A Century of Remembering

Already this year there have been several important dates commemorating the centenary of World War I. Today is the special date for Britain. A hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany. Arguably, it was today in 1914 that a potentially localised European war turned into a full scale global conflict. There are lots of events taking place across the country and on the battlefields in France and Belgium. Lest we forget.

There’s little chance anyone will forget. Every town, village and hamlet has a war memorial with the names of the dead of 1914 to 1918 engraved upon them. Other institutions like train stations and Royal Mail offices have their own plaques. Bournemouth has a rather grand memorial in the gardens, which I cycle past on most days. I cycled past this evening and took a photo.

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In the gardens today there were youngsters from all over Europe playing football. On the grass, not across trenches. After school or work, not during a ceasefire. The airship in the background is a balloon to provide tourists with a view, not a Zeppelin dropping bombs on civilians. I came home from the gardens to find a letter from the government. It was about my right to vote, not conscription papers.

I’m glad to be alive in 2014 rather than 1914. The young men of 1914 would probably disagree. Adventure was in the air. The survivors of 1918 would probably come round to my point of view. They were just glad to be alive at all, I’m sure. To be able to join in the annual rituals of remembrance. Alas, around the world today in Ukraine, Israel, great swathes of Africa and elsewhere, the futility of war is forgotten and ignored. But we will be able to remember them next year.

 

 

 

Year of Mexico in the UK

And simultaneously, it will be the Year of the UK in Mexico. It’s a plan, and everyone’s invited. It’s one of those wishy washy government level type cultural exchanges that are all jolly well and good, but fairly limited in scope beyond getting a few big wigs together for a bit of a pow-wow over a drop of tequila or pint of beer. To be fair, this is bigger and grander than most of these sorts of affairs.

Mexico is even going to be graced by a flying visit from Prince Charles. This will be his fourth trip, believe it or not. Dear old Carlos, he’s a misunderstood soul. He’s inherited so much and will continue to do so, right up to the point when he inherits the whole of the UK. But there’s a flip side to this. He’s also got his mother’s nasal drawl and his father’s sense of humour. Worse still, he’s got the family crown. Not the shiny jewelled gold one you wear. The balding one that you don’t.

One does hope that he manages to keep some of his thoughts to himself though. His last visit was included in a documentary. One probably shouldn’t refer to a family prepared dish as ‘a plate of decomposed sheep‘. And suggesting to the little girl if the Mexican postal service is ‘not very good, is it‘ probably wasn’t tactful either. Maybe she had the last laugh. Mexicans are entrepreneurs, and those envelopes were probably stuffed full of cocaine. She had discovered the world’s most secure drug distribution model. Maybe.

This did have me thinking though. Has the Queen herself ever visited Mexico. Indeed she has, it turns out. In 1975, exactly thirty years before I began my own Mexico-UK cultural exchange programme. It seems it was quite a big event over in Mexico, and it still exists on video. Good ole YouTube, eh? It was the first ever visit to Mexico by a British monarch, and it was repeated in 1981. Given the Queen’s age, I suspect there will be no more trips. But why do they insist on calling her Isabel? I mean seriously, I know plenty of ladies in Mexico called Elizabeth. It’s not an unknown name there.

Mexican relations with the UK have mostly been good. Sure, there was a little testiness when Mexico nationalised their oil industry. There was the time that a few British warships turned up in Veracruz to collect some unpaid debts.  There was also a small argument over who got to govern British Honduras, aka Belize. Top Gear appears to have caused some friction too, in more recent years.

But we were the first of Europe’s powers to recognise Mexico’s Independence. We also supported them in the Pastry War. To be fair, this was probably done more out of spite to Spain and France rather than any real goodwill toward Mexico. But still, you take what you can get. In return, Mexico supported the UK, albeit secretly, during the Falklands War. Again, probably out of spite towards Argentina. All is fair in love and war. Enjoy the video.

 

 

The Vyne House

Sunny summer Sundays. You’ve gotta love them. And there’s nothing better than slipping off into the countryside to find a new National Trust estate to explore. This week? The Vyne, near Basingstoke. Which is home to a fantasy story within a fantasy world of yore. The Vyne is one of the best estates we’ve visited. That the weather was so fine always helps. There’s a fabulous lake, manicured lawns, a walled kitchen garden, a summer house with a refreshingly cool interior and the obligatory flower beds.

Of course, there’s also a grand old piece of architecture – the centrepiece of the whole estate. This particular example of Tudor bricks and mortar dates back to the 16th century and has seen many famous folk plant their footsteps down its hallowed halls. Even Henry VIII, god bless his rather twisted soul.

But the Vyne has more than the normal batch of tales of treachery, lust and loot. In one corner of the home is a glass display cabinet, slowly rotating. Inside the twirling case sits a ring. It’s an old ring, but that isn’t what makes it famous. It’s a Roman ring, but that’s still secondary to this ring’s importance. That it is solid gold makes it worth something, but adds naught to the story.

