Last Wednesday, after we’d pulled onto the car park of the Water Edge Inn at Ambleside, the wife and boy grabbed a table by the lake while I went to the bar. About to order a Stella for myself I noticed the beer pump for Kronenbourg Blanc, and being on my holidays, decided to live a little and give it a go. As the barman tilled in the price of £3.40 I decided Kronenbourg Blanc would have to be something pretty special for me to have another pint.
In fact I had two more. One swig and I was hooked; it was bleeding gorgeous. I’m not a stranger to white or wheat beers; I’ve had the occasional Hoegaarden for a change, and have whiled away many a happy hour in Sinclair’s Oyster Bar with a pint of Sam Smith’s beautiful Ayingerbrau Hefe Weizen, but this was nicer still. A clearer looking pint than I expected, with a sharp, fruity, citrus tang without being too sweet. Delicious.
The only fly in the ointment was the slightly disconcerting feeling that I’d been suckered into a marketing wheeze; that Kronenbourg Blanc is not a revival of an old classic but a recent launch dreamt up by a committee tasked with brand stretching, its fine flavour the result of extensive market research, and that I was really drinking little more than an expensive and cloudy lager and lime.
It was though merely a minor discomfort that passed with the numbing of the senses as another beer was imbibed, and I decided that I was more than happy to be a willing dupe. Mine’s another pint.
We awoke in Bowness on Thursday to the same news as everyone else; that there had been a string of terror suspects arrested and that the airports were in chaos. We watched the news for a bit then set off, as planned, to the rather splendid South Lakes Wildlife Park. I’m familiar with Chester Zoo, a fine place to be sure but a bit overwhelming; you can lose the will to live there before you are even half way round. At South Lakes Zoo though we seemed that bit closer to the animals, and it was far more compact, as I imagine London Zoo to be (perhaps; I’ve never been but it looks neat on the map. Last time I was in Regent’s Park I kept seeing signs for the zoo but I couldn’t track it down; until, strolling up The Broad Walk I looked to my left and started when I saw an ostrich, keeping up with me, pace for pace, just the other side of a fence, and I realised I’d found it).
So we had a great time, and it wasn’t until we were sat having a drink in the Hole Int’ Wall pub that we thought again about the morning’s news, and that for all we knew the plot may not have been foiled and thousands of people could be dead.
Of course, we know now that that didn’t happen, whether because of excellent police work or because there was no such plot. I think some scepticism is understandable, after the ricin, red mercury and chemical vest plots that apparently weren’t; but until we find out for certain what the quality of intelligence was this time I’m prepared to give the security services the benefit of doubt.
Some of the conspiracy theories expounded have been pretty outlandish; I can’t see the entire aviation network being buggered just to manipulate public opinion, or to put the squeeze on Blair when he is out of the country. Some questions disappear into thin air the moment you have thought of them. Why, for example, keep the terror threat level at critical if the plot has been disrupted and the suspects detained? Simply because perhaps we can’t be certain all the suspects are in custody, and if those at large are no longer under surveillance they are free to regroup. That said, I deny anyone not to have experienced a shudder when they first viewed that hideosity John Reid making his horrible, horrible address to the nation from his Home Office bunker. There really was a chilling coup d’etat vibe about the whole thing, if not a full-blown “we have commandeered all your puny Earthlings’ broadcasting frequencies” feel to it. Thankfully, our Deputy Prime Minister’s address later on brought some welcome, if unintentional, comic relief.
Our last day in the Lakes was Friday, which brought the sports news that “Hatchet” McClaren had swung into action, axing David Beckham from the England squad for some pointless midweek friendly in the next week or is it the week after against oh-I-forget.
I think it is fair to say that even Steve McClaren didn’t want Steve McClaren to be the England manager, but we are all stuck with him now as he tries to make the best of bad job, the first act of which obviously has to be to make the visible break from the ancien regime, to appear the daring and decisive new broom rather than just the same old damp and tired mop as you move into the top job; and dropping Beckham surely proves it.
Or does it? After all, Beckham laid the groundwork himself by resigning the England captaincy after the World Cup, and getting shot of him is something the media and supporters have been crying out for for ages. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me “Beckham’s not played well for England for four years” then I’d be halfway to affording a bag of crisps by now (I don’t have the widest circle of friends) but most people would probably have enough for a down payment on a Maserati, or could buy a Kia Pride outright, if you allow a discount for cash.
So I don’t have a great deal of optimism about the McClaren reign; even when he apparently stamps his authority by telegraphing a brave and bold decision, the reality is that he has made the obvious, plodding and unimaginative move. But while the Beckham “sacking” has taken the headlines, I think a more telling decision has been buried in the small print.
When Beckham gave up the captaincy battle raged over who should replace him; John Terry or Steven Gerrard. In this regard, McClaren has completely bottled it, by making Terry captain but giving Gerrard the consolation prize of the vice-captaincy (and a colouring set). Now, we all know that, unlike in cricket, football captains do fuck all really, other than clapping their hands together a lot and shouting “come on lads” (which Terry is very accomplished at); so what on earth does a vice-captain do? In this case it appears he lets Steve McClaren off the hook; it is an administrative weaselling that means he doesn’t really have to choose between two players from different well-supported clubs, coached by vocal managers who seem to have an enmity for each other. It doesn’t bode well; even on a basically irrelevant decision McClaren has chosen the road of timidity, or at the very least the timorous politician’s path.
We’ll see how things develop from here on in, but rest assured that following any successes for the England football team under McClaren’s stewardship this post will be radically rewritten in the Stalinist style; but I’m not anticipating any such action.