Twenty Four Hours

September 26th, 2020

It’s true what they say. Life can be jogging along quite nicely with very little drama or disruption and then unexpectedly from out of left field, boom! I had been experiencing some mild chest pains for some time, but they were inconsistent. Then last Tuesday I was having dizzy spells and I lost my balance a few times to add insult to injury.

Following some constant nagging from my dear wife, I decided to call my medical provider, Kaiser Permanente. Most of the branches remain closed owing to COVID 19, and one has to negotiate a series of ever decreasing circles to make an appointment with one’s doctor. I was eventually put through to a nurse adviser who asked me to describe my symptoms. Twenty minutes elapsed and she announced that she arranged for me to have an evaluation at one of their Medical Centers which was open.

She then proceeded to give me instructions: ” please arrange for somebody to drive you there within the next two hours. Go to Advanced Care and collect $200, no that’s Monopoly.  Give the Receptionist your name and health care number. She will do the rest.” My wife drove and we arrived a little after 2pm, but  wasn’t allowed to come in due to the COVID 19 restrictions.

No sooner had I found a seat in the waiting room practicing social distancing and wearing a mask, I was whisked into a medical room by  a couple of nurses who took my temperature and blood pressure. Another nurse arrived shortly after, sat me in a wheelchair and transported me to the Cardiology Department. Yet another nurse directed me to a private room and asked me to remove my clothes and put on one of those ridiculous hospital gowns and lay on the bed.

The vampire nurse arrived and extracted the first of many blood samples. A very sallow looking doctor walked in and announced that I was being wheeled out for a couple of X-Rays and would be having a CT-Scan later in the afternoon. I returned to my room and was hooked up to a series of wires which were fixed to my chest. The blood pressure strap was attached to my arm and would remain there for the rest of the day and night, taking my blood pressure every twenty minutes.  Oh yes, despite my repeated protests it was confirmed I would be staying overnight for continuous observation. Did I forget to mentions the oxygen clip attached to my finger. The Vampire nurse returned and inserted a IV tube in my arm to save me from any unnecessary punishment. This would prove to be very useful the next morning.

Somewhere among these various tests I attempted to call my wife who could have been dying of heat stroke sitting outside in her car. I had no service on my phone and a nurse was kind enough to lend me a phone. Fortunately my wife was still breathing when I finally managed to get through to her, and I gave her list of essential items I needed to survive the night. She did a pitiful impression of Arnie, and said: “I’ll be back!”

Later in the afternoon with X-Rays and CT-Scan completed, a nurse  hooked my phone up with the medical center’s WIFI. I called my wife again, and  I pleaded with her to bring me some food as I had not eaten since 7.00am, and a nurse had warned me that Medical Center cuisine was barely edible. The nurses were very  considerate, but my wife was my guardian angel. She dropped off my essential supplies along with my evening meal at approximately  7pm which was delivered to me by a masked security guard. Chicken nuggets, waffle fries and diet lemonade from Chik-Fil-A had never tasted so good.

I devoured every single morsel and crumb, and attempted to settle down for a very long night. Try having forty winks with a blood pressure strap squeezing your arm every twenty minutes, wires attached to your chest, an oxygen clip attached to your finger, and an IV tube dangling from your arm. By the way I can’t sleep on my back.

Miraculously I was beginning to doze when there was a knock on the door and in walked yet another nurse who I hadn’t seen before. She wanted to take another blood sample, but because of some protocol couldn’t use the IV tube, and promptly stuck a needle in my hand to earn her share of the pickings.

I was instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight, and I attempted to batten down the hatches for the night. Thank goodness I had my kindle to rely on because sleeping was virtually an impossibility. I did manage to doze for an hour only to be awakened by another nurse who determined my oxygen levels were low and she proceeded to place a breathing tube up my nostrils. No you will not sleep on my watch!!!

Daylight finally arrived at around 6.30, and I was informed I would be taken at 8.30 to another department and prepped for a “nuclear stress test.” The normal treadmill test was not available because of COVID 19. Upon arrival  I was required to drink a pint of water and walk continuously for twenty minutes. I was then transferred to another room and a chemical was fed into my body intravenously which simulated the treadmill test.

The only reaction I experienced was chills with goose bumps rapidly appearing on my arms. Feeling no worse for wear apart from goose bumps and having to eat peanut butter crackers, and  drink a small glass of coke to counteract the chemical circling my body, I was wheeled back to my room to await the results of my tests.

Two hours later, yet another doctor   whom I had not seen before, entered my room. She announced that all my tests had come back and were negative. The tests couldn’t find anything wrong with me. So I was prompted to say: “That’s good news, but does that mean I’m a hypochondriac?” She replied: ” No, it means we have eliminated certain issues, and you will need to arrange an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss the next course of action.”

Twenty four hours later, almost to the minute, my wife was waiting for me outside to take me home. Watch this space for further developments.

