Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Guildford return

I returned to Guildford on Saturday, not for a 10km this time, but to go for a nice long walk (6.2 miles!) with my girlfriend.

We had a lovely time exploring the route I had run at the time (more sedately of course) which involved a blood curdling screams at the sight of a wasp, hurting our necks through staring at a woodpecker in a tree, and arriving at the stunning views of St Martha's Church (see picture).

It's lovely escaping London for a while, even if only a few hours on a Saturday in another town only 30 minutes away. The novelty of seeing a bus that doesn't let you use your Oyster card (that symbol of TfL oppression) is never lost on me.

In the future, perhaps NFC technology will mean all buses will have a standardized computer system for ticket purchases so we are never without money to catch a bus, which would be handy.

Ironically, I had been set to run a 10km today but due to breaking my toe a couple of weeks ago, I was unable too. I am walking normally though, as my 6.2 miles jaunt evidences, but it'll be a little while yet before I strap on my running shoes again yet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arsenal, Barcelona, the global game and Spanish breakdown cover

My last post on my first premiership football game reminded me of a conversation I had with a taxi drive in Barcelona in mid-February that started around the time I was pondering what the Spanish for breakdown cover was.

This was because, you see, we were whooshing past an English number-plated car that was pulled up on the hard shoulder with its hazards flashing.

However, my taxi driver was far more interesting and helped me to really live through that old cliché: "football is a global language".

He was a very friendly chap, keen to talk about London because his beloved Barcelona FC were playing Arsenal that night (this was the first leg of the tie, remember) and he wanted to know if I supported them. I don't.

But, despite his enthusiasm to talk footyballs, he's English was not great, while my Spanish is non-existent. Yet, through names such as Messi, Rivaldo and Ronaldhino we were able to spend a fun twenty minutes discussing the best players the Catalan team had produced and I asked him what he thought of these great players he's seen.

He said was Messi is "electric", Rivaldo was a "great thinker" and Ronaldhino was a "magician". Magician had to be mimed through a charade-like performance of him mimicking pulling a rabbit from a hat.

I got it eventually and we both laughed at this in that lovely, 'overcoming-a-language-barrier-to-reach-common-understanding' way that foreign people do.

For my part I outlined my admiration for Messi by saying, in a lilting, faux-Spanish accent, "Ah, Messi, si, footbul, gol, gol, gol, gol, gol,", as in, he does score a lot of goals, doesn't he?

It was a great way to see that, despite all football's negatives (and there's been plenty recently), it really does provide a common platform that can bring people together from any background and give them something to talk about with enthusiasm and interest.

Oh, and cubierta de la interrupción is Spanish for breakdown cover.

P.S. for non-football fans I promise that's an end to this flurry of blogs on this topic.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Premiership football

I went to my first premier league football match last Saturday to see Fulham v Blackburn. It was a great game that ended 3-2 with a last minute penalty.

I've been to a few football matches around London, such as Arsenal Carling Cup games and saw Wales play various nations like Slovakia and so on in Cardiff, but to see a premier league game did feel different.

There was more of a frisson of excitement, more an air of being at an event that was of wide interest to those beyond the game because it's the premier league.

The fact I was there with a friend his three Canadian uncles who had traveled over for a few days traveling around to see as many live games as possible only underlines this.

The crowd was rather sedate, though. I mean, they cheered and chanted and all the rest, but the people in front of us where two couples, one with a baby, who chatted casually during the match.

In fact it seemed the two people to our left, a father and son pair I am sure, were the only "diehard" fans in our immediate vicinity who seemed to be make pronouncements to no-one about the games various goings on.

It's a nice ground, properly old and retaining the sense of history by being perched on the banks of the Thames and opposite a bunch of normal houses. Must be a bit of a pain for those living there every time Fulham play, but you probably know that's going to be an issue when you move in.

While I enjoyed the game and was very glad to have been and would go again at some point in the future, I still can't quite understand the passion of some people who would go week in, week out home and away to watch a game.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet thoughts

It seems sadly apt to be writing this blog post now, but I recently finished the latest novel from David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which is set in late 18th century Japan.

It concerns a tiny island in the habour at Nagasaki that's connected to the Japanese mainland through on which Dutch traders live as they conduct businesses with the nation – which otherwise bans all foreigners to enter, or natives to leave.

It's a great set up for a novel, and one you can imagine Mitchell stumbling upon and realising he could turn in to a great novel by combining the realities with his gift for very personal story-telling (historically the book is very accurate).

It's incredibly detailed and intricately told, with many characters and subtle discussions criss-crossing their way through the novel, which also includes a love story, an evil cult, a war and the rise of the British Empire.

I've read all five of Mitchell's novels now and this was definitely my favourite, for both its originality, and sheer breadth of interest and imagination – the combination of factually history mixed with excellent narrative is a winning formula, similar to Wolf Hall.

Incidentally I found a glaring typo in the version I had, with Jacob written as Jacon, so if any body wants a close reading book copy editor, you know where to find me (it's here, in case you didn't know).

It's sad now to think of this book, set on the coast of Japan, against the back drop of the horrible images coming from the nation in the wake of the almost incomprehensible devastation that has overcome the nation since last Friday's tsunami and earthquake.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


Long-time readers will remember I used to write a lot about Whales about 18 months ago, well I wrote about them a few times.

This was due to my reading the brilliant Leviathan by Phillip Hoare, being inspired to read Moby-Dick there after.

Anyway, this obsession led me to pitch a clip joint article for the Guardian's weekly online blog of the same name – which was duly published a few weeks ago. I just hadn't got around to writing obligatory post to give it another link in Google's massive search engine.

Anyway, click the link and enjoy.