Surreal

It’s been a surreal week. ¬†The snow in Edinburgh has been deeper than anyone can remember. ¬†The Forth Road Bridge was closed, and avalanche warnings were issued for the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat, of all places. ¬†It feels like the only difference between Edinburgh and an Alpine ski resort right now is the lack of big mountains nearby. ¬†And perhaps the fact that ski resorts don’t always have this much snow.

Even more surreal has been England’s dominance in the Ashes down under. ¬†Bob Willis, possibly the grumpiest man in cricket, tonight described England’s performance in the Second Test as “absolutely first-rate”.

I don’t know whether it was the bat-dominated last two days of the First Test, and the promise of more to follow at Adelaide, but I didn’t bother to stay up to watch any of the first day’s play live. ¬†And so it was only natural that it would be “the most exciting start to an Ashes Test in history (D Gower)” with three wickets falling in the first three overs.

Perhaps my lack of Ashes-watching stamina was just down to the Tests being back-to-back, and not having recovered fully from the late nights watching the First Test. ¬†This staying up into the early hours lark is proving tricky. ¬†The BBC very helpfully posted an¬†article on how to stay up through the night, including such advisory gems as “One way to stay awake is to drink coffee intermittently.” ¬†Thanks for that one, Auntie. ¬†And for the important safety message. “Anybody going without sleep and then trying to go to work should not do anything like driving or other tasks where an accident could be dangerous.” ¬†Presumably falling asleep in front of a client won’t lose me my job, then. ¬†Excellent news.

So accustomed to touring England teams being in disarray, it’s frankly confusing to witness Australia in trouble during a home series. ¬†It appears to be a commonly-held view that this Ashes series is pitting two mediocre teams against each other, lest we should get carried away. ¬†I’m not about to get carried away, but I think England are better than that. ¬†Anderson has always been rated as a high-class bowler, but has been dogged by the damning caveat “when he fires”, or “when the ball swings”. ¬†He now bowls brilliantly, regularly, on all manner of pitches. ¬†Strauss is a class player at the top of the order, although he’s done his best to hide this in two out of his three innings so far. ¬†Trott is a solid number 3, KP now has runs under his belt (and a wicket!) and the strut has accordingly returned, and Bell, critically, now no longer needs to put on a show of confident body language, as the confidence is already there from some high-quality knocks in pressure situations. ¬†Swann is world-class and can bat, Broad is ever-improving, although now sadly lost to this series through injury, and Finn is the real deal. ¬†What cannot be coincidental to all of this individual success is that the core of the team has been together for a decent time, they are clearly well-managed, and they play as a unit.

Australia, by contrast, have some very good players, but are desperately short of confidence, unity and direction. ¬†And no wonder, with their trigger-happy selectors. ¬†I couldn’t help but feel sorry for players like Marcus North – trudging off after another low score knowing that their international career might well be over. ¬†Granted, North has had his chance, but Xavier Doherty? ¬†It’s been hard not to feel sympathy for him, preferred as Australia’s spinner to Hauritz by the selectors, apparently only to buy Pietersen’s wicket. ¬†Which he did in the Second Test, but not until KP had racked up a double-ton. ¬†Doherty will now surely be dropped for Perth. ¬†He has experienced the kind of morale-shattering selectorial caprice that so undermined England in the nineties.

England now go to Perth knowing they can effectively wrap up the series with a win there.  Just like Australia did in 2006

London, unexpectedly

Sitting on the train at King’s Cross, waiting to depart for Edinburgh and the snowy north. Four Geordies have commandeered the table directly ahead, but they seem of a well-behaved generation, and are tucking into panini rather than bottles of Newcastle Brown.

I found myself in London courtesy of my boss being a bit under the weather and unable to travel to a product launch he was booked on. So I took his place, and his room in the Tower Bridge Hilton, which was, I have to say, very well appointed. Modern but comfy furniture, a huge bed, and trendy lighting. Perhaps the only downside was the disabled access shower, which flooded the bathroom very effectively. I have previous with these showers – it is a mercy Wiseman wasn’t sharing my room and distributing his follicles all over the bathroom floor.

