Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Year's End

December 31 is fast approaching and it surely is the time to look back at 2008. But I'm not going to do so since I am not in that kind of mood.

The raison d'etre of the blog is upon us. From Sunday I'll be back at the Guardian and resuming the weekly commute for a couple of days in London. My how it's been wonderful spending more time with my family. But even the bestest things must come to an end.

There have been many changes at the Guardian since I went off last December - the biggest is that it has moved home and is now nearer St Pancras International.

It is kind of the GMEN group to aid my weekly journeys thus. All that cash spent on a huge shunt and I can step off the train and into the office.

I do prefer a bit of separation but that's no longer the issue.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The Cold

Holy Yuletide. A Batman DVD ended up in the Christmas stocking. It has left the girls quizzical and the boy intrigued. As it is Batman from the 1960s/70s with Adam West and Burt Ward - the live action version, it brings back happy memories for me. And as for the children, they know no better.

It was given an airing on Boxing Day after a Christmas walk around a neighbouring village left us all freezing. But we were all more alert afterwards. I read in the paper that a 50 minute walk in the countryside leaves you sharper than a 50 minute trudge in the city.

Apparantly the brain is better off as it can relax amid the bucolic splendour. Whatever.

I feel I'd get the niceties of Batman and Robin after any old trek.

Of late Batman on the small screen has tended to concentrate on the dark edgy side of his personality rather than the 60s take of the camped crusader. I suppose I grew up with the colourful rendition.

It was an appropriate present as Eartha Kitt died over Christmas and I seem to remember she turned up once or twice as Catwoman.

Purrfect tribute.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Voyage Home

I was expecting the worst. A Eurostar from Paris two days before Christmas. The prospect left me feeling queasy but the truth was much merrier.

French and British immigration were a breeze and I headed for the Frequent Traveller lounge without the drudge of queues.

This was travelling. London for Christmas.

I have been low of late. I was without lustre. And then I entered into the vortex of morosity. I was trying to work out why I was feeling low and the energy I needed to do this was preventing me from reenergising my usual sheen.

Eventually I stopped attempting to discover why I was down and - to be Anglo Saxon about it - just got on with it.

Wonderful how institutionalised concepts can be the making of you.

Now that I am malinger free, I am getting on with it in London.

Surged up to Highgate Village this morning to buy a few things before we go on the Christmas wheel of eating and visiting.

God bless Cafe Nero for they have wi-fi and a loyalty card. Sadly they also have music oozing out of the speakers which is neither soothing nor festive.

I am tempted to dip into the itunes to drown it out. In fact I will dip into the itunes and drown it out. That's better. Now there's a cacophony of sounds. The kind of thing that can do your head in.

At one point during the low time I realised that I hadn't seen an episode of Star Trek for ages. I haven't had the VCR repaired since the boy did something to it. And all copies of the original series with Captain Kirk and Mr Spock are on video.

In low times of yore I have always been able to slip in an old episode and after the Romulans have been right royally outmanoeuvred, I've felt a lot better.

But without the sci-fi morality tales......

I read that due to the worldwide meltdown, zavi-the records and books discount store - is slashing big money off its hyper slashed prices. Now if this global credit crunch means a cheaper boxed DVD set of Star Trek.....

I'll be boldly going shopping.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Favourite

The middle child put on her insipid voice and said that I preferred the boy to her and her big sister.

"Now why would that be?" I replied. "is if something to do with the gale of kisses and hugs I get from him? Or the unashamed joy he takes in saying daddy?

"How could I prefer him?" I asked.

And indeed why would I prefer him? He has been a constant source of trouble since his arrival. There have been trips to the physio to repair dodgily aligned legs. There's been a trip to the chest expert to make sure his sternum is properly aligned and there have been numerous outings to the doctor for his ear infections.

Indeed there is another journey coming up in January to make sure that everything is alright with his ears. So prefer I don't think so. More like preoccupy.

Nevertheless I was outraged that medium sweetie should say such a thing especially when she has reigned supreme as the cuddle queen.

The other night she didn't heed her mother's warning to go to the toilet before bedtime. At a certain point during the night, there was a middle daughter amid a flooded bed. Irate mother was muttering and then just as that brouhaha died down, the boy woke up wailing and pointing to his mouth.

At around 5.30am, I had middle and final child in the kitchen having a very early breakfast and me doing likewise in sympathy.

I sent middle chidl back to the main bed - since hers was waterlogged - and as I knew that the boy was unlikely to follow suit back to his own bed I set me and him up on the sofa with a cartoon DVD.

Preferential treatment? Perish the thought.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Post Mortem

Clearly there's something amiss when you have a post mortem without the build-up.

But something got in the way of the final final countdown - so to speak. It is called a boy going to bed. The latest wheeze is to make him think that everyone else is going to bed. We do this by everybody else going to bed.

The simplicity is profound.

It all reminds me a bit of boarding school with lights out at 9.30pm. At that time it was the parents who paid for that kind of institutionalised deprivation. Now, as a parent, I can relive those days of gruel without having to fork out.

Only it's not my idea of adult life to be going to bed slap bang in the middle of the evening.

But voilà.

The football match over which I have been obsessing took place. And it was all rather dramatic. It was first versus second and first won. I would like to think that I had an effect on the result but I have to be honest and say that I entered the fray when we were leading 2-1 and we won 2-1.

I assisted the status quo.

The good thing was that I emerged without messing up the calf. Had a 45 minute run out as they say in the newspapers and it's all guns blazing for the Christmas break.

It was pleasing to be help out and to win and not to exacerbate the calf.

So hooray for yoga. Hooray for the swimming pool. Hooray for the cycling and hooray for the opposition not being able to score an equaliser.

We go into the Christmas break as leaders.

That there's fuel for a good yule.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Countdown - 2

Of course this could be the countdown to the big game in Spain - Barcelona v Real Madrid. Or Juventus v AC Milan in Italy. But in fact it's only a few days before I hit the pitch.

Went to yoga tonight to calm my nerves and give the calf a run-out so to speak. Different teacher - different stretches. But the result is to be seen.

One of my team mates, who works at the radio station, told me that it was a 3-2 win on Saturday. So going into the last game before the New Year we are top of the league.

So no pressure there. I told my team mate Joseph that I was happy to hang around on the sidelines on Saturday waiting in the wings should someone get injured.

Now that's what I call a team player.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Countdown - 5

Quite how days off pass so quickly I'll never know. Spent bits of it reading the book. Decided to skip the chapter on rape. I just could not deal with it. Am on to the section on children.

I'm trying to gain as much from this as possible. Perhaps I should have just gone straight to this chapter rather than wade through the rest of the stuff. I have not really remembered all that much. But it is a good read.

Maybe I've forgotten how to assimilate information.

Nothing wrong with my powers of awareness. I was awake at 5.15am and was listening to the World Service and there was a feature about a conference in Wales about how sport can give a region identity within a larger whole.

There was someone from the Kurdistan High Commission and the Kurdistan sports minister talking.

My head clicked and thought feature for the weekend. I am on to the PR people and the participants should be mine. There's someone from Kosovan basketball federation at this beano too.

Could make for an interesting feature.

At moments like this being up at 5.30 in the morning has its benefits. It's just that by 9.30 at night it's been a long day.

Having come through my tennis lesson unscathed I will wait and see how the calf reacts before starting to psyche myself up for Saturday's run out with the football team.

Am already getting into the mood for Saturday by watching Roma v Bordeaux on TF1. It's nil nil at half-time. And all the adverts are for after-shaves and razors.

Anyway Bordeaux need to win to advance. Roma merely have to draw. Should be a good second half but my eyelids are heavy.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Countdown

And then it was suddenly time to rethink the return. Not that my entire life has been a waiting game till I pick up a tennis racquet or done the shinpads. But actually my life has been an entire waiting game....

The weekend was a mixture of parties and parenting. Party one to fete three people being taken on full time at the radio station. In these days of global meltdown and wars on terror this could be construed as a positive thing but actually we've been working short staffed since a few people left a few years ago.

Effectively it feels as if we've got new people but not at all. It's not more it's the same as it was.

I have also given myself a Sunday deadline to finish reading Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate. The book belongs to a friend of mine and I've had it in the flat probably since those people left the radio station a few years ago.

As we're going to see Renaud and his missus on Sunday this seems the right time to give it back. His lady is throwing her annual Santa Lucia sing song. This is where they put candles on their head and sing lovely songs. Oh those wild Swedes. Better than wild turnips I guess.

But I was being slow with Pinker's treatise. It took me something like three weeks to read four pages and now I'm racing through it.

I figure if I overdo it on the reading I'll take it easy tomorrow at the tennis lesson and - if I get through that - calmly during Saturday's match.

Remember Christmas is approaching and we need to be mobile. Not mopey.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Presents

One of the great things about the radio station is that they dish out Christmas presents for the children.

The choices have been in the main quite interesting. Last year I got massive hugs of gratitude when an MP3 players winged its way to the eldest.

And it has helped me too. Since its introduction into our lives I've learned how to go into the Itunes library on my computer and turn the songs there into tracks that are compatible with the MP3 player.

Not something I would ever have seen myself mastering. But when there's a 9 year old breathing down your shoulder, I guess you have to show dynamism.

This year's present isn't quite as seductive. Me and the missus chose a belt. It looks slightly combat ready but it is a dogfight out there.

The middle one got some memory/observation game. This in retrospect is a bad move as she only occasionally remembers to land on this planet.

But when she walks among us, she should enjoy it. The boy will eventually get a toy which makes noise.

Hopefully he'll play with it on Saturday mornings when I'm out playing football.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Horror

Still can't quite believe that about a dozen lads can cause complete mayhem in a city for the best part of three days.

But there you have it Mumbai is living proof of shock value.

