Catalonia has exited Covid lockdown and with it a slew of cafes and restaurants have re-opened their doors. Many of them were previously invisible to the unfamiliar eye and the transformation of streetlife in Sant Feliu is remarkable. Even in the rain the outdoor covered terraces are abuzz with warmly coated groups who are catching up on life over a coffee or lunch. It is as though blood has returned to the arteries of the town.

Getting into the spirit

With the curtailed tourist season a distant memory the cultural calendar has been in limbo until now as thoughts turn toward Christmas. Shop fronts have gradually acquired more glitter and a platoon of the Council’s sizeable army of workers has been assigned to prepare street illuminations. I’m pleased to say that none of this has taken place before late November which makes a refreshing change to the October Christmas marketing that assaults one’s senses in the UK.

Some things haven’t changed regardless of the season. Mademoiselle Sonia (a Belgian ex-pat) in the flat downstairs continues to host her weekly piano social every Thursday afternoon. Her mystery visitor arrives around 1pm and the door buzzer heralds the start to proceedings. This has become a highlight of the week and we like to identify her flowery interpretations of classic songs. There is a little variation from week to week although the Godfather theme is assured.

A foggy Thursday at our apartment – the stage is set…

It’s Thursday 26th November and the opener is Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – a new track. As usual I provide a running commentary of the playlist to my sister in the UK via WhatsApp (perhaps the novelty of this is wearing thin for her by now). She messages back with a football emoji. Of course! This is being played in tribute to Maradona who died yesterday and who played for Barcelona just down the coast. I wonder what Sonia would think if she knew that her upstairs neighbours were so engrossed in her performances, and sharing them with an international audience. I’m listening to the recital from my workstation when M suggests that maybe the visitor is the pianist, not Sonia. After all we don’t hear piano music at any other time of the week. The logic of this is hard to resist yet it threatens the bubble of reality I have conjured up in my mind. I’ll stick to my prior delusions thank you very much.

Another constant since we arrived has been the “work” being carried out at a house down the hill that we pass on the way out. The garage door is always open, with a maintenance van parked outside and anywhere between 2 and 4 workmen in various poses of non-work. Over the course of 3 weeks they have combined their collective might to empty the garage of a few shelves, give it a good old sweeping and then apply some white paint to the walls. With the advent of the rain they have taken to sheltering in the empty garage and drinking coffee. Nothing happens fast in Sant Feliu.


The last Saturday of November is a washout. There has been thunder and sheet lightning almost non-stop for 24 hours. I have been watching from the balcony as ominous layers of dark cloud have rolled off the hills, eventually obscuring Sant Pol. The line between sea and sky became indistinguishable at some point. Now things have settled a little and I can see the street below awash with wet pine needles that have been beaten down from the trees, The army of council workers will have yet more cleaning up to do.

We are seeing a changing of the seasons on the Costa Brava. The relentless northerly wind shaking up the weather system is know here as the Tramontana. I wonder if this is the same as the French Mistral? Other Mediterranean winds are available. Regardless, this heralds the addition of yet another layer of clothing on the streets. Every Catalan dog walker wears a thick coat, a hat and sometimes also a scarf. Their chubby pampered dogs are also wrapped up in some form of blanket. For our part we are forced to carry a light jacket in case our thin long sleeved tops aren’t enough.

Not bad for a first attempt

The season also brings with it the trappings of Halloween. This tradition has no place in Catalonia but it is gradually gaining traction and a few stores apologetically put on a display. This is certainly not our thing, but we do have a small pumpkin from the allotment that we harvested the day before we travelled and it has failed to ripen on the balcony. Can you believe that I’ve never carved a pumpkin before? It is more fun than I expected, especially once a tea light is inserted and lit. It’s just going to be embarrassing if it gets blown onto Sonia’s balcony that juts out below.

The storm has abated overnight – just a light scattering of rain remaining. There is no damage on our balcony despite the rearrangement of some of the furniture. Everything looks the same. Down in Sant Feliu there are some deciduous trees and these are looking very bare today, The wide sandy thoroughfare that runs parallel to the seafront is dotted with piles of crisp golden leaves. An advertising sign has blown over in front of a shop. This will probably make the local news.

Reflections on last night

There’s not much more to report but it’s not always this way. There was serious flooding in the region last January while previous extreme weather claimed lives last year. I have noticed flood barriers installed at the base of some town centre doors. There must be an ongoing threat from the nearby storm surge channel. I wonder if the gradual rising of the seas may prove a greater threat in the long term.

Today nobody is looking alarmed. A few hardy souls are bathing in the November swells. I have no doubt the sea is much colder than they make it appear. One dog is hesitating on the cusp of the waterline, conflicted as to whether he should gallantly retrieve the ball his owner tossed into the surf, or preserve itself from certain hypothermia. This is what you end up with if you wrap your pooch in blankets and take it to a canine hairdresser.

