Archive for January 2010
Watching the Winter Olympics as a Brit is a bit like going to a party when you don’t know anyone: it all looks jolly good fun but you can’t help feeling on the periphery of things because everybody else is listening to Europop and wearing lederhosen.
If the Winter Olympics was a breakfast it would be that strange collation of cold meats and Emmenthal that is always served in continental hotels. It’s an attractive prospect on a one-off basis, but you wouldn’t be throwing out your Coco Pops in a hurry. It’s just a bit too weird and frightening to digest on a daily basis.
What I am struggling to say is that for the British sports fan the Winter Games has an exotic but not enduring appeal. We’ll tune in every four years, but we won’t be inputting the Nordic skiing World Cup on Eurosport into our Sky Plus consoles.
Still, there is one thing we can all certainly look forward in Vancouver come February 12. The opening ceremony has got to be seriously bonkers to live up to the legacy of its predecessors, which can only have been conceived by choreographers struck mental by the cold. Who can forget Barry Davies in Lillehammer in 1994 whispering in reverential tones as if Nelson Mandela had just appeared: “and here come the night elves”. If there isn’t at least one night elf performing next Friday then I shall want my money back.
Who was the last British tennis player to win a Grand Slam title on foreign soil? Sue Barker. Sue Barker. I know. Suuuuuuuuuue fucking Barker. It actually hurts my head a little to comprehend the fact that Sue Barker was a top-level athlete, and not a gardening expert on a regional news magazine show. Or a someone who iced cakes for a living. Or just someone’s very nice mum.
Virginia Wade is the same. She just looked like a ballet teacher. It just goes to show how much the women’s game has changed. I wonder how Barker would fare today with her balsa wood racket against the likes of Serena Williams. She might actually die out the court. Or at least start crying.
The best reason to talk about Barker is as an excuse to show this photo, in which Cliff Richard pulls off the neat trick of making a sparkly zebra-print jacket look halfway cool. Which it very obviously isn’t. But that’s Cliff for you. I often muse on what happened between these two lovers that made Cliff feel like he could never sample female flesh again. Makes you think.
It must be weird being a South African international cricketer right now. You’re just about to head off on a taxing tour to India and then virtually everyone ahead of you in the hierarchy either resigns or is sacked. It’s like heading into your final year of school, gearing up for your exams, only for your headmaster to walk out and take the entire teaching staff with him.
I can only hope for the Proteas’ sake that the new coach Corrie Van Zyl has a greater sense of authority than any of my supply teachers. They usually arrived on the first bus from teacher training college with the kind of pedagogical aspirations only gained from having watched Goodbye Mr Chips too many times. Which we were too glad to destroy in a shower of flicked elastic bands. I guess we thought we were performing some kind of service to these greenhorns: if you couldn’t survive a squadron of snot-faced shits in tweed blazers, then maybe this lark wasn’t for you.
So be warned, Corrie Van Zyl. Don’t try and be their friend. Don’t ask the dressing room if anyone watched Red Dwarf last night. Don’t ever end any sentence with the words ‘man’ or ‘dude’. Never turn your back on them, particularly if there are bunsen burners in the pavilion. And whatever you do, never ever and try to use a board-rubber to wipe off a pie-chart you’ve just projected onto a wall with a overhead-projector. Trust me, you’ll never hear the last of it.
I will never begrudge a wedding invite even though the seven I have received for this summer may have inflicted heinous collateral damage on my sports viewing for the period. So it was that I wincingly cross-checked my diary against my sporting calendar fearing the worst. Imagine my relief when the World Cup schedule made it home unscathed. Like a man who has survived getting caught in a meteor shower without an umbrella.
The producers, stage managers and runners working on the televised leadership debates that are being broadcast as part of the election campaign may not be so fortunate. Since Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth accidentally disclosed the election date yesterday, it has become rapidly clear that a potential clash is brewing between these political showdowns and the semi-finals of the Champions League. I suppose in a society with a robust respect for democracy, there really isn’t an issue here. But we all know that football is more important than politics, so it may be that it’s Brown and Cameron that are shunted across the TV listings.
