EU integration at work

     V.      

Who says that England and Wales don’t work well within a European Union structure? Clearly a Cardiff-based eleven would like to do a UKIP, and put a sharp spike into the idea of European unity in today’s match. However, Arsenal’s current place atop the Premier League suggests that a pan-European blend is managing to disturb the notorious hush of the Emirates Library in north London.

A definite Franco-German axis dominates the Arsenal landscape at present, with a more than adequate support from English, Welsh, Spanish, Polish, Belgian and Czech Republic counter-parts. However, as with most European institutions, the Arsenal style can tend towards the over-elaborate with an emphasis on style over substance. The onlookers are often left with a feeling that the never-ending ‘process’ fails to deliver any tangible ‘products’ to their liking.

Many of their opponents experience that UKIP-like feeling, that any encounter with a European Union structure only leaves you mesmerised by the maze of hoops and rings spun around you. This understandably gives rise to an increasing urge to kick something… Arsene’s Arse providing the most obvious target (if you can penetrate the quilted wall of its defence):

    

The big questions for today are: what will happen when the English of Wales outnumber the English of England; and the greater number of Welsh players could be on the English side? Who will need to become most demonised by UKIP when they open up their cheque books to Rumanians and Bulgarians during the January transfer window? How many smiles will Arsene Wenger crack open during this match (all betting agency sources and Ray Winstone are available naaarrw).

  

A 3.00pm kick-off on a Saturday afternoon is a bit disorienting for supporters who have had more Sunday kick-offs so far this season. But the home fans are not left waiting for too long before their historic appreciation of former player Aaron Ramsey is put to the test. He scores to put Arsenal 1-0 in the lead, and there is a rare moment in the football kingdom where a scoring opponent is applauded by the home fans. Are you smiling Mr Wenger? Perhaps this is what joy looks like:

 

Cardiff somehow hang on to a 1-0 deficit through to half-time, but more due to the visitors playing slightly below their own standards. The second half approaches with the home team needing some inspiration from somewhere.

City v Arsenal

A more evenly contested half ensues, but the clinical efficiency of the league leaders produces a further two goals for a fair winner but maybe a slightly flattering result. Purple Dragonbirds are out-gunned by Arsenal 0-3. European unity prevails and there is time for one particular face to crack open a smile:

      I have been Juno, and with a busy weekend I will give you my views on a Wales v Australia rugby match next time we meet.

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It was 1972…

My ‘Resident DJ’ is gazing at the old vinyl collection and reminiscing about something or another. ” What’s new pussycat, Pussycat Dolls, Stray Cat Strut, Cat Power, Cat on a hot tin roof” I helpfully suggest; but ‘Nostalgia Freak’ is not impressed, and mutters something about me being deported back to England if I don’t develop some musical respect.

   Oops, time to hide…  Year of the cat, Cats in the cradle…” I proffer from my new-found bolt-hole. ‘Now your’e getting nearer’ I hear.

Spillers Records [1]It seems that Cardiff is home to the oldest record shop in the world. It has been 119 years since Henry Spiller began selling shellac phonographic discs from a little shop in the long since disappeared [original] Queen’s Arcade. In true Dr. Who style (a newer Cardiff legend), the shop’s second incarnation from the 1940s coincided with vinyl becoming king; and with a new century seeing the CD struggle against downloads it has more recently moved to its third home in the Morgan Arcade.  

Step into this old emporium of the different formats and it still brings back many fond memories as well as great music to all lovers of a good tune. Everyone who knows Spillers Records are likely to have their own definitive year; something about their personal musical era, or the first time they visited the little shop of big expectations. For the ‘Native Old Git’ it seems 1972 was the year… with record player barely a year old, and a few albums bought in a subterranean part of Woolworths on Queen Street, it was time to enter the dark world of the music shop on The Hayes. I am reliably informed that John Kongos became that first purchase, shortly followed by a couple of albums by The Who, and the changing musical directions from Stevie Wonder. Alas, these uplifting reflections are tempered by a flickering thought of the loss of the other album purchased in Spillers that year, but subsequently lost in the intervening years of travelling.

