He’s sleeping on the couch now

Although I’ve visited the Emirates on many occasions and often stopped into the Armoury shop, I have rarely purchased anything. The Armoury is a huge retail space at the west end of the stadium nearest Holloway road. On a match day, it is bustling with people looking to buy jerseys, jackets, key chains, dish towels, pencils, hats, golf balls, oven mitts branded with the Arsenal logo. If you want to see a model of efficiency in printing money, you need only watch the system of queuing to pay for merchandise at the Armoury.

The reason I am so familiar with this model is that I decided I need a jersey. Adidas is again Arsenal’s shirt maker, and I happen to love the new home jersey. I’ve also never owned the home jersey, so this is the year! After we got off the Tube at Arsenal station, we walked to the other end of the station and parted with some cash. Then we walked all around the stadium, taking in the new art, the fans, and the sunny day. 

By the time we got to our gate I was getting quite nervous about getting to our seats, because getting through Security at the Emirates is not nearly as efficient as buying a jersey at the Armoury. We had seen droves of people backed up at every entrance as we walked around. Because I had a bag from shopping, I had to get it tagged, but the tagging area is very close to the “Ladies search” area. I separated from my husband to be tagged and searched. I should know better than to worry because the lines for ladies to get through Security are always much, much shorter than for the guys. So much shorter that I noticed a few guys trying to get through the ladies line by pretending they were with ladies whom they were chivalrously escorting through Ladies’ Search. A bearded gentleman to my left kept chatting me up as we got closer to the Ladies Search area, I think to appear to be with me.

After I was searched, the Security guard turned to him and asked, “Why are you here, sir?” “Oh! I used to be a bloke,” he explained good naturedly. She looked like the kind of woman who would never succumb to a line like that. But looks are deceiving: She let him through.

20191027_162754I got to my seat just before kickoff. The fans seemed well-engaged and were in good voice. It was a good thing I got to my seat before kickoff because we scored quickly. Arsenal got a quick corner kick. On Pepe’s first try, he didn’t even pass the first defender, but it got kicked out so he was able to give it another shot. This time, Crystal Palace made such a hash of the clearance that Sokratis was able to bounce it crazily off the ground and into the net. 1-0. Only a few minutes later, David Luiz scored in a similar situation. 2-0.

I don’t think anyone in the stadium felt the game was won at that point. We toiled more than we should have and it felt like Aubameyang couldn’t get any service at all. Lacazette got better service but, honestly, it looked like he’d been prematurely rushed back from injury. He didn’t look sharp, or at least he didn’t look like he could successfully evade the kind of attention he was getting from Crystal Palace’s defenders. At some point, Crystal Palace got the ball to Zaha, who carried it into the box, where any moron would say he’d been fouled by our boy, Calum Chambers, and earned a penalty. Every moron except the special moron that is Martin Atkinson, that is. He gave Zaha a yellow card for simulation. All of this was correctly overturned, after a long wait, by VAR, and Crystal Palace got the penalty kick they deserved. They did not miss. 2-1.

The second half didn’t look very promising, and before long, some poor defensive play by Arsenal allowed Crystal Palace to score again. Granit Xhaka allowed a ball to be crossed and David Luiz wasn’t close to the player who received it. He made no mistake and it was 2-2. 

What happened next was hard to see. You heard me say a few days ago that I don’t understand why Xhaka is untouchable as a starter. Although you can see that he has some utility, he’s not a guy a team should be built around and yet, that is what seems to have happened. He is also the team captain, nominated by his fellow players. So they must clearly see him in a light that is different from the light we fans see him in. He does appear to be a confident figure, tall and commanding. But he is extremely fallible: Commits a lot of costly and pointless fouls, chases the ball, misses his mark. 

After he was nominated captain, I found it interesting that when other players commented on the decision, they highlighted his propensity for handing out team fines. I find that weird, but I recall the same kind of commentary about Per Mertesacker when he was captain. A soccer leader is someone who notices the faults in others and holds them accountable. Ok, then!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, when Xhaka was removed from a home game before the end, the fans cheered. Normal fan behavior when a player comes off is applause from the fans, a polite, “thanks for your work.” Cheering is not done. On that day, he’d been having a real stinker and I think fans were still smarting from the nomination to Captaincy. In yesterday’s match, I didn’t think he played too badly. Anyway, Unai Emery substituted him at about the normal 60 minutes for a first sub and the fans cheered. Xhaka repaid the fans by leaving the pitch, with his team tied 2-2 in a clearly winnable game, as slowly as he possibly could. By the time he got to the sidelines he was being actively booed and jeered by the section closest to the player’s seats, and he was milking it as negatively as possible by putting his hand to his ear. He took off his shirt and went right down the tunnel. Total damper and downer. 

