Saturday, February 28, 2009

Game by game

"It is not realistic to look at the league title now.... to be intelligent now is to go game by game and think about who is directly in front of us. Now we have to make sure we put a run of wins together and don't lose more points."

- Cesc Fabregas, The Guardian

The game against Fulham kicks off at 2am tonight, and I'm wondering whether I should take a nap before it starts. On one hand, I get a bit pissed off when I've got to wake up in the middle of the night. On the other hand, I'm actually pretty tired and could use the sleep. It's tougher than I thought to adjust to real life again.

It's a bit like trying to adjust to the reality of Arsenal missing that Champions League spot. It's going to happen. We're not going to get 4th. Our side is pedestrian and bereft of ideas, and the only thing the addition of Arshavin has done is show us just how stale we are. And when Cesc Fabregas comes out and says that we're not fighting for the title, you know things are going really, really bad.

We're six points behind Villa, and Villa don't look like they're going to stumble. Villa did the pragmatic thing the other day and tanked their UEFA Cup game in Russia, in order to concentrate on the Premiership. They know they've a unique opportunity here, and they're not going to throw it away. If we're going to catch them, we're going to have to go on a some sort of incredible run from here on end.

I'm wondering about where our players' heads are at at the moment. The size of the challenge is pretty daunting. Our squad is in a pretty bad state, and there won't be any more reinforcements. We're not scoring and we're playing pretty bad football. I wonder whether the players are focussed on grinding out wins for the Arsenal, or whether they've already had a discreet word with their agents to look for another club at the end of the season.

And I'm wondering about myself. Nothing's changed since I left Australia, but everything seems different. You come back with fresh eyes and you can see the size of mess that you've been wallowing in. It's a daunting sight, and you're not sure you can fix it. You're not even sure you know where to begin. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to cut and run, and spend another six months of your life trying to find yourself.

But Cesc's right - the only thing to do is to deal with what's directly in front of you.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Keep dreaming, Kalou

"Because he is a very great coach and I know that every single player in the world dreams of playing for Arsène Wenger. I have a lot of respect for him, he is one of the best coaches in the world, so why not?"

- Salomon Kalou, soon to be a Gunner?

I think he's laying it on a bit thick, is old Sal.

I love Arsene Wenger with an almost indecent fervor, but I'm not blind to his faults. He's not a great tactician, selects his favorites ahead of better players, and he's as stubborn as a mule when he's wrong. Wenger is a great manager, probably one of the best in the world, but at Arsenal, we're all worried he's losing the plot.

I wondering for how long Arsene Wenger will be held in such high esteem. The guy's had an amazing career, and has produced some wonderful teams in the past, but his best years were five or six years ago. The current team is mediocre and inconsistent. It plays really well in the big games, and then slides into apathy for the lesser ones. This isn't a team that'll win big trophies, but unfortunately for Wenger, it is the one that he's pinned his whole reputation upon.

The amazing thing about the Arshavin saga was that Arshavin wanted to come to the Arsenal. If he'd taken a look at the way we've been playing for the past few months, he'd know that we're low on confidence and form, and really struggling for goals. He'd know about the discipline problems and the complacency, and the scary distance between Man Utd and the also-rans, and then the distance between the also-rans and us.

We're quite far down the pecking order, these days.

Kalou, however, still thinks it's a dream to play for the Arsenal. Wouldn't mind him in the side, to to honest. One thing we lack is pace, and Kalou brings plenty of that. We could bung him on the right, and have a midfield of Arshavin, Nasri, Cesc and Kalou, with Denilson as a pure DM. That's a pretty decent midfield, in my opinion.

Maybe we should snap up Kalou before he wakes up.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Coming Home

So little time
Try to understand that I'm
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake just remember my name
But everybody's changing 
And I don't feel the same

- Keane, Everybody's Changing

It's the 23rd of February, and in a couple of hours I'm going to board a plane back home. Six months away, and with a passport full of stamps and something nasty incubating in my lungs, I'm finally going home. 

