Sunday, 30 September 2007

Braque to basics

What’s to be done when the bleeding obvious actually happens? Do you stand up, clasp your hands and shout hosanna? Or do you sit down and growl about the lethargic pace of change?

I’m an upbeat kind of person so I’m more in the camp of singing songs of joy. But I have to say that the French education minister’s announcement a few days ago that from September 2008 there’ll no longer be school on Saturday morning is overdue.

When the eldest started to partake in this a few years ago, we viewed it as a quaint convention.

But since I’ve been indulging in the football, it has become quite awkward.

Yesterday was a case in point. My usual rendez-vous with the captain of the team is at 8.45am at Porte de Montreuil over on the eastern fringes of the city. And from there Renon drives me and another player, Walter, to various grounds around the Parisian suburbs.

The meet-up is usually achievable if I drop my girls off on Saturday as soon as the doors open at 8.20. I can then get the metro and be there with minutes to spare.

But now our team is in the top flight — things are going to be more serious. Referees are going to be slimmer and there are going to be prompt starts at 9.30.

So it was 8.30 at the Porte de Montreuil. I felt as if I was deserting a major offensive at home. The darling daughters had barely eaten their breakfast when I was on the brink of departing. As for the boy, the porridge wasn’t even in globules on his bib.

Reform is what Sgt Major Sarkozy said he was going to inject into French life. And I’ve no doubt that he is going to execute his directive but a fat lot of good that is to me in the here and now.

But maybe next year in the there and then I’ll be showering rose petals on the Sgt Major.

Got to Porte de Montreuil on time. We arrived at the pitch on time. On the field on time. Well before 9.30 only to find that the opponents hadn’t marked out the lines on the pitch. Maybe they’re into the expansive game.

So while a couple of their lads went round with some line marking contraption I continued my warm-up.

This routine is now embellished with a few of the stretching movements I’ve managed to retain from yoga.

I didn’t do anything too elaborate figuring that if I adopted the warrior position, it might transmit the wrong kind of signals.

Perhaps I should have as I was hardly combative during my 20-odd minutes on the right in midfield.

I was having difficulty in the coach’s 4-3-3 model. Especially since Nelson, who was supposed to be advancing with me on the outside right had drifted into the centre.

I ceded my place and about five minutes later Nelson came off.

He was remarking on the touchline how the right flank had been substituted when we scored from a move down the left.

Our first goal in the top division. My approach at times like this is never change a winning team and though I was asked if I wanted to go back on I said that I was quite happy on the sidelines.

Especially since the opponents hadn’t scored. But as the second half wore on, they were attacking at will down our left.

The left back had endured enough after 70 minutes, so I was sent back into the fray on the left in midfield and we were back in a 4-4-2 formation.

Nelson was on the inside and when I was able to break up an attack I instinctively knew where to look for him with a simple pass so we could launch the counter.

Reviewing our 1-0 victory, I’d like to think I curbed my natural attacking instincts for the good of the collective.

I was told I’d made une bonne rentrée and that certainly didn’t need much translation or even explanation.

I set off for work at the radio station happy with my contribution. I thought I was walking to the train station when I suddenly noticed that I was in fact striding.

I slowed down, looked at my legs and took some rather deliberate footsteps to make sure that it wasn’t some victory-fuelled euphoria that had numbed the pain.

No. I could walk. Hosanna I can walk after a football match. There were no grimaces, no self-recriminations for trying to stop the icy claws of decrepitude. Praise be I can walk.

Perhaps it’s the yoga. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’d avoided the tackles of their No 12.

Even this morning I could walk. No delayed effects. But there was déjà vu.

For the second week running there were no Sunday papers in the Frequent Travellers Lounge for the benighted passengers on the 0807 from the Gare du Nord.

This time it didn’t matter because I had the laptop back after a 10 absence with a faulty CD/DVD eject button and I caught up with the film Kinky Boots, a heart-warming tale of fortitude in adversity.

Duly inspired I got on the bus at Waterloo and went over to the Tate Modern. I think I shall do an onslaught on the Tate Modern because it won’t be just around the corner when the Eurostar goes steaming into St Pancras International from November 14.

I was looking at Clarinet and Bottle of Rum, Braque’s painting from 1911. He created it when he was in Céret in southern France. Picasso was working alongside him and they swapped ideas to such an extent that they had problems distinguishing their own work.

Two ladies in their mid to late 50s were cooing over the piece, admiring the layers and the musical motifs.

“Would you put it on your wall?” I asked one of them. She said she most definitely would. “Would you?” she queried.

“I’m not so sure yet.”

“Give it a few years,” she encouraged. “And you’ll come round.”

They wandered off and I had a look at a few of the other pictures before returning to review the Braque.

“I must create a new sort of beauty,” the artist claimed in 1910. “And through that beauty interpret my subjective impression.”

That’s a pretty stringent mission statement. I’ve nothing near as bold as that to proclaim.

It would be pompous to attempt to throw out something like that too. But I have to say that I’m doing my best to live a new sort of beauty.

