Archive | On the Ground RSS for this section

Swansea City’s Triumphant Return and Other Less Publicised Happenings.

Six of us left the university campus, running predictably late, and made our way over to the Guildhall. This was the final destination of the victory parade of Swansea City after claiming the League Cup on Sunday in a 0-5 defeat over Bradford. It was a momentous occasion in the club’s 100 year history being their first major trophy, and, as a speaker later went to great pains to highlight, the first time a Welsh team had won it.

We walked down Mumbles Road and due to one of the group having hours previous passed his PhD defence our spirits were high. However, we couldn’t say the same for the gentleman we came upon who was having car troubles.

Some people were having a better day than others.

Naughty car.

There was some concern amongst the group that we’d left it too late and probably missed the arrival of the team bus. The eldest of us – taking a well earned break from extinguishing the light in the eyes of students by building a convincing case against free will – tapped into his infinite, aged, wisdom and proclaimed that “These things always run late.” followed by a less assured “Don’t they?” He wasn’t wrong.

As we turned the corner onto the Guildhall the team bus was just at that moment moving at a crawl through the assembled fans. Perfect timing.

This was the scene that awaited us at the Guildhall.

The scene that awaited us at the Guildhall.

Swansea City players overlooking the throng of fans.

Swansea City players overlooking the throng of fans.

The Swans mascots also made an appearance with the players atop the double decker bus. Apparently there are two. One male, and presumably one female. You know, because it’s got pink feathers and looks ‘girly’… The male on the other hand looked like a very moody breadstick. By the looks of it he didn’t appreciate me taking a photo of him either. I can almost hear him hissing. I’m sure there’s some joke and pop reference to Angry Birds in there somewhere but I’ll spare you.

I wonder do they have any cygnets?

I wonder do they have any cygnets?

Some of the jubilant Swansea fans took to the rooftops in a Beatles-esque moment.

Well, granted there are 5 of them and they don't have any instruments.

Well, granted there are 5 of them and they don’t have any instruments.

Other people took advantage of the very specific demographic that turned out for the event by offering flags and various items of clothing emblazoned with the black and white colours of Swansea.

Look at the size of those pegs! Where does someone go to buy them?

Look at the size of those pegs! Where does someone go to buy them?

After the initial excitement of the team’s arrival the cheers of the crowd were drowned out by, at least to me, an unknown figure with a microphone. He boomed over our heads trying to whip us into an even greater state of frenzy before the team, and all associated with them, made their way through from the back of the Guildhall.

The master of the microphone.

The master of the microphone.

The excitable and affable speaker invited Swansea City manger Michael Laudrup forward and made a remark to the effect of Laudrup being elected president of Denmark only for Laudrup to retort “…we don’t have a president” to the amusement of the crowd. Laudrup went on to state that “The first time you win something like that (League Cup) it’s tremendous.” and while expressing his pride and also that the players are always the most important element in any success, he thanked the crowd for turning out on a cold February evening.

Michael Laudrup making his way forward to address the fans.

Michael Laudrup making his way forward to address the fans.

Clearly I struggled to get a good vantage point for my camera but others had no such problem. Granted they may not have been too excited by what they were seeing.

I can't remember now if he was standing on something or was abnormally tall. Either way, he looks bored of looking down on the halfings.

I can’t remember now if he was standing on something or was abnormally tall. Either way, he looks bored of looking down on the halfings.

The microphone maestro invited various players forward to speak and thank the fans. There was some banter about the fans being warm to welcome the team back in this fashion with a player quipping that “I think they’re cold!” – in reference to the conditions – but the most amusement was had with the appearance of Chico Flores. “Hello my friends. My English is not very good but it’s important.” he began, presumably referring to their victory. The keeper of the microphone joked “I’ll translate. He said, ‘My English is not very good but I’m important’ ” which was met with laugher from the crowd. After having other things he said mistranslated from poor English into poor humour Chico rounded his speech off with a cry of “I love you!

