Time to catch up.

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.

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An unusual departure for me.

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.

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Hard to beat.

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.

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Normal Northern Ireland weather service is resumed.

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.

Surely football is not really coming home.

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.

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Industry standard for Fergy.

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.

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A masterclass in working a crowd- the mighty Rita.

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.

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Time for a sit down, girl.

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.

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The crowd were loving it.

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.

All filler, no killer.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Great with just a bit of butter.

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.

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War Memorial, Tandragee.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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,,,,,,,and after.

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.

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Give us this day out daily fry.

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.

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Another toy for Fergy.

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.

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Brand spanking new-label and all.

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.

 

Football’s coming home? Probably not.

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My egg has grown horns!

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.

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Party time, Belfast style.

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.

I may have achieved Nirvana.

Again a brief apology for the lack of images as explained in the last entry. They shall be appended asap.

Monday the 2nd July and another lovely day although a bit breezy and not quite as warm as is had been recently. Still very good for Northern Ireland though.

Again I am writing this in the present tense as I am bang up to date with my journal entries. All I have to do now is get them posted which will hopefully happen today but I have said that before.

If I do ever manage this remarkable feat I shall have to turn my mind to what to do next here. Obviously I shall prioritise these entries as they are “live” and I only have a couple of entries to go to complete my Lundy Island and the West Country piece so I shall finish that off. It was the first project I embarked on here and I would like to get it finished. Completion should only take a day or two but it is then a question of what to do next.

I am currently debating between my three Canadian trips, a similar number to Sri Lanka, my three months in SE Asia in 2009, the London Loop Capital Ring or Lea Valley walks (all in and around London) or my European jaunt last Spring / Summer. At the minute I am tending towards the latter option as I have much of it already written up and saved from previous websites. Other possibilities include one of three canal trips, a weekend in Bristol, previous trips to Northern Ireland and Scotland or one of the Virtual Tourist Euromeets. Perhaps I shall decide on something completely different, who knows? Who indeed? At the moment not even I do but I promise that you, dear readers, shall be the first as and when I ever make my mind up.

Despite the lack of maple syrup I went for the Canadian breakfast today, mainly because I need to go to the shop to resupply on the makings of a fry-up and I substituted honey for maple syrup. No doubt such perceived heresy would earn me a slap from my dear Canadian friend Lynne and it was certainly not ideal although tasty enough but “needs must” as they say.

Breakfast over, I prepared lunch for Father, read a few chapters of the Tony Ward book and then settled down for the first football of the day which was Brazil vs. Mexico which promised to be a cracking game between two very good sides. It is proving to be so as I am again writing this in real-time with the first half extremely lively and Brazil having by far the better of it in terms of chances.

I cannot believe I am so current here so I can report that at half-time it is scoreless and it is time for me to have a quick smoke and check the laundry!

The game is being played in a punishing 35 degree heat in Samara which is hotter than either Brazil or Mexico today and it will be interesting to see if this becomes a factor later in the match.

Brazil have started briskly in the second half and been rewarded after five minutes with a Neymar tap in, 1 – 0 Brazil. Let’s see what Mexico have got now. The truth of the matter is not very much and indeed they look tired. Brazil have all the play and Mexico really do not look like scoring.

88 minutes and it is all over now. The substitute Roberto Firmino has just tapped in a Neymar cross / shot (I am never quite sure with him) for 2 – 0 and it looks like adios Mexico. They really have been second best today and on this performance Brazil are certainly justifying their pre-tournament favourites status. They will be hard to beat. It is all over now, 2 – 0 Brazil and they will play the winners of Belgium vs. Japan which is the evening game.

I went to the bar for the second game which kicked off in almost 30 degrees and 40% humidity. There really have been some very testing climatic conditions in the tournament so far and only likely to get tougher as the summer wears on.

Haraguchi breakaway 48. Belgium almost equalised immediately through Hazard but it cannoned off the post with the ‘keeper well beaten. Things then just became totally crazy with another goal, a beautiful shot following some superb approach play. 3 – 0 to Japan and not five minutes of the second half played. Again, I am writing this in real-time so let’s see what the Belgians are made of now.