After the storm

The pomp of the storm may have passed, yet the change is undeniable. There is a smell of pine in the damp air. Everything green has turned a little greener. Everything golden has fallen to the ground. The cloud unexpectedly breaks and the sun is back, burning away the puddles. I find it uplifting, at least compared to the oppressive fog that could be chilling my bones right now in the UK.

Back at our apartment I hear Sonia on her balcony downstairs. She is cooing the birds that perch in her fig tree before fluttering down to peck seed from her patio table. A moment of alarm – where is my carved pumpkin? It must have blown downstairs! No, it’s there amongst the flower bed on my balcony wall. Anglo – Belgian relations have survived the Tramontana.

World Cup – Saturday 3rd July

Germany Calling

I recently mentioned how well the South American sides were doing compared to Europe and suggested Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay could make up the last four. This from the genious who swapped David Villa into his fantasy world cup squad tonight but contrived not to put him in the team (he scored). Needless to say, my blog is not a betting service…

Results – Friday 2nd July

Germany 4 – 0 Argentina
    Spain 1 – 0 Paraguay
Post Match Review
 If ever a game flattered to deceive. Nobody gave Paraguay a chance in this encounter and who didn’t expect Spain to win comfortably. What we got was a curates egg of a game with long periods of inaction interspersed with short bursts of drama.

Spain dominated the first half without testing the keeper while Paraguay had the ball in the net but were unfortunate to see the offside flag. The second half opened up a little and Paraguay were correctly awarded a penalty after some obvious pulling by Pique. Casillas saved the lame attempt and within a minute Spain were awarded a penalty at the other end. Alonso scored but was forced to take it again. His next attempt was saved and somehow it remained 0-0. Manager Del Bosque must have wondered if had walked under a black cat.

With Paraguay starting to tire Spain started to create chances and they finally took the lead after a shot rebounded off the post to Villa who put it in himself off both posts. Paraguay stormed forward and there were good chances at both ends but ultimately it will be Spain playing Germany for a place in the World Cup Finals. They are going to have to up their game for that one.

World Cup Classifieds
For sale: Small shiny suit. Only worn 5 times. Mostly good condition, just a few white powder marks. Would suit fat child. Ask for Maradona c/o Hotel Ranchos, Cape Town
Lost: Mojo, last seen in Barcelona. Believe I brought it with me to South Africa. Could be somewhere on a Jo’berg training pitch. Phone Lionel.
Found: Tall well built footballer found alone on football pitch in the dark still trying to score a goal. Answers to the name of Emile.

View from the sofa

I checked my mailbox today and thought I had an entrant for my Golden Mullet World Cup competition. I was therefore somewhat taken aback to discover the following message awaiting my attention…

“ i was wondering if there is a retractable clothesline that measures longer than 20 feet.looking for one that would cover at least 25 feet.if so i would appreciate where or how i may purchase one.i am located in
southcoast area of ma.(new bedford) thanking you in advance for any assistance that maybe fourth comming

      jim patraeus”

I haven’t the heart to disappoint Jim about his erroneous choice of message recipient and as such I have suggested the following product…

Clothes Line

Between you and me this baby is only available in the UK so the last laugh is on Jim – revenge for USA’s lucky equaliser against England. Ha ha ha!

A couple of years ago England played Germany in a friendly and the Germans were truly average at best and defensively poor. They were described as a team in transition and they seemed to have no spark. Coming into the world cup you might have upgraded their status to “useful but limited”. Now every time they take the field they seem to do what the great teams do – play seemingly simple effective football that wins matches without too much fuss.

England made it far too easy so that we might have been excused for thinking Germany were handed the match. Argentina looked tremendous going into today’s game and yet they were dispatched in a 4-0 beating. I’ve not seen the stats but I suspect both sides had similar amounts of possession and shots.

The key to Germany’s results has been getting the most out of their players, being tactically astute, disciplined in their play and liberated when going forward. Do you really think striker Klose is better than say Rooney or Messi? Well he has 4 goals this tournament now and the other two failed to score.

Don’t kid yourself, the Germans do have some very good players but the scale of their achievements so far is largely testament to Joachim Lowe’s management and the teams execution of his plans. Germanys results might look a bit exaggerated based on comparison against opposition players but think Lowe vs Capello or Lowe vs Maradona and suddenly it starts to make more sense.

Whatever you think about the players or the managers I think you might agree they are a team you want to watch. They face Spain next for a place in the final. What are you doing on Wednesday evening?

World Cup – Saturday 19th June

The Day After Yesterday

This evening’s world cup update comes a little early. You see I’m off to the pub so the evening match hasn’t yet kicked off. Don’t panic – aside from my blog you can actually catch world cup matches live on television and via the internet, while there has also been some newspaper interest in reporting events in South Africa.

