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Good Morning from Bratislava

27 Sep

The three old men on bikes have been on the road since Sunday 15th relay-cycling from the London Eye. Destination Istanbul. So far we have pedalled through Holland and picked up the Rhine, the Main, the Danube Canal and, eventually the Danube. We have Rotterdammed, Frakfurted, Nuremburgered, Cologned and met up with our lovely partners in Vienna for a few days more gently cycling into Slovakia and on to Hungary and Budapest.

We have seen the beauty and the beast of the Rhine, the vineyards and forested hills along with the teeming traffic and cement works and all manner of industry which flanks the great river. So too the Danube with its cruise ships and tourism flowing majestically through a vast landscape of rolling countryside and industrial sprawl. The river Main is a gem, weaving its way through enchanting towns and villages with schlosses aplenty and tempting eateries which we had to bypass as the miles needed to be ridden.

We have camped on river and canal banks and been welcomed wherever. We pedalled the short 50miles or so from Vienna to Bratislava yesterday and the three couples, Clive and Karen, Chris and Satah and yours truly and Belinda are holed up in the delightful old town before heading for Gyor and Budapest today. There the girls will fly home and the boys wull plough on through Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and, finally into Turkey and the Blue Mosque at Istanbul. Eye to I, geddit?

Follow us on facebook Eye2i.Three old men on bikes or the occasionally updated website eye2iblog.wordpress.com. Read about our charity BeatSCAD and see what three old men whose ages total over 200 get up to when the day job stops. What a fine time we are having wearing our European Union t-shirts and distancing ourselves from the separatisr sqabbles of our divided nation. We have felt wonderfully european as we have sliced through this lovely continent.

See you in Istanbul.

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Fist Pumping and High Fives…

11 Jul

The Trumpmeister will be pumping and hand-slapping round the White House this morning after Sir Kim fell on his sword, obligingly held at the appropriate angle by Boris the Spider. What a demeaning end to an estimable career. When a relationship is dubbed special, the unspoken proviso is that it is a pairing of equals. Boris’s squirming non-answer (one of many) to the question of whether he would back Sir Kim, betrayed a toadying, arse-licking, walk-all-over-us approach to Anglo-American relations. And the Donald high-fived his way round the twitterati with joy.

Almost every walk of life seems to revel in overstated hand-gestures to indicate pleasure, small successes, cajoling support, mini-victories. Doubles players at Wimbledon, I note, can’t get through a point without little hand touches and conspiratorial chats behind tennis balls and cupped hands. Rafa the faffa has so many personal ticks and ball bounces that I find myself mesmerized more by his twitching routines than the game he is paid gazillions to play. World Cup batters fist pump at every opportunity such is their need for glove-touch approval. I wonder what Sir Colin Cowdrey would have made of it all. Or even Beefy Botham. He didn’t need the reassurance of a partner’s touch to give the Aussies hell at Headingly.

As I write the ticks and touches are in full swing at Edgbaston and England have taken the early advantage. I’ll update shortly. Let’s reflect on the Boris and Jeremy Rhyming Slang. Despite the latter trying to look like the grown up in the room, the Spider’s extraordinary following amongst the party faithful will ensure the buffoon’s anointment as the ruler of Hades. After, we learn, six hours of debate-training his mantra of ‘Let’s not kick the can down the road…’ – repeated 5 times – echoed around the empty caverns of our economy. Boris’s approach to ITV’s confirmatory beauty contest was to smile, hand in pocket and treat the whole show as a bit of banter at the Oxford Union or the Eton debating chamber. Jeremy, hardly my favourite politician, sounded practical and relatively sane. Still it’s the 160,000 members who will decide. Half of these are my age or older, most are male and nearly all are white. God help us.

Reading George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, I discover another Boris. He’s an aristocrat (allegedly) who has fled Stalin’s Russia and find s himself scraping and begging a living on the streets of Paris, along with G.O. There may be a wish-fulfillment link here..