Well, they appear to be made of something as they have just equalised on 69 minutes with a freakish header that I cannot believe was intended. 2 – 1, twenty minutes to go and it really is hotting up now. Four minutes later Feillani (sp?), who has been brought on from the bench scored with a brilliant header to make it 2 – 2.

What drama now. There have been four minutes of extra time and with less than 15 seconds left Belgium have scored an excellent goal that was so late there was not even time for the restart. Very hard on the Japanese who played superbly and have proved that they are more than a force to be reckoned with. Belgium go on to meet Brazil in the next round and I really cannot wait for that one.

Time is running now and it is like the climax of some idiotic film. Does our hero i.e. me get this published before Daniel the barman throws him out? Tick tock, tick tock. OK, a bit melodramatic but I need to inject some life into this but if I do it I can get back to my other stories here. 2349 now, time is running but I think I’ll do it. Imagine hugely dramatic music here.

If you are reading this on 02/07/2018 you’ll know I got there. If not, I haven’t.

Either way, stay tuned and spread the word.

 

I almost got there.

Just a quick technical note here.  I have not loaded my latest images on my computer and have rather stupidly and unusually left my camera at home so there are no images for this entry but I do rather want to get up to date and I shall add them asap.  Here is one of Tandragee skyscape just to take the bad look off the page.  I love skyscapes and there may well be a feature about them here if I ever catch up with myself.

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Tandragee skyscape.

Saturday 30th came and I woke up ludicrously early again possibly due to the sun which was bright even at 0800 although when I went outside for my early morning smoke I noticed that there was a refreshing light breeze.

I prepared breakfast for Father and then took into a bit more writing which brings me to a matter I mentioned in the last entry. I really hope I do not jinx it but I am writing this on the 30th in the afternoon and I hope to get to the pub this evening which is where I can access wi-fi to post the last few days. That is my excuse for going to the pub and I am sticking to it. If this does happen I shall be in a state of grace that I do not remember ever having been in before in my various blogging guises and that is being up to date. If this does happen I shall feel very pleased with myself and not a little surprised. I’ll let you know how it goes.

My Father likes a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich for his lunch (must be Branston and I agree) and I am fond of one myself but it was the first meal of the day and problem was that I could hear my poor little frying pans sobbing quietly on the stove. Problem, what problem? Have you never heard of a fried cheese and pickle sandwich? I will fry just about anything which is such a feature of the cuisine of Ulster. I am still not sure what prompted the potato salad as a side but it was all very tasty. I did tell you I had odd tastes.

After the football cold turkey of the previous day, normal service was resumed and the tournament moved into the knockout stages so hopefully no more of these awful tactical games where effectively reserve teams were content to have a kickaround because the result didn’t matter or else a draw suited both teams. First up in the afternoon match was France vs. Argentina which looked like a good game on paper.

France made a lively start with Mbappe running the ageing Argentinian defence ragged. His pace is amazing and when he was clumsily fouled in the box on 11 minutes, Griezman duly converted the penalty. The teenager posed a serious threat every time he was in possession. Argentina were playing a system that obviously did not suit them and had offered little or nothing for 40 minutes and then di Maria scored an absolute gem from a long way out giving Lloris the French keeper no chance. They really did not deserve it but it woke the huge Argentine support up and they went in at half time on level terms.

Two minutes into the second period a Messi shot took a serious deflection off the Argentinian defender Mercado who had come forward and put the South Americans into a 2 – 1 lead. It was turning a bit naughty and there were some fairly robust challenges flying in.

If the di Maria goal in the first half had been glorious then it was at least matched in the 57th minute by a sublime long-range strike from the unlikely source of the French fullback Pavard, it was brilliant. To think that a year previously he had been playing in the second tier of German football makes it all the more remarkable.

