Monday, February 18, 2008


While I think of it, I booked some flights back to Melbourne last week. I'll be over there for the first two weeks of September. So if anyone is reading this back in Australia and if you'll be in Melbourne during that period, it'd be great to catch up ... Obviously I'll remind you closer to the date.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oh oh oh oh oh ooooooooooooh oh

I've always been a big football (aka soccer) fan, but in Melbourne the options for watching live matches were limited. In England, the home of football (aka soccer), there is no such problem. After being here for almost a year, I've been to matches at Villa Park, Wembley, Emirates stadium and, on Saturday, Anfield in Liverpool, surely one of the most storied sporting stadiums in the world. Thanks to my boss at work, I managed to pick up tickets to what was probably one of the least glamorous games to be played at Anfield this year - a 5th round FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Championship strugglers Barnsley. Who are Barnsley? Apparently, they hail from Yorkshire and actually have one FA Cup to their name, won back in early days of last century. Their most famous supporter is retired test umpire Dickie Bird. Until last Wednesday, they didn't have a fit goalkeeper other than a 12 year old boy from Wales who didn't so much keep goal as collect balls from the back of the net.

My boss' grand plan was that he'd send me to watch Liverpool smash these small-time gormless losers and I'd come home a Reds fan through and through. Shame that the best plans always go awry. Barnsley WON. Not only did they win, they won with the last kick of the game, literally. After 92 minutes of domination by Liverpool during which time Barnsley defended grimly and with passion putting bodies and, in one notable case, future prospects of fatherhood, on the line, the teams were locked at one-all. This of itself had the 6,000 Barnsley supporters moshing in the stands with excitement at the prospect of a replay in a week's time. Like all sensible Spaniards, the Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez didn't much fancy the prospect of a weekend in Yorkshire, so he threw on his big guns in the last 15 minutes, including Harry Kewell (my nominee for next year's Australian of the year) and Stevie Gerrard, Liverpool captain and all-round good guy. But it was to no avail, Harry smashed shot after shot directly into opposition players, eliciting much cheering and encouraging shouts of "Retard!" and "Idiot!" from the crowd. Stevie moved the ball around dynamically and put his team mates in great scoring positions, only to see the 12 year old Welsh goal keeper play a blinder and make a series of finger tip saves. It was great stuff. Then with seconds ticking away and the Liverpool players obviously keen to get back into their posh dressing rooms to enjoy a post match rub-down and bath complete with glass of Dom Perignon and a selection of female back-up dancers from the Spice Girls reunion tour, Barnsley attacked. First, they played the ball into Liverpool's penalty box where Sami Hyypia hacked the legs from under the Barnsley captain. It should have been a penalty! But it was in front of the Kop, Liverpool's most intimidating stand and the ref plainly had too much common sense to give away a penalty to the visitors at that point in the game. But Barnsley didn't give up, they won back the ball and just as the final whistle was about to ring out, their captain smashed a left foot shot into the bottom corner. There was pandemonium. The Barnsley fans were delirious. The Liverpool fans were disgusted. It was great.

So, anyway, I wasn't converted into a Liverpool fan - I prefer the Gunners for lots of reasons, one of which is that they win all the time - but I had a great time. Anfield is definitely a special place to visit and the crowd is as entertaining as the football (aka soccer). One abiding memory will be having pre-match drink at The Albert, which is a pub right around the corner from the stadium. It was packed full of Liverpudlian desperados singing songs about their team. They're creative and musical those Liverpudlians. My favourite was their ode to Javier Mascherano, one of their key playmakers. Mascherano isn't the easiest name to fit into a song, but they'd figured out that it rhymed with "oh" and, so the song "Oh oh oh oh oh oh oooooooh oh, Javier Mascherano-o" was born. Great stuff!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Questions from Portugal

I went to Lisbon last weekend and had a great time. The city was beautiful, the weather was warm and sunny and the company at the hostel where I stayed was great. But the weekend has left me with some questions.
  • When eating a whole sardine, do you also eat the head? I decided not to.
  • Why do some people travel to distant countries to stay in a youth hostel and then spend the whole day asleep? There was this German guy who stayed in the same dorm room as me. He was asleep in the room when I arrived to drop off my bags at around midday. He was still asleep when I came back to change before dinner. He woke up briefly and appeared in the common room for about an hour during the evening and then went to the room to sleep some more. He left the next day. Strange.
  • Why when I am on holiday in a strange city can I find my way around without a map but when I'm in my home town I always get lost?
  • Why do all the photos I take when on holiday feature either (1) buildings shown from a steep upwards looking angle or (2) views that consist mainly of horizon? Examples of both from my Lisbon trip appear below, but I have numerous others from lots of different places around the world. I obviously spend most of my holiday-time looking straight up or gazing at some non-specific distant point on the horizon.