Once upon a long ago, when the ring was found, it had a story. It had a curse placed on it. But that it had a story is still not why the ring has such a prominent place in the public eye. It was the story it would inspire that is the key to its fame. Well, allegedly. What we do know is that a young chap by the name of JRR Tolkein, at the time a professor at Oxford University, studied this very ring and the story of the curse. Two years later he published a book. the Lord of the Rings.

Was the Vyne’s Roman ring the inspiration for Tolkeins ring? Who can say for sure. Mr Tolkein kept it to himself. So it’s a nice story that may or may not be true. I like to think that there’s at least an element of truth to the tale. There’s some photos of our day out at the Vyne below. But there’s plenty more on Flickr – click here. Did you notice how I didn’t use any filters? I thought I’d give them a miss for once. Then a few minutes later, I changed my mind and knocked up a few filters shots in a different set.

 

What Would You Do? #awkward

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Dear Israel,

I’m so glad you asked. And you’ve certainly come to the right people. After all, we’ve been in the business of colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing and disproportionate retaliation for ten times longer than your nation has been recorded on the world map. We are, no doubts about it, the experts. So what would we do if someone fired a barrage of rockets that whizzed harmlessly over Big Ben and landed in a field several miles outside of London? Ok, I’ll bite. Some people will suggest I’m not taking this seriously. There’s Hamas launching thousands of munitions into empty desert. And there’s Israel bombing the world’s biggest, most densely populated bomb crater with everything it’s got. You’re both nuts. I may need some convincing  to take either of you seriously.

There’s a part of me that wants to take the moral high ground. But that’s a tough position to take. To be fair, we have only just got our armed forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the former of which we invaded just in case they had some sort of rocket with a dodgy warhead. We didn’t even wait for one to be fired. Heck, we didn’t even check that they had built one. Given that we completely trashed both countries and left countless people dead…well, I won’t take the moral high ground.

So surely there are some examples from our long and illustrious history that will give you the answer you’re looking for. Perhaps World War II? The Germans launched a ton of bombs and rockets at London and other cities, and we completely annihilated them for it. I mean, we properly smashed Germany up. Gaza City looks like paradise compared to how we left Dresden. But, to be fair, we did at least make some sort of effort to make peace before it all went tits up. We did offer them the land that they wanted. Admittedly, it wasn’t technically our land we gave them. It was Czechoslovakia. But still, the effort was there. Good intentions and all that. So this isn’t the best example you might have been hoping for.

Well, there was the Boer War. A bunch of rag tag guerillas popping out of nowhere and shooting at us! Varmits. We sorted them out pretty quick. We rounded the bloody lot of them up, every woman and child, and stuck them in this new invention of ours, the concentration camp. Before you knew it…wait, I can see this one might not go down so good. Let’s move on…

How about this old country we knocked about in the aftermath of WW2? It was called Palestine, although it doesn’t exist any more. We just strolled on in, took it over and changed its name to Transjordan. We had a fine old time till the natives got too unruly and some recently arrived terrorists turned up and started committing atrocities. We did the sensible thing and went back where we came from and let some other bunch of mugs have a go. Good luck to them, we said! I wonder how that worked out. It…what…it was you? Oops…let’s move swiftly on…

Ok, I know! Northern Ireland. Perfect example! We marched in there hundreds of years ago, divided and conquered. Planted a ton of our own people. We operated a system akin to apartheid, denied them basics such as food and let the whole situation fester for generations. Then when it kicked off, we hunted the bad guys down, shot them or locked them up and built big fat walls to keep them out. Although, I guess, when all was said and done, the situation just went from bad to worse until we sat down and talked and worked out a compromise which gave the Catholics decent representation, opportunity and a share of the wealth. So…er…you don’t want to go this route I guess.

I give up. A thousand years of bombing, torturing, baby killing, ethnic cleansing and we really can’t give you a single example where it truly worked out over the long term. In fact, Jesus, why the hell are you asking us?!? Why do you want to know what we would do? If you do find out, do the bloody opposite. Have you not looked at a world map and seen how screwed up it is wherever we went? I mean, we even actually kinda invented you….

Don’t do what we would do. Everyone hates us, Mr Israel. The EU won’t let us choose the next European president. FIFA won’t give us a World Cup and the only reason we got the Olympics a couple of years ago is because our main rival was France, who are crap. So for the love of God, or whoever it is that you’re a fan of, don’t ask what we would do.

Grammar School

I have a not-so-secret compulsive disorder. I admit it. I can’t help myself. If you hand me a piece of paper with writing on it, I will automatically check it for spelling errors, grammatical issues and general literary coherency.  And then I will mark it and return it. I may also correct pronunciation or suggest better vocabulary options during conversations.  I have been told that this is annoying. Very annoying. And that I should stop it. But I can’t help myself. It is a disorder, you see. A condition that I picked up in Mexico. After all, for six years, that was all I did. Day in, day out. Correcting people in their use of the English language.