The sink was outfitted with some sort of chrome designer tap, which had a joystick on the top controlling water pressure and temperature. However, the water pressure seemed fairly oblivious to my joystick-wiggling, if you’ll pardon the expression, and remained resolutely medium. Not a problem, and in fact, something of a bonus, as the tap was so close to the edge of the (beautifully contoured) basin as to make it tricky to wash one’s hands without flooding the immediate vicinity. A high pressure tap could have been a disaster. Another example of style winning over substance, as it so often does in our modern venti-triple-shot-skinny-latte society. I read a comforting article on the BBC News website recently which announced that a recent survey had decreed that the coffee offered by the large chains (Starbucks, Costa, Caffe Nero) was of low quality and seriously overpriced. Comforting because it made me realise I wasn’t alone in my assessment of their coffee and prices. Coffee is a matter of taste, of course, but that doesn’t mean that people who like Starbucks coffee aren’t completely misguided.

But back to taps. In the same hotel, the public toilets were kitted out with equally trendy automated taps, which were even more useless. I acquired some liquid soap from the ultra chic dispenser on the wall, and then placed my hands under the tap. Nothing happened. The sensor which detected your uncleansed hands was, altitude-wise, just underneath the output of the tap. Which was high above the rim of the basin. So I raised my hands a bit, and lo, the water flowed, onto my hands and all over the polished inter-sink surface (what exactly does one call the worktop-like area around the sinks in a public loo?). Lowering my hands into the basin, in an attempt to prevent this haemorrhaging of water, abruptly stopped the water flow. Genius.

Modern life is like this. Full of fancy gadgets which look very nice, and purport to make your life easier (saving you the hassle of turning a tap on and off, for example), but don’t always actually do the job their manual predecessors did so well (providing water for you to wash your hands with, for example). Full of coffees in Label-embossed cups which make you feel like you’re at one with the hip iPod-wearing generation because you’re not drinking coffee, you’re drinking a skinny-venti-mocha-frappucino. But actually you’re drinking a bucket of frothy milk with a tiny drop of coffee in the bottom. (With apologies to David from London)

The automatic lights in my car are a bit better. Initially I was a bit disconcerted by them (You think I don’t know when to turn my own headlights on, huh?), and sometimes during heavy rain they don’t switch on. One of my pet targets for verbal abuse is the driver of an oncoming car who hasn’t switched on their lights in heavy rain or low visibility. I now fire the same volley of abuse at my automatic lights, who in fairness take it all on the chin and don’t answer back. They still don’t switch on, however.

(Yes, I could switch the auto function off completely and operate them manually, but… whisper it, I do like the way they switch themselves on when you enter a tunnel and the like. And yes, I have retained enough manual control of my life to override the automatic function when the rain is heavy enough to reduce visibility.)

Snow has been coming down heavily in the north of England this weekend, according to the news. I have now travelled through what I thought was the affected area, and haven’t seen any snow, although it’s kind of dark out there. Perhaps the train’s automatic headlights haven’t come on. The Alps have been receiving snow of late, which bodes well for my second skiing extravagance of the season, in March. The Admin Supremo, DC and an old flatmate Tom are joining me for some snow action underneath Il Cervino, which is how the Italians refer to the Matterhorn. Filipideedooda is unable to come with us due to carelessly allowing part of her foot to break off while boarding in Val d’Is√®re. She found out it was broken after deciding to have it x-rayed once she’d been reassured by the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary that it “definitely wasn’t broken and an x-ray wasn’t necessary”. It’s a shame she won’t make it, although she might have had a tough week coping with four lads.

It’s now February, and I’ve turned the page on the calendar to discover that I have only two things lined up in February: on 10 Feb I am buying a laptop and mobile phone for Nasty Jen, and on 22 Feb I am sending money to Hazel. Curious, don’t remember writing those reminders in…