But can it be done without the Sunday papers?

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Thanks for the memory

Eurostar has got to do something at la Gare du Nord. The configuration of the ticket machines, the French and British immigration checks means that logical queues are nigh impossible.

I don’t want to veer into the standard rubbish about Latin and British temperaments but the laissez-faire approach of staff doesn’t help.

It’s rare to see Eurostar footsoldiers intervene, marshal a queue and deter the “join anywhere” brigade.

I was shuffling my way to the British immigration desks this morning behind quite a tall young man, three women and a family.

From out of nowhere came a well-dressed chap in his early 50s, well-groomed and expensive of smell. He stopped, squinted to the left and then the right and went off in that direction. Seconds later he was back and he was hovering. The tall young man looked at him, the ladies didn’t seem to notice as he stood to the side of them, slightly ahead of me.

The young bloke and the women went to the desk on the left and the family advanced to the desk in front of me. Mr Well–groomed just stood his ground. When the family was finished he simply moved in ahead of me.

I said to him that I thought I was next and he told me that he was looking for his family and that he had children waiting. He did back away. However he must have got in behind me because by the time I was in the Frequent Travellers Lounge he was breezing past me heading towards the magazine rack.

I went up to him and said: “You didn’t have to push in front of me like that.” He replied: “As I explained I have children waiting for me.”

“I’m sure you do,” I said, even though no sign of his family was to be found in the lounge. “But you could have asked me to allow you in rather than pushing in like that.”

He harrumphed and there wasn’t much to say after that. Must admit he didn’t look too keen to find his offspring as he tucked into an array of goodies in the lounge.

As I stood in the buffet car, looking out at the onset of the countryside, I wondered to myself whether I appeared the type to brook such rudeness.

I focused my gaze on my image in the window and thought I don’t look psychopathic nor do I look a puny diminished being. I look quite ordinary. And I guess that was at the heart of the clash.

Maybe his values system had broken down because he was desperately seeking his family. I should have followed him to see if he was telling the truth.

I tried to visualise his reaction as I started raging: “Where’s your family? Where’s your family queue barger?”

That would have freaked him out.

Clearly this avenue of thinking stems from utter disgust that the lounge did not have any British newspapers for the benefit of passengers on the 0807.

Of the thousand Sundays I’ve travelled between Paris and London, this was the one when I wanted to read the papers. Namely on the deconstruction of José Mourinho’s exit from Chelsea on Thursday.

I even asked the lounge’s receptionist. Nothing.

Despite the barbarity of the situation I remained zenic.

“I think I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so….”

Oh yes, the marvellous refrain from the Vapors song from 1980. And indeed I am. For though I’m south London born, I’m going to adopt the Japanese stance in terms of my sporting affiliations.

In the days when Channel 4 showed Italian football, there was a feature on how the Japanese fans followed a particular player rather than a team.

So in 1998 when the Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata joined Perugia – a lowly team in Serie A – the minnows suddenly saw their gates rise by 400 million Armani-clad Japanese tourists. The additions all loved Nakata and had opted to see him in Italy now that he had left Bellmare Hiratsuka

Perugia gained mid table respectability with the two-time Asian player of the year in their ranks.

Lo and behold he was snapped up by Roma who were accused of succumbing to the marketing department.

The iron fist motivator Fabio Capello, who was in charge of the team, said that wasn’t the case and I doubt many journalists would argue with Fabio if he says so.

Capello was vindicated when Nakata hit two late goals to secure a draw with title rivals Juventus.

Nakata’s reaction on scoring the equaliser from 30 yards would have graced an Akira Kurosawa movie.

It was as if Nakata was at one with the air as he breathed out his delight in a slow, grimace transcending not only the savagery of the strike but the significance of the blow.

Roma went on to win the title that year.

Since Mourinho strolled into Chelsea, it’s been nothing short of sensational and I speak as an old supporter.

I can date my Blueness to about the mid 1960s. The couple who used to look after me while my mum was at work — let’s call them nanny and granddad — since that’s what I called them — came from west London, from just around the Fulham Road near Chelsea’s ground at Stamford Bridge. He was a Chelsea fan and since nanny’s favourite colour was royal blue. Well the rest is schoolboy fanaticism.

At primary school supporting Chelsea was also the smart life choice. Clifford Rashbrook, who was in my class, was a Chelsea fan. No one messed with Clifford. Firstly because he was pretty tough. Secondly he had an elder brother, Glenn and the clincher was the eldest Larry, who — so the playground word went — had form.

As an old Chelsea fan. There was the joy of the 1970 FA Cup win against Leeds. The European Cup winners Cup victory in 1971 against Real Madrid.

And then the desert following the League Cup loss to Stoke in 1972.

The flourish after the 1997 FA Cup win under Ruud Gullit and more trophies under Gianluca Vialli was all about knockout tournaments. Pundits said: “They can beat anyone on their day.”

But the sad truth was they could just as easily lose to anyone.