 

 

Sporting Moments from the Guildhall

June 6th, 2020

I spent 28 years in Swansea’s Guildhall working for The County Borough of Swansea and latterly Swansea City Council following local government reorganization in 1974. Following a failed attempt to qualify as an accountant I found my niche as a town planner. However my most memorable moments were  representing the Local Authority in a number of sporting activities. We are belonged to the union, NALGO (national association of local government officers) who organized sporting competitions between the various local Authorities across South Wales. They were knockout competitions, so if you lost in the first round the season was over!

The first sports competition I took part in was darts which comprised a team of eight playing the best of five legs of 501 apiece We traveled up the Swansea Valley to parts unknown to play our opponents and were soundly thrashed. There is a long interval between throws with a team of eight, and copious pints of beer doesn’t help the concentration. My lasingt memory was one of my team mates, Mike Hurst, teaching us bawdy rugby songs as we travelled back to Swansea in the mini bus.

Not long after, I read a notice asking for rugby players to form a team to play Port Talbot Town Council in a forthcoming match. I had played rugby in high school, but I had always had an inkling to play scrum half to emulate my hero, Gareth Edwards. My friend, David Abbott, and I signed up to play at scrum half and outside half respectively. We were soundly annihilated 0-40 on our home turf, and I was made the scapegoat for our abject performance. I couldn’t really argue with their withering assessment, so I decided to hang up my rugby boots and head for the hills.

When I moved to the planning department, the sporting challenges came thick and fast. Next up was lawn bowls comprising a team of four: Jack Jones (my old boss,) Gareth Jones, Dave Firkin, and your truly.  We bundled into a car and  headed for Llandeilo to face our opponents, who proved to be very hospitable hosts. They plied us with food and alcoholic beverages (mostly alcohol) during the match. So much so, that our skip  (the venerable Jack Jones) had difficulty keeping his balls (no pun intended) on the rink, and we capitulated in a drunken haze.

Skittles was probably my favorite and most successful  sports event in the colors of Swansea Nalgo. A skittles team comprises 12 players each armed with three wooden mis shapened balls which are rolled along a wooden alley with the intention of knocking down nine skittles standing at the other end of the alley. The game takes place inside a pub and is usually played over five rounds whilst drinking several pints of beer. Not one pub in Swansea had a skittles alley and we played all our matches in a pub in Pontardawe which is approximately 10 miles from Swansea.  We always ordered fried chicken in the basket for each member of both teams during the interval, but the meal was affectionately known across the country as the French Revolution (head in the basket, get it?)

A skittles match could evoke various emotions over the course of an evening, and could also lead to physical interaction which sometimes bordered on sexual harassment. We were playing a women’s team in the Cynon Valley, and two women began groping me as I was about to throw. Being the complete professional, I completed my throw and suggested they continue their massage on completion of the match. They replied: “What you take us for, we’re married?” All is fair in love and war I guess.

We had reached the semi-finals for several years only to be knocked out at the penultimate hurdle by our nemesis, Cardiff City Council. We made the final at long last, defeating our dreaded rivals on our own patch. The final was held in Cardiff against South Glamorgan County Council, and we felt we only had to turn up to win the coveted trophy.  We were dead level after four pulsating rounds, but unexpectedly lost our nerve in the deciding round. Well some of us did. My boss, Robin Blakely, rolled two of his balls (please) into the gutter along the alley which proved decisive.

I played cricket for Nalgo only once and never wanted to repeat the experience. It was really the Albert Quirk x1 who usually selected his cronies. He asked me to play because they were a man short, and I reluctantly agreed. Now I was a useful medium paced bowler in my twenties, but not in Mr. Quirk’s eyes. He eventually brought me onto bowl when the opposition had amassed a massive total and the batsman were seeing the ball like a “football” and smashing the ball to all parts of the ground. I bowled a couple of overs without success and retreated to the confines of third man. The most excitement I had that day was when Andrew Miners gave me a lift home after the match in his Triumph TR7. We had no seatbelts, red traffic lights were of no concern to him, and speed limits were for the faint hearted. Memo to myself, never accept a lift from Mr. Miners again.

Some of the quirky aspects of the Guildhall included a table tennis table in the “Green Room” behind the Brangwyn Hall. I played a couple times a week during my lunch break, and Martin Appleby asked if I would like  to play in a three man team against opponents residing in the Rhondda Valley. However, I was just an average player and no match for my opponent. Our best player was a 64 year old commissionaire on the verge of retirement who had a compulsion to deride his fellow team mates. Moving on……….

The most competitive and enthralling game I took part in was a football match between Swansea City Council and West Glamorgan County Council, both of which were located in  Swansea about a mile apart. It was the semi-final stage of the Nalgo competition and we played at Fairwood which was used as a training facility for Swansea City Football Club. The game was a battle royal between two very competitive teams with the play ebbing and flowing from end to end. The lead changed hands several times, but West Glam finished stronger  and won with a flattering score line of 5-3. I bumped into their captain, Mike Nantcurvis, the next day somewhere in town, and he was anxious to tell me it was a great game. I thanked him, but it was little consolation for losing.

We had some great times courtesy of NALGO despite ending up on the wrong side of the result for most of the time. How does that old saying go: ” It’s not the winning that matters, it’s how you play the game. What a load of codswallop.

