Games Over

 

On the day that London was awarded the Olympic Games, back in July 2005, the whole city – the city I live in – rejoiced. It seemed right, for a place soon to overtake New York as the financial centre of the World, a metropolis that was changing and evolving for the better, it felt like it was indeed our time.

Added to which, we beat Paris to it, and us Brits love sticking two fingers up at the French.

That joy and optimism was then shattered the very next day when suicide bombers attacked. I was working outdoors in central, and remember the fire engines screaming down Park Lane, urging the traffic to move with a tone that suggested something very wrong. From that day onwards, one couldn’t help but feel that maybe these Games were cursed. Over the next few years, as the plans unfolded, and bills for security and infrastructure augmented, so did the bad sentiment. In an era when bankers’ bonuses could buy a small football club, why should we, the general public, your average worker, fork out yet more tax to fund such an ostentatious extravaganza?

And then came the recession. Recent Olympics had become modern equivalents of Roman gladiatorial tournaments, each new Emperor trying to out-do the last one with a glorious spectacle of blood and sweat, each new stadium a bigger and better Colosseum. Sydney set the bar; Athens followed suit; Beijing went one better. But such spectacle comes at a huge cost, a cost that is not guaranteed to be repaid, as Greece discovered.

Times had changed. Was the massive investment really worth it for a bit of fun ‘n’ games that only lasts a fortnight? The same amount spent on schools and hospitals would have a far deeper impact. Ministers spoke of legacy, and ‘inspiring a generation’, saying that a Great Games for Great Britain would get more of us off our daytime-television-watching arses and down to our local sports centres; but doubters were wary of the ‘Wimbledon Effect’ – the period after the tennis when sales of rackets soar, rapidly declining to previous levels when people realise it’s hard work. Or it’s expensive. Or it rains a lot.

Years of non-stop ‘improvements’ to the road and rail networks acted as a constant (and irritating) reminder to the populous that London was preparing for the Games, brushing itself up before the World’s spotlight bore down on us, a critical appraisal that we couldn’t afford to mess up. Success could mean increased tourist revenue, a rise in stockmarkets, and a slightly smug national glow. Failure could spell disaster.

Fast People

But with major constructions habitually taking longer and costing more than proposed, and the sweltering Tube network treating us to signal failures on a daily basis, a monumental cock-up seemed the more likely outcome. Combine that with the threat of terrorism, and you could excuse us for being pessimistic. Of course, most of us wanted the Games to go well, but in the back of our minds we were thinking that was about as plausible as two weeks of uninterrupted sunshine.

The big day approached. The anticipated cock-up seemed to be splendidly on track: the Tube still had regular delays, the security company couldn’t find enough employees, and trying to get tickets online was like arguing with a drunk. Furthermore, as if those in proximity to the stadium weren’t disgruntled enough, it was deemed necessary to place ground-to-air missiles on top of residents’ houses. Great for starting a conversation at a barbecue, I thought, but not everyone shared my view.

Then it arrived. For the first time in British history, more people stayed in on a Friday night than went out to get smashed, as the nation tuned in to the Opening Ceremony. We were never going to beat China at the whole coordinated kung fu drumming thing, so I think we did well to stay clear of that, and gave the World our greatest exports – quirky humour and timeless music (and, er, free healthcare).

What followed was fifteen days of flag-waving fervour like never before, as the gold medals we were promised by Barmy Boris (‘enough to bail out Greece and Spain’) rolled in with certainly more reliability than our trains, and the country’s productivity fell by 90% as we tuned in every half-hour for yet another moment of glory. Our final medals tally looked like a basketball score (ironically the one sport we’re still shit at), and Britain was once again Great.

But what now? Once the jingoistic cheers have died down and normal service is resumed, will it all have been worth it? Will there be a surge in people taking up dressage, canoeing and archery? Will Team GB (or Team UK, as it should really be) claim even more medals in Rio? Or will we have a brief badminton swat, fall off a bike, and decide staying in to watch X Factor is an all-round better option?

Financially, the figures probably don’t add up. But there are the things that money can’t buy, like the feeling that we – as a nation or as individuals – can achieve anything if we put our minds to it; the knowledge that normal blokes with sideburns can be World-beaters; and that swimmer Chad le Clos’s over-excited Dad perhaps did more for the UK’s reputation than anyone else.

