Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The horror continues with a complete absence of any glint or glitter of yellow from the Olympics.  I am now in the pits of despair and have decided not to order a new First Day Cover album because it is perfectly obvious that I will not be needing it.  The few spaces that I have left in my present album should be more than sufficient for the new issues of stamps that come with each gold (how hollow that sounds now!) that Team GB manages to get.

I have a quick link to the medal table and I am now becoming truly neurotic as I check on an hourly basis to see if there is any golden news.

I can feel the resentment building up inside me.  I know perfectly well all that rubbish about it not being the winning but the taking part – but that, self evidently is not the case for all the nations taking part.  It’s the winning and only the winning that counts.

And talking of counting, how much have the taxpayers actually paid for the rest of the world to go home to their countries clutching Welsh made medals.  The cost of holing these bloody games and the money pumped into “elite” sportspeople – and what have we got to show for it?  [I have just checked again and it is two silver and two bronze.  This means that we are being beaten by countries (and very nice they are too, I am sure, but . . .) like Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine.  South Africa is also ahead of us.  We are in the humiliating position of being, at the moment, twenty-first – just above Colombia!

What ever we are doing as far as sport is concerned, we are not doing it properly.  And the sports that we do well in are limited in worldwide participation or reflect on the class-ridden nature of this country.  I find it sickening that a country that invented and regulated the majority of modern sports languishes so wretchedly in world rankings.

The men’s gym team aside, these games are a woeful testimony to British sporting ineptitude.

Prove me wrong Team GB, prove me wrong.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Where is the treasure for GB?

There is the first waking up of the day as you drag yourself out of bed and do the necessary.  The second wake up comes for me as I throw myself into the pool and taste that oddly salty tang of the water that they use in the baths and the third wake up comes when you pay for your cup of tea after the swim and notice that the bank card is not in your wallet.

That is the real eye opener and senses a-tingle occasion in the response to another day.

World weariness follows as your now hyper active brain attempts to re-live the immediate past financial transactions while attempting a CCTV approach to how, when and where one actually replaced the card in the bright blue aluminium case that now operates as a summer wallet.

As I sat down and concentrated my mind by staring at the milky tea with its two tea bags gradually turning the insipid liquid into something vaguely drinkable, I thought that I remembered picking up my card each time I had used it.  Then I tried to imagine myself putting it back in the accordion-like compartment inside the summer wallet and got the sensation that once I merely put it in my pocket with the receipt.

I think it was a Betty Boop cartoon showing her trying to find something everywhere and then pausing at a drawer because it was the last place and if it wasn’t there then it was truly lost.  I too paused before plunging my hand into my pocket because the tedium of stopping the card was too tiresome to contemplate.

My left pocket was cardless, so it was with something approaching desperation that I tentatively reached into my right.  And my fingers closed around something comfortingly hard and thin.  And I think I will change the subject as I now realize that things are getting a little too close to the bone.  Which is also capable of double entendre.

Anyway the card was found and all seemed well with the world.  The cad was placed back where it should have been and I was able to address my cup of tea with something approaching relish.

This was the emotional counterbalance to the positive endorsement given to me by one of the lifeguards in the pool who complemented me on my swimming when I was taking my end-of-swim shower, my twenty minutes of determined crawl at an end.

I am determined to get at least one of my summer tasks done today.  I think that I will choose the most alluring of them – getting membership of the Olympic Canal.

I have recently had yearnings for the rowing that I used to do in Roath Park and the Olympic Canal is the nearest that I can get to the lake with its islands that loomed so large in my youth.  Although I do not pretend to any competence in rowing I do (did) enjoy it and I would like to get back into the rhythm of the stroke.  Oh god I appear to have degenerated to the lowest form of double entendre again.

This may have something to do with the second of the books which I have actually bought for my Kindle.  “You talkin’ To Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama” by Sam Leith.  The title is irresistible and when I read a positive review in my electronic copy of The Week I decided to take the plunge and buy.

The book is written in an engagingly chatty way and, like the best of economic text books cf Nevin, it is full of easy to appreciate examples which claim delighted understanding.  It is a riveting read so far, even if some of the technical terms are not going to stick in my memory.  I am enjoying it, but there is a problem with my card (again!) and Amazon are trying (while not taking the book away from me) to get me to give them up to date information.  I fear that their information about bank details comes from an earlier version of my card which when lost stayed lost.

Today is one of the traditional “brightly dull” days which I am prepared to settle for as they are cooler and there is no rain.

