Monday, March 05, 2007

Early Spring

March the Fourth it is and about time I put something up on this blog. After all it’s supposed to be an abbreviation of web-log, implying something updated pretty regularly if not daily. A good excuse might be that this 17-inch G4 PowerBook was out of action from Dec 31st until last weekend--a period of about eight weeks. I was able to keep computing due to the generosity of my daughter, Aya, who sportingly allowed me to set up an account on her iBook and use it in the evenings and weekends--so it isn’t really a good excuse. No the real reason is simply that I’ve been overwhelmed with part-time work and have been kept busy up till about 22:00 every night since we came back from our New Year break in Kyushu. Just why I behave like this became apparent when my partner in this translation/proofreading/rewriting work came around with a chit for the taxman which showed that the PowerBook has paid for itself four times over with the work I’ve done on it since assuming ownership about a year ago. Mustn’t grumble then...
The reason why the machine was out of action so long came down to my fault in mis-diagnosing the problem. Once it was correctly diagnosed, the good folks at the Apple Store, Shinsaibashi, Osaka took it in for a week and restored it to health, simultaneously relieving me of the ¥en equivalent of about sixty-five quid for parts and labour. A learning experience--the nature of machines. They break sometimes and then it costs money to fix them.
The last time I blogged, just before Christmas, I was expressing hope that the England cricket team were going to turn themselves around and at least win one Test Match in the Ashes series. Well, enough said about that, though they did set a dubious kind of record in the least number of days a team has ever retained the hallowed trophy. To their credit, once the Ashes debacle was over they did record one victory over the Oz in a one-day international.
Then it was the turn of the England rugby team to set hearts a-flutter as they comprehensively demolished Scotland by forty-two points to twenty in the Calcutta Cup with the great Jonny Wilkinson scoring a record twenty-seven points in the course of the game. One try, two conversions, five penalties and a drop goal has a nice spread to it. That was on February 3rd at Twickenham and they were looking good for the Six Nations championship. Since then they have laboured to an unconvincing win over Italy and been well and truly turned over (43-13) by the Irish by at Croke Park. It was fitting in a way that the Irish should have won the fixture since the last time an English ‘team’ was at the venue in 1920, it was the Black-and-Tans (and the RIC and Auxiliaries) firing on the crowd and players at a Gaelic football match, killing fourteen unarmed civilians. This was in reprisal for the activities of Michael Collins and his ‘Twelve Apostles’ who had successfully assassinated fourteen English secret-servicemen and military intelligence officers (known as the Cairo Gang) earlier the same day.

I do hope that both nations can now move on from such frightful events, after eighty-seven years amd let bygones be bygones.

Whatever the poetic nature of the victory for the Irish, the scale of the loss for England has been devastating, particularly as our main weapon, the boot of Jonny Wilkinson, was kept very quiet all match. The latest news is that he has a hamstring injury, which is a bit unsettling as we take on France at Twickenham on March 11th. It will be a do-or die affair, particularly as Ireland will probably have clinched the Triple Crown the day before by beating Scotland.
Meanwhile, while all of this was going on, my main squeeze Newcastle United FC were quietly lifting themselves out of the relegation mire with a series of gritty performances, probably the best of which was against Liverpool at St James’ Park on February 10th, when Martins and Solano scored a goal each to win the game two-one. It was especially good after they had gone behind in the sixth minute to a soft goal gobbled up by Craig Bellamy (aka the Gob of Glamorgan) who was obliged to leave the Toon under a cloud a couple of seasons back. A frightful bounder, by all accounts, but a handy goal-poacher nevertheless.

As it stands Newcastle are in tenth place in the Premier League, exactly mid-table with a record of:

P 29 (Home) W7, D5, L3 F 23 A 17 (Away) W3, D2, L9 F 11 A 20 Pts 37 Goal diff -3

To be sure, I have seen a lot worse but it’s hardly the kind of stuff which inspires blind faith. All Geordie expectations are now on the UEFA Round of 16 which sees The Toon take on the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar at SJP on Thursday March 8th. The away fixture in The Netherlands is on the following Thursday. It is our only hope of any tinware this season and hopes are high, particularly as the injury list is showing signs of improvement. Even Michael Owen has been kicking a ball again. More to the point is the fact that the great rivals Sunderland AFC have hit a purple patch under Roy Keane and have taken 26 points from the last thirty to look very likely candidates for an early return to the Premiership. Bragging rights are at stake all across the North-East of England. In the unlikely event that we do win the thing it will be the first major trophy brought back since the halcyon days of 1969, when the competition was known as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

Howay the Lads.

As for the family, my eldest son made us all proud by graduating from Nishinomiya Kofu High School last Saturday, while his younger brother made sure of his place at Amagasaki High School in late February. For some reason known only to himself, the cho-nan decided an appropriate way to celebrate graduation would be to dye his hair the colour of straw, which did not amuse his father very much. His appearance reminded me of Heinrich Hoffman’s character Struwwelpeter (Straw-headed Peter).

Ah well, boys will be boys, one more year of teens for him.

The weather is warming up fast and some of the first midges of the season met their untimely end on the face-shield of my Arai helmet on Sunday. Usually they don’t make an appearance till about April. It doesn’t bode well for the summer, be prepared for a scorcher...