And England's cricketers are unsure as to whether to continue their tour of India. With a load of chaps targeting westerners, it would seem a tad dodgy.

But to rehash what a few politicians like to say from behind their bullet-proofed lifestyles: "We mustn't let them affect our way of life."

Since cricket isn't really my way of life I don't think I'm in any position to be too critical either way.

But if a few chaps can carve up a major industrial city for a few days, then hacking up blokes in white on a playing field will seem like a turkey shoot.

No news yet as to whether the football team won or lost. My left calf is feeling better. But then I haven't been doing anything remotely athletic on it.

I emerged from about 30 minutes of yoga this evening to try and get the boy to wear some slippers. It wasn't a success. He continues to rampage around the flat in bare feet making a terrible noise that probably infuriates the upstairs neighbour - Darth as I dubbed him in one of my journeys into the dark side of my humour.

The idea of putting the boy into slippers is essentially to stop Darth Neighbour from banging on his floor to show his displeasure at the levels of noise emanating from our flat.

And he might have a point when I was trying to be at one with my inner energies, the middle beast and the boy were making a noise and a half in the bath.

Talk about pouring cold water over my moment.

Anyway at the dinner table, the eldest said: "You're not very calm when you've finished doing your yoga, daddy."

I said: "On the contrary I'm calm otherwise I would have beaten the boy's bottom blue and sent you to your room without finishing your supper for eating with your elbows on the table."

She was more circumspect for the rest of the evening.

Friday, 28 November 2008

The Bike

While wending my way to work on the trusty steed that is my bike, I thought I out to take it in for a quick check up - a winter overhaul.

I had this brainwave as I strode into a cafe at Pont de L'Alma. It seemed the right thing to do given the turn of events with the weather.

I asked the waiter for a creme and he went off to get me one. After he'd brought it to me, I thought I might not have enough loose change to pay.

As I opened my wallet I realised that I had left my bank card in the back pocket of my jeans. Sure enough I didn't have enough cash for a creme but had enough to cover une noisette.

I called the waiter over and explained the predicament. Don't worry was his general tone, I'll see you this one. The fact that I ws in my cycling gear and looking a bit of a vagabond didn't enthuse me.

But I promised to return and settle up. If you do that would be great but if you don't no matter, was the gist of what he said.

I guess I was lucky.

Needless to say the puncture happened on the way home from the radio station. Talk about being in tune with the bike out of touch with the everyday.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Strike III

Vive la France. Some of the teachers at school were on strike over class sizes. It meant that the middle child had a full day but the eldest was off all day.

I want to thank the teaching unions for giving me the chance to bond anew with my nine year old.

We took her brother to creche after stopping off for a coffee at Chez Prune where she ordered a chocolat viennois. I thought she asked for a grenadine.

I deposited the boy at the creche while she took the chance to sit up at the bar on a stool and then we went north to La Villette for a walk round the park and to play on some of the games there.

I watched the keep fit contingent jealously. They were able to stride around the park and exploit the various horizontal and lateral bars. Nursing a claquage is ever so tough.

It was cold and so we repaired to the Cafe de La Musique where after tapping into the wifi the Iphone weather function told us it was cold outside. It's brilliant technology.

This seemed to please the eldest and we came back home with her saying it was the best morning ever.

I back the teachers' strike.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Wandering

It's like a new life. With three weeks out to contemplate I can do things that I don't usually do like go out and watch football and have a couple of glasses of wine. This is what I call high living.

Not sure that it's good for my head. Especially if the boy wakes up in a couple of hours. Was out watching the UEFA Champions League with my mate Neil and we saw the teams do the things they were supposed to do. Home to find a house at rest and I can watch Season 9 of Seinfeld. The football might have been so-so on TV, I might not be able to play for a few weeks but Seinfeld of an evening is a esult.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Visit

The good thing is it isn't serious. I have what the doctor called un claquage musculaire - a muscle strain. This effectively means nothing resembling competitive sports for three to four weeks.

The doc said I can go swimming, do the yoga and cycling. But anything shocking is out. I find it shocking. I said to the doctor I found it difficult to actually go to the surgery because I knew there was nothing serious wrong with me. Nothing like last November when I was truly ailing.

In fact all of us were ailing. That was terrible. But at least I know what I must and must not do. So now it's back to watching football rather than watching it and going out and playing it.

Have to look at my own approach. Never thought tennis was that dangerous. Well I'll have something to mull over during the next few weeks.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Shaken

One of the upsides of producing the first two programmes as opposed to doing the sport is the sudden instant expertise that one has to don.

The boy has helped this awareness. Saturday night/Sunday morning was a chucklefest between 2-4am. I think he eventually went to sleep at about 3am ish but I was left more or less wide awake.

Perhaps it was the anxiety of responsibility. Whatever. I listened to the BBC world service and by the time I reawoke I was au fait with lots of things.

Producing is quite compatible with child rearing or at least chilling out with a child with an ear infection.

I have two days off to nurse my calf and attend to my administration. Might even go and see the new Bond film on a matinee. Now that's what I call a treat.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Strain

It was clearly too much for the system. A night of punctuated sleep and a morning tennis game. I was merrily tripping across the cout when I felt a twinge in my calf. The string of my racquet went in sympathy. And so I have a racquet to repair and a left calf with clear problems.

It was just as well that I had to work this morning. Maybe I was putting too much into the tennis as I knew I wasn't going to be hiking up and down a football field.

Whatever the reasons, I don't think I'll be out there for a couple of weeks. What a shame. Just as the team hit top spot. Just as I felt I was playing well.

I never thought tennis could be that dodgy. Well not the way I play tennis.

Obviously wrong.

The poor night of sleep was due to the boy having an ear infection. During the really bleak period he used to get these once a month but of late has been better.

When he went to the doctors a few weeks ago for a check up, she said that he should go and have his ears checked just to make sure he was OK.

She gave him a jab and said he'll have a fever next week. Sure enough he got a fever and an ear infection. Well at least he won't get something far worse.

In a way I've been afflicted too but it's hard to pull in the sympathy because mine was self inflicted. And I dare say that if something went wrong on a tennis court then it would have gone wrong on a football field.

So at least I saved myself the trip of getting up early and getting injured.

So now it's back to public transport and that means I'll probably catch all kinds of people's splutterings. I was just about to assert that it's much healthier cycling to work. True but then the way people drive I might not play football ever again.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Meltdown

I was gearing up for Saturday. Mainly to see if last week was one of those out of body experience flukes or perhaps the start of a surge of consistency.

Will have to wait for another week at least. There is a staffing crisis at work and the boss has asked me to produce the international programmes on Saturday and Sunday rather than my usual jaunt on sport.

Since she was preparing the Christmas schedules when someone called in sick I thought it the better part of self-interest to say yes to her request.

But at what cost to my footballing soul?

I was going to console myself with tennis on Friday but my tennis partner has an ailing child and the boy here is suffering. So the whole end of week sports fest seems to be going down the tubes.

Looks like I'll be dipping into the Beaujolais nouveau with a vengeance this weekend to drown my sorrows rather than celebrate great sporting feats.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The 1939

Given a choice between the Thameslink from north to south London or a Eurostar I have to say the inter city service still gets the nod.

Checking in for the 1939 on Monday night at St Pancras was a far more pleasant experience than the process for the 8.07 from the Gare du Nord.
Maybe because I saw an old mate for a drink before checking in. Maybe because it was probably one of the last drinks I'll be having in Farringdon Road.

The Guardian is moving to swish new offices in a few weeks. All convenient for me as the new era will be at Kings Place just a few minutes from St Pancras. All very cosy for a qucik getaway if I can get that getaway.

Was supposed to hear more about the new era from a line manager on Monday night. But he wasn't at work.

So that was a wasted trip into the pitface. But at least it gave me the chance to saw hello to some of the chums.

And it wasn't a deunct afternoon. Went into the Royal Academy to have a quick view of the Byzantium extravaganza. Lots of icons. Quite gloomy stuff. Upstairs there was more vibrant creations from Joan Miro, Alexander Calder and Georges Braque. All the glories essentially from the Maeght collection from here in Paris.

I might seek out the galleries of an afternoon here. Maeght durch Freude. Obviously trying to get ready for return to sub editing.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Matchday VI Post Mortem

To cut a long story short I played a blinder. Mainly because I was running around like a headless chicken. Not sure where all the energy came from as I didn't go to yoga on Thursday or Friday night. Perhaps it was the anger at missing the classes. I lost my zen and burned it all off. But at the end the teammates appreciated my lone striker role defending from the front.

Anyway I scored the first goal. Nothing spectacular. I hadn't actually had any contact with the ball and it came over between two defenders. The goalkeeper and them seemed to be all dithering and it would have been an insult not to slot the ball in. And I'm a courteous kind of chap.

Duly piqued they responded in a rage hitting the post a couple of times, the bar once before equalising at the end of the first half. It was warranted.

We scored a second mid way through the second half and holding on was quite frankly a battle. But it happened and everyone was mightily relieved to win. Though it wouldn't have been an injustice if they'd drawn level.

I was talking to the opposition team captain over a whisky and coke afterwards and he spoke about the difficulty of having 15 players and making sure everyone got a game. I felt like Sybil Fawlty and I would have said: 'Ooh I know. Ooh I know."

But I don't think it would have translated.

For our part we started with 13 but Renon the captain retweaked his thigh strain and the left back went off with a groin problem. Down to the bare bones of 11, every time one of our men went down I winced.

It's just as well one of my team mates gave me a lift right to the radio station. If he'd left me at a metro station I'd have probably been too dazed to end up at work.