When I started this trip, I had a loose idea of where I wanted to be at the end of it. I won't elaborate upon it, because it's basically a pile of fantasy built on cotton-candy, but suffice to say it didn't go according to plan. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. John Lennon sang that life is what happens to you when you're busy making plans, and that's basically the way it goes. Things always get more interesting when you take the scenic route. 

But the end of the trip is staring me in the face right now. I can feel its eyes upon mine and its whiskers tickling my cheeks and I can smell its foul, fetid breath fogging up my glasses. It's here, travelling beside me, waiting to escort me back home. 

In another two hours, I'll be on that plane and in another nine, I'll be home. And then it's back to reality. Back to angst and toil and the blunt edge of hopelessness. Back to that gnawing doubt that the clock's ticking away and that everything's passing me by. And a part of me is reluctant to get back into it, because I know how much effort it'll take to couple myself back to the system, to get back on my little hamster wheel and run, run, run. 

And that part wishes that that ticket to Melbourne could be fudged to read Mumbai, or Madrid, or Montreal, or Montevideo....

It probably sounds a bit ungrateful, I know. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

0-0 to the Arsenal

"It is the story of Arsenal's season. There has not been enough creativity on the pitch. This was their fourth consecutive draw in the Premier League – and the last three have been goalless."

- Amy Lawrence, The Guardian

I'm sick as a Rosicky at the moment, so I slept through last night's match against Sunderland. Anyway, between the coughing, the fevers and the sweating, I doubt I would've had much energy to lambast the Arsenal for another 0-0 draw against opposition we really should be pumelling. I certainly wouldn't have had the energy to boo the team off the pitch.

But I've read the reports, and they're not pretty. It's another 0-0 draw, and we haven't scored in what, three games? Fucking hell. Arshavin's going to be good, but I wonder if he'd been keeping an eye of the Premier League table before he signed with us. We're not exactly winning friends or trophies with these performances.

People say the Owl will save our season, but it's a bit of a long shot. He hadn't played a competitive game since Novemeber and he won't be a match winner until next season. If we're going to dig our way out of this mess, we're going to have to look within. Which means, relying on Denilson, Song and Eboue to get us out of this mess.

Fucking hell.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chungking Mansions

"There is no place in Asia quite so multicultural as Tsimshatsui—not Roppongi, not Xintiandi, not even Khao San Road. And from the center of the area's polyglot hordes rises the great sleepless citadel known as Chungking Mansions."

- Liam Fitzpatrick, Time magazine

Dave laughed when I told him I was staying at Chungking Mansions. 

"I'm impressed. Six months ago you wouldn't have stepped foot in there, but now... you're a bad arse. Chung King Mansions is the worst place in Hong Kong. It's full of illegal immigrants and drug traffickers and prostitutes... you're lucky you haven't been killed or mugged. It's in the news all the time. It's a fire hazard - it burnt down a few years ago. There're clips of it on youTube. Google it."*

I tried to tell him that it wasn't that bad. 

It's a bit awkward when you first step off the bus and five touts surround you trying to get you to go to their hostel. And it's a bit strange when you walk into the foyer and it's full of dodgy looking Indians and Africans hanging around in a beaten-up shopping mall, and everything looks worn, fake or stolen. But it's really not that bad. The touts are really quite friendly when you talk to them. And the other characters are interesting enough. They're just scratching out a living like everyone else, and it's really not much different than the dodgy parts of Springvale or Footscray or Broadmeadows. 

