I don’t like Mondays

“I Don’t Like Mondays” is an old song by Irish band The Boomtown Rats about the 1979 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego. My Monday wasn’t bad enough to take such measures though I’m just going to vent a bit here and then I know I’ll feel much better.

I don’t mind Mondays usually but the one last week started badly and just got worse. We had a flight back from Barcelona and wanted to get to the airport early as my beloved had received an email from BA advising the flight had been cancelled. However, checking the airport site, all seemed well but, just to be on the safe side, we wanted to be timely.

We woke at 04:00am, an ungodly hour at the best of times, and drove swiftly to the airport using Google maps on my iPad. The hire car office wasn’t open, so we dropped off the keys and the duly annotated booking paperwork in the letterbox provided and proceeded to departures where all hell appeared to have broken loose.

Our airline uses DIY labeling and printing of boarding passes. We managed to navigate the tortuous procedure but others were not so fortunate. We were soon thankfully seated eating breakfast in the lounge. We could only assume that the email had been some sort of computer glitch at BA. They’ve had a few of those recently. As we boarded the bus for the plane I reached into my bag for my iPhone to put it on “flight mode.” It wasn’t there!

I visualised what I’d done with it after I’d last used it and could clearly see myself switching off the Google route nap and putting it into its pocket in my bag. I also recalled hearing a metallic clang as I got out of the car but, at the time, had dismissed it as the seat belt springing back into place. It probably wasn’t. It was more likely my phone falling from my bag and into the well of the passenger seat. I tried ringing the hire car company while on the bus but the office was still closed.

I contacted the company as soon as we landed, after successfully navigating their answering system. Press the wrong button at your peril! I was advised by the call centre that they’d email the hire car office in the airport and get back to me shortly. Two calls later in the day and I’d been twice advised that the procedure was to get back in touch with the customer within the hour.

It was now well past any deadline so I decided to cancel my phone which you can only do on-line but there was a problem with the system and, despite my best efforts, nothing happened. I tried ringing Orange which has an automatic answering system whose main goal is to prevent you talking to any humans and I was quickly going round and round in circles, orange ones.

My beloved sensing I was on the edge of a precipice kindly suggested dinner out. A large glass of chilled rose, a generous salad and I was feeling much better. Still no word from the hire car company but my beloved had received confirmation of my line cancellation. An early night followed as we were off to Amsterdam the following morning. I decided to email the hire car company in my very best Spanish. Twice. Still no reply.

My phone is insured so I can get a replacement but I need the hire car company to confirm they can’t find it. Given that I know where I misplaced it, if they can’t find it, has it been stolen? In which case, I’ll need to contact the Spanish police, report the theft and get a reference number for it.

Finally, today I sent an email of complaint to Avis HQ and received an automated response – progress. I have peered into my crystal ball and I foresee a possibly frustrating trip to the Orange shop. Start praying for me now!

Handbags at dawn

These two teams, neither of whom has ever been relegated from La Liga, first met in 1929. Real Madrid holds the upper hand in head to heads or “El Clasico” as it’s called in Spain. The rivalry is more intense than any local derby, it’s Castile versus Catalonia. Real Madrid have the lion’s share of honours but, in recent years, it’s been tipping in Barcelona’s favour. Nonetheless, Real Madrid is the more successful club both financially and in terms of success on the pitch. They were voted the most successful team of the 20th century. A review of their players past and present reads like a “Who’s who in football”. Scant consolation, but with 90,000 seats, the Nou camp is bigger than the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium which only seats 80,354.

To arrest that slide, at the start of this season Real bought in the “Special One” aka Jose Mario dos Santos Felix Mourinho, the (first) FIFA Ballon d’Or Best Coach in 2010. A man who won the first treble in Italian football with Inter: Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League. It’s fair to say he has an enviable record. Will he be the first manager to win three Champion’s League titles with three different clubs?

Josep “Pep” Guardiola i Sala is a former Barcelona born and bred player who took over as coach in the 2008/9 season when they won La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champion’s League . He was the youngest ever manager to land a Champion’s League title and he added to his trophy haul with Supercopa Espana, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. Not bad for the new boy on the block; six major trophies in one calendar year.

Years of intense rivalry and simmering animosity, sparked no doubt by Barca’s 5-0 drubbing of Real at the Nou camp in November 2010, their 5th straight El Clasico win, have boiled over in the past few weeks as the teams have played one another four times. Real managed a draw at the Bernabeu and then won the Copa del Rey at the Mestailla stadium, Valencia’s home ground. But this was the big one, the Champion’s League semi-final, a competition that Real have won an amazing nine times.