Results – Saturday 19th June

  Group E: Holland 1 – 0 Japan
  Group D: Australia 1 – 1 Ghana
  Group E: Cameroon L – L Denmark
Post Match Review
 What a refreshing game we saw today between Australia and Ghana after yesterdays rubbish from England. The Aussies got a pummeling in their last outing against Germany so they were out to make amends today and when they took the lead there looked to be a way back for them in this competition. Then striker Kewell handles the ball in the box and gets sent off and it’s backs against the wall. Don’t forget they had Cahill sent off in their last match too. Ghana scored from the spot and kept on coming against the 10 men. It really was squeaky bum time but they held on in the end for a point. They like to do things the hard way down under.
 That’s right Ron. If Kewell had just taken the catch cleanly then the Ghanaian striker would have been back in the pavillion and the other team would have been a man short. Instead he spills it and it’s a penalty. Captain Lucas Neil will be asking himself why he didn’t move Kewell to a deeper fielding position against that sort of pace attack. It’s that old footballing cliché again – “catches win matches.”. It’s hard to see the Australians winning the world cup ashes now. They need to win all their remaining matches and I can’t see that happening.

Fixtures – Sunday 20th June

  Group F: Slovakia vs Paraguay
  Group F: Italy vs New Zealand
  Group G: Brazil vs Ivory Coast
Gazza’s Daily Football Factoids
 New Zealand striker Rory Fallon plays for League 1 Plymouth Argyle. His father was manager of the national side in their only previous World Cup finals outing in 1982. People from New Zealand are always amused to be mistaken for Australians.
Mystic Ron’s World Cup Horoscope
Mystic Ron Ooh – is it that time? It’s earlier than usual – what’s going on? I’ve only just finished a pack of digestives and I haven’t even opened my evening ration of ginger nuts! I don’t even know who’s playing tomorrow. I’ll stick a hair pin in the TV guide to predict the results – that is as scientific as my other methods. Here goes…

…Paraguay to beat Slovakia…
…Italy to beat New Zealand… – this seems to be working!
…and Brazil to beat Antiques Roadshow.

There. Do I get the evening off now? That means I can watch “Mary, Queen of shops”. Anything but this bloody non-stop football. I’m sick of it!

Pre Match Comment
The competition is really starting to hot up now and Brazil’s match with Ivory Coast has been hotly anticipated since the draw was made last year. Brazil seemed a little subdued by their own standards last time out while Ivory Coast will feel they have something to prove so this could turn out to be the match of the round. Mind you, we have said that about other matches and been bored to tears. I’m just hoping that Robinho produces his international form instead of his club form, and that Drogba reproduces his club form and not his international form.

England Update

Injury Report
Bones I’m afraid there’s bad news to report from the sick bay. Emile Heskey remains as fit and skillful as a carthorse. FIFA rules prevent me from using my phaser on him. Not even with it set to stun.
Tabloid Roundup
Scum Reporter We salute David James for his bristling sarcasm when interviewed after England’s bore draw with Algeria. There’s also reaction in todays paper (and tomorrows chip paper) about Rooney’s criticism of the crowd for booing after the match in our feature article “Roo Boo Stew”, and we have an interview with the fan got into the team dressing room after the match and managed to talk with Becks. We think this could have been a potential security disaster. I mean what if it had been Posh?

View from the sofa

I have been absorbing events today minus the sound as I don’t want to listen to endless speculation about England. That’s made for an interesting experience and also meant I have missed a few key moments because I have been looking away and didn’t hear the crowd roar.

Here’s a roundup of a few things that have caught my attention in the last day or so…

  • In case you haven’t already seen it there’s a fabulous video clip from an interview with Maradona in which an innocent interview question is lost in translation. Even if you have already seen this I know you won’t be able to resist watching it again.
  • Four North Korean players are rumoured to have defected – a claim denied by the team coach. I don’t know if it’s true but it raises questions about North Korea’s claims to be an eden of democracy. I do hope they aren’t fibbing
  • French striker Nicolas Anelka is reported to be going home following a huge row with manager Domenech. For the first time in his career Anelka appears to have done something the fans can respect him for. Well done!

There. That’s your lot for today. I’ve got a pub to go to…

World Cup – Friday 11th June

There’s people on the sofa – they think it’s all started!