Really, it's probably the most interesting place in Hong Kong. The rest of Kowloon is dirty and worn and like what I remember from the stories I heard from my mother. Over the bay, on Hong Kong Island, the city's gleaming and modern and a picture-postcard of capitalist excess. That strip along Nathan Rd, though, is like a bit of New York in the middle of Hong Kong. Ghetto-chic, I suppose you'd call it. Liam Fitzpatrick might be blowing smoke up your arse with that article, but he's blowing quite softly.
amazoned Gordon Mathews, the Chungking Mansions anthropologist cited in this article, and the one who coined the phrase "the best example of globalisation in the world", and he writes some interesting stuff about Hong Kong. Going to have to hunt around the bookstores around here when I have a chance. I'm shuddering at the cost, though. 

Off on a tangent, but why is google a verb, but amazon not? 

Hong Kong is bleeding me dry. I'm leaking money every time I move, and I can't seem to stop the haemorrhage. I've about 250€ left in the bank, and it's disturbing to realise that it's not going to go very far. It's staggering to think that I've still four days left until the flight to Melbourne, and I'll probably blow the lot by Saturday. Actually, it's pretty nauseating, considering how tight I was in Europe. 

Just booked the last hostel I'll ever use on this trip, a little two-day tripper over to Macau. Got a bit sentimental about it, actually. Might print out the receipt and stick it on the wall back home - at least, I will if I can make it out of Chungking alive. 

* It's more a reconstruction of a night's conversation rather than a faithful reproduction. I really can't remember things verbatim anymore. He did say I was a bad arse, though, which was nice of him. When I get home, I'm going to stake out my claim as being the baddest mofo on the east side of the Yarra. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The World Is Round

"I was in Bangalore, India, the Silicon Valley of India, when I realised that the world was flat."

- The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman

I was in Hong Kong, China, one of the commerical hubs of East Asia, when I remembered that the world is still painfully round when you're a gooner in the eastern hemisphere. 

We beat Cardiff 4-0 last night, and I didn't see it. Eduardo scored two goals, and apparently, we purred like a kitten being stroked by lambswool mittens. But I can't really say, because I didn't see it. It happened eight time zones away, sometime between the hours of 3 and 4. And once again, watching Arsenal has become a painfully difficult interest to pursue. 

Well done Eduardo, though. He's a good player, and I wish him well. It takes a lot of courage to come back after such a bad injury, and I hope he recovers well enough to take a first-team spot off Adebayor's hands. We could use a guy who knows how to score goals - we've been missing that for a while, now. 

Meanwhile, I don't think it's coincidence that the first great performance we've had for a long, long while took place the game immediately after I got my Theo Walcott shirt back. I bought the thing six months ago, and we started thumping sides 3-0 and 4-0. I stored it away in London while I travelled through Europe, and then we declined. And now, with that Arsenal shirt tucked safely away in my backpack, we're back to thumping sides 4-0. 

If I was Catholic, I'd be beatified by now. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Madeleine Moments

"And as soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me... the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."

- Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust

I took a walk through Leicester Square this afternoon. 

The sky was bluish, the sun was kind of shining, and it wasn't raining or snowing or sleeting. It was actually kind of pleasant walking through the twisting, winding streets, with all those bars and pubs and restaurants lining the footpaths. I think it's my favourite little bit of London, that bit between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, with Trafalgar Square to the south and the Five Points to the east. 

Nice to have seen it one last time. 

It's my last full day in London, and it's pretty much the end of my trip. Just a stop-over in Hong Kong left, and then I'm back to Melbourne and back to reality. I've an old job to slunk back to, and an old rut waiting for me back home. 

It's not without a fair bit of trepidation that I'm going back. I'm not ecstatically happy at the moment, but I'm pretty much content. Six months on, and I'm relatively sane. And I've discovered that of all the things worth valuing, sanity is probably up there alongside allegiance to a beautiful football club and a facebook account. And since Arsenal's in the shits at the moment, and I've never bothered with facebook, I should treasure my sanity all the more. 

I've been thinking about why I'm writing this in a blog. 

