Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Blues

Typical that in the year I reduce my fervour for Chelsea, they go and get into the UEFA Champions League final. Of course nothing has been won yet.

But in all the years that I cared, they got to the semi final and lost. But that was with Jose Mourinho. How he made me smile with his antics. There was a savage beauty about the well-drilled teams he sent out. They crushed and yet never ran amok.

But the self-styled special one is long gone.

And now in the winter of my discontent, his baleful successor, Avram Grant, makes glorious summer in the competition. Maybe I should have turned from them earlier.

Since tonight's second leg of the semi final was only being shown on the cable channel, I had to venture out to a cafe to watch it.

Having predicted that Liverpool would go through on penalties after the match ended 1-1, I was not at all surprised to arrive at the cafe as they were taking in Liverpool's equaliser.

It must be said Liverpool looked the likelier to win within the 90 minutes and they did start extra time with more zest.

But to watch Chelsea go 3-1 up was great. But then a touch of the old pre-Mourinho Chelsea crept in and you knew that a two goal advantage with eight minutes remaining still wasn't quite enough.

Moreso since the players seemed to be trying to retain possession but were too inept to perform this basic task and kept gifting the ball to Liverpool who promptly scored a second with four minutes to go.

An equaliser would have sent Liverpool through and even me into despair.

As it was the nervous few minutes passed and two English teams will fight it out in Moscow in three weeks.

My approach is since Manchester United have already won the trophy twice in their history, it's time for somebody else to win.

I know it doesn't work like that. it would be good if it did. It would be brilliant if Jose were still around. He'd look so good lapping up the adulation.

Maybe he'll be in work somewhere next season and my heart can go back into supporting a team.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Wine

Quite why it surprises me rather surprises me. I telephoned the delivery company on Monday and arranged with the lady there for the 12 bottles of wine to be delivered between 10am and midday.

That way I could take the boy to creche and get back. I forewent my usual coffee at Chez Prune and returned home.

While I waited I set about discarded bits of administration — organising folders and dashing off a few letters.

I felt productive. By 1245 my planned trip to the swimming pool looked in jeopardy so I phoned the delivery company and was told that the driver was in the area.

At 2pm I phoned once again to say that I had to go and pick up my son from the creche. I was informed that the driver was in the area.

Now the 10th arrondissement is not that big so clearly he must have been very busy in the district or well out of it when I called originally.

I've had this sort of lackadaisical approach from other delivery companies. You both agree times and they don't venture anywhere near it.

I got a call at 2.25 from the driver to tell me that he was a minute away from my front door. I said I was five minutes away as I was collecting my son.

I rushed back and still had to wait a few minutes for him to arrive. Maybe they're operating in another time continuum.

Well at least out of the vortex have emerged some bottles of Chablis.

We discovered Chateau Long Depaquit about 18 months ago when we went to stay in Burgundy in the house of a colleague at the Guardian

I know little about the top houses. And in Chablis — such a well scrubbed little zone — they all appeared rather choice.

We stopped off at Chateau Long Depaquit because it had an appealing courtyard where we could park the car while we did our tasting. As the boy was sleeping and the girls didn't want to get out. It seemed the perfect spot.

This all embracing approach now informs our decision on where we stop.

As we were heading into Vouvray last Saturday on our way back from the Loire, we noticed a discreet sign to a vineyard. But I couldn't manoeuvre the motor quickly enough and we went steaming past.

Everything else in the town looked much of a muchness so we returned. Parked the car, got out and waited for the chap on his tractor to come and greet us.

His was a welcome as warm as the Saturday afternoon. He said the girls could go and play on the swing and slide in the garden and off they went chirping.

Within 10 minutes or so I'd transferred driving duties to the missus and 45 minutes or so later we'd both been brought up to date on aspects of local history, met the mother who'd given the girls some orange juice after they'd helped her with the shopping bags from her car.

These being the same children who don't notice their socks on the floor.

But I can't admonish smooth young chancers. Especially when the charm offensive is occurring while I'm rolling the sparkling stuff around my palate.

M Monmousseau is a shrewd operator. He quipped that his Turonien 2006 should be drunk "à l'anglaise".

We had a friend round this evening for supper. We didn't quite reach those heights.

But the wine goes down so well that it was tempting.

