Sunday, February 28, 2016

You want a hero, look elsewhere

I’ve long suspected that I would never have made hero (the past transitional conjunctive tense or whatever it is is appropriate here because at my age I doubt I’ll see many opportunities to prove my mettle), but these past few days in Rome have pretty much convinced me when it comes to cowards I am fully qualified to go for gold.

This bloody itching has continued non-stop and to be honest the last thing I wanted was to be more than 1,000 miles from home in a hotel which had allocated me a shower so tiny, if you bent over to pick up the soap, your arse was already in the room next door (though the rest of the room was fine, I’ll add, to be fair). It was – is – incessant and on top associated red blotches – or I hope they are associated or my GP will most certainly be working for his next pay rise when I see him on Friday – plus areas of dry skin which makes it seem as though I am wearing a hair shirt (though despite being brought up mainstream RC, I never have and I can’t conceive of how folk to it for pleasure) which make every movement unpleasant have pretty much ruined the trip.

Once here, of course, it seemed daft not to go and watch the Six Nations game at the Stadio Olympico, but I wasn’t really in the mood (though in the event several plastic beakers of Peroni did help). My flight – I am writing this an hour and a bit before take-off – isn’t until five minutes to ten (i.e. 21.55) and I had originally planned a trip down to Ostia, the old port of Rome, and have lunch there somewhere. Well, dear reader, I really wasn’t in the mood. All I did was to walk the ten minutes from my hotel to the Termini rail station, jump on the bus to Fiumicino airport and sit out the rest of the day, trying to keep as still as possible. I got here just after noon and it is now just before 9pm (21.00 for all you eurofreaks). Knowing that I had the best part of a day to kill, the first ten minutes dragged as no time has ever dragged before.

Once they were out of the way, I set about getting through the next twenty, then the next thirty. Each minute lasted a lifetime – well, actually a little longer. After an eternity that first hour was out of the way – 1pm, yippee, just under another nine hours to kill, sitting in an airport several thousands miles away from comfort. My mood was for most of that time foul, and it was then that I fully realised, although I have long suspected it, that I would make a completely shitty Arctic explorer, the kind of stout fellow, usually British, Norwegian and Italian who thrive on totally bloody discomfort. (Incidentally, given how cold it is up there and down there at both poles and given that they are swaddled like I don’t know what to keep our the cold, what exactly do they do if when they need a dump?)

Matters looked up a little once I was able to get onto the free airport wifi, free, that is, if you are prepared to give them five euros, and then courtesy of a useful browser plugin, watch the League Cup final between Manchester City and Liverpool. (It went to penalties and turned out to be quite a match after a boring first half).

After that, of course, it was down in the dumps again, and that is where you find me now. In fact the only reason I am writing this bollocks is to give me something to do to take my mind off it.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

What makes a short break in Rome not the pleasure it should be? Sodding chronic hives. At least Italy might win today’s Six Nations match against Scotland


I’m here nominally for tomorrow’s Italy v Scotland Six Nations match at the Olympic Stadium, but actually the game, although I am looking forward to watching it – and hope that Italy beat Scotland – is pretty much just an excuse to do something different. Really, it was just an excuse to do something different, in this case to ‘have a weekend in Rome, although there is one not quite so small drawback, which I shall come to later. It kicked off 13 months ago when I was discussing the Six Nations with the landlord of the Brewers Arms (no apostrophe, I gather, so I don’t know how many of them there are) and talking about the price of Six Nations games tickets. He remarked that the prices for the lesser games, i.e. those featuring Italy and Scotland, who in most people’s univers must surely with the best will in the world qualify as lesser nations (each of them sets itself the task of not getting that seasons’ Wooden Spoon) would undoubtedly be cheaper, so there and then I decided to treat myself to a trip to Rome to watch Italy in one of its home games.

I looked up the prices of flights, hotels and tickets and they weren’t too bad. But I let it slide and by the time I got around to trying to book they had risen to such an extent that I really wasn’t prepared to cough up for something which was pretty close to a whim. But I resolved to keep an eye on the fixture dates for the 2016 Six Nations games and book as soon as possible. o last September I booked a flight, hotel for three nights and a ticket for a game. It was a toss up between Italy v England and Italy v Scotland, but as the latter game came later in the month, and I reckoned the weather would be that less colder, I opted for that one.

The drawback is that for the past six, seven, eight, if not nine weeks, I have been suffering from a curious affliction which consists of my upper torse itching everywhere like fuck. A tripe to my GP two months ago concluded with being given a large tub of cream to smear on my front and back whenever and a course of anti-histamines. That didn’t help at all. A second trip a few weeks later (and this time I consulted his locum, a Chinese GP called, I suppose nevitably, Dr Lee) concluded with being prescribed another tub of cream, a different brand. That hasn’t helped, either.