Partly, it's because I've a relentless monologue in my mind that needs some kind of release. Partly, it's for my brother, who reads it now and then and probably wants to know where I've been; and I suppose, for him, this blog is a bit like to those "Hi Mum!" signs you occasionally see at sporting events. But mostly, it's for those times in the future when I need a reminder of what it felt like when, for six months, I put aside everything and just lived.

It's my little bit of madeleine dipped in tea, I suppose. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

End of the line

The train slips gently out of the station. A tiny, almost imperceptible bump, an we're away. It gains a bit of speed as we pass through the suburbs of Paris, and now that we're in open countryside, we're hammering down the line. It's got to be at least 300 kilometres from Paris to Calais, but we're going to do it in under two hours. 

I gave my guidebook away this morning to James, the Irish guy from Wrexford. He's just starting out, and I'm finishing up. It feels nice to give it away. It's letting go of a little bit of the past. That book's been with me for six months now, and it's all I've breathed at times. I've traced the legs of my trip on the maps, and I've poured over the historical overviews to refresh my memory of things past.

But it's over now. My time's up, and it's better to let it go. If I'd kept it, it'll be up on the shelf in a month's time, and won't budge from that spot until I feel like a bit of dusting. It'll be nice to think that James will get some use out of it, and pass it on to the next guy when he's finished with it. 

James seems a bit lost, to tell the truth. He tells me that he's sick of Ireland, and he's going to stay away until the thought of returning home doesn't fill him with revulsion. He's after an experience that's so completely different to his way of life that he'll have a renewed appreciation for al those things he's taken for granted. 

I suppose we're all looking for the same thing. A lot of the people I've met have the same disaffection for the life they lead, and want something else. And they're all wandering around, trying to find it. 

Like Taylor, who followed his girlfriend to Spain and ended up running a hostel. I wonder if, when he's having a drink on the balcony and watching the sun bounce off the Alhamra, he marvels about how the steps from Iowa to Granada. 

Like David, the itinerant English sketch artist, is wandering around southern Spain until he doesn't feel like he has to anymore. He gave up his corporate job a few years back, and he's saving up for another pilgrimage to Santiago. He calls himself the lost photographer, and he always says that when he finds out where he is, he'll stop and stay. 

Like Jiat, the reluctant Korean conscript, who's probably in the Baltic states by now. He's planning one big trip across the Trans-Siberian railway before he starts his compulsory two year stint in the army. He's shit-scared of the neo-Nazis in Moscow, but he's even more scared of his future back home. 

I don't know. Nigel's somewhere in Syria by now. Dylan's back in Alberta, enduring sub zero temperatures and planning his next trip abroad. Michael's back in Adelaide, preparing to go back to uni, and Mil and Sally are back in Melbourne enduring the heatwave.

I wonder if anyone ever finds what they're looking for. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Huis Clos

I wonder if existentialists believe in zombies?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Louvre

"You never do the Louvre. The Louvre does you. It's so big that you'll collapse after four hours and shake your fist up at the Louvre and shout "Damn you Louvre! You win."."

- James, the tour guide from a couple of days

I spent the whole day in the Louvre today. I figured it's a big place, and there's a lot to see, so I'd need a day to do it justice. I quite enjoy walking around museums, normally, and the Louvre is reputed to be the best. There's nothing like being a couple feet away from something so mind-numbingly beautiful that it still looks nice when behind a metre-thick pane of bullet-proof glass. 

It's quite a sight, the Louvre. They say that, despite holding countless works of art, the real masterpiece of the Louvre is the Louvre. It's a plush, grand, expansive, elegant, refined, sumptuous, decadent building. And it's big. 

It was originally designed as a fort to guard against Viking raiders. The old fort is still in the bowels of the complex, and you can walk around the foundations of the wall and the central tower. Over the years, the kings added wings and galleries and more hallways until they bankrupted the state and pissed off the peasants enough to spark a revolution. 

Must've been hard on the peasantry, but can't argue with the results. 

