Thursday, 25 January 2007

Taking Time Out

Last weekend we spent a pleasant 24 hour break away from everything. And how great it felt.

Mrs W had booked an overnight stay at the St Mary Gate Inn in Arundel (that's it in the picture, the white one not the big one with stained glass windows) as part of my Xmas present. And how nice it was to simply get away from it all. No work, no worries (well plenty but we promised not to think about them), no kids (as much as we love them), no cooking, no washing up, no mobiles phones (self-imposed 24 hour ban) and what made it best of all, no time restraints whatsoever.

We ended up in a 16th Century room with an ancient four poster bed, and had a lovely meal in the restaurant, not to mention a huge English breakfast next day. We simply spent the evening and next day exploring the town and surrounding area. Reading it, it sounds really boring but it wasn't. And by the end of it we got back home feeling like our batteries had been re-charged and all the cobwebs blown away.

As for Arundel itself it's a place I've never visited despite being only an hour down the road. It's the sort of place I guess all Americans think the whole of England is like, old fashioned and bustling and full of market stalls and antique shops and 4 by4s with labradors in the back and families wearing green wellies and Tudor houses and castles and cathedrals and sweet shops with sweets in big jars and a bridge over a river and ancient pubs and, and ... I could go on and on. I was half expecting to bump into Miss Marple at any minute.

The perfect place to relax and lose yourself for a day, no doubt we'll visit it again at some time and would recommend it - both Arundel itself and the idea of a 24 hour time out - to anyone. But a word of warning, if you decide to visit The Ghost Experience take a spare set of pants.

Football - Is It The End Of A Love Affair ?

"What has happened to football?"
Or maybe I should be asking
"What has happened to me?"

Since I was a small boy I have loved going to football. So why, now, can I simply not be arsed any more? It's something that I never thought would happen the game seems to have lost it's appeal.

Admittedly high ticket prices have an effect but it's more than that, I think I'd feel the same if they were giving the tickets away.

I was brought up watching the Southampton FA Cup winning side, and the non-stop entertainment under McMenemy and Nichol. In a time when we seemed to win (or lose) 3-2 or 4-3 more often then 1-0 games were exciting. But more to the point games were important. It was a time when almost every fan of a top flight team could start the season dreaming of winning the league. Whilst an unexpected winner was rare, not only my own Southampton, but the likes of Ipswich, Watford, QPR and Swansea all made strong challenges for the title, ending runners up. Nowadays the top 4 of the Premiership are the top 4 till eternity unless rules on football finances change. So what is there to get excited about if you support any other team?

Lets take for example Blackburn v Middlesbrough (it could be 2 of probably a dozen teams). You sit through 90 minutes in the hope of some entertainment. But even if you win the game, so what?. Not likely to go down, not likely to win the league or even break into the top 4, so what difference does that result make? Nothing to get excited about. They wonder why many grounds (including those of the 2 mentioned teams) lack atmosphere these days. Many blame all-seater stadia - I blame total lack of interest and enthusiasm of a good proportion of fans who turn up for no other reason than habit.

At the moment at least Saints have the "excitement" of a promotion battle for the rest of this season. But even if they succeed, so what? the only excitement next season will be managing to avoid relegation again.

Maybe it is just me - after all there are still thousands who turn up week in week out. But I would put money on it that the majority of those who were watching 15 years ago or more enjoyed "the old days" a lot more than they are enjoying it now, no matter who they support.

And for any of my "football friends" reading this, whilst I have no enthusiasm for games at the moment, I really miss the social side. Maybe I should go to the pub at noon and meet up before the game, have a good old chat and a few pints, stay there for a couple more pints whilst everyone else goes off to the match at 2.30pm, and still be there happily awaiting their return (not to mention around £20 a match better off) just after 5pm.

Now that sounds like a plan !

Monday, 22 January 2007

WHY ???

The weekend just gone we had a therapeutic no-kids-no-phones-get-away-from-it-all 24 hours to ourselves (no doubt more about that later).
On the way back we spent a couple of hours in Bosham, on the coast in East Sussex. A quaint little village, it's most memorable feature being the coastal road, which gets completely submerged every high tide. There are even signs in the local pub warning that if you are parked there and high tide is due, then the road and possibly your car won't be there when you leave. ! The big question is, if it floods every time the tide comes in why on earth did they build it there. ?

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Cornwall is better than Devon

We - that's Mrs W. and I - spent New Year in then West Country. And having visited a few times now we have to agree, Cornwall definitely beats Devon hands down.

Last time we went down there was for a weeks camping in the summer. Unfortunately our journey was delayed slightly when the car engine simply blew up on the A30 just outside Exeter. Our best memories of Devon on that trip were sunbathing on a grass verge at the side of a busy dual carriageway for around 3 hours waiting for the tow truck to get us to our camp-site. The rest of the holiday, once we reached Cornwall, was great, great weather and beautiful scenery. As far as I know the car could still be there, certainly the helpful man at the garage in Perranporth phoned me several months later as it was still on his forecourt (legally it was no longer mine by then but I was as helpful as I could be).