 

 

Me and My Machete

April 19th, 2020

It’s bamboo season at the James household which means bamboo shoots will soon be sprouting up all over my yard and I need to cut them down as they appear to prevent them from becoming a sequel to “The Day of The Triffids. Another movie that comes to mind is “The Naked Jungle” but I’ll save the analogy for another post. I find the best tool for controlling the bamboo is my trusted machete. You have to cut them at the source before they engulf you and your yard.

My machete recalls another incident where it played a key role in getting my car back from a local car accessory store. I had left my car at the store to have roof rack fitted. It’s approximately half a mile from home as the crow flies. However I live at the end of a cul-de-sac, and walking the length of my street onto the adjoining highway would take three times as long to reach the store.

However there is a more direct way which would require cutting a path through brush and brambles to the rear of my property,  negotiating a steep bank which terminates into  a local church car park, and then onto the highway a couple of hundred yards from the store. Hence the need for the machete. It was a sunny spring day and I deemed the undergrowth not to be too intimidating.

Perhaps wearing a polo shirt and shorts was not the appropriate outfit to take on this challenge. Anyway I reached the base of the bank perspiring profusely with an accumulation of cuts and scratches on my arms, legs and neck. The steep bank presented more of an obstacle than I anticipated, but I eventually stumbled into the car park on my hands and knees. Luckily there was nobody around to witness my foolishness.

I recovered my composure to the best of my ability in the circumstances, and gingerly made my way along the road to the store which was now a mere 200 yards away. I was so relieved to make the store  that I forgot I was brandishing a machete, and seeping blood on various parts of my body. I opened the door to the reception to be confronted by the owner and another customer who immediately stopped their conversation and stared at me with terror etched across their faces.  My fellow customer finally cut (no, he didn’t have a weapon, not that I could see anyway) the ice and asked: “Tough neighborhood????” I just replied: “Oh no, I was just taking a short cut (there’s that word again.”) The owner stammered: ” Your c–c-c-c-car is r–r-r-ready Mr. James. I replied: “Let me catch my breath, and I’ll put my machete down and get my wallet out to pay you.” The owner said: “Take your time, Sir. I’m going to the restroom for a rub down with a damp edition of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.”

A Guide to Coronavirus-Related Words and Phrases

April 13th, 2020

Asymptomatic: someone who has not show symptoms of being ill

Cluster: a disease of infection “cluster” is a place where people are affected by the same health event at the same time in higher-than-expected numbers, the CDC says.

Community spread: the term means that people in an area have become infected with the virus, including people who are not sure how, or where, they became infected.

Complications:-pneumonia is a reported complication of COVD-19.

Coronavirus: a large family of viruses that can affect people and animals. The name comes from the Latin word for “crown” which is what coronaviruses resemble under a microscope.

COVID-19– An abbreviation of “coronavirus disease 2019”, its the World Organization’s official name for the new coronavirus.

Incubation period– the amount of time it takes for a person to show symptoms after being exposed to a disease. Experts believe the incubation period of COVID-19 is between 2 days and 2 weeks.

Infectious: an infectious disease is an illness spread by pathogens, such as a virus or bacteria. They are sometimes different from person to person. Many infections are contagious, like the flu, but some, Like food poisoning, aren’t. COVID_19 is an example of a disease that is both contagious and infectious.

Isolation: isolation is put in place for people who are known to have the virus.

MERS: Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, is another known strain of coronavirus. It was first detected in 2012, and its largest outbreak occurred in 2015.

Mortality Rate: the mortality rate of a disease is defined by the CDC as the frequency of death in a given population in a given time period.. For COVID-19, it would be calculated by dividing the total number of deaths by the total number of cases.

Novel: a novel form of a disease means it is new. Before it had an official name, COVID-19 was referred to as a novel coronavirus because the strain hadn’t been seen in humans before.

Epidemic: an increase in the number of disease cases beyond what is normally expected. Often the increase is sudden, the CDC says.

N95 and surgical face masks: N95 respirator masks are the type most proven to protect you from acquiring COVID-19.

Outbreak: an outbreak is defined the same way as an epidemic but refers to a smaller geographic area.

Pandemic: a pandemic is defined by the CDC as a disease that has spread to multiple countries or continents.

Presumptive positive: A COVID-19 test result is referred to as a “presumptive positive” when a person has been tested positive by a public health laboratory but the result hasn’t been confirmed by the CDC.

Public Health Emergency: The WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency at the end of January. WHO defines a PHE as the imminent threat of an illness or health condition caused by bioterrorism, and epidemic or pandemic disease. It also defines it as an imminent threat from a highly fatal infectious agent or biological toxin  that puts a significant number of people at substantial risk.

Quarantine: in addition to separating sick people from healthy people, a quarantine also involves restricting a person’s movement.

SARS: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, is another strain of coronavirus that was reported in China in 2002. It infected more than 8000 people in 26 countries by the time the outbreak stopped in July 2013.

