Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Scholar

I got a couple of wake up calls before the wake-up call.

I'd managed to get back to sleep after the mid morning nappy change.

The eldest girl woke up bright and early for her trip to optional school.

When it is compulsory on a Saturday morning, it has been a struggle to prise her out of bed. The day she doesn't have to to go she was awake 6.50am (without the aid of an alarm clock) and sitting in the kitchen doing drawings having fed herself with the Muesli left out by her beguiled father.

I took her to school as promised, came back and returned to my pyjamas for another 30 minutes or so of sleep before the rest of the troupe arose.

There were only seven children in the class so they joined another rag tag mob and whiled away the hours doing sums and the like.

Should have used the time to introduce the spawn to logic.

Friday, 27 June 2008

The School End of Term

There are horror stories and then there is the end of term party.

In essence a brilliant idea. The children can run around in the playground with all their mates. The parents bring along some food and everyone shares.

This coming a few weeks after the sleep-in means that there has been an enormous amount of bonding. I missed the sleep-in because I was too tired. No really.

The sleep-in came just after Roland Garros and besides I didn't want to get too up close and personal with people I only see in the mornings and evenings.

Perhaps I was being too British then. But I can loosen up for an end of term thang.

The girls got manically excited. Nigh on maniacal. But that's understandable. There's only one week to go before the end of term.

And since the whole end of term bash was due to wind down at 9.30pm. The teacher of the eldest told the class that school was optional on Saturday.

The teacher of the middle child told them she wasn't going to be there.

The misrule has kicked in.

Now given the chance to sleep in on Saturday, the eldest has decided that she wants to go to school. I have told her I'm exercising my option.

However in the interests of intra mural equity, I've said if she gets up, has her shower and feeds herself (the Muesli has been laid out), then she can wake me up five minutes before and I'll take her to school.

But here I am in the middle of the night paying the price of the early evening when they all run round on crisps and fizzy drinks.

The boy entered into the spirit. He charged off to a stand and came back mid way through a cup of an orange substance.

He went to bed relatively easily but rose at 3.30am to implement his pre motion motions.

This entailed walking around the flat, going from cot to bed to sofa. It ended up with him on all fours under the kitchen table making sounds like something from a tennis court at Roland Garros.

I almost expected a clenched fist at the end.

But when he tried to get back into bed, his mother summarily rejected him. Cue pappy with the nappy.

Well they're all sleeping and I am well and truly awake. Not even BBC World Service could get me back to my slumbers.

But am listening to Miles Davis's Bag's Groove and am feeling chilled.

I ought to try and get some sleep. Knowing my luck just as I drop off there'll be a tap on my shoulder and an expectant look.

You can't deny a child her education can you?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Record Attempt III

I have noticed over the years that watching lots of men and women hitting a tennis ball has helped my game.

At least for a while.

So I was mightily impressed when I played tennis this morning. But then the habitual incompetence kicked in or was it fatigue? Or both?

Regularity is what's needed. The only sad thing about this morning's exploits was the location. It was indoors. Shame. Since outdoors it was a lovely, sunny day.

But it wasn't my club and I was the guest. The key thing was the participation.

Obviously at Wimbledon fewer players will be concerning themselves with participation.

One of those on the way home is Novak Djokovic. Tamed was he by the maverick Russian Marat Safin.

I've always liked Safin. He's got a gleam in his eye and is obviously a party boy.

One of my favoruite times in the Roland Garros press room was a Safin debriefing as to why he lost against some player.

Safin - hailed by Pete Sampras as the future of tennis back in 2000 - went on about the percentages of playing a certain shot a certain way and how there should technically be only one kind of shot coming back. But if the player starts to defy that logic, you say it's lucky or a fluke. Or even skill.

But not event the skilful, he explained should be able to override the logic for too long.

And when a journalist asked: "But why didn't you change the system?"

Safin replied: "Listen my friend, I live tennis....."

I've always liked that phrase.

I'm going to live some more tennis on Monday morning. Must remember to keep the focus
even if it is indoors.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Record Attempt II

The papers were full of Roger Federer's wonderfulness as he dispatched Dominik Hrbaty in straight sets on Monday afternoon. Sterner tests await though.