Like I said. A blinder.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Matchday VI Preview

Nearly never made the preview which would have been a bad precedent. Have been trying to get the boy to sleep. He's got a new bed. The child craves a daddy's hug. But a daddy's frame is not meant to crunch into the bed. Well I did my time and am now stretching out the affllicted limb as I type.

Off down to Plessis Robinson in the morn. I looked to get there by public transport but in the end gave up and phoned up a team mate whom I shall meet at Porte de Montreuil at 8.30am.

Bad news on the tennis front. Dear old Roger went down in three sets at the Masters in Shanghai. Despite the fact that he's very clearly injured I still found it hard to take.

Just cannot see him doing brilliantly next year. The youngsters are on the rise and he'll never win Roland Garros. I was there on Thursday night for the launch of an exhibiton about Venus Williams.

A photographer has taken her in various poses and the results are daubed over a section of the Tenniseum. The photographer Koto Bolofo was very jolly and he spoke at length about the experiences. I'm going to do a piece for this weekend and might even extend it as a Christmas feature.

That's what I call enterprising. Shame it's too late to go and watch Star Trek.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Fallen

Ninety years since the end of the first world war. It was a day off today and I heard the lads at tennis talk about the fact that this is the first time in France that there aren't any veterans from that particular conflict around at the commemorations.

That had to happen at one point. I've always been mightily impressed by the generations that went to war. Moreso because I tend to shy away from violence. But then I guess it was a different mentality at the time. Logic would have said you have to overcome those kind of inhibitions because an aggressor is at the door.

Anyway I won't dive into poetry. They were all heroes.

As for tennis practice. There might be an improvement on the service in the offing. It's all to do with the acceleration behind the head.

We shall see.

The trip to La Villette was joyous. We all cycled along the cycle paths and took coffee and hot chocolates at Cafe de La Musique. While we were sitting outside waiting for the drinks, the eldest saw one of her classmates and her mother.

They were going to see the Serge Gainsbourg exhibition at La Cite de La Musique and were getting ready to queue.

I looked at this woman and thought I have never seen her outside the school gates. And I think she was looking at me in the same way.

I was informed that she doesn't take the child to school. The kid goes on her own.

Independent stuff.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Digital Era II

I am not entirely sure how many songs are on the Ipod. But it was quite an easy choice this morning. It was joyously ELO. However the boy wasn't that impressed by Livin' Thing and the rest and wailed for the Scooby Doo DVD.

I left the music running and I prevailed. Wow parental authority. This evening I came back in and put on some Miles Davis. There were no complaints from any of the three children. The eldest two were mopey because I was urging them to get their stuff ready for a bike ride in the morning.

So where will we go? La Villette and the Cafe de la Musique. I won't be taking the Ipod.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Digital Era

There's many ways to digitalise the CD collection but doing it while watching the final season of Seinfeld seems idyllic. Writing the blog while having the final season on doesn't really seem to be the correct way to treat the occasional entry.

So I'll be quick.

Dozens of CDs have been put onto an Ipod. This has saved shelf space but it means that I have to reappraise the way I approach listening to music. No longer can I just browse an album but I have to dive into the Ipod and select. It's a different way of selecting by mood.

I have left quite a few CDs on the shelf so perhaps they will satisfy the mood moments. But for feeling chirpy. It's Seinfeld

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Futurists

A free Friday gave me carte blanche to savour the wonderfulness of the city. As I pedalled down to the fifth arrondissement I thought it was about time I changed the location of my bank. The Societe Generale in Rue Monge was OK when I lived in the area. But that was a lifetime ago.

It seemed silly to get involved with bureaucracy and change but every time I want to transfer cash from Paris to London it entails going into the bank in person - hence the bike ride.

But as the bank is near Piscine Pontoise the whole thing can be wrapped in the daily exercise routine.

However with the wonders of technology, I am - so the bank teller told me - able to transfer via the internet. Wow. No need to change banks.

It seemed apt then that the exhibition at the Pompidou was Le Futurisme à Paris.

I did not know that it's nearly 100 years since Le Figaro published Filippo Marinetti's Futurist manifesto on its front page.

Boy were they angry young chaps excoriating cubists and the past and wanting to venerate the modern world and machines.

Well I'd personally love to venerate all over a Porsche but until I win the lottery it will have to be the bike and public transport.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The New Season II

Well America has a new president. And it is so momentous that I even managed to wake up at 4am on Wednesday morning and listen in to Barack Obama's first speech as president elect. Quite something.

That was during a trip to England.

Back in Paris this morning I was listening to the BBC World Service and it really didn't stop going on about Obama being black. It was as if if it was unmentionable before the vote and now it's all out in the open. Nothing but stuff about segregation, racism and so on. To the point when I thought the only way to deal with being up at 3.15am on a Thursday morning is to watch the Rockford Files.

That was much lighter.

I'd been turfed out of bed by the boy who decided that he needed to be cosy between his parents but I ended up with a foot in my mouth. I felt it better to retire to the sofa to radio myself up.

But then that plan went down the tubes.

I was thinking of dipping into my new Laurel and Hardy collection of DVDs. A chance purchase at the former Virgin megastore on Oxford Street. I didn't though. It was the right move as it's not settling stuff. Ridiculous to the point of brilliant. The box set has 68 hours of features.

It's going to be a joyous winter.

Friday, 31 October 2008

The Weekend Without Football

Nothing all week. What kind of blogger am I? But this is no time for existential questions. Should be much more analytical really. I am reading The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. It is hardly PD James but then that's not a surprise. The Blank Slate is something to do with the nature/nurture debate. It is well written but I have to admit I am having difficulty holding the learning within.

Maybe I should be making notes in the book but as it is not my book that wouldn't be very good.

I have been out celebrating the fact that there is no match on Saturday. Went out with an old mate of mine who I met nigh on 26 years ago here in Paris while I was a student at the British Institute.

I just reminded her that it was at her party in London that I met the missus. Wow. Connections.

Despite not playing tomorrow I went to the relaxation class. It seemed a bit redundant really as I am relatively calm as there is no family here to make my blood boil as Mr Angry would have said it once ago on Steve Wright's show.

But the class was good I was stretched and pulled to such an extent that I almost fell asleep in the restaurant while waiting for Caroline to come along. She'd been out watching a film while I was communing with my inner peacefulness. She'd wanted to go and see Mamma Mia but it was sold out.

She ended up seeing Vicky Cristina Barcelona which I saw on Thursday. I'm a big fan of Woody Allen but even I'm starting to think that I've heard the script before. It seemed funnier with Diane Keaton and Allen himself on screen.

Nevertheless Allen 2008 is still quite amusing but the man himself on screen and his gawky delivery was joyous.

Equally joyous will be a Saturday morning without an early rise. In anticipation of that I played tennis on Thursday and promptly retwisted the right ankle that was crocked when I landed badly last Saturday.

For the past few seasons I've been worried about pulled hamstrings and calf muscles. They seem to be much stronger - I guess thanks to the yoga - but you can't legislate for landing badly.

Oh the life of a weekend stroller.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Matchday V Post Mortem

Monday already and it only seems like yesterday that I was running around muscularly on a football pitch. Well it wasn't yesterday and it wasn't muscular.

But it was effective. It was a 3-1 victory and it was the first time that I can remember winning when we had four or so substitutes. The point was that the subs were well handled. That's because our ace centre forward was on the sidelines directing the show.

I can't quite remember what the score was when I went on again in the second half but we scored two goals and I was involved in the build up to the goals which was as satisfying as scoring.

And in one instance I stretched a leg out for the ball, got it and unselfishly rolled it into the path of a fellow forward who ought to have scored.

But he didn't. I perhaps could have taken it on myself but I wouldn't have been at a good angle to head in on goal so I did the right thing. Which is just as satisfying.

Anyway no matches until November 15 so we can all nurse our bruises and further hone our warrior frames.

With this in mind I am heading off to the swimming pool to stretch the limbs.

The family is away so I have a heap of time to do the things that I can't normally do like watch South Park online without fear of interruption.

The joy of vulgarity.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Matchday V Preview

One of the great things about relegation is that you get to go places that you've been to before. However the trip to Argentueil is an arduous one. It involves getting to St Lazare, a train from there and quite a hike from the station to the ground.

The pitch is near the river and quite honestly after my last game there I wish some of the opponents would go and jump. I was trotting up to the halfway line and one of them came and kicked me in the calf. Just a little tap. I thought he had tripped up and had clattered me by accident.

At the end of the game he said: 'You know what happened in the centre circle, well that's all part of the game." I said something along of the lines of: "Maybe part of your game but not the one I know."

The problem with the team as I remember is that they've got quite good players but very little team ethic. We won 3-2 last time but it was a tough game.

And that was without the little bits of gamesmanship. Maybe that lad won't be playing.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Matchday IV Post Mortem

2-0 up and pegged back to 2-2. Bit of a shame. I was on the sidelines after being substituted in the first half and I was saying to one of the others waiting in the wings, it's looking OK as long as Renon isn't substituted. Well at that very moment he pulls up with a gammy right leg.

I go back on and we finish the half 2-0 up but with the speedy midfielder Nelson complaining of a leg issue and Laurent, a ball holder off already. You knew it was going to be tough.

What was annoying was that the opposition's goals were totally lucky strikes. Poor goalkeeping. No other way to describe it. But we win as a team and lose as a team etc etc.

Went into work after the match and watched Chelsea rack up the goals against Middlesborough. Great time to transfer my allegiance to Inter Milan -just as the team of my youth start playing like a classy outfit. Ho hum.

Well Sunday at the office was a chilled affair. I took the middle child in and we had a lovely day. She played on the computer games as I monitored news wires. She was doing some maths game which was a spin off of Space Invaders. It was really cool.

She was impressed that I got to level 4 and managed to stop the alien invasion with my additions.