Self-quarantine, self-isolation: people who largely stay inside their own home, hotel room or other space are said to s-q or s-I. However, there is a technical difference. Quarantine refers to people who appear healthy, but could be at  risk for exposure or infection. Isolation refers to separating  positive or presumptive cases from the healthy population.

Shelter in place: on March 16, six counties in the San Francisco area ordered residents to “shelter in place,” a directive aimed at keeping people  in their homes for three weeks, with the order widened to the whole state a few days later. It’s now being implemented around the world. It’s a fairly strict measure aimed at curbing community spread.

Social distancing: The CDC says social distancing is one way to prevent the spread of disease. It involves staying several feet apart from others whenever possible (a minimum of 6 feet is recommended) and doing things like avoiding public transportation and other crowded areas.

Symptomatic: a person who is symptomatic is showing signs of being sick or ill. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

Transmission: Transmission refers to how a disease spreads. COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets when people cough and sneeze. Its possible that the virus can be spread by touching surfaces that are infected, but its believed to be less common.

Ventilators: it’s a machine that helps a person breathe by expanding their lungs and supplying them with oxygen when it’s too difficult to do so on their own.

Weak positive: a COVID-19 test that comes back as “weak positive” means that low levels of the virus were found.

Z00notic disease: Coronaviruses are transmitted between humans and animals-that’s the “z00” in zoonotic. It’s believed that the virus originated in a shoehorn bat before being transmitted to another animal, and then to humans. Domestic pets are not currently considered reservoirs to widely spread the disease, however. Other zoonotic diseases include anthrax, rabies, lyme disease, swine flu, West Nile virus, salmonella and malaria.

A Valentine Weekend

March 10th, 2020

Not many husbands fly their wives 4000 miles to have a romantic Valentine dinner overlooking the picturesque Torquay Bay in Devon. Well, I assured it was picturesque because it was difficult  to see in the dark. One of the restaurant’s specialties was venison which we both love. We live in Atlanta, Georgia, as regular readers will know, where deer hunting is a very popular sport. But quite bizarrely, venison is rarely served in restaurants in Atlanta and you can’t buy it in the stores. There are meat processing plants which butcher the meat for hunters, but don’t sell the product to the public.

The real reason for our impromptu visit to the UK was to attend my sister-in-law’s funeral who passed away quite suddenly. It is quite weird how a sad event can create other opportunities. I hadn’t seen one of my nieces in approximately 17 years. Neither had I met my brother’s 4 grandchildren. That’s not quite true. I met the eldest who is now 18 years old when she was toddling around in a nappy (diaper if you prefer.)

We awoke from our slumber on Saturday morning to be confronted with Storm Dennis which was pounding the Devon coastline. Winds were whipping up a storm approaching 85 mph accompanied by torrential rain resulting in serious floods. A red amber alert relating to extensive flooding was  posted for South Wales where we were heading the next day for the funeral. The Severn Bridge which is the main route from England to Wales was threatening to close if the wind velocity didn’t subside.

Fortunately Storm Dennis decided to take a breather and we tentatively  began our journey  towards the Land of Our Fathers. The rainfall was incessant, but the wind had subsided. I could deal with heavy rain having previously lived in South Wales for forty plus years.

My son also attended the funeral, and we served as pall bearers, walking side by side of the coffin into the crematorium to the dulcet tones of Abba singing “Dancing Queen.” Neither of us knew whether we should raise our hands and perform a rhythmic wave as Abba fans tend to do, but fortunately discretion was the order of the day.

We then transferred to my brother’s church for a celebration of my sister-in-law’s life. Various people came up   to share their stories of how, where and when they had met my sister-in-law and recalling the impact she had  on their lives. They were interspersed with hymns and arias, and eulogies from my brother and his two daughters. The service ended with a video of Dolly Parton displayed on a giant screen singing a gospel, her ample bosom heaving as she attempted to hit those high notes. I learnt something new again. I had known my late sister-in-law for over 55 years and didn’t know she was a fan of ABBA or Dolly Parton.

We flew home the following Thursday, but the drama was not yet done. We fly standby owing to my wife’s former status as an airline employee. The plane leaving Heathrow for Atlanta was barely full which meant we were assured seats in first class. Not so fast my friend. We were informed that we would be confined to punter’s class (economy) because there were so few passengers who had to be dispersed for weight and balance purposes. Ten hours later we were touching down at Hartsfield Airport and relieved to be home.

Little did we know that the corona virus was hot on our heels. How many rolls of toilet paper do we have love?????

 

From Cavaliers to Roundheads

February 25th, 2020

I watched Wales playing France on Saturday, and was completely depressed by their performance. To be honest, I am not a great fan of modern rugby. It reminds me so much of rugby league which to me has always been a second cousin to rugby union. That is, when rugby union was played with flair and verve. I know rugby union went through a barren period during the sixties embodied by a match between Wales and Scotland. The Welsh captain on that day was Clive Rowlands. Playing at scrum half, he received the ball  from  the lineout for the umpteenth time, and proceeded to kick for touch approximately 96 times. It was a  diabolical spectacle. His gifted half back partner, David Watkins, never received a pass.

