Ficklish Blog

Friday, June 23, 2006


Well now, wasn't that exciting?! I'm enjoying this soccery thing more than I could have imagined. Last night was terrifying and thrilling and I loved every minute.

(Well, except for those minutes that sucked, though they were fun in that perverse kind of way because I could boo until my throat was sore.)

I’d like to begin by thanking the delightful AZ - who, upon hearing of my somewhat pathetic attempt to show my Australian spirit by pinning a pair of socks to the wall behind my desk, promptly sent an excellent flag postcard which has made my little display look eminently more respectable. Thanks, AZ!

It’s very good fun, being here for the World Cup.

So far, I have strategically avoided the Australian pubs in London for the Socceroo games - fearful of the potential for unbearable obnoxiousness that lurks among some of my countrymen. Last night, however, we were faced with a desperate situation - our pub of choice and the three we tried thereafter had inexplicably decided to show the Brazil-Japan game. With some misgivings and as the hour of the game drew nearer, we bit the bullet and ventured into Ozland, also known as Fulham. Thankfully, the pub we found was small and, while full to the brim, our fellow patrons seemed like decent folk. At the very least, they seemed just as nervous as we were and weren’t trying to hide it with loud, brazen ockerness.

The game was fabulous to watch. As I’ve said recently on Grods, my very scientific method of judging the merit of World Cup fixtures to date has been their entertainment factor, and this one, while far too stressful for comfort, has been my favourite so far. I particularly love how a room of strangers can bond in situations like these: hearts in mouths, butt cheeks clenched, we held our collective breath during each tense moment, roared with joy at the moments of triumph and howled in frustration at the missed opportunities and overt demonstrations of referee mistakes and foul play.

The moment I’ll remember best came after a particularly egregious example of yet another Croatian foul ignored by Mr Poll. A desperate, plaintive voice cried out from the back of the room: “You dirty, DIRTY bastard!” and the room exploded in enthusiastic agreement.

As the tension grew, so did the Oz factor, and I didn't mind at all. At one point there may or may not have been a chorus of Waltzing Matilda (no further comment).

Thankfully, justice was served and the result was the right one. Hooray, we’re through to the second round!

It could have been very different, however, and I fear that it would have been all my fault.

I had declared this an Alcohol-Free Week (AFW) to try and mitigate the damage caused by several unrelenting weeks of a close and unproductive relationship with my good friend, Mr Pint Glass. I definitely needed a break, but my timing was exceptionally foolish. In these weeks where one's social life is determined not by the question "what shall we do tonight?" but rather "where are we watching the game?", it was a display of particularly poor judgement.

I was successful for most of the week, thoroughly enjoying the England game fueled only by orange juice and diet coke (not together, obviously) while staunchly resisting the sustained derision from the English folk around me.

But it was never going to work tonight. Most of you are familiar with the jLo Rules of Sport Spectatorship:

1. You have to barrack for where you come from; and
2. If things are going well, keep doing whatever you’re doing and vice versa.

These rules have generally served me well, and I make a point of observing them strictly. The second rule has led to some discomfort in the past - that Australian Open match where I had to watch through the window because every time I entered the room Rafter's serve was broken, any number of Test matches where I wasn't allowed to vacate the couch to visit the bathroom in case a wicket fell.

Really, I should have known better. In the case of the Socceroos World Cup Campaign 2006, it was all about the beer.

I stuck to my mission at first but soon realised that I was breaking my own rule. If we were doing so well while I was busily living a life of regular and excessive drunkenness, then it was all my fault we were 1-0 down while I sat selfishly nursing a soda water.

As soon as I rectified the situation and purchased a pint, we equalised. Hurrah!

I hadn’t learned, however. 'That'll do', I thought, refusing the next round.

Of course, Croatia scored again. I held out, telling myself it was just superstition, that there was no need to further ruin my healthy week , that it would make no difference.

Then I realised I couldn't take the chance. Not wanting to risk a nomination for unAustralian of the Year, I fetched another beer and a goal soon followed.

And all was right with the world.

So let this be a lesson: while being healthy is a noble pursuit, sometimes you have to put your body on the line for your country.

I'm going to defer my next AFW until AFTER the World Cup.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cup of Life?

So, apparently there's a World Cup on. It seems large and rather important. It's only been going for a couple of days and already I've watched more football since, well, the last time the World Cup was on. This excellent post over at Grods by Billybob has the actual footbally bits covered - the prospects of the teams and what it all means for our Socceroos and so on - so I will concentrate on the cultural impact of this sacred event.

