26 April 2011

Charlton 3 Rochdale 1

I started blogging Charlton matches to help me remember them. I've a terrible memory for sport of any kind, even for Charlton games. I think it's a specific Charlton gene, which scientists ought to name "Happy Oblivion 1905". The god-given process of evolution has fast-tracked, over 106 years, the development of protective amnesia. But the second half of this season has given us a series of games no-one would want to remember. So I stopped blogging them.

Yesterday's game wasn't one. I had even predicted a 3-0 win, based on a feeling that Chris Powell's approach is finally taking root. And that seems to be correct. All the team, ravaged as it is by injuries and bans, seemed comfortable and confident with the passing game. I suppose it helped that the season is truly dead now, and the result would change nothing, but the style of play makes me happy that I've renewed my season ticket. For weeks now, I've been wishing the season could end NOW, but now I wish it was just beginning.

If only we knew how to defend corners ...

17 April 2011

Homage to Phyllis Pearsall

What do the conflict in Israel/Palestine, the unrest in Libya, the unrest in Yemen, and the Greek financial crisis have in common? They're just four of the things for which someone has produced a "road map" as a solution.

The first reference I can find in the Guardian to a road map is in 2003, when an article prematurely claimed "the road map is dead". In those days the concept of "road map" was probably an optimistic replacement for the concept of "peace process" - after all, everyone knows that processed peace is less tasty and nutritious than fresh or frozen peace.

In 2005 a Guardian editorial declared that this road map was stalled - a lovely mixed metaphor, which should have warned people off using the phrase.

But this year the damned maps have been turning up all over the place. The world of politics has turned into a branch of Stanfords. In February an "official" said we need a road map of Egypt. In March, "In Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, the opposition presented President Ali Abdullah Saleh with a road map for a smooth transition of power this year" (that was nice of them). This month, April, the Vickers report apparently sets out "a road map for a better banking system in the UK", while the Greek Prime Minister has announced a "road map to recovery".

So many maps, but no-one knows where they're going. You can understand why demagogues love to say they have a road map. It announces a certainty about things: who can argue with a road map? What it actually reveals - like all clichés - is a lack of imagination or creativity. Phyllis Pearsall - who mapped out the original and best road map, London's A to Z, by tramping the streets for 18 hours a day - should haunt and torment the people who spout the cliché. A road map, a good one, a real one, like hers, is so much more than a list of good or unrealistic or self-seeking intentions.

09 April 2011

Incidentally ...

The fact that I'm typing this proves that if you leave your mobile phone on, the plane won't necessarily come crashing down. I was sure I'd turned it off - apart from anything, the battery was running down and I wanted to conserve it. So it was stuffed into the hand luggage in the locker.

So when the plane landed and I heard the text message tone - a swirly tune with bird tweets - I thought how interesting, someone else has that tone. And tsk, they haven't turned their phone off. Then I heard the same tone a few more times and I still didn't get it, still thought there must be a lot of people with the same phone as me.

It was only when I got on the train that I found my phone had been turned on all the time, and had picked up eight messages in the air: Welcome to Spain; how to use your phone in Spain; Welcome to France; how to use your phone in France; Welcome to Britain; how to use your phone in Britain; service message please delete; service message please delete.

In the modern world this is as close as you can get to a death-defying experience. I've never felt more alive.

07 April 2011

Confessions of a rubbish tourist (2)

Pretentious tourists call themselves travellers. I'm by nature a holidayer, a tripper, and I sometimes think that I'd be happiest holing up for two weeks in a chalet in Leysdown, with a good supply of books and beer.

And, of course, a telly. I love watching foreign television even if, especially if, I don't understand it. I could probably spend all day in my room flicking through the channels. The hotel in Lisbon had these:

4 Portuguese channels, ARD, TV Italia,  BBC World News (which had an alarming obsession with the coming royal wedding), Swiss TV5, Eurosport (which was showing a snooker match that seemed to be lasting a week), CNN and CNBC (both news porn for the tired businessman), RTE Internacional, some Russian language station, and RT (Russia Today) dubbed into Spanish.