Seeing a team succeed on the basis of consistency has been marvellous. Crushing pragmatism with the intermittent flourish.

But after two league titles, two League cups and an FA Cup in three years, the fabulously wealthy owner Roman Abromovich has dispensed with the services of the self-styled ‘Special One’. And since Roman is paying……

At the press conference on Friday, the new man, Avram Grant looked petrified in front of the assembled media.

At a similar unveiling for Mourinho three years before, the Portuguese was affability incarnate. After his side had vanquished yet another side, Mourinho could babble Euro foot. Spanish, English, I even saw him do it in French.

Roman and his generals Peter Kenyon and Bruce Buck say they want the club to move forward and that Grant shares the same vision as them.

What on earth could that be given the success of the past three years?

Apparantly it’s to play sexy, entertaining soccer. But that’s just what Chelsea used to do and they won very little while Manchester United and Arsenal and especially United cleaned up the trophies.

So the glory with gruel has gone and hedonism will be restored.

The schism between the two big men was probably inevitable . I think Abromovich will find that extravagance on the field won’t bring success unless it’s tempered with patience. Arsenal are the English model for that elusive alloy.

Do fans want pretty football or trophies? If the owner has billions in his bank account he can opt for whatever he likes. Roman has clearly feasted on success now he appears to want aesthetics.

Nanny and grandad didn’t live to see the Blues win a title. I’ve seen two. And I’ll never forget the joy when Frank Lampard scored the second goal at Bolton in 2005 to clinch the first title in 50 years

But I’m off my club of 40 odd years. I’ve turned Japanese.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Night follows night

I leave Paris for a few days to go to Britain and I return on the Eurostar from suburban Waterloo to ....... Britain.

What's going on? Has the tunnel become a gash in the time space continuum?

Well, yes.

Sgt Major Sarko, tanned and revitalised after his summer jaunt to his American friends, has announced how he's going to revamp France's pension system.

The problem is the unions don't like what's in store and have threatened to take to the streets in protest.

And who could blame them. Some of the boulevards are particularly fine at this time of the year. Yellowing leaves falling wistfully to the ground. Crisp air, cafes amid well-appointed buildings. What impassioned protector of anachronisms wouldn't want to be out fulminating of a late autumn morn?

Sadly only a happy few - roughly half a million of the workforce - benefit from the deals that were hatched in the Ice Age. OK, not quite that recently.

In One Million Years BC when scantily-clad cave dwellers with an uncanny resemblance to Raquel Welch roamed the plains, an understanding was struck in which certain state workers got special early retirement privileges.

The idea was to show gratitude for sterling service in the face of various dangers.

So the likes of train drivers would naturally be included in the package. But since the understandings were reached, times have changed and steering a train is no longer a labour of sweaty toil beside a raging furnace for an engine.

France has invested spectacularly in its railways to create a fast, efficient and accessible service that makes British travellers drool in envy.

Sgt Major Sarko says this modus operandi is financially unsustainable. But the moderate unions - such as the CFDT - say hang on a minute, why?

I'm personally happy with my lot and if my taxes help a former Comédie Française worker or a train driver ease into retirement at 50, then I say cool. But the politicians say non, non, non.

They claim it is an antique bubble which is costing the taxpayer nearly 4.5 billion euros a year.

François Chereque, head of the CFDT, says there'll be conflict in the style of Britain's 1979 Winter of Discontent if the right attempts to pierce it.

I'm no towering political historian but I just happen to remember that winter. Didn't it kill off what we used to know as socialism in Britain and bring in Margaret Thatcher for the start of 18 years of unadulterated Tory rule?

It's certainly been argued that the Labour party, which has been in power since 1997, is in fact just a slightly more diluted version of that Blue rinse.

Hello Ségolène. Hello Mr Hollande. It seems to me that the French socialist leaders ought to be geting the trade unon bigwigs round for beer and sandwiches to tell them to lay off the tough talk and reform with dignity because the good run, whether they like it or not, is up.

The same socialist leaders have seen to that through their spectacular incomptence in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Even since those losses there's been little coherence. They've chosen instead to parade their political paralysis with internecine battles for the leadership.

All they need now is unions playing into the Sgt Major's dream scenario in which he's able to perpetuate his portrayal of the dynamic mechanic changing a sclerotic machine.

I was living in France in 1995 when the then prime minister Alain Juppé had to abandon such reforms after three weeks of strikes.

La galère - the struggle of travelling to work - was the motor for many a conversation. Back in 1995 Jacques Chirac's best intentions as a new president foundered and Juppé was sacrificed. The protégé was later exposed as something of a crook but he might have been humane. They might have got a better deal.

There's been nothing so far in the Sgt Major's manoeuvres to suggest that he grasps compassion.

Any fractionally decent thinker on the centre left would have known 12 years ago that it was a Pyrrhic victory. That trouble was brewing for later.

And here we are at later. September 2007.

France on the verge of feeding on the socially divisive scraps of early eighties Britain.

Left, right and centre here should shed their ideologies and have an out of body politic experience.