There is a deathly depression in this house after the disgracefully reffed game that Spain played last night.  Even I think that they were denied at least one and probably two penalties.  They hit the woodwork with monotonous regularity and the end result is that they are out of the competition!  This is a disaster for Spain as the football was one of the most possible Golds that they were expecting.  Nadal is out through injury and they also lost out on a Judo bronze yesterday.

I am trying (and failing) not to panic at the fact that Team GB’s total medal tally at the moment is just 2.  Neither of them golds.  At the moment it looks as though I am going to have precisely zero additions to my FDC collection at the end of the games.  Disaster!

I am sure that I am being unduly pessimistic, but it happens every four years and this time around we really did seem to be best prepared.  The loss of the gold in the racing on the first day was a real dampener and I am sure that it had an appreciably negative effect on the team. It certainly did on me.  Nevertheless, I will preserve the stiff upper lip and only break down in the closing ceremony.

There is even one example of a host nation not gaining a single gold to haunt us too!

Things have now gone from bad to awful.  The almost unprecedented medal in gymnastics for the men seemed, at first to be a totally unbelievable silver until the Japanese team who had been edged out of the medals completely made an objection and were not only reinstated in the medals but given the silver and we were demoted to bronze.  Which is still an amazing result – but not a gold.

As if to make things worse the French seem to be gaining gold like rabid Californian prospectors.  And their president is in the crowd watching their acquisition.  Unbearable.

I am now prepared to settle for one gold in anything.  Absolutely anything.  A single FCD.  That would be fine – as long as there is at least one.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Things and stuff.

Today is going to be a day which should be momentous, but alack the reality is far more unimpressive.

I am going to see a film in Spanish.  Not, I hasten to add because I will understand it, but rather since it is –Borat’s “The Dictator”, it will be slapstick enough for me to understand without the need for too much extra language.  It is always frustrating that the original language of the film is of course English.

Appalling film with some horrifically poorly judged “jokes” a complete (no, too harsh “almost” complete) waste of money – and the filmic experience not made any better by having a row of young people eating noisily and fairly constantly, which at least meant that they did not talk all the time.  I remembered why cinemas are usually such a disappointing experience.

And I hope and trust that those last two words are not going to be a summation of the taxpayer funded extravaganza this evening when, at last, the Opening Ceremony takes place.

There is already a slightly sour feel to the Olympics as a Welsh competitor was described as English in the programme and anyway the men’s bloody football team could only manage a draw against that mighty footballing super-nation Senegal.  Well, good luck to them.  We are long used to footballing disappointment.

And talking of disappointment, Spain men’s football team actually managed to lose their opening football game against Japan.  I have been told to curb my disappointment (Spain, after all is my fall-back nation when we fail to make it out of our group), as it is traditional for Spain to lose their opening match to inject an element of tension into the whole affair.

In order to calm my nerves before the possible debacle this evening I have decided to look at the manual for the camera again to try and get the bits that it was bought for to work.

That should pass the time!  Or give a new definition to futility.

The lighting of the cauldron was, as perhaps it should be, the triumph of the evening.  I particularly liked the fact that each nation had a “petal” of the cauldron associated with it and that the young athletes lit the first petals which linked to the others so that when all were alight they rose up and formed a sort of burning flower.  Immensely powerful and dramatically inclusive.  This is by far the most stimulating lighting of the flame that I have seen.  Though I also have to admit that the Barcelona archer shooting a burning arrow into the cauldron to start the flame is difficult to beat and remains in the mind.

The overall impression from the Opening Ceremony is one of relief that it wasn’t embarrassing and even greater relief that it did not rely on the techniques of the repulsive version of Beijing.

What I loathed about the Beijing approach was that it reduced human beings into live pixels in the way that the old Communist regimes used to in their Spartakiadas; the individual subordinated to the general picture.  We are not like that and Boyle’s presentation reflected it.

I liked the opening rustic idyll and its dramatic transformation into the Industrial Revolution.  The nods to popular culture – James Bond and the Queen, Mr Bean, the music all worked to a lesser or greater extent.  The visuals were sometimes stunning and sometimes mysterious but always engaging – but the saving grace was the cauldron.

No sooner over one fear than the other comes to haunt: we haven’t got a medal, not even of any sort.  One of our “banker” golds failed to be anywhere within reach of a medal and now the cold hand of failure is gripping my heart.

As you know, I have a stake in our golden future as the Post Office has said that they will issue a new stamp to recognize the achievement of any team or athlete gaining a gold medal.  In St Louis over a century ago we gained a single gold.  We have never failed to get at least one in any of the Olympic Games of the Modern Era – and we have been in all of them.  Come on (he said diffidently) Team GB.