There could be a solution to all this: cart the great triumvirate of party leaders up to Old Trafford or the San Siro or wherever, and combine the two extravaganzas. Steve Rider has proved himself a versatile performer and could stand in for Dimbleby; they share the same fluffy gravitas. The interval could be separated into segments of football punditry and political debate. Admittedly Gordon Brown’s beloved Raith Rovers fell a little short of Champions League qualification, but I’m sure he would venture forth an opinion on the game if pushed, he does on most things of spurious import. Cameron has probably only ever played the Eton Wall game in terms of sporting endeavour, but he’d clearly relish the chance to boost his ‘everyman’ qualities.
And then into to some hardcore political sparring. I’m sure I speak for the nation in looking forward to Andy Townsend put forward his forthright views on ‘broken Britain’ and the planned cuts in public spending. Now there’s an event to get in your diary.
When it comes to taking your puerile squabblings out of the playground gates, Carlos Tevez’s sense of globality is admirable. One bony Mancunian finger waved in his direction and Carlitos is on the next plane to Buenos Aires to deliver his riposte via the radiowaves, delivering the anti-Neville sermon far across the land, from the gauchos riding across the Pampas to the sultry tango dancers of the capital.
The highlights package of his tirade included the peculiar double punch of branding Neville a ‘moron’ and a ‘boot-licker’. The former is an insult I haven’t heard since 1991 and the latter I actually had to look up in an online dictionary. Something could have been lost in translation, it bears all the hallmarks of the stoicly rubbish interpreting of that little pudgy man with the ruddy cheeks from Chelsea. Did anyone see him in the vicinity of the radio station?
Presumably being a called a boot-licker is one rung lower on the offensive ladder from ‘not being fit to lick my boots’ so perhaps Neville should consider that he got off relatively lightly. In any case, most right-minded citizens would encourage Tevez in his wholesale denigration of the arse-faced defender. Neville is after all a massive poopoohead.
It was once my gross misfortune to sit through an after-dinner speech by Alec Bedser. The pretty predictable gist of which was how the modern cricketer has the constitution of Victorian matchstick girl and how everything was a lot better ‘in my day’. In fact I’d estimate that he was operating at a rate of about 14 ‘in my days’ per minute, spewing forth content that would have been deemed too ludicrous for Monty Python’s ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch. As the rant grew more vituperative, his complexion took on a bizarre russet hue and so in the end his gnarled head resembled a very angry Cox’s Pippin.
For the duration of the speech, I was largely preoccupied making my left hand prevent my right one from inserting the nearest butterknife into my earhole. It had reasonably assumed that effecting a major perforation of my eardrum would prove to be a more pleasant experience than listening to the inveterate old bugger spew forth dubious anecdotes like how he once bowled 483 overs in a day without a spinal column.
Christ knows what Bedser’s reaction was to Andrew Strauss’ decision to opt out of the Bangladesh tour. Probably vomiting up his brawn and piccalilli sandwiches all over his Daily Mail. For a man who saw service at Dunkirk, I’m assuming ‘being jaded’ doesn’t really cut the English mustard. But in all honesty the notion of an England captain voluntarily missing test matches does leave a strange taste in the mouth. Perhaps he just misunderstood the role of ‘skipper’.
Strauss’ main concern is this winter’s Ashes series in Australia. Perhaps this is understandable. Veterans of the last tour probably still suffer the same febrile nightmares that plagued anyone coming back from Vietnam without any legs. Maybe Strauss is terrified he’ll end up broken and blotto like Flintoff, turning up at the MCG on Boxing Day with sambuca stains on his once pristine tie telling anyone who’ll listen about the good ol’ days of 2009.
Maybe he promised his wife he’d take his sons to Chessington World of Adventures on the first day of the Chittagong test. Maybe he’s standing as a Conservative in the next election. Maybe he’s doing an evening class in marquetry for beginners. Maybe he’s signed up for the next series of Hole In The Wall. Maybe he just can’t be arsed.
West Ham now have new owners. They’re both called David. They both like selling pictures of naked ladies. One of them sports an untrustworthy beard. The other has horse called David Junior. Neither of them is an Emirati billionaire. None of this information has been lost on the West Ham fans who have greeted the news with suspicious ambivalence. As a supporter myself, I am prepared to overlook the smutty origins of the cash injection and even the shady facial hair. The pair built the foundation for the current success at Birmingham City. It’s a relief to be managed by people who can work a calculator. And in Gold’s case, a backer who will wear the claret-and-blue scarf and mean it.