Canoe Slalom – Like bathtime but with points

The notion was also proposed that money isn’t everything. In a country where the Youth are fed fanciful hopes of fame, where a good education is secondary to chasing dreams of being the Next Big Thing, there’s optimism that the younger generation will trade their false idols for genuine ones. Overpaid, under-performing footballers might be swapped for athletes who scrape a living but get it right on the night; surgically ‘enhanced’ celebrities with no discernible talent may give way to hard-grafters who nurture theirs. According to Nicola Adams’ trainer, she would’ve been a feral miscreant without her sport; now she’s the first female boxing champion. After watching the Beijing games, Jade Jones took up Taekwondo aged 15; four years later, she may not have a mansion in the countryside but she has something most 19-year-olds don’t – an Olympic Gold. At that age, I felt I deserved an award for walking the dog.

How many teenagers it has inspired, I’ve no idea, but it’s certainly got my blood pumping, like when my Gym Playlist blasts out ‘Eye of the Tiger’. I’m not getting any younger, and by the time the next Games comes around I’ll be bordering on ‘past it’. I always thought there must be one Olympic sport I could succeed at, the question is, which one? Canoe slalom, taekwondo, 50m rifle…? Hell, I’ll try them all. As soon as it stops raining…

CC Theresa May Day

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Theresa May

It’s May Day (happy Beltane to any Pagans out there), and in light of Government proposals tosnoop on all of our emails, texts, love-letters and whatever else they fancy, what better way to celebrate the day (other than getting shitfaced and dancing round a Maypole) than by copying all our emails to Theresa May.

It’s simple. Every email you send today, you also CC to all these addresses:

parliamentaryteam@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk,
Ministers.HO@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk,
privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk,
mayt@parliament.uk, sharkeyj@parliament.uk,
office@maidenheadconservatives.com,
public.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Easy. See the facebook page for more info: http://tinyurl.com/bokfuac

Stuck for something to write? Here’s a sample email that I sent to a good friend earlier —

Dahling,

Let’s do lunch sometime this week. Although not today because I’m meeting Sophie for casual sex while her boss is away, and not Thursday ’cause I’m getting my clunge cleaned (there’s this Fabulous holistic place in Ladbroke Grove I go to). Maybe Friday? We can make an afternoon of it, POETS day and all that, and discuss our plans for a Revolution. Which I will henceforth call ‘Wank’ so we don’t arouse suspicion.
It’s about time this country had a major wank and ousted these fuckwits in charge of this country – if that’s the right phrase – but I get the impression we’re too scared to wank. Terribly un-British and all that. What’s wrong with us?? The last major wank we had was 400 years ago, and god knows we’ve desperately needed a few wanks since then (with the exception of Churchill, that’s one man nobody would wank over). We could start a Facebook page and get some of the youth interested in wanking, although I fear they’ll be too stoned to wank. Or too busy watching Jeremy Kyle. Or just in bed wanking! What’s more productive, a wank, or a good ol’ wank?! People today have got their priorities all wrong, I tell you. They’re all fine with quietly wanking in their own homes, or with their next-door neighbour over the fence, but rarely have a proper, rambunctious wank in public! What’s wrong with these people?!
Anyway, I’ll stop writing now in case I arouse any further suspicion.
Let’s go to that Italian place, they do a fantastic chocolate bombe.
Paul
xox