We were now into the stages of extra time and the hated penalties so were they beckoning? Not if young Monsieur Mbappe had anything to do with it. Six minutes after the Pavard gem he scored a good goal to make it France 3 – Argentina 2. He wasn’t finished yet. Less than five minutes later in a move that had started with the French ‘keeper he slotted another very confidently past the Argentinian stopper who didn’t manage to stop it. France were really in the ascendency and Giroud was unlucky when he hit the side netting with an absolutely blistering effort. By then the Argentinian resistance was all but finished but never rule out that man Messi, for my money the best player on the planet, who headed a goal two minutes into injury time but it was merely a consolation and 4 – 3 probably flattered Argentina.

Don’t cry for me Argentina but rather cry for a team that was well past it’s best and clearly second best here.

I awoke after my “old man dozette” in time for the evening game which was billed by the media as Luis Suarez vs. Cristiano Ronaldo but was officially Uruguay vs. Portugal. It was going to have to go some to match the first fixture but the first goal wasn’t long coming, seven minutes to be precise, when a wicked cross hit Cavani in the face and went in. I am not sure how much he knew about it but they all count. It remained 1 – 0 until the break but it was looking like it was going to take something special to unlock a Uruguayan defence that was fairly uncompromising.

Portugal came out in the second half looking up for it as they had to be and on 54 minutes an excellent Pepe header form a set piece levelled the scores. Game on and the European side certainly looked in the mood after the goal but Uruguay were not to be denied and a great counterattack ended with a superb goal by Cavani. In the space of less than two full games in the knockout stages we had been treated to three goals that may well be in contention for goal of the tournament. It was certainly going to be some final half hour.

Despite some fairly frenzied Portuguese attacks in the dying minutes, including their ‘keeper making a nuisance of himself in the box, Uruguay held on for the win.

Apart from the fact that a couple of fancied sides were going home it also meant that arguably the two best players in the world viz. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would take no further part. I wonder who will emerge as the star striker now.

After these two excellent games it was time for a quick shower and off for Saturday night in the “Monty” as there is always music of some sort on and it is usually a great laugh. As I told you above I was going to use the internet and it would have been feasible as the place was not terribly full but I had indeed jinxed myself and am actually writing this the next morning.

The problem was the musician and I stress that he was a thoroughly charming guy called Kieron. He was doing a troubadour set (one man and a guitar plus backing tracks in this case) and I had been chatting to him as he was setting up as musicians do. Being on his own he asked if I would soundcheck him which I happily did and after that I thought it would just look damned rude to be sitting there bashing a laptop keyboard when he was playing.

As always it was a great night and I thoroughly enjoyed myself before heading home pretty late and straight to bed. My “state of grace” would have to wait for another day.

Again I would feel I have short-changed you with this entry so I shall pass swiftly on to the next one. Yes, I know I need to do something interesting soon so I may attempt spontaneous combustion tomorrow although that would probably put paid to the website fairly comprehensively so maybe I’ll not bother.  Honestly, when I get this series of entries up to date, I shall move on to some trips that may actually be of interest to you.

It was a late awakening on Sunday 1st of July after a pretty late night in “the Monty” although I did not have a lot to drink. If you have read the previous entry you will know that I had intended to use the bar wi-fi to get myself into the unheard of position of being up to date with a blog but I jinxed it by writing about it beforehand so I shall not make that mistake again here.

I was so late in rising that my poor Father had to prepare his own breakfast but he has no problem doing that and I had a lazy Sunday morning watching TV and reading a bit until my appetite woke up which it normally does two or three hours after my body. The usual fry-up was accompanied by the equally usual image of same and I am beginning to worry about myself not to mention the poor reader who has probably been put off fried breakfasts for life.

The afternoon game in the World Cup was Spain vs. Russia and Spain were definitely favourites. Russia had amazed most people by how well they had performed in the group stage as even their most diehard fans had expected little from them before the competition started. I think I am right in saying that they were the second lowest ranked team in the competition.

Things did not start well with an own goal in the 11th minute putting Spain ahead. It was a bit of a case of the defender jetting his just desserts as the ball ricocheted off his heel when he was busily engaged dragging Sergio Ramos to the ground and not even looking at the ball. After that, Spain got into their rhythm and looked comfortable for a while but Russia played their way back into it towards the end of the half and were rewarded with a penalty for handball in the 39th minute which was emphatically slotted by Dzyuba past David de Gea.