Such honesty will be rewarded.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

The Chateaux

The Loire was a swollen wonder. So was the Vienne. The Indre and the Cher too. Downpour upon downpour flooded our midst.

We surfaced into sunshine every now and again. And during those interludes I got a sense that this was a really lovely region.

Actually I knew that before I set off having travelled to the Loire in various incarnations of m life.

This was the first as a fully signed up family man. And the three children added a new edge to the chateau tours.

I'm not entirely clear that I learned much more than I knew before. I don't think I've retained it. But I remember thinking it was interesting as I listened before it flooded out of my brain.

We went to Villandry which is about 10 kilometres from the base in Ballan-Miré just west of Tours.

There is a picture of me at Villandry from about 1990 taken by the then live in girlfirend. I remember buying a Stone Island sweatshirt and pair of linen shorts at Harrods for the trip.

The shorts disintegrated long ago and the sweatshirt was left in Ghana after sterling service.

Had I known during the Africa Cup of Nations that I'd be in the Loire a few months later I would have saved it for the sake of symmetry.

The chateau at Azay le Rideau is all about mirror images. The chateau is supposed to relfect in the water. Sad thing was that the water was so murky that day due to the rain that there were no bright shining images to be seen.

Never mind. We went along to see Fontevraud Abbey which has been restored since I was last there.

Can't say I was ushered into the feeling of a medieval nunnery. The parking lot seemed to be in a housing estate and we were directed to the abbey via a building site.

It was more effective when it was less polished. Left more to the imagination. But then again the eldest was quite taken with the fact that Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine were all buried there.

I'm quite taken too. Perhaps I should get her to see A Lion in the Winter and see what she makes of that.

To her credit she got me to go back with her to read the little panel near the tombs.

"How old was Richard, heart of lion, when he died?"

"I'm not sure...." From the mists of my mind I remembered he was in his 40's. I took an interest in Richard, mainly because there used to be a TV series called Richard the Lionheart when I was a kid. And of course there was Robin Hood.

There was definitely a few TV series about him and countless films. Shall we all go into the Errol Flynn canon?

I also went to Nottingham University and worked at the Nottingham Evening Post. So there is a link.

Once back at the gite, after gulping down a sandwich and hot chocolate there was silence and about 20 minutes later the eldest informed me that Richard was 42 when he got une fleche dans la colonne vertebrale (for she was consulting her French library book about the region).

This is the most enriching of all my incarnations.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Queue

How much must one suffer for one's art?

Depends on the factors. This response comes to me with the grace and dignity of hindsight.

I'd been sent an invitation for the private view at the Musée Rodin of the Camille Claudel blockbuster.

Apt terminology for a sculptress I guess. So that the missus could feast on the splendours, we organised a babysitter.

As I was travelling to the museum from the radio station, I got there first only to find out that the private view was anything but.

The queue to get in was a blockbuster.

But since La Claudel suffered for her art, I should at least reciprocate.

It had been raining earlier in the day but the clouds had yielded to a clear, blue sky.

Jolly queueing weather, la di di di da da.

I read my book and 25 minutes later I was at the door to the museum just as the missus arrived.

We were allowed into the foyer only to be ushered politely to another queue.

This one was a beast. And it was barely moving. But it was a beautiful spring evening. And the garden at the museum is a joyous place to be. We really should have taken turns to go for a stroll around it.

But we didn't. We stayed put. We shuffled a few yards and though there was never any doubt that we would eventually get to see the pieces, economics and hunger were starting to wreak their havoc.

With a baby sitter on the clock, waiting was costing and since neither of us had eaten, I was in danger of coming over all reductionist.

And you don't want to do that.

We left.

But in doing so we'd entered the realm of the impromptu. We have three children. We don't do unusual.

We breathe studied.

However by eschewing the queue we were unleashing ourselves into the unplanned. And what's more in a quartier that's not a usual haunt.

So we walked around bits of the 7th - choice, very choice and ended up on Boulevard St Germain.

We took an apero at Cafe Flore. I think the first time we'd been there in the seven or so years that we've been in Paris.

As we sipped our Kirs and observed the other almost as beautiful people, the missus popped out: "Ooh look a mouse."

