Just the Ticket


Because I am a wonderful son to a doting mother and father, a couple of years ago I purchased 2 tickets to the ATP tennis finals, which is held each year at the millennium bivouac. Being in the lower order of the 2nd and last innings of their lives, they are unlikely to make the trip across London to Wimbledon, and The Tent is only up the road I thought I’d buy them the chance to watch Federer, Nadal, Sour Faced Jock and the rest. They’d love it, thought I. My mum was especially looking forward to it. Being a woman she doesn’t follow real sport so it’s good to get her something she does understand and enjoy. The hairdressers and Bluewater were shut.

So I forked out the considerable sum (I told you it was a while ago) one pays for such event and secured two tickets for the opening night. On the menu was a men’s doubles game, the Scotch geezer vrs Soderling, then a mixed doubles match and lastly Rafa Nadal vrs everyone’s favourite cheating Serb, Novak Djokovic. I’d present to them the tickets, and shortly after receiving my “Son of the Year” award, I would drop mum and dad off as close to the Greenwich landmark (I was living but a couple of miles away then) go home, have a meal, watch a movie, maybe even grab a couple of zeds before it’d be time to pick up the parents again.

All went well at first. Yes, they loved the gift, and were thrilled that they were to see both Djoko and Jocko. On the day, I delivered them to as close to the gate as I could, I then drove home, shoes off and mused about what The Incumbent and I were gonna have for dinner. I suppose it would have been around 4pm. At about 6.10 my phone went. It was mum.

“We’re ready to come home now, Mike” she said.
“What ??” says I. “They can’t have finished four matches in two hours ?”
“No, we’ve been thrown out” she replied, as if that would answer all my questions.
“Thrown out ?” I couldn’t believe it. I started wondering who dad had had a row with for them to be ejected. He can be a bolshie bastard at times. Thanks god I take after mother.

Further investigation and interrogation revealed that the tickets I had bought (a snip at £80 each) were for only the first two matches of the day. “The afternoon session”. I felt such a fool. I should have known from the cheap cost of the seats that one couldn’t expect to pay a mere £160 and see a whole day’s play.

I was fuming. I cannot relay to you effectively just how angry I was. Letters and emails were sent (mum likes writing a shitty letter too) and we all vowed there and then never to darken the Dome’s door again. (I have since broken this vow about 6 times, but at the time I meant it.)

I’ve calmed down now. Really I have. I only bring up the whole sordid story as I was sent just now an email by my old pal Philip who is, shall we say a tad miffed about similar money-grabbing schemes of the water in Olympic Park (“never!” I don’t hear you cry). I’ll let Phil tell the story :

“…[there’s] the shocking revelation that we have failed to buy all the tickets made available in the latest release. Apparently we have passed up on 300,000 and are no longer the greatest sports lovers on the planet. The real shock is how they are getting away with chopping up the sporting day into tiny little parcels are thereby selling the same seat 6 or 7 times a day. You can spend £450 to watch an hour and 5 minutes of moistened bints falling from the high board in the Aquatic centre. 

Tuesday
31 July 2012 
15:00-16:05
Diving Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform Final

Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform Victory Ceremony

Session Code: DV003 Aquatics Centre
£450.00 – AA

£295.00 – A
£185.00 – B
£95.00 – C
£50.00 – D
 
Or if you fancy a bit of Robin Hood at Lords you could pay £65 for a team elimination session that starts at 9 finishes at 10.40 in the morning. You’ll be back out on the pavement before the boozers have even opened.  
Saturday
28 July 2012 
09:00-10:40 Archery Men’s Team 1/8 Eliminations

Session Code: AR003 Lord’s Cricket Ground  £65.00 – A

£45.00 – B
£30.00 – C
£20.00 – D
 

Un-fucking believable.  Athletics is even worse – not that there are any tickets to be had for that. But if you did somehow get that Willy Wonka magic ticket you could easily get lost inside the stadium and get to your seat just in time to meet the bloke who had next use of it settling in.”

And you thought it was just me. Thanks Phil. I know somewhere you can buy a great T-shirt to make your feelings known.

In my mum and dad’s case, dad had just returned to his seat carrying two £7.50 sandwiches, where an overall-dressed worker was cleaning up and clearing away the discarded cups and wrappers from the first session.

