began while we were in Sheffield, which meant when we weren’t eating we were watching football on the telly, so it was a great trip.

It’s all about the football from here on, so stop reading here if you’re already sick of it.

World Cup Diary

Monday 25th

What is the Icelandic for déjà vu?

It’s like watching someone fall off the waggon the moment they have to spend five minutes with people having a drink. The sports press, commentators, anchormen and pundits succeeded for month after month in presenting a po-faced, rational attitude to England’s chances at the World Cup, but all that has gone in a week. At the start of the tournament, no sane money was on England to win it, because they hadn’t beaten a decent team in a major tournament for sixteen years (that was Argentina by a nicked penalty in 2002). The fact that they still haven’t done so seems to have been lost on everyone on telly except Slavan Bilic. England have just about managed to overcome a not-very-good Tunisian team, they’ve scored a lot against some desperately poor Panamanians, and now they are on their way to the final, to judge by Alan Shearer’s irritating ear-to-ear smirk and the unhinged exclamations of the BBC commentator for the Panama game, viz: ‘England four, Panama nil! The last time England scored four at a World Cup finals, Geoff Hurst scored three, and I don’t need to tell you what happened that day!’

What is the matter with these people?

Now half the nation are busy working out which side of the draw England would most like to avoid in the quarter-finals, getting there being a formality. ITV anchorman Mark Pougatch wonders aloud before the Poland-Columbia game whether England wouldn’t be better off losing to Belgium (as if this Belgium team are going to give England much choice in the matter). To their credit, pundits Bilic, Neville and Wright bat away this notion contemptuously (the scowling, sneering, painfully depressed Roy Keane seems too deep in his own reflections to be consulted on the matter, which is a loss) – but everyone except Bilic seems to presume that England will actually get to the quarter-finals. Having seen a very dangerous-looking Colombia thrash Poland 3-0, I’m not so sure about that. René Higuita was at the match, looking fabulous as always.

Careful, Lee…

After the uproar in the twittersphere about Patrice Evra’s condescending ‘That’s very good’ and little round of applause for female ex-pro pundit Eni Aluko, you might have expected Lee Dixon to think a bit more carefully before patronising the African official in the Russia-Uruguay game with a surprised and approving ‘he’s a good ref, this’. But no, it hasn’t sunk in. Lee, try this simple test: would you say that, in that tone of voice, about a European ref? (No, you wouldn’t, unless she was a woman.)

No truth in the rumours

Spain were clearly relieved that they would be facing hapless, clueless, shagged-out-looking Russia in their quarter-final, rather than dazzling, flavour-of-the-day Uruguay, but some authorities[ii] believe they may be counting their chickens early, attributing the Russian team’s poor last performance to an erroneous reduction in their dosage by what the East Germans used to call the team’s ‘sports doctor’. This problem can be corrected in a day or two, these theorists hold, so we may well see the ten-goal Russia back against Spain, who will be run off their feet and beaten in the last ten minutes by an opponent scampering about with their eyes starting from their heads. However, TFSOM gives no credence to such shameless propaganda by Russia’s running-dog enemies.

Tuesday 26th

Snore-draw

I had painted a wall and was just keeping an eye on it while it dried, so I only caught ten minutes of the France-Denmark game, thank God. There is a strong possibility that the England-Belgium game will be as bad. Let’s hope both teams need to win it, for whatever reason.

The finger of God.

The always-classy Diego Maradona excelled himself again, being captured by the cameras making vulgar gestures (using the middle-finger on each hand) towards opposition supporters below his hospitality box. The Bobby Moore of the pampas.

 Toodle-oo!

 

[i] This was an elementary error, a breach of Eating Out Rule 2 ‘Never Order Steak in France’.

[ii]  Boris Johnson

A word to the young

Good morning, everyone. Now, as some of you might know, I will not be here when you return next year, because I am retiring from teaching. And as retiring teachers sometimes do, I am going to say a few words to you, to bid you all farewell and to pass on the wisdom which I have acquired during the course of my long career. I have acquired this wisdom through being what is called a Lifelong Learner. If any of you become teachers, you will hear that phrase incessantly, unless it has become unfashionable by … sorry, have I said something funny? Well, I realise the idea of any of you doing such low-grade work may sound hilarious now, but if things don’t work out for you, you never know what twists and turns life may take.