We liked Cornwall so much that along with the rest of my family we have bought a holiday bungalow near St Ives, which meant we had somewhere to stay on New Years Eve. So we packed our overnight bags and had an easy traffic free journey down there, arriving mid-afternoon on the 31st. As we drove through Devon along the A30 the weather was awful, and passing the point where the previous car expired I had my fingers crossed. The radio was already tuned into Atlantic FM which was reporting high winds and heavy rain down in St Agnes. Yet almost as soon as we crossed the Cornish border the winds dropped, the rain ceased and (small) patches of blue sky appeared.

We arrived at our holiday home, unpacked and then had a pleasant drive around St Ives and the neighbourhood before having dinner, getting into our fancy dress costumes (schoolboy and schoolgirl if you must know, sorry, no pics) and drove up to St Agnes for a party at the St Agnes Hotel. Mrs W was a bit worried we'd been stitched up on the fancy dress but merely driving through the village she was immediately re-assured by the sight of fairies cowboys and pirates (not sure if the latter were actually fancy dress or off to work, do pirates still operate in those parts?) wandering the streets. We had a great night. It was advertised as a School Disco and it sounded like the DJ must have been at school with me, I think it was well past 11pm before he played a record I hadn't bought when it was released. And how refreshing to reach midnight without the dreary Auld Lang Syne, instead the roof was raised with a rousing rendition of Bohemian Raphsody (not exactly traditional but it so seemed to fit the spirit of the evening). It turns out NYE is not an exception down that way, clearly the locals need little excuse at anytime to get into fancy dress ( as a quick look at a friends blog here will prove). I couldn't help thinking how different it was to a night out back home. Here we were, in a packed pub miles from home knowing only a few people there yet feeling totally at ease. At home, any evening spent in a town centre pub involves checking one's back at regular intervals.

Next day, I woke to broken cloud and had a pleasant walk through the woods nearby after breakfast before popping back to St Agnes to pick up friends. For on New Years Day we were heading back to dreaded Devon, as Saints were playing away at Plymouth. Literally, as we crossed the Tamar bridge into Devon, on came the wipers as the rain started to pour. We parked up 2 minutes walk away from a pub in Mutley Plain (the name alone sounds dodgy) where I had arranged to meet others to give out match tickets. In that 2 minute walk were probably the two loudest claps of thunder I have ever heard, and the heavens opened. Just making it into the pub before being totally soaked, we were still trying to buy drinks when yet another thunder clap shook the whole building to it's foundations. The barmaid literally took off, landing about 2ft behind where she had been standing. For a second I thought she had been electrocuted by the pump she was pouring my drink from but it turned out she had literally jumped in fright. With glasses and bottles still rattling everyone went straight to the windows and looked out, within a couple of minutes we were surrounded by 2 inches of hailstones.

Now I'm not sure whether it was an effect the weather or simply a reflection the average Plymothian (I had to look that one up to check) but first Mrs W, and then, one by one the rest of our group, started feeling rather ill at ease. Being away fans in any strange pub generally has a certain edge to it, but despite being recommended as "away fan friendly" by a local, this one had a feeling of The Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf in London about it. In keeping with the werewolf theme, when one of the locals started barking uncontrollably despite attempts by his friends to stop him, we decided that a different pub may be the better option. So we quickly drunk up and slipped and slid through the hailstones back to the car, then parked at the ground and after a 5 minute shivering stroll we arrived wet through and totally frozen at the second pub. Immediately we felt at home, everywhere we turned were faces we recognised and not a single woof to be heard. We found more of our friends, all nice and warm, lucky for them they had been in there ages. The big debate was whether or not the match, due to start in 90 minutes, would even be played. Looking outside, pulling faces at the local Janner Chavs "snowballing" our window with handfuls of hail it looked very very unlikely. But on it was, and off we reluctantly trudged to the ground, stopping only to buy a (vastly inferior) Devon pasty from the back of a van. We spent the whole game shivering in the back row trying to raise some enthusiasm as our team, playing rubbish as they seem to do every time I watch them away, struggled to a one all draw. The most memorable incidents of the whole game were Mrs W discovering that her seat number was 666 (very appropriate) and then the same young lady taking her gloves out of her pocket only to discover she had brought a pair of my socks instead. It was so cold she put them on anyway !

Finally came the long awaited full-time whistle and it was time to leave. Trying to keep warm with an undercooked burger as we waited about half an hour to get out of the car park, we finally started the long drive home in the rain. Which, by the way, stopped as if by magic immediately we entered Dorset.

So, I'm afraid to say I can only speak as I find, from personal experience Cornwall is better than Devon by a mile. If only it was possible to get to the former without having to pass through the latter.