Chico trying his hand at English and possibly not understanding the ridicule from the speaker.

Chico trying his hand at English and possibly not understanding the ridicule from the speaker.

At this point I realised I was in the situation where nature was calling at the most inopportune time. I made a quick escape in search of facilities. It was only then that I noticed the television broadcast vans.

Nice bit of kit.

Nice bit of kit.

On my return to the celebration I popped over and was kindly allowed to take a snap of the interior of the van in the foreground above. The tech nerd in me couldn’t resist.

That all looks very expensive.

That all looks very expensive. Apart from the whiteboard. That just looks like it’s in deep cover, infiltrating the advanced enemy.

From there the event began to wind down. Not that this was a cue for our group to return home. Far from it. We embarked on a dual celebration of Swansea City’s success and that of my aforementioned colleague. We popped into the pub next door and admittedly had a few pints. While there I noticed one of the punters had apparently decided that the pub was the best place to watch The Ricky Gervais Show. If he was having a beer I’d imagine a lot of Pilkington’s streams of consciousness would become even more difficult to follow.

Punter listening to the wisdom of Karl Pilkington.

Punter listening to the wisdom of Karl Pilkington.

As the evening progressed, at one point, apparently my hand had swollen to gargantuan proportions dwarfing my pint.

I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Except Alice was a 31 year old man and Wonderland was a pub.

I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Except Alice was a 31 year old man and Wonderland was a pub.

From there the evening’s festivities continued, resulting – inevitably perhaps – in some members of the group being a little worse for wear by nights end than others, but that’s a tale for another time. To their credit they all made it into work the following day. Myself included. Well done to Swansea City for a truly admirable journey of success and may the future bring more of the same. The parade was a great family event, on a par with the Olympic torch passing through Swansea, and also the perfect launching pad for our night of celebrations.

On the run with Sanal Edamaruku

Yesterday evening I attended a talk, jointly hosted by the Humanist Atheist Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway and Atheist Ireland, from the fairly well known Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku. Mr Edamaruku is an academic and is the president of the unfortunately named Indian Rationalist Association (I.R.A). However, levity aside, Mr Edamaruku faces the unwelcome prospect of persecution in his home country of India. In spite of this, he spoke calmly and deliberately of his predicament.

He is currently in exile for his “provocation” of the Catholic church in Bombay, whereby through the act of explaining a so-called miracle involving sub-standard plumbing and a statue of Jesus, he incurred the wrath of a number of high-ranking bishops, not least “His Eminence” Oswald Gracias . As a consequence, the church has contrived to have Mr Edamaruku imprisoned  for his contravention of laws regarding blasphemy – laws which, no less, date back to the 19th century. The very real threat of three years in prison – and worse –  forced Sanal to flee his native country and he has sought refuge in Europe. He was abruptly cut off, indefinitely, from those dearest to him, while attending to the business of a lecture trail overseas. Nevertheless, despite the potential dangers he faces, he has vowed to return to India, saying, rather confidently, that he is on a “mission” against the prevalence of such archaic laws and other such superstitious practices. “The problem we have in India is that we have the 14th and 21st century coexisting,” he said.

His “mission” is what brought him to Ireland. While seeking support against ludicrous legislation in his own case, Edamaruku has simulataneously called on the Irish people to rid themselves of their own law against blasphemy, which prohibits the utterance or publication of “grossly abusive or insulting [material] in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”, which causes “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. As Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland noted, in closing, at the event, such a law strongly appears to “incentivize outrage”. Furthermore, Mr Edamaruku stressed that the Irish law against blasphemy was increasingly being used as a precedent on which to lay the foundation of an argument for a much more far-reaching law against blasphemy. Such a prospect is simply terrifying.

If the people of Ireland truly value human rights and equality, then it is imperative that they resolutely reject their most stringent and archaic laws, and lend their support to the plight of those who, like Sanal Edamaruku, are suffering their outrageous consequence.

