Sunday, May 27, 2012

Number 22

It's the animals I feel sorry for. Anything with fur suffers madly in this heat. My cats cower in the shade or patrol the house looking for cool surfaces to stretch themselves out on. There is no point in exercising the retired guide dog, indeed it might actually be cruel to give him a run in the park with the sun blasting down. Like the pets, we too slow up and seek lazy options. Fortunately there is a restaurant in Herne Hill which caters for just such an eventually, the tapas eaterie Number 22.

Reports of the Asparagus shortage are exaggerated
It's been opened a few years and we haven't been for ages, but after last night I think we'll be back more frequently. Good informal service with - heavens be praised - actually enough staff for the number of tables (that enrages me about some places, the ones that increase their margin by flogging a solitary waitress to death over fifty covers). Tables out the back in the cooling evening air.

The warm weather begged for Rose and we had the last two bottles of Vinas Del Vero in the place. The party  was Ms T with whom I shared ribs and a tasty octopus salad, and Helen who's a long standing veggie. She went for creamy Croqetas, tasty aubergine slices and seared tuna, which was done rare, which is how I like it.

£40 a head, which is a bit top edge for Herne Hill but we did get stuck into the wine.  The talk was of Leveson and the thing they call 'Grexit'. It often is these days.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Acid Test

To Lords, on a whim. Well, on the Jubilee Line. Clutching my M&S sandwiches I weave my way through the crowds on the Friday of England’s first Test against the West Indies. Big queues outside the entrances because the security measures now include a pat down and a thorough bag-search, incase someone tries to hijack the Mound stand, or something.  I haven’t got a ticket, but a nice lady at Lords ticket office sorts me out with a brilliant seat just underneath the media commentary position and behind the bowlers arm.  The price? £60.  This is now the price for a view of a premier sporting event, it seems.

God, but it’s cold. Mid May, but it may as well be February. I huddle in to my anorak and queue for twenty minutes for a coffee.Windies field with their hands in the pockets, body language radiating defeat as Strauss nervously picks his way to a century. I have a little radio that lets me hear the BBC Test Match Special commentators; it’s like going to the cricket with a bunch of knowledgeable friends. Henry Blofeld in classic form. Pigeon counting, silly nicknames for the players and loads of Boycott-teasing.

The first Test I ever went to was at Old Trafford in the eighties. Big crowd of Windies supporters with steel drums made for a brilliant atmosphere. Today at Lords there’s an interested buzz, but the gut adrenaline from a hard fought contest is absent. The crowd is attentive, but it’s politeness not a passionate response to the events on the pitch. That said, we rise as one to applaud the skipper’s hundred.  

Have one of the newsdesk tellies tuned to Sky Sports as England wrap it up on the Monday. Pleased that there’s a piece on the BBC Six O Clock News - but a Test victory now feels like business as usual for a side of real quality. I also think the fact that the game isn’t on free to air TV has removed it some way from the country’s radar.  The sport has lots of money now, and the team looks totally professional – but do people really care the way they used to? 

Monday, May 14, 2012


City fans are a tough breed. We have long since, in the words of Kipling, learned to treat triumph and disaster as imposters, and we are very well acquainted with the latter. Nevertheless an arrogance had crept in by the end of the season. City had beaten Newcastle away and the final fixture at home versus QPR looked like a formality. Well, more than a formality. A goal party.

By incredible good fortune and through an impossibly good friend I got a ticket on the morning of the match itself. I was in Manchester anyway and was out walking Russ the retired guide dog when the phone rang with the good news; man and labrador danced all the way home.

Then it was off to the place they used to call Eastlands, but which we now must call the Etihad. It is a superb stadium and Chris and I arrived two hours early to savour the atmosphere. The club has embarked on a programme of massive construction around the ground as well as rebuilding the team inside it. There is a huge plaza of bars and spaces where fans get together to watch goals on big screens. Spaces in the once run down area of Beswick have been bought and now have development marked out for them; this is a club that recognises UEFA's fair play rules as an opportunity to give something back to the community in which it bases its business.

We wandered about. City's players arrived in a coach with smoked glass windows. Atmosphere moved up a notch. We met our friends in a crowded pub, then took our comfy padded seats with the marvellous view now afforded to everyone who has a ticket. As I sat down I remembered the Kippax, marvellous character, yes, but really an old shed where you couldn't really see what was going on, either because of the pillars or other taller people. It was a place constructed for a bunker mentality. But this stadium is football for this century, not the early 1900's.

The rest is history. QPR two one up. Collective despair around the ground. People crying, shouting madly or just sat silent. Some people sat in front of us actually left. Could we really have come this far only to concede defeat once more? Barton's insane and disgraceful violence reducing QPR to ten men; I'd have loved to hear what Mark Hughes - a terrific manager who graces the Premier League with his passion and belief - had to say to him after his sending off. Then Mancini's substitutions. Dzeko; I'll never slag him off again. And Aguero; the desperate majesty of that last-gasp goal. Wonderment and joyous disbelief all around me; and oh so sweet to have deprived the red neighbours of a championship they must have thought they'd won when we lost against Arsenal.

A thought hit me as the roof blew off; this last chance saloon stuff is what Man U used to do. Then the celebrations; these will reverberate for the next forty four years. I'm hoarse after singing and shouting. This was football history, and I'm so proud to have been a witness.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


HMS Ocean sails up the Thames from Gravesend to Greenwich, where she will be berthed as the maritime logistic hub and helicopter launch platform for the Games
HMS Ocean in the Thames (Pic Eddie Mulholland of the Daily Telegraph)

For a while now I've been doing #tomorrowspaperstoday on twitter with the World At One editor Nick Sutton (@suttonnick). It's Nick's free form and highly informal paper review which happens on twitter as the pdf's arrive in our email in-boxes from national newsdesks. People chime in with comment, and it's surprisingly popular given that newspapers are supposed to be 'yesterday's media'.

Photojournalism is such a vital branch of the art of newspaper production, and yet it's so often overlooked. Harold Evans's excellent book on the subject 'Pictures on a Page' turned me on to it - get hold of a copy if you're interested in why and how great news pictures work in a paper.

Anyway twitter seems a good way to celebrate the work of picture desks, so from Monday we're launching #picoftheday as an informal little photo competition on twitter.

The rules are as follows.

- The picture must be appearing in the paper edition of a paper.

- Any picture desk may nominate a snap, which may be sent to Nick or myself as a pdf of the page it will appear in the paper, our e-mail addresses to be available on request. But other un-nominated pictures may also be considered if we see them in time.

- Nick or I  will decide around 11 which has won and tweet it as #picoftheday - part of the #tomorrowspaperstoday tweets. If we know the snapper they will get a namecheck along with a plug for the paper in which it is appearing.

- Our decision is not final. Coercion or other entreaties will be taken into account.

- Correspondence about our decision will be entered into on twitter, possibly, until bedtime.