The Dune

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I’ve been reading a bit of Jack Kerouac (Big Sur) and before that Bukowski, and I’ve not read any of that sort of thing before – the beatniks – and while I’m normally a stickler for good punctuation etc I also quite like their laissez-faire stream-of-consciousness style which rather appeals to me cos sometimes i find writing blogs etc hard (like the Bleeding Cool one) which seem like a lot of effort – coming up with a grabbing start, then blah blah blah and wrapping it up nicely – it can be a bit of a drain. And people expect you to be oh-so-funny and write things elegantly because you’re a writer, so i’m going to defy them, yes, and do it Jack’s way, and tell you about something I did in Rainbow Beach.
That place – Rainbow beach – is so named because it has all different colours of sand, so i was told, and on my last day there – the day after some old tramp pissed the mattress above and i wanted to kill everyone in my room, except the for the 2 nice german girls, okay i wanted to kill 3 people in my room including the mancunian with a claw for a hand, i pity her but she woke up at 6am and turned the lights on, the bitch – on my last day, being a sunday which is a nice day for a walk (better than church) i strolled down this variegated beach (that’s a word i learnt in biology, meaning colourful, something i learnt when i wasn’t feeling up Jane’s thigh) – oh but just before that i saw some kids sliding down a wet plastic slope they’d constructed on an airbed, which i video’d cos there was bound to be hilarity or injury (sorta go hand in hand) and You’ve been framed apparently pay lots of money for clips, but nobody got injured in fact they flew over a bin which was pretty cool, and ten they all laid down after the jump and another guy cleared them, no broken limbs or anything. so after that i hit the beach and took my trainers off – trainers being preferable for long walks but i didn’t know most of it would be on this beach. So i’m walking along, the sea is swooosh sploshing on the sand, and the beach stretches for miles up ahead, bending round to the left (which would be east cos i’m walking south), bordered by big dunes of this rainbow sand, which start like 10 metres high and get cliff-like later on. I mosey along, carefree (i could’ve been in an advert rollerblading in my hot pants to advertise pantyliners) and these sand-cliffs are various colours and shades, but it’s not like Willy Wonka or somesuch, it’s not really rainbow at all, a lot of it’s black or grey or even shades of brown, like trendy browns you get in coffee shops, all ‘mocha’ and ‘espresso beige’ and such. Not the millions of colours i’d expected (no blue for starters. why does blue occur so much in nature but you don’t get many natural blue colours. blue chilis or blue rock), but it was weird that there were separate sections, like brown here, yellow there, brick-red next, then back to mocha. I carried on for a while, took some photos, like the ones with the speed sign (you can drive along the beach, and several wildlife safari buses and 4x4s pass me), and all the while i’m wondering if there are exits anywhere, like steps going to some road above? I’m also thinking it’s taken me a good half hour to get this far and they play football outside the hostel at half four, so i’m wondering if i can get back for that. I see a couple (it was quite funny, a big 4×4 bus thing zoomed past him without honking its horn or anything and he jumped like he’d been punched, and looked really upset, and the women then held his arm for a while as another one passed, i thought What a pansy), so i was gonna ask them if they knew of a way out but i thought i’d go a bit further. I did, and reckon i’d have to turn around soon if i wanted to play some footy. But why go back the same way? I wanted a way out, thinking maybe there’s a road at the top of these dunes (which like i said were more like cliffs of sand but less vertical) and started looking up to see if one section was scalable. But a lot seemed to have these sandy tree-y overhangs which would be hard to get over, but then i saw one which looked promising, so i started up. My shoes were in my bag cos i hate sandy shoes, and besides it feels so much better on your bare feet, and after about 10 metres, maybe 15, i was gasping. real heavy lung fillers, it’s proper hard work. i paused and then went a bit further, thinking ‘why did i begin this?’ but obviously not copping out now, cos i’m me, so i carry on. up ahead are some firmer looking bits of sand (this stuff i’m on now is deep stuff), so i push on up to that, with the odd pause for my lungs’ sake. I reach a spot maybe 30/40m up? and turn around, looking down as the couple from earlier pass (i overtook them) and she looks up, and she’s probably saying to the guy ‘ I wonder where he’s going’ and i’m thinking the same thing myself. I turn around and next there’s the firmer sand, but it’s not as great as it seems, it’s Too firm and i just slip on it, trails almost like little rivers of sand slithering down the cliff. I head kinda sideways and there are more overhangs here, well no like bits jutting out, some with small trees or bushes in holding them together. i find a stick and use that as a walking pole, planting it firmly and pushing on, i feel like Gandalf, purposefully plunging that silvery stick in the ground, i get round this protrusion and scramble up the slope, chucking the stick upwards and going on all 4s like a dog digging a hole, but just about moving forward with each dig, and eventually reach the next ledge, clutching onto roots etc. There are also formations of black sand, which look like rock, like monument valley in fact, little towers of sand, and i grab a couple and they tumble away like towers from a not very well built empire.