It’s not that I am perfect. I’m not. I could be, perhaps. Well, almost perfect. If I tried a little harder. I do know the rules of English grammar, mas o menos. But still, I’m not perfect. My blog posts would frequently benefit from a little proofreading, for example. I regularly refuse to use the possessive apostrophe correctly. I often start sentences with ‘and’, which is technically a no-no. And I am as prone to the odd typo as anyone. That my keyboard is getting a bit sticky, especially the letter ‘d’, doesn’t help.

I also waffle. This is clearly in evidence with my blog posts. I should just leave them unpublished for 24 hours, come back to them, re-read them and then make further corrections. They would end up half the length, twice as informative and free from any linguistic faux pas. I understand that this is how a real author would work. First draft, second draft etc etc. But I don’t do that. I don’t have the time or patience. Perhaps I just don’t care. I go tappity tappity tap on the keyboard, hit the publish button and then face palm myself, quite vigorously, later in the day when I spot the glaring mistake.

Some grammatical errors do get my goat though. I will never let someone get away with writing ‘should of‘ instead of ‘should have‘. Or at the very least, ‘should’ve‘. I mastered this at the age of seven. My English teacher would throw a stick of chalk at the head of an offender. A teaching method that was effective. I was never on the receiving end of the chalk, but it looked painful enough when it hit someone else. It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s even better to learn from someone else’s. I understand that throwing chalk is these days considered assault, rather than a teaching aid.

I must confess that, as much as I approve the throwing of chalk, I did not do so during my time as an English teacher. I preferred sarcasm. In a nice way. I still utilise sarcasm, sometimes borderline mockery, when correcting errors. As I mentioned earlier,  I’m told that this is annoying. That I should stop. Maybe I should. Or maybe my friends and colleagues should brush up on their language skills. There’s the solution! If they stop making mistakes, I’ll stop correcting them. Everyone will be happy. Alternatively, perhaps I should simply start charging for my linguistic services again…

 

Buying Money

Money goes to money, so the saying goes. It’s a key feature of capitalism, both its biggest driver and drawback. London is built on the principle of buying money. Some call it investing. Others refer to it as gambling. It’s a bit of both, I’m sure. I’m not much of a gambler. I am risk averse. I play life safe, perhaps too safe. But I do like buying money when it’s on offer. Londoners with lots of money gamble on the stock exchange. Those with more limited means chase bigger odds with the bookies.

Over the last couple of years, the amount of money Britons have been gambling online has soared. It’s really, really noticeable. Gambling was once the domain of the high street bookmakers, punters wagering on the outcome of horse or greyhound racing. Or the football pools, largely run by Littlewoods. Now friends and colleagues in far greater numbers have the latest apps on their phones ready to put a pound or two on football matches. During the World Cup, everyone went a bit crazy. It’s not entirely surprising, given the bombardment of TV ads. Poor Ray Winstone. He used to be a half decent actor before he sold his soul to the devil.

I don’t like to gamble. I tell friends that if they want to get into gambling and win, then open a bookmakers. But I do like to buy money. Who doesn’t. The competition between bookmakers has been so fierce that they’ve been giving away crazy odds as introductory offers. Download their app, deposit some cash and they’ll give you a one time gift of enhanced odds and or a free bet.

Here’s the trick. Don’t bet money you can’t afford to lose. Take the bookies offer. Withdraw the cash. Delete the app. Move on to the next introductory offer. It’s not that there’s no risk at all. But the deals were good. Argentina to beat Bosnia at 4/1? I’ll have some of that. So did Mrs P. We put down the maximum of £10 each. Of course Argentina won. So did we. Thank you Mr Coral for the £80. And goodbye.

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Another bookmaker later gave me some free money for Germany overcoming Algeria. That added £30 to my bank account. Yet another gave me odds of Brazil beating Colombia at 4/1. Thank you again. I lost only one intro offer, and that was a bet I couldn’t technically lose anyway. You see, I had also bet on Colombia to beat Brazil. I was going to be a winner either way. I left the tournament £80 up. Hardly a fortune. But nice anyway. Alas, most of my friends got carried away. At best, they broke even. That’s because none of them took my tip and opened up a bookmakers. They did very nicely indeed.

Anyway, that’s enough of the betting scourge. Who else were winners this World Cup? Germany, obviously. Colombia too, who have an awful lot more fans now. Their star player, James Rodriguez, was a winner and his bank account will soon reflect that. I spent the run up to the World Cup telling everyone he’s the best kid since Ronaldo or Messi hit the scene. They are believers now.

Finally there’s me. Again. Do you remember my pre-tournament prediction? I didn’t do so bad. I went for Germany beating Argentina in the final by one goal. I picked three of the four semi finalists. Although admittedly I did get a lot of the group results wrong. I was disappointed by the Ivory Coast. I really hoped they’d finally do something that reflects the talent in their squad. Russia and Croatia both disappointed to, although in my defence the Croatians lost one of their key players to injury just before the competition started. Still. I’m just left to wonder what the odds were on Germany beating Argentina before the whole thing kicked off….