The respective managers were generating sparks off the pitch in the run up to last week’s first leg. It was a journalist’s delight as the two traded insults and those back pages wrote themselves. Mourinho accused the referees of kowtowing to Barca but was left with egg on his face as FIFA awarded the first leg to a Portuguese referee. Sadly, there weren’t as many fireworks on the pitch. Mourinho’s spoiling tactics,  Barca’s histrionics and an overly long grass pitch got in the way of the beautiful game. Reduced to 10-men once again against Barca, Real were unable to prevent Messi slotting home two goals, the second a real gem, in the second half.

This left Real with an unenviable uphill struggle this evening in the Nou Camp where the onus would be on them to attack providing they could wrest control of the ball from Barca. Mourinho would be watching the game from his hotel room, banished from the touchline, no doubt burning the mobile phone airwaves to his Basque assistant Aitor Karanka who, in the pre-match press conference, carried on where Mourinho had left off.

This evening the scene was set after a  heavy pre-match thunderstorm soaked the pitch, possibly putting a damper on that enmity. Iniesta and Abidal were back for Barca, while Pedro and Sergio Ramos were suspended for Real. Real started brightly, eager to get on the scoresheet. But Victor Valdes, by comparison with Iker Casillas, was rarely troubled. Soon the hosts were running rings around Real and it was only a matter of time before they scored. Actually, Real scored first in the second half but Gonzalo Higuain’s goal was disallowed by the Belgian referee as a consequence of Ronaldo’s supposed foul on Mascherano. It was the referee’s only poor call of the game and no doubt the Special One will have something to say about it. A sublime pass from Iniesta allowed Pedro to score in 54th minute, while Moreno equalised 10 minutes later. The goals, rather than sparking the game into life, encouraged the teams to cancel out one another’s efforts. There was no repeat of the ugly scenes of the first leg and little evidence of gamesmanship. Barca go through 3-1 on aggregate to the Champion’s League Final, their third in six years, which will be held at Wembley, the same day as La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev.

Someone to watch over me

I went on a training ride with my cycling coach today and, fortunately, our paths didn’t cross with any of my team mates. So my secret’s still safe for now.  Of course, it’s very disconcerting to ride with someone whose legs are only a little larger, but less flabby (bat wings) than my arms. However, it’s much easier doing intervals when he’s looking at the stop watch and telling me when to start and, more importantly, when to stop. This was a repeat of a loop and exercise I did last week. Today, I was 2.5km an hour faster. Yes, I try that much harder when there’s someone breathing down my neck. Don’t we all?

On my return journey I popped into my usual watering hole for the newspapers and a coffee only to meet up with my sister, who was returning to the  UK later today, and her friends, who have just arrived. This gave us an opportunity to briefly catch up. I sensed she would’ve preferred to stay and work on her tan.

I had totally forgotten that the water was going to be switched off today for maintenance/essential repairs. That’s right, no shower for me after my sweat inducing ride. I therefore felt compelled to stay home. Any excuse to slob about in my favourite fleecy tracksuit and watch some cycling on the internet. This also allowed me to tackle numerous items on my all important “to do” list. Including completing my lesson plans for tomorrow’s English lesson.

My beloved is back tomorrow afternoon. This meant, for once, he was away on his birthday (yesterday). However, he put his trip to the UK to good use, earning brownie points by taking his mother (aka the outlaw) out to dinner and giving her the recently taken photo of him riding in La Louis Caput. I confess it was a really good photo of him and while I was tempted to hang on to it, I do after all have the real thing. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my photo, taken by the same photographer. It seems to focus on my left shin, not one of my finer bits, and I appear to be grimacing quite badly. So much for smiling for the camera.  The wind was obviously making my gilet billow so  I look like an elderly Bessie Bunter on wheels. Haven’t these photographers ever heard of airbrushing?

Back to the cycling: Peter Sagan, the revelation of Paris-Nice, took over the leader’s jersey in the Tour of Romandie. He’s being hotly pursued by Marco Pinotti, who was wearing it after yesterday’s prologue, and Frenchman, Jeremy Roy. On the football front, it’ll be a  Bayern v Inter final and I wouldn’t bet against “the Special One” picking up his second Champion’s League title. That man is a master strategist and tactician.

Hot money

At the beginning of the season, Martin O’Neil, AVFC’s wondrous football manager attempted (unsuccessfully) to manage the fans’ expectations. He cautioned that with the teams around us having strengthened their squads, we would do well to hold onto 6th place. We’re currently lying 7th, 7 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Liverpool are 5th and Manchester City are 6th.

This time last year, having dallied with 4th position and the prospect of Champion’s League football, we simply ran out of steam. Sadly, we’re in danger of a repeat performance. Excellent cup runs (Final of League Cup and semi-final of FA Cup) have left us playing 5 matches in two weeks. We’ve won one, drawn three and lost on Saturday, away at Chelsea. Actually, that’s not strictly true. After a brave first-half performance(according to a friend of mine, who’s a Chelsea fan), we were thrashed 7-1 by Chelsea. An ominous portent for our forthcoming FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on 10 April.