They ought to have a forensic review of what happened in Britain because it was brutal, bloody and unpleasant.

And the irony is none of the players appear to have won.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Green Flashbacks

My nephew has got a job. Just a few months after emerging from university with a degree in modern history, he's doing some events management thing in which he can work from home on his laptop. He wanted to start at 10am this morning, which was fine as I had to be at the dentist in south London at 10.30. As I was preparing to leave....Woman's Hour came up on Radio 4 which he was listening to via his laptop.

There were a few bars of Blondie's Hanging on the Telephone ....... Heart of Glass ....... Atomic ... Call Me ...... As they were playing I said to him: "You know you're getting old when the things that were edgy, punky and dangerous are being played 30 years later on Radio 4."

Before he could say anything the Woman's Hour presenter said, as she introduced Debbie Harry: "I shed decades listening to that..."

At 63, Ms Harry recounted that she was still flattered that people remembered those tracks. I couldn't listen to the rest as I had an appointment.

The trip to the dentist has been one of my life's constants. No matter how disastrous a relationship, no matter how awful the conditions at work, Mr Le Sage's surgery hasn't changed location, neither has the 109 bus stop near it. Neither it seemed to me today has the colour of the paint on the shop on the corner of the street a bit further on.

As I walked through the front garden of the surgery towards the side door entrance, I noticed an arrow on a piece of paper pointing me to the front door. I ignored it because for 40 odd years the entrance has been at the side. I arrived at the side door and a piece of paper, of course, told me what I had just disregarded.

Silently upbraided I went towards the front door and I remembered the trips to the surgery with my mum when I was a child and how I thought it was a bit weird that the entrance wasn't at the front.

Well now it is. Because I'm now so fluid and flexible I can't say I'm overly put out by this radical departure but I did say to Jazz, the dentist, that it felt a bit strange altering the habit of a lifetime.

Since taking over from Mr Le Sage, Jazz has certainly changed the look of the place but the quality remains.

The same is true of Green Flash. These gym shoes have of late had to cope with the onslaught of Nike, Puma, Skeechers, Bleachers, Movers and Shakers shoes.

Dunlop has responded to the phalanx of competitors by giving Green Flash velcro flaps or big, thick green laces.

This has imbued it at times with the sheen of retro cool and at other times it has made them look tired and desperate.

I, because I have narrow feet as well as slender and shapely ankles, have kept the faith with the product whatever the weather.

But Green Flash have, apparantly, been at times profoundly out and then deeply in. My nephew, from his fashion-driven time at secondary school right through three years at university, has been a barometer.

He took great delight in telling me before I left home this morning that Green Flash are only available at trendy shops. "Don't look so pained," was his rejoinder as I headed down the stairs chirping inside: "I'm in the phone booth, it's the one across the hall...if you don't answer I'll just rip it off the wall..."

The joy of teen screams.

I went to Covent Garden to purchase my Green Flash. Gone are the days when you could buy them in the local shoe menders. I probably could have found them somewhere nearer Streatham but since I have to be in central London for work, I might as well go into town.

Now the quandary is how am I going to get them to look as if I've had them for a while? When I was younger having a lily-white pair was, well, a red rag to a full-scale playground bullying.

I'm not going to wear them around the office.

It took a while but I came up with the answer. A walk on Tuesday morning around Tooting Bec Common and I can get to kick some conkers too. I haven't done that since last autumn.

The joy of life's constants.

Friday, 14 September 2007

The sky's the limit

The clay has got a hold of me.

A week after crashing out - because that's what top players do - of the journalists' tournament at Roland Garros, I went back. Not to relive the scene of my ignominy but to knock up with one of my colleagues from the radio station.

The bonus was that the session was free. There aren't going to be many times in my life where I can play without paying so I figured I might as well do it on one of the best clay courts in the world.

I phoned at 9am to check that the courts were clear and I was told 1pm.

It all seems so effete. As I finished early at the radio station on Thursday I took in the From Cézanne to Picasso exhibition at the Musée D'Orsay.

Typical me this, I read about the show probably before I went to America and probably decided to catch it while I was alone in Paris during the summer. So clearly that plan failed because the whole family is back and the exhibition finishes on Sunday. Glad I went. Sad I couldn't see it a few times. It's stunning.

Nearly 200 paintings, drawings and pieces of sculpture that were either commissioned, bought or sold by Ambroise Vollard. Loads of the old-fashioned kind of art where you can discern the subject in the picture.

Vollard knew how to back a pony. His exhibition in 1895 of Cézanne's works not only made the artist's reputation but it made Vollard the big cheese on the dealer scene at the age of 29.

Van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso were among the people he steered. It was Vollard who offered Matisse his first solo show in 1904, just three years after doing the same thing for Picasso.

"The most beautiful woman who ever lived," said Picasso, "never had her portrait painted or etched more often than Vollard by Cézanne, Bonnard and others."

Picasso drew a few, Renoir painted three pictures including one in which Vollard is dressed as a toreador. Pierre Bonnard did seven.