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Bat Man of Mexico

Once upon a time, back in very early 2003, I took a look at Mexico. I knew little about the country. Desert, sombreros, tequila, two World Cups and a crime wave. I was looking for a TEFL course, and there was one in Guadalajara that was cheap. So I took a look at Mexico. There was, of course, an awful lot more to the country than I knew of. That’s not my fault. Mexico wasn’t (and Cancun apart, still isn’t) on the British radar.

One thing in particular caught my attention. A factoid, stating that Mexico was one of a small number of countries that contain a majority of the world’s flora and fauna. What the hell – in a desert?! It turns out that there’s plenty of jungle about too. I was intrigued. I carried on looking. The rest, as they say, is history.

The BBC had a fascinating documentary a couple of nights ago, all about one of the heroes who is trying to save Mexico’s incredible biodiversity. Specifically, bats. And by default, also tequila. It was a really enjoyable and informative programme. Mrs P was once one of those with a negative view of bats. Not any more. Rodrigo Medellin is a modern day, real life superhero. Truly the Bat Man of Mexico.

The show is on BBC iPlayer for the next five days at the time of writing. Click the link in the paragraph above. If you life outside the UK, you will probably need to know how to work a proxy server.  If not, then watch this completely unrelated documentary on the most insane animal on this planet, the Honey Badger. I’d like one as a pet.  Mrs P wouldn’t. Nor would my neighbours. Nor any other animal within a 25 mile radius.

The Definition of Football

Latin America is not a happy hunting ground for Germany. The last grand battle they faced in these waters finished when the sailors aboard the Graf Spee scuttled their own ship, rather than face defeat. But this time round, they came out all guns blazing, and it was their opponents who self destructed. Not since the French in 1940 has the world seen such a complete capitulation in the face of a German attack. And like the French, the humiliation was complete when the Brazilians decided to collaborate, providing standing ovations and oles as the Germans scored, teased and tormented their hapless opponents.

The totally unnecessary war references are there purely because, as a Brit, I am culturally obliged to relate any German success, or failure for that matter, to World War Two. And to mock the French. It’s what we do. On Tuesday we watched something special. Something for the ages. The Germans lived up to their stereotype in 90 minutes of slick, ruthless, even brutal efficiency. They truly blitzed the enemy, leaving them dazed and confused. And thoroughly beaten. To their credit, and unlike the French, the Brazilians didn’t surrender.

I am, of course, referring to the Germans 7 to 1 trouncing of Brazil in the first World Cup 2014 semi final. How does this game rank in the history of the sport? Football is a game with many facets, and for each facet that is game that is held as the prime example. A game that embodies a virtue, for good or bad, and that is remembered forever. A game that sets the standard by which all other games of that nature will be compared to. A game that is embedded into the global consciousness of the sport. Never to be forgotten. There are ten games which have shaped this sport. Here they are…

The Battle of Santiago

Sport is a competitive cauldron of testosterone fuelled men, determined to emerge triumphant. Sometimes competitors snap and lash out. Swing an elbow. A discreet headbutt. Or have a little nibble of someone’s shoulder. But the finest example of on-field physical combat came in Santiago during a game between Chile an Italy. Neither side left the field with their dignity intact. But the Italians departed with their reputation in tatters. The first foul occured after just twelve seconds. The first sending off, for a punch, after 12 minutes. Technically he was sent off. In reality he was dragged off the pitch by police, having refused to go for an early shower. The police were forced to intervene several more times as fists continued to fly. The referee, an Englishman, did little to intervene. He did go on to invent the yellow and red card though.

 

The Russian Linesman

Dodgy offside calls, missed fouls, wrongly given or ruled out goals – the poor referee and his linesmen have long been getting it in the neck for getting things wrong. But the grand daddy of dubious decision belongs to a Russian. Actually, he wasn’t Russian. He was from Azerbaijan. But everyone thinks he was Russian. In 1966 at Wembley, in extra time of a thrilling final between England and Germany, Geoff Hurst thundered a shot against the underside of the bar and over the line. Or not over the line. No one really knows. It will never be settled one way or the other. The referee wasn’t sure. But the Russian linesman, he was sure. He waved his flag, had a chat to the ref and the goal was given. England went on to score another, Geoff Hurst netting his third, the only hat-trick ever scored in a final.

 

The Shock

A David versus Goliath battle always catches the imagination. When David wins…well, you’d write a chapter for a book about it, wouldn’t you. At the very least. There are plenty of candidates for shock results. England’s defeat by the USA in Brazil 1950 sent shock waves through the world of football. But perhaps the honour of the greatest shocks belongs to North Korea. The communists out east played a starring role in the World Cup in England. But before the Russian linesman got to take to the stage, a team of North Korean no-hopers took on the might of Italy.  A beat them.

The Match of the Century

The 1970 tournament in Mexico was the the tournament that just kept on giving. Early on, the two giants of the game at the time played a fabulous match. England were the reigning champions, taking on the favourites Brazil. The game is famous for the greatest save ever made, one of the finest tackles and an iconic photo of two true champions embracing in an era when sport was still sport.