It remained 1 – 1 until half-time and I am actually typing this up in real-time during the break. I am really on top of this blogging business now! The second half should be interesting so time for a quick smoke and make a cup of coffee.

The first 35 minutes of the second period were fairly cagey with little in the way of chances and it took until the 66th minute for David Silva to be replaced by Iniesta who had surprisingly been dropped to the subs bench. I say surprisingly as he is really a class act with so much experience of major finals. OK, he is getting on a bit but I would have started him. He almost justified his substitution on 84 minutes when he came very close in what was about the first real chance of the half.

The prospect of extra time was looming ever larger as the minutes ticked down and four minutes injury time were indicated but even that could not break the deadlock and so another half hour was called for. I did feel a bit sorry for the 38-year-old Russian player who was obviously feeling the pace. All the substitutions had been made so it would be the same 22 men who would continue.

The additional period was played in a torrential thunderstorm and at times it was hard to work out if the thunder or the vociferous Russian crowd were making more noise. In the second half the Spaniards threw everything bar the kitchen sink at the home side but just could not find a way through and so the dreaded penalties were called for. Cometh the hour, cometh the man as they say and in this case the man was the Russian ‘keeper who saved not one but two Spanish attempts to send his team through 4 – 3 on penalties and trigger the most exuberant celebrations amongst their supporters. Heaven help anyone trying to sleep in Moscow in the aftermath of that result.

This is really turning into a fascinating competition with Germany, Argentina, Portugal and now Spain all out. I wonder what odds you would have got on that happening before the tournament started.

After a lazy Sunday afternoon (I did that on purpose!) tea of re-heated pasties, beans and champ it was time to settle down for the evening game of Croatia vs. Denmark and wondering if it was going to be as exciting as the previous three. Well, what can I tell you?

The Danes were ahead in under a minute with a fairly scrappy goal theat went in off the ‘keepers glove and the commentators were discussing how Croatia might respond. They did not have to wait long as Croatia had equalised following some poor Danish defending. Two goals and there were not even five minutes on the clock. What a start.

After that slightly freakish start, the Croatians had more of the play and the better of what chances there were but it had settled down into a fairly tame affair and it remained 1 – 1 at the break.

The Danes started the livelier in the second period but again it petered out into a pretty boring affair and at full-time they were still even so we were due for the second extra time game of the day.

The extra time only produced a few half chances until midway through the second half when Croatia were awarded a clear penalty so step up the Croatian talisman Luka Modric knowing that if he scores they are almost certainly through but his fairly average penalty was well saved by Kaspar Schmeichel in the Danish goal. After that it was clearly going to go to penalties and it duly did.

Denmark went first and Christian Eriksen had his effort saved but Schmeichel kept them in it by saving the first Croatian effort. Modric converted his effort this time round and after three each it was 2 – 2 but then Subasic in the Croatian goal made a great save which Schmeichel immediately matched. It really was ‘keepers on top at this point and it continued with yet another save by Subasic. Croatia scored their final pen to move through to the quarter-final but they really don’t look good enough to go much further on this performance. They can play much better and will need to when they face Russia in the next round.

This day marked the start of the second half of the year and it set me thinking about my lifestyle. So far this year I have been away from my home for three and a half months of the six and will probably be here for a while longer. I was pondering the concept of home as I talk about “going home” to Northern Ireland and yet when I am here I speak of being “back at home” meaning London. I have now lived longer on the mainland than I did in Northern Ireland at 30 and 28 years respectively and I am not sure where I consider home any more. Factor in the amount of travelling and I think it now boils down to “wherever I lay my hat”.

As this entry has been a lot of food and footie, I’ll finish it up with another bit of Tandrageee information and this relates to the Church I walk past every time I walk into the town and again it is a salvage job from my Virtual Tourist days. It concerns the Parish Church of St. Mark’s, Ballymore which, due to its prominent position on top of the hill, you can see for miles around.

“Although I am not a Christian myself, this is my family’s Parish Church and my late Mother is buried in the churchyard here.