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I look up and there’s a few more hunks of sand, then bush. I have my doubts, really don’t think i’ll get to the top, or if i even want to, except i Do need to cos this is now my goal. Football isn’t going to happen unless i managed to fly back to base (unlikely) and i can’t quit now, so this is my quest for the day. and it’s good exercise too since i’m sweating and gasping. i reach the end of a narrow tongue of sand flicking up into the bush, and then stop, well no i hesitated a bit before that cos there are holes in the sand, little holes and bigger holes, i don’t know if these are crabs (this high up?) or cute little bush-rodents, or deadly snakes. Or trapdoor spiders that will pounce on my ankle. I pause for about 10 minutes, wondering if there’s any point going further and thinking if i put my trainers on to get through the bush to another bit of sand i can see, will it be worth it (have to rub all the sand off my feet etc), and almost quit there, then i think well i’ve come all this way, and Bear Grylls would just stomp through that bush, it’s only a few metres. (Before Fraser Island i was wary of even walking across a grassy park barefoot, god knows what’s in the grass – giant ants with fangs that would strike bone!, but on fraser we had to shit in the bushes and we’d go traipsing off with a small shovel and wonder what was near our feet (and one time i walked straight into a giant spiderweb, urrrghing and rubbing my hair, seeing two big arachnids just inches away, but i’m later told the ones with big webs don’t have venom because they don’t need it, they have big webs), and on fraser i just didn’t care so much any more. Sure i wouldn’t lie down and roll around in the bush, but i didn’t worry nearly as much) So finally i got some balls and went through the bush, in trainers, and scrabbled across more death-slide-sand, at one point going one metre up and sliding about 5, thinking i’d just keep going and tumble to my death or something. god knows how but i clawed my way up that bit (threw the gandalf staff ahead again) and my fingers were sore from the champagne pools on fraser which cut them up real nice so i had to grin and bear that. I came to more bush, and again hesitated, thinking is it worth it? It looks like solid bush beyond, what’s the point? Go back down and go catch some footy. But i was all of 5 or so metres from the lip, and also i was curious. was there a road there? How much bush before a way back to camp? I wanted, need to know. So i went. Grabbed roots and branches and breached the summit and saw… more bush. What a pisser. It’s not so dense that i need a machete, but it is enough that i can’t see more than 50 m perhaps, so i’ve no idea if there’s a road further on, whether it goes for 100m or 100km. So since i’m not going to traipse thru 100km of rainforest (not actually rainforest, ok forest then) i think there’s nothing else for it but to turn around and go down. Which i do, and just over the top i catch my foot in between some roots and twist it a little, not badly or anything but for a moment i wonder What if? What if i’d broken my ankle there? I’d have to hop down on one foot and thumb a lift on the beach. Doesn’t happen though, and in about 5 minutes, no maybe not even that, 3 perhaps, i’ve shuffled over the sand, slid down on my bum a bit, then bounced like a wallaby down the final deep bit and onto the beach. Which was a lot of fun but not really worth the climb just for that.
I go back down the beach, it’s busier now that the tide’s gone out, and after a mile or two ascend the slope up to town, noticing that my calfs ache a bit. I pass the footballers, and count the numbers – it’s a nice even 6 a side, so i don’t bother them, and instead jump in the pool to wash off the sand and sweat.

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Sydney, Baby!

So it’s Haere Re, Aotearoa, and G’day Australia, as my brother trades me in for his girlfriend and I scoot off across the Tasman Sea, thankfully a few days before the Qantas staff decide they don’t fancy working any more. From a country where the only harmful creatures are a pre-menstrual goat or an over-excited All Blacks fan, to a land where even the rain is venomous and has been known to kill a malnourished child.

It’s a strange feeling landing in Sydney, where I lived for nearly 12 months about, ooh, 8 years back. Dragging my bags through Central Station is like alighting at Charing Cross – I know the procedure, know where to go, which exit to take, and soon I’m at my hostel, my pale skin and glistening brow the only signs that I’m a tourist.

That evening I go for a stroll (once it’s cooled down a bit: my mind might have adjusted to Oz but my body’s still accustomed to NZ), and it’s like Dorothy going back to, er, Oz. I remember all the street names, where the shops are; I approach a corner and think ‘Oh yeah there was a nice coffee shop just round there’ and sure enough it’s still there; I saunter through Hyde Park and memories, people, conversations come back to me in whispers that make me smile.

It feels like a second home. I suppose it should be a third home, since I spent my Uni years (‘The Unfinished Years’) in Nottingham, but whereas that city has changed greatly since I was there – trams, solar-powered parking meters and other new-fangled technology! – Sydney hasn’t changed much, as far as I can tell.

There’s something about this city. I’m a different person here. I’m not sure if it’s the place itself, or that transformation people undergo when on holiday, where they lose their inhibitions. Chances are if I spent a few months in Vancouver or Salzburg it’d have the same liberating effect. It’s definitely not the weather since it’s chilly and drizzly at the moment – standard British fare which could make the staunchest of ex-pats homesick.

Nope. There’s something about being away, about the mind being in another place, separated from the Norm, that changes its state. I find I do a lot of my writing, or at least come up with ideas and solutions, when i’m away. Even if it’s on the train between cities, or at my Dad’s staring out at the English Channel, my brain thinks ‘You’re not in Kansas any more’ and flicks the inhibitor switch, releasing creativity and extroversion.

In the 2 weeks I’ve been in Sydney, I’ve been for 3 jogs, written 2 short films, and chatted up 1 woman in the supermarket. To put those into context, I’ve not been for a jog outside of a gym for at least 3 years, written less than that in as many months, and never done the latter!

