In London for the last matches (#World cup 2018)

I spent the weekend in London.

On Saturday morning, as the Eurostar train came into St Pancras, the guard announced over the loudspeakers, You’ll find the Brexit – sorry, I mean exit – in front of you.

dog eating carrot Coach and Horses Soho London 718.JPG

We had lunch in a vegetarian pub in Soho. The landlord’s dog ate a carrot.

We spent the afternoon and evening at Imperium, a seven hour sequence of plays about the supplanting of the Roman republic by the empire. The young Octavian, later Augustus, the first emperor, played by Oliver Johnstone, was spookily good. What about following up with I, Claudius?

But this is beside the point. On the streets of central London there was no sign of the third place match, no preliminary packing of pubs. There was a break of a couple of hours half way through the theatre when we could go and eat. Some young people in red Belgium shirts walked lightly down Dean Street ahead of us. I caught them up and asked who won. We did, 2-0. Our reserves beat yours in Kaliningrad and now our first team has beaten  yours

I live in Belgium, I said, but I don’t support Belgium.

Why not?

Do you go up and start conversations with football supporters? my friend asked. It seems I do.

city of London from Ivy Tower Bridge 718.JPG

Today we had lunch near Tower Bridge, looking across the river Thames to the City.

France supporter London 718.JPG

On the  trains and on the streets of London, hardly any fans were visible (and all we saw were France supporters). But in a pub we went to at St Pancras, and then at the Eurostar terminal, as the game got going, supporters gathered.

Eurostar seemed to know which side it was on:

world cup France Eurostar 718.JPG

A little boy ran across the floor of the terminal with a France scarf. Allez Les Bleus he said. When Mbappe scored France’s fourth goal the crowd cheered loudly and he cried. C’mon Croatia, I said. People laughed indulgently, sitting on the floor to watch a small and silent TV in the terminal:

France fans France Eurostar 718.JPG

France won 4-2. I’ve enjoyed the world cup. Going to Russia meant I got even more out of it. France deserved to win.

Watching England on TV (#World Cup 2018)

I came home from the world cup last weekend and went back to work in Brussels.

England and Belgium flags our house 718.JPG

I put up England flags and a Belgium flag; a passing Belgian advised me which way round the flag goes. With friends, I watched the Colombia and Sweden games in an Irish pub, on TV.

football Colombia-England Kitty O'Sheas 718 2.JPG


You see more on TV: the cameras siphon you into what’s happening, and there are replays.

You hear more in the stadium. When my daughter was a teenager we’d take her friends with us to watch Anderlecht. The noise, the permitted release of the shouting, was what struck them. It’s what’s distinctive, I think, about live sport. When England played in Russia there was a second sound: a continuous drummer in the England end, sometimes joined by a tuba and a trumpet. I suppose that everyone in the stadiums remembers it; on TV it is almost gone; the crowd noise too.

You feel more in the stadium. On Saturday afternoon I had tears in my eyes as they played God save the queen (God save the queen!) at the start of the match. The other person who did had also been at the group games in Russia.

What else is there to say, now we’re in the semi-finals? I’m going to wear a waistcoat to work tomorrow. My friend, who also plays on the right wing, says she’s going to try to get a haircut like Trippier’s.

(I’m sorry Russia went out. I liked Dzyuba, with his American football shoulders, and the manager who does not smile.)

Don’t hope, says my son, it only makes it worse.

sport scotland fans at zuerich airport cmg back from croatia.jpg
(Scotland fans on the way back from a qualifying game against Croatia, Zürich airport, 2005)

Relentless hard work (Thomas Brassey)

Home from Russia by rail I was interested in this description of the work habits of an early British railway builder, Thomas Brassey:

“For relentless hard work and monomaniacal attention to detail, Brassey was your man. His memory and his powers of mental arithmetic were prodigious. He had no time for secretaries, and undertake all correspondence and working records himself. A bag containing letters and writing materials went everywhere with him… In waiting rooms at railway junctions, Brassey would sit writing; in hotels too, into the small hours. His friend Dr Burnett, travelling with Brassey in Italy, once retired at 9 p.m. and came down the following morning to find thirty-one letters written by the contractor and ready for the post. If a reply had taken more than one day to compose, Brassey was known to commence his letter with an apology for its slowness.” – (Simon Bradley, The Railways, 2015)

Does it sound completely different from work habits today? Plenty of people, I think, send 31 work emails after 9 in the evening.

The photo is of Lancaster railway station, in the north of England. It is on one of the lines Brassey built. I passed through there in 2015 on the way back from the Lake district.

(12) I’m not sure what I’m doing here (#WorldCup 2018) – heading home

I have met some tough England fans during the last fortnight. John, who I met on a train from Volgograd to Moscow, is spending five weeks in Russia,  eating a lot of pot noodles. Me, I have to go back to work. Yesterday I got a bus over the frontier from Kaliningrad to Poland, crossed Poland by train and spent the night in Berlin. Today is an easy train trip back to Brussels.

The 100 km bus journey from Kaliningrad to Elblag took four hours, more than two of them simply to cross the border.

We pass a lakeside restaurant on the outskirts of Kaliningrad.  A man from Birmingham, a football fan, says to the Colombian woman sitting next to him, in a voice that carries, “As far as I’m concerned the European Union’s just a job creation scheme for bureaucrats”.

energy wind turbine Russia bus Kaliningrad-Elblag 618.JPG

Still in Russia, three wind turbines. “Yugoslavia was actually part of the Soviet Union until the death of Tito.” A monument in Russian to the Heroes of 1945. “We stood alone against Germany from June 1940 to December 1941.” A monument in German to the dead of 1914-19. “Now tell me about your country. It is famous in England for coffee and cocaine. We know that many cities are in the hands of gangsters.” A heavy stork takes off from a verge. The driver swerves to avoid it. “There was no EU in the 1940s but we never turned our back on Europe.” We stop for the first passport check. “Aren’t I allowed to speak to someone, then?” Four Russian immigration officers reappear, each carrying a big handful of passports, many Fan ID card straps dangling. “She wants to sleep? Go to bed then!” – and there is quiet.

All here?, shouts the driver. All!, replies the Russian next to me. Off we go.

duty free shop KONIGSBERG TRADING Russia bus Kaliningrad-Elblag 618 2.JPG

Still in Russia, the next stop is this duty free shop. The name, in Cyrillic letters, is Königsberg Trading. Königsberg was the German name of Kaliningrad: the city was German until 1945. On this Hanseatic coast, Trading is in English.

Lubrow beer bar Gdansk 618.JPG

I had lunch in a trendy beer bar in Gdansk called Lubrow and made a list of things I’d noticed since crossing the border:

Gdansk 618 station 2.JPG

(1) There are a lot of old buildings (the one in the picture is Gdansk station).

(2) The shops have big windows, through which you can see what is for sale.

(3) The bookshop has books in English.

(4) The waiter lingered when I paid, expecting a tip.

(5) The trains did not run on time.

(6) Stations, platforms and trains gave no information about trains’ timetabled and actual arrival and departure times (except for one printed timetable of all departures in the main hall).

As a result of (5) and (6), as I opened the door of my delayed train from Elblag to Gdansk and climbed down its steep steps, my connecting train to Poznan closed its doors and chugged away from the opposite platform. The journey to Berlin took eighteen hours instead of fourteen, and I missed the evening match (Portugal-Uruguay).

Instead in the evening, beyond Szczecin, coming up to the Poland/Germany border, I saw wind turbines.

energy energy wind turbine train Szczecin-Angemünde 618 2.JPG

To find out whether I’d crossed this border, I checked the name of the service provider on my phone.