The history of the Church and it’s predecessor buildings is interesting and I am indebted to Kelson Kilpatrick, a family friend and local historian, who is an expert on all matters Tandrageee. I was fortunate enough to attend an illustrated talk by him about the village in the Church Hall last week, and fascinating it was.

Ballymore actually means “Big Town” which is a misnomer if ever there was and this is the townland where the village stands. For those not familiar with the concept, a townland is a geographical sub-division of a County which I believe is unique to Ireland.

I am not sure of the very early ecclesiastical history of the site but a Church was consecrated here in 1622 and was described as “a handsome Church 60 foot in length and 24 in breadth well furnished with seates, Communion Table, Capp, font and a good Bell”. Sounds lovely.

The Church, like so many others, was destroyed in the 1641 Rebellion and rebuilt after by Lord Grandison (who had built the original). There is a fairly gruesome story associated with the old Church, as reported in a journal of 1889, and I reproduce it here.

“The following is a copy of a Paper, sealed in a bottle, which was enclosed in a box in an old vault in the Parish Church, Tandragee:- “This box contains the bones of Henry St. John Esq., Lord of the manor of Ballymore, and of his daughter. He rebuilt the church of Tandragee and built this vault. He was murdered by a party of banditti, called Tories, at Drumlin Hill, near Knockbridge, on Tuesday the 9th day of September 1679, by being shot through the forehead, and was buried in this vault on Tuesday the 16th of the same month. By tradition of the old inhabitants of this parish, it appears that upon opening this vault for his interment, the body of his daughter who had died some time before, was found lying near the entrance and out of her coffin, having, it is supposed revived after being locked up here”. What an awful end, although not uncommon for the time.

By 1812, the Church was far too small to accommodate the needs of the parishioners and so it was torn down to be replaced by the basis of the fine building you see today. At the time it cost the princely sum of £2,200, and was extended in 1846 and 1889.

The most recent improvement to the Church is the installation of a magnificent new digital organ which was dedicated in September 2010.

The Church is presently flourishing under the Rectorship of the Rev. T.S. Forster, or Shane as he likes to be called. He is a delightful man and a great source of knowledge about the Church, should you ever meet him.

I am getting a little drowsy after my large tea and the warm day, even though it was not quite as warm as of late and with a pleasant breeze, so I shall sign off and head to bed for a read. Bed at 2217, what madness is this? There is probably more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.

 

What, no football? Try an Ulster cooking class instead.

When I awoke early on Thursday the 28th of June I did not even have to pull the curtains back to know it was going to be another beautiful day as the sunlight was brightening the room even with them drawn and I could feel the temperature was warm already. As the day wore on I heard on the news that all four countries of the United Kingdom registered temperatures in excess of 30 degrees which is a rare enough event at any time never mind June.

I have mentioned that my appetite regularly goes AWOL but it appears to have returned with something of a vengeance now I am back here and so the daily fry-up was called for. I am getting quite good at knocking up this particular dish now and, dare I suggest, this one looks nearly good enough to eat.

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Another day, another fry-up.

Another day of much of the same with preparing lunch for my Father and then a sit out in the back garden reading which proved that it was indeed an unbelievably hot day. I very nearly roasted myself and I am still finding it hard to comprehend that I have achieved more of a tan in a few weeks in Northern Ireland than I did in three months in Sri Lanka earlier in the year. If this keeps up there are sure to be records broken.

The afternoon football was Japan vs. Poland and Senegal vs. Colombia. I wasn’t too bothered about either of these games and so remained lightly grilling myself in the garden. The only real interest for those in the UK was that the results of these matches and the England match later would determine who England would face in the next round. In the event Japan were beaten by what had been a very poor Polish side 1 – 0 and Colombia overcame Senegal by the same score. The Senegalese might consider themselves a touch unlucky as they only exited the competition by virtue of the “fair play rule” which means that if two teams are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored then the number of red and yellow cards comes into play. I suppose it is better than tossing a coin but it is a hard way to go out.

In the evening games England took on a decent looking unbeaten Belgian side although it was effectively a dead rubber as both had qualified and it was just a matter of what opposition was to be faced in the next round.

