Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Another Football Story

So last night I donned my Cruzcampo cap, slapped a flag on each cheek and went off to find my buddies to watch the Spain vs Portugal match at a terrace bar near the Bernabeu. I've never been to this place before ('Boulevard'), and it would have seriously helped if they'd had some signs up announcing their name. I must have walked round it two or three times (and I'd forgotten my phone, so I was somewhat stuffed). On the fourth pass somebody guarding the entrance gave me a flag and I asked him if he knew where this Boulevard place was, and he said 'here!'

The match wasn't great, but Spain got the goal that counted and Ronaldo the Smirking Diving Cheating Git didn't get on my tetas too much. So that was grand. And of course, walking back up the Paseo de la Castellana was an absolute treat - thousands of happy fans on foot and in cars, lots of good-natured horn-blowing and flag-waving; hard to beat, really.

And the next game is against Paraguay, which everybody seems to think should be a walkover...

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Blatter Sees The Light (A Bit) (It's An Oncoming Train)

So the corrupt old tosser (I'm gonna Google that phrase later) in charge of FIFA has said IFAB will reconsider the GLT (goal line technology) issue at their next meeting. Video replays. however, are still not on the table. Article here.

I have to come clean. I think sporting operations should be totally transparent, and should not be dominated by individual assholes. But Blatter behaves like he owns international football (and don't get me started on Bernie Ecclestone and F1 - not an actual sport, admittedly, but y'know), and sadly it seems nobody within FIFA can say no to him: the last guy who tried that was promptly removed from his post. Now we have Blatter threatening the French government if they try to get involved in the running of the French FA.

So Blatter's sorry that England and Mexico were robbed, but 'zeze zings happen een futboll, hein?', and shrugs his shoulders. Asshole. These things do happen, but they don't have to. A little bit of modern technology is all it takes to remove the injustice from a game that is passionately followed by about a gazillion people in the world. And only ONE [insert very rude word here] seems to have the power to fix it. He moves on a glacial timetable, and I think, only now, is beginning to realise how many people hate his guts.

The FIFA board members ought to call an emergency meeting - like tonight, never mind October - they're all there in South Africa right now - and kick him out. And in future, they need to limit the Presidential term to 2 or 3 goes, and not let anyone over 55 stand for the post. And while they're at it, they can authorise video replays if requested by the referee, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.  This whole issue is about technology used as tools to help the officials, not to replace them. But dinosaur Blatter cannot undertand that.

UPDATE: Slightly disappointed - I'm only number 2 on Google for "corrupt old tosser".

Monday, 28 June 2010

George Orwell & FIFA

FIFA have really got themselves in the mire over their refusal to consider GLT (Goal-Line Technology) and Video Replays in top-level games. A couple of incidents in this World Cup have confirmed just how untenable their position is. Because now, more than ever, worldwide audiences can see video images from dozens of cameras around the ground of what exactly happened, and with things like Twitter, Facebook and blogs, they can moan like hell about it (and we are - can you believe Sepp Blatter is now on Twitter?!).

FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his partners in crime say they don't want technology involved in association football. But they already do use technology - the officials have some kind of mini-radio system so they can talk to each other. And somehow we are able to see games played in darkness. Blatter is very happy with the idea of officials being human, but it also makes him guilty of a kind of Orwellian double-think, where he can see any number of replays of England's goal, but still believe with all his little shrivelled heart that it wasn't a goal because the referee said it wasn't.

Interestingly, and somewhat bizarrely, the decision about this technology is not purely down to FIFA. It's  the responsibility of a body called IFAB - the International Football Associations Board, which comprises representatives (I know not how many) of the FAs of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, who each have one vote. And since 1904, FIFA are also represented, and they have four votes. Any decision needs at least six votes to be approved. IFAB meets once a year to consider changes to the Laws (not 'Rules', notice) of the game, and once a year to fiddle the accounts. It's a tough old job, clearly.