While waiting for various results from around Europe I noticed that Colin Powell had decided to back Barack Obama as the next president of the U S of A.

It is difficult to know whether this endorsement is a good thing or not. Maybe the former secretary of state remains a republican and it is a neo-con plot.

November 4 is the day when all shall be revealed.

Am listening to America at the moment. All that AOR from the 70s or whenever. Ventura Highway. Reminds me of school and my best mate at the time Danny Wood.

Don't know his whereabouts. Another old school mate has informed me that there is a gathering near Reading on November 4. He said he'd only go if he was propped up with some moral support from me.

I would have been tempted to attend but have to be in Paris for a Saturday whiff of work. Didn't even mention the football.

Who would I really want to see after all these years?

What I really want to see is a convincing goalkeeping display.

Might have to wait for that one. As for my role? Just keep ploughing those furrows in the swimming pool.

Don't think that metaphor actually works. A bit like our defence at the moment.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Matchday IV

Another home game. And no relaxation class on the Friday night. The omens are not good. Last time I didn't go to the Friday night session we lost.

This Friday's offering. Dinner at home with the family and the less than relaxing chance to put the boy to bed. For some reason he's decided to become Mr Party Central as soon as his sisters go to bed.

I think it is a logical cry for attention especially since the other two are so overwhelming. Shame really that it is all so late in the day.

Or really quite early evening.

My natural inclination would be to join the rapscallion in the dormitary but I'd probably go to sleep before him and that would defeat the whole object of putting him to be.

It might give me more energy though.

Conundrum time.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Nudes

Before now I never knew that nudes could merge with the very substance of painting. But that's because I hadn't been to the Picasso and The Masters exhibition.

What a difference a day makes. That could be the title of a song. And that difference is nudes.

A slice at the end of the extravaganza at the Grand Palais said that Pablo looked at how Rembrandt, Goya, Ingres and Manet had depicted naked ladies and Picasso went to town on the concept.

Fascinating how he revolutionised the essence of nudity. As this is a big exhibition it will need two or three visits to absorb the full impact. There were masses of people inside and of course the statutory queue outside. Hardy souls waited in the rain for their moment of entry.

The joys of a press card meant that I didn't have to suffer for my art.

Am truly suffering for the art of the midfield. Did my yoga class tonight. I felt well opened up. I hope my legs will arrive in the post before Saturday.

At least my mind is engaged.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Loop

And suddenly it was Wednesday and swimming with the boy. My how we splashed about in the pool and that was after a night in which he woke up to push off the covers and cough and splutter.

At one juncture I was awoken and administered the water but then I couldn't get back to sleep. Oh the joys of BBC World Service. Also tuned into a few South Park cartoons courtesy of the internet.

And sleep was mine. Should have got up early to go swimming but was too tired to go. Might have had something to do with the early start on Tuesday to come back to Paris.

It's late on Wednesday. England have won their fourth straight game in qualifying for the World Cup. This time it was 3-1 against Belarus.

But it's more about the Olympics 1968. Bob Beamon made his record breaking long jump and Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman made their silent protest during the medal ceremony for the 200 metres.

It was October 16, 1968. And all protests since then have been tame. I met Tommie Smith when he came to Paris a few years ago to inaugurate a gymnasium named after him in St Ouen.

He still looked the part.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Matchday III Post Mortem

It was a game of two halves. My the other side looked big and butch. And we could have been 6-0 up by half time. I was one of the miscreants missing a header that by rights I should have put in the net.

On the upside...for there must always be an upside....I set up the first goal or was it the second? Whichever it was what really counts is the beauty of the pass. A thing of such rare beauty from my right boot that I was deeply pleased that it was dispatched into the goal for that was the finish worthy of the pass.

Strangely enough the opposition were a lot better in the second half when they got rid of their player who was able to go past three or four people. Very annoying playing against someone who you can't actually tackle so skilful are they.

When he went off they were a lot better. As if they were relying on him to do the damage.

It reminded me a bit of playing football at primary school. We had someone who was so good that he never got tackled to the point where it wasn't fair. Chris Hardy was his name and he lived with his mum in Dahomey Rd. A feral boy was he and I wonder what became of him.

Anyway we won 4-2 and it was a bit hands to the decks in the second half. It wasn't pretty but that was probably because we lost one of our ball holders to a thigh strain and I sacrificed my attacking tendencies to man the pumps in defence.

Work seemed quite ordinary after all that. But it was action packed with the world cup qualifiers. England managed to get past Kazakhstan and Franc danced with defeat but came from 2-0 down to draw in Roumainia.

It is not over until the final whistle.

Oh how I love a cliche.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Matchday III

I thought that if I referred to the Saturday matches in such a way as Matchday, it would imbue the game with the titanic properties habitually associated with the UEFA Champions League

But will it bring out gigantic performances. One of the pre match shouts is 'enorme'. And no it's not sexually fixated middle aged men hankering for more time in bed with their spouses but the word to describe stunning athletic feats.

Needless to say the word is bandied about in the warm-up but rarely features once the match is underway.

I went to relaxation class tonight and am hoping for another transcendental experience on the pitch. But I won't be closing my eyes and recantin: "om".

On a more serious not the boy has been wonderful in the mornings of late. I have for the past two days deposited him at creche without a wailing and flailing.

If anything the dramatic bawling of the past few weeks has been replaced by a wry grin which says: "Those last few weeks were just a show to outline my thespian tendencies."

The assistants at the creche told me the weeping lasted for about 25 seconds until I was out of earshot.


Which is actually the word to describe the basketballers I saw at Bercy on Thursday night. The Miami Heat and the New Jersey Nets went into overtime before the Nets prevailed 100-98.

Never been to a basketball match before. The cheerleaders, the crowd, the glitterati and the teams. A potent mix. It was indeed enorme but not big and captivating enough to make me seek out the basketball veterans league.

I have enough difficulty kicking a ball into the net let alone throwing one into a very small one.

I think I prefer it big.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Franchise

The NBA is in town and I've got myself accredited to go and watch the Miami Heat take on the New Jersey Nets at Bercy on Thursday night.

I was at a practice session today watching the lithe young men manipulate a basketball. All very astounding. But like anything you've got to work and work again.

So I must persevere with the tennis lessons. After the first one on Tuesday, I felt as if there had been no huge revelation but maybe that's it. There's not supposed to be anything like that.

Will have to wait and see.

Now while the world is melting down and we're broaching the death of capitalism and the end of the United States as a superpower, I have been wondering what music to put at the start of the Sports Insight magazine at the radio station.

It is not easy. Things that I would want to use from TC's Space Music podcast or the Fresh Air lounge series is not really sporty, it's more downtempo chillout for after sports.

I'm due to record the programme on Friday or Saturday and what with the busy schedule of watching NBA stars, playing football myself and working, there's not much time to listen to music.

Perhaps the Eurostar journey on Sunday afternoon will provide me with the decent chance.

During the twilight hours this morning, I was wriggled out of bed by the boy, so I came to sleep on the sofa and listen to the radio, I slept undisturbed for a few hours before the middle child decided to come and grace me with her presence.

There was some truncated conversation about not wetting her bed but wetting the night shorts. I didn't want to get into the details as I might have really woken up.

A financial forecaster was interviewed on the BBC World Service and he said he'd seen all this coming but his regret was that he'd said so far too early. While on the hand he was happy to have been proved right - since that's his raison d'etre as a forecaster, on the other hand no-one listened.

I didn't know such things existed. But I could have guessed as they have trend predictors who tell us that black will be the new black.

Bust banks are the new black. Anyway the forecaster, Roger Bootle, said there'd be an intellectual malaise as a result of all this downturn and that's where I fell asleep.

One morning during the World Service haze, they interviewed a psychiatrist who said that trips to the clinic are usually seen as a luxury adjunct and they were all starting to worry about gloomy times ahead - so to speak.

But far from it, the bust means boom time for the shrinks as all kinds of psychological issues are now emerging.

So you spend your last few thousand dollars going to a person who says no, you're not going crazy, it's the system going kinetic that you've been propping up for the last few years.

Well the shrinks have got onto a winner on this one. Me? I can't even afford the time to find music for a radio magazine so I'm hardly likely to trip hop off to the Freudian headhunters.

But for some reason I picked out Star Wars from the DVD library. Episode IV - A New Hope.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The School Trip II

The school trip finished with all 27 children back at school. Have to say it was more luck than design.

They went up and down the Champs Elysees trying to do some orienteering exercise involving compasses or GPS.

The children were prodding, pulling, hugging, fighting and generally not really listening to the ladies who were supposed to be helping them.

I was exhausted at the end of the trip. Trying to supervise them was madness amid the raging traffic. Ambitious idea for a trip. Didn't quite work.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The School Trip

Haven't been on one of these since ages ago. Then it was going to the town hall to do some pottery thing. This time we're going to Concorde to see some kind of plane.

I've been told to provide two metro tickets for the eldest. She is going through the phase of saying: "La Honte" because that's what they're all worried about at school. Embarrassment. In a few years it will be all about respect and presumably they'll all be getting knives or guns out and slashing or shooting each other over perceived lax of risspekt.

I fear for the youth. I fear for us all. There is a global crisis on. Capitalism just used to be a way of life. I think I heard during the night on the World Service that this crisis could be the end of the USA as we know or understand it.

But another analyst said the country was too robust for that.

All roads lead to China.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The First Loss

Well the same old frailties emerged. The inability to hold a lead and deeply dodgy goalkeeping. That accounted for three goals in a 5-4 defeat.

So it's one win and one loss.

I thought a draw would have been a fairer result. But the referee was a bit odd. The opposition had a couple of player who were quite robust in that they kept fouling. And it wasn't until the sixth or seventh offence that the ref sent one of them off into the five minute sin bin.