So what wisdom have I acquired? I am happy to pass it on to you.

(there is an audible click, and a video image of an hour-glass appears on the screen, sand running from the upper flask to the lower).

Study this hour-glass, please. Maria, can I take questions later? All right, what would you like to share?  Yes, you could call it an egg-timer. But the main point is that the sand is running down from the top part to the lower part. And, what, since it seems I cannot discourage audience participation, does the sand represent? May I just go to Veronica, Maria, since she has her hand up? Yes, that’s an original idea, Veronica, but … anyone? Perhaps one of the younger children for a change? Yes, it represents time. It is a symbol, of sorts. And when all the sand has run from the top to the bottom, what can we do? Yes, Veronica, good, but after we have taken the eggs from the saucepan, and cut the tops off quickly so that they don’t go hard in their shells? Anyone? Well, with an hourglass, we can turn the glass round, and the sand can begin running down again. I don’t know why we would want to do that either, Augustas, but the point is that we can. So, what is the big difference between the hour-glass and a person’s life? Well, one big one is this: once the sand of a person’s life has run out, we cannot just turn the glass over and start again. That person is what we call dead.

Now all of you before me today will end up dying: some sooner, some later, quickly or slowly, bravely or not. You must have seen this with pets. Has anyone had a pet which died? Oh dear, can someone pass Daphne a tissue? Thank you. Big blow, Daphne, that’s the ticket. Crikey, that is a big one. Perhaps another tissue, someone.  Or two. Good. OK, now nobody else start, please. Perhaps a joke will cheer us all up. What is the death rate in Portugal?

The usual, one  per person. What is going on here?

Be quiet, can’t stop now. But before that dying day comes you will have a long time to live out your privileged, gated-community lives, unless you are murdered by one of the gardeners first, or die young of a horrible illness. And there is no shortage of opinion regarding how you should set about living these lives of yours. Priests of all religions are an excellent source of ideas, though these often involve following strange rules, and require the ability to believe in life after death. Other people will derive satisfaction from informing you, after Jean-Paul Sartre, that there is no God, nobody watching us and no one keeping score, but that even so we have no choice but to live, and must try to do so meaningfully.

We are condemned to be free.

Thank you, can you be quiet? Yes Max, he was French, excellent, well done! Katie, close your mouth, it’s been ajar for a little while now. Now if you find all that hard to manage, I can only recommend doing what most of us do, which is to spend half our time dreading or enduring the things which hurt, frighten or bore us, the other half looking forward to doing the things we like, and in between as little time as possible noticing how pointless the whole enterprise is. Thus you will probably spend nearly all of your time thinking about the future or the past, but only a tiny portion of it living consciously in the present moment. My own view is …

Excuse me, sorry to interrupt…

Oh for Christ’s sake. Yes?

What is this?

Have you just woken up? It’s a retirement speech.

Yours.

Could be.

This really happened?

It’s happening. As we speak.

It’s, um, how shall I put it? You might want to have a look at it, or is it too late? You can’t say for Christ’s sake in a school assembly, for a start-off.

You interrupted, three times. Look, if it’s all right, I’m shattered.  Can we carry on with this tomorrow?

You’re sure it was the French bloke who said that? Not Siddhartha or Carlos Castaneda or someone?

It was the French bloke. And anyway … look, can we drop this, actually? I’m going to bed now.

Fine by me, keep your hair on. Did you hear the one about the old man going up to bed carrying a glass of water and an empty glass?

Good night.

So they ask him ‘Why are you carrying that glass upstairs?’ And he says, ‘In case I get thirsty in the night, of course.’ So they say ‘No, the empty one.’

And he says, that’s in case I don’t get thirsty.

That’s right, so you knew that one.

Good night.

Good night, sleep tight.