Apparently nothing happened on the 8th as I do not have a single image but on the morning of the 9th my kid brother turned up on yet another one of his hugely powered motorcycles (he has a fleet of them) and I asked him to take an image. This one is his comfy BMW tourer that he uses to go away on with his missus. He also has a CBX which he loves and is about 40 years of age but still pristine and a VFR which is a bit rapid to say the least.
He insisted on putting the visor down and so, ladies and gentlemen, I present my younger sibling, the very nice Mr. Vader (Darth by name) who really does not deserve the press he gets! Round the village / town where he lives (I am never sure of the proper designation) he is generally known as “Big Al” which makes me smile a little as I am taller than him. I dread to think what they call me behind my back. “Big Al’s Big Brother” perhaps or more likely, “That eejit that appears now and again, drinks a bit and plays the guitar and then buggers off again”. Really, at my time of life I don’t care.
This admittedly short entry is only here to put this image in some sort of context. Believe me, I head for mainland UK in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.
Nothing to report for the next couple of days but on the 7th I knew I had to get to Belfast. As I have explained before it is ludicrously the only way I can buy a sailrail ticket back to London by travelling to the rail Travel Centre there. Still, I hadn’t managed to get to the city of my birth since I had been home so it was no great hardship.
A pleasant enough journey on the train deposited me at the station and straight to the Travel Centre where a friendly guy dealt with me quickly and efficiently (look, I have my travel writing head back on now) so the rest of the day was mine. What to do? Well, obviously a drink or two would be called for but I fancied a bit of a wander round, just for the old times. Damn, I grew up here when it was a lot different.
First stop was always going to be the Crown Bar, a wonderful place which is actually owned by the National Trust and is arguably the most famous bar in the city. Nowadays tourists wander in the door, take a few photos and walk out without even buying a soft drink which I think is a bit rude but that is the modern world, I suppose.
I managed to bag a little snug by the door from which I could watch things going on whilst being relatively unobserved myself. Suits me and that is and was the purpose of the snug. If you don’t know what a snug is (they are all but extinct now) then look back to an earlier entry here where I explain it. A couple of pints and I was ready for a walk.
Taking a couple of “back doubles” (i.e. backstreets and alleyways) I could still remember, I wandered down the side of Belfast City Hall which is a wonderful place to visit should you be in Belfast. They also have a really helpful Tourist Information place there. I only had a vague idea of where I was going, actually I had no idea, and so I headed for Royal Avenue which for the benefit of my UK readers is like the Oxford Street of London or, I suppose 5th Avenue in New York or wherever. It is basically the main shopping thoroughfare and I trundled along until a sudden thought hit me. I should go to Kelly’s Cellars but I had overshot the left turn for that so I took the next left into an entry which brought me back round but on the way I had to stop for a quick image of a mural on a little used walkway and which is so typical of Northern Ireland.
I thought I should go to Kelly’s Cellars but I had overshot the left turn for that so I took the next left into an entry which brought me back round but on the way I had to stop for a quick image of a mural on a little used walkway and which is so typical of Northern Ireland.
There are obviously some brilliant artists in the country and most of them tend to do their work on walls rather than canvas or paper. The murals in Belfast and, indeed, the rest of Northern Ireland, are famous and there are organised tours which do nothing but visit them. Many of them are sectarian and glorify terrorists and history that would probably best be left alone although the genre seems to have extended now to non-controversial subject matter. I just thought this was a beautiful piece of work, not that I am any sort of art critic.
Memo to self. Do a piece on Belfast murals when you ever get round to it.
Having had my artistic fix for the day (I was never going to go to a gallery) I made Kelly’s. This is quite an odd place in some respects, mostly associated with my youth. Belfast really was tribal when I was a teenager and walking down the wrong street would literally get you a kicking or worse. Being where it is, Kelly’s would not have been the type of place I would have gone to because it was on the “wrong” side. What actually changed a lot of that, if only for a while, was the music. In about 1976 or 1977 the punk explosion happened and all bets were off.
I liked the punk scene and the music although, unlike many of my contemporaries, I never really got into the whole thing very much apart from one awful attempt to dye my hair purple and wearing old jackets I had bought in charity shops but it really was the big thing. Sectarianism was still killing hundreds of people a year in a country of (then) about 1.5 million people but that all went by the board with the punk scene. We had some bloody good bands too, Stiff Little Fingers probably being the most famous, but others like Protex, Ruefrex etc. were also doing good stuff. I always liked the Outcasts because I went to school with Greg the bass player. If I can find the image of when we met at a school reunion 30 years later I’ll post it here. He hasn’t changed (and still plays) but I just look bloody old!
The thing about Kelly’s was that it didn’t matter about your background or religion or whatever. If you were into the music, that was enough. Sure, it took the rest of the country long enough to catch up. In fairness, rock gigs were the same. When I used to go and see the late Rory Gallagher (in my not so humble opinion still the best white blues guitarist ever) and people like Horslips (brilliant Celtic folk-rock band) nobody gave a damn who you were or where you came from but they tended to play in big venues like the Ulster Hall (Rory) and the Whitla Hall (Horslips), both of which were in fairly “neutral” areas. Kelly’s was a bit different.
In I went and not a damn thing had changed in about 40 years, it was exactly as I remembered except for the constant stream of tourists coming in for a pint of Guinness, a few photos and a bowl of the Irish Stew, speciality of the house and which looked and smelt gorgeous although I didn’t try it, it was far too early in the day for eating. Yet another one for the memory bank and, dragging myself away from the brilliant barmaid who was cranking my Belfast accent up by about 10% per hour (I came back to England sounding so broad) I took off again.
Partly by accident and, I suppose, subliminally by design I found myself at Smithfield market. Well, the image tells you what it looks like. In my day it was a collection of wooden shacks selling everything imaginable and some things you possible would not wish to imagine. I loved the place. I bought my first guitar in there.
I had learned a few chords on an old Eko Ranger 6 that my Dad had brought home (and never even lifted to my knowledge although he plays keyboards well) but I wanted my own and I paid £15 for a Harmony six string which is not a great make but I wish I had it now. I read a quote from Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers saying it was his first guitar and it was unplayable but mine played reasonably well and I loved it.
As for the Eko, it still resides in my Dad’s house, bruised, battered but never broken and it features in an earlier entry in this set of blogs about this trip. Look for the entry where I constructed a capo from a bookie’s pen and a few hairbands! It has to be well over 50 years old now and the action is still pretty good. I suppose it is a bit like I am really – too old, rough round the edges and pretty ugly but still holding up a tune. I reckon it will outlive me!
Smithfield now is just sterile and wasn’t to my liking at all. Sure, I am glad they rebuilt it but it just isn’t the same. I had a look in a few shops but I might as well have been in Camden Market in London i.e. overpriced tat aimed at tourists. I do realise that I am starting to sound really old now but, as I have said, I can only write one way.
Leaving the 21st century predictablility of the new Smithfield I kept on walking as I usually do in search of something I could at least refer back to and which had not been swept away (i.e. blown up) by the the ravages of organised criminals posing as “freedom fighters” and subsequently replaced at huge expense to the taxpayer (i.e. me) on the back of the so-called “peace dividend”.
I obviously love the fact that you don’t have to walk about Belfast now wondering if you might have the front of a building blown out over your head and killing or maiming you, although that possibility still regrettably exists, but I cannot help but feel somewhere in me that the soul of the place has somehow got lost in translation. Certainly I have been away for a long time but I feel like a stranger in Belfast now even with my thick accent making me sound enough like a local to get by.
I walked along a few streets that I recognised by their location if not the premises there and came on the Mermaid Inn which is not a place I would have frequented when I was living there. This was not for any reason of personal safety as it is in a fairly neutral central zone, it just was not a place I used to hang out. It was OK although nothing special and a bit soulless so one pint in there was enough and back for another little trip down memory lane (there is an intended pun here for those that may know Belfast as it is an area known as the Lanes) with another aimless ramble.