The best show was RTP1's version of This Morning, called A Praca da Alegria. Each show begins with a musical performance. Here are the bands they had on Monday and Tuesday.

and while they play their slightly folkloric tunes, the studio audience dance fairly gingerly.
After that, they get an expert in to discuss a consumer/lifestyle issue. On Monday, it was a body posture expert discussing how to tell if your suitcase is too heavy. (Hasn't he heard of wheels? Every bloody suitcase in the world has wheels these days. Noise levels at airports are reaching dangerous heights with the clickety clack of them on the terrazzo tiles.)

If I had my way, if I wasn't scared of being judged by the hotel staff, I'd only leave my room for food. Actually, in Portugal not even for that. I hate to say it, but Portuguese food is dull. I like salt cod as much as anyone, but it needs something like a spicy tomato sauce to bring it to life. I think there's no word for 'spicy' in the Portuguese language. There is certainly no entry in my English/Portuguese dictionary for 'spicy'. Someone's crossed it out, possibly in every copy. 

06 April 2011

A few days in Lisbon

I'm a rubbish tourist,and this is shown nowhere better than in my travel photos. I don't see the point of photographing the well-known sites, because I know that I can come home and find in minutes a better picture than anything I can take. Here's the Castello Sao Jorge in Lisbon, for example, as seen by me

 and as seen by someone on the internet:

Even at these small sizes you can see he or she has a better camera, and more patience to wait for the evening air to thin and the sunlight to warm up.

And it's not just photographing that I'm rubbish about with famous sites. That castle, you'll notice, is on top of a bloody great hill. I've seen loads of castles, thanks, and climbing a bloody great hill isn't my idea of a holiday. Almost everything in Lisbon is on top of a bloody great hill, in fact.

The photographs I'd like to take are the photographs that show how people live: photojournalism, I suppose. But I think it's rude to take photos of people you don't know, and it's definitely patronising to make a technically perfect (I wish) photo of a gap-toothed grimy shoeshiner an emblem of 'local character' like some guidebooks do. (Lisbon looks generally down-at-heel. While I was there, more and worse news of Portugal's economic position was being revealed daily. I don't understand economics much in English, let alone Portuguese, but it seems to amount to a state of being in the shit, with possible IMF intervention, which will surely slash public expenditure. It's alarming to think what state Lisbon will be in after a few years of this.)

So I don't take photographs of people. Here's one:
It's the Praca do Commercio, down by the river, a huge public space that doesn't seem to have any purpose. There's a lot of public space like that in Lisbon, I think. It struck me as an attempt to brag about Portugal's grandeur, but the emptiness seems to reveal that when these spaces were created, that grandeur was already in the past.

Here's a photograph of a railway signal.

Even as a picture of a railway signal it's rubbish. I took it on my way back from Sintra. (Actually, the economics of that trip might illustrate Portugal's problems. A return journey of  40 minutes each way cost around 4euros. I think it's great that rail travel is subsidised to that extent but it can't be sustainable. Sadly.) Sintra is like a posh Brighton, where the rich of Portugal indulged their follies in mad over-the-top constructions. Unlike the actual Brighton, there are several Pavilions. It's a side of Portugal I do like, the fairytale buildings that talk about unbelievable past fortunes on display.

The photo I'd most have liked to take is of the most surprising sight. My hotel overlooked the Praca Munoz Martim, a fairly bleak, hard-surfaced big and empty square. On Sunday afternoon a group of local kids were playing cricket there. Cricket in Portugal! The kids looked south Asian so I guessed they were Goan (surely Goa is the only intersection between the former Portuguese empire and cricket). A more brazen tourist would have photographed them, asked them, but I'll just have to hold the memory and in ten years time, when Portugal beat England in the cricket world cup, I'll say it was me who saw it coming.

So, I couldn't say I fell in love with Lisbon, like I did with Madrid at first sight. But I'd have liked to be there longer.

(Next post: food and television)