I could have written that. Last year's beaten finalist, Rafael Nadal, went through to round two today, also in straight sets.

It seemed appropriate to reuse for Tuesday's bulletins a little chunk of the Bjorn Borg address to the media at Roland Garros a few weeks ago.

It was about Nadal being vulnerable in the first few rounds at Wimbledon. I thought that would be better than the one where Borg says: "I think Sunday's final (Roland Garros) will be really close."

About as close as the moon Bjorn.

I must not hold terrible punditry against him. It could happen to anyone.

There was a horde of journalism students from San Diego roaming through the newsroom today here at la Maison de la Radio. I saw the head honcho chatting to them and then they disappeared.

Imagine my surprise when I went down to the studio and had to wade through a sea of tyros.

It seemed odd having to deliver my bulletin with real people there before me.

I didn't look into the whites of their eyes.

Well my voice didn't quaver and I resisted the temptation to correct the presenter who introduced me incorrectly. Maybe she had wilted under the pressure.

Take these things in your stride, say I.

But it is taxing because trying to follow Wimbledon on TV is difficult.

The station Sport+ seems to be the only one carrying anything and it has offered some matches which can't yet give me insight.

I could of course subscribe to the video highlights channel at Wimbledon and watch the matches live.

It's not that expensive but I bridle at the idea of paying to see something that should be out there for free.

Besides I have other things to do on my day off like take the children to the doctor so they can be certified as vaguely healthy for next year's round of extra-curricular activites.

Moreover crouching over my laptop to watch tennis would probably mash up my neck and not help my all-action game at all.

But perhaps it is the way to introduce it to the brood. This being the younger tech friendly generation. They might really go for viewing the game on a computer.

And probably end up playing it there.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Record Attempt I

Imagine that. It's a bit like London buses: you wait for ages for one to come along and then 37 appear.

It's deluge time. Not only is there Euro 2008 but Wimbledon has started.

It was a strenuous weekend. There was la fête de la musique on Saturday, so after a trip to see the chateau at Vaux-le- Vicomte we came back for and strolled around the canal looking for some music to listen to.

There were bands playing but to abuse a phrase much beloved of Mr Spock in Star Trek: "It's not music as we know or understand it."

Bur the girls seemed happy. Ah happy.

As it was the longest day - already? - I thought it churlish to try and get them into bed too early. It panned out. By the time I did get them moving towards their slumbers, I had enough time to watch the embers of the Dutch assault on Euro 2008. The spry Russians were tearing into the tiring Dutch.

Ooh I never saw that one.

Sunday after a day in the country at a friend's birthday party, I returned from delivering the hire car and getting the children into bed to see the crucial bits of Italy v Spain.

Oh how we love a penalty shoot out especially if you haven't been watching the game. Drama, tension, agony. And that's just putting the children to bed.

So Spain reign. Is this a forewarning of Wimbledon glory?

Who's to say. Rafael Nadal opens his campaign on Tuesday bidding to become the first man to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon back-to-back since Bjorn Borg in 1980.

Federer, going for a record sixth straight title, has stopped him twice before. Can he halt him again or will it be someone else? I can't live the anguish of ignorance.

Perhaps I exaggerate a bit. Actually quite a lot.

No football till the Turkey v Germay semi final on Wednesday. Can the tennis fill the void?

Friday, 20 June 2008

The Strike II

We're all back and booming at the radio station. It doesn't feel any different. But why should I expect that?

It was a good strike for me.

The German footballers are back and booming. Clearly their players had something of a strike during the match against Croatia which they lost. They were all on message during the quarter final against Portugal and won.

So the Germans into a semi final. What a surprise.

You want someone new to win. The Turks say.

As for someone new winning. The draw was made at Wimbledon today. All round super hero Roger Federer is due to meet the rising young gun slinger Novak Djokovic in the semis.

Everyone has got a theory on who will win. Bjorn Borg winner of five Wimbledon titles was holding forth at the French Open - which he won six times - and said that Rafael Nadal would win Wimbledon if he survived the first two or three rounds.