I suppose it is entirely logical after 30 years but feeling like an outsider in a place I once lived was a very odd sensation. No, there was no animosity, far from it as Belfast people are renowned for their hospitality and I was greeted warmly wherever I went. I could not, however, help feeling like one of the numerous North American / European / Asian tourists who do so much now for the economy of a small country that would not have seen a foreign visitor thirty years ago as it was a war zone and that is not hyperbole, it is s simple statement of fact. I genuinely do not know how I feel these days about where I was born, strange as that may sound. Again, this seems a bit heavy but (all together now) I can only write one way.
Leaving the Mermaid I took myself down to Cornmarket, quite a hub in the commercial area, and had a brief look at some meaningless piece of modern sculpture that someone clever enough to work the system had undoubtedly been paid a fortune to put there. You can get the same in any city but I could not help but look instead at a modern shopfront which, in my day, was the Abercorn bar and restaurant, basically a cafe and restaurant on the ground floor and a bar upstairs.
The Abercorn is etched on the minds of anyone who lived in Belfast at that time. On Saturday, 4 March 1972, it became the scene of one of the defining moments of so many others in the horror of what was wrought on my country by criminal terrorists posing as something noble over decades. The cafe was full of shoppers, mostly women and children when two teenage female IRA murderers left a 5lb. bomb in a handbag and walked out with it exploding two minutes later. It left two young women dead and about 130 injured, many with horrific injuries including losing limbs and permanent blindness. To call it carnage would be to much understate the case. For those not completely au fait with the politics of Northern Ireland, why was this done? Because the IRA believed that British soldiers used the upstairs bar. Why then place the bomb in the cafe? That was the thinking of what was effectively an organised crime syndicate masquerading under the pretence of being “liberators”. Yes, I do feel strongly about his subject, very strongly and with good reason.
To use an ugly phrase with much currency in Northern Ireland at that time, they scored a spectacular “own goal”. The two young ladies they murdered were both Catholics i.e. on “their” side. The lines are very blurred on this as not all Catholics are Nationalists and neither are all Protestants Unionists, as many of the first Irish Republicans were Protestant (e.g Wolfe Tone). I really mean this, if you don’t know much about politics in Northern Ireland, then don’t try if you do not have many years left as it really is too convoluted and you will be dead before you ever even close to getting to grips with the intricacies.
Again, I understand that this is pretty heavy stuff and understandably incomprehensible to many who may some day read this. Remarkably for me, I make no apology for this writing as I seem to spend half my time here doing doing just that.
Perhaps I am finally getting my admittedly limited intellect around the concept of editorial freedom and I am actually finding it quite liberating after years of having to avoid even the most obliquely political comment on various sites for fear of bringing down the wrath of the usually self-appointed “internet police”. As always, I welcome any and all constructive debate here and I promise to answer everyone who may wish to contact me. In truth, it will not take much time as my readership is so meagre but I now have the “freedom” of the internet (on payment of a fee obviously). How I wish I had got into this gig at the start when it was a case of becoming a millionaire without getting out of your chair, what a life. Still, no point in crying over spilt milk and I probably couldn’t have managed it anyway, technophobe as I am.
Enough of all this and back to my nostalgic and ever so slightly disorientating meander round the capital of the country which seems to be causing all sorts of merry Hell in the Brexit fiasco currently being played out (October 2018) against a background of fine meals eaten by politicians and unelected bureaucrats in countries we either saved or fought against to save Europe from the yoke of Fascism.
If the reader is not aware (and why would they be outside Europe?) the major problem to implementing the democratic will of the British people (to paraphrase Robert Plant from a Led Zep live gig, “Does anyone remember democracy”?) that they should leave the much disliked Federal States of E is the border between Northern Ireland, the subject of this blog entry, and the Republic of Ireland. The people of the Republic voted in a referendum some years ago against the will of Brussels (Treaty of Lisbon I believe although I may be wrong) so the public were sent back to the ballot box until the desired Brussels result was obtained. They have done the same in other countries but that is the EU concept of democracy.
As far as I can see, E (as they will soon undoubtedly be called) stubbornly refuse to accept a “hard” border between a country that wants to bow the knee and one whose people voted not to. I was born in Northern Ireland in the 1950’s, lived there until the late 1980s and, for a long period of that time, there was a “hard” border. Yes, we were separate countries, yes there were border posts (before Republican terrorists started murdering Customs officers (my friend’s uncle was one such) as supporters of the British “apparatus”) but it never took more than a minute or two for my Father to drive my Mother, younger brother and I into the Irish Republic past the respective border posts. It may even have still been called Eire then, I cannot remember and life is too short to look it up. Anyway, it was never a problem. A “hard” border is only a problem to the multi-nationals who are all committed Remoaners (that is not a typo). Border posts are in place all over the world and yet it still keeps turning. Will the re-introduction of such cause the sun not to rise the next day? I think not.
Next up was a quick trip to one of the many “pound shops” that are such a feature of any British city centre these days and I love them. My primary purpose for visiting this day was that I was down to my last pair of reading glasses yet again. I really do not know what I do with them. I leave them lying at my backside, sit on the occasional pair and drop some others so often that the lenses become irrevocably scratched. I really am hard on them but fortunately I do not need prescription lenses so I stock up on as many pairs as I can lay hands on cheaply at any given opportunity. I cannot remember the name of this particular shop but, as the generic description of it I have given suggests, everything in there is £1 which is not a lot of money for any non-British people who may stumble upon this rambling.
I bought three pairs of glasses, two hardback books which were each marked at about £17:99 and were titles by two of my favourite authors that I had not yet read. I bought three multipacks of chocolate bars for my Dad who loves anything sweet and the whole lot came to £8. At time of writing this in October 2018 that is $10:45US. To quote the Who, “I call that a bargain”.
Heading back vaguely in the direction of the train station I walked past the premises of Fred J. Malcolm Jewellers which has not changed one iota in at least 40 years. It was here that I bought an engagement ring the one and only time I ever started to descend the slippery slope to matrimony. My late Mother knew the man running the place as she used to dabble a bit in collecting antique silver and so I got a good price although it was still an arm and a leg for a lovely piece, £800 as I recall in 1986 or ’87. That was a lot of money then but I was earning what was probably more than was good for an irresponsible young man like me in those days.
The engagement didn’t work out and I am quite prepared to admit now, as I did then, that the fault was entirely mine and that the young lady really did deserve a lot better than me. I did hear years later that she was happily married with kids which was what she always wanted. I have not heard of her for decades and I suppose she may well be a grandmother by now. I wish her all the very best and I do hope she is happy as she was a truly wonderful lady and how she put up with me as long as she did is still something of a mystery to me.
It is strange that even after all years a simple walk round Belfast city centre still provokes such strong emotions in me and there was more to come.
Time for a bite to eat and I knew where I was going as it was a Tuesday and therefore grill night in Wetherspoons pubs all over the UK. Again, for the benefit of non-UK readers Wetherspoons is a huge chain of pubs which all do food and they even have a few hotels now. I believe there are about 880 outlets at the last count and opinion is much divided about them. They work very much on economies of scale and rarely buy up pubs but rather convert old banks, casinos, theatres, Post Office sorting depots, churches and just about anything else huge that you care to mention and convert them, always with a local theme. I use the examples given as I have drunk in at least one of each type with my local in East London being the old Half Moon theatre which I can actually remember in it’s former incarnation.
There may be more than one ‘Spoons (as they are called colloquially) in Belfast now but the place I go is the Bridge House which is actually two buildings knocked through. One was a fancy goods box maker and the other an undertaker. What is of interest is that the architect was Sir Charles Lanyon whose other works include the glorious and technically challenging Antrim Coast Road, the Palm House in the nearby Botanical Gardens and the main building of Queen’s University which is also a short walk away. All of these will feature in future entries here if I live long enough.