It has now! Across the land in the countries workplaces people are starting to fake mild cough symptoms so that come next week they can claim to have have full blown flu and take a sickie to watch the football. The whistle has blown on today’s games and this is what happened…

Results – Friday 11th June

  Group A: South Africa 1 – 1 Mexico
    Uruguay 0 – 0 France
Post Match Review
Big Ron People might think that France being held to a draw is an upset but I’m not surprised. They have an unsettled squad and an unpopular manager. As for the hosts this match was make or break – win it and you have hit the ground running, lose it and you are playing catch up.
Motty That’s right Ron. The omens were always stacked against France. I was watching Raymond Domenech’s kit man after a France B-Side friendly against Vietnam last month and some of the football tops were still stained after the wash cycle. With standards like that there were always going to be question marks against the first team in this fixture.

Fixtures – Saturday 12th June

  Group B: Korea vs Greece
  Group B: Argentina vs Nigeria
  Group C: England vs USA
Gazza’s Daily Football Factoids
Bambi Artifacts recently discovered in a Crete monastery include an ancient team sheet for an early national side, managed by Zeus. Players include Athena, Apollo, Hermes and Artemis amongst others. Atlas is depicted in a defensive midfield position with Proetheus playing just off strikers Poseidon and Georgios Samaras.
Mystic Ron’s World Cup Horoscope
Mystic Ron All three of tomorrow’s ties are very interesting. In the early game I expect Korea to win. Greece is typically piscean and they will struggle with the early kick off. Argentina will beat Nigeria but expect at least one sending off. The flags are not aligned – can you see – vertical against horizontal stripes – so expect some fireworks. Finally the game everyone is talking about. Managers Capello and Arena are closely matched on all astrological fronts today so expect a draw. Fear not England fans – Capello’s aura will be in the ascendency from Tuesday. I’m going to be watching the match sat on my poufee with a pack of jammy dodgers.
Pre Match Comment
This is how I imagine a goalkeeping discussion with David Icke
 Motty In the lead-up to England’s opening game in Group C much of the talk has been about who will be first choice keeper. I have my own views but here to provide an inside view is former goalkeeper and presenter David Icke. David – who should we see between the sticks on Saturday night – David James, Robert Green or Joe Hart?
The question we should be asking is – “who is leading our civilisation?”. I have proof that the world leaders are part of a reptilian race that have been sent to earth to control us. They control our goverments, they control our media and they control out monarchy. You need to know this and you can find out more at my website
 Motty Erm, so you say David, but what people are currently debating is who Fabio Capello will choose as his first choice. You played at the top level for Coventry City so I expect you have so shrewd view on his likely choice.
Look, what the public needs to understand is that what we see isn’t actually real. Society as we know it is an illusion. We are living in a matrix style optical illusion that the authorities have created so that they can control us. We are being used, you are being used – I am being used.
I’m sorry David, I’m going to have to press you on this. Your first choice keeper would be?
 Well, OK. David James.
 Motty My god – that really is mad! I think you may have a point about the royals though.

View from the sofa

I had visions of sitting with my feet up watching the opening match on my sofa but instead I found myself at work like many other people trying to get first half coverage of South Africa vs Mexico on the ITV website. Perhaps you also got the “website unavailable” screen with the strikingly inappropriate message apologising for the outage and asking whether I would like to click on a link to view a mother and baby programme instead.

I arrived home for the second half however and after repositioning the sofa and TV for optimum viewing pleasure enjoyed a NOISY 45 minutes of football. It’s what I expected. Mexico held sway with endless short passes but always looked toothless and narrow in the final third. The hosts were nervy and a little wragged but showed glimses of pace and skill. It’s a game Mexico should have won but nobody can begrudge South Africa a draw from their opening fixture on home soil.

After the match I read on the BBC website that fat druggy cheat Maradona – now manager of Argentina (!) – has called for fair play at this years world cup. Here is a slime ball that doesn’t understand the word “irony”.

The evening sees 1998 World Champions France face Uruguay. The French are in disarray with manager Domenech a figure of hate in his homeland due to his eccentric behaviour. Uruguary are a talented collection of parts.

The malign influence of Domenech manifests itself throughout the course of the match. He has a squad with a decent level of talent, flair and pace yet his side is set up to play with a chronic shortage of width so everything gets slowed down and compressed into a tedious impotent terminus. Uruguay have less at their disposal and progression beyond the group stages would say more about the rest of the teams in the Group Of Dearth.

Mystic Ron got it mostly right yesterday – a draw in the opening encounter and a sending off for Uruguay, although France never did clinch the winner that was just waiting to be claimed. Moment of the match? In a level of irony to match FDC Maradona’s earlier outburst, Thierry Henry (a man with a cheating pedigree of his own) makes a great big fuss about a claimed handball against a Uruguayan defender in the box.

If you watch the replay in slow motion and look into Henry’s eyes you can just catch his flicker of realisation about what he is doing and I would like to think that for a split second the image of a crestfallen Irish player flashes into his conciousness. Henry, cursed with intelligence and self awareness, will think back to his actions on that cold Parisian night for a long long time.