Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jam today and tomorrow

Dear all,

I realised a dream today.

A dream that is shared by all young boys, but takes time to accomplish.

Yes, I did something for the first time which just might change my life forever.

You've guessed it, I drove a tractor!

More impressively, I safely negotiated a number of small trees in the field (swerving to avoid them, not running them over) and kept the big orange monster out of the stream running nearby.

This has put me in a thoroughly good mood, increased by the fact I'm off on holiday to Spain tomorrow. I'll finally get to see Picasso's "Guernica", which has wowed readers of English coursebooks for years.

To celebrate my bonhomie, a short but sweet cartoon from the little mole:

More blogging in a week or so.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Qualified success

As the England football team stumbles hopelessly and goallessly forward under the leadership of the braying, orange Steve McClaren, a man who clearly wants to spend the summer of 2008 watching the Olympics from his luxury mansion rather than the European Championships from the intimate confines of the dugout, I can report some actual successes on the sporting field.

Firstly I should congratulate the England cricket team who have, for the first time since 1992, avoided being knocked out in the first round of a world cup. This means a guaranteed six more matches in the super 8 stage and with any luck a couple of victories, against Ireland and Bangladesh. To get to the semis we'll have to beat one or two of the big boys. I'd say we have a chance against the Windies, but I think we'll struggle against South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka. I'm sticking with my tip of NZ to win the thing overall.

Secondly, Portugal have achieved their aim of qualifying for the rugby world cup. You may recall I went to see the home leg a fortnight ago, where they defeated Uruguay 12-5. Well, they lost the return in Montevideo 18-12 last night, but got through 24-23 on aggregate. Congratulations to them - it's good to see rugby growing in popularity around the world - although I doubt they'll record a positive result in a group including New Zealand, Italy, Scotland and Romania. Well, perhaps against Scotland.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hitting the right note

Danny Finkelstein is looking for right-wing music. Beyond the obvious Wagner or Elvis and the string-em-up tendencies of the Gilbert and Sullivan set, the cupboard is a little bare. Danny’s inspiration for this was the American rocker, Ted Nugent, who is a prominent member of the National Rifle Association.

By coincidence, I saw Nugent the other day on “Cribs”, MTV’s version of "Through the Keyhole", where overpaid musicians and actors expose their appalling lack of decorative taste. As with most Cribbers, Nugent has a large pad with more TVs than anyone could realistically watch. Unlike the Timberlakes and Timbalands of this world, though, Ted Nugent’s house is adorned with the paraphernalia and trophies of his life’s passion: hunting. A zebra’s head peers from out of the hall wall across at a Canadian black bear, and there are more guns and bows than a small army would need. “I’m just living the American dream,” he says. Truly Ted Nugent is a musical voice on the right of the political spectrum.

Who else could we put in this category? Well, there’s a certain Thatcherite sentiment to ABBA’s "The Winner Takes it All" (belying the notion that all Swedes are happy socialists), balanced by Nick Berry’s strictly Old Labour "Every Loser Wins". And several successful artists have relocated over the years to avoid paying exorbitant tax rates in the UK: one can assume they are opponents of “big” government. These names include Led Zeppelin and Phil Collins (how many were inspired to vote Labour when he promised to leave the country if they got in? I know I was). Abroad, the situation is the same – legendary Frenchman, Jonny Hallyday is living in Switzerland to reduce his tax burden, and, while extolling the virtues of giving to the needy, Bono and his U2 chums have moved their business interests to the Netherlands to cut the amount they have to give to the Exchequer.

Back to the main point, though, I think there is only one winner in the right-wing music stakes. Reminiscent of Engelbert Humperdinck’s priceless “Lesbian Seagull”, below we have former US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, singing his own “Let the Eagle Soar”, a paean to the best of the United States. Lest we forget, Ashcroft was appointed by Dubya as Attorney General after he lost his Senate seat to a dead man in the 2000 election. Suffice to say the dead man probably has a better ear for a tune too. Apologies for the wobbly camera, I think the person videoing this is laughing quite heartily.