The soothsayer also said Federer would push Nadal close in the Roland Garros final. Well the following day we all witnessed a Federer catastrophe - a straight sets loss - which did nothing for Borg's clairvoyance.

Well if you set yourself up on the pundit's pedestal, you're going to get it wrong once or twice.

But anyone who'd been watching Nadal and Federer at the French would have known that Nadal was the likely lad.

My theory is that I'll have to see who looks more likely.

The Guardian football podcast pundit Sid Lowe, who's based in Spain, says the Spanish are nervous because they're playing Italy in the quarter finals at Euro 2008.

This is their worst nightmare because the Italians always find a way to beat the Spanish, he asserted.

So far the Spanish have been going great guns and the Italians only scraped through because the Roumanian's fluffed a penalty chance and the French were utterly abject in the final group game.

The Italians can't be that bad again whereas the Spanish are due a dodgy performance.

The same for the Dutch who've been destroying all foes in their path.

What would have been the odds two weeks ago on a Russia v Croatia final?

That would have been a good bet. But I'm not a betting man.

And rightly so, I need to save my pennies.

We could be all out on the street fairly soon.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Strike

In these football obsessed times, it might be assumed that this will be another incursion in 4-4-2. But no. It's real social beef on this occasion.

I am a striker for industrial action courses through my veins. I am bonded with thousands of other audio visual workers protesting against brutal plans to demolish our public funded brotherhood.

Well one man's reconfiguration is another accountant's annual bonus. So who's to know the truth of these issues? But at the heart of all the unrest are plans to scale down the language services at Radio France International and pump the cash into the France 24 TV station.

Somewhere there must be a logic but if you are at one of the threatened language services, this doesn't make you entirely happy.

There was a part of me that did not want to take this kind of trip during a big sporting occasion like the Euro 2008. My conspiracy theory is that it was called for June 18 as it would mean no one would have to report on France's abject failure at Euro 2008.

Yes the French team went out in a blaze of collective incompetence that perhaps is a metaphor for the proposed reconstruction of the audio visual world. But that's me veering to 4-3-3 territory.

How often have I toyed with the macro/microcosm? How often have I found signs on the ground? How often have I been proved right?

Well, while walking the streets today with one of my brood, I bumped into Manu - the wife of one of my mates. She was on the way to the Conservatoire with one of her brood who takes guitar lessons there. Though in a hurry, we still had the chance to say don't see you for months and then twice in two days. I'm on strike you see. My how we chuckled.

And off she went as I stood at the street corner to decide between Le Sporting or L'Atmosphere. Where to take the mid morning coffee. These are the visceral dilemmas of this debutant striker.

I opted for Le Sporting as the sun was beating down onto the terrace at L'Atmosphere and being a family man I could not have the children glazed. The father might be being braised by cruel, soulless capitalist forces, but the bairns shall survive.

Then while eldest child was reading her library book I phoned a woman whom we'd all got to know while she, her husband and son were staying in Paris last year.

Actually her son had bitten the boy in the park.

"Rachel, you sound busy..."

"We're just leaving..."

"To go out?"

"No for the airport...."

I established that her flat was within yards of Le Sporting, so while husband went out to look for taxi, I caught up with her, saw her boy and when I was joined by the rest of my brood, up they all went for a quick tour of the new flat.

When hubby returned with a taxi, I helped with the loading of the suitcases. Toil, honest sweat - these are the core values of the striver.

The point of relating this interlude?

When we left Le Sporting we bumped into Manu - don't see you for months now three times in two days?

This time there was time to chat.

And what else is there to talk about other than the defeat?

Well I said at least France got to the last 16 before their non performance. England didn't have the capacity to be humiliated at the tournament.

Manu said it would be great if the Turks won.


"Well Sarkozy doesn't want them to join Europe....."

That lass is on another track of radical subversion. But then she is a doctor.

I'm not bound by the Hippocratic Oath so the rebel in me now wants the Turks to win.

The audio visual world may be on the verge of devastation but the boss of it all may yet be thwarted.

Even if it is only by irony.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The Euro Glory I

How can a football tournament survive without England? Quite well seems to be the answer. They're having a laugh in Austria and Switzerland.