I mentioned that opinion is much divided in the UK and Ireland where they have now expanded about the Wetherspoon brand so please allow me to briefly explain why. Many people like them as they offer very competitively priced food and drink and others decry them, claiming they are putting traditional pubs out of business as they cannot compete. I must say that I am firmly in the former camp.
Pubs were, and still are, closing at an alarming rate for a huge number of reasons which I am not going to go into here and it was nothing to do with Wetherspoons. If anyone ever even reads this and is slightly interested, send me a message here on the site and I’ll talk you through it. In the interests of fair reporting, which I have always tried to do on any site I have written for, and have even more reason to do so on my own, I must say that the service in a Wetherspoons establishment can be sketchy sometimes and nothing short of unacceptable at others. Part of the business model is to have as few staff as possible, although they are very good to them, winning award after award for being a great employer.
I have eaten and drunk in their outlets all over the UK many times and the only complaint I can make about the food is that I was once served an eggs Benedict with a cold Hollandaise, that’s it. It’s not haute cuisine, it is not meant to be, it is just reasonably priced grub (freezer to plate for sure) done well.
A year or two back I took my Canadian friend Lynne to this self same place when we visited Belfast on a tour of Northern Ireland and Scotland. Now, they know a thing or two about eating out in large chain bars there and we had spent manys a happy evening in various Boston Pizzas which I absolutely adore but I have a slight problem with their portion control as one of their pasta dishes for one feeds me for three meals! Anyway, I took Lynne here and I remember it well. She liked the bar, ordered a Philly cheesesteak (I think that is what it was called) and pronounced it very good. I thought that was pretty good coming from a “North American” and, please trust me, I am not on the JDW payroll to write this.
I don’t know if it was just a bit of nostalgia or whatever but I managed to get the same table for two that we had sat at the night we visited. I started on one of the new books I had just bought and had a couple of pints before ordering my dinner which was exactly what I had had when I was there with Lynne but there was no element of nostalgia in this – the spare ribs in Wetherspoons are bloody brilliant and I always order them on grill night. I am so glad to see they have actually migrated to the daily menu so I can get them any time I feel like it. Yes, they were as good as they look albeit that it was a slightly bittersweet experience dining alone.
Another thing I like about Wetherspoons is that their head man, a guy called Tim Martin, who is obviously no mug to have built up such an empire (for such it is) speaks absolutely my language about the whole Brexit nonsense that is going on now. Yes, we are back to that again. Not only does he “talk the talk” about it, intelligently deconstructing the fallacious arguments of the political class trying to protect their own gravy train, but he “walks the walk” by sourcing as much as possible from the UK, offering special deals specifically marketed as “Free Trade” or something similar where they are offering products from non EU countries cheaper than the brands currently protected under Federal States of E diktat. Here is a great example and proves far better than I ever could why it is such a good idea to get out of the EU, deal or no, as soon as possible. I have to say I am really relishing this freedom to actually say what I want.
To go back to a former “life” when I wrote for a great travel website I answered many questions for first time visitors to UK who had been frightened off a bit by reading about obscene prices for eating out and I always used to recommend Wetherspoons. That has not changed. Certainly you can eat cheaper by going for a “meal deal” from any number of supermarkets (which are great for a picnic in the park or whatever) but for a sit down meal Wetherspoons is as good as any and, again, I stress that I am not being paid to write this. The breakfasts are great and the curries on a Thursday night are excellent. I speak as one who has travelled a bit in South and Southeast Asia and whose dear friend makes the best curry in the world (I will accept no argument on this point, you really want to taste it).
Where were we on this lunatic series of digressions which have, one way and another, taken me four days to write? Ah yes, I had a bellyful of delicious spare ribs and headed back to the train station for a lateish train to Portadown and thence a cab home, the last bus having gone at 1750! Honestly, public transport in Northern Ireland is criminally bad.
Well, I didn’t expect my little jaunt to Belfast to buy a train ticket to have taken so long and with so many verbal excursions to describe but there you have it.
I shall finish off this little, or not so little, trip soon and get back to UK to head straight into another bit of an adventure so stay tuned and spread the word.
There are going to be a few days rolled into one here, as appears to be turning into a habit on my little site as, barring a day out in Belfast, mot much of note happened before I returned “home” to London on 10th August and which begged the question was I leaving “home” or going “home”. The facts of the matter are that I lived in Northern Ireland for the first 28 years of my life and have now lived in London (when I am not on my seemingly endless travels) in London for 30 now. As always, any comments would be most welcome on the subject of what you define as home?
I was helping to look after my Dad a little although his care programme, between some wonderful carers who attend him at home, and my brother and sister-in-law who live about 500 yards round the corner ensure that there is nothing to worry about on that score. I was just doing some little tasks and trying to help out where I could. In truth, I think he enjoyed the company, and I know for a fact that he was well pleased on one day when my S-i-L had arranged not to cook for him (she is a brilliant cook) and I knocked him up an Ulster Fry, the dish which has featured so much in this series of blogs and which he declared to be very tasty so that was good enough for me.
I had fallen into a bit of a routine which, on the evidence or previous visits home, had the potential to bore me to tears and yet it didn’t. I was quite happy pottering about the house during the day, taking the odd day trip to Portadown or once to Belfast for reasons which shall be explained later, going to the local pub in the evening for a few drinks with friends and jamming occasionally. I was eating regularly (as the images show and which is not necessarily the case at other times) and reading a lot of good books (my Dad has no internet access). Leaving aside my Father’s health for a moment, it appeared to be doing mine a power of good.
I do realise that this is all a bit heavy reading for the occasional visitor to the site who does not know me, and let’s be honest, I have a meagre bunch of followers here who I thank for their support but, as I said in one of my opening pieces here, this is my last shot at blogging. I am not going to risk another commercial site being pulled from under me and so this is, at times, going to be pretty brutally honest. At some point this site, such as it is and may eventually become, will eventually float about the ether and provide my epitaph to some degree. At least hopefully you’ll be able to read it online as a diary of mine would be totally illegible due to my utterly appalling handwriting!
Yes, this started off as a travel orientated site and it remains so although not exclusively. For the first time I have complete editorial control albeit I still cannot free myself of the mindset of travel sites but I am getting there. I have all sorts of odd ideas like daily limericks and who knows what else.
So back to Northern Ireland on what had turned out, yet again in my case (a very small case as it happens) on what was intended to be a five or six day trip and I was two months down the road. If you have read some of my other exploits and if you read any of the many that are still to come then you will know that this is the way I am and, frankly, it suits me. My idea of travel Hell would be an organised trip as in breakfast at 0730 sharp, on the coach at 0800 sharp, famous museum at 0900 sharp, you get the idea.
I might as well start with one of my usual subjects i.e. the fry-up or ( often not so) healthy alternatives to it. The image above shows a little variant which is probably marginally less unhealthy than the Ulster Fry which has featured so prominently here. Let’s be honest, everyone loves cheese on toast but I love making it with soda bread. The effort pictured above features the said bread, Branston pickle, and a decent Red Leicester cheese I had picked up on offer at the little local supermarket. A quick crack of freshly ground pepper completes the dish. Again, I will digress here so I warn you in advance.
I am all in favour of a bargain in my food shopping and hunt out special offers in the same way I will go to a fresh produce market late in the day as they are virtually giving the stuff away. Also, I will mostly buy “own brands” from supermarkets for many things as they are every bit as good and often produced in the same factories as name brands but there are a few things I will not compromise on. Pickle of that type has to be Branston, English mustard has to be Colman’s and Worcestershire sauce has to be Lea & Perrins. Just about anything else is negotiable but these are not. Certainly there are a thousand other pickles and chutnies available and some of them very good, but this type has to be Branston.