And for some right-wing comedians, that other rare beast, click here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The lowest form of transport

England attempt to get their World Cup campaign back on track this afternoon against Canada, but will do so without their talismanic all-rounder, Freddie Flintoff, who has been dropped for a "breach of team discipline".

According to reports, Flintoff capsized a pedalo and had to be rescued from the chilly depths in the middle of the night. There can be no more pathetic vehicle on land or sea (not even a golf cart) and somehow this story sums up the sad state of English cricket, which is listing desperately at the moment and could be holed below the water line by the Canucks this afternoon.

Although, I enjoyed Bangladesh (I think I predicted they might beat India?)and Ireland emerging victorious yesterday, I hope they don't provide too much inspiration for our maple-syrup glugging cousins. News is they've won the toss and put us in. Let's try to get a big score and take a step closer to the Super 8s.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bloody Blogger etc

Will try to post regularly over the next few weeks, but Blogger is quite temperamental in terms of letting me log in and actually do anything useful.

While I'm allowed access at the moment, I'll just say well done to the West Indies for their victory yesterday (told you Pakistan weren't up to much) and good luck to the Jocks against Australia this afternoon.

Yesterday I used the Elton John classic, Rocket Man, in one of my classes. Thus I am honour-bound to post this reworking by a famous space captain. Enjoy...

Monday, March 12, 2007

2007 World Cup 2: Cricket

Sixteen nations. Twelve grounds in nine countries. Seven weeks. Fifty-one matches. One winner.

That's the Cricket World Cup in numbers, but how will it play out? I am, of course, looking forward to it immensely, as I think most cricket fans are. It's much too long, due to a schedule that prevents more than one match taking place on any particular day, but as a tournament, it's almost completely wide open, which should provide us with some great cricket over the next few weeks.

Here's my hastily cobbled together preview:

I suppose that, despite their recent defeats to England and New Zealand, Australia just about enter the tourney as favourites. They have experience and quality throughout their team and cannot be written off by anyone. However, there is some question about their bowling, with Brett Lee out, and Glenn McGrath at the end of his career. A lot will be expected of Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clark (a great record in tests, but less good in the short form). Ponting, Gilchrist and Hussey are the backbone of a great batting lineup.

England will have some confidence from their recent success in Australia and will be boosted by the return of Kevin Pietersen to the side. If he and Flintoff can hit top form, we'll be able to chase most targets and post challenging ones for other teams. The major weakness is a lack of experience amongst the squad, with only two 100 cap players (Flintoff and Collingwood). We also lack an attacking presence at the top of the batting order, which means we could get bogged down in the scoring. However, the pitches in the West Indies are unproven and possibly tricky, so it could be an advantage to have classic batting stylists such as Bell and Vaughan who are able to build a platform on their superior technique, rather than slogging (sorry, pinch-hitting) early on. Maybe. If we can beat New Zealand on Friday, we can count ourselves in with a shout.

Conversely, the Kiwis will be among the favourites if they can beat us. Their hopes rest on the injury-prone Shane Bond. If he's fit, he'll probably be the best fast bowler in the competition and can run through teams like the proverbial through a goose. His record against the Aussies is particularly good. But, if, as so often, he gets injured, New Zealand might lack a cutting edge.

The hosts, the West Indies, are probably my second favourite team, but I'm not sure they'll make it beyond the Super 8s. They have the batsmen to cut it in the short game (Gayle, Chanderpaul, Sarwan and, of course, the peerless Brian Lara) but I don't think their bowling is world class at the moment. Still, the crowds will be behind them and their performance will dictate how successful the tournament is. I think they'll start with a win against Pakistan tomorrow.

The number one ranked team is South Africa, and they have a very strong and experienced squad. I think they could well get to the semis, and their group game against Australia could prove crucial to their chances. The question is whether they can hold their nerve when the pressure is on - something they've failed to do in the past couple of World Cups. I don't think you can write off any team that can chase 435 and win, though.