Both co-hosts out in the group stages. All together now, ahhh.

Should not be surprised really. But while a certain section of Austria were writing off their side's chances before a ball was kicked, the national team weren't humiliated in their games. Austria lost 1-0 tonight against Germany. If the score had been the other way, then the Austrians would have progressed.

It was not to be. Tuesday night should be fun. France have to beat Italy and hope that Roumania do not beat Holland.

Otherwise it's home time for the world cup finalists, who would have thought that possible.

It's a funny old game as one British footballer once remarked. After my own season with the right, how right.

Now where to watch the match that will grip a nation.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The End of the Affair II

It's probably the last match of the season coming up on Saturday. The football team has been relegated and all that's left is to consider whether Euro 2008 is any good without England or whether France can emerge from the Group of Death after having drawn their first game against Rumania.

I'm turning to tennis. I seem to be less upset after a tennis match. I've given up all hope in my hero Roger Federer. He's collapsing as extravagantly as he rose.

But I guess he is an old man. He'll be 27 in August. Give it up Roger you're over the hill. Go out gracefully let the young bucks take the centre stage.

Quite why I'm playing veterans football with that attitude beats me.

So the last game of the season is a friendly somewhere in the suburbs. The last official match of the season was on grass and I was abject. Perhaps I should not have played as I was probably thinking about the Roland Garros women's final. Not a good match for me, the football that is.

As I'm playing on Saturday morning, it means I'll have to forego the 'Sleep In' at the daughters' school on Friday evening There is anger over plans to increase class sizes, change the whole approach to schooling etc, so the parents are going to show their solidarity with the teachers by sitting in. Hurrah.

I suppose it is 40 years after the activities of 1968 and as this generation wasn't able to partake in all those social ructions this is as good as it gets.

I am reluctant to go and sleep in with people I hardly know even if the cause is beautiful. But then I should stop being all British and loosen up and get it on with these Latins.

Perhaps I'll try and save my flair for Saturday morning.

Monday, 9 June 2008

The End of the Affair

Wasn't that a book or film title? Honestly I'm now succumbing to a lack of originality. And that for me is the ultimate dishonour.

But it's been a tough two weeks at the French Open. The weather has been terrible and the tennis has been just marginally better. But it's all over. Only Ana Ivanovic's name is new in the annals of Roland Garros history. Roger Federer may not fulfill his wish to be cited among the glorious. Rafael Nadal is again the boss man.

Well clay is history now. Grass is the word, it's got groove, it's got meaning. For sure Federer won't be singing Sandy.

If only the Swiss could move like John Travolta.

But that's enough of the retro allusions

I headed into the radio station today to continue the work thang as there is now the Euro 2008 football to keep an eye on. Sadly no one from RFI's English service is going to this. Or should I say...sadly I'm not going to be cavorting around Austria and Switzerland.

Though from the France v Roumania match I saw earlier today, that's probably no bad thing.

I went round to my mate Robin to watch the Holland v Italy game. And I ventured forth with the eldest for there's no school on Tuesday. Her teacher is on strike over plans to increase class sizes.

The middle child's teacher is not taking industrial action so she has to go to school tomorrow and she seemed a bit upset that we were going out to watch the football.

I've promised her that we will go and see the late game in Group D on Tuesday night. This equity business is a killer.

Anyway the eldest played with her school chum at Robin's flat and indeed we all seemed to be profiting from the day of action.

After the game, I took my first born out for a drink because....why do we need to go to bed? Disorder has been heaped upon us so I stepped parentally into the role of Lord of Misrule. As we watched the night go past along our road, we discussed the joys of living in central Paris where we could go out to a bar just opposite where we live on a balmy June evening and avoid the cigarette smoke from all the people who are now forced to pursue their nicotine thang outside.

I got huge hugs from the eldest once we were home. After doing her ablutions, she came back and told me: ''It's 11.30." And there were a few more hugs and off to bed without a whimper or complaint (for she was probably tired and doubtless in shock and awe that I could be so lenient). My heart turned over and over.