Great Britain vs. New Zealand. Olympics 2012 kicks off.

Cardiff Millennium Stadium with the Olympics Rings.

Having ducked out of work and taken a few hours early leave I headed to Cardiff with a friend to see the opening event of the Olympic Games 2012. We arrived a bit behind schedule at Cardiff train station and I grabbed a quick burger, eating as I walked, and we were shepherded towards the security entrances where we were asked, airport style, to put all belongings into clear plastic bags provided.We did ask instructed – my camera and my phone, I continued eating my burger – and after an additional pat down none of the items were faced with any real degree of scrutiny. It all seemed a little pointless.

Upon reaching the 6th tier of the stadium I popped up the closest entrance to the seats and took a few quick snaps of the game that had just kicked off. Team GB verses New Zealand in Women’s Football.

Great Britain and New Zealand battling it out.

Once satisfied I made my way over to where my ticket informed me I should be and noticed a distinct lack of staff at every bar I passed. I learned later that there was at least one bar open further along the curved corridors.

Barren Bar.

I reached the appropriate entrance and climbed the steep steps, trying to ignore the vertigo I was expecting, and finally joined my friends and was glad to be seated with a  solid structure beneath me.

A nice safe view of the event.

The first half saw team GB dominate with a few chances, their best a header from Anita Asante striking the post and the NZ keeper, in a display some might confuse for objectum-sexualism, gave her post an appreciative kiss. In the last minute team GB threatened again in the 6 yard box where a short pass failed to come off.

This was the moment the upright did its job keeping Asante’s header out.

The impression I was left with was that GB were looking stronger and most certainly had more of a drive for attack. And so ended the first half. Almost immediately the hubbub of the crowd was aggressively drowned out by obnoxiously loud ‘music’. This had the effect of preventing any risk of easy conversation. It occurred to me – as I was surrounded by young families enjoying the sunshine and the spectacle – just who was responsible for the choice of music and more importantly the level that it was blasted at from the enormous hanging speakers? It seemed unlikely that whoever made these kinds of decisions undertook anything resembling a survey as to who the attendees would likely be since they were apparently under the impression we needed to be subdued by an audio assault that I’d liken to standing too close to a speaker at a concert.

Thankfully the music was eventually replaced by a woman shouting down the mic attempting to galvanize the crowds support by asking who supported who. I’m trying hard not to be too cynical but it was all a bit cheesy and not really what I’d expect to see at a football match. Imagine if it was Man Utd. vs. Man City, for example…

The lady working the crowd with the mic.

After a nice little shout out to kids from various school parties who were present this happened:

The picture speaks for itself.

This seemed to be an even more bizarre attempt to galvanise the crowd by encouraging them to take part in a choreographed – for want of a better description –  ‘arm dance’ from what sounded like a Mexican accented man. I can tell you everyone in my line of sight sat there somewhat bemused at the recorded figure shouting instructions and behaving as though the crowd was following them. If only he knew. Consistency was the order of the day since this was followed swiftly by the auditory assaulting ‘music’ again.

Just before the teams returned Sepp Blatter made a cameo on the large video display.

FIFA’s top dog.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of the man, to put it mildly, and it somewhat irritated me to see him at all when really this event had nothing to do with him. Two lads who had popped off to retrieve some light refreshment in the form of soft drinks had missed this cameo but were graced with another before play resumed. Their exchange – now the music was no longer drowning conversation out – went something like this: “Oh my god, is that Blatter?”, “Yeah.”, “Really? Oh my god…” The impression I got was one that distinctly lacked any sense of being impressed. I liked them already.

Teams GB and NZ return for the 2nd half.

The teams returned and the second half got under way. Team GB continued as they finished the first half and attacked with determination, even though not every opportunity was grasped, such as a great through ball from Kelly Smith that was picked up but received one too many touches allowing the NZ defender Ali Riley to get a vital toe to the ball just as Ellen White released her shot.

An important toe by Riley.