Vinyl [1]

Hmmm… this John Kongos guy looks a bit like a cat, but I am a bit wary of meandering around someone who says He’s gonna step on you again!  At least Stevie Wonder knows how to cheer a sun worshipping cat up.

Vinyl [2]

 

As for The Who, I am left wondering what there is to do in Leeds… apart from leaving their mark on the concrete column. Their songs about Young Man Blues and Teenage Wasteland suggest they should try somewhere else. Cardiff comes to mind…

Back in 1972 vinyl wasn’t ‘cool’, vinyl was ‘everything’. It is hard to believe that this venerable institution was already 78 years old at the time ‘Nostalgia Junior’ was ready to spend the hard earned (by somebody else) pocket money. Then again, apparently not; we are talking about a time when smoking was still a widespread profession rather than the Public Enemy No 1 badge of today, and most places had a darker dingier feel to them… and Spillers on The Hayes was no different. This second incarnation of Henry’s gift had already absorbed 25 years or more of people loitering and browsing with intent; of passionate staff and inquisitive punters engaged in musical inspection and introspection.

Unlike any other music selling joint of the time, this was a place where you could even disappear into a private booth to listen to a few tracks before deciding on what to give the cash up for. That first album personally bought in Spillers was known for its couple of previously released singles, but what of the rest? In the claustrophobic atmosphere of that booth John Kongos sang of nostalgia, and the deal was sealed. This was no place or time for absence of thought and rash musical whims. After all, when you walked out of this place and set off around town, your vinyl album under your arm said something about who you are; it would become part of your teenage peacock-like display. CDs slipped into pockets or bags project nothing, and as for downloads… beam me up Scotty.

    Old & New 

It’s another world we live in, compared with 1972, but today Spillers became the ‘Old Git’s’ destination for the first time in 30 years… there was unfinished business, a long lost album to be rediscovered. The shock of the airy brightness soon recedes as the same old Spillers values of love for music becomes clearly evident on the racks and in the banter between staff and visitors. It’s nowhere to be seen in the CD racks on the ground floor; but what’s this new invention… a smaller upstairs room housing the vinyl… could it come to the rescue? Still no sign of the elusive lost album, until without hesitation the welcoming staff immediately offer to order it. With three additional live tracks, my ‘Native Bottler’ throws nostalgia to the wind and orders the remastered CD version, and in a few days I am promised the treat of Santana Abraxas providing the soundtrack to my universe. At least it isn’t the download version, God knows where I would have to plug something in to listen to that!

It seems that The Oldest Record Shop in the World keeps the fire going for those who love their music, but it is more than a collection of hardware, I am reliably informed this place is a purveyor of memories, a definer of ages, a repository of personal histories. I have been Juno, and until we meet again it looks like I am going to be transported back to the early 1970s.

The Unmentionables

My pathologically biased servant has suggested I avoid using the most commonly recognised name of today’s visitors to fortress CCS (Cardiff City Stadium). So, in the interests of balance here comes the greatly anticipated game between Riverside FC established in 1899 v Newton Heath (Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway) FC established in 1878. The esteemed visitors were originally named after their local railway depot, so in one sense they are being welcomed today by their hosts Canton Sheds. Since the turn of the 21st century the visitors have been attributed a new name after the theatrical exploits of some of their more balletic personnel. Cristiano Ronaldo was determined to perfect the art of the pike, twist and tuck before he moved to Real Madrid and learned how to stand up for relatively longer periods of the match.

         The Trafford Park Diving Club was born and is now in the rudest of health through the single-handed efforts of Ashley Young as he stuttered from

  Watford into Aston Villa, and then tripped the light fantastic up the M6 to the dangerously lurking rinks and pools of Salford and district

      Its November, and the recent spell of colder weather could be treacherous for the visiting delicate flowers. The Cardiff players will be under strict orders by the local Magistrates to observe a 5-metre exclusion zone around any of the opposition wearing gloves outside of the penalty areas, to avoid giving anyone reasons to revert to an artistically horizontal game plan.