I will certainly buy other styles of mustard (you can read in my European jaunt of 2017 on this site of how I went to Dijon in France purely to buy mustard for a foodie mate) but there is only one English mustard although the multinational Unilever, apart from their failed bit to Eurify to a single base in Rotterdam recently in September 2018 are moving from Norwich, it’s original home to two sites in Burton (Staffordshire, UK) and Germany. No surprise there and I wonder how that will play out when, or if, given the spineless nature of our alleged leaders, we eventually actually escape the mendacious clutches of the Federal States of E.
As for The Worcestershire sauce (which my Canadian friends call “W” sauce as they cannot get their tongues round the pronunciation, which admittedly is odd. I doubt I could cook without it (not that I can really cook anyway) to the extent that when I go to visit my friend in Sri Lanka I take a bottle of it with me as it costs a fortune when imported there for the expats. As a further digression off a digression, if such a thing be possible, why are there two pronunciations of the word pronunciation? Answers on a postcard please, as they say!
How can I write so much about a couple of pieces of cheese on toast? Very easily actually and I have just edited the above paragraph fairly seriously before I took off into a further digression about the origins of these fine British firms. Then again, I do have to keep reminding myself that this is MY site and I can do what I like.
I know opinion is very much divided about my writing style, if it can be called that, but on other commercial sites I have written for before more people seemed to like it than disliked it. In truth, I can only write in one style although I am trying to rein myself in a little bit. Being naturally inquisitive (for which read nosy if you like) I simply have to research everything I mention even tangentially in a blog entry and then include it in whatever I am writing. I reckon I’d have made a Hell of an intelligence officer in some field or another.
Right, back to the narrative. That was brekkie on the 2nd of August, and the 3rd was equally subdued with a toasted sandwich and some tomato soup for the morning meal. What was I thinking?
Thankfully, normal service appears to have resumed on the 4th as you can see above. A friend of mine who is a real foodie speaks of “food porn” which I used to scoff at a little but I reckon this is full on XXX rated. I am actually salivating now just looking at this image even if I did cook it myself. I swear this is turning into an Ulster Fry site!
I’ve rambled enough here so I’ll break off for another entry where I finally get back to Belfast so stay tuned and spread the word.
For those few of you that may have been following my little excursion back to the place of my birth I thank you and I do realise that it is getting on for three weeks since I posted here. As we have now entered another new month I thought I had better bring you up to date a bit once I have finished wondering where this year has gone to. Like so many clichés the old one about time moving quicker as you get older does indeed have a basis in truth and I really have no idea how the last seven months have slipped by.
I am still in Northern Ireland and enjoying myself although doing nothing worth writing about which is the first reason for the long absence here. I have not been at all idle on the blog front though despite my very limited internet access as I have been concentrating on constructing pages about my rather crazy ramble about Europe last year and have been quite pleased with my progress although it is time-consuming. The only way I can hope to keep myself vaguely organised here is to back publish entries to the dates to which they refer which means that you may not have seen them as they are buried away at the bottom of the homepage. If you would like to have a look you can click on the link here and see what you think. Believe me, it was a pretty mad journey one way and another.
There are a few bits and pieces for me to share with you and I shall start with the World Cup which was in full swing the last time I posted in this section. Despite the increasing hype in the British media football didn’t “come home” as England did very well but eventually fell short losing to Croatia in the semis. They are a young side who should get much better especially if manager Gareth Southgate remains in charge as he seems to know how to get the best out of them. They certainly did not disgrace themselves by getting to the semis.
When I saw the way the semis had worked out I actually managed to predict what would happen although in truth it was not too difficult. The fixtures were France vs. Belgium and England vs. Croatia and I said that either team in the first match would beat either in the second and so it was to prove. France beat Belgium and then an ageing Croatian side who are probably just about over as a group defeated the considerably younger English team.
In the game that I never see the point of i.e. the third and fourth place playoff a very decent Belgian team saw off England fairly comfortably. I didn’t think England looked that good in the game.
On to the Sunday and the Final and naturally, with the odd things that happen to me something a little strange took place. I was going to the pub quite early as I knew it would be crowded for the game and I wanted to get a seat. I popped into my local supermarket and saw a middle-aged guy wearing a Croatian football (soccer) shirt accompanied by a teenage lad who was almost as tall as me. I know that number of Eastern Europeans have moved into the village of late but I had not heard of any Croatians and I was intrigued as they seemed to be poring over a computer printout of a map with the young lad who works in the shop.
All soon became clear and it transpired they were a Father and son, the Father indeed being Croatian but they were now resident in the USA where they had flown from into Dublin airport that morning. They were heading for Limavady in the Northwest of the country as the son was playing in a large international youth football competition in that area. Almost unbelievably, the shop assistant did not know where it was which surprised me as Northern Ireland is such a small place and Limavady is a comparatively large town. How they had managed to deviate off the A1 and ended up in Tandragee is something of a mystery to me but here they were and in a bit of a bind as their hire car had no satnav and the guy could not get his American mobile (cell) ‘phone to work here. I told them the place was the best part of two hours drive and had formulated a route for them but when I told them that they would be struggling to get there in time for kickoff they asked if there was somewhere local that they could watch the game. No better man to ask and I told them to come with me for the 100 yard walk to the Montagu Arms of which I have spoken often.
In I walked with the two Croatians and announced to the assembled company that as it was the biggest day in Croatian footballing history I had arranged a couple of my own fans to help interpret the finer details of their team. Utter nonsense of course but my mates looked incredulous until the situation was explained and I bought the guys a drink (Cokes all round for them), introduced them and we all began to chat. As you probably know by now I am a great believer in the “interconnectedness of all things” as the late Douglas Adams so wonderfully termed it and also “what goes round comes round” as they say. Some years ago I had been in Zagreb during a major football tournament and I was staying in an obscure local area as usual. It was my practice every evening to go to a particular little locals bar to watch the games and I was treated brilliantly despite not a single word of a common language and here was I returning the favour to a couple of Croatians all these years later.
There still remained the problem of getting them to their ultimate destination after the match and fortunately my mate Ritchie was on hand. When Ritchie is not entertaining people with one of his selection of excellent guitars he is by trade a lorry driver and knows every road in the country. I had picked my route not because it was the shortest but because I thought it was the simplest involving mostly motorway driving but Ritchie came up with a shorter and apparently equally simple alternative which he managed to get printed off on the bar computer and explained in detail to our new Croatian friend who seemed well pleased.
When we are not slaughtering each other the people of Northern Ireland are the friendliest you will ever hope to meet and I am hope the man and his son will take home happy memories of their brief unplanned stop in a tiny village they had undoubtedly never heard of. What are the odds of such a thing happening? If I had been five minutes earlier I would never have run into those lovely people but, as the late Terry Pratchett once very intelligently remarked, “Million to one chances happen nine times out of 10”!
Whilst they may have been happy with the hospitality the result of the game was less to their liking with their home nation going down to a very talented French side who had played some stunning football throughout. Still, for a nation of a shade over four million people they had done remarkably well. For those of you who do not love “the beautiful game” that is the end of that although the domestic season is merely days away now.
My other two staples of blog entries are breakfast and the weather so I’ll do breakfast first and it rarely changes although, in an unusual departure it was bacon sarnies (Brit slang for sandwiches), orange juice and coffee today which is not usual but I do like a bacon buttie (more Brit slang) now and again. I have posted photographic evidence of same here! I did hear once that the majority of vegetarians who go back to being carnivores do so because they want to eat bacon. This was borne out as one of my Father’s carers came round when I was “slaving over a hot stove” and the incomparable smell of bacon wafting about the kitchen. She told me that although she had eaten recently that her mouth was watering with the smell. I genuinely feel sorry for those that for religious or dietary reasons cannot enjoy this quintessentially British item that has kept armies of builders and the like going since time immemorial.
Other than that it has been fries all the way so I’ll include another image here of one of my better efforts. This really is causing my poor Father some bemusement as he regularly sees me photographing whatever I am about to eat and, on the odd occasions my sister-in-law does not cook for him, what I have prepared to eat for him. I suppose he has a point but I reckon I shall have enough for a decent gallery of “Fry-ups of Northern Ireland” when this little jaunt comes to an end. I promise to post a warning at the top of it so you can pass quickly on if you do not want to induce a heart attack at the mere sight of my cholesterol-laden offerings.