Team GB’s luck was about to change. They were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box. As GB readied themselves for what was a well practised routine the fiery redhead gentleman who shared my disdain for Blatter came alive. “‘This is it. Record this. I’ve had a premonition!” he cried to his friends. Well didn’t he call that just right.

Steph Houghton – after a team-mate performed the almost expected dummy step-over – took a cracking free-kick and slotted it away with ease in the back of the net much to the dismay of the helpless New Zealand players. It was a real crowd pleaser of a goal.

The ball sailing net bound from a perfect free-kick.

The hard work was almost undone later though when Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke collided allowing Sarah Gregorius – cool name incidentally  – of NZ to have a one-on-one duel with the GB goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. Unfortunately for NZ Bardsley got down low and comfortably cradled the lacklustre shot. Perhaps Gregorius was too gregarious and needed some support in the attack… a poor joke I know, but at least I didn’t try and strain a joke from the somewhat disturbing poem of the same name.

As the game drew to a close it occurred to me that seeing the kit being worn I often forgot that I was watching GB and my mind kept trying to insist it was an England kit but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. Just before the final whistle blew I must confess to being distracted by a curious, wandering seagull, as were a few others around me.

The uninvited guest by the flags of the Olympics nations.

It circled the stands and at least once dropped a payload on the spectators below and even opportunistically swooped in making an attempt to snatch food from people. With around 7 minutes to go a finger tip save was made by Bardsley after a shot just outside the box, well, more of a lob really. That was one of the last pieces of action.

Players congratulate each other on an effective and determined performance.

As I sat there I reflected on the Euro finals a few weeks ago and also on the casual derision I’d heard from some people towards the skill levels of women’s football. This all woman GB team played better, more fluid football than most of the male Irish team that ‘showed up’ to the Euro finals. Team GB were able to complete what seemed like more passes and other than a few minor things – I’m looking at you Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke – they played the game of football better, creating chance after chance and always looked like scoring. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare two completely different competitions – Ireland did have a difficult group – but I was impressed by what I saw and there was undoubtedly a thirst for competition evident. Ryanyllek might have been a better person to comment on the quality on display than me, but that’s how I see it! Speaking of ryanyellek,  I almost forgot to mention, that throughout the game each time a substitution was made it was accompanied by a visual and audio display to ensure the crowd knew what was happening. ryanyllek assures me that this is evidence of the creeping Americanisation of the game.

After those revelations – of sorts – I left and joined the queues for the return train journey, with the inevitable delays, and where I got to see what appeared to be a business person using their hands-free earphones and mic set – for their mobile phone – while using both their hands to do so… but that’s another blog entry of its own perhaps.

Long Walk Home (but it could be worse).

Image

“Right we can do this” was the call from Brian as he bobbed and weaved his way through the throngs making their way out of the Phoenix Park after The Stone Roses gig. He was like a whippet in a foot race with zombies. The spectre of work loomed heavy on his mind no doubt. “We’ll make this bus” I was not sure if he was trying to convince himself or us at this stage but on we went only pausing briefly to shoot our hands in the air in an effort to maintain contact.

The speed at which we were travelling meant that the crowd had melded into one generic slightly paunchy 36 year old stoned Stone Roses fan. As the pain, which I can only equate to someone trying to whittle shards of bone from my shins, throbbed and pulsed; my mind flashed back to early that day when in a discussion about whether or not we would get back to Georges Quay in time for our bus I jokingly remarked “Of course we will, it’s not like the gig is in the biggest enclosed city park in Europe”. Such brevity was in short supply right now.

Wait, what’s that, it’s the shuttle bus, we had made it. The pain in my shins was now replaced with a warm sense of relief. Unfortunately this was short lived as the dilettante stood by the bus informed us that the buses were reserved for people with return tickets firstly. This of course is plainly ridiculous; it wasn’t our problem that people had chosen to shuffle out of the gig at their leisure. Our argument that we needed to get to our bus to Galway by 12:15 fell on deaf ears.