I search for the small inspirations of daily life and find them flourishing, despite the extraordinary unreality of Westminster and the White House. We are hunkering down and hoping that all will be well, I guess. There is something rotten out there, the invisible worm has eaten its way through to the skin and, I guess, we need horse-strength antibiotics to quell the infection. Have we reached the stage where those who govern are immune to such treatment? The Labour Party are in denial, the Conservatives are barking and we, the people, (and possibly the Lib Dems) need to get together and do some fist-pumping.

Aussies are 110 for 3. Fighting back. C’mon England! C’mon UK.

Pulling the wool….

9 Jun

Pouty Gove seems to have reignited the trend for baring his soul in public. His intention will surely be closely linked to ambition’s ladder – a ladder that has prompted others in the baker’s dozen (now just a starting X1) of Tory leadership candidates to manufacture and publicise the transgressions of their youth. ‘I once ran out of a sweetie shop without paying for my sherbet dip.’ Etc. For Pouty, his childhood ran until his mid-thirties and the sweeties were cocaine-flavoured but what the hell. If it gets him into office and keeps him out of America, it’s a price worth paying.

I am underwhelmed by the laughable distraction of this leadership circus. Only Rory Stewart has caught my attention as a man of good report. Not all Etonians are shysters. Take note Boris, you Spider. Your mate the Trumpmeister touched down in his handcart and, reportedly, kept his mouth in check after giving Sajid Khan both barrels on the Air Force One Twitter feed. It comes to something when the leader of the free world is praised for keeping his opinions under control, and behaving reasonably for three days, while on a state visit. I would have thought that this was the expected minimum level of courtesy for any eminent human being. But hey, the Donald is rewriting the rule books on so many things: manners, integrity, truth. I wasn’t much enamoured with the Queen’s rather complicit banquet fawnings either. And Donald’s high sounding nothings about trade deals are closer to tricks than treats. Halloween isn’t far off.

Much better was Her Majesty’s gracious applauding and standing to honour the D-Day surviving veterans and the fallen. Mother Theresa did us proud too. I felt a little better being British. And then I hear of our hooligan soccer fans abusing Portuguese hospitality and, closer to home, chatter over the vegetable section of Tescos in praise of Trump. It was along the lines of: He sticks it up ’em. tells it how it is. He won’t be bullied by anyone.

No he won’t because he is the playground bully.

Moved by D-Day, I am also enjoying the summer of sport. To get Boris out of your head just watch a little of the women’s soccer World Cup, the cricket, tennis. I needed to clear my head after too much Boris and Raab so Thiem v Djokovic at Roland Garros was perfect. And Federer v Nadal. And Konta and the new queen on the block, Barty. There was a lot of wind at the French Open but the drama was much more compelling than the silly farts race for Number 10. Remember baring your soul = pulling the wool.

Grandparents’ Day…or what I did on the way. 1.

11 May

My little and lovely grandson Seb had invited me to his school, yesterday, for a special Grandparents’ Day. Despite the obvious and sugary PR intention of the exercise, I was all too eager to attend! The prospect of inspecting the work of a darling 5 year old, putative Einstein was delicious, as was the promise of tea with scones and jam.

Before embarking on the somewhat complicated route of car, train, tube, tube, bus, walk, a call came in from my daughter. I braced myself for cancellation but worse news was in store. She revealed that games afternoon had been cancelled to fit the old gits tea party into the schedule. Seb was distraught that his games kit had to stay in the wardrobe so Granddad could come and sip tea and scrutinize his scribblings. Meltdown.

