Thursday, 10 July 2014

World Cup

What a great World Cup it's been ! The Group stages were full of thrilling matches, the most memorable being Holland's games against Spain and Australia. Then, in the last 16, Brazil escaped elimination against Chile by the width of a goalpost, and Costa Rica v Greece was packed with incident, especially after Costa Rica went down to 10 men. Columbia scored two fine goals against a toothless Uruguay.
Most memorable of all was Belgium v USA. Both teams went for all-out attack, and Tim Howard pulled off loads of great saves. In the second period of extra time the USA started two down, yet pulled one back and found the stamina to keep on pressing. Their courage was amazing and they deserved to reach penalties.
The quarter-finals were disappointing apart from Costa Rica's bravery against Holland. The antics of the Dutch keeper in the shoot-out were a disgrace. But the semis were the real deal. Last night Holland and Argentina played 120 mins of gripping technical football, unsulllied by anything as vulgar as a shot on target . Argentina deserved to win as they were the more positive side. On Tuesday, by contrast, Brazil became the tragic heroes of the tournament. Their act of conceding 4 goals in 6 minutes symbolised so many things - by falling apart so completely and utterly they played out the drama of the collapse of western capitalism and also the trainwreck which my own life has been in the past three years. From the heights of 1970 and 1982 to the utter disintegration of Tuesday  - it was truly cathartic to witness. Socrates would have been proud.
It's been a horrible year - domestic hassles, legal nonsense, and problems with my eyes. The World Cup has been a brief glimmer a light for me. I trust that the remaining two matches will provide a suitable ending to a truly historic tournament.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


I'm writing this on the Sunday evening prior to returning to work on January 6th. I'm a bit apprehensive about the New Year as there's a new storage heater waiting to be fitted, and my bathroom is going to be re-done on Jan 13th. I'm hoping that it all goes ok and that further hassles do not arise.

Apart from my amazing US and Paris trips, the last three years have been sheer hell. I've lost nearly everything - my wife, my house, 58% of my pension, and a lot of money besides. Winter is a very hard time when you're stuck on your own in a Studio Flat without friends. I'm not a practical man and find many aspects of living alone frightening. I will probably need to resort to Valium to get through the winter.

However over the last few months I have found a bit of the old "bounce" returning. I want to find one or two social things to get involved in, and will be having some golf lessons in the Spring. I do need to do something about all the CDs I've got in the place - there are simply too many for a one-room flat. I plan to have a comprehensive "spring-clean" done on the place and then maybe have a Cleaner in for a few hours a week to get the place a bit better. I do have the occasional cleaning spurt but what with a full-time job and my natural laziness I really do not keep up.

Most of my music listening at the moment derives from my September US trip. In particularly I'm really into Minneapolis bands like The Replacements and Husker Du. In the mid-eighties these were probably the best bands in the world. It was such an experience to stay in Minneapolis and drive round Minnesota. The weather was nice and sunny then, especially when I visited Duluth - but it will be very wintry at the moment.

So what do I want to happen this year ? Basically I just want to do my best at work and look for something to change in my personal life. The isolated life I've been living for the last three years is grinding me down.  

Sunday, 22 September 2013

September 22nd - San Fran Airport

I am writing this in the departure lounge at San Francisco airport. I spent most of this morning looking for a reasonably-priced watch as my previous one had broken. This was not easy in the Downtown district as it's full of plush shops. Eventually I found a cheapo department store called Ross and found one there for 50 dollars. I went into Rasputin on Powell Street and spent a fair bit on CDs. Then it was back to the Deli store for lunch.
I am very much looking forward to getting back now, and this will certainly be the last of my solo US trips. Now that I'm settling into (or am resigned to) my new life I am keen to re-build things in England rather than keep escaping to the US. And I am rather tired of travelling alone. I have met some very nice couples here - last night I got talking to Jim and Katherine outside the hotel. Katherine comes from Macon, which I visited on this trip. Jim comes from Atlanta and is a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, whose music I was playing a lot when in Georgia. They were impressed with my tales of my month-long drive of two years ago. But nice as all this is, it would be nice to be part of a couple myself with maybe Grandkids on the way. If I ever become a grandfather things will be complicated by the divorce.
The weather here is bright and sunny - I dread to think what it's like in England. Whatever, I will not be putting the heating on until November ! It will be nice to have a few pints of good old English bitter after the stuff I've been drinking here. There will also be the new Roy Harper album to look forward to as I pre-ordered it before I left !
The As have clinched their place in the play-offs ! At last I have a team to support which wins ! (unlike poor Palace at the moment).