“You might as well leave that, mate, we’re still sitting there” pater informed the cleaner.
“No, sir, you have to go now”

Oddly, an argument ensued, ending with dad attempting to insert a subway baguette into an o2 official.

I can’t understand why people get so upset.

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Give Me your Tired, your Poor, your Huddled Masses


David Beckham came into this world on May 2nd 1975. By my reckoning that makes him 35 years old. When Fabio Capello told the media that Mr Beckham no longer featured in the England manager’s plans for the future, newspapers front pages and tv news bulletins went bananas. Some called it a disgrace that Golden Balls had not even received a phone call to tell him of his forced retirement, others pointed out he was a 35 year old recovering from injury and was clearly past it. On the other hand, there were those that said Beckham was sill the best crosser of a ball in the country. Then again, The Daily Express predicted that Beckham’s retirement would effect house prices.

This week Liverpool have been trying to re-sign Sami Hyypia from Bayer Leverkusen, but the Germans want to keep hold of the 36 year-old. A few weeks ago Capello thought 40 year old David James was the best goalkeeper in England. Fabio is 60-odd so we can put that down to dementia.

Paul Scholes was born on November 16th 1974. Scholes was recently awarded the man-of-the-match prize when his team Man Utd beat Chelsea at Wembley for the Community Shield, whatever that is. In a pitch-side interview after the game, Scholes was asked if there was any point Capello calling his to select him for England duty. “Probably not”, smiled the meek Scholes.

Like Scholes, Marcus Trescothick withdrew his services from his national team well before time. The brilliant opening batsmen for Somerset and England retired from international duty at the ripe old age of 31, citing manic depression and an unwillingness, nay incapability to travel, preferring to play county, not country. A good decision for him and his family, a potentially disastrous for the England team, as four years on Marcus is one of the most destructive and successful batsmen on the professional circuit, proving an old man can still play professional sport, even with two black labradors strapped to his legs.

Temporarily free of black dogs chasing me around the outfield, I again took to the field yesterday at the grand old age of 45¾. I dunno how Scholesie, Trescothickie and Beckhamie keep fit enough to run round around at the weekend, but Bealingie was more than a little fatigued after throwing down 9 overs of assorted rubbish. Both ankles, both knees and a hip were (and are) screaming out for mercy, and the fat, overripe pumpkin which passes for a head on top of my shoulders was in danger of meltdown.

The two Kiwis and one Aussie in our team were genuinely concerned as to my wellbeing. But from my position of all fours at fine leg, and between retches, I indicated I was fine and that I always looked like this. Elsewhere on the field, the two lads from Bangladesh lads were struggling to contain their amusement. Surprisingly, I’ve let my Bangladesh vocab slip of late, but by the way they were doubling up, puffing their cheeks out and pointing at me, I suspect they weren’t discussing field placements. Having said that, I understood little more of what the antipodeans were chortling about. “Here, mite, you seck?” Now what the fuck does that mean?

Our team, as you can see, is a cosmopolitan affair. It always was a rather rag-tag bunch of hack journalists, retired hacks, wannabe hacks, mates of hacks, mates of hacks’ sons. But over the past couple of years we’ve widened our net to include brothers and cousins and mates of mates of sons of hacks. Anyone really. It’s sad, as what started out as a journalists’ team can no longer raise 11 good men and true from it’s own ranks to enable us to put out a side every Saturday. Journalists get sent away on assignment, work weekends and work shifts. Sometimes the skipper would make 70 phone calls to try to raise a side, but to no avail. Hence the need for outsiders or ‘ringers’ to fill the breach.

The great thing about it, of course, is that the wider your net the more chance of including men that can actually play the game. And this has certainly proved to be the case for us. We take no notice of nationality, creed or colour. Just as long as you can wield a bat, throw a ball and run around for a bit then you are in. If you can actually catch a ball you’ll probably be made captain. If you buy a round after the the match, Life President. Complete arses need not apply. We’ve had a couple of infiltrators but they’ve been spotted and weeded out before they could do too much damage. They’re easy enough to spot:- they don spirally caps, old school tie as a belt, play for themselves not the team, buy their own beer, drink halves – you know the sort.

