Despite coming from a family of footie obsessives, I’m not a fan of the beautiful game, or of anything sporty really. But even I’ve been swept along by the euphoria of England’s remarkable run in the World Cup. We drank through a very pleasant sunny afternoon in a local beer garden watching England thrash Panama. In truth, it was so bright we hardly saw a thing, but the wine was cold and ambience was hot. Last Saturday’s quarter-final against Sweden clashed with the Lord Mayor’s annual parade, and his worship wisely postponed the grand procession so the great, the good and the legless could watch the match in various venues across the city. We took up pole position in the Murderer’s, a local watering hole with a dark past. Thank God for aircon otherwise the overheated punters might have fainted from nervous exhaustion. When England beat Sweden, the roar could be heard in space.
The decisive win gave the Lord Mayor’s parade an added bounce – the atmosphere was electric and the word on the street was victory. With all the excitement (okay, booze), we didn’t quite make it to the fireworks extravaganza at close of play but we did manage to take a few snaps of the crazy assortment of madcap street performers.
I am quietly patriotic, though not nationalistic. To be proud of where you are from is fine but to think you’re a cut above is not. It’s just a game, after all. Will England’s winning ways continue? I really hope so. We’ll see later on tonight.
Alas, England’s dreams of reaching the final of the World Cup were dashed by a spritely Croatia. The nation has gone into mourning.
Right now the view from the microloft is autumn bleak with a fat shroud of nickel grey as far as the eye can see. It’s just as well I don’t suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or I might get as low as the cloud and chuck myself out of the window. What better way to recall the hazy days of August than with a few sunny snaps of our trip to Eaton Park?
The Eaton Park Cafe
Liam taking a few snaps
Laid out at the beginning of the 20th century, the park was designed to keep Norwich folk out of the pubs and factory-fit. It’s still doing it today with a bewildering range of sweaty things to do on bikes, on skates and on foot with bats, rackets, mallets, clubs and balls of every conceivable shape, size and texture. It was way too hot for anything muscular so we decided instead to exercise our tastebuds with a fruity bottle of white Rioja in the delicious café.
Let’s face it, spring is a bit of a hit and miss affair across these islands so it pays to take full advantage when Mother Nature turns up the heat. As soon as Liam returned from family duties in London I bundled him onto a bus for the short hop to Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty riverside spot a mile or three outside town. With Roman scraps, a Scandinavian place-name and a mention in the Domesday Book, the hamlet has ancient roots. Sadly, little survives to this day. Even the church is Victorian Gothic Revival though some ruins of its medieval predecessor, destroyed by fire, still stand.
Thorpe St Andrew is where people go to feed swans and muck about in boats on a sunny day. It’s also where people like me watch people feeding swans and mucking about in boats on a sunny day – from the comfort of a riverside watering hole. So that’s what we did.
Walkers, birders and water sports devotees can catch the little ferry from Thorpe Green to the Whitlingham Country Park, gateway to the Norfolk Broads. There’s no bar there so we gave it a wide berth. Next time, we’ll charge up the hip flask first.
It was last knockings for Eddie the Eagle as we took our plush seats at Cinema City. The film’s been out for a while and we were two of four in the audience. For those unfamiliar with the story, the film chronicles the flight of Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards who battled against considerable adversity and mean-minded ridicule to compete for Britain as a ski jumper at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. He was the first British competitor in the sport for six decades – hardly surprising given they don’t get much snow in Cheltenham where he grew up. The stuffed shirts of the Olympic establishment loathed him and did their very best to knock him off piste. But the crowd loved the plucky little fella with his jam jar glasses, silly tash and aquiline antics. Everyone likes a trier and try he did. Eddie may not have kept his eyes shut as he chucked himself off the 90 metre ramp, but I did. He came last in both his events. It didn’t matter. A star (or sorts) was born.
I suspect the movie stretched the facts a tad but I was hooked right from the opening scenes as the little boy in callipers dreamed of Olympic glory and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Sheer joy.
Norwich is blessed with a wealth of hostelries to quench the thirst and chew the cud, but few are as famous as the Gardener’s Arms on Timberhill, one of the last family-owned pubs in the city. Partly dating back to the Seventeenth Century, the traditional ale house is stuffed with oldee worldee nooks and crannies, knotty oak beams and exposed brickwork. Its fame derives from an infamous past. The Gardener’s Arms might be the pub’s licensed name but, for years, it’s been known locally as the Murderers. Why? Because after closing time one late night in 1895, Frank Miles battered his estranged wife with a hammer and left poor Mildred for dead. Handy Frankie should have swung for his dastardly deed but the case attracted huge public sympathy and his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. What had the luckless Millie done to deserve such a sticky end? Apparently, she was seen with another man. Oh, that’s alright then.
If you’re passing Timberhill, be sure to pop in for a pint of real ale and admire the murder theme posted on every wall (Dr Crippin, Lizzie Borden, Bonnie and Clyde, Ruth Ellis to name but a few). I’d avoid the big screen soccer nights, though. The beautiful game murders civilised conversation.
Those naughty young men at Warwick University Rowing Club certainly know how to perk up a dull day. Since first getting their kit off in 2009 to raise money for their club and to combat homophobia in sport, they’ve raised over £200,000 in 77 countries. Not to miss a trick, the enterprising bunch have also branched out into posters, tee shirts, greeting cards and hoodies. They’ve dropped their drawers again for 2015 and have just completed a three-week promo tour in the USA. These boys are getting as big as the Calendar Girls.
Believe it or not, back in my old school days I used to row myself. No, really, I did. And I wasn’t the cox. It was infinitely preferable to playing rugby, a sport I loathed with a passion. Paddling up and down the Thames in the rain could be a bit grim but mucking about in boats during the summer months was a pleasant way to pass a warm Wednesday afternoon. I was the Bow in the B Crew and we excelled only at catching crabs.* As if to prove our uselessness beyond reasonable doubt, in 1976, we proudly came last out of a cast of hundreds in the Head of the River Race, an event that takes place between Mortlake and Putney every year. Quite a feat, don’t you think?
Here’s the school boathouse at Barnes Bridge.
Needless to say, none of my crew looked anything like the fit boys from Warwick. More’s the pity.
*A rowing error where the rower is unable to timely remove or release the oar blade from the water and the oar blade acts as a brake on the boat until it is removed from the water. This results in slowing the boat down. A severe crab can even eject a rower out of the shell or make the boat capsize (unlikely except in small boats). Occasionally, in a severe crab, the oar handle will knock the rower flat and end up behind him/her, in which case it is referred to as an ‘over-the-head crab.’ Source: Wikipedia.
A young inexperienced England Team crashes out of the 2014 World Cup, Mexican and Brazilian fans chant homophobic abuse, Croatian and Russian fans unfurl neo-Nazi banners and finger-licking FIFA are mired in accusations of palm-greasing over the staging of the 2022 competition in Qatar, a filthy rich absolute monarchy with no football tradition and summertime temperatures in the withering forties. And so, it’s business as usual for the beautiful game. Timely then, to re-post my 2012 piece from a happier time for British sport, Rainbow Sporting Heroes…
As Olympic fever goes into hyperdrive, I was thinking about homophobia in sport, particularly the beautiful game. Even though the likes of David Beckham are in touch with their feminine side and Eric Cantona is prone to writing a poetic line or two, there are no fairies in top flight football, apparently. Why is this, I wonder? Even rugby, the butchest of sports, has the wonderful Gareth Thomas quietly waving his rainbow flag. There was Justin Fashanu a few years back, of course, but his revelation led to excommunication by the soccer establishment, misery and his eventual suicide. It was a shameful episode. More…