Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 03/12/2012

.. Coming for to carry me home.

Corfe Castle, originally uploaded by

The players are all standing in line, arms around each others shoulders, and we all stand for each countries national anthems; few know the words for the New Zealand anthem, and with few nationals having been able to make the long journey it’s only the amplified voice of the performer down on the pitch that echoes around the stadium. This is in stark contrast to the playing of the English national anthem, God Save The Queen, which almost takes what little covers there are above the stadium right off as the crowd gets behind the performer centre stage. With such rituals over with, there’s just one more left before kickoff; the All Blacks assemble near the halfway line where they take up position to perform their war chant, the Hakka, which is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. It seems to have the opposite effect however, the crowd in unison start to sing and “Swing Low” drowns out the war words of the opposition.

New Zealand win the toss, and with their first kick, the game begins. We’re on the edge of our seats and for the first fifteen minutes the score remains level at zero a piece but then the All Blacks are awarded a penalty which is within kicking distance of the English posts, o-oh, this could break the spell. Amazingly, the kicker misses and we all breath a sigh of relief… there’s still a chance and ten minutes later, after an offside infringement by one of the All Blacks player England have their first chance at getting some points on the board. The ball travels straight and true giving England three points, the first of the game, we’re taken first blood!

Before we have chance to reveal in the scoreline, it’s the opposition who are awarded a penalty which they decide to kick for goal and amazingly, again, they miss which leaves us still ahead albeit by the slightest of margins. The battle continues and after another five minutes we’re awarded another penalty after New Zealand hang on to the ball, which Owen Farrell effortlessly kicks for another three points, we’re 6-0 up.

With only three minutes left of the first half, the referee indicates that England have a penalty but allows play to continue so that before we know it, the ball sails over the posts from a drop goal, we’re now 9-0 up. That has to be enough excitement for the first half, but no, with only five seconds to go until the whistle blows we’re awarded another penalty and with the ball safely slotted between the two posts England are, amazingly, 12-0 in front. Blimey I need a drink!

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 02/12/2012

… sweet chariot.

Brum Brum…, originally uploaded by

It would appear, once onboard the train from Waterloo to Twickenham that all 80,000 fans have tried to crush themselves into our carriage alone. The talk, needless to say, is of the impending match, though there’s an air of reservation about England’s final match, having been paired up against the mighty All Blacks and might, in this instance, isn’t too strong a word. This team has remained unbeaten over 20 test matches, in fact the last time England beat the New Zealand team was in 2003 and then by only the narrowest of margins.

After what seems an age, especially in such a confined space, we arrive at Twickenham railway station, and as the door on the carriage retract we spill out onto the platform grateful for the cold fresh air that hits us after the stuffiness of the train. The crowd snakes along the concourse, up over bridges and down roads, like rainforest ants on the march, our goal the imposing concrete edifice that is rugby unions’ National Stadium. Enterprising locals have set up stalls along where we’re walking, selling all manner of comestibles whose scents waft across the great throng tempting the hungry in. The misgivings about our opponents seem to fall away the closer we get to the stadium and bonhomme seems to be suffusing out everyone creating an atmosphere that Russ Abbot could only sing about.

After taking out a mortgage to pay for a pint of beer, it’s time to take our seats and as the impressive pyrotechnics explode, the players take to the pitch… this is going to be exciting.. I can feel it in my bones.

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 01/12/2012

Swing Low…

Lion, originally uploaded by

The gauge on the car dashboard reads zero as we head off for the station, a thick frost on the car in agreement with the cars temperature equipment. Wrapped up warm, I’m amazed I have to queue in a long line with other travellers all heading out early. The line moves fast and I’m soon up on the station, a hot coffee purchased to try and thaw out my cockles let alone warm them and only a short wait for the London bound train. Amazingly, there are passengers waiting alongside who are also enjoying a beverage, however there’s less milk or coffee I’m their drink of choice, in fact there isn’t any but there is water, fermented sugars, hops all wrapped up in an aluminium can. They have stronger constitutions than me.. or possibly a different outlook on life!

The train, powered by electricity supplied by a third rail, glides along despite the uneven track and were soon amongst the outer suburbs of the great metropolis of these fair isles (not to confused with fairisle, I wouldn’t want you jumpering to any conclusions!). Standing in the vestibule area I am a little concerned that the shoes I bought recently will not provide sufficient thermal insulation, as my feet are already cold… And I hate having cold feet.