We approach 4.00pm on another unusual Sunday afternoon kick-off, c/o the Sky-dollar. It is time for the Red Dragons/Bluebirds (Purple Dragonbirds) to measure themselves against the existing English champions in the form of the Red Devils:

    V.     

The visitors display the early tactic of getting the home team to play the opposite way to what they prefer to do… thus reducing the impact of the home support on their team’s attacking play in the second half.

City v Man Utd [1]

The away team have been heavily dependent on the goals of the attacking Dutch/Anglo partnership of ‘White Van Man’ and ‘Join the Dots’; as their defence of ‘Dutch Junior’, ‘Peckham Twitter’ and various ‘Treatment Room Recliners’ have been even less convincing than a midfield that is still occasionally relying on an old guy born in Cardiff 40 years ago next week. Master Wilson not only left his home-town before he had the chance to play on a cold Tuesday night in Grimsby (instead of a warm Wednesday night in Barcelona), but clearly felt the need to change his name when stepping into the limelight of sporting celebrity and nefarious family sexual unmentionables.

The opposition are without ‘White Van Man’, and it is up to ‘Join the Dots’ to start with a less than impressive connecting with player rather than ball; a well-deserved yellow card, despite the home fans plaintive pleas for a red card sending off. However, the miscreant responds to the taunting of the home crowd with a goal early in the game. However, typical of such an occasion, it is a former upstanding member of the Diving Club, a newly installed home favourite by the name of Frazier Campbell who sends the home fans delirious with an equaliser mid way through the first half…

Fraizer Campbell; Jonny Evans Cardiff City v Manchester United - English Premier League 11242013

… only for that man ‘Join the Dots’ to set up a late second goal for the visitors just on the stroke of half-time. These teams haven’t met since the days when their old man of Cardiff was in nappies (c1974/5 season), and since then they have experienced contrasting fortunes. The eponymous Trafford Park Diving Club have had unprecedented opportunities to perfect the art through competition with European experts of the forward somersault with twist and pike. Meanwhile, the Mighty Bluebirds have had the unenviable trips to the football citadels of Scunthorpe, Halifax and Darlington. What will this gulf in experience bring as the two teams are set for kicking off the second half?

City v Man Utd [2]

They may be in the lead but the away team are clearly missing the historic motivation of a demented hair-dryer…….

  The differences in wealth and experience are nowhere to be seen as both teams create a few chances to keep the crowd edgy. Then, as the announcement is made of four minutes of added time to play, up steps the king of South Korea as Kim-Bo Kyung heads the equaliser, and the crowd go wild.

 Kim Bo-Kyung scores Cardiff City’s late equaliser   against Manchester United during the Premier League  match at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

The Purple Dragonbirds roar as the Red Devils are left to contemplate their blunt spikes:

       

‘Pathological Bias’ tells me the match ended in a ‘Desmond’ [*]: Riverside 2 Newton Heath 2 and that hearing the away fans exercising their bloated egos through moaning about the result as they were leaving the ground really adds icing to the cake. While the local fans take a rest in a favourite hostelry I will continue to be Juno, looking forward to more interesting things like our next conversation.

[* Desmond Tutu]

The Avengers

My kindred spirits the ‘pumas’ are in town, and the locals are a little bit edgy.

             

Wales have only won 9 out of the 14 meetings with Argentina, a record of success that the home fans would demand improvement on. The last time this match was staged, last November, Argentina won 26-12 here in Cardiff. The light blue and white pumas…

    … are now established players in the southern hemisphere annual tournament against the top three teams in the world, but will it be enough for the southern also-rans to compete with the northern hemisphere champions? The flags are fluttering their support along St Mary Street close to the Millenium Stadium:

Wales v Argentina [2]

 

v.        Wales v Argentina [3]

 

 

 

 

The anthems reflect the passion of both sets of supporters and the 2.30p.m. whistle blows to let battle commence. A penalty kick for Wales, a converted try, and a further penalty while still reduced to 14 men through one taking an early trip to the sin bin. Twenty minutes gone and Wales are 20-0 in the lead. Half an hour passes with Argentina having more than a couple of chances of their own before they score a penalty kick… 20-3. Its a half about taking your chances, as Argentina provide plenty of positive statistics, but with a further penalty as the last kick of the half there is only one important stat… Wales 23 Argentina 3.