With a slightly heavy heart I boarded the 11.50 from Staplehurst to Charing Cross. Only 4 coaches and rather packed with the grey-hair and blue-rinse brigade on the senior railcard jaunt to Fortnum’s. The tables in my carriage were taken and foiled packages were opened. Half-eaten sandwiches and, indeed, a couple of thermoses caught my eye as I made my way to a vacant two-seater. I settled in. I was looking forward to the last few chapters of A Station on the Path to Somewhere by Ben Wood, a startling account of a dark journey taken by a 12 year old boy, Daniel. In adulthood he attends a therapy group. The avuncular therapist advised the group to …stop viewing the present as a continuation of our past and see it instead as the beginning of our future. As I was mulling on the importance of this soundbite – slogan or profound? relevance to bloody Brexit, Manchester United, me?…a ringtone shattered the silence. Don’t Stop Me Now. Freddie Mercury boomed down the arthritic aisles as we chugged into Paddock Wood station. A woman under 60 behind me, fumbled in her bag. It took her until I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball before she found the thing. Then Yeah I can talk, I’m on the train. As usual we then had the benefit of a loud and self-important conversation about delivery schedules and office gossip. I sighed audibly. This was a time for my 65p i newspaper, not a weighty novel.

As the linguistic space around me continued to be dominated by the thick-skinned Yak behind, I skimmed the rag. Breakthrough in treatment of heart attack victims; Danny Baker; Farage; the queue of chancers lining up for Mother Theresa’s job when she finally falls on her sword; University funding set to slide after Brexit; Beckham banned from driving for using his phone while driving his Bentley. And so on. Only the heart story raised my spirits.

Already regretting that I hadn’t turned to the back page first, I turned over to page 19. David Schneider’s article: How to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. Schneider is an actor and comedian. He explains himself clearly and has the advantage of being Jewish which enables an authentic perspective in these tricky days of finger pointing in and at the Labour Party. Schneider basically says be careful and clear about what you say and mean when you talk about stuff. Example: Avoid saying Zionist or Zionism when discussing contemporary Israel/Palestine. The terms are too loaded and broad in their application, often used by anti-Semites to mean simply Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu is a Zionist but so are Israeli lawyers and peace activists fighting to achieve justice for Palestinians.

And so he went on in a clear and measured way. I felt better-informed. I don’t know enough about the middle east and I would be very wary of offering opinions without getting a better grasp of identities, what has gone on and what is going on.

In part what drew me to the piece was my recent readings from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. What an amazing grasp of tribe and culture and identity T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) developed in the time of the Arab revolt during the First World War. Are our politicians and their advisors at all equipped to make life and death decisions for those whose lives and culture they can hardly fathom?

The walking sticks were on the move. Charing Cross. I stuffed my paper into my backpack and head, with the creaking army, for the toilets. Such a joy that they are free, so no fumblings for change required. The many urinals were in heavy demand and there, in the middle of the throng was a spikey-haired woman, mopping the floor. She stepped aside as I shimmied to my bowl. I wondered, idly, if there was a man in the ladies doing the same thing. Doubtful. Looking around I saw no one batting an eyelid. Modern times.

I came out into the sun and, with time to kill, went for a stroll on the Victoria Embankment Gardens. The office workers were bathed in sunshine as they ate their tubs of tuna and sweetcorn salad or delved into goody bags for whatever had taken their fancy in EAT or Pret. I noticed that the park benches had been sectioned into three or four, so that you don’t have to sit next to anyone; you can be perfectly isolated with an armrest to left and right. I settled in one such, spurted diet coke over my trousers and watched the world go by.

Kippers on the Ceiling.

13 Mar

As our politicians were continuing their best endeavours in making a once-proud nation the laughing stock of Europe, nay the world, I retreated to the golf course. I have lost all heart so smiting a small ball in a howling gale for four hours seemed like a heavenly escape from Bedlam.

The four old sporting mates began badly. Over coffee the Brexit Tourette’s started. This is now a recognized syndrome which flares whenever sensible, intelligent people get together for social intercourse in the UK. It was identified nearly three years ago and the most recent data shows that the majority of the nation have been blighted by it. What seems to begin as a normal conversation between friends rather rapidly metamorphoses into baying chaos when one or more of the interlocutors will, involuntarily shout, Fucking Brexit or Kuenssberg get stuffed or FFS Theresa or Corbyn you shifty Slug or Not another fucking vote before another fucking vote or Cameron’s fucked the Country or You didn’t vote fucking Brexit did you? or Boris has gone fucking quiet or Rees-Mogg is loving the fucking chaos…and so these outbursts will continue with liberal use of the F and C words.