But this was not the Match of the Century. That came in the semi final. To be fair, the first 90 minutes were very ordinary. Dull, even. But with extra time under way, the two giants of European football slugged it out, trading blow for blow. Video fails to catch the drama, tension and fear that enveloped the game as it headed towards a goal fest climax. Italy triumphed over the Germans and went through to the final.

Perhaps in hindsight they’d wish they hadn’t. Because…

The Beautiful Game

It is said that the English invented the game. And Brazil made it beautiful. Both statements are correct. The latter sentiment was etched into history in the final of the 1970 World Cup. A magnificent Brazil played the game how it should be played. The way you’d play in your dreams. With flair, daring, genius. The defensive fortress of Italy was put to the test by the finest attacking team in history. An immoveable object against an irresistible force. One had to give, and it was the Italians, swept aside by a relentless tide of green and yellow sporting gods. The fourth goal trascended normal sport. It was poetry in motion. Moving art. Pele, the conductor of a footballing orchestra of unsurpassed quality defined what football is, was and forever should be.

 

German Blitzkrieg

In American football, a blitz is a defined as an attack on a player as soon as the ball is snapped. He is charged and taken out of the game. This isn’t a move that is technically permitted in normal football. Not within the rules. Normally. How apt that it was a German who imported the move. There have been many moments of brutality on the football field, but no single incident springs so readily to mind that that inflicted on the French player Patrick Battiston by the German keeper Harald Schumacher.

Astonishingly, the referee failed to even so much as award a foul. How he felt that Battiston ended up on the floor unconscious with smashed up teeth and vertebrae – well, only he knows. The game itself was also a classic, decided on penalties after the sides had drawn 3-3 after the end of extra time.

 

Death of Football

Brazil made football beautiful. Their great teams of 1958, 1962 and 1970 have gone down in footballing folklore. They played with a sense of flair, panache and imagination that every other team in the world aspires to. They set the bar for footballing excellence. But it’s been a while since the Brazilians themselves have managed to field a team that comes close to reaching that bar.

The last time? That would be Spain in 1982. Zico, Socrates, Junior, Eder and Falcao provided an attacking force that lived up to all expectations. True, their defence was known to be a little suspect. But that shouldn’t have mattered. They sent ten goals flying past their three opponents in the first group stage.  In the second round group of three the comfortably despatched fierce rivals and reigning champions Argentina 3 to 1. Which left them needing just a single point from their second game in order to proceed to the semi finals.

It was to be another battle of traditional flair, wrapped in a Brazilian flag, against a functional, defensive Italian team spearheaded by Paolo Rossi – a player who should have been serving the final year of a three year ban for match fixing. What transpired was a game for the ages, but a horror show for the purist. And the death of football as it should be played. At least from a Brazilian perspective.

 

Hand of God

There is a fine line between madness and genius. And plenty of examples to prove the point. Diego Maradona being football’s prime example. When he wasn’t shooting up drugs or shooting at journalists, he was scoring the most sublime goals the game has seen. He was famed for single handedly dragging inferior teams to ultimate glory. Yet, he could also express the darker side of his nature of the pitch too.

In less that five minutes of mayhem and magic in the Estadio Azteca in 1986, he demonstrated both facets of his character. In a quarter final against England, fuelled into a fervently hostile clash thanks to the recent Falklands War, Maradona first cheated his way to a goal – the infamous Hand of God – and then scored the finest individual goal the tournament has ever seen. The rest, as they say, is history. And the World Cup was won a week or so later, and on a plane back to Buenos Airies.

 

The Comeback

Every game so far has been a World Cup games, featuring national teams. Not this one. But this one is special. It captured the imagination of football fans across the world. It is the very definition of a comeback. Sure, there have been games where a team has pulled back a greater deficit. But never on a stage this big. Never against a team of the likes of AC Milan. Never in the style of this Liverpool team.

What do you want from your game of football? Forty thousand screaming red fans? A giant and the underdog? A first half crushing that would demoralise your opponents and cast them into despair? A rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone as the teams return to the field for the second half. Seven minutes of insanity as the scores are brought level? Two ridiculously improbable saves? And to finish, the drama of a penalty shoot out. Check, check, check, check, check, check and check.

 

The Crying Game

And we come full circle, ending the post where I started it. With Brazil’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Germany. Yes, most other teams have suffered a humiliation from time to time. The Germans are still trying to forget being thumped 5-1 by England in their own Olympic stadium in 2002. In turn England are trying to forget about their German thumping four years ago. Or at least, we will remind you of the scandalously disallowed Lampard goal.

But this was a World Cup semi final. In Brazil’s own World Cup. With so much Brazilian hype prior to this game. To be fair, many people saw it coming. More than a month ago, when Brazil manager picked Jo and Fred over Ronaldinho, Kaka or Coutinho, the signs were there. Tactically they’ve been off. Going forward they were toothless. They were fortunate to get a result against Croatia, were held easily by Mexico, and were lucky to get past Chile. They played better against Colombia but also showed their nasty side and were fortunate to get past them as well.

But still. No matter how you word it. No matter what excuses you make. From this point forward, any team can suffer any result and still say, ‘well things could be worse – we could be Brazil’.