The one line today that holds particular intrigue is the appointment of Karren Brady as vice-chairman. She will tend to the club’s administrative needs on a daily basis. Last I heard she was due to appear as Margaret Mountford, Sir Alan Sugar’s assistant on the next series of The Apprentice. It’s the kind of moonlighting that rings alarm bells with West Ham fans. We remember when Ian Wright signed just as he embarked on a career as a rubbish television presenter.
Fortunately I’m told that filming of the show is already in the can, and Brady can set about her new job without distraction. She might even employ a few techniques she learnt from her predecessor in the boardroom. Maybe we’ll see her standing behind the goal armed with a notepad, face expressionless save for one raised eyebrow as Robert Green flaps at another corner.
I saw a lot of Giles Clarke while I was in Cape Town. He isn’t difficult to miss: large, floppy-haired and forever tailed by David Collier, wheezing away like a consumptive bulldog. It appears that Clarke was making himself known at the Wanderers as well, righteously and indignantly ploughing into the row about the review system caused by Graeme Smith’s reprieve in the first innings. I sometimes wonder whether this is the very reason Clarke is employed by the ECB: to become aerated about stuff. His face seems designed to blither, as if a loud sonorous ‘bah’ is permanently wedged behind his teeth, ready to be discharged when necessary.
He explains the ECB attitude towards the reviews and their stance against at the ICC vote with the sombre pride of a man who’s just abolished slavery. He probably secretly enjoyed the continued inadequacies of umpire Harper, creating shells for his massive Luddite blunderbuss. But that’s the point really: the problems that were experienced in Johannesburg were not as a result of gremlins in the machine, just one incompetent Australian human. The fact the more correct decisions have been made in series than wrong ones seems to have been lost sight of not only by Clarke, but by Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. Which is sort of disappointing. You expect this kind of cataract-impaired vision from an administrator, but not a usually equable coach and captain. They should understand that they would have lost the series without a second opinion upstairs: they can’t have forgotten Paul Collingwood’s first baller in the second innings at Newlands already surely?
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh on Strauss. He is jaded after all. He probably doesn’t like anything about cricket right now. Perhaps Clarke should think about putting his feet up with him. Just don’t watch any Terminator films chaps.
A man I know once told me that just before drowning the victim is visited by a kind of serenity, calmly accepts their fate and gives up on their mortal struggle. I’m clueless as to how my friend came by this information. I’m assuming that he’s never drowned himself or conducted extensive research on ill-starred guinea pigs.
I think a similar tranquility swept through me yesterday morning as Boucher and De Villiers batted South Africa round the bend and down the home straight. Thus today when Paul Collingwood succumbed to the longest of all long hops, it was a source of dry amusement and not a reason to throttle next-door’s dachshund. Although Fluffy should watch his back next time Matt Prior decides that catching practice is the best form of defence.
So I’m grateful for a quick painless demise this weekend. Imagine if it had been Graham Onions’ off the last ball. We can thank the selectors for avoiding that one.
We are all now tediously aware that the reason that the third umpire has no access to Hot Spot and Snickometer technology during this series is simply because the South African Broadcasting Corporation cannot afford it.
I can sort of understand how the HotSpot hardware might be deemed too dear – it shows lots of pretty colours and could have an alternative use as an icebreaker at parties. “Ooh look how warm that person’s ear is” – hours of fun.
But Snicko seems a little more basic. It’s just a microphone attached to your everyday oscilloscope after all. I could lend them the microphone from my sister’s home karaoke set. And I’m sure we’ve all got an oscilloscope lying around the garage somewhere.
If not, I’ve sourced a very snazzy-looking one here. It’s got a built-in harmonic analyser and 12-bit resolution and user configurable engineering units. By a happy chance my Grandma gave me some oscilloscope tokens for my birthday and I’ve got a bit of Christmas money left over so I can start the financial ball rolling. I’m positive if we all reach into our pockets we can raise the cash pronto. It’ll be like a Blue Peter Appeal.
All we have to worry about is whether Daryl Harper has turned up the contrast on it or not. Sorry. Too easy.