Let’s see if this behaviour continues as I cruise up the coast. Let’s hope so.

Reading in the Botanical Gardens

Kim Kardashian: The Truth!

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I don’t really follow celebrity news, since it seems to me that, as a general rule, popularity is directly proportional to lack of talent.

And as far as I can tell, Kim Kardashian is up there – or down there – with Her Royal Lowness Paris Hilton in the list of nominations for Leading a Life With Little or No Obvious Talent or Purpose.

Usually I would’ve heard about her divorce a week after everyone else and offered an indifferent shrug. But I heard it on the breakfast news in Sydney while most of the western world were asleep (I’ve never been ahead of gossip, so this is a world-first for me), and couldn’t help but feel a range of emotions.

Mainly: What a fucking twat.

The reason she gave for her splitting up with Kris Humphries (what’s with all the K’s?) after only 10 weeks of marriage was ‘Irreconcilable Differences’. I can’t for the life of me imagine how a couple could appear so happily in love, make those solemn vows, and then over the stretch of 70 days discover that they have conflicts of interest, differences of opinion, that are so distressingly agonising that they can’t possibly work them out, and then decide that the best option is to break up.

You consider that at least a week – 10% – of that period was spent boffing in luxuriousness on an Italian honeymoon, that leaves 8 or 9 weeks to get on each other’s nerves so much that not even the $18m they got for their nuptials could make the future together seem tolerable.

This reeks of bullshit more than the Captain of the Rena saying “Oh yeah I was paying attention”.

What could there possibly be to argue about in those first few weeks of marriage? Which position to fuck in? Seriously, I’m out of suggestions. I can understand maybe divorcing after 10 years, but 10 weeks??

Her excuse is a deliberately vague one, one that suggests troubles but doesn’t go into detail. A politician would be proud of that vagueness. Let’s apply her excuse to other prematurely-ended relationship scenarios and see what such a proclamation might mean:

“My new puppy and I parted after Irreconcilable Differences” – It shat on the suede futon so I had it put down.
“Yeah the new girlfriend had to go, Irreconcilable Differences” – She was frigid/her clunge smelt funny.
“I sent my new tablet back cos of Irreconcilable Differences” – It was an iPad.

Considering all of the above, and doing some clever interpolative analysis in the vast quantum calculator that is my brain, I have produced the following translation of Kim’s explanation:

“Kris and I have decided to divorce after Irreconcilable Differences” – I’m a money-grabbing piece-of-shit morally-void pointless fuckbag

Ah. Plausible.

Now, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of marriage. I’m not entirely great at relationships, the closest I’ve ever come to a soul-mate being an Airedale Terrier. I think marriage is a rather out-dated institution, that promising yourself to one single other person for the rest of your life is a bit weird because, yes, people do change after time, leading to differences.

But not over the course of 70 days, Kim.

I could understand if her and Kris were both actors, spending 12 hours a day together for 3 months, intensely pouring out some badly-written, badly-acted lines whilst staring into each other’s eyes. It’s this on-set chemistry that is mistaken for real feelings, and why actors tend to get hitched after 10 days of meeting. (See Jennifer Lopez. Although how she mistook her acting for genuine emotion I can’t imagine.)

But no, you’re not an actor, Kim, although you did a pretty good job of convincing the world that you were genuinely in love with Mr Humphries. Perhaps you should receive an Oscar for that performance. Preferably delivered by an industrial nail-gun, straight into your over-made-up face.

You may have noticed, Kim, that I dislike you. I know you’re not too bright, but I’m confident you will have picked up on that. I dislike you partly because you’re talentless. I dislike you partly because you’ve made a mockery of marriage and set a bad example to millions around the globe, partly because you’re a greedy bitch, and partly because you have a face like an Arabian mare.

But mostly, I dislike you because you’re a dick.

“The Gap” (Short Film)

 

A paranormal urban legend based in the London Underground.

(Click image to view pdf)

The Gap

 

 

Hung, Drawn and Quartered.

A thousand words...

A week later and I’m still angry.

Not so much angry that we got beaten, but the manner in which we were. The pitiful, embarrassing way in which we had an apocalyptically abysmal game when we could least afford to. The fact that France weren’t even very good, and we were very, very bad.

I know it’s sport, and these things happen. I know if it was predictable and contests always went by form and rank then there’d be little point watching it. If England had played well but France had pulled out the ‘big’ game that people were expecting and played out of their skins then that would’ve been an easier pill to swallow, but that wasn’t the case, and if we’d played half as well (which wasn’t very well) as we did against Argentina, we probably would’ve won.