One of them who was allowed to stay on hit the goal to send them 5-3 up. No justice really. But when did football and equity ever go together?

Other problem was that there were 16 players and that in my experience never brings a result. And so it was today. Too much shuffling and no patterns of consistency.

Last week we were barely 12 and won. This week we were 16 and lost. Maybe there's a moral there.

Spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing with the boy. The eldest had a party in the park to attend and so we went to that at about 4pm. Her complaint was that she was taken there too late and all the sweets had gone.

No bad thing in my book. Quite why you would stage a birthday party in the park from 1pm until 6pm and had out sweets beats me.

Fruit I can understand. But sweets? Well at least they can run off the sugar rush.

I started to get the onset of the down phase once we were back home. But I nipped that in the bud at supper time.

Me and the missus went out with a Rhode Island connection who is passing through Paris and although it is the Nuit Blanche - galleries and the like are open all night - I'm closing up shop at the same time as usual.

Routine is the key.
It's the all night ex

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Matchday II

I am not expecting a yoga goal this week. Mainly because I haven't been to yoga this week. I was going to go to the Friday relaxation class but the missus suggested I stay in and help prepare for the arrival of a guest from America.

The compromise was that I do some movements in the dining room while the brood watched some Japanese animé thing. It was difficult to get into the zone with the noise of endangered children belching out from the television.

But at least I was going through some motions. Not as perfect as I would have desired but it was the thing to do.

Besides there are about 14 players on the roster for tomorrow at Aubervilliers. In my experience we usually lose when there are that number. So I might just go along to support in my tracksuit and play only when someone is exhausted. That is very selfless of me.

Maybe the yoga is affecting my body and mind. Ah by not going I have gone.

Indeed the space is calling me.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Knee II

I now realise the pain I'm feeling is symptomatic of the worldwide disfunction in the money markets. I was happily reading the news today or rather trying to avoid making too many errors.

For some reason a story about African migrants trying to sail their way to the Canary Islands was the one that got away from me.

It started: "Spanish coastguards......" but twice I read: "Spanish postguards....." What was going on? No idea.

Who are the Spanish postguards?

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Knee

Of course with all the yoga and swimming, I now consider any ache or slight pain an affront to the regime. I have got into thinking that I'm not going to get any kind of injury.

So the right knee feeling a bit gammy is strange since I don't remember it being a problem during the match on Saturday. Perhaps I was so adrenalin drenched after the goal that I just did not entertain pain.

Well the pain has messed up me warrior positions and I'm moving like I've never ever done yoga. I was going to go on the bike to work today. But I thought that might be asking for trouble.

Maybe a swim is needed. That's painless. And instead of adrenalin there's chlorine.

Just what's needed before reading the day's news. What with all the bail outs all over the place.

I was due to be the producer but there's been a change. This has meant no tennis practice on Tuesday night. That is annoying but one has to accommodate the boss.

Ah the whiff of compromise.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Wonder of Bagnolet

Apologies to German footballing folklore but it was a wonder. The new season started with a 3-0 win for the team. And after stalemate in the first half, the deadlock was broken by what for me was a wonder strike.

Nothing like a 25 metre screamer - sadly I can't kick the ball that hard but an off the ball run from just inside my own half to arrive undetected in the penalty area and sweep the ball in from about 10 metres out with the left foot past the keeper who didn't even have time to dive.

It was that incisive. What I liked about this was seeing the space in the penalty area, running into it and then calculating that as the pass came over I had to hit it first time.

It was a conjunction of beauties. I ran to the provider of the pass smiling: "Nice one, nice one." For indeed it was a nice one.

I then said to a teammate it was perhaps a bit lucky that it all came together.

But as I struck the ball I was relaxed "in the moment" - to cite Stephanie Rice.

After that the opponents seemed in a bit of disarray as they were in two minds about defending deep to stop a similar surge but of course they had to go forward to equalise.

The two later goals were products of their confusion.

One of their players complimented me on a "beau but" at the end of the match.

My goal turned the game but it's unlikely to turn my head.

But it did make me smile.

Friday, 26 September 2008

The Night Before The New Season

Well it only seems like yesterday that we were being passed into the ground. Division 2 is ours again as we roll out for the new season.

The first match. The tension is mounting chez moi so much so that I went to a yoga relaxation class tonight.

The teacher, Michelle, got us into a downward facing dog and then onto our knees and told us to lunge forward and then try to pull back a foot with one hand.

I was most upset that cramp kicked in as soon as I tried. I thought it was a test of balance. Maybe my legs haven't been strengthened this week by cycling.

In fact there's been a singular lack of cycling this week and then I was denied my morning plunge in the pool.

I was put on boy watch duty at 6.15am as he didn't want to sleep anymore and I was conveniently placed in the sitting room listening to the radio and getting ready to go to the pool.

I gave him breakfast and we ended up watching Thunderbirds till his sisters were roused for school.

By the time I started losing focus in my tennis match I realised I'd been up a good four and a half hours.

I was burnt out. Cramp at 7.30pm was - like our descent last season - inevitable.

The watchwords for the season: short passing game/pass and move.

And with apologies to Madonna: Get into the groove, boy you've got to pass and move that ball to me yeah.

Let's hope I play better than that flourish.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Club

It was cocktails at the Tennis Club Boulougne Billancourt. All courtesy of the journalists tournament there. I got talking to a man from the club and I think I'll sign up there.

I'm going to go for the life of contrasts. The chic environs of the west of Paris and the hard urban edge of the city's north-east.

The polarity will be good for my soul. No chance of getting too chummy with the quasi country club clique.

But it did feel like a tennis club, lots of courts and the setting is there too.

Having once belonged to a tennis club in Streatham that is important. Somewhere where you can just go and spend a few hours, play and watch other people play.

At the Streatham club, they stopped for tea at 4pm. I don't think they do that sort of thing in Paris. But I won't find out without joining up.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The Restaurant

Cafe life is so tough. It conjures up so many choices. Sitting here on Avenue Parmentier at the whatever it's called by Goncourt metro station and I'm wondering whether I should go and try the cuisine at some place called Chateaubriand on Saturday night.

Just how far can you go by reviews? Some say the place is over trendy and the dishes aren't that big. But then sitting on the terrace at the whatever it is called, some people arrived and started smoking.

When the smoke came my way, I asked the bloke if he could possibly send it in another direction. His mate began telling me outside was free space and inside there were smoke free zones.

Talk about touchy, just a request to divert the smoke if possible not a demand to stop smoking. Anyway Martin Luther who was going on about free space told me that the wifi was affecting his heart. I offered to turn the computer off but I don't think that was the point of his argument.

Actually, Martin, your smoke is doing more harm to your heart than my computer but when Martin, his mate and their chum all flicked their fag ends into the kerb, I realised these freedom loving citizens and me weren't ever going to see eye to eye.

And since I have a computer to protect, it's probably best no to get into a fight with this sort.

Now back to the Chateaubriand question. That's much more of a meaty issue.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Test II

The brilliant idea backfired spectacularly. It wasn't a three minute assessment. It lasted nearly an hour. Fortunately I got away with it as the girls more or less occupied the boy for about 45 minutes while I ran around with a few people who were more adept than me.

Alain said he'd call me. But will he?

Oh the angst.

But this being tennis, it's only up to a point so to speak. The children didn't cause havoc in the club house.

So even if the backhand is deeply dodgy, there's something going right somewhere.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Test

It's becoming quite forensic this search for the tennis club. I'd like to think this thoroughness is a result of the PD James novel that I've just finished reading. It was called The Murder Room. It seems an appropriate title for a crime writer.

I started reading it on the way back from Beijing. It took my mind off being 400,000 feet up in the air and also kept me from playing with my reclining seat in Business Class.

After all I didn't want to look like a six-year-old.

And I've been very mature about this quest for the tennis club. After going for a test the other night and being told I could join a group to buff up my skills, I went to one of the sites where the members can play. It's up at Porte des Lilas in the north-east of the city. Not too far on the metro from where we live.

I've never been to Porte des Lilas and there's a huge project to green up the massive roundabout there which is criss-crossed by roads leading to the péripherique.

The state of the outdoor courts are appalling. The indoor courts seem fine and I got chatting to the site manager who told me that the site was going to be demolished and relocated to spanking new courts just where the cranes were. This was not far away at all.

He obviously told one of the club members that I'd been sniffing around.

Because Alain asked if I'd been up to the covered courts this afternoon. I said that before dishing out the cash I thought it wise to see what the facilities were like.

He couldn't fault my logic because it was flawless. The upshot is that Alain now wants to test my lack of skills so he can allot me to an appropriate group of similarly benighted wannabes.

The only snag about the test on Tuesday night is that while I was arranging that the missus was organising a night out with one of her mates who's visiting from England.

It's good to come home and share the day's developments.

Knowing how important my tennis is to me, she offered to rearrange it. Knowing how insignificant it is in comparison to her chance to go out with her mates, I said I'd try and get a baby sitter.

But then as I ate supper and my blood sugar levels were being bolstered, I was hit by a second swing of logic. Just take the children with me.

It's not going to require more than a dozen sweeps of the racquet to assess how I fit into the lesson scheme of things. The girls can surely entertain the boy for the three minutes or so of my assessment.

And if they can't, then maybe I should be concentrating on my parenting skills rather than my dodgy backhand.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Quest

After my horrendous exhibitions in the two journalist tennis tournaments I've decided - and I mean really decided - to take matters in hand.

I will join a club. I've spent a good part of the day trawling through the internet in search of a tennis club. The Fédération Française de Tennis claims that tennis is a sport réservé à tous. Right.

Try looking for a club to join.

I have furrowed my brows and I eventually said to the missus tonight that things must be going well if this is the extent of the stress in my life.