We pass a park, a bulldog marching in front of its owner a frisbee held firmly in its jaw like some form of trophy. The buildings are increasing in height, the neatly trimmed gardens of detached houses having been replaced by carparks for the flats adjacent to the line.

And now the famous landmarks are becoming visible, first the by tower in the distance and the we pass battersea power station whose iconic chimneys were made globally recognisable by Pink Floyd. The landmarks are passing thick and fast, MI5 s headquarters having been amazingly restored after James bonds recent adventures. The brakes on the train engage and squeal like a lone banshee on a cold desolate night and the train comes to a standstill adjacent to platform 12 of Waterloo Station and we all pour out onto the concourse – a quick drink before it’s time to head off to Twickenham, and however excited everyone appears to have been so far, it’s nothing to the palpable exuberance within the packed tube train. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for my match report!

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 30/11/2012

Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru*

pink, originally uploaded by

So one anticlimax leads on to another anticipation.. which in turn could lead to more disappointment.. though I don’t think so. After the rather damp squib of yesterday’s band announcements for next year’s Reading Festival, tomorrow promises to be much more exciting… I’m taking the train into London to watch England attempt to beat the might New Zealand All Blacks in the Autumn Internationals. Of course, I’m not expecting the English Rugby Union team to actually win in light of who they’re playing – it’s more the occasion that I’m looking forward to.. I’ve even tried to learn the words to the Hakka, the traditional Maori war chant they perform before just prior to kick off.

It’ll all be par for the course, of course, as all the teams I’ve favoured of late seem to be in the descence. The local football team, promoted into the Premiership this season currently languish second from the bottom of the table, as are the local premiership rugby who I’ve followed for many year, latterly half heartedly. Thinking about it, the same thing happened at the various events we attended during the summer Olympics… perhaps I should try some reverse psychology and try support the other team… can’t lose that way!

* The tenth line from the Hakka which translates as “This is the hairy man”

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 29/11/2012

Not A Dickie Bird

Red, originally uploaded by

I’m not referring, of course, to the retired Cricket Umpire but to a certain winter migratory bird who seems to be avoiding the county in which I live. Including all the outlying areas, there are 48 counties that constitutes this Sceptred Isle; imagine my consternation that Waxwings, certainly one of the most charismatic of winter migrants, have made an appearance in all but 4 counties, a small percentage I think you’ll agree, Dear Reader, but a small percentage that includes Berkshire. Sure, we have more than our fair share of Red Kites, Buzzards, Little Egrets and Egyptian Geese.. but I wanted to photograph Waxwings this year, to finally get some images of these birds that I’d be pleased with. Mind you, casting a glance around the garden, I can see exactly why the birds have stayed away, the blackthorn, hollies and hazel are not the usual well stocked larder that tempts the wildlife into the garden.. in fact there’s not a single berry on the holly trees around the perimeter of our land.

Changing subject, you know how sometimes the preamble, the waiting, the buildup can be better than the actual event? Well, after mentioning how excited I was about the early announcement for the 2013 Reading Festival I was completely underwhelmed by the acts announced…. I’ve seen 2 out of the 3 named, one of which I would contemplate seeing again. Deftones, a Californian metal band that came to prominence alongside the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, will be playing on the main stage again where I’ve seen them a number of times already.. usually because they were the only alternative at a specific time slot. The quirky Alt-J have been upgraded this year, having completely packed out the smaller Festival Republic tent this year, they’re moving over to the absolutely huge NME tent, such is their popularity… and rightly so, they’re offer a real alternative to all the formulaic supposedly alternative music, with heavy bass driven tunes, fragile introspective vocals, and the occasional kids toy piano providing the catchy melodies – I’ll certainly be heading over for their set in their new territory.. unless, of course, there’s an even more compelling act on at one of the other stages.

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 28/11/2012

Wait… Wait… Wait…

Today’s the day, and I’m very excited – whilst at the same time a little frustrated – prior to the early release (time off for good behaviour) of a batch of tickets for Reading Festival 2013, a number of the acts already booked for the festival are to be announced. Yep, they’re going to be announced but I’ll be damned if I can find out any information where and when this information will be published. I have, of course, tried the dedicated website for the festival which initially was asking me for a username and password for the administration of the webserver (as opposed to a logging in as a user) as well as checking numerous website but none of them mention when the announcement will be made. Of course it won’t make any difference, knowing an hour or a minute earlier – I’ve already bought my tickets – it’s more in this day and age, when you’re used to finding information instantly it’s rather odd to have to wait. Forget Patience of a Saint, I don’t even have Patience of a Photographer at the moment!