The first thing to note is that I'm referring to it as 'football', rather than soccer. I'm so assimilated....

The citizens of England, it would seem, are united behind their national team and giddily enthusiastic about their prospects. For a nation of people usually at each others' throats about the domestic competition of this crazy game, it's somewhat touching to see previously insurmountable footballing differences forgotten in the wake of World Cup fever.

The flag of St George covers the land, with flashes of red and white everywhere you look. Every third car has a pair of flags fluttering from each front window. There is deliciously tacky paraphernalia on sale in every store, from the local off-licence to the fancy boutiques. I've seen everything, from t-shirts to novelty oversized hats, fluffy dice, tattoos, and shoelaces (perfect for those bad-boy hooligan boots, you know, so when you're kicking someone's head in they know exactly from whence you came).

Speaking of hooligans, I met a young lad on the weekend who was sporting a fresh buzz cut and a bucketload of angry, psyching up to descend upon Germany this week to, and I quote, "bring the Cup home". Apparently in his vision this was to be achieved single-handedly, though I'm not sure how. He was actually more than a little amusing, not least when I told him I was looking forward to seeing him on the front page of The Sun and he responded by getting up and showing me his already-practiced publicity pose: head tucked under arm, jacket pulled across face - all ready for the inevitable encounters with the gendarmes and paparazzi.

I've learned more than I ever needed to know about a player named Wayne Rooney, who is apparently so critical to England's success that any day he manages to train with the team or has some sort of medical assessment of his fitness levels is a day where news bulletins cover nothing else. I'm serious. I've heard entire radio news bulletins that discuss nothing except the prospect of Mr Rooney's metatarsal (which, it seems, is a fancy way of saying ‘broken toe’) healing in time for the playoffs. He's the Jana Pittman of the English football team.

(And I'm quite sure that is possibly the most insulting comparison I could have made. I should apologise to Mr Rooney. But he'll probably get over it).

My favourite thing about the last football tournament I experienced in England (Euro2000) was the songs. Fabulously catchy, irresistibly rousing, English football songs are great fun. I was looking forward to reprising some of my favourites at the pub on Saturday afternoon - only in the interests of my 'when in Rome' approach to travel, you understand - I'm not actually supporting England, I just really wanted to sing that 'three lions on a shirt' song again.

And so, I must confess, I was a little disappointed at the display on the weekend. After such a long build-up and such overt displays of nationalistic fervour, I was expecting dancing in the streets once England had posted its first victory. However, the mood in London seemed quite subdued that afternoon. The pubs cleared and there was a marked absence of singing and shouting (at least in the area I was in). Perhaps folks are pacing themselves, perhaps they were exulting on the inside. Perhaps they were quietly worried because in fact England played like shit.

(Or so I am given to understand).

Anyway, I'm as World Cup ready as I can possibly be. Everyone within hearing distance has been repeatedly informed of Australia's soccer history and how exciting it is that we are participating at all. I don't have much in the way of Australian paraphernalia to display, save for the excellent flag socks which were part of my farewell gift, so I have pinned them proudly to the wall behind my desk (much to the amusement of my colleagues). I have Australia to barrack for, and scored South Korea in the work sweep, so I'm set.

(The sweep draw, incidentally, was hilarious: I was very amused to watch fully grown, normally sedate lawyer types squeal with glee and race around the office shouting such things as: “I got Germany, you’re all FUCKED! Victory to the Fatherland!’).

The first Socceroo game kicks off in less than an hour. Sadly, I'm not at the pub with my countrymen this afternoon, given that there are very important letters for me to type here at work, but I'm quite sure that I'll have frequent and very urgent tasks to attend to in the conference room downstairs, where a flatscreen TV has been installed for what I assume is my football-watching convenience.

Bring it on!

Updated to Add:

Well, that was fun, wasn't it? Hooray! Of course, I was cruelly kept far too busy to be able to pop downstairs to watch it as planned - how dare they give me work to do at work? Thankfully, salvation arrived in the shape of a portable TV loaned to me by one of the kindly lawyer-types I work for. I propped the little screen by my computer, and typed away merrily with one eye on the (miniature) action. As luck would have it, the batteries ran out twenty minutes before the game ended, so I missed all the goals, but still. It seemed very exciting, and I've now seen them all on replay so I feel complete. I can't wait until Sunday afternoon when I can watch the next one at a pub like a normal person, with beer and shouting and suchlike.

Further Notes from a Random Life

London is proving as physically challenging as Spain – except that now I don't get to spend my days lolling about, recovering and preparing for the onslaught ahead. I'm running on fumes here at the moment, and am looking forward to getting some sleep soon.