Two weeks ago I was at the surgery again and this time was told I shall have some blood tests. Meanwhile, the itching continues and continues and continues and it is not pleasant. Some nights I can’t get to sleep, and on other nights (as last night) I get to sleep, only to wake up and having to scratch myself mercilessly. And, of course, that doesn’t help. It doesn’t help that I am of the species home hypochondus, which means I always fear the worst.

Then, in the Daily Mail’s Good Health pages last week came across the case of a woman who had a similar itching problem and was eventually diagnosed, far too late to save her life, with liver cancer. It seems her minute bile ducts had become blocked with cancer and the bile, not having anywhere else to go, for some reason travels to just under the skin where it causes the itching. The upshot is that I am not quite enjoying my break as I might because I have got to the age where when things are amiss all I want to do is be ‘at home’. Well, I’m not, I’m in fucking Rome. But being the – reasonably cheerful sort – I am trying to make the best of it.

This morning just after ten I took off and headed for the Colloseum. I found it – it’s not easy to miss, being quite big – and then carried on with a view to walking to St Peter’s. However, my sense of direction rather let me down and I ended up walking pretty much in circles, or rather as Rome’s streets are pretty straight, though often at a diagonal, in squares. I like walking, but after about two and bit hours I got thirsty and spotted and ‘Irish pub’ – they are everywhere – so I stopped off. For a coke. I really didn’t feel like drinking (apparently another sign of liver cancer, as well as losing your appetite – check – but that is the last ‘joke’ I shall make about liver cancer in case Life takes me to task about it and says, right, sunshine.

. . .

After a great deal more walking, I got back to my hotel, the Hotel Napoleon in the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelle II, and crashed. That was because the walking and the fact that I hadn’t been able to get to sleep until about 2am meant I was bloody tired. Tonight I had planned to find one of the many ‘British pubs’ to watch the Wales v France game, and took myself off to the nearest, the Druids’ Den in Piazza Esquilino, but when I got there it just wasn’t what I wanted, loads of Brits, many in kilts, standing shoulder to shoulder downing pints of Guinness and being very noisy. So it was back to the hotel, except on the way back I came across a small Roman bar up the square which was also showing the game. There I stopped, discovered Vecchia Romana brandy, and watch Wales beat the shit out of France. And I didn’t really notice the itching.

 . . .

I am now sitting on the terrace on the sixth floor, the only spot where you can smoke. It is mild. The game tomorrow is at around 3pm. I’ve decided to get to the are early, have a lunch beforehand and get along to the stadium. Sunday, well, Sunday I must leave the hotel by whenever, but my flight isn’t until after 9pm, so I thought I might go to Ostia, the old Roman port, for a late lunch and make my way to Fiumicino airport a little later. Whether there is an direct transport from Ostia to the airport I don’t know, but as I shall have finished lunch by 3/4pm, there’s still plenty of time to cock things up, then salvage the day. Pip, pip.


Had good night’s sleep – who wouldn’t after several glasses of what I had and despite the coffees – but this morning this sodding itching is back with a vengeance and really pissing me off. Does did a quick self-diagnosis on the net and it might be chronic hives. No real treatment except anti-histamines and cream. Doing that already.

The thing is that I’m not really enjoying these few days in Rome at all and am just counting the hours until I can get back to Britain and my usual home/work routine as it’s just a question of getting your head down and biting the bullet. Biting the bullet ain’t too easy when you are in a strange city with time on your hand. Oh, and although the hotel is fine, the shower is tiny, about two and a half feet by two and a half feet. Bend over to pick up the soap and you stick your arse through the Perspex doors.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Should we stay or should we go? Who knows and, to be frank, who cares? The way things are there might in time no longer be an EU to leave

My apologies to anyone who happens to come across this blog - or even makes a point of visiting it - and who is from South Korea, Australia, Ukraine, Canada, Vietnam, India or Brazil: this blog post will probably interest you even less than last year’s weather forecast. It’s about the European Union, you see. I mention those countries because according to the statistics (‘stats’) visitors from the countries listed have somehow or other washed up here in the past four weeks. They are, of course, perfectly welcome to carry on reading, or they might spend the time considering an issue of their own. Even those visitors from EU countries might find themselves stifling a yawn, as are most of us here in Britain.

Will we or won’t we? would seem to be the issue dividing the country if our homegrown media are anything to go by, leave the EU that is. The trouble is that no one has told the country which remains resolutely undivided. ‘Brexit’, the catchy phrase thought up by the scruffier members of the Press as a useful short term for ‘Britain resigning its EU membership’ - they tend to think in headlines, see - might well elicit a response from many if you directly ask them their opinion, but crucially you have to ask first: it’s not a conversation which will naturally arise. ‘Should Louis Van Gal get the boot from United?’, ‘What on earth is the Government thinking asking Google to cough up just £180 million in taxes?’ ‘That Julian Assange - is he really still stuck in the bloody embassy? Lord, what a wanker! Thought he had died’ - these are topics you might hear touched upon in the friendly banter down the Pig and Whistle of a Friday night. ‘Should we leave the EU or stay?’ rarely, if ever, gets a look-in.