Luckily, as the lunatics in the House of Commons continued their Alan Ayckbourn tragi-comic-farce and the rest of Europe hooted with maniacal derision (well, all except Bayern Munich supporters), my golfing fellows turned to other things. We were four men, of modest background and means, worried about the life ahead for the younger generations. As a metaphor for the shit that has been hitting the fan ( as if that isn’t enough of a metaphor) the revered elder of our group told a story about a domestic mishap at his home only the night before.

Distracted by the addictive drama being played out at Westminster, my revered golfing partner had left a tin of kippers heating up on the stove. He had place the unopened tin in water. He wanted warm kippers. He became transfixed by the voting down of Mother Theresa’s legal finesse to the Back-Stop following her 75th trip to kiss-ass Barmier and Juncker. His Brexit-Tourettes (BT) had taken a hold. A loud explosion from the kitchen. The overpowering smell of kippers.

The pan had boiled dry and the tin’s contents had projectile vomited to the ceiling. The stench seemed appropriate to the pungent odour of incompetence and slippery ambition being farted out of our seat of Government. But these kippers were real. And their stench would linger. However hard our golfing elder would scrape ceiling and walls, he seemed pretty certain that a proper, skilled professional would have to sterilize and paint over the mess he had created.

See what I mean about metaphors? Meanwhile, back at the golf club we were laughing so much that our BT seemed, temporarily to abate. Our game took us away from despair but we all have to face the awful reality sometime. At least, in despair, I can think of kippers on a ceiling rather than shit hitting the fan. By the way, the elder and I won. Small consolation.

My books of 2018…and only one on Brexit.

28 Dec

I seemed to read far too much about how our politicians were perverting things, one way or t’other,  this year. I took my eye off the greater pleasure of the solace that books can give. Anything 3 or over might be worth a squint.

Books 2018

 

Theresa must be thanking the stupid man opposite – and Jose.

20 Dec

Praise the Lord, Jose knocked Theresa off her no. 1 perch at Christmas. Journos had been searching desperately for something big enough to supplant the hapless bunch of self-interested, party-wrangling, heads-in-the-sand idiots at Westminster. And Jose’s sacking was right on cue.

It was a delight to hear Dan Roan, the BBC’s sports correspondent, heading up the first-item coverage of the 11am news on Tuesday. La Kuenssberg relegated to no. 2. Bliss.

Now you might think that the disposal of a Portuguese bighead (albeit for a likely £18million pay-off) would have few parallels with the Brexit farce, currently being played out down under Big Ben. Well, just consider. A lack of connection with his team and an ego the size of Old Trafford prevented him from seeing that the joke was, sadly on him. At least on leaving he has spoken with generosity and humility: Proud to have worn the badge, lifelong friends made etc.

Which cannot be said for the horrorshow being played out before our very eyes at our seat of democracy. Fancy spending taxpayers’ money employing lip readers to equivocate about what was so plain to the rest of us. Just bloody stupid. As if it was important anyway when the country is going to hell in a handcart. If there is a case for unelected experts to take control of our pathetic, squabbling, self-obsessed Commons, we’re close to it. No wonder the EU do better in negotiations. That bloke who runs Wetherspoons would do alright, even though he is a Brexiteer.

If Corbyn lying doesn’t take the biscuit, what about Sajid Javid’s pronouncement that we don’t want anyone who can’t get a £30k plus salary? A mate of mine, a CEO fighting for the life of his business texted: The Home Sec is so off-piste it is shameful. All our decent operations workers are EU nationals. He said a lot more but unprintable.

The three Michelin-starred chef, Dani Garcia has decided to close his Marbella restaurant to specialize in burgers, saying: You only live once and everyone has to follow the path that’s right for them. Our politicians seem hell-bent on taking the road signposted ‘Abyss’.

Meanwhile I’ll be heading for Dani’s burger bar on the Costa del Sol, visa and flights permitting.

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