       With two tries and the magic boot of Leigh Halfpenny, the majority of the crowd are happy to see the visiting pumas playing good rugby as long as the home team remain dominant on the scoreboard. The second half often sees a modern day Welsh team step up a gear against any opposition…

   Meanwhile the pumas start to tire, and are in desperate need for a new tune…

PUMA AND PIANO. B&W.  Picture on Modern BOX-CANVAS. A1, 20"x 30"

Los Pumas are soon looking more like Lost Pumas as Wales add a further two converted tries and a penalty with only a single penalty in reply.

                               

The final score is 40-6, and Wales return to winning ways against southern hemisphere opposition after a long run of heroic failures. Triumphant dragons can retire to the hostelries of Cardiff and let the celebrations begin.

      Cymru Flag (wales) clip art

I have been Juno, and until we next meet let the local cats keep celebrating.

Immigrant Song

How is a cat who has moved between countries supposed to feel with all this anti-immigration stuff in the media? Where is the evidence for all this negative impact of immigration? It seems to me like us cats bring nothing but diversity and peacefulness into your miserable whining lives.

I ask you, am I putting additional pressure on your precious veterinary resources? It seems to me like not many of your indigenous cats are desperately queueing up to get additional appointments at the local vets. What’s more, I am a fairly healthy cat, doing my own thing and not needing much else other than an annual check-up. Hardly the basis for claims I might cause the collapse of your animal health and welfare services.

Do you really think I am just an opportunist trying to cash in through some kind of ‘cat litter tourism’, cynically just trying to avail myself of the benefits of your superior quality litter? It seems to me like you should be more concerned about the way your indigenous cats just go around digging up other people’s gardens with no consideration for the inconvenience they cause.

What do you think about the fact I simply arrived in your country and moved straight into a nice flat surrounded by quiet canals, close to all the amenities of the city centre and the bay? It seems to me, listening to the headline grabbing nonsense in the media like you think I obviously deprived one of your indigenous cats out of a home.

Do you think I have suddenly arrived and put one of your local mouse-catchers out of a job? It seems to me that there is an absence of local cats queueing for any available jobs currently; more interested in waiting around for a ‘more for less’ job opportunity to show up. Taking in the rays and having naps seems to be the preference for many of the indigenous cats (though I can’t criticise them on that count).

What about the issue of dog immigration… after all, don’t they go in for eating your children? It seems to me like that would be a real alien invasion; so perhaps you need to get a more positive immigration policy in place, not just allowing any old dog in, but prioritising how we integrate and get on well together.

        

Fortunately for me my host servant recognises the value of us cats moving into their humble abode, and bringing some colour and variety into their lives. It seems to me like many of you people should be a bit more selective about the scare-mongering nonsense you listen to from a small minority of those on the small-minded political extremes. Sure, one or two of my kind step out of line a little, and they may cause you a few problems; but don’t let that be your view of all of us. However, I am a bit partial to the idea I keep hearing called UKIP… I like to kip as often as I can, after all this amount of beauty doesn’t come without a great deal of sleep you know!

Juno cushion [3]

It seems to me like you do have some of the more objective media reporting around, if you can be bothered looking for it; and until we speak again this immigrant wouldn’t have anything other than the Observer lining my litter tray.

A Nation Expects

It is November, and once the fireworks of the 5th have subsided the whole of the Welsh nation expect nothing less than fireworks from their heroes. European champions for the last two years, still feeling robbed in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup, but woeful against the southern hemisphere giants. It is time to step up if they are to be taken seriously as a world power in rugby union again.

              V.           

First up is South Africa, and if history is not your bag look away now (particularly if you are a student of Welsh history)… as the Springboks have won 24 of the previous 26, to one solitary Wales victory in 1999. It’s four hours to kick-off and the commercial machine is well cranked up in any available space…

Scarve stand

However, the commercial machine pales into insignificance compared to the liquid machine, as the City Arms helps fans of both sides to prepare for the occasion in the shadow of the legends:

City Arms [1]Two hours to kick-off and St Mary Street is rocking:

St Mary Street [2]St Mary Street [3]

 

 

 

 

 

The Welsh camp have been very quiet in the lead up to the match with their special tactics remaining a close kept secret, until now that is! A couple of hours to kick-off and Caroline Street is the scene for the Welsh backs to stoke up with the fuel of choice… chips and curry sauce are essential for any self-respecting fire-breather.