He was replaced by a youngster, Saka, and things did go a bit better after that. Martin Atkinson made a special point of calling every flop by Crystal Palace a foul. We still had at least one sub that could be made when the fans began singing useful information for Unai Emery:

We’ve got Özil

Mesut Özil

I just don’t think you understand

He’s Arsene Wenger’s man

Better than Zidane

We’ve got Mesut Özil

Everybody knew that Özil was not going to be substituted no matter how nicely we sang and suggested because, once again, he didn’t even make the bench. But, yes, we all wonder, “Why?” How is it possible that someone with that level of skill, our most highly compensated player, is not able to start or even make the bench, especially when you see our forwards starved of service? It is confounding.

Sokratis ended up scoring again, but for no reason we can understand, it was ruled not a goal by VAR. At the field, you don’t get any information about why a goal was disallowed and you don’t get to see any replays. Like many people, after the match was over, I’ve watched replay after replay of the build up to that goal. There is simply no reason that anyone could rule it disallowed. None. But it happened anyway.

20191027_152517The game ended to boos, I think by that time, mostly directed at the officiating. The crowd walking back to the Tube was deeply philosophical, judging who was at fault for the various events of the day. There was much to discuss, from the ineffectual coaching, to why other teams are having no problem sorting us out, to the Xhaka moment and the various parties to blame (Xhaka, Emery, the fans), to what value VAR can/cannot offer.

We headed over to Shoreditch again, because you know Sunday means roast, my favorite British tradition. Leaving nothing to chance, I booked dinner at the Princess of Shoreditch as soon as we had our tickets to the match. I had the beef loin roll and my husband had hake. For dessert, trifle and some chocolatey thing. It was delicious, as always.

Because we’d failed in our quest to get London Pride beer on Saturday night, my husband felt we really needed to top off our dinner at the Astronomer, a pub near our hotel. We settled in with our beer and were befriended by a guy who claimed he was from Cypress and an Arsenal fan. I found he did not seem to know much about the team or the match that had just been played. However, he did have an interest in our buying him beer.

Now some of you who know me or have read my blog for a while know that I had kids late in life and prematurely had gray hair. I started dyeing it after learning that my young kids were embarrassed when people assumed I was their grandmother instead of their mother. But after I moved to California with my new job, I decided I was done with all that. I let it grow out and now have a head of salt and pepper. It’s a great color, but it does make me look older. I can take it, or so I thought.

In the course of our conversation with the guy from Cypress, he gestured at me and asked my husband, “Is this your mum?” 

Now what would you say, guys, if you were put into this impossible situation? 

My husband didn’t skip a beat. “She’s my grandmum!” 

“Ah, you’re a good bloke, taking your grandmum to the match,” said my new mate. He seemed very pleased that he had complimented me in this way. I smiled nicely at him while noting internally that he would never, ever see a beer from me.

My husband and I had a pretty good laugh about that after our friend left. 

He’s sleeping on the couch from now on. 🙂

I can only hope the significant others of Martin Atkinson, the VAR genius, Xhaka, and Unai Emery follow my lead.

That time before the match when you don’t quite know what to do

We’ve been to London so many times now, that it is now sometimes a struggle to come up with new things we’d like to do. I know—third world problems. It was sunny, albeit cold, when we woke up in the morning, so we decided to do as the British Air travel podcast suggested and take a walk around Covent Gardens. 

We decided to take in a quick breakfast, and were seeking a Costa or Caffe Nero. It turned out many of them in our City neighborhood were closed, so we kept walking, all the way to the heart of Shoreditch. There we found a cafe called Attendant, “a cashless cafe.” The menu was simple and small, so we quickly decided on french toast and hot chocolate (my husband) and granola and flat white (me). What arrived was one of the prettier breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Judge for yourself.

We took the Tube over to Covent Garden, starting first at the Royal Opera, where a family event was going on. The Opera was overflowing with families. We were able to walk around the inside of the facility and look at the various exhibits of costumes and listen to music being performed by various artists. The facility is beautiful. Lots of light through the atrium in daylight, and great views of the city from the upper level. We weren’t able to get into the theater—something for another day!