Like the impromptu, I don't do mice. I hate the cellars in our block because I once saw a rat scurrying off after the missus had gone snooping around somebody's else's cellar.

Cafe Flore's house mouse darted around a bit. Gradually its presence was more widely noted. We drank up to move on to the planned part of the evening and a meal at Chez Casimir in our neck of the woods.

Didn't see anything untoward there. Too busy savouring the cuisine.

But I'm on my guard now about the doyens of Latin Quarter watering holes.

After Cafe (don't look at the) Flore. What next?

Flies in the drinks at Les Deux Maggots?

Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Fall

I think it's safe to say that the team is going down. Not only are we losing, we're not even scoring goals. Not even against teams that are not that good.

Watching from the sidelines and even while playing, it seems abundantly clear that the luck is not with us this year.

Of course this goes back to my theory since my perfectly valid goal was disallowed a couple of weeks back.

There were a series of offside decisions given yesterday which were never offside. I rail and fret now but as one of my teammates said afterwards, it's not about the poor decisions.... we were slower than the other team and didn't look as if we wanted to win.

This was a bit odd since last week when we were getting absolutely thrashed, it never became a question of morale.

Yesterdayone of the key players pulled a muscle while warming up. The goalie got hurt during the match, we were low on reserves and seemingly low on energy.

For the first time in four seasons I felt really low. It was quite depressing.

And the poor run continued. Back at home while sitting as a dispirited hunch, prodding at my lunch, the baby sitter phoned to say she couldn't make it on Saturday night.

Just one of those days in just one of those seasons.

I've perked up a bit since yesterday because, after all, it's only a game and it is not my day job.

But I want to do well and feel disappointed when I feel I haven't played my part.

In church this morning there was a christening and the father of the children read If by Rudyard Kipling.

There was a bit about treating triumph and disaster in the same manner. And I laughed wryly to myself.

I've also dipped into the book of footballers' clichés. "Keep my head down and keep working hard."

If I do that luck's bound to turn on the field. Off the field I have to prepare for a week in the Loire starting next Saturday morning.

Forget the football, follow the history and the wine.

Will be difficult. Fontevraud does chime rather ripely with Here we Go.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The Legend Part II

It's been instructive reading the obituaries of Charlton Heston. I never knew he was a civil rights campaigner marching with Martin Luther King and being pro John Kennedy back in the 1960s.

Of course I knew the film roles. My mum took me and my sister to see Ben Hur at the Streatham Odeon. I think she might have even splashed out and taken us up into the Dress Circle there.

I love cinemas. Especially the ones with a big screen. In fact I'm sitting and watching Ben Hur now on the video and it seems odd looking at it without my mum's running commentary.

I phoned my sister yesterday when I got back in from work and when she answered the phone my first words were: 'He will come."

This was uttered by Tribune Messala after the chariot race.

The famous chariot race. One of the obituaries told how Heston actually learned to ride a chariot.

I've read about a homo erotic sub text to the whole thing. Vehemently denied of course by Heston. But with all the male bonding and vendettas going on it's difficult not to see that side.

But I guess you could say that about any sword and sandals epic.

However Ben Hur is the master of them all.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Legend

I will sing psalms of praise, yea, lift up my heart and rejoice.

Obviously been to church this morning.

And boy did I need to after Saturday's debacle with the football team. We need a miracle and if one happens I will, with a gladsome mind, render up joyful sounds.

I didn't even bother to note the goals. Six? Seven?

The opposition scored from the kick off. The bloke kicked it towards our goal. It hung in the air for so long that the goalie could have tied his shoelaces, picked his nose and set up home with at least three women.

He did none of these things and as the ball descended I looked on disbelievingly from the right wing as it dropped over his head into the goal.

1-0 before kicking a ball. Indeed before even needing to move my legs. Incredible. I simply twisted my torso to face the half way line.

The other side were good in that they kept possession well and those who weren't altogether comfortable on the ball passed it quickly to those who were.

I think it was 4-0 at half time and the only thing I can say that they were trying to showboat a bit in the second half. They weren't that good to do that and did lose concentration a bit. We should have scored one.

Well beaten.

Which is what galley slaves undoubtedly were.

And the scenes in the battle ship in the film Ben Hur remain among my favourites. Not necessarily for all the greased up torsos but for the sadistic cox (it's so homo erotic) who pounds fervently onto a drum the beat for "ramming speed".