Now, firstly, it's somewhat anachronistic that IFAB has this structure, but secondly, I cannot find out exactly who was present at the last IFAB meeting in March. I know the English and Scottish FAs at least, support GLT. It's possible Wales and Ireland do too. But if Blatter (74, well past retirement age) turns up with FIFAs four 'non' votes, the cause is bollocksed, is it not?

Time for FIFA to get rid of the dinosaur, methinks.

Calling Planet FIFA

FIFA Communications Director says goal-line technology will not be discussed. It was hard to hear what he said because his head was buried in the sand.

Disgraceful, dishonourable, disreputable, disgusting. Pick any three words to describe FIFA.

Speaking of Argentina's offside goal against Mexico:

"There was a controversial action shown during the game on the giant screens last night at Soccer City. This should not happen," he explained.

"The giant screens are part of the infotainment but should not show controversial actions."


UPDATE: Sepp Blatter is on Twitter! (Of course that means FIFA's Communications Dept is on Twitter, pretending to be him). No doubt he'll be told he's very popular, because so many people are Tweeting at him. He won't be told that all those Tweets are calling for his head on a plate, and he'll never see them himself, because, of course, he's a Luddite who refuses to use modern technology.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sod Off Then, England

That's it then, England thrashed 4-1 by Germany after a shamefully bad start to their World Cup campaign. I really don't know what happened to England (although Tim Newman has some pretty good ideas). Whether the players are good or bad, they lacked fire and they really didn't hang together as a team. Manager Capello seemed clueless.

Here's my plan:

1) Capello must go. If he has any morals, he'll resign. Otherwise the English FA will have to sack him (I suppose it's too much to expect there's any kind of clause in his contract that says they don't have to pay him five year's worth of salary if he turns out to be a charlatan who cannot choose, train and motivate an England team that can actually win games).

2) Future England managers to be on one- or two- year contracts. Ability to speak English highly recommended.

3) No Premier League players allowed to play for England. Really. These guys might be good for their clubs, but hardly any of them in this World Cup demonstrated the slightest bit of interest in playing well for England.

And as for FIFA...

The disallowed England goal didn't help - it could well have changed the course of the game, but England were still outclassed by Germany. What it did do, though, is show in no uncertain terms (cliché alert) that FIFA's attitude to the 21st century is completely dinosaur-driven, blinkered and stupid. The old dinosaur himself, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, said after the last decision (in March this year) not to introduce goal-line technology:

"The application of modern technologies can be very costly, and therefore not applicable on a global level. The universality of the game: one of the main objectives of FIFA is to protect the universality of the game of association football. This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world..."

No Sepp, it doesn't. Nobody expects this technology to be forced on small clubs who can't afford it. But the reputation of your organisation is at stake when disputed decisions are made by officials at ground-level who may not be in a position to see what happened.

"If the IFAB had approved goal-line technology, what would prevent the approval of technology for other aspects of the game? Every decision in every area of the pitch would soon be questioned.
"No matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being.
"This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else?"

Because referees don't always see what took place. Stop being an arse, Mr Blatter.

"Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport."

They also love to see match officials having at least a chance of doing their job correctly. I wonder how many referees would not jump at the chance of being able to see an instant replay of things that happened when they blinked, were distracted by something else or were simply in the wrong place to make a reliable decision. Blatter should have been kicked out of FIFA many years ago.

Grrr. ¡Vamos España!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Pretending To Be a Footie Fan

If I'm honest (which I am, sadly, most of the time), I'm not much of a football fan. I enjoy the big games, but I'm a floating voter when it comes to supporting any particular team, although I always enjoy it when Real Madrid don't win. So maybe that makes me an anti-fan of RM. In this World Cup, I'm secretly hoping England do well (despite 44 years of evidence to the contrary), but I'm pretty sure Spain can go all the way, and that'll be just grand.

So, I don't own any footie shirts or scarves, and I don't paint my face in team colours.

Until last night, that is. I met up with some friends to watch Spain beat Chile and a pretty young lady came in and gave everybody a baseball cap. I was grateful for the cap, because we were having prolonged thunderstorms, and I'd mistakenly assumed we were in summer now. The caps have 'Yo soy de la roja - Mundial 2010' (I am of the red, World 2010?) on the front, and the backside tells us that Cruzcampo is the official beer of the Spanish team (poor sods - Cruzcampo is a loooong way from being a beer I like).