So yesterday, for example, we took to the field with 2 Kiwis, 1 Aussie, 2 Bangladeshis, 5 Englishmen and a Welshman (he has to play – he’s the skipper). There’s a few more New Zealanders, Strines and a couple or Welshmen who also play regularly, making us quite a little League of Nations. And you know what ? We’ve started winning games. A lot of games. Winning a lot of games very well indeed. Yesterday we beat The Times by ten wickets. A complete stuffing. Broke my heart, well almost.

The English Cricket team is full of South African ringers at the moment and seems to be doing ok. The New Zealand All Blacks have more than their fair share of Pacific Islanders drafted in to bolster their number and no-ne seems to mind. There have been a couple 6ft 6″ ginger Antipodeans representing Japan at rugby over the years, Aussie cricketers with Afrikaans accents, assorted Africans running for Denmark at the Olympics, Canadians masquerading as British tennis players. Half the Scottish rugby team would be more at home in Dunedin than Dundee (mind you, who wouldn’t ?).

So it seems Flags of Convenience are de rigueur. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you were born, you can play for who you like, if you can demonstrate you will actually improve the national side you’re bidding for. Would Mikel Arteta be a welcome addition to the England football team ? He has apparently made himself available to Fabio Capello. He made 12 appearances for Spain, his country-of-birth, at under-21 level but none as a senior pro. You gotta believe (as he obviously does) that at 28 he’s obviously missed his chance to do so. So now he’s offering England his services. Does Fabio choose him over all the young English lads who are striving to make the grade in their own country ? Do we embrace him as one of our, as we did with Greg Rusedski, Kevin Pietersen, or Zola Budd (another Daily Mail triumph) ?

Would we be happier winning nothing with our own nationals, or winning everything (maybe) with these sporting mercenaries ? It’s all a matter of personal taste and judgement, I guess. Personally I’d rather have an old Scholes, a past-his Becks, or a Manic Marcus, than a fit-but-foreign Zola, Mikel or Kevin. But, if it’s all the same to you, I wanna keep our Aussies and Kiwis to help us stuff The Times at cricket one Saturday every summer.

Spanish Stroll


Don’t you love getting sprayed with someone else’s waste product when you’re standing at a urinal ? I know I do. I was standing at the trough the other evening, resplendent in my ever-present summer shorts, when a fella came into the pub toilet to begin his business. Now I don’t know what he produced from his fly (I’m far to polite to look) but by the feel of the mist that started to cover my right leg, I suspect it was some sort of steam lance.

He was presumably in a hurry to force it out and finish quickly as he started after and finished before me then returned to the bar before I had time to zip up. I stood there, thoroughly dejected with damp leg and one moist tennis shoe. If you think it’s tough washing your shin in a pub toilet basin, try cocking that leg up to the nozzle of the hand-drier, then come up with a plausible explanation as to what you’re doing to the next bloke that comes in for a pee.

I suppose I might have pointed out the error of his ways to my urinary assailant while he was imitating a garden sprinkler, but being a lover not a fighter I didn’t want to get into a fist fight with a man who not only was a good deal larger than me (in nearly every department) and who’s fist were covered in wee.

I should have asked him what he was up to for the net week as I could do with him in my garden. We’re off for a week, taking the herberts to Spain and I need someone to water the plants while I’m away. With a natural talent such as his, my chillies, carrots and peppers would be sure to get a good watering. As it is, I am relying on my parents to pop over and administer the watering can to the veg patch, and at least that way my produce won’t have a faint lager aftertaste.

So the annual trip with the four kids has arrived and, as usual, I’m pottering around Railway Cuttings making sure I have everything I will possibly need for the holiday, and all the time taking my mind off the fact I have to get on a plane in the morning (why is there always a plane crash somewhere in the world just before I go to Gatwick?).

At the moment, the suitcase list reads (in order of importance): Medical bag; loo roll; passport; tea bags; playing cards; cribbage board; iPod; reading matter; money (if applicable); TomTom; swim shorts and clothes.

You’ll notice I have not felt the need to include a Spanish phrase book. The kids tell me that at least two of them have a working knowledge of the language, but more importantly I fear that fluent cockney, brummie and scouse are the dominant languages where we’re going. I’m less likely to use “Dos cervezas, por favor” than I will “‘scuse me mate, can you shut the fuck up?”. I’m expecting to see many more signs for Ye Olde Red Lion than I will Vino y Tapas. Fish n chips and a cup of tea are likely to be the local delicacies, rather than chorizo, paella or Rioja.