“Team GB” is a designation of the British athletes that Toni finds objectionable and I think that I do too.  After all Great Britain means England, Scotland and Wales.  If we include Northern Ireland then the name of the country is the United Kingdom.  So we should be Team UK.  Or has Northern Ireland thrown its lot in with the Republic for the Olympics?  I think not.  Or perhaps there are no athletes from Northern Ireland taking part?  I think not.  Most unsatisfactory.

Or perhaps I am just being pedantic and objecting to a trendy abbreviation.  I think not.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Always time for culture!

If there had been another real swimmer in the pool this morning I am not sure where he or she would have been able to go.  I occupied the overly narrow lane which allows just one swimmer to swim crawl up and down.  The whole of the rest of the pool was occupied by summer school “classes” of varying ages but constant energy and splashiness.

As it happened there was only me so I swam my usual way up and down in a lane which, as I swam became funnel shaped so that by the time I got to one end I was bumping my arms on the line of floats.  However, I struggled on and paused only to throw tennis balls and other flotsam out of my way as I surged my way along.

Barcelona, when I finally got there after an interminable journey where we stopped at every stop and traffic light, was packed and full of foreigners.

We had lunch in an old hospital for the poor which was refreshingly empty and encouragingly atmospheric with painted decoration and Romantic arches and balconies.  I had a very unromantic burger but it did have a dramatic appearance with a transfixed cherry tomato held in place by an industrial length wooden skewer.  The burger actually tasted of meat – which places it in a category with few companions.

As I was lunching with Suzanne we couldn’t let the occasion pass without indulging in some form of culture and so we visited FAD which is a temporary exhibition near MCBA giving examples of the best of design.  The single element of print design that stood out for me was a printed bottle label of Libalis that I bought from the expensive wine store in town – the one with the pretentious tapa for the ruta de tapa this year.  It is good to see that even in my indulgences I obviously have a winning stylishness!

One day to go before the Olympic Opening Ceremony and in a way calculated to increase the dread the news and BBC Sport have given a few “glimpses” of what we are in for.  I dutifully hid my eyes, but Toni took gleeful pleasure in looking askance at the offerings and has added another layer of horror to my expectations.  The fear of not winning a single gold almost pales into insignificance when I think about the extended awfulness which could well be the “show”.  Time will undoubtedly tell.

I used the new camera to take a couple of pictures and was told, unexpectedly that there was a metro station near by a symbol appearing on the screen.  I’m not quite sure what I pressed to get that information (which was indeed correct) but it shows that something of the “smart” quality of the camera is working.

Work in progress, I think.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What is next!

Life has lost some of its savour now that I am expecting no further packages from Amazon as my Retirement Lucky Bag is now complete and the contents are in my hot little hands. 

The camera stubbornly refuses to do what it should be doing – apart from taking rather good pictures that is.  But the extras that it should be doing; connected to GPS and Internet are not forthcoming.  Yet.

I have not yet succumbed to asking Toni for his help, as that is one admission of technological failure too far.  Yet.

In a Great Change from previous years the scumbag de nos jours are no longer the obnoxious neighbours but Dutch people: loud, inconsiderate and dirty, they have become the new hate figures in our local society.

A society which has just become more expensive to join as our landlords have decided, in the face of universally falling prices as a result of the chaos of the economic situation in Spain, to increase our rent.  An incentive, if ever there was one, to look around at alternatives to where we are living at present.

If any move is even contemplated then there has to be a “rationalization” of what we own and have in the house.  Basically the logistics come down to books and how many I am determined I am to take with me to the next stage of our life here in Catalonia.

A first swift look around at what is on offer to rent in this area seems to indicate that prices are not reflecting the fact that the vast majority of people in work are taking hit after hit to their salaries so that after a period of stasis as far as payment for work is concerned we are now well into a series of pay cuts.  And our landlord raises the rent!  As Toni said, this is how the rich become richer!

I have, at long last, had the courage to unpack the bags in the boot of the car which contain the detritus of my clearing out my cupboards in school.  My two mugs have been placed in the dishwasher and I have thrown away those things which I know will not stand the test of time.

There is yet another collection of books which have been disgorged from the bags which have absolutely no chance of being put away with the degree of respect that their content demands.  My books are double and sometimes triple stacked as it is and I cannot.

Something has to give.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Reality hits!

It had to happen sooner or later: I didn’t get a lane to myself during my (second) swim of the day this afternoon.  The pool was packed and in the emptiest lane there was a determined lady relentlessly swimming up and down in the middle.

