Sunday, 3 August 2014

High Summer

Summertime rolls, as Jane’s Addiction sharply observed back in 1988. I don’t think they were talking about picnic provisions.

The season always seems to kick on with haste, leaving moments, events and experiences struggling for attention in its dusty trail.

Already the glittering World Cup in Brazil seems like a distant memory as the papers revert to transfer gossip and manager mind-game-mongering. In football terms, the tournament will be remembered as a success. We enjoyed more goals scored than in any of the previous Finals; witnessed some electrifying skill (Van Persie’s arched back header will live long in the memory); confirmed a new generation of talent (Rodriguez looks sublime) and marvelled at vibrant, emotional, spine tingling support from the home nation. And the best team won.
RVP makes his mark
Brazil’s problems won’t go away because of this success. The controversial investment in this World Cup and 2016’s Olympic Games at the perceived expense of local jobs, facilities, housing and transport will continue to spark fervent protests. Even Daughter No 2 boycotted the matches as a mark of solidarity with the locals who were ‘developed’ out of their homes. Then again, she hates football, so the real value of her sacrifice is difficult to calculate… At least there was some opportunity to raise the profile of these issues. Amongst these, I thought the Rio in Rio programme was excellent. If inevitably more about the player than the slums. The sections with the kids in the favelas were really well put together.

Shame England’s brief contribution didn’t match the overall panache of the event. For the Costa Rica game, Nick had sensibly reserved a couple of tables in The Barley Mow. We reasoned that it might be a cliffhanger. Sadly, England’s tenuous grip on the chalk face had long since eroded. Their chances lay crumpled and forgotten at the bottom of the sheer slope, battered by wind and wave. By the time the game came around, only half of us half-heartedly turned up.

Whilst our beers flowed with unaffected regularity, it was curious to observe only distracted viewing of the game by those that had turned up, together with the higher level of background banter. The evening’s defining moment came after the dreadful 0-0 draw had concluded and the remaining punters got the telly turned over to watch Jimmy Anderson and Mo Ali almost bat out a heroic draw against the Sri Lankans. Every ball that Jimmy survived in the final few overs was greeted by a louder cheer than anything we had seen for the football. And when he capitulated to a fierce rising delivery, the match’s penultimate ball, we were crushed. At least it was a genuine moment. Something real for the indifferent crowd to get behind.

Talking of cricket, I went to a Twenty 20 game this year for the first time in about five. I had got a little tired of the format recently. Too many games shoe-horned into a domestic season with no structure or natural climax. The relaunch of the competition this year as the shorter, mid-season Nat West T20 Blast is welcome. The Oval has grasped the opportunity with outstretched hands. Many of their games are on Friday nights with start times geared to cash in on the end of the working day and London’s (usually) efficient transport system. 

Ben had sorted the tickets for Bryn, me and himself for the game v Hampshire.  This, even at the time, caused Bryn and I some hesitation. Ben does not have the most assured of reputations when it comes to this sort of thing.

Only a couple of weeks previously, Ben was meant to join Bryn, Steve and me at Sandown’s Brigadier Gerard meeting. He didn’t quite make the trip in the end. It wasn’t clear whether his Mrs was unavoidably late back from the office or whether, in fact, he had failed to categorically get his free-pass properly stamped and papers suitably in order… Add to this a no show at Royal Ascot (arrived late, got off the train, threw up in the car park, got back on the train and went home) and a half-show at the famous Oval Ashes Test in 2005 (when we got the tickets – mercifully – off him the week before and he arrived halfway through an epic first session because of train problems), plus sundry other incidents.  So when I’d sent a text asking him to DHL the T20 tickets to us by Wednesday, I was only half joking.

Bryn and I were sat in the White Swan enjoying a couple of pre-game sherberts with Ad, quite literally bemoaning Ben’s appalling ticket record, when he texted to say, firstly that he was late away from work; and then, about 20 minutes later, that there are no trains from Surbiton anyway.

Ad was pissing himself. He had a season ticket for the Oval. So about half an hour before kick-off, he shot off, mirth tickling his chops, telling us he’d text us score updates. Cheers mate. Bryn and I had no alternative but to tuck in to more of the Portobello Star and indulge in facebook abuse with our absentee buddy. 
“Hello mate. We've just devised a Duckworth Lewis penalty system for you. Every over we miss we deduct a quid from the face value. Power play overs cost double! We might make a profit!
“I’m praying for rain”, came the reply.
We finally hooked up with our ticket-bearer with a few overs to go of the Hampshire innings. The view from the premier seats at the top of the massive OCS Grandstand just about compensated for our late arrival. 
Bird's eye view
A few more beers helped too. Surrey made mince meat of Hampshire’s paltry total and Jason Roy smacked the ball around the park like he was lobbing catches for his labrador on the beach. I texted Callum, a Surrey supporter with whom I have had a many a ‘frustratingly-talented’ type conversation about Roy.
“At the T20. Roy is awesome!”  
“Yeah, I know’, he replies. ‘We’re here too!”
Turns out he was in the cheap seats at the bottom of our stand. Pauper. (Bet he saw the whole game though.)