Saturday, 21 September 2013

September 21st - The As

Went to see Oakland Athletics this pm. They beat Minnesota 9-1 and didn't need their final innings as they batted second. Their batting was quite awesome, and they scored 5 in the second innings. Minnesota only managed a single home run in the fifth (the Oakland crowd booed this, which I thought was a bit unsporting as Oakland were always going to win - but I suppose that Americans don't cheer the underdog as we English do). The game was meant to start at 1, but didn't begin until after 3 due to the rain. While we waited I got chatting to a lovely couple called Larry and Kathy who live up in the mountains near Yosemite. Kathy said that they get bears coming to the window, which would terrify me. They grew up in the valley and are lifelong As fans - they say that the atmosphere at the Giants is so bad that many Giants fans now come and watch Oakland. I found the same friendly reception when I came to the As before - As fans are great and they're my team ! They will almost certainly now be in the play-offs for the World Series.
I had a good seat, and in front of me was a real all-American family - Mom and Dad and four small boys, all As fans. Mom was such a lively person and dealt so lovingly with the boys. Dad was quieter and focussed more on the game. For me they epitomised the friendly family atmosphere that they have at Oakland - a bit different to when my son and I go to Palace. The English tend to be either middle-class and cold or working-class and loutish. The one English quality I do like (and value in myself) is a sense of restraint, understatement, and self-deprecating humour - you don't find that over here !
The day didn't look promising initially. After breakfast at a Diner on the corner of Sutter and Powell it started to rain, and I wondered whether the game would be on. I wandered round Macy's for a bit to keep dry and had an orange juice in the hotel. I then decided to go to Oakland anyway, and the concierge was very helpful re the Bart trains. So off I went, got my ticket at the stadium (35 dollars), ate some extortionate but nice hot-dogs - and then the rain started up again ! But it stopped by 3 and the afternoon became dry and sunny.
So I've fulfilled my dream of seeing the As again ! A perfect end to the holiday. Tomorrow I shall check out of my room and wander round the local shops. A great CD shop called Rasputin is nearby, so I just might make a couple of last-minute purchases ! Then I leave for the airport after lunch and the flight is due to leave at 18:50. I was pleased this evening to be able to change my seat from a middle seat to an aisle seat - ten hours stuck between two people would have been a bit cramped ! (Woody Allen said that sex between two people can be a wonderful thing - you just have to find the right two people to get between).
My next blog will be back in England in my little Studio pad. I'm not looking forward to the English winter, but I am a bit homesick now. Travelling in the US so much in the last couple of years has helped me to appreciate the good things about my own country - however much Thatcher, Blair, and the Coalition have messed it up.                   

Friday, 20 September 2013

September 20th - Frisco Day 2

Went round the corner for breakfast as the hotel restaurant is pricey. Initially they brought me the wrong meal, but this was soon corrected and it was delicious. I then went to Union Square and caught the "drop on / off" open-top bus, which takes you on a two-hour trip round the city. We went through the Tenderloin district, so named because the police had to be given extra money to patrol it, and they would spend this on better-quality meat ! I stayed on until we reached the Natural History museum in Golden Gate Park.
I went into the museum. There were some extraordinary fish tanks with creatures of all different shapes and colours. I was reminded of Ringo's "Octopuses' Garden" off Abbey Road. There was some very well-presented material on evolution - all totally fallacious of course as everyone knows that God created all the species simultaneously 4000 years ago, but well-presented nevertheless. That reminds me - yesterday at Fisherman's Wharf there were some Christians selling Bible Study pamphlets. Now I am fascinated by The Bible and know it pretty well, so I got talking to them about the book of Revelation (one of my faves). We had a good old chat about the pre-millenium Rapture. As I went off I passed the usual down-and-outs that you see round here - and it bothered me that I didn't stop and try to help them. These deadbeats would once have been innocent young boys playing with their mates and looking forward to what life has to offer. It doesn't take much for someone to slip into homelessness over here, and England is pretty much just as bad. I also reflected (with sadness, guilt, and anger) that my own children are now the products of a broken home. One of my aims when I get back is to find better ways of helping the disadvantaged in our society.
Back to today - after leaving the museum I had lunch and read for a bit, before making my way to Haight Ashbury and Amoeba records. There I bought 2 Galaxie 500 CDs, plus Robyn Hitchcock's Respect, Randy Newman's Trouble In Paradise, and a Quicksilver Messenger Service live 1968 double CD. I popped into Land Of The Sun, where I get my San Fran t-shirts, but nothing caught my fancy. I then bought a Patterson Hood solo album in Rasputin - the album is all about his divorce, so I should have a good time with that one !
Having completed my purchases I walked all the way back to the hotel, which took 1.5 hours. This gave me a chance to see streets I haven't visited before - I really do know my way around here pretty well now. The architecture here never fails to yield new pleasures.
Tomorrow is my last full day. It is great to be in 'Frisco but I doubt whether I will return unless it is with a partner. One slightly unfortunate aspect of it is that I'm not in the Holiday Inn at Fisherman's Wharf - when you're there breakfast is thrown in as part of the deal and you meet people. This hotel is more of a business facility and I haven't really got talking to anyone. One the plus side, the room is very high-tech and has a fridge. In general I am feeling homesick for England now, which didn't happen on previous trips. I take this as a sign of progress in my recovery from the last two terrible years - when I was over here before it was such an escape from things at home, but now my own life is starting to come together a bit.
I'm going to have a great last day tomorrow - the "As" are playing tomorrow lunchtime and I'm going along. It's due to be raining here, so going to watch the baseball will round things off perfectly.        