I liked the one from 1904. In this the 38-year-old dealer sits, caressing his cat, in a pose befitting a 007 villain.

"Observe Mr Bonnard," he says turning his head from side to side, "the instruments of art world domination."

With this view into Vollard's complex, it's easy to see that he was an astute judge of what was viable. He bought into André Derain and Matisse when hostile critics were dubbing them "fauves" (wild beasts).

One example of his savvy was with Cézanne's Le Fumeur accoudé from 1891. When Vollard sold it to the Russian industrialist Ivan Morosov in 1909 for 22,000 francs it was almost 100 times more than he'd paid for it 10 years earlier.

That beats even London house price inflation.

As I sat in a café after the show, I saw a couple of Scotland football supporters. They stopped at a corner to decide whether their path lay along the Rue de Lille or to the river along the Rue de la Légion D'Honneur.

One thing's for sure, the France coach Raymond Domenech won't be getting that medal pinned on him. His team's 1-0 defeat to Scotland on Wednesday had L'Equipe ululating on Thursday morning just four days after it was glorifying the side for it's 0-0 draw in Italy.

It's a fickle thing this sporting life. There are three games to go in Euro 2008 qualifying Group B. France still could make it.

However it will be over for the rugby team if they don't get their act together against Namibia on Sunday.

I find it difficult to complain about the football team though. Last summer they furnished me with an unprecedented sensation: being in a country where the team is contesting the World Cup Final. Never happened to me while I was living in England, that's for sure. Marvellous night it was. Right down to Zidane's headbutt on Materazzi.

You couldn't have written that. Seems hard to believe that the caucus of that side won't be in Austria and Switzerland next year.

Especially since England might be gracing the competition with their brand of dynamic incompetence. A man discarded a few years ago - Emille Heskey - comes back amid a general "Uh?" and galvanises a team to make everyone sigh: "Ah". Three nil against Israel - well they aren't that good. And then three nil against Russia - they are more than competent.

The Russia coach, Guus Hiddink, said after the match that his side had been very good in the development of play but no so good in the "punishment" side of affairs.

Well if they'd had a centre-forward called Dostoevsky that would've been a crime. But they didn't. England had Michael Owen who, since his Wunderkind days of the 1998 World Cup, has developed into a consistent punisher.

All of a sudden from the despair of the loss in Croatia to euphoria. England players can get their designer sunglasses ready for the mountain air.

I'm getting ready for some sea air. Back off to America in a few weeks with the three children and my nephew to see my grand-father.

After my nightmare experience with American Airlines in July, we're travelling Air France.

Hope they're better than their rugby and football teams.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Is money important?

After Friday night’s atrocity in which the French rugby team lost to Argentina, L’Equipe could at least congratulate the country’s top footballers on it’s front page on Sunday morning

They drew 0-0 in Milan against Italy on Saturday night in the Euro 2008 qualifiers and so France remains top of Group B going into Wednesday’s match against Scotland who have themselves leapfrogged Italy after their 3-1 win over Lithuania.

With the country's pride restored I just hope that Scotland don't come along and puncture the fragile sporting ego in Wednesday's match.

I would go and watch that but I'm more than likely going to view England against Russia.

I usually see these games with my mate Neil and they're really just a front for an evening of chilling out and catching up over a few glasses of wine.

We've seen some great games together in a variety of quite awful bars over the years. Neil somehow manages to find the most lurid establishments but then that's not surprising as he's an architect.

But that's for Paris. The Eurostar was unusually quiet on Sunday morning. I guess everyone is back from holiday and few people are doing their weekend breaks at the moment.

There were no British Sunday papers in the frequent traveller's lounge at the Gare du Nord. So I spent the train ride watching Isabelle Huppert as the career investigating judge in L'Ivresse du Pouvoir.
Just love Claude Chabrol.

Even the publicity for the film www.livressedupouvoir is quite stylish.

Must admit though I was waiting for the bloodbath.

It's a bit like a Tom Cruise movie. The main suspense is.......When is he going to run?

I'm going to try and see the theatre troupe Complicite at the Barbican in London. I've been a fan of theirs since the days when they were Theatre de Complicite.

And I feel the same way in their plays. Apart from the panoply of philosophical ideas....the question is....When are they going to start climbing the walls?

Actually I like the idea of being a wandering player. While many people have lived past lives as Richard the Lionheart or Florence Nightingale, I think I was an itinerant actor in a past life.

That's why I probably like Molière. Oy Poquelin you might have been the greatest comic writer in the French language but it's your lifestyle that gets big respect.

Complicite really endeared themselves to me when they reworked Der Besuch der alten Dame by the Swiss author and dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Studied that one for German A level and loved it. Seeing The Visit performed on stage with such verve and vitality entrenched it as one my favourite pieces. Can't say the same for L'Ivresse du Pouvoir.

I stepped off the train at the soon to be defunct Waterloo and sauntered to the South Bank. It was a glorious autumn morning. I walked along the embankment past the the already bustling cluster of cafes towards Foyles.