Ugh, it makes my blood boil typing about it. It’s probably a good thing I’ve had a week to calm down, and didn’t post what I almost did: an extremely angry (and drunken) open letter to the RFU ranting about how disgusted I was that so-called professionals should perform so desperately badly at such a crucial event, and insisting that they refund the cost of my ticket.

Yeah, I sound like a bitter, sore loser. I’m really not, I’m just disgusted.

And I almost feel too weary to write about it, so much has it been raging through my mind the past few days. I’m rather drained. So I’m not going point fingers at those who might be to blame, or mention drinking or dwarves or any of that, I just want to look forward to attending the two semi-finals with the relief of not being too bothered about who wins.

Although, obviously, I don’t want the French or the Aussies to win. And my Dad informs me that I’m at least a 64th Welsh, thanks to a great, great, great, great grandfather by the name of Evans. Which makes me about 1.56% Welsh.

Round it up to 2%.

Let’s hope they aren’t as embarrassing as the English were.

Smiley happy French people

England 16 – Scotland 12

 

 

It’s curious, isn’t it, that whenever England come out to play, the locals seem to dig up tenuous genealogical links to ancestors from far-off parts of the globe (well, most places are far-off from New Zealand, but you know what I mean), but none of those seems to be England-born. And true to form there are a large number of Scottish supporters with antipodean accents (not just Kiwis) at and around Eden Park for the Group B clash against our skirt-wearing, deep-fried-everything-eating, mostly-incomprehensible Northern neighbours.

[By the way, I once watched Rab C. Nesbitt with subtitles and it’s actually quite funny…]

However, this time they do have a genuine case, since many of the relatives from back in the 1800s were Scottish, as noted in a previous post. That said, a great deal of them were English too… Anyway, having lost to the Argies, the Scots are going to need all the support they can get (especially considering that so far this seems to be a bad day for teams in blue *cough* France *cough*), so I suppose that levels the playing field somewhat.

Cookie Monster Love Rugby!

Speaking of the field, this is the biggest venue we’ve entered thus far. In fact it’s the biggest of the tournament, and the venue for two quarters, both semis and the final itself. Disappointingly, I find myself in the upper echelons of a temporary, open-air stand, upon which the Heavens have decided to deliver a round of suitably British weather. To add to my woes, I’m mostly surrounded by Scots (see photo), and since due to unfortunate ticketing I’m at the opposite end of the stadium to my sibling, I hunch under my hood and hope even more that England win.

The less said about the match itself, the better. “I enjoyed the last 3 minutes” would be a good summary, along with side-dish comments like “Why do we always have to win the hard way?” and “What the Hell is up with Jonny Wilkinson?!” (To see a video I made of how to successfully convert a rugby ball, admittedly not in front of a 65,000-strong crowd, click here.) I have to ask the English chaps behind me if there’s any way we can come 2nd in the group – thus setting up a quarters match against the hosts – but am assured it’s unlikely, which at least made the threat of loss less worrying.

A last-gasp try by Ashton seals the win, and an excellent kick from Flood makes everyone wonder why he wasn’t on about 60 minutes earlier. Either Jonny is supremely confident that he can kick them, or the voice in his head is saying “You always get these. You missed the last one, so you’ll surely get this one!”.

But hey, it’s a win, England top the group, and bring on France – preferably the same team that lost to Tonga.

Click to Enlarge (it looks much better, trust me)

Out into the street we all slowly file, and whilst waiting for my brother I try to console a depressed Scot, slumped on the step next to me, flag draped around him. It’s funny, you can never say “Unlucky” to a Scotsman after they’ve lost to the Auld Enemy. No matter how genuinely you say it, they always take it badly….

Ah well, time for more beers.

Winner

Coda:

The morning after the night before. My head hurts.

In the bar after the game, we get chatting to a few surprisingly-friendly ex-pat Scots. One wife gets a bit over-friendly, despite her hubbie being a yard away. I drink more in the hope she’ll leave me alone (she definitely won’t get more attractive). We go back to theirs, fortunately she passes out, and us three lads play pool in his impressive pad until 4am. I wake up with red and white warpaint still on my face (and the pillow), in a bed with a Twister duvet cover (I’m beginning to think they’re swingers…) Mark, meanwhile, spends the night in the pink-clad bed of a 9-year-old girl. We stagger back to the campsite just in time to be kicked out, and head South.

All is good.