Yes, the Inglés will be there in force and I thank the little baby Jesus that we have booked a villa and pool all to ourselves so I need be nowhere near them. Last year in Italy we stumbled across very few Brits and bloody marvellous it was too. I’m not sure we’ll be so lucky this time round. So the plan (well, my plan anyway) is to spend a goodly amount of time stocking up in the local supermarket then eating and drinking ourselves stupid around the pool. Give me a German, an Italian, a Frenchman or even a Spaniard to chat to at the bar and I’ll be as happy as Larry (depending on how happy Larry is, of course), but I find it hard to embrace my compatriots as they try to Anglicise the world. Maybe I’ll pretend to be Australian ? Maybe not.

If we do find ourselves outside the confines of our villa we shall be vigilant. The first sign of a pair of Union Jack shorts on the beach and we will retreat to base camp; any Barnsley bullshit that they “don’t do a decent pint of bitter over here” will result on us leaving the premises; 18-30 holiday rep organizing foreskin-drinking contests will be kept out of sight of the children and, more importantly, me. I have very low tolerance and embarrassment levels when it comes to the English abroad and look forward to avoiding any pink, tattooed nause from Nottingham holding court in a bar and giving us his thoughts on football or motor racing.

All that aside, I’m thoroughly looking forward a week with the kids and won’t let anything detract from it. Bring on the San Miguel, the gambas pil pil and the Tortillas. Bring on the large scotches in Gatwick and bring on a smooth and scream-free flight. At least there won’t be a bloke giving me a free shower in the plane’s khazi.

Oh, Olé!

The Rock Hitters


Well what did you expect ? A sporting contest ? A great spectacle ? A fair fight ? It was a fight but it didn’t look very fair to me. Last time I saw anyone drop-kicked in the chest Kent Walton was commentating on it. I, like so many others, turned up at the pub to watch it, not giving a monkey’s who won, just as long as I watched a great match. Ok, ok, so nobody wanted Arjen Havey Robben to win, but apart from that I was pretty uncaring as to the final result. By the end I was pleading for the bald Tyke with the whistle to send any or all of them off, and to be fair to Mr Webb, he did his level best. If that was soccer’s showpiece I think I’ll start watching showjumping or women’s tennis (no, not really).

So I woke up this morning feeling pretty flat (silent ‘l’), in need of something to cheer me up. The sun had disappeared after a week of sweltering weather here in Railway Cuttings, my body aching like buggery from my sporting excursions on Saturday (yes, I survived) and still no signs of any work on the horizon. Still, there was cricket on the telly today, and the Open Golf Championship is only a few days away.

So, I turn the tv on for the cricket, except there isn’t any. Rain in Birmingham had delayed the start of the England vrs Bangladesh match. Since you ask, it’s the deciding match in a 3-match series, which on Saturday saw The Tigers beat England for the first time ever. Saw the highlights on Sunday morning and it was a terrific encounter, full of passion, guts and sportsmanship with a fantastically entertaining finish. A bit like the football apart from the passion, guts and entertainment. It was also conspicuous for the lack of chest-high attacks by the wicket keeper on the batsmen.

So with no sport to broadcast, SKY reverts to lengthy chats and analysis and serveral, long commercial breaks. I notice HSBC have re-released that great advert where the Russian washing machine salesmen is sent to India to find out why the company sales are doing so well down there. Superb ad, not least for the music, so I went searching for it. Meandering my way through Itunes, various forums and Youtube I bagged myself Eena Meena Deeka by Asha Bhosle (bear with me) which got my feet tapping, with the occasional Bollywood sideways nod of the head (currently one of the few movements my frail body will allow). The lad in HSBC’s ad agency who found this deserves a house point. (Now there’s a job I could do.)

But the real prize was the video below. There’s so much to enjoy here, from the trumpet which sounds suspiciously like 3 clarinets, to the magnificent performance by the singer, called Kishore Kumar I believe. He out-Ronnie Barkers Ronnie Barker. Never mind The Bay City Rollers or the Flip Flop guy, this is a true classic. I’ll be singing it all day, but I’ll do myself a mischief if I attempt the dance.