My sister was on the phone just after Easter telling me that Ben Hur was on TV in England. I said it was on in France too. I thought of watching it to find out exactly what ramming speed was in French.

Not the kind of thing they teach you at university but more useful to my humour.

I woke up this morning to find out that Charlton Heston had died. He of mighty muscle and ubersquare jaw in various epics such as Ben Hur, the Ten Commandments and El Cid.

I like the bit in that film where he and the amassed armies avow to capture the Saracen stronghold of Valencia.

Chunk Heston turns that jaw into the Cinemascope, bares his strong shiny teeth and utters: "Valencia".

I've always watched Valencia's progress in the Spanish league since.

They're not likely to be relegated; we are.

I'm going to wheel out the videos from my video library of Ben Hur and El Cid in honour of a Hollywood legend.

God rest your soul Chuck. They don't make films like that anymore.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Splash

There really should be some kind of rule book for people using swimming pools. And in it should be rule one: Don't chose the open area for doddery paddlers to do sprint lengths.

It's a bit like Roger Federer going to the public tennis courts and playing normally with someone like me. Sure we'd all look and wonder at the silky movement and fleet feet but you would ask yourself why.

I found myself posing this question while ambling along in the open area at Parmentier this morning. There was a muscular swimmer who commandeered a lane and went up and down it with dazzling rapidity.

None of the other paddlers dared go anywhere near it for fear of upsetting our local Poseidon. I'm quite surprised none of the lifeguards ushered him into the the lanes for those in need of speed.

The showman slightly overshadowed my paddle but it didn't prevent me from eventually reaching my own goal.

I got out as Mr Muscles continued to make waves. As I was getting my stuff out of my locker I wondered if you could complain about aggressive swimmers.

What would be the etiquette and whose right would be supported?

But given that time is so limited during public swimming sessions before the schools go back in would you want to spend it on such a subjective issue?

It's probably best to do the aquatic equivalent of opening out your newspaper to hide behind.

But even if you keep your head down under the water you can often hear the beeping of the watches telling their wearers they've done 200 miles in just under four and half minutes.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The Renewal

There was a crisis of a kind.

On Monday I looked at my Paris Passe Familles and saw that it expired that very day.

The passe has been the conduit to a world of free swimming and other ancillary benefits such as help with the gas bill and the quarterly charges for the upkeep of the apartment block.

We've got this because of the third child.

I went to the district office which dishes out the pass on Tuesday bright and early after dropping off said third child at crèche.

I showed the assistant the two passes that needed renewing and he said that we shouldn't have two passes. Not at all in order. "How did you get two?"

"We asked and the bloke gave us two..."

"He shouldn't have done that," came the reply. "Perhaps he was leaving," I offered jauntily.

I went in on Tuesday expecting to make an appointment for another day when our dossier could be forensically analysed.

But the man said the card could be instantly renewed as long as I had the 2006 tax returns, the last three pay slips and the most recent bill from the managing agents of the block.

The choice was either to get back before 11am or in the afternoon after 2pm.

An afternoon return would be complicated by the presence of the boy.

I thought why impose bureaucracy on a querulous pup even if his very presence on earth had spawned the trip.

I returned before 11am and got sorted. I asked for a second card but was informed by another assistant that no deviation would be tolerated this time.


I deviated myself this morning, opting for a splash at Piscine Parmentier rather than the usual lengths at Piscine Pontoise.

Parmentier, which is a lot nearer - about five mintues away on the bike - has been renovated recently. The lockers don't take money, they have codes. A man kindly explained to me how it worked.

What I'm not so keen on is the mixed shower zone. I was there early enough not to encounter anything remotely approaching a mixed changing zone.

I did see cubicles for other self-conscious types.

The pool itself is bright with an air of cleanliness rather unlike Pontoise which seeps faded splendour. At Pontoise you give your ticket to a man and he shows you to a cubicle and there are separate areas for the men and women to do their pre and post swim ablutions.

I quite like that kind of demarcation, smacks of old world values.

Quite why I should stand on such ceremony beats me. Three children in, inhibitions should, by now, have fled the coil.

It's time to unwind and dance to the rhythm of change. Stop swimming against the tide, so to speak.