 

Fangs For The Memories

Oh such a cliche, predictable and tabloid-esque headline.  But someone has to say it, so I might as well get in there first. Luis Suarez has been sold to Barcelona for a whopping £75,000,000. Most Liverpool fans feared at the end of last season that this might happen, but hoped it wouldn’t come to pass. That he has since gotten himself a long ban for biting, again, made it an easier deal for Liverpool to swallow.

I will miss seeing his genius on the field at Anfield in a red shirt. He was something very special. Over the last twelve months he has been the best player in the world. Only Messi and Ronaldo can do the things he does with the ball. He is the finest, most talented player I have ever seen at Liverpool. And there have been some mighty talented players at that club. Sure, he could be a bit temperamental, a bit emotional and most of all a little bit bitey. Is he the greatest red ever? No, of course not. The King will always been Kenny.

As much as we will miss him, we will go on without him. The guy is as much a liability as he is a genius. Had we kept him, he would have missed another thirteen games at the beginning of next season. By the time he is fully back in the swing of things, half the season will have gone.

But the biggest question of all, had Liverpool kept him – what happens when he goes in for a fourth chomp of a bit of shoulder, calf or neck at some point in the future? What will the ban be then? I suspect it would be enormous. We will miss you Luis and every Liverpool fan will wish you well. We’d have been happy had you stayed. But every story must come to an end eventually. Thanks for the £75 million.

Downloadair – Flickr to HDD

I don’t know how many times I’ll put myself in this position. I have all my photos on Flickr. But I need to have them on a local drive too. I have a partitioned hard drive, and a special folder. And every now and again, my hard drive dies, or I accidentally  delete the folder somehow. An then I have to download all my photos from Flickr again. Which is a whole load more hard work than it should be. You’ll need a third party app, because Flickr doesn’t provide a facility to download your entire photostream.

There are plenty of apps. Most of which haven’t been updated for years. Some of which contain malware. Others fail to download exif data, or turn sets into folders or are otherwise intensely laborious to use. Bulkr is great but costs $30. FlickrEdit, the tool I’ve previously used, is now too buggy. Should you find yourself in a similar situation, I can vouch for Downloadair. Running on Adobe Air, it’s got a pleasant UI, is easy to use and works well.

There are only two downsides. You have to click on each album to download it. I have more than 400, so it took a while. And it adds a string of unwanted numbers to the file name. Very irritating. But it’s free, and does everything else perfectly. It even picks up where it left on mid download if the PC crashes. So I can live with the flaws.

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Death On Grass

Thirty years ago, Torvill and Dean enchanted the world at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo with their rendition of Bolero. Their performance won gold and set records as they scored a set of perfect sixes. Their routine changed ice skating. They creatively elongated their performance to fit the musical score by staying on their knees at the beginning, and they introduced ‘death on ice’ to the sport with their finale, collapsing on to the white stuff as if they’d been shot. It started a trend. Before you knew it, skaters were finishing their dances with more and more elaborate death routines. Appearing to have simply been shot was ‘old school’. Skaters mimicked being mown down by Gatling guns, or from being slashed with a thousand cyanide laced blades. Yes, it became ridiculous. Utterly absurd.

Football has its own version of death on ice. I shall call it ‘Death on Grass’. Others refer to it simply as diving or cheating. The more eloquent commentator refers to it as simulation. But it’s far more than that. It is truly performance art. It’s a dance. It’s a talent. Some are better at it than others. And it is played to an audience of three. True, there may be tens of thousands in the crowds and tens of millions watching at home on television. But the performance is purely for the benefit of the referee and his two assistants on the line. The referee signals his approval of the dance in question by blowing his whistle and awarding the match to the team who performed Death on Grass the best over the 90 minutes.

The evidence that it is an art form and not cheating? Every time you hear someone say ‘well, it’s part of the game these days‘. Or, ‘...I know, but that Robben, he’s just so good at it‘. Or even, ‘…yes, but if you leave a leg out, you know what he’s going to do‘. Even my own argument against diving is an admission. ‘But it shouldn’t be part of the game’. That I say the word shouldn’t as opposed to isn’t is a confession that I know that actually, when all is said and done, it is. And so it continues. Our beloved, beautiful game continues to be shamed and gamed by artists performing Death on Grass.

Some of it is almost Monty Python-esque. Death by shooting, slashing, from a piano dropped on the player from a great height. Death by being shoved in a tumble dryer or from being struck by a bulldozer. Some look like they are in a rabid death throe. Do you remember Indiana Jones and all those lucky escapes he had from certain doom? Did you ever wonder what those scenes would have looked like if he hadn’t escaped? Watch a game of football and all will be revealed. When and where exactly did all this nonsense start? I do not know. But being British I will point an accusing finger at the continentals. Especially the Italians. But you know the Germans are probably at the centre of it all. Bloody Germans. Where will it end? Hopefully before several team mates go so far as to get together and choreograph  ‘death by nuclear blast’.