Lincolnshire hosted a little family get together in early July. We managed to find a very pleasant cottage in Alford for a few days away with Dad and Bruv. Between the sea and the Wolds, the settlement was a strange mix of agrarian wealth, faded grandeur and lively market town. 
The Atkinson boys 
We got lucky with the weather and struck out for the seaside on the Saturday, exploring the dunes, attractions and caf├ęs between Chapel St Leonards and Mablethorpe. Because the area is so low lying, the coast seems oddly separated from the hinterland by a continuous sea wall, punctuated here and there by access roads, car parks and other cut-throughs. There are no sea views to be had unless you walk along the top of the coastal defences. It all seemed a little underwhelming and sniffed of missed opportunities.

The windmill in the village was good though. Five sails. A rarity apparently. The cakes from the tea room were splendid and Mrs A bought flour, stone-ground in the mill, for some future bread-baking experiments.
Windy Miller strangely absent
Meanwhile, Bruv and I had bought a junior cricket set at the coast and spent many tense hours (it seemed that way) tweaking leg breaks through 90 degrees out of the rough by the swing and flat batting long hops into the void under the shed. (Four and out for that.) I’m delighted to report that Bruv is still as unambitious with the bat as he was when we played down the Rec aged 12. Dig in!

We couldn’t get either of the daughters interested though. Looks of teenage derision shot our way as the tennis ball dollied past noses otherwise buried in social media.

That wasn’t the only top quality sport happening over Le Weekend. Yorkshire hosted Le Tour Grand Depart on Saturday morning. A massive coup for God’s Own County and thrilling to see country lanes winding through the Dales spray-painted with support and hanging with aficionados. A reet grand success by all accounts. Dad’s septuagenarian cousin Sylvia went out in Starbeck to cheer them through. She’s a hard core sports fan. Respect. Word has it that the Leeds Utd press office regularly rings her up to find out what’s going on at the Club.

Yorkshire TdF Grand Depart Tea 
I had a musical diversion the weekend after. Bacchy and I are long time fans of the craggy, enduring and unique Neil Young. This Summer he was pitching up at Hyde Park's series of British Summertime gigs with Crazy Horse. I’ve see Young once before, many years ago, when his backing band comprised most of Booker T and the MGs. Crazy Horse are legends and for me, Young’s output with them is amongst the very finest of his diverse canon.

Tickets were therefore snaffled and we met in The Grenadier off Wilton Row, a pub we both frequented when working around Victoria years ago. It was easy to tell we’d be not been for a few years – both independently getting lost amongst the cul de sacs, crescents and circuitous back streets before finding the boozer tucked in at the foot of an exclusive Belgravia mews. A finer pint of Timmy Taylors in London I cannot recall. The Woodforde’s Wherry was also a gem. Perfectly kept and expertly drawn.

I had said that Mrs A had thought about coming, but she felt that a couple of hours of Young and the Horse ploughing through interminable grungy solos, anarchic feedback and directionless jams might test her levels of concentration. I had nodded empathetically, whilst recognising that such output from the band was exactly what I was longing for. Bacchy said his missus also thought about it but had deferred when she realised I was going. 
“You two will just sit and talk about galloping all day”, she had said to Bacchy.
We both scoffed. Bloody hell. As if we couldn’t have conversations that didn’t automatically revolve around horse racing. Pah!

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that the reception in the pub was sufficiently strong for us to watch three races from York and Newmarket on the Bet 365 app on my phone. Perched on the kerb, bathed in sunshine, pints in hand, roaring home our bets on a four-inch screen, it didn’t occur to us for one moment that Mrs. C might have a point.

It was a perfect prelude to a great gig. Best of the year for me by a wide, tree-lined boulevard. Here’s the review: an unrelenting adjective-fest.

A word also for the stoned, vacant-staring bar-tender who gave me change for a twenty for the two pints of gassy lager I bought with a tenner; to Tom’s Pies for the finest Festival scram I’ve ever tasted; and to the weather for staying sunny for the most part. Top day out.

Horse
Pies
Slipping into August makes me feel like the free-wheel into Autumn isn’t far away: ‘Back To School’ posters are already in the windows of M&S. At least the Commonwealth Games have, in part, damned up the full bore of tabloid press Premier League wind up. I’ve loved watching the Games over the last 10 days. Not only because for the first time in decades we’ve stuffed the Aussies in the Ashes medal table scrap. Also because of Lynsey Sharp, Jo Pavey and Emma Pooley who say everything possible about spirit, guts and determination. Take a bow. 

And also because of Usain Bolt. It’s not often I agree with Gary Linekar, but Bolt just has to be my favourite sportsman on the face of the planet. Despite a touch of over exposure and under whelming reporting, how can anyone resist his cheerleading of the Hampden crowd with a shimmying ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ (or however many The Proclaimers proclaimed) seconds before a lighting fast 100m relay anchor leg? The man is cast iron box office.

Of course it hasn’t been a seamless stream of good times all Summer. Sad to say Mrs A lost her Mum and the girls lost their Granny last week. But in keeping with this upbeat post, all I want to say for now is that we’ll make her funeral next week a celebration of a full, selfless and positive life. I’ll blog a bit more about Granny after that.

For now, can I really face putting together a fantasy football team whilst these long golden rays of Summer continue to flood in to my office? Probably…



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