On the bright side, we’ll have had at least two trips to Wembley this season our first trips in 10 years. It’s hard to see what more Martin O’Neil can do to break into the top four. Maybe, it’s simply not possible as the monetary divide gets ever wider.

Over here, OGCN, having dispensed with the services of its coach, has now won three consecutive matches and looks to have a firm grip on 16th spot. The prospect of relegation is fast receding. 

The season seems to be rushing towards a conclusion and, before we know it, the World Cup will be upon us once more. However, there’s still the small matter of the Champion’s League. It’s being contested by two English sides (Arsenal and Man U), two French sides (Lyon and Bordeaux), one Spanish (Barca), one Italian (Inter), one Russian (CSK) and one German (Bayern).  If I were a betting woman (I’m not, I leave that to my two sisters), I’d put my money on Inter, Barca, Man U and Bordeaux to reach the semis.

Postscript: Lucky I’m not a betting woman! I do hope it wasn’t the curse of the pundit but the semis are Bayern v Lyon and Inter v Barca. Still 2 out of 4’s not too bad. Given the incredible form of Messi, I’m going to plump for a Bayern v Barca final, with Barca to win.

Lights out

We woke yesterday morning at 07:00am to find that it had been raining in the early hours but was now, thanks to a stiff wind, starting to dry out. The sky was positively leaden and, while we doubted we would make it to the pointage, after 4 days off the bike, we were keen to get out. On the way to the club’s rendez vous point, we passed a few, but not many, other cyclists.

About a dozen hardy club mates had gathered and, as we set off, it started to rain again, albeit gently. The wind was still blowing hard so I tucked in behind our former Directeur Sportif, not a good choice of protection as he’s much smaller and lighter than me, but then aren’t they all? As he dropped back to chat to someone, I went to the front of the bunch and rode alongside M Le President. The rain had now started falling in earnest as we approached the Promenade des Anglais, M Le President muttered something about his waterproof and dropped back. I forged on, head down, only to be pulled back by my husband who advised that everyone else had turned tail and headed for home. We wisely did the same.

Predictably, we got drenched riding back and it took several minutes under a hot shower to warm us up. We went out to collect the newspapers and some shopping,  returning home resigned to spending the rest of the day indoors, in the warmth. We spent a lazy afternoon watching a veritable feast of derby matches: Everton v Liverpool, Arsenal v Chelsea, Barcelona v Real Madrid. The more fancied teams winning in all three games. My two teams had both played on Saturday. The boys in claret and blue had a hard fought home draw with Spurs while Nice, away at Sochaux, were undone by a goal which didn’t actually go over the line, according to the replay.

While enjoying the football, I pottered around in the kitchen preparing some meals as my beloved is home all week and will, no doubt, require feeding at regular intervals.

We were woken early this morning by loud claps of thunder and lightening overhead and when we got up found we had no electricity. I could see that the other apartment blocks in the Domaine had lights at a number of the windows; obviously the problem was restricted to our building. Actually, it was restricted to our block of the building, although the lift and the lights in the common parts were working, we just had to wait for the problem to be fixed.

At 11:00am, I decided to investigate what progress was being made to repair the problem and, in the lift, I bumped into my neighbour’s housekeeper who lives in one of the other buildings. She advised that the lightening had thrown out the circuit breaker. I said we’d tried that already, without success. We returned to the flat, she opened the door to the fuses and pressed a switch, in the bottom left-hand corner, which we didn’t know was there, and voila, normal service was resumed. Needless to say, we both felt, and looked, more than a little sheepish.

Slip, sliding away

The rain in Spain doesn’t always fall in the plain. Today it fell on the riders as they rode along the coast to Barcelona. Rain is only an issue in an urban environment when moisture on the roads, combined with diesel deposits, makes them very slippery. Add plenty of white road paint and you know that there’s going to be a number of falls in the peloton. Easily, my least favourite sight; it makes me feel sick to my stomach whenever I see anyone fall off their bike. It’s bad enough having to ride all those kilometres in fine fettle, without while suffering from aches, contusions and road rash. Those boys have little enough body fat; they don’t want to leave even a small part of it on the tarmac.

How about one of the medical companies sponsoring a number plate dripping blood for the rider sporting the most bandages: a rather different type of combativity prize. There are already a few worthy candidates still in the race.

The pundits today reckoned that the uphill finish would suit Freire (kiss of death), and it so nearly did, but the Gods of Thunder smiled on Thor as he raised his arms in his once white kit heavenwards to come within 1 point of the green jersey. Cavendish, alert to the danger, finished 16th. Tom Boonen fell off his bike, and even more out of contention; as did Rogers, Astarloza and Menchov.