The third part of my unholy triumvirate of topics here is the weather, that perennial staple of conversation here, and I really do not know where to start. I have been telling you about the record-breaking heatwave we had been having but, with it being Northern Ireland, that didn’t last. We had been hearing horror stories on the TV news from farmers (are they ever happy) that there would be no carrots for Xmas dinner as the crops were failing, we had a hosepipe ban and so on and everyone was praying for rain. Be careful what you wish for as last weekend not ten miles from here in Lurgan there were homes and businesses destroyed by flash floods. Today was absolutely awful with rain all day being driven by a blustery and none too warm wind.
In due course I shall get round to writing a series of entries here about my wonderful trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year where I had enjoyed 30 degree temperatures every day and watched TV images of Western Europe gripped by blizzards and battered by Atlantic storms. Six months later and we are having a heatwave and flooding in the space of a few days. What is going on with this weather?
In local news (as they say on TV) we have had what they refer to as “the marching season” in Northern Ireland which can be a lively time of year to say the least. Without boring you it revolves around a series of marches by the Orange Order which is a Loyalist organisation and which have caused (the marches, that is) untold trouble in years past for reasons mired in centuries of history in this all too volatile country.
Traditionally, the “11th night” i.e. the eve of the marches was a time when huge “bonies” (bonfires) were lit and when I say huge I mean huge. Vast pyres of wooden pallets and tyres were constructed over a period of weeks if not months and usually dwarfed the surrounding buildings leading to all sorts of issues for the Fire Brigade. There were some problems this year when contractors, who had to wear ski masks to avoid reprisals. were brought in to dismantle some of them. Yes, when I say that things have changed out of all recognition since when I left, there is still an undercurrent of fear which I think will last for many generations. I should be clear here and say that the visitor has absolutely nothing to fear because, as I mentioned, we are the friendliest people imaginable towards outsiders, it is purely an internal friction.
With the bonfires done, the marches themselves passed relatively quietly but all things are relative, especially here. In the lead-up to the marches there had been all sorts of trouble in the City side of Londonderry / Derry (they cannot even agree on the name) at the interface between the Nationalist and Loyalist areas with shooting incidents and so on. They have been roundly condemned, and rightly so, by community leaders on all sides and seem to have calmed down and yet again I must stress to the potential visitor that they have nothing to fear from this as they would need to be Hellishly unlucky to stumble upon it accidentally.
I have some more observations to make about the last few weeks but, as usual here, time is against me and the delightful Sam is going to kick me out of the bar shortly so that is my internet done until tomorrow. I think that if I work quickly I can get this posted and the further observations will wait so stay tuned and spread the word.
A bit of a lie-in this morning after a pretty late night reading and finally finishing my Tony Ward book which was a great read. I was so late up that Father had his own breakfast done.
I had my standard fry-up for brunch although I really must get a bit of shopping done as my cupboard (not to mention fridge and breadbin) are very Old Mother Hubbard at the minute.
Three in the afternoon and here we go again, England vs. Sweden for a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup. High level stuff indeed so would the increasing hype about England prove justified? Is football really coming home? Again, I am writing this in real-time. Gareth Southgate has named the same starting XI as that which began the last match. Not much to report in the opening minutes except a few very wayward English passes.
12 minutes and the first decent strike from Claesen but it goes a little over the bar. On 18 minutes England break but Kane shoots just wide. Perhaps it is the heat in Samara but the game has been fairly slow for the first 20 minutes and the whole affair is pretty scrappy with nothing to raise the blood pressure yet.
29 minutes and England get a corner which probably did not need to be conceded and Harry Maguire scores his first international goal with a powerful header made easier by being about four inches taller than his marker, he really is a big old unit. England 1 – Sweden 0. 40 minutes and England have a decent attack but can’t get a final shot in. Two minutes later and Trippier, who is playing very well in the tournament, puts Sterling in with an inch perfect pass but he could not finish. Almost on the 45 minute mark, Sterling fluffs his lines again, taking far too long to get a shot off in a great position and ending up being hustled out of it. At least England seem to have woken up a bit and were exerting a bit of pressure towards the end of the half. Time for a smoke and making a coffee in the hope that the second period is better. Even if it is rubbish, England will be happy if the scoreline remains as it is.
Sweden must have had a rocket from the manager at half-time as they have come out all guns blazing and within a couple of minutes of the restart forced an excellent save from Pickford down to his left. He has been playing very well including the penalty save in the shootout against Colombia and it is strange now to think of the doubts that were raised about him before the tournament.
England have livened themselves now, forcing a few corners which suits them as they have been very good at set pieces. 58 minutes and the pressure tells. A header from a virtually unmarked Dele Alli puts England 2 – 0 to the good. Immediately following the goal England are beginning to run riot but Sweden break away as they do so well and Pickford makes a great point-blank save with Henderson blocking the shot from the rebound. Sweden need to do something and make a double substitution to try and change their fortunes. England are still flying. 70 minutes in and England are more or less knocking it about at will. 71 minutes and the same old story. Sweden break quickly, launch a vicious shot which Pickford tips over the bar. He is having a stormer.
82 minutes and a free kick to England in a reasonable position following a foul on Trippier who has also been excellent and naturally I have jinxed him as he takes the free himself and it is rubbish. Last minute of normal time and Sweden have a free just outside the England box but they sky it into about row L of the stand behind Pickford’s goal. Sterling is substituted by Rashford in injury time (five minutes), more to waste time than for any tactical reason.
Well, would you believe it? The final whistle and England into the semis against either Russia or Croatia which will be decided later this evening. The first half wasn’t great, the second half better but England won’t mind as they progress and possibly as importantly managed to keep a clean sheet which seems to be difficult for them.
My afternoon / evening dozette put paid to the first 15 minutes of the evening game which again I am reporting in real-time and at least I have not missed any goals.
As I have mentioned before Russia have surprised a lot of people by getting this far as they were the lowest ranked FIFA side in the whole tournament at 79th and nothing was expected of them least of all by their own fans and press.
27 minutes now and a Croatian attack leads to a guided header by Croatia. Unfortunately, it was guided about eight feet wide of the post. 29 minutes and a Russian free kick is well curled by Cheryeshev but ultimately held comfortably by the ‘keeper. A minute later, Cheryeshev goes one better and after playing a great one-two score a beauty from outside the box. Ally McCoist has just described it as breathtaking and I would not disagree. Russia are somewhat improbably 1 – 0 up and there really is a game on now. Russia are really doing all the playing now and the crowd are going nuts as you might imagine and the Croatians are racking up a goodly number of yellow cards but on 39 minutes they do something positive with a bullet header from Kamaric following a breakout. It is certainly much livelier than the first half of the England game earlier.
Second half just about to kick off and it could be good. I think a lot depends on how Modric performs as he really is the playmaker for the Croatians.
Ten minutes into the second period and Croatia are having the better of the play which is proved on 59 minutes and a clear-cut chance rebounds back into play off the post. Are the football gods with the home side?
66 minutes and the Russian goalscorer is substituted which surprises me a bit as he appeared to be one of the main Russian threats. A decent move in the 71st minute sees a Russian striker heading just over the bar although the keeper seemed to have it covered. Two minutes later Croatia make a like for like substitution at left back. 83 minutes and a Russian free kick for handball is well defended. Are we heading for more extra-time and the dreaded penalty shootout? 87 minutes and Croatia mimic Russia by substituting their goalscorer. A minute later they might wish they had not as Subasic, the excellent ‘keeper, appears to pull his right hamstring so they will have to wait until extra time to sub the ‘keeper.
Second of the five minutes of added time and Croatia are pressing again. Time ticks down and we are looking at extra time again so I am off to the pub!