The first half was not particularly exciting but Belgium broke the deadlock with a superb goal five minutes after the break. For the rest of the second half Belgium again looked the better side although it is difficult to gauge anything as England had made eight changes in the starting line-up from the previous game and Belgium nine so it was basically two 2nd XIs playing. It should be a wakeup call though. There were a few chances in the second half but it finished 1- 0 to Belgium.

Inevitably the “we could win this” nonsense is being trotted out by people who should know better, mostly on the basis that Germany have been eliminated. Somehow I don’t think so but we shall see.

The other match was Panama vs. Tunisia which ended with the North Africans coming out on the right side of a 2 – 1 scoreline but it meant little as both were going home irrespective of the outcome. Like the Icelandic fans, the surprisingly numerous Panamanian supporters brought a lot of colour and passion to the competition and surely this is a lot of what the World Cup is all about.

As this is such a short entry I shall pass straight on to the next one.

Another early rise on Friday 29th and another scorcher. Later on I was to find out that it was the fifth consecutive day that a temperature of over 30 degrees was recorded somewhere in the UK. Porthmadog in Wales seems to be regularly topping the charts and in Northern Ireland either Castlederg or nearby Killeter seem to be the places to be.

At 1800 in the evening a hosepipe ban was introduced here, the first region in the UK to do so although I doubt it will be long until it is in place elsewhere. It really is shaping up to be a great summer and comparisons are already being made with 1976, a summer I remember with great affection.

On the downside the news is constantly reporting on a massive moorland fire on Saddleworth Moor near Stalybridge in the Northwest of England and now on Winter Hill near Bolton in the same region. The problem is that Saddleworth is a peat moor and even if you extinguish the fire on the surface it is still burning well underground. Remember that peat was the primary source of fuel for many years in Ireland and other parts of the UK for centuries. It burns really well! As so often happens when there is an unusually labour intensive problem the authorities have called out the armed forces in the form of 100 soldiers of the Highland Division to assist the hard-pressed firefighters.

Now onto the World Cup, or should I say lack of it. After the fairly uninspiring game between the English and Belgian second teams the previous evening today was a rest day so, horror of horrors, no football today.

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Square sausage turns round.

The day started with the usual fry-up but with a bit of a difference. A look at the daily image above will show that the square sausage has magically metamorphosed to become round. Not esactly the case. In my local supermarket I had spotted another childhood favourite that I have never seen outside Northern Ireland and is one of two such items I shall tell you about in this entry. I realise that these daily journals may be a little boring but at least you are getting a “basics of Ulster cooking” lesson free, gratis and for nothing.

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The not quite veggie veg roll.

The round slices in question are a delicacy called veg roll. but before the veggies amongst you think that the problem of the pork based square sausage is solved for making an Ulster Fry, please think again. This is Northern Ireland and things are very often not as they seem.

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Veg roll with 50% beef!

Look closer at the packaging and you will find that the predominant ingredient in the “veg roll” is beef at 50% and as far as I can see the only vegetable in evidence is onion, both dehydrated and in extract form. The texture certainly does not hint at pieces of vegetable and, whilst I can normally provide an explanation for some of the oddities I encounter, this one has me stumped.

 

The day was spent in an entirely predictable round of reading in the back garden whilst toasting myself on each side. I don’t intend to offend those of you of a delicate disposition by posting an image of me with the short off so you will have to take my word that I am getting seriously brown. During these potentially melanoma-inducing sessions (cheerful, aren’t I?) I had started yet another book which is proving to be excellent. I have mentioned that my Father was a very good rugby player in his day and he has a great selection of books about the sport which I love getting into.

My current read is a biography of Tony Ward written by John Scally and entitled “The good, the bad and the rugby”. “Wardy” is one of the most controversial players in the history of the Irish game. He has been described as being akin to George Best in football (soccer) and indeed he had played that game in semi-professional capacity with some success in the 1970’s. He started playing rugby almost by accident whilst at teacher training college studying PE and had a very rapid rise to playing for the Irish national side. He turned out alongside such greats as Fergus Slattery, Phil Orr, Mike Gibson (actually there were tow Mike Gibsons in the team then), Colin Patterson, Ollie Campbell and Moss Keane.

