Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Matter Of Attitude To Coffee

OG is on the road. In Bologna with the Groupie. Great place - masses of churches (see what I did there?) and Europe's oldest university. We've been here less than a day and already had two good meals out - most notably lunch today at Trattoria Leonida. Top grade risotto, decent pinot grigio, all washed down with an espresso and a limoncello. Top banana as they don't say round here.

marker of civilisation
The flight over was fine but I can't completely get over my hatred of crowds in a place like Heathrow - all those people nervously making their way somewhere else and temporarily losing contact with their manners. Why do people stand up as soon as the plane comes to a halt, even though they know full well they can't get off yet and that they are going to have to queue just like everyone else for their baggage? Mass hysteria? And don't gey me started on excess hand baggage - make the bastards walk, that's what I say.

We're staying in an apartment in the centre of the city. You can tell you are in a civilised place when you get advice about the best way to prepare your coffee - the stove top is thankfully better than the formidable looking machine. Once again, top banana.

6N17 - Week 3. Of Acuity And Dullness

Acuity - meaning sharpness, keenness, and as demonstrated by both Scotland and Italy in very different manners this past weekend. Dullness - meaning quite the opposite and as exemplified by England's muscular disappointments on Sunday.

Scotland first. They are playing with an alacrity which papers over the cracks of a creaking scrummage and they have that most important (and unlearnable) asset - pace. If England are as slow out of the blocks as they have thus far been then I like Scotland's chances in a fortnight. I did not expect to be writing that sentence.

man of the week
England next - oh dear, dear me. Italy's exploitation of the tackle law is a negative tactic but it was beautifully conceived and executed and made England's highly paid professionals look plain daft. They should have known what was required in response - pick and go, pick and go ad infinitum just like the great Scotland sides of the 80's and early 90's. Still the poor little darlings worked it out when they were reunited with the coaching staff at half-time (oh for the old days when they would have had to fathom it for themselves) and they won going away. After the game the usually ultra-savvy Eddie Jones got it all wrong and indulged in an hubristic moan-fest. Not attractive. By the way, can someone come up with a convincing explanation why May starts ahead of the excellent Nowell on the wing.

Ireland and France had a good old-fashioned arm wrestle in which the impressive Irish team prevailed. They are a well-made side, alert and well-coached.

Wales - the less said the better. This team is going backwards notwithstanding its considerable talent.

No Gobshite Award this week. Instead extra plaudits to Romain Poite who handled Italy's ploy with wit and wisdom and isssued forth the statement of the weekend: "I am only the referee, not a coach."  

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Still The Best Game In The World

Rugby Union Football of course. The game I was originally carded to watch yesterday was a second team fixture at King's Norton. To no one's particular surprise it was cancelled due to shortage of players. Such is modern rugby. However the powers that be sent me on a new mission to Camp Hill. I arrived and went in search of the lower team referee I was to advise and, there in the referee's changing room I found a Berkshire Society official preparing to handle the first team game - none other than my former vice-captain and all around good egg, Julian Rainford. He still looks in game shape. Is it really twenty years since that magical season when he scored forty-three tries?

Jules meets Big Fat Pig
Fair do's to Camps who treated me like minor royalty. The beer was good (Ubu) as were the scratchings. After Jules had dealt with his watcher we had time for a brief chat and he got a local to take our picture. Once were warriors. Some day I must tell you about that December afternoon when we beat Sutton Coldfield. Better still get Gary Street to tell you - because in his version he did it on his own. Nearly true but Jules got the decisive try - which Gary duly converted from the touchline. I left Camp Hill felling well-disposed to my fellow man and grateful to be a member of rugby's citizenry.

And now I am sitting in our rather lovely kitchen and am sipping L'Extra par Langlois - a Loire sparkler which was put in our way by the ever reliable staff at Majestic. Donald Trump, Tony Blair (whose recent hubristic bollocks on the subject of Brexit I am choosing to rise above) and other assembled gits seem joyously distant. But then, tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

In Which Our Hero Breaks His Precious Jag, Gets It Mended And Experiences Great Art

No sooner had the breakage on the precious Bike been fixed (lovely new derailleur and chain set) than the Precious Jag came out in sympathy. No shearing metal this time just a terminally sick battery ("terminally" - see what I did there?) - cured by replacement courtesy of the AA's estimable mobile service (discount for members).