When I went to the bar, Enyaki noticed my cheeks were unadorned, and pulled out a little box that he swiped across each one. I expressed astonishment, and he gave me a couple of the wee things. Like a triple-gang lipstick, one swipe gives you a perfect Spanish flag. Unlike how it was done in the olden days:

The swiper (also supplied by Cruzcampo, bless 'em):

Now I'm wondering if we'll get any England freebies tomorrow afternoon - massively unlikely, what with Guinness not actually being English. Hmmm. Can England beat Germany? I recall it happened at least once before - 1966, in fact. I was nine years old. It's nice for me to have the option of supporting a team that can actually play football (sorry, Wayney-boy).

And continuing the theme of footie fandom, it was brilliant to see lotsa Flagsa Sint George in Engerland last week. They were hanging over balconies, tied to the front of houses, and we even saw a pub that had fixed a horizontal red band and a vertical one to their almost-white façade. But mostly, at least half of the cars I saw had one or two little flags attached to the tops of their windows. Coming back to Spain, I noticed the car-flag idea hasn't got here yet. But, just to prove me wrong, on the way to the bar I saw three parked cars in a row, each sporting a Spanish flag. Except, in the centre band where you would normally see a small coat of arms, they had the letters 'DYC'. DYC (pronounced 'Dick', of course), produce whiskey in Spain. And flags, now, apparently.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Great British Food in Spain

The waiting is over and the website is now up and running. If you live in Central Madrid (inside the M-30 motorway), you can now order our fabulous pies: pork and pickle, chicken and ham, beef pasties, steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom, and a little apple one for your pudding. Oh, and we're also doing scotch eggs.

Great British Food. You know you lurve it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Red Usually Wins

Just seen a news story saying that England will play in an all-red strip tomorrow, and it reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago: Red Always Wins.

Well, let's hope so, 'cos they've been shamefully shite so far.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Say Cheese!

I've never been keen on Spanish cheese, and the English and French cheeses I've bought in Spain never seem to have travelled well. Ho hum. And I've always been interested in the idea of trying to make my own cheese, but it looks pretty complicated, so I never did anything about it.

However, a couple of weeks ago, we had a Greek salad (at a Turkish restaurant - go figure). One of the essential components of a Greek salad is feta cheese, which I love, but I've only ever seen it in one shop in Madrid, at a higher price than I wanted to pay.

But it got me thinking. I looked up feta cheese recipes on the Interwebz, and it seemed fairly straightforward. I went to my local pharmacy and got some powdered rennet (cuajo, in Spanish), and my local Mercadona supermarket supplied some goat's milk. I was a bit worried, because supermarket milk is always highly sterilized / pastuerized / UHTd, and all the recipes say it's best to use fresh milk if you can.

Anyway, I followed the instructions as best I could, but I think I overheated the milk. Whatever the reason, I couldn't get a 'clean break' - it's hard to describe, but basically it's the point where the curds separate from the whey.

I left it overnight, but nothing much had changed, although it did taste like very good yoghurt. I poured it into a large plastic bottle and put it in the fridge, in the full expectation of having to eventually throw it away. But about five days later, my wife noticed some separation of curds and whey. We were travelling that afternoon, but before we went I poured the stuff into muslin cloths and hung them up over a pan, still not expecting much to happen, other than it making the apartment stinky.

But no! When we got back after four days, we had a pan full of whey, and two blobs of something that had the texture of a softish cheese. I cut the blobs into cubes and put them in a jar full of brine for a few days. And yesterday I tried a sample. It tasted just like feta cheese! There isn't a lot of it, and it's all going into a Greek salad tonight. I'd started off with three litres of milk, and finished up with about 250g of cheese, which makes it more expensive than the stuff I refused to buy from the shop, but the sense of accomplishment is indescribable.

I'll definitely try this one again.