We swallowed our anger and our pragmatism kicked in as we set off in an effort to catch a taxi to Georges Quay. Eventually we got a taxi but we were never going to make the bus so instead we decided to hedge our bets and attempt to flag down the bus at Heuston Station. There we met fellow attendees of the gig hoping to flag down the same bus. So as the bus turned the corner this intrepid 6 mud flecked and exhausted but now with a modicum of hope; stood with our A4 size printouts of our return tickets aloft. Now we knew that this was not an actual stop but we all had return tickets and so we knew that the bus driver would be aware he was missing at least 6 passengers. That allied with the fact that there was this massive gig on in the park gave us reasonable hope that the driver may use his discretion and pick us up. This is not a bus to the suburbs we missed, which can be fixed by hopping in a taxi, rather it was a bus to the other side of the country. Instead we got a bus driver to beep his horn and wave at us with a shit eating grin which seemed to say “Tough shit losers”.  He may well have filled his bus with people who had open ended tickets but a short stop and explanation would have cleared that up.

So about two hours marching the streets of Dublin throwing out Hail Mary text messages saw Paddy and Darren come to the rescue, lodgings were secured for the night and we made it back in the morning. It was not until Monday morning that I heard how lightly we had gotten off. The Saturday night gig featuring Swedish House Mafia had been marred by 3 drug related deaths, 9 stabbings and 1 missing person who has since been returned to her family. Reports suggest that it was a very unpleasant event and the national airwaves are alive with people, who were not at the gig, ringing up to explain what a disgrace it was and how the whole fabric of society is being pulled apart.

Image

It may well be the case that, as a disaffected youth continues to see their life options steadily decrease instances of violence at large public gatherings like this will continue. The promoters of these gigs also have a lot to answer for. MCD were the promoters of the Oxegen festival which had steadily become a dangerous and unpleasant experience. This was their replacement, a series of concerts in the Pheonix Park which after last weekend’s debacle will surely not happen again. The park is far too large an area to properly control. There are over 1700 acres in which people can get up to all kinds of mischief before and after the concerts. The pursuit of profit has meant that there is a disproportionate number of security guards to patrons which not only means that regular concert goers, there for the shared experience of enjoying the live music of their heroes, have not only their enjoyment spoiled but also their safety compromised. It is time that whatever regulatory body that over sees the granting of licenses to promoters take MCD aside and get them to justify their business practices.

Swansea and the Olympic Flame.

Retiring to bed at the unholy hour of 3am the night before, I was awoken from the heat induced sticky slumber I’ve begun to adjust to in an atypically hot and sunny Swansea by my alarm, even though it was only a mere 3 hours later, at 6am. After readying two litres of water, not wanting to suffer in the steadily rising temperatures, I grabbed my camera and departed for Mumbles Road.

Having not gained much experience with a digital camera outside of a mobile phone, I tinkered with my Canon ‘Power Shot‘ as I strolled through Brynmill Park before traversing Singleton Park, through Swansea University campus and finally arriving at my destination. Not before, might I add, taking a pseudo-artistic picture or two. We can but try.

Sunglasses. I wish I’d have thought of that.

I was among the earliest to arrive and after confirming with a nice lady which direction the torch bearer was bearing the torch from I took up my position across the road. A trickle of people began to join the few already there and soon there was a modest but enthusiastic crowd assembled. I sat and snapped a few pictures in preparation for the purpose of my visit and took in the scene around me. The local police on motorcycles pre-empted the torch bearer by pulling up ahead of the running pack by some 20-30 minutes. They subsequently invited some of the families taking photos to pose with them on the temporarily closed portion of the road. Quite a strange scene to say the least.

Polite policemen posing.