So all well in the world and I have taken the PJ on the run to Anglesey to do a few errands on the country estate. And it was here in Anglesey that I last night (Netflix as ever) watched a magnificent film - Son of Saul. This won last year's Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It is most definitely not a popcorn movie. Laszlo Nemes's Hungarian film is set in Auschwitz and follows in disturbing close focus the efforts of one inmate to effect a proper burial for a boy who may (or may not) be his son. Its star, Geza Rohrig, is barely out of shot for the entire disquieting piece. The whole film is testimony to what can be achieved by great cinema. 9/10.

Monday, 13 February 2017

6N17 - Week 2

I suppose two out of three ain't bad. Ireland duly and truly demolished Italy; France wobbled past Scotland; but (the one I got wrong) England outlasted the Welsh and won a classic in Cardiff. All in all a good weekend and as a result I will forebear awarding the Ronan O'Gara Gobshite Award on this occasion. There were candidates (including some usual suspects) but we will leave them alone.

titanic
I watched BBC Wales' Scrum V with wry amusement last night. England did not win apparently - Wales lost. The answer my people is that both are true. Quite properly much was made of Rob Howley's substitution of the titanic Ross Moriarty. Mind you he should have been yellow-carded for that late tackle on Owen Farrell. 

England are an interesting side - damnably difficult to beat but a study in imperfection. On Saturday they were outplayed at the breakdown by a masterful Welsh back-row and were notably clumsy with the ball, yet still they prevailed. This even with Elliot Daly (who has that sprinkling of stardust) carrying the ball under the wrong arm for his try. The game was an ornament to a tournament which is shaping nicely. I'm old fashioned and therefore sceptical about bonus points (the object is to win - period) but it is worth noting that thus far four games (all but those featuring poor old Italy) have yielded losing bonuses.

So we catch our breath. The report cards thus far: England forge on, the team best embodied in the teak hard pragmatism of Farrell; Wales have moved forward but remain enigmatic; Ireland are good; Scotland bear the laudable imprint of their phlegmatic coach; France are on the cusp of being formidable - they can beat you up but have yet to master the art of scoring; poor old Italy are left trailing in the wake of the progress the rest of the championship has made.

And just to finish the weekend's taste of rugby's lusty perfections, I had preceded watching the internationals by standing on a freezing Kidderminster touchline to advise a promising referee. And yes I had a pint of ale afterwards along with a bag of scratchings. A good weekend.    

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Big Fat Pig Breaks His Bike

Keen readers will recall that my garage contains not one but two objects of my affection. The prime example is the Precious Jag, but one should not overlook the Precious Bike, my Cannondale CAAD 8.

Well today was a bad day for the PB. I had taken it for a spin and was feeling the self-righteous burn as I churned out of Worcester Lane onto the familiar slight incline. I dropped it down a cog and was greeted by the sound of shearing metal. Now I'm no expert but even I could immediately see that the rear derailleur was utterly bollocksed - Big Fat Pig (aka the Overgraduate) had bost the Precious Bike. I walked the sorry machine home and phoned an engineer. He was doing his shopping at Mere Green so made a quick detour to inspect the damage. He's coming to fix it on Friday. Good lad. Mind you, do you know how he described the PB? "Entry level"! That's me told. He did at least admire the PJ.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Trump Conundrum

Donald J. Trump is the duly elected President of the United States of America. Said country is our most important ally in a disturbed world. Now clearly I've never met the Boy Trump but he seems to me to be an unforgivably ignorant bully.

John Bercow is somebody I did once meet - over lunch as it happens. He was then a tyro MP for an unelectable Conservative Party. He came across as a prig. I don't suppose he liked me either.

Yesterday Mr Bercow, long risen to the Speaker's chair, let it be known that he does not approve of the Boy Trump. So we agree. The problem is this: no matter how right Bercow is about the worthiness of snubbing Trump, he should keep his mouth shut and preserve the dignity of his office. Two wrongs do not make a right - sometimes only a well-worn cliche will do.