Then we walked to Covent Garden market. Covent Garden neighborhood was definitely prettier than the City neighborhood where we are staying. By Sunday morning, trash was piling up from the partying that had occurred Friday and Saturday nights near Liverpool Street station. Meanwhile, nothing but peace and beauty in Covent Garden. My husband asked, “Why have we never stayed here?” I can only guess it’s not in my hotel search price point. Beautiful buildings, lovely shops, nice and clean. Fancy-looking people. They let us walk here.

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Juggler at the market

One weird thing we noticed all weekend: although you rarely see Brits wearing soccer gear unless they’re on the way to the stadium for a match, all over town we were seeing people wearing jerseys of NFL teams. Cincinnati Bengals were playing LA in town, but we were seeing jerseys of San Francisco, Cleveland, many others. They were all around Covent Garden.

NFL, I can only say that your ploy of bringing American football to the world’s people is working. Or at least you are bringing jerseys to the people.

At Covent Garden market we enjoyed street musicians and magicians. The market was cool—lots of interesting and unique jewelry, clothing, gifts. We found lunch at an Italian chain, Zizzi, near the market. Then we walked to Neal’s yard, now one of my favorite spots in London. You walk down a narrow alley that opens into a small open space with trees and flowers and colorfully painted buildings. People were outside enjoying wine in the sunshine, a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon.

We stopped by Seven Dials market, also, and ended our afternoon with a walk over to Somerset house (under renovation) and along the Thames.

It was at last time to head over to the Emirates.

 

See it, say it, sort it.

All across the world, as we deal with acts of terrorism, we have formed pithy ways of encouraging citizens to be vigilant against threats. In the US, we say, “if you see something, say something.” But here in London, announcements on public transit encourage travelers that if they see something suspicious, that should say something, and the authorities will sort it out. This is then abbreviated into, “See it, say it, sort it.” 

I think of myself as naturally suspicious, so I recognize I would have to see a WHOLE lot to legitimately “see” something of interest to the authorities. They would be sorting their days completely away.  That was on my mind after visiting the War Museum late in the day, which I’ll tell you more about in a few.

Some of you may remember a time when I visited The Breakfast Club in Shoreditch few years ago where our service was so slow the manager insisted on giving us our entire breakfast complimentary. She said, “I hope you’ll give us another chance,” and it turned out that yesterday, we did just that. I like this chain a lot. I think they have interesting spaces and a nice menu at a decent price. The one we tried this time is the one in City, near Spitalfields market. I had the blueberry granola waffle, and my husband had the Mexican Eggs. Both yummy, and much better service.

We stopped by the market, but it was only just being set up. We’ve been through there several times but never at a time when it was operational. So we headed for our first planned destination of the day, a pub that was playing the England v. New Zealand Rugby Word Cup semifinal from Japan. When we watch Premier League games in California at a bar, it’s always early in the morning, so it wasn’t a stretch to watch a sporting event at a pub in the morning in London.

20191026_102020The pub closest to us that was having a viewing party was the Goose Island pub near Shoreditch. Yes, Goose Island is a brew pub originating in our previous adopted home of Chicago, but we were assured by signage that this beer is brewed in Shoreditch. The pub was thronged with supporters of both countries, although the All Black supporters were clearly outnumbered. I have watched very little rugby in my life, and most of it has been when I was visiting London. Even for someone with little expertise in the sport, it was fun watching the fans cheer and sing until the final whistle blew with England (easily) on top above the previous world champions. But why “Swing low, sweet chariot,” and “Chelsea Dagger”? You got me. England has so much musical talent and history, it’s hard to imagine needing to borrow from slaves and Scottish musical groups. I’ll admit the songs are great.

After the match we headed over to the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, a recommendation from a friend. It was extremely worthwhile and interesting.  I’ve never seen an exhibit that did such a good job evoking the environment under which the wars began and were conducted, and their aftermath. We spent most of our time in the World War I and II exhibits. A few things that struck me: First, I’m not sure that humans are remotely good at learning from the past, or at least learning the right things. Second, we aren’t good at Seeing, Saying, or Sorting. We are driven by herd mentality and fearful of sticking our necks out, and complacent. Let someone else do the right thing.  The Holocaust exhibit was especially powerful, and dire. 

We left the museum in the rain and made it to Spitalfield market minutes before it closed. Spitalfield market is on the site historically associated with the textile industry and wool trade. Now it has numerous vendors selling from stalls for which merchandise is set up in the morning and removed at night. Interesting clothing, bags, hats.  