Rowlands’ performance led to a change in the laws. It was decreed that kicking directly into touch would only be permitted from within your own twenty five. Otherwise, the ensuing lineout would be taken back from where the kick was taken.

Fifty plus years on kicking from the hand still played a huge role in Saturday’s match. But this was much worse. Wales’s Biggar and Halfpenny continued to punt the ball aimlessly up the field invariably straight into the hands of their French opponents who to their credit showed far more imagination than their Welsh opponents. Why opt to kick and give possession of the ball to your opponents allowing them to counter attack?

I guess I romanticize over the golden era of Welsh Rugby in the seventies and eighties, but with justification. They claimed that Wales had an outside half (fly half) factory churning out the next super star. Believe me, the team revolved around the outside half until the great Gareth Edwards came along and stamped his own authority on a match from scrum half. But that’s another story. Let’s concentrate on the line of fly halves that adorned the Welsh jersey in the Golden era.

David Watkins started the ball (pardon the pun) rolling when freed from the shackles of Clive Rowlands. He was replaced by a legend  called “The King”, Barry John. He received the mantel “King” from New Zealand journalists following his exploits in New Zealand in 1971 when he guided the British Lions to their first and only series win over the All Blacks.

My dad and I had endless arguments about Barry John having the talent to play for Wales let alone being regarded as the best fly half of his generation. My dad was used to fly halves making side steps to elude opponents while John  would invariably swivel his hips and glide through the opposition. Unaccountably, John retired at the premature age of 27 when he was at the peak of his career. Fortunately, Phil Bennett was waiting in the wings to take his place.

Now Bennett played a pivotal role in one of the greatest games of rugby. In 1973, the All Blacks toured Britain and Ireland and finished undefeated until the last game against the Barbarians. The Barbarians were an invitational XV, but on this occasion it comprised the majority of the British Lions squad which was so successful in 1971. This match will explain the difference in rugby style between the golden age and the ponderous modern game. Running and passing the ball, beating an opponent with deft of movement, using magical skills of fleet of foot, and slick handling. It was poetry in motion.

Instead, Wales had a great opportunity to score a try to bring them back into contention just before half time, and France had been reduced to 14 men with one player sent to the sin bin. Time and time again they attempted to bludgeon their way over the try line which was only 5 yards away when the situation cried out for a pass to their backs lined up in anticipation. Needless to say, they failed miserably and France went on to win the match despite a couple of late tries by Wales. I was angry watching their abject failure to create any kind of magic. Worse still, I was saddened by the state of Welsh rugby, and the state of the modern game in general.

Before I sign off I must mention another fly half, Jonathan Davies, who  played with a swagger and managed to stamp his own personality and range of mercurial skills on the game. He was lost to the union game far too early when he decided to take the money and go north to play rugby league as did David Watkins. Both players were highly successful in Rugby League, which in the case of Jonathan Davies left a chasm in the Welsh team. Davies was probably the last of the artisans to wear the number 10 jersey for Wales which led to an inevitable decline in Welsh rugby.

Yes, Wales have won Grand Slams in the 21st Century, but the current attitude in the game was sadly summed up by the current captain, multi-capped Alan Wyn-Jones: “Test rugby is about winning matches and throwing the ball around can be very pretty, but it is not winning.” In response I would conclude by asking: why can’t we win with flair?

The Tale of Two Coaches

January 26th, 2020

 

Please excuse me people, but I have been attempting to write this post for a few weeks now and it maybe a little out of date. Nevertheless I will write my thoughts. When Mauricio Pocchetino was sacked by Tottenham Hotspur in November, Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn’s head was also on the chopping block. Ironically their tenure and statistics at their respective clubs/teams almost ran parallel with each other, give or take some poetic license.

Pocchetino was hired by Spurs in 2014. He guided them to three top three  finishes in his first four seasons, culminating in a place in the Champions League Final in June 2019. However, they gave their fans very little to cheer by succumbing very meekly to Liverpool 0-2. The score doesn’t tell the tale of Liverpool’s dominance.

Pocchetino’s team selection was not without controversy. Lucas Mora scored a hatrick in the second leg of their semi-final with Ajax to secure their place in the final. Their star striker Harry Kane had missed a couple of months with an ankle injury, but demanded to play in the final to the exclusion of Lucas Mora. Pocchetino meekly succumbed to player pressure and  the rest is history.

Pocchetino claimed that he would have walked away if Spurs had won the Champions League because he felt he couldn’t take the club any further. In his defence,  he was hampered in developing the team by  lack of new signings in recent seasons caused in part by the construction of a new stadium which had drained their financial resources. Furthermore, the construction took much longer than anticipated and Spurs were forced to play their home games at Wembley for almost two seasons.

At the beginning of 2019-2020 season, Pocchettino resembled a man who didn’t want to be there, and several of the first team were looking for moves elsewhere none of which materialized. Consequently, the manager and team looked stale and devoid of new ideas. By November of last year, Spurs were languishing in 14th place in the Premiership and were humiliated at home by Bayern Munich losing 1-7 in a Champions League group game. Pocchettino was  summarily sacked. Not long before he had been touted as the next head coach/manager of Real Madrid or Manchester United, and perhaps of the Argentinian national team.  He is currently back in his homeland, Argentina, where he is a color analyst for one of the TV stations covering Argentinian league games.