Friday, 18 June 2010

I Married A Clan

As you may have gathered, my beloved Daddy-In-Law passed away about ten days ago. It had been expected for several months, but was still a horrible shock when it finally happened. The cremation was set for Wednesday, so we flew to Bristol on Monday, and returned to Madrid yesterday (Thursday). And we had a fantastic time. I think the DIL would have approved.

Here's the thing, see. When I married MamaDuck, I knew she came from a large family, and it did take several years to get my head round this. The Duck has six siblings, and I met them all and came to know them, their better halves and their ever-growing collection of offspring in the first few years of our marriage. I don't think I met any of the DIL's siblings until about ten years ago, and there's five of them and of course they too have assorted offspring and grand-offspring of their own.

The DIL was born and raised in Scotland, though he spent most of his adult life in England. He enjoyed his collection of malt whiskies, was admired, respected and loved by everyone who knew him well. He was actually one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. And he could play a mean game of snooker or pool.

So, all of his siblings and their other halves (where applicable, may contain nuts), and some of their kids showed up, along with all of his surviving kids, other halves and offspring who could make it were in Brizzle to say goodbye to him.

Nobody would dispute that Bill Blackie Snr was the Chieftain of this clan, and I feel grateful and honoured to be a part of it. We terrify restaurants and bars wherever we go. It all sounds a bit Scottish, but I don't actually think I ever saw the Auld Geezer in a kilt.

So, all that above wasn't really what I wanted to write aboot. I'll do another post tomorrow about our trip, but for now, I'll just say 'Crivens, yer deed already, ye cannae die agin, Bill!'

And I'll see you later, William Somerville Blackie.

Monday, 14 June 2010


A friend of ours is the lead singer in a new band (Cat's Mother), and we were invited to attend their debut gig. Only problem was, it was in Chinchón, a small town about 50km southeast of Madrid. We've never been there before, but I had heard of it because they produce an aniseed liquor of the same name there (I could have said eponymous, but that would have been showing off).

A spot of internet research came up with a bus timetable, which turned out to be 100% wrong, and some photos of the place. The photos showed a cute old town, so we decided to get there early and spend the afternoon in Chinchón before the gig.

Chinchón's main attraction is the Plaza Mayor, which is where they stage their annual festival of teasing and killing bulls (note to self: don't go in August). All of the buildings on the periphery are three stories high and have balconies running the full length, and these are rented out at high prices to rich Madrileños for the corrida.

A bunch of hairy bikers take the Burro Taxi around the Plaza Mayor

Chinchón has an enormous church with a tablada by Goya. Surprisingly, for a Sunday, the church was locked up so we couldn't see it. There's also a castle overlooking the town, from where you can see an enormous cement works and Madrid on the horizon.

The gig itself was in the courtyard of a beautiful boutique hotel near Plaza Mayor: La Casa de la Marquesa. Why? Well, the bass player owns it, that's why. The audience of about 50 invited guests watched Cat's Mother play old-style R & B. Every member of the band was superb, the atmosphere was like a family party (the kind where the family members actually like each other, not the other kind), and, to roll out an old cliché, a great time was had by all.

Cat's Mother: bass player's not in this picture - he's hiding in a corner on the right

Dusk in Plaza Mayor

We got the last bus home at 1025 (the band having thoughtfully timed their set to coincide with the real bus timetable), and arrived at Conde de Casal at 1110.

Monday, 7 June 2010


How I lurve booking stuff online. Especially 'low-cost' flights. We have to go to the UK next week for a funeral (the DIL - RIP - I'm devastated - maybe a more complete post later...). Ryanair don't fly direct from Madrid to Bristol (it is possible to do it via Alicante, Malaga, Sevilla, Reus (eh?) or Valencia), but the buggeration factor is just too high. So that leaves EasyJet. We need to be in Bristol on Wednesday, but EasyJet have no seats available on Tuesday, so I do the booking for both of us on Monday. By crikey, they want €33 for each checked-in bag! No way, we can stuff our stuff into carry-on bags. Then I book a return flight for the boss. I might stay on in Land-Of-Maybe-Nuts for a few more days, so I don't book my return flight.