Dragons [1]

Then it is the expectation of any dragon that a watering hole close to the stadium should be visited as part of the final preparations:

Dragons [2]

But the real source of fear for the mighty Springboks will obviously be at the scrum; and the Welsh scrum is fighting fit and raring to go:

Scary scrum

The anthems have been respected, the stadium atmosphere is second to none, and the time for Welsh history to be made has arrived… will this be the scene of another heroic failure, or can Wales start their platform for an assault on the next World Cup? This is more than just a game, for these two nations this is about a religion, and where better than the Millenium Stadium to provide a cathedral…

Millenium Stadium 3

Wales take the lead with a penalty kick, equaled almost immediately by South Africa for 3-3. Wales retake the lead with another penalty before South Africa show why they are the second best team in the world by scoring two converted tries with their only two opportunities, 6-17. The ‘power’ of South Africa is exerting a toll, as three Welsh players are off injured within the first thirty minutes. The ‘finesse’ of Wales is ominously absent as three opportunities for scoring a try are all repelled by the South African defence. A couple of penalties to Wales keep them in the game, and a South African player is sin-binned for ten minutes. A breath-taking final ten minutes of open attacking play by both teams as half-time arrives… Wales 12 South Africa 17.

Superlatives are liberally distributed by various pundits over the half-time break. Wales have had more possession but not taken their chances. Get strapped in, here comes the second half.

Wales continue with the domination of possession but we wait for any further chances for points. Fifty-three minutes and a penalty to Wales… 15-17; then confusion reigns as both teams lose a player to the sin-bin. A tense final twenty minutes as everyone waits to see if history or tradition will prevail. South Africa miss a penalty on sixty-one minutes; is it a portent of what could be? Three minutes later and the South Africans show why they are the second best in the world… a lucky bounce of the ball and commentators seeing reasons why an opportunist try shouldn’t have been allowed. Wales 15 South Africa 24, and it begins to look like a familiar pattern of Wales losing just at the point they were about to win against a southern hemisphere team.

Seventy-two minutes and another try scoring opportunity for Wales repelled by the Springboks. Where is the famed singing of the Welsh crowd, the extra man has been tamed by the South Africans? The ferocity of the final minutes of the first half is ominously absent as the second is drawing towards a close. The great hopes and the dominance of possession for the home team still ends up with the all-too-familiar result, with the away team scoring three tries without reply… Wales 15 South Africa 24.

 

The celebrations will remain on hold with local passions muted, and my appointed beer taster says it is a night of the plastic glass, something to be side-stepped if at all possible. I have been Juno, and I will aim to get over my disappointment at my adopted nation before I speak with you again.

 

The Ugly Beautiful Game

The ‘lovely ugly town’ (Dylan Thomas) that grew up into a ‘pretty shitty city’ (Dougray Scott’s character in the film ‘Twin Town’) encounters a hostile reception from their neighbours in the capital of culture, beauty and refinement. The first ever South Wales Premier League derby sees the battle of the rivers Taff v. Tawe… what is it about so many of these football teams trying to tantalise my taste buds by adopting different kinds of birds as their emblems? Today the Bluebirds v. The Swans are getting ready to tear each other apart, as that rare moment emerges when something so loved by so many becomes tainted by a sinister back-drop of hatred for fellow supporters:

       V.        

We are all set for 90 minutes of the beautiful game to be played out in front of 27,000 magnificently mindless people who don’t quite get how world-definingly meaningless this event is to all but the supporters of each club. For many of those present the events on the pitch will take a mere secondary role of stoking up the vehemence felt by one tribe to another. The fact that both tribes share a nation’s pride seems superfluous, as whatever brain cells are possessed have surely been left firmly locked away at home.