That’s very odd, because if you read our newspaper and listen to our broadcast news, you would think there was no hotter topic. This state of affairs is causing both the We Must Stay In and We Must Get Out camps to tear their hair out. Both would like us to see the question of Britain’s continued membership as the defining question of the early 21st century and can’t understand why your ordinary Brit apparently doesn’t give a monkey’s either way (much as, it has to be said, your ordinary Brit doesn’t really give a monkey’s about most things).

Yes, there are voices decrying that ‘the country is being swamped by fucking immigrant benefit scrounging bastards because of the EU’, and yelling that ‘we can no longer let ourselves be ruled by fucking Brussels bureaucrats’; and there are other voices - notably a tad more ethereal - who insist

‘Britain’s destiny lies in Europe’ and ‘we must embrace the European ideal’. Both sides warn that leaving/staying in is absolutely vital for the future of Britain’s economy and staying in/leaving will have dire consequences. But at the end of the day it is all for naught: most of us just can’t get excited about the issue.

As it stands, our Prime Minister David Cameron has spent the past five years or so touring the capital cities of EU member states trying to drum up support for a ‘deal’ which would redefine Britain’s membership and persuade the majority of the country to vote to remain in the EU when the referendum is held (now said to be due in June). A day or two ago the terms of the ‘deal’ were announced. ‘Is that it, is that really it?’ the We Must Leave camp snorted in derision, ‘are these the only concession we’re going to get?’. Conversely: ‘Cameron’s done it! He’s won marvellous terms from the EU and there’s no question whatsoever that we can now stay in on our terms. It’s a tremendous achievement!’ (For some reason the We Must Say in gang are far more likely to use the word ‘tremendous’ than the We Must Leave side.)

All of this leaves the ordinary Jill and Joe bemused and baffled. So what was decided? they ask. Well, they can keep asking, for not only is no one going to tell them, but no one can tell them: whether you agree that Cameron has won the day is pretty much down to whether you want to agree or not. And in providing you with a rundown of the details of Cameron’s success/Cameron’s failure all commentators are doing his highlighting their own particular bias.

. . .

Until recently I was all in favour is Britain remaining a member provided the EU was sorted out, it dropped all this ‘ever closer union bollocks’ and it kept far better track of where its money was going (apparently the Italian Mafia has been doing exceptionally well from all the EU projects over the years, though it would be unfair to single out Italian crims as I understand Spanish, Portuguese and Balkan gangsters are no slouches either). Oh, and as a bonus I was hoping it might be persuaded to drop all the posturing that the EU was by far the best thing to happen to Europe since the Renaissance.

Well, that is not my position now, but nor have I gone over to the ‘we must leave’ camp. It’s just I think whether or not Britain stays or leaves is now pretty much irrelevant in that in about five years time there won’t really be much of a functioning EU left. That’s a big claim, I know, but suddenly it’s not looking at all rosy. And it all seem to start coming unstuck when the financial shit hit the fan in 2008.

For many years I used to organise a weekly five-a-side football game. I did so because I, who was the very definition of ‘crap player’, was thus always guaranteed a game as I always got in touch with myself to see whether I could come along. I always could. And organising that game taught me a lot about team playing, and by extension it taught me a lot about who can be relied on to pull their weight (e.g. actually turn up on time so) and who could not. The EU seems to be a similar test of character. The EU and belonging was all fine and dandy while the sun was shining and the EU built marvellous new roads, leisure centres, bridges and I don’t know what else in your country (usually at the expense of ‘net contributors’ - Germany is by far the largest, followed by France, Italy and the UK).

Then when the 2008 crisis erupted (can a crisis erupt?), it all slowly began going pear-shaped when Greece’s euro crisis was discussed. But even then the cracks could pretty much all be papered over - we got lots of rousing EU speeches and pious homilies that ‘there are rows in every family’, the implication being that when push came to shove the ‘EU family’ would once again pull together. Except it didn’t and doesn’t in the slightest look like ever doing so. But the real divisions showed themselves and national interest reared its ugly head again when migrants from the Middle East and Afghanistan began pitching up on Europe’s southern border in search of a better life (and who can blame them?).

With quite frightening speed the EU fell into factions, broadly along the lines of the ‘old EU members’ and the ‘new EU members’, who just happened to all to be former Soviet bloc members. It is relevant that at least three of them - Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - have distinctly right-wing governments who don’t go in for all the liberal lovey-dovey crap and are apt to call a migrant, whether a genuine asylum seeker or not, a bloody nusiance. Of course I could well be proved wrong and the EU will gain even more strength from the ongoing euro crisis - don’t ever think that has yet been solved - and the migrant crisis. But I’m not holding my breath.

It was good while it lasted, I suppose, but I’ve long learned that the great thing about being a cynic is that you are rarely disappointed. As for Britain’s, by now rather sweet ‘should we leave or should we go’ (a bit like a virgin decided whether or not now is the time to give her all), it is becoming pretty damn irrelevant.