September 19th - Frisco

Walked down from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf to have breakfast at Denny's and then attend the meeting with the Virgin rep. Arranged a tour into Marin County for the afternoon and then a two-day pass on the open bus tour for the following two days. For the rest of the morning I stayed in the Fisherman's Wharf area, where I saw some sea-lions squawking, swimming, and fighting in a confined space of water just outside Pier 39. The weather - unusually for round here - was very bright and sunny.
After lunch I queued up for the coach trip and was a bit peeved at having to wait in the hot sun for half-an-hour. Eventually the coach turned up and off we went. We drove down Lombard Street to Golden Gate Bridge and then over into Marin County. We turned off Highway 101 onto Highway One, and the views were spectacular as we climbed the hills. We stopped for an hour at Muir Woods, which had some huge Redwood Trees with wide trunks which stretched up nearly 300 ft. The area was very peaceful and I would never have driven there on my own, so it was well worth paying for the coach.
On the way back we stopped in Sausalito. This is a small town by the shore which is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Fleetwood Mac recorded the "Rumours" album here, gorging on cocaine while they sang about their various broken relationships. Otis Redding wrote "Dock Of The Bay" there. Then we drove back and I was dropped off on the corner of Lombard and Fillmore. I walked uphill along Fillmore - good exercise in 'Frisco - to find the cinema I was planning to watch a film at.
I saw a film called "Ă„fternoon Delight", which was a slightly raunchy marital comedy / drama - a sort of film version of what I imagine "50 Shades Of Grey" is like. On the way out a couple of middle-aged ladies remarked that it wasn't as "earthy" as they were expecting - I dread to think what they usually watch ! Maybe I should write a book about the Pay and Grading review at work called "50 Grades Of Pay". Anyway, the film was quite amusing and the cinema facilities were excellent.
Caught the 38 bus straight back afterwards. Quite an active day !        

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

September 18th - to Frisco

Spent today travelling from Minneapolis to 'Frisco. Started with breakfast at Al's again, then packed up and left the hotel at 10:30. Had a lot of hassle finding a garage near the airport to fill up. The satnav directed me to a place on the ring road - however it was on the other side of the road and you weren't allowed to turn left ! So I went round the one-way system again and eventually found another place. After that I got sorted ok and read an article about Jerry Brown in "Rolling Stone" while having lunch. He is the Governor of California and has rescued the economy with a combination of fiscal toughness and enlightened initiatives on health, education, and infrastructure dvelopment.
The flight took 4 hours but, of course, my clock is now two hours back as it's California time. I landed in 'Frisco on schedule - as you fly in you go very low over the sea, and the runway is surrounded by water on all sides. I have flown into here three times now and it's always amazing. For most of the last hour of  the flight all you see below you is rocks and mountains, and you only see a built-up area when you are on the descent. California looks very narrow from the air.
My hotel is on Stockton Street, near Union Square. The room is very high-tech, and it took me a while to work things out. Found a nice Deli just up the road where I got some beers and a fresh sandwich. Tomorrow I will go down to meet the Virgin team at Fisherman's Wharf and plan my excursions. It's great to be back in this magic city. No more driving now so I can really relax.