Meanwhile, there are rather unusual pre-match preparations… for such a big match as this the away team squad have adopted a different pre-match warm-up, as they forgo the usual coach journey to the ground and have been spotted sneaking in via the local waterways:

Swan armada [1]

For the ugly folk wishing unmentionable pains on their rivals the game is supposed to be more important than matters of life and death (Bill Shankly), but in reality it is only 22 rich kids falling over while kicking each other, and kicking the modern day equivalent of a pigs bladder around an incredibly well manicured patch of grass. Despite tales of money, the beautiful side of the game has been widely attributed to these elegant swans through many plaudits from pundits and fans alike (but not from the snarling variety of fans found in these parts). If you are looking for the ugly side of the game, look no further than the so-called gentility of the bluebirds… not only do they have an owner so far out of touch with the reality of local passions, but they now have their very own El Pitbull aka Gary Medel.

But hang on, isn’t this billed as the South Wales derby? By my reckoning we are about to witness ‘The Rest of the World v Spain’ as the line-up of players is being announced. There could be as much as one local person on each side as the Cardiff team is represented by at least Scotland, England, France, Chile, Iceland and South Korea. As for Swansea they manage to parade more Spanish players than Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Games like these need careful preparation, and some of the away fans are spotted visiting one of my local hostelries before the match; they are probably debating what to eat and drink in the absence of any paella and rioja:

Swans at lunch

Strange rituals emerge on the pitch as the Swansea white huddle are asking each other why the crowd seems so hostile towards players of the beautiful game. Meanwhile the Cardiff red and black huddle debate the forthcoming duck-shoot, with swans substituted for the ducks.

Cardiff City v Swansea City [2]

But now it is 4.00p.m. Sunday 3rd November 2013, and the derby will never be the same again. This is a match that is being televised around the globe… Sky had better turn the crowd microphones down unless they wish to shock the delicate and faint-hearted. The question on everyone’s lips is ‘Who will be the first player to make the meaningless kissing of the badge gesture?’ It used to be a representation of the passion for their club, but now means a thank you to the club that is temporarily paying shed-loads of cash into their bank account until the next transfer… but who am I, a mere cat, to cast such cynicism on this working man’s sport that provides a platform for a young man to become a billionaire before he can count much past ten?

Half-time shows up without seeing the arrival of either the ugly or the beautiful, but there is encouraging signs for the home fans that El Pitbull is much more of an El Duracell, with no signs of the reputation that got him sent off 7 times in 80 games in Spain. Time to prey to the God of Cliches for a game of two halves…

Cardiff City v Swansea City [4]

 

It’s the second half, and cometh the hour cometh the game… a capital corker from CAPTAIN CAULKER signals the time for the home fans to go into paroxysms of ecstasy; after all football fans are nothing if not easily pleased by a goal for their team.

Steven Caulker towers above the Swansea defence to score the winner

The lively atmosphere throughout has now been injected with extra venom against the visiting fans in the corner of the ground. But, as 90 minutes pass and the fourth official exasperates the Cardiff crowd by awarding 5 extra minutes of stoppage time there is still a stage awaiting a drama… and up it steps in the 91st minute. Campbell the Cardiff striker is charging out wide of the goal as Vorm the Swansea goalkeeper scythes him to the ground (or at least brings him down without touching the ball). Is it yellow or is it red? On this occasion Cardiff fans have no doubt about the colour, it has to be a red card. The referee duly obliges and the Swansea goalkeeper has to walk. With no further substitutes left they have to nominate another player to be goalkeeper for the remaining few minutes. The tension ramps up, and the game gives die-hard fans of both sides something to argue about until the next derby.

The final whistle blows and the hype has fortunately remained unfulfilled. With a helicopter overhead, snarling police alsatians en masse in van-shaped cages, and a metal fence with thin blue line penning the away fans in, it is time for the home fans to disperse in the knowledge that Cardiff go above Swansea in the Premier League table. Some away fans might have been seen drowning their sorrows after the game in an unorthodox fashion:

Synchronised swanningFor the students of the stats it finished Purple Dragonbirds 1 Grey Swans 0.