Football has spent the last week completely focussed on the Luis Suarez biting incident. It shocked the entire sport. You don’t bite on the football field, Luis! You are an animal! But what were the actual consequences of his bite. Not to make light of the trivial bruising to Chiellini’s shoulder, but the consequences to the result were as they should have been. On the field that day, none. After the event, the offender was punished. You could argue that Suarez should have been sent off, and that this might have altered the final outcome. I accept that. But his action in itself did not influence the scoreline.

Last Sunday, Arjen Robben, a world renowned grand master of Death on Grass, treated the world to a special performance of his art form. Which is, technically, every bit against the rules as biting. The consequences? The Mexican football team were knocked out of the competition. He broke the hearts of more than a hundred million of my compadres and comadres. El Tri’s grand Brazilian adventure was cruelly and unfairly cut short. We were deprived further touchline remonstrations and celebrations by Miguel Herrera. We must suffer further games of Dutch Head Kicking football. Yet, as further evidence of how open to interpretation Death on Grass is, there are arguments on both sides, for and against Robben. But as a fan, I’d rather see Suarez take a nibble out of a players should than see a team cheated out of the whole competition. And then there’s this guy. Who shall henceforth be forever known as What The Hell Oh My God guy. But the Guardian has a more composed view…

For the record, my firm opinion is that Robben dived and cheated. Was there a sliver of contact? I don’t care. Robben clearly played the ref, not the game. Who do I blame? Robben, of course. Plus, his manager. Indeed, I blame all managers. I always find the post match interviews galling, having to listen to a manger ranting and raving about how his side were cheated. Here’s the deal. If the referee is fooled, then the only consequence a player might face for his cheating would be via his manager. I cannot recall a single incidence of a player actually having to face any consequences for diving in a Monday morning meeting with his manager. I have, a couple of times, heard a manager say ‘he’ll have a few words’ with an obvious and persistent diver. Who continues diving the very next week. So one assumes those words were ‘keep it up, son!’

Football mangers will continue to bemoan ‘poor refereeing decisions’. They will continue to send teams out who will attempt to create the perfect conditions to goad a poor decision out of the ref. I will continue to mock their hypocrisy. And nothing will change. Until the governing bodies take firmer action. A television referee for top flight football. Who can view the replay, at different angles, and make an informed and more accurate decision. The game can be brought back and the offender punished.

Some people say this would break up the flow of the game. I argue it will do quite the opposite. If the players can’t get away with it, they won’t do it. The flow of the game will be improved. And games will be decided by goals again, rather than by performance art.

The world of ice skating eventually curbed the ever more evocative interpretations of death. The world of football can do the same, if it imposes its will on to the players taking the field. Let’s not forget that football is a game. It’s sport. It’s not, despite Bill Shankley’s assertion to the contrary, more important than life or death. Twenty years ago yesterday, a sad and non-simulated ‘Death on Grass’ type incident occurred. Colombia’s defender Andres Escobar was gunned down and killed, days after scoring an own goal that knocked his country out of the World Cup in the US.

Colombia was not a safe or happy place at the time. This was only eight years after Colombia had been due to host the World Cup themselves, in 1986, but were forced to give the tournament over to Mexico due to a lack of finance to put the necessary infrastructure in place. It was a shame that such a talented team who had such high expectations had to exit in such a fashion. More of a shame that the defeat lead to the death of one of the team’s stars. I watched a movie/documentary called The Two Escobars a few years ago. It was an excellent film. It’s now on YouTube. Enjoy…

 

 

 

The Fuji Heartbreaker

Since selling my Fuji XS-1, I’ve been looking wistfully through the windows of camera shops. I’ve been checking prices on Amazon. As ever, I’ve been reading through the reviews on Photography Blog, Camera Labs and others. I’ll get a new camera. It’s all about exactly what and precisely when. There is my long term object of lust the Sony Nex 6 and its replacement the a6000. There’s also the new Panasonic GX7, which looks fabulous, gets rave reviews but is rather pricey. I really don’t think I’ll buy into the Micro Four Thirds format though. Not when there are cameras with APS-C sensors to choose from.

Why choose a format which has the limited specs of the MFT cameras? I know Panasonic and Olympus credit themselves as pioneering the Compact System Camera form factor, but the original, an Epsom, was equipped with an APS-C sensor way back in 2004. Indeed, that was a fine looking camera. Ahead of its time. But not on my current shopping list.

I do really, really like the new Fuji X cameras though. I keep finding myself drawn to the XE-1 and XE-2. The XE-1 can be had, body only for £299. Then there is a fabulous 50mm f1.4 prime lens to go with it. An extra £400. Which still makes it £80 cheaper that the GX7 bought with a 20mm f1.8 lens.  Am I beginning to waffle now? The point is, I’m working out all the different permutations between price, camera and lens weighed against my (kinda non existent) budget. And then I saw this…

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Begads! The fabulous XE-2 – not the older XE-1, the brand spanking new XE-2 – can be had, body only, for £600. I know a Buy Now Pay Later shop! And the superb 55mm lens is free?! Sign me up to your club Fuji, I’m sold on this deal! I have loved all three of my previous Fujis, but this one would be ‘the keeper’. Love at first sight. I’d walk the XE-2 down the aisle. Any aisle. To think I was considering paying a £100 more for the older model and the 50mm lens!