You're havin' it too easy boy. But as a diplomat once told me: enjoy the fallow periods when they come because when it's on, it can be on for a long time. Was it really me working those 18-19 hour days in Beijing?

Well, yes it was.

Me and the lady went off for lunch this afternoon at a local Corsican bistrot. Was recommended by neighbours on the 4th floor. And rather than going to our usual haunt of Le Petit Chateau D'Eau we tried Le Balbuzard. And though the leaks in vinaigrette were a bit watery, the rest of it was wholly nourishing and for 11 euros per head and a lavish 6€ for the wine. Well weren't we happy.

The idea afterwards was to go to the Orangerie to look at the pretty pictures. But there was an exhibition of Richard Avedon at the Jeu de Paume so we walked round that instead.

Martina Navratilova was there too. Clearly she knew we were going to be there.

Avedon extravaganza wasn't at all bad. More comprehensible than the stuff at the Pompidou. At least it was human. All about faces and people.

What I liked especially was walking out into the Tuileries on a bright sunny autumn afternoon and seeing loads of people out doing the same thing. Existing. Enthusing. I particularly liked the Tuileries security corps who go round on bicycles telling people they're not allowed to cycle.

I never thought of that one.

What I did think of when I got back from yoga though was a relationship breaking down and there being no contest over who would have the children.

However the strife would be over the wine cellar. A bitter battle over bottles. I said I felt a short story coming on. The missus said each case could be a vignette and then it could end with champagne with the new partner.

We like the concept.

It sounds more plausible than people on bikes telling people on bikes that they shouldn't be on bikes.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Water Baby

The Pompidou Centre was bathed in sunlight when me and the second child went there for afternoon tea. It was all something of deja vu.

In the morning I went swimming with the boy. I did this with the eldest and the second child and so it seems only right that he goes too. The swimming instructors greeted me like a long lost client - which is essentially what I am.

So me and the boy stayed and played in the water for 20 minutes or so. All very bonding.

As the eldest is off the Pompidou Centre - something to do with an orientation trip with school two or so years back - the middle one is the only taker for the bus ride there.

We didn't muck about with exhibition stuff. We headed right for the sixth floor and Georges for our drinks. She took the chocolat viennoise and I did look on the lashings of chantilly cream rather enviously as I supped my cafe.

She said she liked the exhibition too. I didn't take the brochure and have no idea what it was about nor who was involved. Must say it wasn't obvious to the naked eye.

I will go back and read up about it. Maybe then I'll get it. But whoever it is, it doesn't ooze accessibility.

I always thought that was the first rule of creativity. But then I'm very old school on that score.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Setback

Well it was a gloriously sunny morning and the tennis club was well located. I lost to exactly the same person I'd lost to at the journalists' tournament at Roland Garros. Well at least I discovered a new club. They say they just want the money. There's no waiting list and no interview. Oh the facility of cash. So I might give the Tennis club of Boulogne Billancourt a go for a year.

It's only two buses away from the radio station so it's easy to get to work afterwards. What could be better. Tennis and work all in the same sweep. You just know you want t.

The chumpions league is back with some very odd results. But as Jimmy Greaves used to say on TV: "It's a funny old game." Was that really Jimmy Greaves's coinage or was he just regurgitating some other wag?

Don't know. Will now go and talk to someone from Cricket Australia about their tour to India.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The Trial

And it only seems like yesterday that Man Utd were penaltying their way past Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League final. And it is starting up again on Tuesday. Well my heart is with Inter Milan this season because of that poor flunky Jose Mourinho whose brand of winning football was so ceremoniously booted out of west London for a brand of unwinning anything.

Well while the professionals are running around after a ball, I'm going to hit a ball with a tennis racquet. After not really having the game to advance further than the second round at the journalist's tournament at Roland Garros, I've pledged to be better for next year. So I am going to get some coaching and play more regularly because it's no point coming up with Federer like forehands if I can't then at least hit a vaguely competent backhand.

So to work. But before then another journalist tournament. This one's not far from Roland Garros. It is in the Tennis Club of Boulogne Billancourt. The fees make it seem snobby, just have to see what the reception is like if you want to sign up.

Question is do they stop at 4pm for tea. That's the sign of a decent club

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The New Season

I can't believe it. It only seems like yesterday that the football team was being thrashed by any old iron. That was in the top division and the big time. Now it's back to division 2 and, I suppose, the little time.

After the second training session this morning, the new boots seem to be coming on well. I've also discovered the joys of the short passing game. I will advocate the pass and run offensive this season.

Whether I have the physique to do this only yoga and swimming will tell. But after three weeks at the Olympics, you have to dream.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Upgrade

After all these years of not rushing to a plane. It was all wrong. I just needed to pay more to go business class.

For some reason I was put in there on the flight back from Beijing to Paris and 10 hours just flew past. I played with the chair settings. I was particularly fond of the setting for sleeping. So I pressed it and slept.

And then the one for being reclined and so on. Nevertheless I was overjoyed at the setting which meant I had to use two feet to get off the craft.

Perhaps this is what I've been missing over the years.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Tourist Departs

My time at the Courtyard 7 is at an end. I take a flight back home this afternoon.

One of the upshots of the trip has been that if I'm going to be up in the air, which I don't particularly like, then it's better to be in a plane than in a chairlift.

But obviously one has to do certain things to go and see bits of the Great Wall.

Taking such a contraption was never in my evaluation when it came to seeing such a piece of history.

Beijing has been a varied experience. Like any big city there is the new and the traditional. What will be interesting to see is how those two factors develop.

The Olympics site was all very gleaming but what now for the Water Cube? During the week spent here on holiday, I've been able to see the other side - the restaurants, the tacky bar strips, the hip zones and the corporate power sectors.

And obviously it's going to be the personal that I'll hang on to. It'll will always be questionable whether the Olympics should have been staged in Beijing.

What is certain is it's a brilliant place to be.

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Desertion

I have been so busy being a tourist that I'm not performing my prime function in life which is to keep an update of said blog.

Rapidly doing the things which must be done such as the Great Wall. This was a trip organised by the hostel where I'm staying.

The bus was scheduled to come at 7am and we left at about 7.30 and it was due to leave Mutianyu at midday and we left at 12.30pm.

I was scheduled to leave Leo's hostel on Tuesday but I am leaving as soon as this downpour is finished.

Too many little things are going wrong with the room so I figure it is best to get out while I can still recommend the place.

It has been a friendly little haunt but sadly I am too old to endure the compilation of little things.

This has made me wonder about my own stolidity and the like. But the upshot is that I've found a place which is around a courtyard and the rooms are, on the face of it, superior so with just over double the outlay I'm going to be getting a quadrupled aesthetic experience.

And so off I go to Courtyard 7. I like the sound of it, the Courtyard 7 it sounds like a team of superheroes.

Or perhaps the title of a kung fu movie.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Tourist III

There was more sightseeing since this is the nature of the game. Have got free travel on the subway - a legacy of the Olympic Games and this gives me free access to all the famous monuments. These sort of freebies have made me become a complete capitalist and I take the taxi places because they're cheap too and I get to see the upstairs rather than riding downstairs.

I suppose I could say I'm helping the flow of cash. Whatever. Saw an 18 metre high Buddha as given by the seventh Dalai Lama to an emperor back in the 18th century - a time when everyone was getting along.

It is quite spectacular. Carved from a single chunk of Tibetan white sandalwood. Took two years to build and three years to transport to Beijing.

There's steady work.

That was at the Lama Temple. After years of seeing the Peking Opera in London and Paris, I saw the Peking Opera in Beijing. It was loud and good and just what I needed as the new National Theatre was exceptionally disappointing.

I got there as it was just closing down the public viewing areas. And I didn't fancy going to watch Turandot there. So I ended up at the Chang An Theatre listening to people pull faces and do their Noh thang.

Off to the Wall tomorrow. That should be great.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Tourist II

Saw new sights and sounds today. Essentially since that is the idea of touring, I seem to be fulfilling the whole point.

Have moved from the Olympic venue - the Beijing Friendship Hotel - to a place which is a bit more of a budget thang.

It seems OK at the moment. It is a bit more limited in space but then it does not matter. I'm here to see things like Houhai Lake and the Temple of Heaven.

Both of which I have taken in. Not to overcome by the taxi drivers. As far as collective commentary goes, it's an edgy thing getting a taxi. Even when they stop it's not always certain that they will take you.

One tried to charge 150 yuan for a journey - even though there is a meter in the car.

I know I look like a tourist but I didn't arrive yesterday.

Monday, 25 August 2008

The Tourist

I've escaped from the hotel - venue - hotel vortex and I've become a tourist.

Forbidden City and the Silk Market have been taken in along with some hutongs - the narrow lanes that used to characterise the city.

Actually parts of the Forbidden City resembled a glorified hutong. Have also been introduced to a restaurant and bar. These after the two and a bit weeks of enclosure are a breath of fresh air.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Medals

Who gets my gold silver and bronze?

This is the crucial issue emerging from the 29th Olympiad.

There could be many categories but for the reasons of space and because I don’t want to bore, I’ll only highlight a few.

In the men it’s a close call between Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

But the gold medal for me goes to Bolt who in his two individual races broke the 100 and 200 metres world records;

After easing up towards the end of the 100 metres he was asked why he didn’t go flat out preferring to start hailing the crowd.

The gist was since I had the world record .......breaking that wasn’t as important as winning the race.

And he was as true as his word in the 200 metres. He got the fastest time because it was an event that was dear to his heart.

Two golds, unseen in 24 years at the Olympics, and the first Jamaican man to triumph in those events.

His runs lifted the stadium.and the second week of the games.

He was also good for the post race comments he inspired. The whole thing about what did you do before your run for glory.

Slept till 11am, watched TV, had some nuggets, slept, woke up, had some nuggets, came to the track.