I provide, for your amusement, a couple of random snapshots from events transpiring since last we spoke.

This Is Your Captain Speaking

I caught up with an old friend last week who is a mere fortnight away from being legally permitted to fly a large tin can full of people through the air to exotic destinations across Europe. He was full of excellent stories that simultaneously delighted and scared me shitless.

For instance, when asked to demonstrate the protocol for an engine fire, he begins with: "So, I'm sat there reading the paper....".

He confirmed that he does indeed get to wear a hat and a badge to work; that you really do only need one engine to fly perfectly well and any extras are merely for backup; and that the reason more pilots die of heart attacks than any other cause is not (as I guessed) due to stress but the fact that, and I quote, they "spend entire decades sat on their arse."

He had a video on his phone of a session he and a fellow trainee had done in a simulator recently where a landing went quite horribly wrong. Watching the ground approach from the cockpit windscreen, knowing that disaster was imminent but still being shocked at the violence of the crunch as the plane hit cured me of any lingering regret that I was never one of those kiddies who got to visit the cockpit back in the day.

I pleaded with my friend not to waste the opportunity of a lifetime to work the classic line "It's my first day!" somewhere into his PA patter during his maiden voyage. While he agreed that this would be pure comedy gold, he had to respectfully decline on the basis that pilots are specifically forbidden to tell jokes. It's in their manual and everything. Something to do with some parade-raining spoilsports out there who really don't have a sense of humour about flying. Sigh.

I like that I have a pilot friend with whom I can have the following SMS conversation:

"Hey, pilot friend. Come to our BBQ this afternoon."

"I can't, I'm in the sim, practising Flap-25 landings. They're rare, but very serious."

"Oh, okay. Good excuse. Practise hard."

Weekend in the Country

On the weekend I went to a wedding in rural England, back in Devon where I lived six years ago. It was spectacularly beautiful - the sun came out for real for the first time since I've been here, and as the train trundled across the countryside I could look up from my nap every now and again and gaze serenely at rolling green fields and hedges - the storybook England of glorious cliché, one classic jigsaw-puzzle scene after another.

The wedding itself was lovely, as weddings often are. The beautiful day helped, as did my fabulous shoes. I had the exquisite pleasure of approaching an old university friend and, after greeting him enthusiastically, watching him struggle to work out who the hell I was. He recovered quickly, but it was fun all the same. It's endlessly amusing to be the last person anyone would expect to turn up to a particular event, especially when you are generally assumed to be safely tucked away on the other side of the world.

The ceremony was in a wonderful old church, and the sunlight spilling through the stained glass windows provided a persistent distraction from all the Jesus in the air. I learned that if it is at all possible, one should retain the services of a professional BBC radio announcer to perform a reading during one's wedding - it is, in fact, a pleasure to hear anything read aloud if it is done that well. Danny could have been reading the phone book (and perhaps he was, I was lost in the soothing sounds) and I would have enjoyed it just as much.

J,The will be very amused to note that one of the hymns during the service was that perennial favourite, 'Lord of the Dance'. I wished she had been there to provide the movements.

The party was in the Great Hall at a massive old estate - as we drove in and gazed upon the clusters of ivy-choked stone buildings I could almost hear the pitiful cries of the ye olden day starving serfs groaning under the yoke of submission to their feudal lord and master. Then I blocked my ears and went and cavorted as madly as the occasion seemed to demand. Among the guests at the event were several individuals of my acquaintance of an exceptionally high quality with whom I spent many happy hours catching up on the years that have passed since our last occasion of mutual drunkenness.

I finally indulged a long-held desire to actually call the couple in question on their decision to include amusingly random household items on their wedding list, and have sent them a lemon squeezer for a gift. It's a really good lemon squeezer, and I figured no home is complete without one. I can't wait for the thank-you note: "Dear jLo, thank you for our exquisite stainless steel lemon squeezer. We will use it and think of you for years to come." Excellent.

And, lastly -

In other random news, the oft-mentioned Mr Canadia has arrived in London. Welcome, Mr C! Amusingly, he is currently dossing at Casa de jLo & Mr Juicy, and it is exceptionally weird to be typing this with him sitting across the room (tapping away on his own Mac, it's a veritable nerd-fest). Valencia and Amsterdam seem very far away right now, and yet now there's a piece of that trip right here.

My life is a very strange place indeed.

Stay tuned, my friends, next up will be the exclusive Ficklish preview of a certain largish sporting tournament that folks seem pretty damn excited about. Smooches to you all.