And then I saw the expiry date of the offer. Bump. Down to earth I came. Too late. How did I miss this awesome deal? I have no idea. But I snoozed. I losed. Please Mr Fuji, let me into this deal! Run it again! Let me join your club! Alas, I suspect I have missed out. But one thing that has become clear in recent months. My next camera purchase will be chosen with a huge degree of consideration to the lens that comes with it. And that if a manufacturer wants me to buy into their format, they’ll have to buy me. With a bribe. Of a free lens. Because the market is competitive and good lens offers abound.

 

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

For years and years, Adobe Photoshop was amongst the most pirated pieces of software on the planet. Not surprising, really. It was, is, the best photo editor available. And it was so prohibitively expensive, the only way the average Joe could afford it was to steal it. Then along came Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, to complement the original. Another slick and essential piece of gear for the digital photographer. It was cheaper too, but still quite a financial outlay. And, as a result,  just as heavily pirated.

Last year, Adobe tried to crack down on piracy by moving their software into the cloud. Would you be surprised if I told you that cracked versions were on torrent sites within days? Perhaps hours. Invariably, despite software creators doing their darnedest to prevent it, the pirates will find a way round any protection that is put up. It’s a pointless battle.

But I’m really, really pleased to say that Adobe has found a genuinely novel, workable and real world model to help reduce piracy. They’ve made their product affordable. Really affordable, with monthly plans that make sense to even the hardest up snapper. Photoshop and Lightroom are such powerful, yet user friendly pieces of kit, that they should appeal to every enthusiastic photographer. I have signed up today for the Creative Cloud Photography Plan. Available to US citizens for $9.99. Us Brits have to pay an inflated, but still reasonable, £8.78.

I love Adobe Lightroom, which is my primary photography processing and management tool. It’s a work of digital genius. I like Photoshop, which I use less often, but it’s such a powerful tool. I love the fact that I now own them both. Two legit installations on my laptop. The latest editions, and I’ll be getting all the latest updates.  Have you given Lightroom a try yet? You’ll never go back to whatever you used before once you’ve given it a fair run on your PC.

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Half Time

The group stages are done. Sixteen teams have progressed to the knockout stages. Sixteen teams, and one other, have gone home. It has been a fantastic tournament so far. Absolutely fantastic. Of course, it would have been better had England managed to….well, win a game. But I’m a football fan, and the football in Brazil has been of the highest order. I have some opinions to share, naturally.

  • Roy Hodgson should be fired. He might have selected a youthful squad. But then he ruined it by picking Welbeck. Not once, but twice. He has no tactical vision and no idea how to change a game. Worse, he doesn’t even be able to spot gaping flaws in his grand plan when they occur in front of his eyes. The entire nation watched Italy rip us to pieces down the wings from the 1st minute to the last, and he did not even attempt to stem the flow of the Azzuri attacks.
  • Steven Gerrard should retire from international football, along with Lampard, Baines, Jagielka and Milner. I’m a huge Gerrard fan. But at 34, he’s not going to be around for the next World Cup, and the time to start the transition is now.
  • Luis Suarez biting an Italian defender, shocked me, but not disgust me. It was bizarre and he clearly needs help. By all accounts, he’s a really nice down to earth chap off the field. He sure is a talent on it. But the guy is prone to going nuts. It’s a shame. I was cheering on Uruguay as my third choice team behind England and Mexico.
  • The attitude and behaviour of the Uruguay team, press and people in general did both shock and disgust me. Conspiracy? Nothing to see? Chiellini is a snitch? Guys, the dude bit him. On TV. In front of millions. He should apologize, and his team should acknowledge his wrong doing. Suarez brought shame on himself. Uruguay has brought shame and contempt on itself. I hope Uruguay get thrashed by Colombia on Saturday. It’s what they deserve.
  • Shakiras song is a bit meh. But she is Shakira.
  • A four month ban? That is overly harsh. I also find it hard to reconcile an offence which leaves minor bruising at worse being worthy of a greater sanction that a leg breaking challenge.  I know it’s biting. But still. Bruise versus broken leg. I know which I’d rather be a victim of.
  • I am a Liverpool supporter. I’ve loved watching Suarez at Anfield. I would love to see him play there next season. But frankly, if Barcelona or Madrid offer the right money, get shot of him. And bring in Alexis Sanchez and the wonderful James Rodriguez, who looks the finest young player I have seen in a decade. And who would no doubt cost a small fortune.
  • Most of my predictions have gone woefully wrong. But I’m still holding on to my pick for a Germany v Argentina final.
  • I gave Mexico no chance. I’m happy that prediction went wrong. They are doing what England simply seem to find almost impossible. To play as a team, rather than as a collection of assorted stranger. Marquez has been imperious. Their game against Holland in 50/50. Too tight to call. I shall be watching and wearing my Mexico top.
  • Have I bored you yet?