Wish I could say the same about the art inside. After all the hype, it's a bit disappointing, to be honest. The Mona Lisa is pretty homily. The Venus de Milo has a mannish jaw and flat hips. But the Winged Victory of Samothrace is pretty good looking - shame about the face, though. 

Friday, February 6, 2009


"I didn't know how people could fall love in Paris, but now I'm here, I can understand."

- Chris, the Texan guy from the hostel, as we walked along the Seine.

I don't quite know what to say about Paris. 

It is the prettiest city I've ever seen, and I've seen quite a few pretty cities in the past few months. It's got the elaborate fin-de-siecle buildings of Prague, but without the gaudy ornaments. It's got the grand boulevards of Vienna, but on a larger scale. It's got the bistros of Madrid, and the elegance of Barcelona, and the teeming mass of London. 

The boulevards are lined with elm trees. The buildings are uniform in height and uniform in style. The Seine winds through it in a sweeping, lazy curve. And it's really something to see it when the sun's shining and the weather's reasonably warm. 

It incorporates a lot of the attributes of all the great cities I've visited, but it somehow wraps them all up in a sophisticated, elegant sheen. It's like all other cities are imitations of the grandeur that is Paris. And in Barcelona's case, that's literally true. 

But most of all, Paris is so damn French. 

I can't get over how French Paris is. It's so stereotypically, baguette-carryingly, cigarette smokingly, wine-drinkingly, cheese-eatingly French that I burst out in giggles about every five minutes. It couldn't be more French if everyone was called Pierre and wore berets and blue-and-white stripped shirts (which they don't). 

It's hilarious.

The other day, I was sitting at the top of the Champs-Elysees, near the Arc de Triomphe. This old, portly French woman sat beside me, wrapped up in a huge fur coat and bedecked with jewels. She couldn't have looked more French if she'd been walking a poodle that had been dipped in Chanel No.5. A gypsy woman came up to ask for money, and the French woman said "I don't speak English" and told her something else in French. Whatever she said made the gypsy woman very agitated, and she yelled at the French woman before she stormed away.

A minute later, in English, I asked her what she said to the gypsy woman. 

"Oh, I just told her to go away," she replied. 

I'm sure something was lost in translation - just wish I knew what it was. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Owl Has Landed

"Thank you, I am happy to be in Arsenal. It was my dream."

- Andrei Arshavin, twice voted Russia's "Owliest Player", and now a Gunner

Finally, we've signed Andrei Arshavin. 

It's been over a month since the transfer window opened. A lot of us expected to wrap Arshavin up in the first couple of weeks, and then move on to the next target, and then the next. A creative midfielder was needed, but of greater importance was an experienced defensive midfielder; and a central defender; and a new goalkeeper. Actually, a creative midfielder probably wasn't that high on most people's wish-list. However, in these dire times, any buy's a good buy. 

But in January, we waited. 

I remember walking around Barcelona at the time, trying to liken Arsenal's impeding shopping spree with my own. I needed a new coat; and a new sweater; possibly even a scarf. And anything else that would keep the cold out. In my mind, I envisaged dumping my existing clothes en masse at the Oxfam shop and then stocking up on a whole new set. 

But just as Arsenal dithered over the transfer fee for Arshavin, I dithered over my shopping spree. Everything is so damn expensive in Spain that even the 50% discounts were above my intended price range. I hesitated at clothes that would've kept me toasty, just because the price meant I'd be eating nothing but bread for a week. 

And I kept an eye out on the Arshavin deal. As the transfer window dwindled down, I started getting really pissed off that Arshavin wasn't signed. Zenit were holding out for an extra £2.5 million, and we weren't budging. It didn't make sense to risk losing Arshavin because of such a small figure (it's less than the gate receipts for a home game). 

Finally, the evening before I flew out, during the last few days of the post-Jan sales, I spied a coat, reduced from 99€ to 20€. And I'm reasonably happy with it. It's warm enough to fend off pneumonia, without ever giving me the comfort of being hot. And it's still a bit odd wearing something that doesn't stink of sweat, but I'll get used to it.

