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