The Inbetweeners

After the ‘Oh-my-god-don’t-do-this-to-me!’ tension of the Argentina game, come the relatively stress-free occasions of two games against Georgia and Romania, before the climax of the Scotland match on the 1st October. Without doubt they are the minnows of Group B, but as somebody will surely point out, there are no easy games nowadays!

According to late Mediaeval texts, the Georgians are labelled such because they especially revere St George. This would explain why their flag is very similar to ours, but the similarities pretty much end there. They aren’t great at rugby, and their names are like someone’s taken 12 letters out of the Scrabble bag, arranged them in any old order, then added -ze to the end. The poor old commentator has a more difficult time than Johnathon Ross reading the ‘R’ section of the phone book, but I’m sure the Georgians expect that.

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Collapse.

I’m sure they also expect to get beaten.

But they certainly don’t show it at first. As the Otago stadium ripples with red and white flags, the opposition make a good fight of it. In fact one might be mistaken for thinking they’d stumbled upon one of St George’s own crusades, with men regularly falling, battle-injured, medics running to their aid.

However the superior skill and firepower soon overcomes the opposition, and we return to the green and pleasant land of the Dunedin Holiday Park with the satisfaction of a 41-10 win, although not thoroughly convinced by it.

The scrum still looks dodgy, we conceded too many penalties (again), and the backs need to step it up a gear or three, but thankfully we have another ‘warm up’ game next weekend, so hopefully a marked improvement will be seen there….

Lovely English Weather!

And so, a week later, us English fans – and an equal number of Kiwis who seem to have discovered Romanian roots – file back into the same stadium for the third Group B match, and frankly I want and expect nothing more than a crushing win for England.

In fact, their highest ever win came over today’s opponents, a try-a-minute rout of 134-0, and while I’m sure that will not be re-enacted today, I would hope for about half that. However, the sad fact is that we could put 200 past the Romanians today and the headlines would still be focusing on Zara and Mike, about whom frankly I could not give a fuck of the flying variety.

From our seats behind the goalposts, my brother and I can see several photographers, their over-sized lenses aimed not at the large patch of grass in front of them, but about 45 degrees to the left, towards a certain royal grand-daughter. That doesn’t especially upset me, no. It’s the fashion in which the British media seem intent on destroying any hope we ever have of winning any major sporting event.

Romanians are Evil

A nothing story about the Captain messing around with a ‘mystery’ woman – who is in fact a good friend of both he and his missus – is blown out of all proportion, and one can’t help noticing similarities to a familiar story involving an England football captain and a minor fling. The press should be backing our boys, not trying to bring them down. But whereas sackings of skippers and all that may have had a detrimental affect on the minds and game of the football team, I can’t see the rugby squad being affected by it.

If anything, rumours of boozing and throwing of vertically-challenged people seems to fuel their fires, and they find a gear or two more, spinning the ball around with conviction and putting a satisfying score past the Romanians. But while it’s fun to watch, it doesn’t really give us any clues as to how we’ll fare against a recently-improved Scottish team, in what will be a must-win match for our auld chums from the North.

And North is where The Rambling Rose now heads, back past Christchurch to the Interisland ferry, up route 1 to Auckland, and Eden Park.

An Extra Life On… Harry Potter 7 Part 2 (pt2)

My camera phone is crap.

It’s entirely appropriate that I should cover this film in two parts since it was made, as you’re no doubt aware, in two parts. This, apparently, wasn’t a ploy by Warner Bros to make even more money (because, y’know, 7 massively-grossing films wasn’t lucrative enough) but because – I’m told by a geezer as he ferries us to the set – many hardcore fans had complained that the makers were cutting too much of the books out of the movies, so the studio eventually bowed to their requests.

(Hmm, maybe if I pester Disney enough they’ll make future Pirates of the Caribbean films in zero parts…)

In fact, I’m informed that they were considering halving them from book 5 onwards, but Warner decided that by the time the finales hit cinemas, the fans would’ve hit puberty and grown out of it.

After the relative tedium of the first week, during which I spent much time deliberating whether I’d rather give it to Draco’s Mum or Miss Bonham-Carter (Draco’s Mum), us not-co-carefully selected supporting artistes switched locations to Leavesden Studios. That’s right, the only thing that gives the Watford area any credibility, and you’ve never heard of it. A former airfield that for the past near-decade has been the main base of the Potter films (everything gets abbreviated in Extras world, not just our lunch breaks), which – amongst sparse buildings – bears heap after tarpaulin-wrapped heap of wizarding memorabilia, like a huge al fresco attic. Bits of houses here, a purple triple-decker there…

At the far end of the runway-cum-carpark sat our ‘trailer’ for the next few months, a double marquee housing eatery, costumes and make-up. With most of the scenes outdoors, and winter closing in, we were regularly in at 06:00 to make the most of daylight hours. Once we’d suited up and swapped our payslips for disappointingly synthetic wands, we were shipped back down the tarmac, past Privet Drive with its backless, unfinished houses, and to the scene of battle: Hogwarts courtyard.