As we all continued waiting with whatever patience we could muster,  I saw siblings antagonising each other with playful slaps to the back, shoving and teasing but all in good spirits, with just the slightest hint of menace it could be said. I also had the slightly irritating experience of having two young men, who were apparently the two local cynics, stand behind me with their recently purchased coffees accompanied by a running commentary. When not ridiculing and laughing at a chap who had parked his car which obstructed the famous Swansea Land Train they were discussing topics as varied as how much tax payers money was spent on organising various aspects of the relay to the NASDAQ and the value of the recently floated Facebook. One, in a somewhat bizarre moment, expressed great annoyance at the fact Facebook didn’t exist 8 years ago. His point was somewhat lost on me as I returned my attention to the rest of the slightly more pleasant scene around me.

The Swansea Land Train.

By now the police had taken their positions further up the road and were followed by the Land Train. The crowd were in jubilant spirits and when not cheering ironically at regular cyclists, unrelated to the event, that went by, were in a joking and laughing mood. A mother was sitting on the grass with her young child on her lap reading a book about dinosaurs with an animated voice and pointing out how big the mouth on the T-Rex was. When the little girl didn’t instantly reply she was put at ease by her mother who reassured her ‘They don’t exist anymore so you have nothing to worry about.’ Apparently this wasn’t reassuring enough as the little girl proceeded to insist on a game of eye-spy where she changed the letter she chose every time something new caught her attention.

A second police motorcycle cavalcade was approaching followed by joggers and large important-looking vehicles. I thought this was the moment we had all assembled for. I was wrong. It was in fact some corporate buses and trucks adorned with staff atop their roofs holding microphones and shouting pleasantries at us.

The Bank Bus.

There were also joggers running ahead and between the vehicles with pain etched on their faces. Not from jogging at the fairly casual pace but rather from having to keep a permanent smile on their faces while waving and saying ‘Hello!’ enthusiastically over and over to the crowd every few steps.  Surreal and a little cringe worthy. I was suddenly caught off guard when from behind one of the trucks appeared, seemingly from thin air, a bus with a young girl inside holding the torch! I clumsily took a quick photo and the bus had past by. There were a few mumbles –  on Mumbles Road no less – of ‘Was that it?’. Surely not. The flame wasn’t even alight.

Number 13. Lucky for some.

One of the microphone laden people atop a truck went on to inform us that the actual torch bearer was 10 minutes behind. Phew. The waiting recommenced. As I continued to tinker with my camera a huge articulated lorry bore down on me, on what I had thought was a closed road. It flashed past and from my seated position, now on a small road island, I got a face full of dust and general dry road scum. Lovely. I dusted myself down, rubbed my eyes and grumbled internally.

At this point even more people and their cameras had arrived and one group even had a large banner with some message for the torch bearer, one of them later chuckling mischievously ‘Shall we go onto the road and embarrass her?’. Perhaps they knew the torch bearer. Finally, around 10 minutes later as promised, the Olympic Torch bearer was spotted in the distance by an excited member of the crowd. As the vehicles, that obscured the torch from where I sat, approached I readied my digital camera and attempted to estimate the appropriate zoom since I knew I’d get just about one chance of a decent picture. If I didn’t come away with at least a clear image of the torch and it’s bearer I’d have been a little peeved. Luckily I managed to shoot an average and acceptable picture.

Megan Jones and the Olympic Torch. That kind of sounds like a missing episode of the Harry Potter Saga.

There we have it. The torch. The crowd reacted with cheers of support and encouragement for Megan Jones as she zipped by in the briefest of moments. It was no sooner there and it was gone and Megan was off running up the hill past the University Hospital. All in all it was a pleasant start to a sunny Sunday and certainly worth the effort of getting up so early. Some may scoff and others, like the two local cynics, may complain about tax payers money but the torch relay brings the community together – look at the wonderful life experience the torch bearers of all ages have for example – and, even if for only a brief moment, puts parts of the UK on the tourist map. With sunshine like they had today the local tourist board must be pretty pleased with how it all turned out. What a great advertisement for Swansea. The fact that this weather is unusual, to say the least, is something I think is better kept to ourselves.

The torch burning off into the distance on its journey to London.