On the other side of the pond, Dan Quinn was hired as Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons approximately around the same time as Pocchettino was appointed at Spurs. In his first season, The Falcons went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. In 2016, they finished 11-5 and clinched a placed in the Super Bowl only to lose to the New England Patriots. The loss decimated Atlanta fans because the Falcons were leading 28-3 entering the fourth quarter, but eventually lost in overtime due to what can only be construed as mismanagement by the coaching staff, not least by Dan Quinn.

Roughly the same time Pocchetino was sacked by Spurs, the Falcons finished the first half the NFL season 1-7, and Falcon fans and the local media were calling for Quinn’s head. The Falcons had finished 10-6 the season following the Super Bowl debacle but lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2018 they were decimated by injuries and they failed to make the playoffs finishing 7-9.

Subsequent to the 2019 season, Quinn announced he was taking over the defensive coordinating duties which proved to be catastrophic. The Falcons conceded 40 points in at least three of their losses culminating in their 1-7 record entering the bye week. Falcons owner Arthur Blank claimed he would take the off week to review Quinn’s position as Head Coach. Meanwhile, Quinn decided to relinquish his defensive duties handing over to two of his assistant coaches, The Falcons faired better in the second half with a 6-2 record, but 7-9 overall, missing the playoffs in successive seasons.

Unaccountably, Arthur Blank announced before the final game of the season that Quinn and the hapless general Manager, Thomas Dimitroff would be returning next season. Blank explained that “it takes a big man to admit he was wrong,” meaning Quinn realized  he had made a dog’s dinner of supervising his team’s defense. But why should it take Quinn eight games to realize the error of his ways?

In contrast it was patently obvious to any Spurs fan that Pocchetino’s days were numbered, and the club needed a fresh start. Similarly, Dan Quinn and his cohort Dimitroff should have been shown the exit door. Quinn placed the blame of the previous season’s failure to make the playoffs by firing his defensive and offensive coordinators. He followed this up by placing his neck in the defensive coordinator’s noose, and was left hanging. He should have been put out of his and our misery. I was tired of his sound bites during  the first half of the season, and I actually felt he should have been fired after losing the Super Bowl in such a pathetic fashion.

Well what can I glean from this? Professional sport in the 21st Century is success oriented. Spurs’s Chairman Daniel Levy is a shrewd operator on some levels and he realized that Pocchetino was done and dusted. In contrast Arthur Blank appears to run a” good old boys club” by admitting that he likes Quinn and Dimitroff. But I wonder how many executives he fired when he was co-owner of Home Depot for not producing the goods.

 

 

 

My Sporting Heroes

October 3rd, 2019

The title of this post is a contradiction really. Regular readers of my blog (if there are any) will know that the sporting teams I support include Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur on the football front, the Atlanta Falcons from the NFL, the Atlanta Braves from major league baseball and the Wales rugby team.

Why the contradiction? Well I have had more than my share of disappointments supporting these teams over the last few years. Swansea City were relegated from the Premiership about 18 months ago, but did survive seven seasons in the top flight whilst winning the League Cup (or whatever it was called) in 2013. Paying millions for over rated players, changing managers through a revolving  door eventually put paid to their elite status. Currently, they sit at the top of the Championship table after 10 games, but it’s a long season, so don’t hold your breath.

Where do I begin with Tottenham Hotspur? They overachieved last season by reaching the final of the Champions League, but played so flat that the late Donald Campbell could have broken the land speed record across their backs. The summer almost brought a wind of change through the management and squad. Manager Pochettino cast envious eyes towards Real Madrid, Christian Ericksen, Toby Alderwald, Danny Rose, and Jan vethongen wanted to leave. However, Real Madrid rehired Zidane as head coach, and Manchester United, another possible destination for Pocchetino, made Solksjaer their permanent manager. Meanwhile no suitable offers came in for the want away players, and they all remain members of the squad.

Rumors on the internet claimed that Vethongen had an affair with Eriksen’s girl friend, and several of the squad are not speaking to each other. I don’t know whether there’s any truth in the rumor, but Spurs suffered the worst home defeat in their history by losing 2-7 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League Group Stage last Tuesday. They looked like a team falling apart at the seams, and perhaps Pochettino has them as far as possible. Rumors are also rife that Real Madrid intend hiring him next season, and he will take Harry Kane and Eriksen with him. Speaking of Kane, he looks to have lost a yard or two in pace, and he wasn’t the fastest greyhound in the first place.

This is painful to recall, but the Falcons were leading the New England Patriots 28-3 entering the final quarter in the 2017 Super Bowl only to concede 31 unanswered points and lose the game in overtime. Following an unsinspiring 2018 season when they went 7-9 Dan Quinn decided to part with his defensive and offensive co-ordinators, and too over defensive duties. A quarter of the 2019 regular season has been played and we are currently 1-3. the not so mighty Quinn claims the team lacks consistency and they can find the solutions to a season  which is rapidly sinking like the Titanic. I put their malaise down to the three Ts: tackling, timing and turnovers. They are simply an ordinary team that has an over inflated opinion of themselves.