There's a moral in there somewhere. I think it's called opportunity-cost. I spent four weeks wandering around Barcelona and Madrid shopping for clothes and freezing my arse off, just to save 50€. And Arsenal spent four weeks dithering over Arshavin just to save £2.5 million. Both of us could've just paid that little bit more and used the time for other pursuits, but neither of us did. 

All to save a couple of fucking bob. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


"Fuck the Irish, fuck the English, fuck the Nationalists and the fucking Unionists - fuck the whole sodding lot of you."

- what I wanted to say to the guy running the Free Derry museum, but didn't. 

When I left the museum, I just smiled and nodded. The guy running the Free Derry museum looks to be a real hard bastard, and I wager he'd be able to flatten me without raising a sweat. So when I left the museum, I decided not to chance offending him by swearing at everyone on the whole fucking island. 

But still, after walking through Bogside today, and Shankill yesterday, it's shitting me off. When I was a kid, I remember watching the news and getting confused about Northern Ireland. In my mind, every conflict had a villain and a saint, and I was having trouble figuring out who was the goodie and who was the baddie. 

Turns out I needn't have bothered. Both sides were fucking nuts. 

It's not like they don't have just cause, I suppose. There are enough incidents littered throughout the Troubles for communities to pick up weapons and defend their own. And Bloody Sunday was appalling no matter how you look at it. But it's galling to see the same reasons used by both sides, the same insults and grievances, and in the end, the same bloody outcomes. 

And to think that it all started because some fucking English king wasn't content with ruling only one cold, wet, mouldy island in the middle of the North Sea, but wanted the other one as well. And because the locals proved intractable, he decided to ship over good, solid British folk. Fucking English. Reminds me of this Renton quote from Trainspotting:

"Some people hate the English, but I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. We can't even pick a decent culture to the colonized by. We are ruled by effete arseholes. It's a shite state of affairs and all the fresh air in the world will not make any fucking difference."

I've been thinking that those sentences should be written in gold ink. In the preamble of every constitution of every fucking Commonwealth nation in the world. Half the world shared the English affliction at one stage or another, and it's weighed upon some countries heavier than upon others. Just Ireland's poor luck that they got the motherload of English shite. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Girl from Mars

Sitting in our dreamy days by the water's edge, 
On a cold summer's night.
Fireflies and stars in the sky,
Gentle, glowing light, 
From your cigarette.
The breeze blowing softly on my face,
Reminds me of something else.
Something that in my memory has been misplaced,
Suddenly it all comes back

For a long, long while, this was my favourite song in the world. And it's been playing around in my mind for a couple of days now, ever since I went to Belfast. 

I had some genuine reasons for heading to Belfast, you know. I've a flight leaving there in a few days, for one. I only had an 8 day visa for Ireland and needed to camp out in the UK, for another. I'd been curious about the Northern Irish conflict since I was a kid and wanted to see signs of the Troubles with my own eyes, for a third. 

But as soon as I got off the bus, my eyes flicked over the passenger lounge to see if she was there. As I walked down Great Victoria St, I kept glancing around. In fact, the whole time I was in Belfast, I kept looking around me - just in case. She lives in a town quite near to Belfast, and I suppose if she's wanting a night out, or a bit of shopping, she'd head for Belfast. I got chills from walking around the city, wishing and dreading the prospect of bumping into her. 

I don't think I'm psychotic, but for those two days, it definitely felt that way. 

Belfast is a grand little city - possibly the second grandest little city in the world - but I'm seriously glad I'm out of it. I've seen the Shankill murals and the slanting Albert Clock Tower. I've had a drink at the Crown Bar and ate some of the greasiest, fattest, most heart-stoppingly foul food I've ever known. 

But all I'll remember is walking around its chilly streets and humming that song.