The analogy with Best goes further as he was very good-looking and was described somewhat disparagingly as the “film star”. He did a “beefcake” photo shoot which he now deeply regrets and which would cause no comment at all now but which was seen as scandalous at the time. Well, scandalous except for the legions of young (and not so young) ladies who used to write to him in the days long before social media. Like Best, he was by his own admission a naive young man and he was thrust into a world of TV chat shows, newspaper interviews and the whole media circus and was not entirely sure how to handle it. All he wanted to do was play rugby.

Indeed, it is off the field that most of the controversy surrounding him occurs. At the time, Ireland were blessed with two superb out halves in Ward and Ollie Campbell. As was Campbell, Ward was a superb kicker and set all sorts of points records in his relatively short career. Apart from his work with the boot he was a completely gifted all round player and adjectives like mercurial seemed to follow him around. As a late teenager and rugby obsessed myself, I remember watching him and being mesmerised by what he could do which appeared to me to be just about anything.

For some reason, probably because of the off the field persona which he never sought to cultivate, he seemed to irritate the rather staid administrators, selectors and assorted has been hangers-on who ran the game then and still do to a certain extent. They were known to have “favourites”, often depending on Provincial loyalty, and a few years later a friend of mine who was in contention for the Irish hooker shirt suffered similarly as he was from the “wrong” club and Province (Dungannon and Ulster respectively).

When Ward was sensationally dropped on the 1979 tour of Australia it made headlines on the front pages never mind the back pages. It really was that big a deal and completely divided the rugby aficionados both within and beyond the island of Ireland.

I am not sure if it is still in print as it was published in 1983 but if you want to look for it it was published by Blackwater Press and is ISBN 0-86121-463-3.

When the UV drove me back indoors briefly I prepared lunch for my Father and did a bit of offline writing here. Due to the amount of free time I have I am getting plenty written and may pass a little milestone soon which I will tell you about in due course.

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Yes, they are pasties. Northern Ireland pasties.

Come early evening and it was time to eat again which brings me onto the second of the two indigenous Northern Irish delicacies I mentioned above and that is the pastie. Again, I have never seen these outside Northern Ireland and it is only recently that I have seen them in the shops as they used to be solely the preserve of chip shops where a pasty supper was always my childhood favourite. I never knew where the chippies got them from.  The link shows who supplies my local supermarket and they make a damned tasty version of this wonderful product.

I find it slightly odd that in London, that most cosmopolitan of cities, with food shops and markets from every corner of the globe I can easily buy nam pla (Thai fish sauce) even in a supermarket, kithul treacle from Sri Lanka, Polish flaki (tripe soup) and yet I cannot source veg roll or these kind of pasties anywhere.

I say “these kind of pasties” for a reason. Forget the concept of the Cornish pasty or similar with the pastry crust and meat and veg filling as these are a different beast altogether. I remember as a child asking my Aunt what was in them and she relied, “Rubbish” which slightly baffled me but a look at the ingredients listed on the packaging may have proved her right.

It is based on pork although I dread to think what cuts and there are probably snouts, trotters and who knows what else in there. There is a lot of rusk and bulkers and in this day and age a laboratory full of chemicals with unpronounceable names. The mix is then made into a pattie shape and battered and was traditionally deep-fried but I do not have a frier here so oven cooking was the order of the day and works well in addition to probably being a marginally healthier.

The pack of four pasties and a portion of oven chips all went on to one baking tray whilst the beans were duly irradiated in the microwave so washing up of one tray, one bowl, one plate, knife and fork. Single man kitchen thinking and damned tasty. The other two are packed up, cooled and in the freezer now so another meal already half-prepped.

The evening consisted of some more reading writing (I skipped the ‘rithmetic) and watching yet more fascinating documentaries on TV before off to bed for a further few chapters of my book and sleep around 0300 which is pretty normal for me these days.

Stay tuned for a possible milestone in the next entry and spread the word.