Writing again the next morning and I made it to the Monty just about in time for the extra time and it was a beauty with lots of action. Croatia scored and were looking like going through but this really is the World Cup that keeps on giving and, with the with the hosts looking all but done, there was an equaliser well into the added time. Here we go again. Penalties, and by this time the Russian crowd, occasionally egged on by “Big Stan” the Russian manager, were making a noise to rival anything ever heard in a sporting arena.
Throughout the game there were some lovely TV shots of the Croatian premier and her Russian counterpart (not Putin, the other guy that he controls) who were sitting in the VIP area on either side of the FIFA President and who very politely shook hands with each other after every goal. The Croation leader was wearing a red and white checked top as those are the national colours and we were told in commentary that she had flown in that morning on a charter flight from Zagreb that had been put on for fans. I can’t see Teresa May or Angela Merkel doing that and I’ll bet her security detail weren’t best pleased at sorting that at short notice. I could get all philosophical here about the power of sport bringing people together etc. but I think the images said it all.
The shootout was the usual nail-biting affair and I had said before it started that Croatia would win and so it proved courtesy of a couple of awful pens from the Russians and a most freakish effort from the Croatians that Akinfeev got a hand to before it ricocheted off the inside of the post, looped over him and went in the opposite side netting.
Russia had exceeded all expectations in their home tournament and should be proud of themselves but it is Croatia that England will face in the semis.
After the football it was time for the usual Saturday evening entertainment which came in the small but extremely explosive form of Rita who apparently appears regularly in the Monty although I had never seen her before. She is a vocalist who sings to backing tracks which is a genre I am not generally fond of as it smacks of karaoke for one to me but I have to say she was very good.
In the later part of the set she did a few modern tracks but the backbone of her set was classic rock tracks with AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses and so on all getting an outing but the highlight for me was her rendition of Cowboy Song by Thin Lizzy. I must stress that I was stone cold sober and I am not at all given to singing in pubs unless I am “onstage” but I reckon I was singing louder than she was and she had the PA behind her, it ended up being somewhat of a duet really. She kept looking over at me, not in a “Shut up, you fool” way but slightly quizzical. She later explained to me that she loved that song but she had recently performed it and nobody in the audience had known what it was. I thought it was one of their better known tracks but apparently not. When I told her the tale of when Brian Robertson (Lizzy guitarist on that track) rolled into a gig of mine in London once she seemed most impressed.
Rita is apparently a big local favourite and not only knew most of the audience by name but enough personal details about them to engage in some great onstage banter. As I said to her, quite truthfully when I was helping her set her gear out after the gig, she had given an absolute masterclass in working a crowd. I have no illusions about my limited musical ability but I have been told that I am a bit of a showman, undoubtedly due to me talking far too much, but I really was in the presence of genius here. I would not advise taking your maiden aunt to see Rita as the onstage repartee can get a bit fruity but it was a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed myself especially as I was in company with Ritchie and Ann. I have mentioned Ritchie before, he is the guitarist with the apparently never-ending supply of guitars so he was right into the music as well.
The night wore on as it tends to do on a Saturday there and it was quite late when I got home and straight to bed.
This week long trip is over a month old and looking like it might run a bit longer so stay tuned and spread the word.
Up again ludicrously early on American Independence day to another beautiful morning and again despite only a few hours sleep caused but late night reading again. Prepared breakfast for Father and then took into little light gardening which is completely unheard of as I am not really a fan which is possibly due to the fact that I don’t have a garden and have no idea what I am doing. I shall let you know in due course how much of my Dad’s lovely work I have managed to annihilate.
Time for brunch which was the usual fry-up and accompanying picture. Now I know you probably do not even bother to look at them any more but please do and spot the new ingredient.
After a visit from the dietician, my Father has had his dietary restrictions removed and is free to eat what he likes again, which is just about anything. This is a great relief as I can attack the supermarket with complete freedom and when I saw the wheaten bread there it was an absolute must.
Wheaten bread is yet another Irish delicacy which I can source in London at the larger supermarkets but is not really that common on the mainland. As you can see, the packaging calls it toaster wheaten and it is lovely done that way with either sweet or savoury toppings or it is great simply buttered as an accompaniment to just about anything but my favourite is fried wheaten. Frankly, anything fried is my favourite as you may know by now. If you have not been following my “Fergy’s Guide to the Ulster Fry” series here, it is the dark brown object to the Northeast of the plate. There will be more “mystery ingredients” as and when I go shopping to a larger place than my village shop.
With that done it was time for a read and a doze and then back up for a bit more writing for this site which brings me to the title of the piece. It is a musical reference referring to albums (as they were in my day) or CD’s where there were maybe half a dozen killer tracks and the rest of the product was filled with tunes that normally would never have made the cut. It is also the title of an item on a radio show on the wonderful XXX BBB6 Music Radio which is easily my favourite station on the odd occasions I listen to radio. Do yourself a favour and check it out. If you are not in UK it is available online on the link above.
After England finally beat the penalty shootout hoodoo against Colombia in the World Cup last night (along with the expected ridiculous media hype today) there will be nothing to report here on the football front and so I shall rely on a “fillers” about the village. In truth this does not bother me as I have been looking thorough the carnage that calls itself my “File Manager” here and I have uncovered quite a large amount of writing that I had spent many long manhours researching and writing for other websites I was involved with and which I am loath to lose.
For today’s offering I shall tell you about the War Memorial in Tandragee which I see every day I go into the village.
I have mentioned in other entries that I am quite interested in military history and Northern Ireland has certainly produced it’s fair share of service personnel over the years. The exploits of the 36th Ulster Division at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War are legendary, and the numbers of casualties appalling.
Like so many small towns and villages in the Province, Tandragee has a memorial to the fallen of both world wars. It is of itself not remarkable save that it employs the older spelling of the village as TandEragee, the first E having fallen into disuse now, but it is very typical of the style you will see. I often stop and have a look as I go about my business, and reflect on the generations of (mostly) young men who perished.
I have included here images of all four faces of the memorial to illustrate a point. Tandragee, although expanding rapidly, is not a large place. It is the kind of village where it can take you an hour to walk down the main street just because you meet people you know. The last census in 2011 shows a population of 3486 which is up a few 100s from 2001 when it was just over 3,000. Obviously, this was much less in the 1930’s and considerably less at the time of the First War. Count the number of men commemorated here and try to imagine the impact then on what is still a close-knit community now. As that wonderful singer / songwriter Eric Bogle put it in his wonderful “The band played Waltzing Matilda”, “a whole generation that was butchered and damned”.
If you are interested in War Memorials in the United Kingdom, I would recommend the National Inventory of War Memorials website. This is run under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum in London and it’s aim is to record the details of every war memorial in the United Kingdom including images. Perhaps you might want to get involved yourself. I certainly intend to as I think it is a worthwhile thing to do.
I shall probably not post this when I go to the pub tonight as it is rather brief and probably deserves to be run into the next entry. I shall get on with finishing my Lundy Island and West Country travelogue and then try to work out what I shall do for the next “series” although I have more or less made my mind up.
I did not actually make it to the pub for the internet that night so I shall run on into the 5th here.
Thursday 5th July was a bit of a non-event on all fronts and so it will get lumped in with some other days as I wouldn’t post just this by itself.
The weather was a lot cooler than it had been, I had my usual fry for brunch, it was another rest day in the World Cup and I didn’t go to the pub in the evening. I spent the day furiously typing up more entries for the site.
The only thing of slight interest, or possibly not, was that I concluded a small experiment which will never rival splitting the atom but satisfied a childhood curiosity of mine. I couple of days previously whilst pottering about in my Dad’s garden I had found a penny which looked like it had been there since Noah was a Sea Cadet. It was so discoloured it was almost black. I had heard years before that HP sauce (other sauces are available!) would remove discolouration from metallic objects and so I gave it a go. I cannot believe I never did it as a youngster. Long story short, it works as you can see. If it does that to metal I dread to think what it is doing to my insides as I put the stuff on just about everything I eat.