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Spitalfield market

My husband was interested in stopping in a pub we saw earlier in the day that had London Pride beer, the Astronomer. Unfortunately, it and other pubs and restaurants close to The Bull were so crowded we ended up again close to Spitalfields at a gastropub called The Grocer. It was a wet and raw night and we were happy to be in out of the cold. No London Pride. I had steak and my husband had grilled chicken. To ensure that the ice cream search debacle was not repeated, we both had Eton mess for dessert. I am a big fan. Ice cream, meringue pieces, fruit, and whipped cream. Delicious. My husband later wished he hadn’t eaten so much. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t have minded eating some of his (in addition to mine). 

Then back through the rain and hordes of people out having a fun Saturday night to the Bull. Someone has to go to bed in this town. 

The day’s findings

When I arrived in London this afternoon, I realized how differently I travel now than I used to. I didn’t know whether my husband had made it to London, didn’t know his flight number, didn’t know where my hotel was located, and, although I had a perfectly good electrical outlet in my seat on British Air, I arrived with my phone barely charged.

My husband had been in Italy for the week doing research for his novel and was to travel back to London today. He called me yesterday afternoon to tell me that a national strike had been called in Italy that was going to start in 15 minutes. His train from the small town in which he had been visiting back to Rome was certain to be cancelled; we didn’t know at that time that the strike also includes air traffic controllers. Last I had talked to him, he was pretty sure he could hire a driver to the airport, at no small price.

As soon as I arrived at Heathrow, I realized I didn’t know what airline he was to take from Rome, and texted him, with no response. The only place I could guess to meet him from my location near the Border was the baggage claim for flights with British Air. Two flights seemed to have come recently from Rome, a hopeful sign, since I knew he was supposed to arrive within 20 minutes of my flight. I scanned the travelers waiting at the carousel, seeing no one who looked like my husband. I decided to use my time figuring out how to get to the hotel. Thankfully, my husband made his appearance just as I was thinking about texting our kids to see if they’d heard from him.

What was I doing since yesterday, when I heard that my husband was at risk of not making it to London, other than carefully mapping out details of contact, hotel, etc.? Well you can bet I made sure I printed duplicate Arsenal v. Crystal Palace match tickets of the ones my husband had taken with him to Italy!

We took the Tube to Liverpool Street stop, and with many false turns found our hotel, the Bull Inn. It’s not exactly a hotel, more like a bunch of rooms above a pub/wine bar by the name The Hide. Together, The Bull and The Hide. It’s affiliated with Hush Heath Winery. Finding how to check in was hilariously weird. It turns out you have to go up to the bar, which was swarming with the Friday afternoon/evening pub crowd so common in the City. As is typical, throngs of people stand outside to bar with drinks and smokes, in this case, more convenient because the entrance is facing an alley on which cars can’t travel. 

Friday-after-work at The Hide

The pub and hotel are located on land that was formerly the site of a home owned by the William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Devonshire, who has been rumored in a few quarters as writing some of Shakespeare’s plays. According to a placard in our room, the Devonshire Suite, he died of “excessive indulgence in good living.” May we all so indulge!

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We dropped off our stuff and headed out to find a pint and dinner. Our own home pub, The Hide, had a lot of nice-looking wine, but for beer, Amstel light. We left to find something we can’t buy at Safeway in Sunnyvale. After some walking we found a restaurant/bar called Alice where I had the Camden Hells lager and my husband had Meantime lager. The barkeep directed us to a table that was clearly marked as reserved for George. (We were not George.)

I had beef pie, naturally, and my husband had Chickpea, spinach and sweet potato curry. We left the table, still anxiously awaiting the arrival of George.

Then we made a pilgrimage for ice cream, losing our way many times.

In summary, today we found:

  1. Each other
  2. our hotel (twice!)
  3. how to check in at our hotel
  4. London beer
  5. dinner

What we did not find:

  1. George
  2. Ice cream

Tomorrow is another day.

As I settle in to sleep, the party at the Hide is at full swing down in the street outside our window on the third floor. I do not expect it to bother me.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I’ve written before about the statues on the grounds of the Emirates. Just behind the statue of Theirry Henry, there is a giant objet d’art, a wall depicting every Arsenal team member–we assume–since the beginning of people taking pictures of teams. One team picture morphs into another, from ancient to modern. The left half of the image depicts players in black and white film, and somewhere in the middle the teams are depicted in color. They are, naturally, wearing the red home jersey.

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Photo by Football Ground Guide….because I can’t find mine.

