Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Final Countdown

The FA has announced that it will investigate
allegations of hairpulling during the recent
intercontinental five-a-side tournament

The inexorable count down continues, whilst the steely faced correspondent stares sternly back at me. The whirlwind of speculation and conflicting reports whips up frenzied doubt and wide eyed disbelief in the masses across the nation who sit, like me, transfixed by the history unfolding before their eyes. The conveyor belt, heavy and luminous with breaking news flickers across the bottom of the screen as my eyes wildly follow it back and forth, back and forth. It confirms, it denies. The suspense, the contemplation of how our very existences will be shaped by the next few decisive minutes, hangs over me like an anvil ready to fall and obliterate the hopes and dreams of all in its path. And then it happens; the countdown reaches zero. As I close my eyes and hold my breath, it… cuts to a commercial break….

Yes that’s right, the apocalypse. Otherwise known as the transfer deadline day; followed by the second in glorious HD Technicolor by Sky Sports News. In truth, it was one of the least busy or interesting deadline days in recent years, but let’s not allow that to ruin our fun, shall we?

Sky Sports must have a broom cupboard where they keep emergency reporters (who incidentally all look the same) to bring out on such occasions as yesterday. Once dusted off, they stand like idiots outside the gates of every stadium/training ground in the country. Unfortunately for them, Premier League transfers were a little thin on the ground on deadline day, and instead they had to resort to deducing like sleuths the covert signs and meanings in the cars and people that went through the gates. At one point, I’m sure, the entire cleaning workforce at White Hart Lane were minutes from being unveiled as the new all-Polish defensive line up for the 09/10 season.

There were a couple of interesting movements yesterday, however. Harry Redknapp snapped up Kranjcar from Portsmouth, reportedly at a bargain rate, and Everton brought in Heitinga from Atletico Madid for £6m to plug a hole in the rapidly diminishing morale tank at Goodison Park. There were a couple more hardly worth noting, but other than that, it really was down to the chaps at Sky to fabricate the rest.

The excitable man outside Spurs’ training ground revealed that a vehicle had just passed through the gates, which may or may not have borne the initials of Matthew Upson, and that this could well mean the West Ham player would sign for Spurs before the end of the day. No more was heard of this rumour, and for all we knew the vehicle in question turned out to be a UPS van.

David James’s actions were watched closely all day, with zoom lenses picking up his afro every now and then popping up above the walls of Fratton Park. Again, nothing.
There was even wild speculation at one point that David Bentley was about to sign for Man City. I really hoped that there was some truth in that one. Not because of what his signature would do to boost City’s title hopes, but because of the potential hilarity of watching as his Mum gave him a lift to Eastlands following his driving ban last week. Alas, no joy there either.

All this was presided over in a very professional manner by the studio team; the spotlight of speculation was cast effortlessly from one corner of the country to the next by the handsome, stoical bloke and the blonde woman who as much as she tried, could kid herself no longer that she was hired for her sporting knowledge or journalistic skills.

As the deadline loomed, it became far more interesting to watch the gathering crowds of chavs in the background of the reporters’ shots, and in the case of the some of the more far flung pundits, the growing fear in their eyes as they began to be hemmed in by bmx bikes cycling in ever decreasing circles.

And then it happened. The picture was switched to Big Ben for the massively over-egged finale as the countdown reached zero, using the annoying ‘atmospehric’ effect of gradually monochroming everything but the clock tower, one that Sky Sports must have patented, such is its overuse. And then, when it was all over, the transfer anorak, who had for most of the afternoon been waiting patiently in the corner of the shot, informed us that because of paperwork and work permits, most of the confirmed transfers wouldn’t be announced for probably another hour an a half, and the bubble, which BSkyB had been desperately been trying to construct all day, burst with a wet pop.. Roll on January for more drama…

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

To Win, or Toulouse???

Bob had visited Calais so often that the
transformation seemed to him very gradual

How does a Frenchman play poker? What exactly is a fox dog? Is my 5 iron cursed? Not fundamentally vital questions to most, but all highly relevant ones during what was a beautifully varied, and more than a little sweltering seven days holiday in Southern France.

Two families, united by marriage and the common goal to seek refuge from Britain’s barbecue summer, boarded the 12.30 flight from Gatwick to Toulouse; “Wait” said the wisest of us all, “maybe that’s the arrival time.” Oh God...

We were all grateful then, that EasyJet ensured the flight was delayed for over two hours. Once En France we headed to our remote cottage in the heart of the Gers region. By remote, I mean that the few houses that huddled together between the Triffid-like armies of sunflower fields, constituted the second largest settlement on our local map.

No shops for miles then, and so immediately my vision of the bicycled, bereted Frenchman lost his baguette and garlic string. Nevertheless, we hastened to the nearest store, and performed a large shop with the mindset that only ever possesses the holidaymaker. Out went the staple goods and fresh veg, and in went the wine, cheese and cooked meats. Our good health ensured then, we proceeded in a purely British fashion to ‘planning’ our relaxing holiday. Slots were allocated, schemes hatched and requests placed for numerous activities that, considering the soaring temperatures, were questionable in their sagacity, as the conspicuously absent locals during mid-day hours proved.

By far the most audacious of these was the golf trip. The men’s day out was planned for an early morning departure to avoid us being labelled mad dogs, or worse, Englishmen, later in the day. This early start was made absolutely impossible however, as the breakfast croissants didn’t arrive until after 10am.

It was almost certainly the hot weather that led to my defeat in the inaugural ‘Chambord Open’. I have tried but failed to fathom any other reason why my swing would desert me on the 4th, and come crawling back, panting, as a mirage on the shimmering horizon of the final hole, by which time my score card read like a cricket innings. Plaudits go to my brother James, who (somehow) kept his game and romped to victory, really pulling it out of the cool bag.

The ladies’ day sounded much less exerting, with a tour of the shady local châteaux wine cellars followed by extended tasting. Why didn’t we think of that?

A large part of the holiday was spent preparing food, and much of the remaining time spent eating it. If barbecuing is an art, then we were treated to the Sistine chapel by what can only be described as brother-in-law Nick’s ‘creative vision’. My donation to the culinary gallery was the ‘Rustic Risotto’, although even the alliteration couldn’t sway the critics from the barbecued masterpiece.

It was a week of intense competition, and the crushing disappointment of losing out in the Chambord Open spurred me on to narrowly take the Poker title. Five year old nephew Sebbie swam a personal best to usurp the swimming crown, which although thoroughly deserved, speaks volumes about exertion levels the rest of us were able to produce in the sweltering conditions.

Genetically incapable of failing to seek out a bargain, Lily and Lara managed to find a car boot sale/market in the midst of the arable surroundings, and it must be said that even a Frenchman’s cast offs can seem more stylish than the British High Street at times. This rural rummaging was juxtaposed with myself and Nick roaming the streets of the largest town in the area feverishly searching for a Wi-fi connection. We found one, amazingly, but not without some very confused looks from the locals. What exactly is the French for Wi-Fi?

My thanks and regards go out to each and every member of the vacationing clan. Here’s to next year!!! (Although maybe somewhere with air-con, hey Mum?)

I have hitherto neglected to mention that we were staying near a town called Condom. The very place that modern day contraception was born (or rather, wasn’t). It has been hard to sidestep the gags, and accept the applause that my restraint deserves. Merci, et bon soir…..