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 27/11/2012

I Can’t See The Point

Some of you may remember me mentioning, quite a while ago now, how I had planned to convert last years’ blog into a book and how conspicuous it has been by it’s absence. I have tried a number of times to try to collate and arrange all the words and pictures from 2011 but the software, as I’ve said before, hasn’t allowed me the typographical freedom I would like to be able to lay out the pages as I want. I had thought that perhaps it was my lack of experience (or patience) with the piece of software, for once I spent some time running through various online help videos and documents to see what I might have been missing, and what I was doing wrong, and it turns out that I hadn’t and I wasn’t (respectively).

The company whose services and software I’m using also recommend, for the more tech and design savvy recommend using Adobe In-Design, a behemoth of a program but one that allows total freedom when it comes to document creation. I’ve used a number of Adobe’s programs over the years, as well various desktop publishing packages so the learning curve associated when using any new piece of software (or anything else for that matter) shouldn’t be too steep, but I’ve got my hiking boots and survival pack out in case it get’s too harrowing.

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 26/11/2012

Pulling The Wool Over My Eyes

Wooly, originally uploaded by

Well, that’s another string to my bow… no, I’ve not taken up the violin, Rocksmith is keeping me more than busy in the music department at the moment, no I can now add Furniture Restorer to my limited list of skills (well, you didn’t expect after all this time, Dear Reader, for me to actually “big myself up” did you?). I mentioned how nearly a year ago we bought a small tropical aquarium however what I might not have mentioned, though possibly I did (this blog is in a small way my attempt at Kerouac’s “stream of consciousness”), that the aquarium actually leaked losing over half it’s contents. The escaped water as well as making a mess on the floor, also seeped under the mat which the tank was resting on straight onto a polished teak sideboard which when removed had a large white water stain right across the top of the surface. Drying the surface had no effect on the large white mark, so we consulted an expert, a relative who restores furniture professionally, and he suggested wire wool and methylated spirits. Before you rush out and try this yourself, you have to realise there is more than one type of wire wool in the same way there is more than one grade of sandpaper, and working on a wooden surface meant I needed to get the finest grade wool I could, which it turns out is Grade 0000 (there is a 00000 but I couldn’t find that in any of the shops I visited). I’ve now had three separate sessions working on the stain, stopped only by the repulsive smell of the Meths, and the white mark is now starting to face, and completely gone in certain places, however there was one other thing I needed that the expert neglected to mention.. lots and lots of elbow grease!

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 25/11/2012

Bear With Me….

Waiting for Godot, originally uploaded by

I’ve not managed to watch many Formula One races this year, in part because I don’t have a Sky TV subscription, Sky having purchased the rights to show all the races throughout the year, with only a select few finding their way onto terrestrial television; Couple this with the fact that 2012 seems to have been a blur with all that has been going on, I’ve only managed to see two full formula one races, the incredibly eventful Abu Dhabi race which saw Kimi Raikkonen win the race in a Lotus and the final event of the year in Brazil where the championship was decided almost on a lap by lap basis. For the third time, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel walked away with the title despite having finished only sixth, though having been involved in a rather large shunt on the very first lap, the car having sustained damage, it’s a wonder he even finished the race. I would say it was edge of the seat stuff, however as I was preparing the evening meal, with the race streaming to my laptop via the BBC website, I wasn’t 100% focused on the machinations of the race. This Saturday will be a very different story as I am off to watch England vs New Zealand Rugby Union match – I suspect I’ll be a little bit more focused and hyped up for that.

Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 24/11/2012

Waiting For Godot (no, not an obscure Indie Band)

Waiting for Godot, originally uploaded by

Reading the music press last week I happened upon an article that got me rather excited… no, Half Man Half Biscuit aren’t releasing a new triple disk album, The Smiths aren’t reforming (yes, Mark I can hear you cheering from here!), nor have the UK Government put a ban on anyone anywhere playing Gangnam Style – no, it was about changes to my beloved Reading Festival that had me rather animated. Whilst the number of tickets available remains constant, the festival organisers are going to be adding three more stages to the event to allow for even more diverse music across the three days. This will, obviously, mean the whole arena will be changing which in itself will be exciting as the layout has remained fairly constant for a few years now.

The festival organisers are also going to break with tradition, instead of keeping quiet until the tickets are released as to who will be headlining over the three days, they are planning to announced the starring acts before Christmas. Whilst this won’t affect whether I purchase a ticket or not.. I already have my three days pass for next year, it will mean I can look forward even more to the August Bank Holiday weekend in 2013.

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