Even his opponents added to the legend. Richard Thompson, who was second in the 100 metres, confirmed the nuggets story to a disbelieving press conference, adding that during the race he was still pumping away while he could see Bolt ahead of him easing up.

Thompson was munificent enough to admit no one could have beaten the Jamaican.

And the American, Shawn Crawford, after the 200 metres just said Bolt was a bad, bad man. And, of course, by this he meant outstanding.

Phelps gets the silver because he’s already got 14 gold medals and I like to be contrary.

He comes behind Bolt for me because he’s not as overtly charismatic. Bolt is a showman, a crowd pleaser. True, there’s more room for it on the track. Phelps is a brilliant racer and as greatest Olympian of all time at 23, he lit up the first week. He’s on a mission to make swimming more popular so his journey is a work in progress.

If there were a category for team player the American swimmer Jason Lezak would win gold. But as there isn’t, he gets my overall bronze for somehow being a better performer in a group than individually.

Lezak has been the bedrock of American freestyle relays since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, helping them to secure silver and bronze in Sydney and Athens.

Here in Beijing when he got into the water for the final leg of the 4x100 freestyle he was behind the Frenchman Alain Bernard, who beats him all the time one on one.

Lezak went past Bernard in the final centimetres to win the gold for the United States, thereby coining the term used among all the swimmers as “the relay”.

Performing for the collective is a concept that would find favour anywhere in the world.

As for the women, gold goes to the British athlete Tasha Danvers who had a horrible season of achilles and hamstring injuries and then was found to have a low white blood cell count which hampered her training.

She came third in the 400 metres hurdles and was so elated to be up there. Moreover she was able to epitomise the attitudes of a fighter. “You never ever, ever give up,” she told me. “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, or the thin lady or size 12lady or whatever sings.”

The Russian pole vaulter Elena Isinbaeva gets silver for responding to taunts from her American rival Jennifer Stuczynski in the best possible way by beating her in the Olympic final.

In the run up to the games, it was reported that the American was going to "kick some Russian butt". And Isinbaeva not only relegated her into second place but stayed around for a solo crowd pleasing performance to set a world record on her third and final attempt - long after all the other pole vault competitors had gone home. That’s top level butt kicking.

Vengeance, as the saying goes, is a dish best served in front of 90,000 people.

And bronze goes to Stephanie Rice, the glamour girl of Australian swimming. She prettied up my bleary eyed mornings at the swimming pool. Moreover she was brilliant and poised in her press conferences and also stuck around to chat afterwards. She certainly has grounds to be a prima donna, she’s good looking and very good in the water.

But she’s a down-to-earth siren and she went home with three gold medals from three events. Almost Phelpsian

I didn’t attempt to get her phone number.

But then I give myself a gold medal for being intelligent enough not to ask

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Lure

First it was the swimmer Ryan Lochte waxing lyrical about his penchant for hamburgers, then Usain Bolt took over with his nuggets fuelled sprint world records.

The overt suggestions finally got to me and I succumbed to the lure of the corporation.

But rather than a fast food outlet, I opted for another trip to look at the shiny watches. There was an ulterior motive this time.

As I’ve walked past the Omega pavilion these two weeks, their first floor terrace balcony has been crying out to me to come and lounge.

But it’s not an open to the hoi polloi. You need an invitation.

The Belgian spinter Kim Gevaert, the Russian polevaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and the American speedster Tyson Gay were all I needed as the passport to gratification.

They were there as guests of Omega and they were talking about their time in Beijing. While they were showing off their pictures of their moments in the city to an adoring public, I was wandering around the mezzanine level, looking down on the well-buffed watch cases and athletes.

Of the trio, Isinbayeva wins the gold medal for imaginative pictures. But that’s not a surprise because she is a keen photographer in her spare time when she’s not breaking pole vaulting world records.

Once the champions had been taken into a special room, I thought I’d make the most of the comfy seats.
Most of them were taken but I spotted a spare one opposite a couple. I asked if I could sit down and they said yes.

Just after I’d sunk into the leather cushion, the woman asked if I was from Switzerland as I was wearing a watch based on the Swiss Railway clocks.

And we got chatting. We spoke about the games and they told me a bit about their life in Beijing as opposed to Switzerland and so on.

Forget fast food restaurants, this was more my speed.

While we talked, attentive staff brought drinks and appealing snacks and - this was the best bit – waited for you to finish before asking if they could take it away.

Urs and Steffi looked as if they were installing themselves for the evening. The lounge lizard in me was jealous but there was the small matter of going to cover the evening’s athletics at the Bird’s Nest.

As I was leaving, Tyson Gay was without the earlier phalanx of corporate PRs around him. With Bolt like speed I enjoined him in conversation.

“It’s been the best experience I’ve ever had in my life,” he told me of his Beijing sojourn. “I really enjoyed it.”

Gay has been a bit part player in these Olympics, the antithesis of the Usain Bolt success story.

The American was supposed to be one of the protagonists but he never made it through to the finals of the 100 metres and a bungled baton change in the 4x100 metres relay semi-final robbed him of the chance for redemption there.

But it’s just part of a process.

“Even though I’m going home with no gold medals,being around all my friends and family, having support through the bad times has been amazing,” he added

“The hardware is good but no one can take this moment away from you.”

Casting his eyes around the lounge, he added: “It’s just been great being around all these people, you see I don’t have any gold medals or nothing but I’m still getting a lot of love and attention and it means a lot to me.”

Time well spent then.

Friday, 22 August 2008

The Sexing-Up

I have wondered many things since the Olympics started. Things such as: What’s Beijing like? And why is beach volley ball an Olympic sport?

But I’ve never mused on why table tennis should be made sexier.

Maybe it’s because I don’t play the sport. But clearly the bigwigs of the International Table Tennis Federation have been exercising their minds on this issue.

And the ITTF’s vice-president, Claude Bergeret, has come out and said the girls should be urged to wear skirts and more alluring shirts.

“Not the shirts that are made for men,” he advised. “But ones with more curves.”

Ooh la la.

Ana Ivanovic, the women’s world number one, is a Slavonic rhapsody of a looker. The Serb could more or less wear anything on the court and look dynamite.

Over in the men’s the top player Rafael Nadal sports a sleeveless shirt that accentuates his Uberhombre upper torso.

At the French Open you can just hear the women in the stands swooning as the Spanaird packs off a pheromone-filled forehand past the latest hapless sap on the other side of the net.

And not to mention the clenched fist: “vamos” following an important point. Indeed Nadal screams sex.

Not so China’s Wang Liqin, a top table tennis player he may be but he’s not going to leave the girls gaga.

No robust musculature on this one. He’s simply a wiry lad with regular features who plays a good game. True, just like his lawn tennis counterparts, there are plenty of clenched fists after crucial points but the game’s not built around expansiveness.

And as we all know, no matter what the therapists say, size does matter when it comes to sex in sport.

Table tennis is a compact, intense game. And its appeal lies in the fact that ordinary, even diminutive physiques seem to be able to excel.

It doesn’t appear to be the case in tennis. The players there are, for the most part, bigger;

Nevertheless some of the table tennis fillies feel it’s time to project lubricity. Japan’s Ai Fukuhara opted for a “skort” – a tight skirt with cycling shorts underneath - for her last 16 match against China’s Zhang Yining who faced off against her opponent in black shorts and a shirt which was emblazoned with a yellow dragon on the front.

That doesn’t seem to me to ooze sex appeal, it's perhaps better suited to dazzling the adversary into errors.

Have to say during the quarter final match between Liquin and the Croatian Tan Ruiwu on Friday afternoon at the Peking University Stadium, the crowd seemed to be getting into it.

They were shouting between and during points and Tan had to put his finger to his lips.

The spectators responded by lowering the decibels but it didn’t make much difference, Tan lost the second game 11-7 which prompted another barrage of flag waving and screaming.

During the pause before the third game, the crowds continued to brandish their flags and chant in unison to a derivative of the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me Baby.

It might not be sexy but they seemed to be having fun.

And we can never have enough of that.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Olympian II

Praise the Lord for he hath cast upon us a Lightning Bolt to save our firmament.

Yea, for the second time in four days one man has electrified the Olympic Games. Cue one Usain Bolt.

The godsend celebrates his 22nd birthday on Thursday as the undisputed head honcho of world sprinting. His scattered foes can do no more than pay tribute.

Shawn Crawford, the 200 metres defending champion, said he went up to him after the race and informed him that he was a bad (in the colloquial sense of outstanding) man.

“I told him: ‘You the man. I told him he was a bad, bad man.”

Jive and high fives aside, what we’d just witnessed in the stadium was pretty good (in the conventional sense of word).

Bolt had become the first man in 24 years to complete the 100 and 200 metres sprint double at the Olympic Games.

He’d also beaten a world record set 12 years ago by Michael Johnson at the Atlanta games.

The American Carl Lewis was the last lad to achieve the 100 and 200 metres feat. Bolt becomes the ninth man in history to do so, joining legends such as Jesse Owens.

But with all the hullabaloo, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee has added a word of caution.

Bolt must be a bit more respectful towards his peers both in his pre and post race actions, says Rogge. Less of the pre-sprint dancing and more of the post stroll handshakes.

There seems to be a standard question from journalists covering the Olympics for a publication that we’ll call Sports Psychology Today.

“Who is Michael Phelps?” cropped up a couple of times as the American swam his way into glory during the pool party he was having.

Sure enough after trouncing his rivals for the second time in an Olympic final, we got: “Who is Usain Bolt?”

Bolt responded: “Did you see me before the race? That’s me.”

Well the message coming from Rogge is: it might be you but it’s not Olympian.