That is about it so I shall lump this rather quiet day in with others.
I might as well keep rolling here and get it all over with before I point you in the direction of something hopefully more interesting than my daily breakfast menu and experiments for five-year olds!
Friday 6th of July and I was awake ludicrously early again on the back of about five hours sleep. I prepared the breakfast table for Father and took myself into some more writing for this site which finished off my West Country / Lundy pieces that now await publishing whenever I get the chance so keep your eyes open for that.
By about midday it was time for my brunch and you’ll never guess what it was. OK, you probably will guess if you read these pages at all and the image above will merely act as confirmation. Yes, I really could live on Ulster Fry-ups.
The weather was still warm but not so sunny and gave the opportunity for a little light gardening which consisted of some savage pruning of the creeping plant on the back wall which was threatening to completely cover my Fathers bedroom window. Fergy 1 – Triffid 0.
A combination of lack of sleep, the heat, the unusual mild physical exertion and a belly full of carbohydrates and cooking oil was taking its toll and so it was off to bed for a little lie down.
The afternoon old man doze put paid to the first half of the afternoon football but I was expecting a long night ahead so I probably needed it. The match was Uruguay vs. France in the first of the four quarter finals and things are getting really serious now. Playing for a place in the semis is a big deal.
I awoke just in time for the second half to find France 1 – 0 to the good courtesy of a Varane goal after 40 minutes. The Uruguayans had a couple of decent attacks but no apparent finishers with Cavani injured on the sideline. Luis Suarez did not seem to be offering much. On 61 minutes the game may have been put beyond the reach of the South Americans. Griezemann hit a fairly tame long-range effort straight at the ‘keeper which would be absolutely bread and butter for a Sunday League player but somehow, in attempting to parry it, he managed to spoon it into his own net for France 2 – Uruguay 0. It was such a soft goal that the French striker was too embarrassed to even celebrate.
After 67 minutes the game boiled over with Mbappe going down for apparently little reason after the slightest of contacts and he was writhing round like he had been hit with a taser. Some of the play acting in this tournament has been appalling. It degenerated into a bit of a melee and the Argentinian referee did not cover himself in glory with his handling of the incident. The net result was a booking on each side. Uruguay have historically had a reputation of being a dirty team and on the evidence of this World Cup there is an element of it still there. Like French rugby teams of yore they can be brilliant but completely lose the plot when things start going against them.
Again, I am writing this in real-time and it is now five minutes of normal time remaining and looking pretty well done and dusted. If it remains this way I shall be quite happy as France have played some scintillating football and Uruguay will probably be more remembered for the negative side of their game than some of the excellent moments they are certainly capable of providing.
87 minutes and France have a free kick in a decent area which they are naturally in no hurry to take. Griezemann lines himself up for a rocket but it goes over the bar. Five minutes of extra time and Uruguay need a miracle. No miracle for Uruguay and France move on to the semi-final to face Belgium or Brazil, either one of which will be a great game on current form.
I started watching the evening game of Brazil vs. Belgium at home and it promised to be a beaut. Belgium had been playing very well and with the likes of Lukaku and de Bruyne with Hazard pulling the strings they have a bit of firepower up front, but Brazil? Surely that would be a step too far for them. Certainly, the Brazilians had not been playing as well as they can but they are the most successful World Cup side ever, having won it five times and most people expect them to get at least to the semis at least. It was not to work out quite like that.
The game started in lively enough fashion and was then turned on its head in the 16th minute when two Brazilian defenders got in each other’s way and at a set piece and managed to put the ball past their own ‘keeper. 1 – 0 to Belgium and was there something big in the offing? The way this World Cup is going anything is possible. It really has been a fascinating competition thus far. The Brazilian task became even harder with a superb strike from de Bruyne on XXX minutes. I managed to miss that goal on my ten minute walk from home to the pub and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw 2 – 0 scoreline.
The Brazilians scored late in the piece but it was to prove merely a consolation. I should mention Courtois, the Belgian ‘keeper, here. They do not award “Man of the Match” accolades at this tournament but he would have been the choice of many people, myself included. He gave an absolute masterclass in ‘keeping and pulled off a succession of superb saves when the Brazilians did get their shooting boots on. He is very hard to beat.
For a Friday night the bar was pretty quiet with maybe only ten people there, all of whom I knew and it was pleasant enough. My mate Jim turned up about 2200, having fallen asleep and missed most of the game! We had provisionally arranged to go to the Castle Bar in nearby Gilford which hosts an open traditional Irish music session on a Friday evening and attracts a good standard of musicians.
I had mentioned this to my brother earlier in the day and he asked me was I going to play the old Eko Ranger that stays in my Dad’s house for when I come home. I love the old Eko as it is the guitar I learned to play on many years ago. My Father brought it home about 1974 and it was second-hand then so it must be getting on for 50 years old and showing it a bit but it still plays well enough. However, my brother had other ideas and told me that he had been given a right-handed Fender Squier acoustic which he would lend me. My brother is a very decent guitarist but plays left-handed and whilst I am also left-handed I play right-handed so borrowing one of his several very fine guitars was out of the question. I told you nothing is ever simple with me.
He had duly appeared later on with a cheap little case containing a brand spanking new eentry level Fender which still had the label attached and the scratchplate protected for delivery. A quick tune up and play in and it was ready for action.
Unfortunately, whilst the guitar was ready for action there was no action for it to be ready for. Jim ‘phoned his brother who was in the Castle and who imparted the news that there were a total of seven people in the bar with not a muso to be seen. At this time of year and especially in this beautiful weather everyone decamps to their caravans at the seaside. Ah well, next week perhaps.
The rest of the evening was spent in pleasant conversation before home, another read and bed.
More football in the next entry with England taking on Sweden so stay tuned and spread the word.
Up early again on the morning of 3rd of July and I probably don’t need to tell you that it was another gloriously sunny morning with apparently much more to come. There is even talk that this good weather might last for the whole month. I know the farmers are complaining but I love it. I also probably don’t need to tell you what I had for breakfast as shown in the image above. No, I do not ever get tired of eating fries.
The morning was spent in the usual fashion of watching documentaries on TV, occasional forays into the back garden for a read whilst slowly roasting myself and doing some offline writing for this website. Hopefully I shall have my Lundy Island piece ready for uploading next time I have internet access.
I prepared lunch for Father and then some more of the same routine before the first game of the day between Switzerland and Sweden. The winners of this match will face the winners of the England game and again I am writing in real-time whilst watching the match. I am beginning to feel more like a sports journalist rather than a travel blogger.
The first half is not nearly as good as some of the football we have seen at this stage and both sides seem to be cancelling each other out. the Swedes are having the better of it but their best effort on 27 minutes came to nothing. It was 35 minutes before the first corner of the game which must tell you something. Switzerland had a good move on 38 minutes but blazed it over the bar and Sweden have just skied a wonderful opportunity on 41 minutes. At least it is livening up. Half-time now and no score yet. I hope it gets better in the second period.
The second half has started a bit livelier with decent chances at each end, both squandered. 65 minutes now and the deadlock is broken with a Swedish goal which was heading straight for Jan Sommer, the Swiss keeper, until it took a serious deflection off a defender. Having gone a goal down, Switzerland have to really go for it and they have but with a minute of normal time remaining they have not broken through. Three minutes of added time and in the first the Swedish ‘keeper has just made a fine save form a Swiss header. High drama now. Five seconds to go in extra time and a penalty to Sweden with the Swiss player sent off. Hold on, VAR review to see whether it was inside or outside the penalty area. Result, a free kick on the edge of the box. An excellent free kick was matched by an equally good save which was the last kick of the game and Sweden go through 1- 0.
I am becoming increasingly aware that this blog is getting very repetitive so I shall try to liven it up a bit with items that are not perhaps strictly related to the events of the day in question. I am going to share a brief overview of Northern Ireland with you which I wrote for Virtual Tourist a few years ago and which I have edited slightly to make it read correctly.