Since my first lesson on Thursday at the Centre de Yoga du Marais, I have decided to read up. Michelle, the teacher, has recommended The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikacher and as I am supple of mind if not yet quite of limb, I ventured to the bookshop but there I found disappointment.

Didn't have it. Crestfallen, I retraced my footsteps past the now even busier parade of cafes for Waterloo Bridge.

And it was along this stretch that I chanced upon the then highlight of the day. Jeppe Hein's Appearing Rooms. Originally commissioned for the garden of the Villa Manin in Italy, it's an ornamental fountain that combines sculpture, architecture and technology.

That's what the accompanying blurb says. What it means is that there are a series of jets which spurt up every 40 or so seconds for about two minutes locking you in a water room.

And while one room is "closed" another "door" opens and you step in and the "door" closes behind you.

Of course you can be crass and barge right through the door. But you get wet.

It's so simple and compellingly interactive that it was joyous. Especially with all the shrieks. Brilliant. Thinking back about it still brings a smile to my face.

Roger Federer winning his 12th grand slam brought another smile. After my glorious demise at Roland Garros in the journalists' tournament I can now feel his pain at failing to capture the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Federer was playing the Serb Novak Djokovic in the final of the US Open. I was going to stay at the Guardian and watch the showdown but I decided to go and see the film 12:08 East of Bucharest.

The 12:08 in the title refers to the moment that Romania was freed from dictatorship and communist rule.

Essentially if you weren’t on the streets protesting before this exact time can you claim to have participated in the overthrow?

This is the conundrum posed sixteen years later on a local TV debate in a town ‘somewhere east of Bucharest’.

Cool humour. The film by director Corneliu Porumboiu won the Camera D'or (prize for best first film) at the Cannes film festival in 2006.

I decided not to return to the office to watch the final. I arrived home to find — via BBC Radio Five Live — that the Swiss maestro was two sets ahead and 4-3 up in the third.

Djockovic held for 4-4. Federer moved to 5-4 and the 20-year-old then cracked.

I liked the extravaganza that followed the victory. The stats are radical. It was Federer's 10th straight grand slam final. Of those he's won eight. So I feel privileged that I've been there to see him on the rare occasion of a loss in a grand slam final.

He's now with Roy Emerson on 12 grand slam titles and two behind Pete Sampras. Of course many years ago it was said that Federer was the new Sampras.

But Sampras never won four consecutive US Open crowns, actually no one has since Bill Tilden in 1923. Sampras never won five Wimbledons in a row.

But enough of the antecedents. The MC of the prize giving at Flushing Meadows told Federer and the 23,000 spectators (including his conquered foe) that he'd won a Gas Guzzler XLV410i to carry his shiny US Open trophy and — just as importantly — a winner's cheque for $1.4 million.

While the crowd was swallowing that load of information....the MC added that because Federer had been the most successful player during the north American hard court circuit - the US Open series - he was going to be weighed down with another cheque for $1 million.

Languages have been my skills but even my maths can figure out that Federer will be able to buy lots of lollies and tennis equipment over the next couple of weeks.

Two point four million dollars. As my mum would say: "I'd be happy with the point four million dollars."

If he were my mate his would be the first couple of rounds at the 90-metre champagne bar coming shortly to St Pancras International.

But I know he's the type of bloke who'd be just as happy at a cafe on the South Bank.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Relocation, relocation, relocation

I was positively Federeresque in my on court behaviour.

As for the tennis.... nothing like him. I was more of a meteorological microcosm. I was hot when it was hot and as the conditions got milder, so did my tennis. Sadly it stayed cold.

Oh well at least I can go back to Roland Garros to practise with a friend. Problem is finding anyone who is free of a morning to traipse out to the Bois de Boulogne to play on the fabled courts.

I love tennis and I love playing but I have to say even my enthusiasm would begin to wane with regular trips out there, having to lug all my gear on the metro.

As I was preparing for the actual match, my mobile phone rang. It was the headteacher telling me that my eldest daughter had vomited at school.

And could I come to get her. For a moment I thought about telling the headteacher that I was indisposed as I was preparing for a match at Roland Garros.

But then I figured that my child would probably be instantly placed in the care of social services to keep her away from her delusional father.

So I said that my partner would come to take her away.

I did feel that it was almost stepping into the traditional role of woman dropping everything to go and tend the sick child.

But as she was in the local supermarket but five minutes away from school it was logical for her to answer the mayday call.

If she had been at work then I would have sacrificed my match.

The child is better now but she's really rather sad that she's only been able to go to school on Monday and Thursday. By contrast her sister who has never struck me as the natural student is relishing her return.

She brandished her first book at me on Tuesday afternoon. Was so excited that she could read one of the phrases in the tome that she didn't even let me put the shopping bags down.

I think she was just rubbing her sister's nose in it - so to speak - that she had managed to string together two consecutive days without dispatching the contents of her stomach at school.

The five-year-old will have her first Saturday morning at school while I have the first training session with the soccer team.