On another note, I learnt a new word on the weekend - it's Portugese and I'm not sure how it's spelt but it sounds like "saldage" or "saldadge" or something like that. It means the feeling of missing somebody, which may be happy (like when you're reminiscing about a really good time you had on holiday with a friend) or sad (like when you're missing a family member who's passed away). I can't think of any direct translation in English, so I'm officially adopting it into the language. Is there a process that needs to be followed? Do I need to write to the OED or something like that?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Simple pleasures

I'm writing this post while lying back on my couch watching the Ivory Coast play Guinea in the quarter-finals fo the African Cup of Nations. Lounging around watching sports on TV is just the latest of life's simple pleasures that I've sampled today. First of all, I had a proper sleep-in. I arrived home last night a little bit late, more than a little bit drunk and dressed like a Maasai, so I was in need of a decent sleep. Unfortunately for me, my body clock is usually uncooperative and stops me from properly enjoying a Sunday morning snooze. But on this occasion I'd had enough alcohol to confuse the clock and I didn't roll out from under the doona until well past 10.30am. I didn't have any specific plans for the day, so I took my time over breakfast, waiting for the Shreddies to go properly soggy before tucking into the bowl. Nice.

When breakfast was done, I packed up my sports gear and trundled off up to Kilburn to pay a visit to the gym. Browsing through YouTube the other day I saw some fascinating footage of the sauna world championships (almost every activity can be turned into ao competition if you try hard enough), so I thought I'd have a crack at the old sauna myself. The idea of sitting naked and sweaty on a wooden bench in a small room with a bunch of other naked and sweaty men may not sound all that appealing and to, tell you the truth, it's not. But the beautiful thing about the sauna is that it's so unpleasant inside, it makes the outside feel much, much nicer. Nothing beats the first lungful of cold air after you've just left the sauna. The gym brochure advertising the sauna promised that it would promote an "overall sense of wellbeing". It's pretty accurate, because I did feel pretty damn good after leaving the sweatbox. On a side note, do you think it's weird to read a newspaper in the sauna? Everytime I've been there, there have been discarded newspapers lying around, but I've never actually seen anyone read them. Weird.

After leaving the gym, I wandered down to the shops to buy groceries for dinner and then stopped off at the hairdressers on the way back home. My route didn't take me past the Turkish barbers I usually go to, and the Caribbean barbers always charge a little bit more, so instead I opted for a little Indian "boutique" that I spotted down a side street. My hair isn't all that complicated to cut, so any barbershop that has a working set of clippers is good enough for me. And this particular shop had the added benefits of Bollywood musicals on the TV which my barber sang along to while cutting my hair. There was a canary in a cage singing in the background, and the sound of the bird combined with the TV, the barber's singing and the buzz of the clippers was surprisingly fun to listen along to.

When I finally made it back home I took a long nap before waking up to spend an enjoyable half hour or so watching a music video show entitled "What on earth were they thinking?" Watching terrible music videos is fascinating and surprising good fun. By this time, it was getting on a bit, so I started preparing dinner. Cooking wise, Jamie Oliver is my main man at the moment. I'm working through his Italian cook book and every recipe so far has been a winner. Today I made pork chops with sage, prosciutto and dried apricot stuffing. In Italian that turns out to be costolette di maiale con salvia. In my language, it means "delicious". For dessert I had fresh berries, yoghurt and honey.

And now I'm lying on the couch watching football. In a few hours, coverage of the Superbowl (the world's ultimate televisual experience) begins. Does life get any better? The only thing I'm missing at the moment is a nubile Egyptian princess to scratch my back when it gets itchy and feed me grapes. Actually, I do have some grapes in the fridge. Yep, this is pretty close to perfection.