You have to hand it to set-builders, they can make a pile of polystyrene look surprisingly realistic, even from a few feet away. What seemed like a genuine stone quad with the odd section reduced to rubble was in fact from the same Blue Peter school of cardboard construction as the Robin Hood castle. The scene is completed by accessorising with some squashed giant spiders, a few toppled statues, the odd puff of smoke, and of course some world-class actors.

And they were all in this scene. (All except Alan Rickman, who was busy crying in a boat shed, I believe.) Which is the main reason we shot the initial scene, the prelude to the final battle, in about 3 million takes. Because everybody had to be snapped from a multitude of angles, good guys and bad guys, until the director had every possible permutation covered. This might sound inordinately dull, considering us Deatheaters – special or otherwise – were just standing around waiting for the signal. And yes, it would’ve been, had it not been for perpetuating fits of the giggles fed by lines from Voldemort, Malfoy and co. Apart from Mr Fiennes repeating “Neville Longbottom” in snigger-inducing fashion (which ultimately got cut), our funny bones were tickled by Draco’s Dad trying in vain to persuade him to cross over to the dark side, with the immortal line “Don’t…. be…. stupid!”, so painfully drawn out that we incurred pains in our sides attempting to stop laughing. In fact so immortal was the line that… it too was chopped from the final edit. (Yet even in the cinema, knowing it’d been cut, we still couldn’t stop ourselves from chuckling.)

Anyway, about three weeks after we started shooting, we concluded that primary scene (yes, three weeks! God knows how many random women Ralph had entertained in his trailer in that time,) during which basically Voldy says “Potter’s dead, come be baddies with me” and Neville says “Let’s fookin’ av it!”.

And then it all kicks off.

That’s when we got to charge at children, wands out, and the fun started in earnest. Some of us were required to ‘apparate’ (disappear) while other braver souls joined battle. The A.D. asked us who was born on an odd day, and those people were told to vanish. Thereby losing a few days’ work. Harsh, but that’s the way it goes. Lucky me, I got to stay, and laid assault to those pesky schoolkids with as much passion as one can with a plastic wand in hand, leaping over fallen bodies and surging forward, like Aragorn through a throng of Orcs.

Well, that’s how it played in my head. I’ll never know, because that was cut too. In fact, the entire clash was disappointingly less colossal than I’d expected, and what we’d spent weeks (not to mention millions of pounds) creating was cut hugely. Perhaps they’d learnt a lesson from Attack of the Clones and gone easy on the full-on, brain-overload death-fest. It is somewhat disheartening, though, when you’re told you’re going to be a ‘special’ Deatheater and don’t even get picked out for your fighting skills; when you’re putting everything into your spellcasting, proper angry like Skywalker at the end of Jedi, and you notice the lame-o next to you is prodding at the air with their wand as if picking shoes out in a shop; when you work all hours of the day and night in cold and wet conditions, splashing in puddles and tripping over rocks, and about 75% of what’s filmed – Expelliamus! – ends up in the bin.

However, there were many good points about working on Potter, and I have many fond memories of it – the laughter (or stifling thereof); the excellent food; sitting in the marquee playing Trivial Pursuit (mainly because I won); dropping stones into the depths of people’s hoods then watching the subsequent attempt at retrieval; trying to concentrate on my moves while a stuntman ran past on fire; watching real-world females (especially hairdressers) go all gooey when you tell them you’re a Deatheater; and Daniel Radcliffe’s ever-present look of bewilderment, like he’s never been on a film set before, wide-eyed and gnashing his teeth like an amphetamine addict.

No, not part of the costume...

But the highlight of the lot for me was the night I got to play dead. An on-set decision which meant I wasn’t given thermals beforehand, and as I lay there, with combatants leaping around me (and occasionally on me), the temperature noticeably dropping by the hour, the damp seeping through my cape, I began to wonder what my life had come to. But then, at about 04:00, we finished for the night, and as the main actors left set, Miss Emma Watson walked past me and called ‘Good night’ to those around.

She may have said it to everyone, but I was nearest. So she said good night to me. Which is half a dream come true. The other half being I wake up next to her in the morning and she begs me to… [This has been cut – Ed.]

Next time: Ridiculous hair-pieces and fainting on John Carter of Mars