A quick history lesson.
I suppose that if you are not from there, your opinions about Northern Ireland depend a lot on your age. If you are of a certain generation (i.e. mine) you will probably conjure up images of riots, bombs, soldiers on street corners and so on, and that was the sad reality of life for over 30 years in the country of my birth.
I left in 1988 to live in London and do not actually return that much. Every time I do it seems as if so much has changed. I know this would be a normal situation anywhere in the world but it seems much more pronounced in Northern Ireland now that there is a semblance of normality there.
When I wrote this piece for VT I knew they strongly opposes political discussion, and rightly so, but it is difficult to speak of Northern Ireland without at least touching on history, religion and politics and this brief piece must, of necessity, only vaguely scratch the surface.
Without going too far back in time all of Ireland had been ruled by Britain from the Middle Ages until 1922. The “indigenous” population of the island tended to be (although not exclusively) Roman Catholic. Certain parts of the island, predominantly in the North and East had been settled by what were known as “Plantation Stock”, mostly Scots and Northern English, who tended to be (again not exclusively) Protestant.
Fast forward then to 1922 when, after several uprisings and a guerrilla war waged by Republicans, the island was to be divided. The six counties of Fermanagh, Down, Armagh, Londonderry, Tyrone and Antrim remained as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the remaining 26 countries became a Republic which has been variously known as Eire and the Irish Free State over the years. It’s correct title now is the Republic of Ireland. If you want to remember the counties of N.I. FAT LAD is a useful acronym!
Fast forward again to the 1960’s when certain Nationalist groupings were involved in demonstrations etc. in relation to civil rights matters, either real or imagined depending on your point of view. Large marches degenerated into rioting and in 1969 the British Army was deployed in support of the civil power to restore order on the streets. They were to remain for over 30 years.
Rioting (although it continued sporadically over the years) in its turn gave way to either a guerrilla war or terrorist campaign, again depending on your political stance. Groups like the PIRA, INLA, CIRA and RIRA were on the nationalist side, basically demanding a complete British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, although the last two mentioned are more recent additions. On the Loyalist side, i.e. those that wanted to remain in the UK, were groups like the UVF, UDA, OV, RHC and LVF. I mentioned before that Northern Ireland lives (and too often dies) on acronyms.
Over the next 30 or so years over 3,000 people lost their lives and many many more were permanently maimed. It is a fairly appalling toll in a country with a population of less than two million.
Back to the present.
In 1998, after protracted and often acrimonious discussions, leaders from the British and Irish governments and the major political groupings signed what is known as the Good Friday Agreement which effectively put an end to terrorist activity and led to the situation that exists today. I won’t mislead the reader, there are still very occasional incidents, mostly carried out by dissident Republicans who did not want the agreement, but the visitor would be extremely unlucky to ever be caught up in one of these.
So having painted this picture of recent death and destruction, what would possibly bring the visitor to Northern Ireland (or “Norn Irn” as it is rendered in the local dialect)? Well, any number of things.
Firstly, the hospitality, which is legendary. For a people who seemed hell-bent on annihilating each other within living memory, the Northern Irish really are the friendliest people going and visitors from all over the globe will attest to the welcome here. Then there is the scenery which is beautiful. From the natural wonder that is the Giants Causeway to the wildness of the Sperrin Mountains, the Mournes, the Glens of Antrim and the wonderful Fermanagh Lakes which are home to some of the best coarse fishing in Europe.
Belfast is now one of THE party towns of the world and the craic, as they call it, has to be seen, heard and survived to be believed. We’re back to the hospitality thing again. And then there is the food. People in this part of the world just love to eat, it is like a national pastime. From the haute cuisine of chefs like Paul Rankin through some excellent gastropubs and all the way to the ubiquitous “Ulster Fry” (as featured prominently in this blog). You really have to try one of those, just don’t tell your Doctor!
I’ll stop this now before I start sounding like a Tourist Board advertisement.
All I can say to you is that if you haven’t been, what’s keeping you?”
Right, that is the Northern Ireland very brief briefing over so on to the second football match of the day which is England vs. Colombia and which has understandably been getting so much media hype here. As usual I am trying to report on this in real-time but it is now half-time and there is not very much in a footballing sense to tell you about. England started well at a high tempo but there have been virtually no chances of note bar one very difficult chance which Harry Kane put onto the roof of the net.
What there has been is niggle aplenty including an incident where a Colombian player head-butted an English player in the chest and in the same movement went on to “nut” him on the chin. Clearly a red card for violent conduct but inexplicably the American referee only issued a yellow even after a review from that awful VAR. Even as they were running off for half-time one of the Colombian technical staff elbowed an English player prompting the fourth official to admonish him. It really has been that sort of game.
Into the second half now and let’s hope we see some football and less messing about as thus far it is far from thrilling and a long way short of some of the other games we have seen in this round.
51 minutes and another yellow card for Colombia. 53 minutes and a penalty to England for pushing in the box at a corner. Sanchez yellow carded and rightly so, it was virtually a judo throw he used to put Kane down. The Colombians are really messing about to delay the pen., not to mention scuffing up the penalty spot. It took over three minutes from the award of the kick to it being taken but Harry Kane is totally unflappable and hammers it straight down the middle to put England 1 – 0 up and pulls him further away in the Golden Boot competition which he already leads.
England are falling into the trap Colombia have set for them and are getting involved in all the shennanigans rather than just walking away. Two thirds of the way through now and Colombia have brought on a striker for a holding midfielder. Two minutes later and another Colombian booked for dissent. Frankly, the ref is losing control here. 63 minutes and Colombia get their fifth yellow card. This really is a very poor spectacle indeed.
If the football is poor then Harry Kane is breaking records left right and centre. Six goals in a single major Finals to equal Gary Linekers record and has scored eight in 12 starts as captain.
Fifteen minutes of normal time and Colombia are starting to press a bit but I suppose they have to. 80 minutes and Kyle Walker gifts the ball to the opposition who break away and then hammer the ball high, wide and not very handsome. England survive but they were lucky. Another good chance for the South Americans on 85 but could not finish with a header. Into injury time now with five minutes added. 92 minutes and Colombia equalise from a corner after a superb save by Pickford from an excellent long-range shot. Extra time here we come again. What is the betting on penalties and you know England’s record in that department!
Five minutes into the additional period and Pickford smothers a good cross from the left. Colombia are definitely looking the more likely now with more of the possession and more attacks.England are showing no urgency to get forward and are messing about at the back and then giving it away in midfield (Lingard has just been guilty of this) leading to a Colombian corner. They really need to liven up again. 13 minutes in and Falcao has just directed a header wide of the post.
Half-time in extra time and still deadlocked. Penalties coming ever closer which is probably the best England can hope for as they don’t look like winning through open play. Having said that on 21 minutes of extra-time the substitute Danny Rose has just slid one right across the face of the Colombian goal. Seven minutes to the dreaded shootout and Rashford on for Kyle Walker. 27 minutes and yet another yellow card for Colombia for a seriously reckless challenge. One minute of extra-time in extra-time and then you know what.
Here we go, another shootout and I know who my money is on. Colombia shoot first and Falcao scores. Captain Harry Kane buries his effort and then Colombia score equally emphatically. Marcus Rashford slots his home in the same spot as his skipper did. Muriel sends Pickford the wrong way to score. Jordan Henderson up next and the ‘keeper palms it round his left hand post. History is surely repeating itself but then Uribe hits the underside of the crossbar and back out. One miss apiece and Trippier up next. He scores well. Bacca takes one which Pickford saves brilliantly with his left hand and then Eric Dier goes to the ‘keepers right and beats him despite him getting a fingertip to it. England through to face Sweden on Saturday in only the second penalty shootout they have won at majors in eight attempts and I dread to think what level the media hype is going to ratchet itself up to now.
Off to bed for a read so stay tuned and spread the word.