There's been some electricity breakdown at Stade Louis Lumière — our usual ground. So we're relocating to Stade Pershing in the Bois de Vincennes.

Another day. Another bois.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

I just love it when the newspapers chew over the big issues. Last week in the Guardian’s Notes and Queries column Andrew Brannan wrote in wanting help.

In what sequence should he show his young son the Star Wars episodes?

I quite liked the reply from Neil Rodgers in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. “Would it not be more challenging to consider which order to introduce a young son to the Dr Who series?”

Sharon Shaw, from Tunbridge Wells, probably spoke for millions when she suggested that starting with the Phantom Menace (Episode I) he risked putting the child off.

She said she and her husband planned to unfurl them in the following order. Episode IV (A New Hope); V (The Empire Strikes Back); I (The Phantom Menace); II (Attack of The Clones); III (Revenge of the Sith and VI Return of the Jedi.

“This way they get drawn into the simple wonder of the originals, before being left on the cliffhanger at the end of Empire to watch the back stories,” she added.

Gianluca Newcombe, aged nine, from north London, gave the child’s view: “I watched all the Star Wars films with my twin brother and my father in order I-VI. I advise everyone to so you don’t get confused.

“For example, the Emperor dies in Episode VI but then if you go and watch Episode I after that he is alive again!”

You cannot argue with that.

My conundrum has been that R2D2 has fairly limited powers in the original three and he fair clunks around as the Rebellion is threatened by hordes of Galactic Stormtroopers. But in the prequels, it can zoom about hanger decks and has all kinds of capabilities.

That’s not logical unless machines, like aging Jedi warriors, lose their potency. Watching it in chronological order would lend credence to Luke’s assertion in Episode IV to a sceptical Han Solo that Ben is a great man.

I could go on but then I’d have to go out and buy episodes I-III watch them and then IV, V and VI all with a critical eye.

I haven’t got the time because I have an 18 month old son to get through his first week in crèche and to prepare for my combat on Friday morning in the second match in the journalists’ tennis tournament on the unforgiving terre battue etc etc at Roland Garros.

It’s been a bit damp today and that will slow conditions down. That’s not going to suit my all action game.

On the subject of losers at Roland Garros, I was watching Federer hack up Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals at the US Open earlier. It was a real slugfest.

Roddick, dressed in a black T shirt, black shorts and white socks, was a pumped-up dynamo of aces, crunching forehands and grunts. Federer, kitted out in all black, was by contrast, silent poetry.

I’ll never have his dazzling array of shots but I can at least emulate his on court comportment.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

I'm keeping the day job

Well the career will last for another 48 hours. That's how long I've got to savour my win. Three sets on the unforgiving terre battue at Roland Garros.

It went on for ages but I prevailed 7-5 1-6 6-0. Not quite sure what happened in the second set. I remember saying to myself stay solid and I promptly lost my opening service game to go 0-2 down.

Managed to get to 1-3 but it went cataclysmic after that. Obviously there was some regrouping for the final set. I just remember saying move your feet and that worked.

My opponent Stéfan missed a few shots that he'd been making in the second set. And that was the difference. He was generous in defeat and I was gracious in victory to the point of remonstrating with him that he didn't play a really stylish forehand crosscourt.

He said he didn't have the confidence to do so. Shame, I said, because when it suddenly emerged in the third set I thought I was playing a Spaniard.

We've exchanged cards and might well do some hitting down at his club on the southern fringes of the city.

I walked around fairly gingerly at the office afterwards. I watched a bit of the Anna Chakvetadze Shahar Peer quarter final at the US Open.

Now they really walloped the ball. I looked on enviously.

Maybe Thursday night's yoga class can help me become as one with the ball.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Court craft

The call has come through to play in the journalists' tournament at Roland Garros.

Wednesday morning at 10.15. I have no idea how to prepare for a match of this magnitude.

It’s probably not a good idea to stay up during the night to watch Novak Djokovic take on Juan Monacao in the last 16 at the US Open.

I might be best served by sleeping.

But I do know that it's probably not worth treating it like a usual game and getting up at 9 and having breakfast and ambling along to the courts.

It would have been good to have had one coaching session before but I've been working, doing my day job. I'm not a professional.

Of more importance is the boy's adaptation to his new life in the crèche. It was something of a saga getting a place. I documented the ups and downs in an article published a few weeks ago on one of the Guardian websites

And after that tribulation there's an upside for the parent after dropping off the fruit of their loins at the crèche. It is slap bang opposite Chez Prune.

This is a cafe that doesn't try too hard. The food there is OK - not brilliant, not awful. The position — overlooking the Canal St Martin — is marvellous. And most importantly it was in the vanguard. It opened when the 10th was still considered a dead zone and the canal but a dirty and forlorn urban waterway.

Now of course it's a gleaming green canal — the epicentre of the bobo wonderland that has descended. At one of the spruced-up sluices Audrey Tautou ran the gamut of gamine as Amélie Poulain. Local estate agents thereafter chortled all the way to the Michelin-starred restaurants.