I move onto the online payment thing, and by some miracle, the payment goes through. The confirmation email arrives. My wife has two seats on the way out, and one on the way back. Feck. Feck. I mean, feck. I then spend an hour and a half trying to change this on EasyJet's website. Cannot be done. Then I waste half an hour trying to find a phone number for them. Cannot be done. I Google EasyJet phone numbers, and find one that could have worked. They close at 8pm, though, and this was a quarter to. I thought it might be worth the risk, but after listening to ridiculous recorded messages ('Welcome to the EasyJet Customer Experience' - I kid you not) for fifteen minutes, the thing shut off bang on 8pm, having no doubt charged me a preposterous amount of money for my hanging on.

So, tomorrow, when I finally get through to an actual person, they'll calmly explain to me that I am stupid (and I am - far too stupid to avoid the deliberate tricks their website puts in your way), and force me to pay another €30 to correct a mistake that their website fooled me into making. If it turns out otherwise, you'll be the first to know.

UPDATE: Well, my flabber is gasted! I spoke to real person. She made the change, and didn't ask me for any money!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Israel Kills Innocent Protestors: Rest Of World Not Bothered

I mean, come on, exactly what does it take for Israel to provoke a truly international outcry? In case you missed it, yesterday Israeli commandos rapelled from helicopters onto a ship carrying humanitarian aid to the imprisoned population of Gaza and killed between 10 and 19 unarmed (unless you think a stick is an arm) civilian activists. Get this: the ship was in international waters about 70km from Israel. So, act of war? Piracy? Mindless, vicious and brutal over-reaction? Whatever it was, Israel has once more enthusiastically leapt over the line that divides civilized nations from rogue states.

Half a dozen countries have given their Israeli ambassadors a ticking off (including Spain, God bless 'em). Billy Hague in the UK has expressed 'regret'. The US is 'seeking to understand what happened' - by the time they've sifted through the lies of the Israeli government, everyone will have forgotten the incident.

There were some fairly heated exchanges about this on Twitter yesterday - especially in the afternoon when America woke up (#flotilla & #freedomflotilla). The Israeli PR machine pumped out the most outrageous lies and that was the only news most Americans got.

Listen, I think it's a great idea for Jews to have their own state. Really, I do. The only thing I have against Jews is exactly the same thing I have against followers of any organised religion (basically 'you are deluded about heaven and hell, your antecedents have done some real shitty stuff in the past, and no, I'm not going to join you if that's what it takes to be "saved"'). Zionist zealots, on the other hand, can go fuck themselves, along with fundamentalist Christians, radical Islamists and anyone else who thinks religion has the answer to anything.

The problem with Israel is that it's in the wrong place. Its location could not be more wrong if you tried. But the Jews were given this bit of land in Palestine, on the understanding they'd get along with their Arab neighbours and not try to expand. They immediately kicked out the Arabs and began appropriating more land. On reflection, it would have been far better to give them Tierra del Fuego. They'd still have caused trouble, but at least not in such a religious- and oil'n'gas-sensitive area.

But that's by-the-by. There will never be peace in the Middle East as long as Israel is allowed to carry on like the spoilt brat it is, with the financial, political and emotional support of the US moneygarchy.

I had hoped that Obama would really make a difference in the world, and the Middle East in particular. Imagine his surprise when he sat down in the Oval Office for the first time and was told who exactly runs the US (it ain't the Pres, that's for sure).

So I don't know what should be done about Israel, an immoral, amoral, illegal and brutally violent state that does exactly what it feels like, no matter what the United Nations says. Should it stay or should it go? 'Go' would be my answer, but I know that's never going to happen. So, 'stop being a bastard and get along with thy neighbours' is probably the best we can hope for.

And you know what? Stranger things have happened. Here's a few that I would have ranked in improbability along with England winning the FIFA World Cup again:

1) Abolition of apartheid in South Africa
2) Demolition of the Berlin Wall
3) Collapse of the USSR

I hope this incident will change the way the world (especially the UK and the US, who are responsible for the whole damn mess in the first place) views Israel, and they can be made to just behave themselves. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.