A 10-Point Plan for Real Reform


Now that Gideon Osborne has apparently ended the recession (the jury is still out, of course) , here’s my cunning plan which would really make life worth living in this country. This is no death-bed conversion, this is a manifesto years in the planning, months in the consultation, hours in its plagiarism and minutes in the typing. I give you:

A SPORTING CHANCE

1. Association Football

Can I suggest what all us egg-chuckers have been pleading for for some time now?: A yellow card means being sent to the Sin-Bin. Let’s see how long Jose or Arsene and their like will put up with playing with 8 men for 10 minutes. It’d take two weeks before all that swearing at the ref, formation falling-over and waving pretend cards at the ref ends in a melee of teacups at half-time. Bring back the orange ball and all games to be played at 3pm on Saturdays.

2. Golf

I propose two innovations to the PGA and European tours:
a) Dickouts:Any player not making the ladies tee with his drive, or more realistically in professional golf, driving the ball out-of-bounds from the tee should play the rest of that hold with his willy out.
b)Gotchas: Each player will have two Gotchas per round (one on the front nine and one on the back.) This allows anyone to shout “Gotcha” at the top of his playing partner’s backswing, in an attempt to put that player off his stroke. (The reader will note that a Gotcha often results in a Dickout). Tiger Woods will be exempt from Dickouts as it’s felt he’s been playing that game for far too long for his own good.

3. F1 Motor Racing

Before each and every Grand Prix, water tankers on corners 1, 5 and 7 should be emptied onto the track every 10th lap, thus ensuring some form of mild entertainment in the form of, dare I say, overtaking, would occur, thus eliminating the boring processions witnessed in Dubai, Barcelona and probably Monaco. In times of drought, the water could be replaced by oil sourced from the gulf of Florida. BP could do with a hand with getting rid of some anyway. Also only one pit open at any time. If you mis-time when you come off for new tyres or fuel, queue like the rest of us poor sods have to.

4. Athletics: 100 Meters

Let’s stop worrying about drugs. Come one, come all. Stick into your veins or up your nose whatever you like before you compete. Can’t wait to see your head pop off after 75 meters. It’ll give Sue Barker something else to talk about and Brendan might even sober up.

5. Rugby Football (League)

Northern rugger chaps: Let’s get of rid of your pointless, lame scrums.How about a nice hand of rummy instead ? Or maybe Rock/Paper/Scissors ? It’d more competitive. Oh, and play rugby during the winter months.

6. Rugby Football (Union).

Banned: Yellow cards, red cards, lifting in lineouts. Reinstated: Wheeling in lineouts, lifiting in scrums, 16-man punch-ups, touch-judges in blazers. Let’s get back to when you got a slap for cheating, not a yellow card. Second Row: if you don’t want to jump in the lineouts, ask for a ladder. Opposition props would then be allowed to shake it at the base to put you off your catch. Hookers: Our jumpers are in the same colour shirts as the one you’re wearing.

7. Snooker/Pool

Bring back heavy smoking and drinking for that real pub atmosphere. Encourage drunks in the crowd to shout “How much fucking longer are you two gonna be, mate ?” TV Adverts only allowed when it’s one of the players turn to go to the bar to buy a round for him and his opponent. If he hasn’t been served by the time the ad break is over, have another ad break. Also, one side of the table must be no further than 1 meter away from the wall. A half-length or child’s cue will be in a rack (underneath the dartboard) for when the cue-ball is near the cushion.

8. Tennis

Exile all TV coverage to UK Living. It’s not proper sport.

9. Darts

See 7.

10. Cricket.

Get rid of the dancing girls, helmets and pyjamas and wear white flannelled trousers. All games to last a minimum of three days. Uncover the pitches, give the bowlers a chance again. Give all cricket coverage back to the BBC and Channel 4. Also, compulsory South African lineage for all England cricketers. If you’re not called Pietersen, Kietvanwesser or Van der Kochderschmidt, fuck off: we don’t need you any more.

So there you have it. A sensible manifesto for a sensible country. A grand coalition of ideas.

VOTE BEALING, VOTE OFTEN