Maybe I'll be dining out with them with the earnings from my impending tennis career.

Hello Dali

"Your moustache looks so rigid — How does it react to the winds of public opinion?"

"She bends."

Oh that crazy Salvador Dali. Towards the end of the exhibition about the showman incarnate at the Tate Modern in London, there's a series of photographs with a few witty words from the rogue himself.

It was my second trip on Monday to see it. The first was about nine days ago. But that was with the entire family on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

Since the Notting Hill Carnival was frenzying up the western sector, London Underground had laid on a fully functioning network.

That didn't necessarily mean that we could travel any more efficiently, but it was reassuring to know that they weren't making it more difficult.

We met my sister and her chap in the Turbine Hall and after coffees split up. She took the girls round somewhere while Ann, the boy and I went round the Dali & Film.

In the wacky race that is Hollywood, Dali ought to have fitted in a treat. And indeed he did but with some strange bedfellows such as Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney and The Marx Brothers.

Actually teaming up in any capacity with Harpo, Zeppo, Chico and Groucho would have to be a zany experience.

But the exhibition showed snippets of Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'or. I knew about the dream sequence from Hitchcock's Spellbound.

There's the finely chiseled Gregory Peck on the psychiatrist's couch relating his innermost thoughts to Ingrid Bergman.

A man with no face, being chased by a shadow of wings, and wheels dropping.

You just have to love the bravura.

What I didn't know was that Hitchcock was a big fan of Un Chien Andalou and there's a clin d'oeil to the Dali/Bunuel film when a pair of scissors cuts through a photograph of an eye.

The razor blade across the eye in Un Chien Andalou still makes me squirm. Others — such as a bleeding horse's head on a piano — makes me chuckle. Ants on the hand leave me baffled.

I don't recall being overly impressed during my tour of the Dali Museum in Figueres. I went there about 20 years ago. It was during a trip to north-eastern Spain to see a then friend of mine, Nick, whose parents owned an apartment.

And the idea was to meet up with an Australian friend who was travelling through Europe.

The details are hazy now but I'd arranged to be at Nick's on something like July 21.
And told Caroline as much.

I phoned Nick to say there'd be a delay but I couldn't get any word to Caroline. This was in the time before emails and mobile phones.

So after my weekend in Manchester with a new flame, I set off for Spain.

I got there on — let's say July 24 — a few days late admittedly. Nick and Caroline were at the train station greet me.

Once I'd settled in Nick was asking me if there was anything between Caroline and me because he thought she was rather lovely.

I said definitely not, she's an intelligent girl.

Caroline wanted to know why I was late. I said I'd just met this woman and given the choice between travelling to north-eastern Spain and shacking up in northern England, I'd chosen the Lancastrian option.

I thought I was plausible but Caroline didn't buy it. I remember it to this day. "No, come on, why were you late?"

I obviously didn't look the type who could hang out for a weekend with a woman. I was hurt and quite insulted but still had enough about me to concoct a story about Barclaycard not giving me the credit to pay for tickets and being cash-strapped.

She accepted that reason and then she let the matter drop. We went on to have quite a good holiday.

While Caroline doesn't now remember repudiating my masculinity, we can both reconfigure the train trip back to Paris in which some bloke (who Caroline probably fancied) went to light up in the corridor between the non-smoking carriages at the same time as this good-looking woman (who I would have probably fancied had I not been still thinking northern England).

And obviously amid the haze there was a spark. They both returned and were virtually smoking each other by the end of the train ride.

Caroline went on with her Europa tour and I went back to London.

It later went surreal with the girl from Manchester but that's another story. Dali always whips up those memories.

So it wasn't surprising that on the solo visit to the Tate on Monday I found the Millennium Bridge swaddled in a spongy cash and coins carpet.

I wish it swayed as it did when it was opened. But it doesn't and that's the past.
The future, according to the MasterCard PayPass, is cashless.

A card thrust into my hand told me the MasterCard PayPass would change the way I pay for items under £10.

There'll be less waiting, less queuing and no fumbling for change.

To pay with MasterCard PayPass I will simply Tap & Go.

I'll be able to use this facility at around 1,000 retailers with the number rising to 5,000 in the near future.

All I now have to do is check availability with my bank and of course visit a website

I'm not entirely clear I want to contact my bank for another card for the rather lovely wallet I bought in Mulberry while killing time at Stansted airport before the flight to Stockholm.

I quite like my change purse. The chink chink of little pieces of cash link me with my perceptions of being grown up.

When I was a child, adults had change. And people with cars had keys. We once hired a Renault to drive from Paris to visit friends in Burgundy. After I'd done the paperwork, the Avis assistant handed me a rubbery oblong object.

I looked at it, up at her and was just about to ask when I was told that it was the key.

No jingle jangle. No teeth. No way. Have to say the Renault was brilliant. Shame about the key.

I'm not signing up for the cashless future quite yet but I might well track down some Bunuel films on DVD.

It would be absurd not to.