There are days when I can't fault a strike.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Latest Quest X

To put it mildly, the quest ended very badly for Roger Federer and very well for Rafael Nadal. Nadal won his fourth straight Roland Garros title and Federer still goes on questing for a career grand slam.

I was trying to posit that Roland Garros is not Federer's time and place for history. Wimbledon perhaps is. He's won five titles there and might well win his sixth straight in a few weeks. Perhaps when all is said and done at the end of his career, that will be his defnining achievement and not the career grand slam.

Andre Agassi won Roland Garros in 1999 to complete a sweep, he won eight grand slam titles in all and that feat of all four is his legacy in the annals.

I've also been trying to suggest that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will both win at all four venues in their time but neither are likely to repeat Federer's feat of five straight Wimbledons or four straight US Opens.

I'd love Federer to win at Roland Garros but I just can't see it happening. Nadal has looked the part since the start of the fortnight and he mashed up Federer in the final in a way that Federer can't mash him up at Wimbledon.

Stephen Bierley, the Guardian's tennis correspondent said to me last year after Roland Garros that Nadal was getting closer to Federer on grass than Federer was getting to him on clay.

So far at the 2008 tournament, that's been well and truly borne out. In a few week's time we'll see part two of that assertion.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Latest Quest IX

The suits were assembled just in front of the net, the ball boys and girls had formed a guard of honour and there was an air of pomp and circumstance - no it wasn't the award ceremony for a final - it was the launch of Roland Garros dans la Ville.

Wind whipped through the open esplanade adjacent to the Hotel de Ville on which a full sized court had been constructed. And though it was unseasonably chilly for the beginning of June, that was a mere bagatelle for the idea is hot.

Hot. Clearly the product of some blue skies thinking with the aim of making tennis all touchy feely with the people.

Christian Bîmes, the president of the French Tennis Federation and Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, made their way past the logo laden goose-pimpled youths accompanied by the former players John McEnroe and Cedric Pioline.

Neither McEnroe nor Pioline ever won Roland Garros during their time on the circuit. McEnroe did win the US Open and Wimbledon a couple of times while Pioline was a runner up at Wimbledon.

But they all smiled for the cameras and while the players knocked up, the Chris and Berty show came to get touchy feely with the media.

They told the phalanx of microphones that it was all about making tennis accessible, giving the scores of disappointed people the chance to watch tennis collectively and maybe even inspiring some future champions. Well it costs nothing to hope.

And from Wednesday afternoon it will cost nothing to watch the matches as they'll be broadcast live on giant screens outside the Hôtel de Ville.

The start couldn't have come at a more opportune moment as Gael Monfils - the issue from the Parisian suburbs - was playing in his first grand slam quarter final. Sadly he was up against the fifth seeded Spaniard David Ferrer.

Of course the same match was on various TV channels but if you happen to be out and about, the giant screen at least affords a chance to stop off and catch up on the crunching and the grunting from way out west in the Bois de Boulogne.

There's also a mini-tennis court for the kids and a couple of stalls dishing out information about tennis and of course the history of Roland Garros, the second of the four grand slams.

I happened upon the French player Mary Pierce who actually has won Roland Garros and she was fulsome in her praise for the idea. Her favourite surface in the heart of her favourite city - maybe she'd been hanging for far too long with the Chris and Berty show.

But you cannot deny the thrust of her sentiments. I've watched a football match or two outside the Hotel de Ville, I can't remember anything about the games but I do remember it was a good experience.

You can't ask for more from a sport.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The Latest Quest VIII

In my sadly normal and law abiding youth, I used to follow the work of a couple of cartoonists - Chris Garratt and Mick Kidd - who went under the name Biff.

Their productions were invariably a light-hearted mockery of art-house cinema snobs, frustrated writers and pseudo-intellectuals. To a certain extent you had to have leanings towards these domains to appreciate the gist of the ribbing. So I loved it.

I was reminded of Biff while standing in the Maria Sharapova press conference on Monday night. For there was a woman of some 21 summers with 12 million dollars in prize money for having given the ball a good biff.

Unhappily for La Sharapova she had played against someone in the fourth round who also gave the ball a good tickling.