The Atlanta Braves last won the World Series in 1995. They should have repeated in 1996, but shot themselves in the foot. In my opinion the franchise has never fully recovered from that damaging loss to the Yankees. Yes, they managed to return to the playoffs on a few occasions since, but couldn’t add another World Series. They won 97 games this season and comfortably made the playoffs. However they never learn from previous mistakes. They rested players during the last week and half of the season, and proceeded to be swept 0-3 by the New York Mets in the last series of the season.

Once again they are playing an opponent, St Louis Cardinals, who surged into the Playoffs while the Braves appeared to take their foot of the gas and have last their momentum. There are injury worries concerning Freeman and Acuna and they have two or three inexperienced pitchers in their rotation. Game 1 and 2 are being played tonight and tomorrow in Atlanta, so watch this space.

Wales are currently involved in the Rugby World Cup, and produced a superb display last Saturday to narrowly defeat Australia. If they can win their remaining matches in the group  against Fiji and Uruguay they will top their table and avoid New Zealand and England in the quarter finals. Wales have not done particularly well in the World Cup, apart from achieving 3rd place in the inaugural event in 1987. They have found the proverbial banana skin in previous World Cups having lost to Fiji once before, so I am not counting chickens just yet.

Glamping Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

September 1st, 2019

About three months ago we returned from a ten day camping trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, not forgetting the additional sixty miles of Skyland Drive. When my wife reserved the camp sites, one definite requirement was the provision of showers. Surprisingly this necessity greatly reduced the number of campsites that provided this necessary facility. She managed to find three sites that would coincide with our itinerary, but even then the quality of the campsite varied considerably as the following notes will confirm:

Pigsah Camp Site: rest rooms were very basic. Wearing flip flops in the shower is a necessity. Individual  tent sites were too close together. It did provide a food storage bin. The Pigsah Inn was just across the road, and we enjoyed a very palatable meal there one evening.

Julian Price: Camp site was situated overlooking a lake, and definitely the best location during our trip. However, it had no provision for food storage. One piece of good fortune was the discovery of brand new showers and a gigantic stainless sink to wash dishes.

Sherando Lake: Best camp site in terms of space, privacy, outdoor furniture, and food storage. Unfortunately the rest rooms were disgusting. I guess you can’t have everything.

I make no apologies for this blog. It’s not for you if you have no interest in camping. It’s basically a review of our trip and maybe a useful guide for any readers following in our foot steps. Moving on:

Day 1, Friday May 17th

Mt. Pisgah Campground. Met our friends Tom and Bonnie @ Mt Pisgah Inn-whole trout which was filleted at the table. Noisy neighbors from South Carolina @ campground. Highest elevation @ 6000 feet. We were enjoying the idyllic scenery at one of the many overlooks when we were invaded by a car club!!! Final impression of the campground was being surrounded by  Wailers and cacklers and dealing with a broken concrete table.

Day 2 Saturday

Hiking Graveyard Fields, Upper Falls, Devil’s Courthouse. Theresa attempted to make friends with a Four Inch grasshopper in the ladies shower, but her screams reverberating around the camp site confirmed it was not a successful liaison. Built a fire courtesy of Tom’s wood, cooked brats. In that mountain greenery where God paints the scenery….. Views of rolling hills as the eye can see. Spectacular.

Day 3, Sunday

Visited Tom and Bonnie on our way to next campsite. Popped in at Crabtree Falls-insufficient time to explore. Marker for next time. Stopped at Linville Falls. Orange Moon over Julian Price Lake. Quieter clientele thankfully.

Day 4, Monday

Linville Falls leading to Chimney View and Upper Falls. Picnic at Linville Picnic Area. Cone/Flat Manor was a tedious looking building devoid of any character. Even more tedious was the gift shop. I was quite taken by a wooden bowl until I was informed by a snobby sales assistant that I would have to part with $350 to take it home. Missed Grandfather Mountain hike, but drove across Lincove Viaduct.

Day 5, Tuesday

No hiking today. Drove to Blowing Rock for lunch. Attractive little town not far off the Parkway, suffused with antique and craft stores. Adequate number of bars and restaurants to cater for all tastes. Ate at the Sixpence Pub which has a sister pub of the same name in Savannah. Continued onto Boone which is dominated by Appalachian State University. Bit of a tip really.

Day 6, Wednesday

Breaking camp, welcomed by a cool foggy start to the day. Visited Mabry Mill which was very photogenic. Re-enactment Exhibit at Explore Park closed in 2007 in case your guide book is old like ours. Explore Park has nothing else to offer.

Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is not as mountainous as North Carolina. Attractive vistas but not as dramatic  at NC. Taking a break from camping, and stayed one night at Peaks Of Otter Lodge. Look out for 3 mountain peaks: Sharp Top (4000 feet,) Flat Top and Harkening Hill. Lodge and adjoining Abbott Lake constructed and opened in 1964. Satisfied our purpose, but I wouldn’t stay longer than one night.

Day 7, Thursday

Said our farewell to the Lodge and visited the James River. Why not? Discovered an historic sluice (1851.) Next stop: Natural Bridge and discovered a dead tree that survived until 1980-1600 years old. Arrived at Sherando Lake Campsite. Best campsite pound for pound. Wildlife spotted so far; turkey, fox, deer and black snake.

Day 8, Friday

Hiked up Humpback Rocks, 700 foot rise in elevation from bottom to top in one mile. Met a brother and sister from Richmond. He had just graduated, and was leaving for Togo for 27 months. Why would anyone elect to spend 27 months in Togo?

Lunch at Blue Mountain Brewery. Found a Kroger in Waynesboro which was its only saving grace.

Day 9, Saturday

Drive to Skyland Lodge, and entered the Shenedoah National Park. Experienced our “first bear jam.” Transition from being in virual wild to noisy civilization can only be described as shock to the system. Sky Lodge: room fine, views great, food and service sucked. Clearly understaffed for Memorial Day Weekend, so service was abysmal and food was deplorable.

Day 10, Sunday

We enjoy a challenge, so we decided to drive the 600 miles home. End of a great adventure.

 

 

My Mum: Part 2

June 15th, 2019

I have two stand out memories involving my brother and I with regard to my mum. We both attended Penlan Comprehensive and initially we came home for lunch. Well one Monday lunch time my mum served up bubble and squeak which comprised left overs from Sunday’s roast dinner. My brother and I refused to eat it, and we were sent packing with no food in our bellies. My mum was mortified, but it didn’t dawn on me until later that she had no other food in the house and no money to pay for it.

One summer we were getting on my mum’s nerves. Something was said and she chased us out of the house, but she continued to come after us. Now the prefab was single storey and had a flat roof. It also had a trellis which we used to climb onto the roof to avoid capture, unbeknown to my mum. She continued to make several laps of the prefab until one of the neighbors cried out: “Vi, the boys are on the roof!!!” Thank goodness she saw the funny side of the situation.

I’ve touched a little on her stubborn streak, and the next tale merely emphasizes the point. It was during the Swansea Blitz back in 1941. My mum hated going down to air raid shelters because they were “grimy, smelly and generally full of people.” My mum had recently purchased a new red overcoat, and she was going out for the evening with my Dad. However an air raid siren pierced proceedings  and she decided they would shelter in a door way on the way up the street. Unfortunately the Luftwaffe proceeded to drop a bomb on the other side of the street and my mum’s brand new coat was covered in dust. She screamed out in indignation: “Jack, look at my coat, look at my coat!” My Dad replied: “Never mind your bloody coat, we could have been killed!!!!”

One summer my mum and dad boarded the paddle steamer which left Swansea and headed towards Ilfracombe North Devon for the day. At the end of the day they missed the boat returning to Swansea, and were forced to take the milk train (red eye?) back to Swansea arriving home in the early hours of the morning. We had no telephone and had no idea what happened. I asked my Dad how did they manage to miss the boat and he told me to ask my mum. So I did and she said: “I don’t want to talk about it!!!”

In the last twenty years of her life she showed great courage and resilience in fighting a crippling illness, rheumatoid arthritis, which grew steadily worse over time. This debilitating illness was exacerbated by a nasty ulcer on her leg. She eventually required plastic surgery on her leg which was performed at Chepstow Hospital’s Burns Unit. She never complained, but was worried about my Dad who had succumbed to another dreadful disease, Alzheimer’s.

It was not long after she left hospital that my Dad had to be admitted to Cefn Coed Hospital where he would spend the rest of his days. I believe I only witnessed my mum cry twice, the first time was when my nana passed away in 1960 and secondly when we drove my Dad to hospital. Ironically my Dad was admitted around about their 50th Anniversary, which was a hollow feeling for my mum considering the circumstances. Three months later my mum suffered a heart  attack and passed away. Now this may sound clichéd, but there is no doubt in my mind she died of a broken heart. She couldn’t bear the thought of my dad cooped up in a mental institution, and it was truly the last straw.

She gave me so much support and encouragement during my life particularly when I was going through a nasty divorce. She made a telling comment when I told her not to worry about me because I was a middle aged man capable of looking after myself. She replied: “You are my son and I will always worry about you regardless of your age.” I didn’t  think much of the comment at the time, but she was absolutely right. I find myself worrying about my own kids who are in their late thirties, and I only wish my mum was still around  to ask her advice or seek guidance now and again.

She was cremated and we scattered her ashes at Pennard Castle, and  she had own distinctive way of saying goodbye. I grabbed a handful of ashes and cast them into the wind only for the ashes to blow back into my face. What an exit!!!

Rest in Peace Mum (1920-1992.)

This blog is dedicated to my grand daughter Alice Violet who was given her second name by my son in memory of my mum and his Nana, Vi (Violet.)