The message is clear–all these players–they are the Arsenal. They have each taken their place in the team and in the wall.  And after a time, far too short or too long or just right, they left the team and were replaced by others. While “the team” was still “the team” after they left, if you think about how teams are formed, a departed player leaves a gap that must be filled. Not just a position, but possibly a gap in some form of artistry that might easily be replaced like-for-like or might require many different changes.

From the first moment I saw the picture wall, that time we came for a “once-in-a-lifetime” pilgrimage to the Emirates in 2012, I was captivated by how it must have been made, and how difficult the upkeep must be as the team keeps changing.

It turns out there is no upkeep. If my googling of the art is correct, that particular installation depicting the players who rolled on and off the team was replaced, in my absence from the Emirates, by this:

theirry-original
Photo by Arsenal.com.

This is also a historical depiction, of “iconic goals and celebrations,” according to Arsenal.com. It’s nice, and to gets a similar point across, but it’s not quite the same point. The original piece was a celebration that contained some darkness: “Things come to an end, don’t get comfortable. It may end well, or not.” The new art is a bit too cheerful.  I’m reminded of what my husband, who grew up Catholic, said about attending my Methodist Easter services: “I can’t stand Easter at your church. Everyone is too damn happy.”

The upkeep of the original art, if ever that was the intent, in the past two years would have been very difficult indeed because the team has almost completely turned over. Jack Wilshire, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, David Ospina, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck, Gabriel, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Nacho Monreal…..all gone. Alexis Sanchez is so gone that he’s already left the club he left us for. Petr Cech and Per Mertesacker are both retired (though our BFG has a coaching gig with the club).

Really, only Granit Xhaka, Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin are still on the team. Xhaka, to my questioning eyes, has become a regular starter, presumably undroppable. But Ozil and Bellerin–neither of them is even making the bench. Bellerin because he’s coming back from serious injury, Ozil because, well, no one seems to know.

Saddest of all, my hero, manager Arsene Wenger is gone. He retired at the end of the 2017 season, beating the team to the punch before they fired him. He got a nice sendoff that brought tears to my eyes, but it was bitter deep down. He’s been replaced by Unai Emery, a coach who looked promising at first, but now just seems like he’s not quite sure how to put it all together.

On that first visit in 2012 when I became captivated by the wall, we visited over the Christmas holidays, watching a cracking match against Newcastle United that ended 7-3.  My small son had been a fervent Santa defender. In the year prior to the trip, I had explained to him that Santa needs a lot of help from me: I had to listen throughout the year for what my kids wanted for Christmas, I had to buy presents, I had to wrap them, and I had to put them under the tree. My explanation didn’t leave much for Santa to do, but somehow my son’s belief in the power of Santa remained well intact. He was a smart kid; I can only assume that he really, really didn’t want to know. The machinations of a trip to London over Christmas fully exposed to my son the sad realities of Santa, but the trip remains one of the most fun Christmases we’ve had as a family.

That small boy left home for college this Fall. We dropped him off in Rochester, NY and won’t see him again until Thanksgiving. He’s having an amazing time. Our daughter is little more than a semester from graduation from College. I miss having them around and building my life around them and their activities. I miss their noise and mess and fun.

Since we moved to California, I’ve been to the Emirates only once, before my husband and son relocated from Chicago. The trip is much farther from the west coast and we didn’t really have the same support system for our son in California that we had in Chicago.

But did I mention he’s in Rochester, NY now?

This is a tough season. Arsenal have talent–maybe better than ever–but haven’t clicked as a team, not even close. There are some exciting young players and some excellent older players, but my feelings for them havent gelled. We now have David Luiz for heaven’s sake: excellent luck, or Chelsea Trojan horse? Xhaka–can he possibly be undroppable from the lineup with so many questionable decisions? Loanee Dani Ceballos–yes, he is a fan favorite, but when he throws a stepover with no one even defending him, I shake my head. The team doesn’t feel the same.

So this weekend, we are doing what must be done. I’m getting ready to board British Air in San Jose and head to the mother ship, the Emirates. We’ll see the new art, have a pint, and, most importantly, try to come to terms.

Suddenly I’m feeling good about it. In the very Uber I’m in, the driver is playing House of Pain’s Jump Around. (Not the “clean version,” I add.) Obviously a sign. “Oh no,” you say, “That’s not the song played before the second half at the Emirates anymore”?

Fine. Fine.

Although our new players probably won’t find their way onto the wall behind Theirry Henry, they have a good chance of finding a place in our hearts.