Bolt says it gets the crowd going. And he’s got a case because the intensity and atmosphere in the stadium after his two victories have been spectacular.

His wins have also underlined the demise of the United States as the dominant track power.

Jamaican women took the first three positions in the 100 metres sprint. Unprecedented that.

The American men only claimed silver and bronze in the 200 metres after two disqualifications. Crawford and Walter Dix being the beneficiaries of Wallace Spearmon and Churanda Martina’s misfortunes.

Martina lost his place after the Americans appealed Spearmon’s removal. The US delegation accepted that Spearmon had strayed from his lane. But the tapes also showed the silver medallist Martina doing the same.

And the appeal jury agreed.

Needless to say,this has not gone down well in the Dutch West Indies who were busily celebrating their first Olympic track medal.

And from having just the bronze. The United States had engineered silver and bronze.

Omayra Leeflang, the minister of sports, of the Dutch West Indies says the Americans aren’t being very Olympian about the race. But this is all about medals. China’s dominance in the table is proof of that. Lots of mileage here in the fact that they’ve eclipsed their tally in Athens four years ago.

There was a furore about having the swimming finals in the morning, apparently to satisfy the cravings of US TV networks.

The swimmers weren’t happy but they all turned up and world record after world record fell.

I’m not entirely sure whether the women’s beach volley ball was programmed for the early morning to assuage the voracious demands of US TV networks.

Even though the American pair of Kerri Walsh and Misty-May Treanor hadn’t been beaten for 107 matches, let’s say – because I’m a philanthropic kind of chap – no, the timing had nothing to do with the networks.

But let’s also state that the gold medal match was played in the driving rain (rather than the traditional sunshine associated with the sport) with the Chinese and American players in skimpy bikini and sun cap combos.

It looked ridiculous. Barely Olympian.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Choice

An invitation turned up on my desk sometime last week for an evening with Olympians on Wednesday night organised by the International Sports Press Association. Would I contact the following email for further details.

Contact was indeed established and I was told that the American swimmers Michael Phelps, Nathalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff would be at the China Club.

Better still the legends Alex Popov and Ian Thorpe would also be there.

A shoal of talent indeed. Only snag was that they were going to be at the same time as one Usain Bolt would be trying to write himself into legend in final of the men’s 200 metres

Just my luck a chance to go to one of the swishest venues in town and I have to watch people running around a track.

Redemption is mine though because there’s another rendez-vous with titans of yore on Thursday afternoon. The hurdler Edwin Moses, the sprinter Cathy Freeman and the decathlete Daley Thompson.

This might be more feasible as the association is laying on transport from the press centres to the venue, the Casa Italia.

This is a concept aimed at promulgating all things Italian. Mamma mia. Just what I’ve come from Europe for.

But as the saying goes when in Beijing….drive a Ferrari.

There’s been an absence of ostentation within the hotel – venue- hotel vortex. If there are high ranking officials from national Olympic committees cruising around in smart cars then I haven’t noticed them.

That might be due to the fact that I’m either watching the action or writing about it in an underground ice box.

One luxury brand that has been quite salient is Omega. The firm has a temporary pavilion which I’ve been passing regularly en route to the various venues.

It became even more prominent for me just after Michael Phelps’s victory in the 100 metres butterfly final when the Serbian swimming delegation contested the split of a split second victory over their swimmer Milorad Cavic.

After the delegation had a look at the tapes of the race they could see it was all fine. Their man had got silver and Phelps had won gold.

Doubting the veracity of the official timekeepers is quite rare and it all came about because the cameras which are shown to the crowds aren’t the one’s used for timekeeping.

The crowd’s cameras suggested that Cavic had touched first. But Omega has got high speed cameras. This is a system that links four high speed video recording cameras and allows judges to have real time views of the images captured by the cameras even while they’re recording.

It’s possible to see the action recorded by all four cameras at once or to select any of them individually for a full screen view.

That’s all very well and good and we rightly hail an association with the Olympic movement that goes back to 1932.

But what about watches on your wrist rather than the ones in the water?

Well they’re quite spectacular. Quite a range is on show at the pavilion including the Omega Speedmaster Professional.

This comes with the tag of the first and only watch worn on the moon.

And then there’s the Beijing Olympic Collection Minus 88 Days Double Eagle which hasn’t been worn on Mars.

It’s limited to 288 pieces and can be snapped up for 219,800 yuan.

The dials within the face are in the figure eight which as we all know is the lucky number in China because the word for eight sounds like the word for prosperity.

Phelps has come away from Beijing with eight gold medals but that’s got nothing to do with luck. It’s down to timing

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Slip

Of all the stories I read before I travelled to Beijing, I can't remember one touching on the Chinese sense of humour. They were usually about lack of freedom, shady political practices and economic hegemony.

But anything about what makes people chortle? Nichts.

A sense of humour does exist. For example: the army of volunteers who have been helping us around the Olympic sites have been instructed to smile at every opportunity possible.

I also need look no further than the manufacturers of the scones available in the press centre cafes. Well the makers must be having a laugh on the poor saps who buy the scone to find that it crumbles into a thousand pieces when it’s cut or bitten.

And whoever decided to dream up cheerleaders for entertainment must be laughing all the way to somewhere.

I spotted a few on Monday night at the Natonal Stadium in the mixed zone - the area where the athletes come and chew over their performances with the media. I noticed them because they were carrying green frills rather than clunky camera combos.

On Tuesday morning I went to see the reigning Olympic champions Germany take on New Zealand in the men's hockey.

There waas an edge about the final Group A match as both sides needed to win to go into the last four.

Germany scored two early goals and went into the half-time break nursing that advantage. As the players walked off the pitch, blaring music went on and spectators started moving towards the refreshment booths. So far so usual.

And then on came 12 young women in red bikini tops and red skirts. They formed two ranks of six either side of the half way line and snapped to attention.

Silence. Then on came a sort of pumped up Bollywood tectonic. The troupe shook the necessary areas of their bodies as they were intertwined and waved their tambourines and frills.

They must be volunteers, I thought, because they’re smiling.

But I would imagine cheerleaders are supposed to look joyous.

The girls gambolled awhile and in truth it was the most flair I’d seen for a good 20 minutes as a technically efficient German side ground down their opponents.

Sadly the cheerleaders finished their routine just I was starting to fully appreciate their artistic interpretations.

Shortly after the last of the tambourines jingled off, the water fountains came on to spray the pitch.

Sigmund Freud would have chuckled at that one.

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Disappointment

Just after the American swimmer Ryan Lochte had won gold in the 200 metres backstroke, he was asked about his eating habits. He mentioned pizzas and products from an American fast food chain. I thought McLochte was alone. Far from it.

Just after destroying the field to set a new world record in the 100 metres on Saturday night, Usain Bolt was asked what kind of day he’d had.

“I never had breakfast,” he said. “Actually I woke up at 11am, sat around watched some TV..then I had lunch....some nuggets…and then I pretty much went back to my room.....slept again for three more hours and then, went back and got some more nuggets and then I came to the track.”

On such a regime McBolt registered a time of 9.69 seconds to become the first Jamaican winner of the title.

These kind of statements should come with the kind of warnings that used to precede TV episodes of Batman: “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

Bolt qualifed for the second round of the 200 metres today just before China went into national mourning over the non-qualification of the golden boy Liu Xiang.

The 25 year old Olympic and world champion in the 110 metres high hurdles pulled up with a gammy ankle during heat six. This is bad news as he was the big hope for a Chinese gold medal at the stadium.

He’s a good looking boy and his face has been plastered everywhere. There was a hastily convened press conference to discuss why the king had left the building.

I’m surprised that there hasn’t been an emergency cabinet meeting. I’d personally impose martial law.

But then I am known to overreact.

I’ve been looking at some of the news agency wires and they’re quoting fans of the man saying the Olympics are over for me.

I personally have seen few signs of self-immolation.

Only yesterday I was musing on how the exploits of Bolt and the American swimmer Michael Phelps had helped the Olympics to emerge from the negative cloud surrounding the prelude to the games.

In essence Liu’s departure won’t diminish it from a sporting point of view as gargantuan feats have already been achieved.

Liu was only mentioned in the same breath as the world record holder Dayron Robles because the so called “Shanghai Express” was the defending champion. Injuries have kept Liu out of action for much of the season.

The saying goes that class is permanent while form is temporary but we all know that excellence nevertheless needs to muscle its way to the top. Eventually it will out.
Since huge marketing campaigns have been launched around Liu, there must be a squadron of executives now flying by the seat of their pants.

He, along with the basketball player Yao Ming, was one of the human product placements of these Olympics.

Liu’s main coach, Sun Haiping, twice broke down in tears during the press conference. While I don’t think he’s going to be taken away and consigned to the salt mines, the outburst underlines the immense pressure that both had been living with.

There was a sense in the press conference that the true extent of the injury had been hidden from the Chinese people. If that’s the case, then that’s just stupid. Injuries are as inevitable to athletes as defeats and victories.

Terrence Trammell, the American contender for the 110 metres high hurdles, pulled up in heat five. Even though he was wearing sunglasses, you could see the pain in his eyes as he beat his fist.

It’s bad luck. It happens and you just have to recover and conquer anew.

We’re on the cusp of a perception here. If the crowds now don’t turn up to the events because their one true hero is defunct, then the Shangri-la promoted since the opening ceremony nine days ago will be exposed as a sustained deception.

Chinese athletes have so far garnered 35 golds – already three more than at Athens four years ago. With seven days of competition still left they’re on target to head the medals table

But if they collect all the golds, silvers and bronzes available from this point and the masses still consider the event not to be a success because their champion has gone, then the International Olympic Committee executives who decided to place the Olympic product here will be shown up to be as lame as Liu.

To cite a phrase from an Australian swimmer, we’re in a moment.