Among the teams from the sub-continent, India and Sri Lanka are strongly tipped. They are in the same group, so their game should be one of the highlights of the first round. I think both have the potential to get to the semis and slow pitches should suit their games. A spanner could be thrown in the works by Bangladesh, who are also in their group, and who are the strongest of the "outsiders". I fancy them to give India and Sri Lanka a good game and wouldn't be surprised if they came out with a victory: their medium pacers could pose a few threats on sluggish surfaces. Bizarrely, I don't fancy Pakistan to do well at all - their bowling is short without Asif and Shoaib (drugs cheats who are both injured) - although their batting can be very dangerous.

The minnows in the tournament are Bermuda, Scotland, Canada, Ireland, Kenya and Holland and they'll be happy to beat each other in the group stages. Mind you, Kenya got to the semis in bizarre circumstances last time so I suppose nothing is impossible. Ireland should have a chance to beat Zimbabwe, the weakest test nation.

So, it all kicks off tomorrow, with Windies against Pakistan. I suspect I'll be spending a lot of time on cricinfo between now and the end of April.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

2007 World Cup 1: Rugby

Although most egg-chasing eyes are on the Six Nations as that particular tournament reaches its climax, those of us who don't live in the British Isles, France or Italy have to get our fix elsewhere. And what better place than Lisbon's lovely University Stadium, lined with fragrant eucalyptus and pine trees, to watch the play-off for the final place in the Rugby World Cup, to be held in France this Autumn.

Before I got here, I didn't realise they even played rugby in Portugal, let alone that the national team was actually fairly competitive. Anyway, it turns out Portugal aren't bad at all and are taking on Uruguay over two legs for a chance to play in the main event later this year.

We watched the first match yesterday (free entry and a free scarf (not necessary in the 20 degree sunshine) and in front of an enthusiastic crowd, Portugal prevailed 12-5 in a largely attritional affair. They probably just deserved the victory, taking advantage of two Uruguayan sin-binnings to score their two tries. They were a bit unfortunate to concede a late try in the final minute, but I guess it leaves things finely poised for the return leg in Montevideo in a couple of weeks.

I hope Portugal can get through, as it would be great to have a new country at the World Cup, and given their defensive strength (very well drilled, I thought) I think their noses are just ahead.

Will write about the cricket later, am now off to watch second half of Chelsea-Spurs. (C'mon you spuds!)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Champions League: Last 8 Draw

This should be good, there are three English teams left and they are the bookies' favourites for the big cup. I wonder if they can avoid each other?

- Hosted by Matthew Lorenzo, who used to be on London Tonight. Bit of a step up from Brentford against Southend.

- Boring preamble with Ludovic Guily. Yawn. Get on with it!

- They'll be drawing the semis today as well. Oh, here comes Platini - new UEFA Prezz. He's giving the cup to the mayor of Athens (where the final will be held at the end of May). A chap called Timon, apparently.

- Timon has a fetching orange tie. It's rather more exciting than his speech. Phew, he's finished.

- Who will have their hands on the balls? It's none other than a bald bloke and a bloke with hair. I think one is the Tango man.

- Ex-Leicester star Theo Zagorakis is now chewing the fat with Lorenzo. When will they draw the thing?

- Aha, Tango man is presenting. Hair man and Theo will pull out the teams. The audience of journos and club chairmen is struggling to stay awake.

- After nearly 20 minutes, we're ready to go:

AC Milan v. Bayern Munich - A clash of the titans first up. Rather increases the chance of Liverpool v Chelsea

PSV Eindhoven v. Liverpool - Yeah, woo! Excellent! Should win this one no probs. Of course, that's what Arsenal said last time. Good draw for the reds, though.

AS Roma v. Manchester United -The English teams have avoided each other. United will fancy their chances here.

Chelsea v. Valencia - A tricky assignment for Mourinho and co, but I think they'll win over two legs.

- Now for the semi-final pairings:

Chelsea or Valencia v. PSV or Liverpool - if Liverpool do get through, Benitez will play his old club, or his nemesis, Mourinho. He'd love it if he beat them.

Milan or Bayern v. Roma or Man Utd - tough route for United to get to the final, but I'd still tip them to do so.

- I don't believe this, they're drawing the final, too. Surprise, surprise, it's the winners of semi-final 2 against the winners of semi-final 1.

- Thank god that's over. Let's hope the matches themselves are more exciting than this nonsense.