Suffragette

Certain critics seem to have been underwhelmed by this film. I was not. The mise-en-scene may be unsensational but the events it depicts need no sensationalism. Carey Mulligan is magnificent as the central character converted to civil dsobedience and there is stellar support from Helena Bonham Carter (is she ever less than good?), Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson.

Don't turn away from the screen too early in case you miss a list of the dates on which suffrage rights were granted to women in various jursidictions. Switzerland, hang your head in shame. 7.5/10 (that's for the film, not for Switzerland).

Monday, 6 February 2017

6N17 - Week 1

It is only now that I realise that I overlooked doing my Nostradamus bit by letting you have my predictions for this year's Six Nations. A bit late now but what I have been telling anyone unfortunate enough to get within earshot is this: The England euphoria is overplayed - they have been remarkably resilient but have key injuries and a worrying propensity to start games badly; Ireland are both highly professional and well-motivated; Wales have the strongest core of quality players but are mentally fragile; France are the ones to watch - massive players and a returning resolution; Scotland are also well coached and will be a handful; Italy are going to get thraped I'm afraid. All in all the strongest tournament for many years.

Has week one changed my mind at all? Not really. England were straight-up bloody awful for large portions of the match against France but somehow hung on and the poor old French just couldn't turn their forward superiority into scoring chances. Scotland got skinned up front but won an adrenaline fuelled thriller. Ireland will bounce back. Wales took an age to get going but won comfortably. Italy - it's going to be a long season.

stupendous
Some observations on individuals: I would exclude Joe Marler (of whom I am not generally a fan) from the criticism of England - he played well. As indeed did his replacement, Matt Mullan, son of a gifted Aston Old Ed who had the misfortune to play a little rugby with me. George Kruis is one of those players you appreciate all the more when he is not there. Sadly we today learn that he will miss the entire championship. Jonny Gray had a simply stupendous game for Scotland. Those who have already anointed Alun Wyn Jones as Lions captain might want to ponder that such an appointment will preclude a Gray/Itoje engine-room. I'm not sure what the answer is to that conundrum but it makes you think.

The greatest sadness of the weekend - I have to give the Ronan O'Gara Gobshite award to the otherwise heroic Sergio Parisse. Shut your mouth please Sergio.

I played a mental game yesterday evening by comparing the entire twenty-three man squads of England and Wales and picking my composite team. My resultant squad holds thirteen Englishmen and ten Welsh. However the starting lineup contains nine of those Welshmen. This one is too close to call. The bookies have Wales priced at 9/5 and that strikes me as ridiculously generous in a competitive two horse race. The draw is 17/1 for those looking to back a hunch. If pushed: Wales to win, France to beat the Scots and Ireland to demolish Italy I'm afraid.

Then again, I might just be wrong. 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Are Brilliant ... Mark XXIII

food of the Midland gods
Rugby union football, to give it it's full name. I will write elsewhere about the start of the Six Nations but for now I'm on about plain old amateur rugger played by muddied oafs. I was at Edwardians yesterday afternoon to advise a young referee. A muddy pitch, a sparse crowd (more people in the bar watching the internationals - shame on you) and , all in all, a feeling of remarkable wellbeing.

Real ale - in this case the pint of carefully drawn Black Sheep in the bar after the game.

Pork scratchings - which I had with the beer. Black Country cordon bleu.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Man With The President's Mind

No, don't worry, I'm not going off on another tirade about bloody Trump. Although whilst I'm on the subject... No, Dave, step away from the keyboard.

What I really am talking about is Ted Allbeury's 1977 Cold War spy thriller, The Man With the President's Mind. I have a weakness for this genre and an affection for Allbeury's novels which is not unrelated to his being a King Edward's Aston alumnus -  a fact he always made clear on his dustjacket blurb. I even met him once and briefly. Nice chap. If you find one in a library sale (why are they getting rid of so many books), cough up a few pence and give it a try. Boy could write.

Is Almost Brilliant

I will just hold back from absolute approval but I do have to say that we are getting much of our television these days via Netflix. Of particular merit is their self-generated content. This seems to be the future, or at the very least a big part of it.

As examples, and from various places on the entertainment spectrum: the violent, hokey but fast paced Shooter - sort of West Wing meets 24; Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Twin Peaks meets the Marx Brothers if you will; House of Cards - West Wing (again) meets Richard III. Nice.

purveyor of television to the gentry