Now I am no slouch when it comes to staking my claim to clear water and I know that the etiquette in pools like this is that if two swimmers want the same space then they swim anti-clockwise keeping to the left part of the lane.

I watched the woman’s style for a few moments and then launched myself into my swim.  By the time I had done two lengths she had left the lane.  Result.

As you can clearly tell, I have turned into one of those repulsive, selfish up-and-down swimmers that I loathed so much when I was younger.  When I was younger, swimming pools were places in which to frolic; they were places that had passion and play whose vitality and joie de vivre were only threatened by the soulless straight-line swimmers, one of whom I have become.

I did have a moment’s guilt that my purposeful (an odd word to use in the endlessly futile lane swimming in an enclosed pool) strokes might have driven her away – but my “guilt” was soon replaced with fury as some other women took her place and started to swim a slow breast-stroke.

My irritation was modified by the fact that one other swimmer in the lane is no problem at all.  If you swim faster than they do then all you have to do is go back on yourself when you catch up with them and then resume your normal progress.  This lady (note the change of tone) had the good grace to stop and let me pass her every three of my lengths.  This was kind but it did necessitate a fairly brisk pace to ensure that she was not waiting too long, so at the end of my twenty minutes I was fairly exhausted and the last two lengths of breast-stroke were a true cooling down process.

My swim-tea-read the paper approach to the day is becoming a delightful part of my routine.  It remains to be seen how far this continues into the winter months!

The opening ceremony for the Olympic Games has now had its public rehearsal and the response seems quite positive – as well it might be given the extraordinary cost of the event.  I’m not sure what happened when the Empire Games (ah the Empire Pool of happy memory) came to Cardiff – but I think that our pigeon problem was started when the release of the birds was a central part of the ceremony – a big mistake!  I only hope that Boyle is not planning on releasing the sheep from the first part of his opening sequence – though the idea of the new Olympic Park being terrorized by feral woolly beasts after the Games are over is a pleasing one.

I have two major fears: the Opening Ceremony being an embarrassing fiasco and our not winning a single gold.  I don’t think that I have watched an Opening Ceremony all the way through, but I think that I am going to make an exception this year even taking into account the inevitably jaundiced observations of Toni.

Obviously there is going to be traffic chaos (the rehearsal of transport was a disaster yesterday) and that is going to make headlines around the world.  I also understand that foreign correspondents have taken the proudly sardonic attitude of the British to large institutionalized celebrations as being representative of the traditional moaning of Brits.  I blame the Australians for this as they are the ones who have popularized the concept of The Whingeing Pom and that mythical creature has now become world-wide newspaper reality!  

Still doesn’t mean it’s true though.

I still haven’t taken enough pictures with my new camera to evaluate it properly and I am having trouble finding and downloading the right aps so that the camera can speak to the computer and also speak to my phone.  Why I need this to happen I am not quite sure, but if it can happen then I want it to.  I will think about its usefulness after I have got it all working!

I have started listening to the first of the two CDs which were part of my Retirement Lucky Bag and I realize that I do not know Grieg’s Quartet.  This one has been arranged for String Orchestra and it sounds very jolly and I should get to know it without the pain that accompanied trying to become familiar with something like Le Grande Macabre (of evil memory).  The other disc is by Holst and since it does not have either The Planets or the Saint Paul Suite there is more learning for me!

The programme for Operas for next season has arrived and there is some learning to do there too.  I am determined this year that I am going to be better prepared for my Operatic Experiences than I was last year.  I did (most) of my homework and it was only for the Catalan contemporary of Mozart that I did nothing.  Luckily it was tuneful and histrionic so it made up for my lack of effort.

For one opera I went by train and stayed in Barcelona in a basic hotel just off the Ramblas after the performance so that I was able to amble back to Castelldefels by train the next morning – much more civilized and not costing much more than bloody parking in the centre of the city!  Something to think about and plan.

We are within a week of the end of July and I have yet to read a single book this holiday.  For someone like myself this is tantamount to spitting on the True Cross or deciding to go and eat in the restaurant of the golden arches.  My Kindle is full of unreadable free “Classics” and I have said to myself that it is probably about time that I actually bought a book digitally, as I should have done for the “Fall of Giants” rubbish that I bought in hardback and have been trying to get rid of ever since.

I think that it is time for sheer self-indulgence and therefore I think that the first book that I will buy will be by Terry Pratchett.  I wonder, he thought evilly to himself, if you can get them free anywhere?

Tomorrow the doctor for a periodic check and my periodic scolding and Thursday a trip to Barcelona and a meeting with Suzanne – lunch and culture. 
That’s the way to live!