And so it will be the 13th seed Dinara Safina who takes to the court on Wednesday afternoon at Roland Garros in the quarter final.

Safina is the little sister of Marat Safin. He’s a former world number one. When he pulverised Pete Sampras in the US Open final in 2000, he was acclaimed as the future of men’s tennis.

Safin – a partying kind of chap – has only taken the 2005 Australian Open since that win and through an amalgam of injuries and attitude hasn’t fulfilled that prodigious promise.

But at times in matches you can see why everyone was drooling, controlled power, a wonderfully disguised double fisted backhand down the line and court presence.

Safina hasn’t got the same innate ability as her big bro but she’s worked hard and this season has achieved some notable wins – mainly the German Open in Berlin where she beat the then world number one Justine Henin as well as Serena Williams en route to lifting the crown.

Safina beat Sharapova here in 2006 coming back from 5-1 in the final set. This time Safina saved a match point in the second set and returned from a break down in the decider to oust the top seed.

At one point Sharapova annoyed the crowd by urging the umpire to come off the chair and check a mark. It was patently in and the people didn’t take too kindly to the gesture.

From then on they got on her back and cheered riotously for Safina. It’s the second time in as many years that the People have risen up to show their wrath.

Last year Sharapova upset the spectators for apparent gamesmanship during her fourth round match against Patty Schnyder.

In the press conference after that match…Sharapova famously commented that she wasn’t Mother Theresa. This time she was talking about being a competitor fighting for every point.

One journalist asked her if she cared about the hostile environment. She said hadn’t noticed it.

The player as hermetically sealed unit operating in a pocket of oblivion? Biff would have had a field day.

It’s a shame Akira Kurosawa is dead he would have been perfect to direct the metaphorical portrayal of a roaming player’s rise from the mean tennis courts of - say Russia to the brutal cauldron of the American hard court circuit. Blown to Blood would be a good title.

It would tell how opponents would be ritually dissected to the sound of cash registers and multiple sponsorship deals.

Then there could be a sequel - the Seven Linesman – a tale recounting how an errant mishmash of cynical officials stood up defiantly to an all conquering force questing for glory.

I like these possibilities better because the one she was suggesting at her press conference: tennis player alone in a volatile landscape is a mite too existentialist for me.

But then again this is Paris.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Latest Quest VII

Well Maria Sharapova won't be adding the French Open to her list of achievements for another year. She was beaten by Dinara Safin in the fourth round on Monday. It was more Sourpova in the press conference afterwards but I guess that's understandable.

The men's top seed Roger Federer did little to convince me that ultimate glory will be his come Sunday afternoon. He doesn't look the part.

The stunning news is that Jose Mourinho formerly of the parish of Chelsea is going to go over to Italy to coach Inter Milan.

Well I'm off following the Special One. Milan is one of my favourite cities - the missus used to live there and I can see a few trips back to visit the San Siro.

It's the best bit of sporting news I've read since Chelsea won the FA Cup under a certain Jose.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Latest Quest VI

Now Katerina Srebotnik is no more. She played a blinder to get past Serena Williams. But she was inconsistent against Patty Schynder. It's tough at the top. Schnyder is a cult hero on parislondonreturn for her stoicism. When Maria Sharapova resorted to gamesmanship last year at Roland Garros to get past her, Schnyder won our heart with her corrosive reductionism of the game's glamour girl.

Well anyway Patty is into the quarter finals. And we're entering the final stages of the tournament.

Back on Tuesday when it was pouring with rain and the schedule looked like an ant colony, it seemed we'd never get on. But a few days of blazing sunshine and you have there are wide open spaces and time.

Of course a sustained torrential downpour could ruin it all again.

But that's unlikely. My prognosis for the men's....whoever wins the Djokovic Nadal semi final clash. I know it's only Sunday afternoon, Nadal is still playing his last 16 match and then both of them have to get through their quarter final clash, but I haven't seen any sign of anyone having the game to beat either of them. Not even hero Roger.

Maybe it's his tragic destiny not to win all four grand slam titles. But with 40 million in the bank and counting, it's difficult to have torrential downpour of pity.